How to control symmetry in a portrait in 3 steps

Ever wondered how to make faces symmetrical in portrait painting? In this tutorial, digital artist Bill Corbet reveals all.

In terms of sci-fi fantasy portraits, symmetry is very important. Heroes and heroines need to be attractive and have heroic proportions to their features. Symmetry plays a large part in dividing the face into the ideal classical proportions that represent beauty as well as indicating other desirable traits.

Symmetry becomes difficult when the head is tilted away from the viewer, but as long as the face is equally divided in the correct proportions the desired effect can still be maintained. This is where the artist's skill with perspective and foreshortening will be tested.

Before you begin

In reality, nobody has a perfectly symmetrical face, but people who are nearest to it, and whose features fit the ideal proportions, tend to be more attractive to us on the whole (although that varies from person to person, of course).

The amount of symmetry that you add to your own painting depends on what you're trying to achieve. Symmetry by itself isn't a guarantee of beauty; what it does guarantee is that the layout of the face has a more credible or natural look to it.

Step 01

When I first made the drawing for this PaintShop Pro painting, I had already planned on making the girl's face full on to the viewer and to be pleasing to the eye. I drew the left side of the face first and aligned the features proportionally to the 'ideal' face, as shown in this first step.

Step 02

After I had mirrored the left half of the face to the right, I made sure all the features aligned symmetrically, to create an overall attractiveness for the fantasy girl character. The overlay illustrates this by showing the proportional divisions and alignments of the face.

Step 03

Of course, not everything should be symmetrical, so small differences between the left and right sides are essential. Also the shading and colouring overall treats the face as a single entity. Only the main features and shape of the face remain aligned on both sides.

Words: Bill Corbett

Bill Corbett works as a freelance artist producing illustrations for media groups, public relations companies, small businesses, bands and private clients.