Resources for Learning to Draw the Human Face

a trace monotype of a pre-raphaelite inspired woman with red hair waering a wreath of flowers on her head

Learning to Draw the Human Face

Draw a cluster of trees crooked, or a stack of bowls a little askew, and it’s considered charming. But sketch a portrait lopsided, and viewers may find it uncomfortable to look at. Learning how to draw the human face is a worthwhile goal, and a steep climb for some. Many of my artist friends refuse to create figurative art, because it’s too hard to render faces and hands accurately.

Artists are observers of life, so we can’t ignore when we’ve painted a head with the proportions of a cantaloupe. Neither the artist, nor the viewer celebrate gazing at a face unintentionally painted awry. Believe me, I’ve been trying to get it right for years.

Rolling Caligo Safe Wash etching ink onto a small piece of drafting film
Rolling Caligo Safe Wash etching ink onto a small piece of drafting film

The Magic Wand to Better? Practice

Lucky for us, making art is fun, especially when we lock the self-critic in the cupboard. And luckier still, we can improve with little more than the conviction to do so, and some online references. Books help too.

But in a pinch, during breakfast in a pandemic, perusing online resources to practice your facial drawing skills is a good use of time. Let’s meander through some of the options.

taping a sheet of mylar to a table after its coated with black printmaking ink
Taping the inked drafting film to mat board to keep it from squirreling around

Resources for Improving Your Drawings of the Human Face and Head

  • Artist Catherine Kehoe assembled a beautiful slide presentation on face and head proportions on her website, and you can scroll through the images here. Be sure to click on them to enlarge and read the text as you scroll through the slides.

Taping a small sheet of dry BFK Rives printmaking paper over inked drafting film to make a trace monotype
Taping a small sheet of dry BFK Rives printmaking paper over the inked drafting film
  • If you prefer to learn with an instructional DVD, Eric Rhoad’s company Streamline Media has an excellent selection of portrait and figurative DVD’s from some of today’s most loved contemporary painters. Peruse the selection here.
After drawing on the verso of the printmaking paper to push it into the ink, pulling the monotype
After drawing on the verso of the printmaking paper to push it into the ink, pulling the monotype
  • Nicolas Uribe started a youtube channel to share one figurative painting demo each weekday. As a YouTuber myself, five videos a week is a herculean task – but he’s doing it beautifully! I loved this video (look at the size of the brushes!). Each of his paintings is for sale.
Looking at linear areas on the monotype - created with a ball point pen, and shaded areas, buffed with my fingertips
Looking at linear areas on the monotype – created with a ball point pen, and shaded areas, buffed with my fingertips
  • Painter Scott Waddell is posting video snippets of his portrait painting studio session on his Instagram account. Like many artists facing cancelled exhibitions due to the Covid19 pandemic, he’s launched a Patreon page. His video tutorial subscriptions begin at just $12/month.
Adding the first layers of watercolor after the ink dried
Adding the first layers of watercolor to the monotype after the ink dried
  • Efrain Malo is an illustrator on Instagram as @maloart with a million followers. His pencil drawings of faces in profile (watch this video), straight on and in 3/4 view are often shared as a high speed process video, with proportion lines (like this), and tips for more accurate drawing.
Adding more watercolor and some colored pencil to the monotype
Adding more watercolor and some colored pencil to the monotype
  • Author and illustrator Carson Ellis started a Quarantine Art Club (QAC), with drawing prompts and video demos. QAC assignment #20 is totally fun: honor someone with a portrait drawing. Read the details and jump in here.

Learning to Draw Faces, for Years and Years…

The first time I noticed a preference towards drawing faces and people was during an evaluation in 7th grade. My teachers had me tested to discover why, despite presenting as articulate and capable, I was a failing student.

The evaluator asked me to draw whatever I wanted. With pencil, I sketched a girl with long hair, holding books. She quizzed me about the drawing, and others I’d made in the margins of my notebooks. I heard my answers – 11 year old thoughts – spoken out loud for the first time, as an epiphany. “I like to draw people.

a trace monotype print painted with watercolor of a young woman with long red hair and a wreath of flowers in her hair
The secret sauce to creating faces with soft curves and subtle planes is practice. I have not figured out how to make the faces I see in my imagination, so, I will get back to it. Join me?

They Say You Draw Yourself in Every Portrait…

You’d think that after all these years of drawing and sketching the human form, I’d be pretty boss at it by now. But no, that is not the case. I struggle mightily, with the same stinkin’ things over and over. Crooked features are the bane of my existence. Elongated limbs, and a wandering attentiveness to the subtleties of lost and found edges… I could go on an on.

