How to draw a face

Knowing how to draw a face and head accurately and realistically is key to developing effective characters. When it comes to drawing heads, nothing is set in stone; different characters have vastly different features. However, a grounding in head anatomy will enable you to experiment confidently, and these skills will certainly improve your drawings.

On this page I’ll show you how to draw a face, moving from initial drawings to using references, and sharing my personal techniques. Once you've mastered that, flip to page two to learn how to further your skills. I’ll offer some advice on how to draw a face with personality and how to show different expressions. Right, grab a sketchbook or your Cintiq and let’s get cracking!

01. Start with two circles

two overlapping circles

Two circles form the basis of the head

I start off by drawing two overlapping circles. Where they intersect is the eye level. From there, put a centre line down the two circles. This gives the basis of the human head. 

02. Add construction lines

overlapping circles with guidelines

Use the guidelines to position the features 

Draw two lines slightly in from either side of your circles. These will indicate where the forehead and cheekbones sit. From the centre intersection, place a triangle for the nose and mark out where you want the mouth to go. Then add two triangles for the eyes – these will also help you locate the eyebrows and eye sockets.

03. Explore different proportions

Three heads based on circles of varying proportions

Different sized circles will create different effects

You can experiment with different sized circles to give different head dimensions. The more squashed the circles, the wider and heavy the face, while the more elongated the circles, the longer the head shape.

04. Line up the features

Three heads tilted in three quarter view

Imagine the features are wrapped around a cylinder

Always remember that the eyes, nose and mouth are on the same plane on the face, otherwise things start to go a bit lopsided and weird! Imagine the facial features are wrapped around a cylinder, so they have a natural curve. 

Position the top of the eyebrow and bottom of the nose so that they’re lined up with the height of the ear. This helps the face look more natural; giving it a flow, and stopping it from feeling flat.

05. Start with the eyes

Illustration of a pair of eyes

A light source helps eyes look more alive

Your character’s eyes are crucial to conveying the right emotion. Try to keep them focused and tell a story with them. Give the top eye a thicker line to indicate a shadow from the eyelid, and add a light source to give them life. Longer and thicker eyelashes create a more feminine look.

06. Add in the nose

Several illustrations of noses

The tip of the nose is roughly diamond shaped

Noses can be pretty difficult to get right. I initially create a triangle with a diamond shape for the tip of the nose. From there I draw nostrils, remembering to add line weight and shadow to the bottom of the nose. I keep the details light, adding only what’s needed.

07. Try different lip shapes

Several drawings of lips in different expressions

Look at your own mouth to explore different lip shapes

I keep a little sketchbook to practise different lip shapes. Study films and TV programmes to see how actors exaggerate their mouths. Experiment and explore different mouth shapes. Try to convey ‘oh’, ‘ah’ and ‘esss’: this will help when you want figures to look like they’re having a conversation.

08. Consider differences between male and female faces

A sketch of a woman's face and a man's face

Male faces tend to be more angular – although this isn't a hard and fast rule

The male face is a harder, angular shape. The female face is softer and rounder in general. For women, try to depict fuller lips, larger eyes and rounder cheeks. These are not hard and fast rules, though – just a guide.

09. Finish with some hair

Sketches of a face with hair

Remember, the hair is bigger than the scalp

When drawing a character’s hair, I first create the basic hair shape, noting that the hair is bigger than the scalp. I then add direction to the hair, remembering to draw strokes from the crown of the head. To give hair a more natural appearance, I introduce a sense of weight to the bottom of the shape. Trying drawing the hair shape with a thicker outline and thinner internal lines. This gives it direction.

Next page: more advanced techniques for drawing a face