How to draw a head

There is a crucial science to depicting the head accurately, either from life or observation. Chris Legaspi explains the basic principles to follow.

How to draw a head

When drawing a head, it's a good idea at first to simplify the process as much as possible

You may have your best pencils and drawing techniques to hand, but there's no getting away from the complexity of how to draw a head. Because of this, it's a good idea at first to simplify as much as possible, starting with simple shapes and then slowly beginning to add features.

I like to start out by making careful observations and looking for key landmarks, such as anatomy, and the gesture of the head. I make sure to establish the outer shape solidly, looking at the extreme edges of the face and hair. That done, I draw an outline that captures the general shape.

Next, I begin to place the features by locating the crosshairs – the vertical and horizontal centre of the head. This defines how much of the face you see and the direction of the model's gaze. I indicate the features by defining the rule of thirds, which places the hairline, brow ridge and the bottom of the nose.

To construct the head, I like to use boxy forms and planes. Planes work well in head drawing because they define corners and direction changes. I like corners because they make heads feel solid and three dimensional. Once the planes and structures are established, I complete the drawing stage with the features, and small details, like the eye openings, nostrils, ears and hair.

To finish the drawing, I add light and shadow. First, I use mid-value tone to block in the shadow, making sure to group dark objects (such as hair) as well.

01. Define the outer shape

How to draw a head: define the outer shape

For head shapes, oval, square and combinations of both work well

It's good to start by observing the key landmarks, especially the top, sides and bottom of the head. Using the landmarks as a guide, I then design a shape that captures the general shape I see. For head shapes, oval, square and combinations of both work well.

02. Locate the crosshairs

How to draw a head: locate the crosshairs

To place the crosshairs, look at the centre of the face and the centre of the eyes

To place the crosshairs, I look at the centre of the face and the centre of the eyes. This gives me the accurate tilt and rotation of the head. Next, I look to the hairline, brow ridge and bottom of the nose to help accurately place the features.

03. Define planes

How to draw a head: define planes

Using planes helps to make drawings feel solid, three- dimensional, and also aids the rendering process

Using planes helps to make my drawing feel solid, three- dimensional, and also aids the rendering process. I begin by first breaking up the head into top, side and front planes. Then I carve into the planes to refine the drawing as appropriate. Once that's done, I begin tackling the features by constructing them, also in planes.

04. Features and details

How to draw a head: features and details

For greater accuracy, use the natural rhythms in the anatomy to help place the features

I complete the drawing stage by refining the features and other small details, before going on to refine my original constructions until I achieve a likeness. For greater accuracy, I use the natural rhythms in the anatomy to help place the features. This also helps with proportion and adds gesture to the drawing.

05. Light and shade

How to draw a head: light and shade

Begin the lighting and shading process by first separating the light from shadow

I begin the lighting and shading process by first separating the light from shadow. I'll often draw out the shadow pattern and then fill it with a mid-value tone. Then I'll continue the rendering process with half-tones and conclude with the dark accents and highlights

Words: Chris Legaspi

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