But my point is this: I will not stop trying, because I’ll never improve without practice. And you can’t stop trying either. Getting good – at anything – requires being comfortable with sucking at it first. And we might be awful for a looooong time. But we’re in this together. So, let’s keep going, okay?

ink, a brayer, a sheet of plexiglass and some tools to make a monotype print
Basic supplies to make a monotype: Ink, Paper, a plate, some mark makers, and interest.

Focus Your Attention on The Good Things

I hope you are safe, active in your creativity, and charging forward in the pursuit of improving your skills. We’re in unprecedented times, and fretting over things we can’t control doesn’t settle frazzled nerves. Grab the parts you can control, like your art supplies, and focus hard on them.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post!

Belinda

P.S. Did you see fabulous artist David Kassan’s live Facebook broadcast of a child’s portrait (part one of two so far) in charcoal pencil? Check it out.

Art Quote

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is on a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

Agnes DeMille recounting a directive from Martha Graham
a cat asking the question: Are You Missing Your Art Supplies?
Click the kitty to visit this free online mini course – Six Tips to Paint More
Signed and listed in my Etsy Shop.
a monotype ghost print with colored pencil added to enhance details of a woman floating in water with her eyes closed

Seven Questions to Help You Roll Past Creative Block

Yield: Progress
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

Stagnant creativity feels like a heavy fog pill slipped into your coffee when you weren’t looking. How do you get past Creative Block?

You want to make things. But there’s an invisible sludge haze blocking creative idea generation, inspiration and motivation to get something started. <---Started is the key word.

If you feel like your creativity is blocked, and inspiration eludes you, try this exercise. Sometimes, you just need a hand to hold on the Start part of making art....

Instructions

  1. Secure 30 minutes, a pen, a note pad, and some quiet time. Sit in a favorite chair, in a sunny spot in a quiet corner. If home is too chaotic, go to a coffee shop and sit in a sunshiny spot. In either case, if it helps, use earbuds or headphones, and listen to instrumental (no words) music. Fill in the blanks below…
  2. If I were the King/Queen of the world, and I could sweep a magic wand to clear time and space to create a beautiful piece of art, I’d work in (fill in your medium: oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencil, graphite)._____________________________. tin watercolor palette
  3. I could make something abstract, or impressionistic, or representational – and since I have a magic skill wand, I think I’ll choose _________________________________. watercolor-sketching-landscape
  4. Since I’m in charge, when I think about size and format, I’d like to make something (small, medium large, huge)__________________________, and in a (horizontal, vertical, square)___________________________ format. using a magnifier light to paint tiny details of a face in profile
  5. I’ve got a hankering to work on (paper, yupo, aquabord, canvas, panel, gesso’d paper)_____________________________________. three hahnemuhle paper blocks
  6. I’m imagining colors that appeal to me right now, in this season of my life, so I’ll focus on a prominence of these three colors, with supporting hues around them: ______________________________________________________. watercolor test swatches for wet in wet painting experiments
  7. I know I can choose any subject that appeals to me, like figurative, portrait, still life, landscape, city scene, interiors, sky/cloudscapes, animals, ocean/shorelines and genre scenes. So, right this second, I feel like painting a __________________________________, with elements of __________________ and ____________________ included. shading a graphite drawing of roses and a bowl of apples
  8. Now, flip open to a fresh page on your notepad, and stomp on that creative block by doodling some layouts, angles, and compositions (no details, see below) that might fill the format of your paper or canvas. 9 tiny pencil sketches of still life flowers and fruit arranged in different compositions

Notes

Feel free to print this, and alter the questions or add new ones that fit your style. Think about times when your art-making was more active, and jot down elements from that time (positive, encouraging) that you can visualize and pre-plan to help you get past the hump of stuckness.

You aren't alone in this. Every artist in history has felt creative block at one time or another, so we are all rooting for you. Set some time aside, and slay it. You've got this.

3 thoughts on “Resources for Learning to Draw the Human Face”

  1. Pingback: Resources for Learning to Draw the Human Face | Best ArtWork

    1. Hi there, Carole! Long time no see, my friend! Yes, wasn’t that an adventure! I love scrolling through all the photos and reminiscing. Are you painting a lot? Watercolor or oils these days? Healthy & hunkering down?

Write something.... pretend we're neighbors, and we’re painting watercolors together in the garden....