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How to draw a face

How to draw a face
(Image credit: Neil Edwards)

So you want to know how to draw a face and head accurately? Maybe you've got a lot of different faces to draw, or just one in particular. Either way, when it comes to drawing heads nothing is set in stone as different characters have vastly different features. However, having a basic understanding of drawing and a grounding in head anatomy will enable you to confidently experiment – and these skills will definitely improve your drawings.

This page will show you how to draw a face, moving from initial drawings to using references containing different faces to draw, and sharing our specific techniques. Once you've conquered that, flip to page two to learn how to further your skills. We'll  offer tips on how to draw a face with personality, including how to show different expressions. For more drawing lessons, see our roundup of excellent how to draw tutorials. Or if you're looking for a classic tool to hone your line work, check out our list of the best lightboxes. But for now, grab a sketchbook or your Cintiq and let's get cracking. 

Click on the icon at the top-right of the image to enlarge it.

01. Start with two 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

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

Different sized circles will create different effects

You can experiment with different sized circles to give different head dimensions, perfect for any ideas you have of different faces to draw. 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

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

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

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

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

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

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