How to Draw a Face

To draw a face, or portrait, you will need:


• 2B Pencils

• Pink Pearl Erases

• Kneaded Erasers

• Thick drawing paper, such as Bristol or cardstock

• Copies of Reference Picture


• Portrait

A portrait is a picture of a person, usually consisting of their head and shoulders, although it sometimes includes the whole body. For this lesson, we’ll concentrate on the face.

We’ll be drawing from the photo below. When drawing in graphite, it’s easier to see the shadows when the reference picture uses a grey scale instead of color.

1. Before we begin, let’s decide what shapes we see when we draw a face. Look at someone else in the room, or look at your own face in a mirror. What shape is your head? People’s heads actually come in a variety of shapes, from a long, thin oval to a round circle to an egg shape.

2. Now look at the picture of the girl. What is the shape of her face? Draw this shape on your paper, making sure it fits well. Sketch it lightly -- you might have to make some changes before you’re finished. The lighter you draw, the easier it is to erase.


3. Now that you have the shape of the face on the paper, let’s see how the features -- the eyes, nose, and mouth -- line up. To do this, place a finger in the center of your forehead. Move your finger straight down from the center of the forehead to the center of the chin. Notice that it goes right between the eyes, down the center of your nose, and divides the mouth equally. Now draw this line LIGHTLY on the face on your paper -- this will be one of our “guidelines,” and we’ll erase it later.

4. Next, place your finger at the top of one of your ears where it connects to the side of your head. Move it slowly across your face from the top of the first ear to the top of your other ear. Notice this line runs through the middle of one eye, across the bridge of the nose, then through the middle of the next eye. Before we draw this line on your paper, however, let’s see where it is placed. It actually doesn’t run through the center of the face; the distance from the top of the head to they eyes is LESS than the distance from the eyes to the chin. Draw your horizontal line a little HIGHER than the middle of the head. Remember to draw this line lightly -- we’ll be erasing this one too.

Great! Now we have the basic shape of the head, and we know where the facial features will go (on these two lines).

This technique will also work when you draw a face that is turned to the right or left, up or down. If the subject is not looking straight-on, you will simply need to move the lines. For example, if the subject is looking up, we move the horizontal line up; if the subject is looking down, we move the horizontal down

If the subject is looking to the left, draw a face with the vertical line to the left; if the subject is looking right, move the vertical line to the right.

5. Now we’ll start sketching in the features. I like to begin with the eyes. Remember to consider the proportions of the features as you draw. A general rule of thumb is that the space between the eyes is about equal to the length of one eye; a nose is approximately 1 ½ eyes long.

When drawing eyes, work first with the shape of the eye, and place it on the center of the line. Note that the iris, the colored part of the eye, fills up the whole eye and is a perfect circle (although some of it might be concealed by the eyelid. You can create this “colored” effect with graphite by filling in the iris. Pupils (the dark center of the eye) should be darker than the iris. Large pupils give your portrait a friendlier appearance, while small pupils give the person a more menacing look. Be sure to leave a small white spot on the pupil/iris. This is called the catch light, and it’s where the light is reflecting off of the eye. Notice the difference it makes:

Because we can’t often see individual lashes, you can draw them by simply making thick dark lines on the upper lid.

6. Once you have one eye completed, measure it, mark the space for the width of the nose (remember, the length of the eye is about the same as the space between the eyes), then draw the other eye. It is helpful to measure and mark the length before you begin so the two eyes match in size. Draw the second eye. Don’t forget to add the eyebrows. In our picture, we did!

7. Now let’s measure for the nose. Mark the length of the eye again; the nose is about 1 ½ eyes long. Mark this on your paper.

We don’t really see “lines” for the sides of noses -- those lines are really shadows. For this reason, we’ll just draw the lower part of the nose. We’ll come back and add the sides later.

When drawing a nose, note that there is a space between the nostrils, and that the sides of the nostrils come out to about the inside of the eyes.

Before drawing the mouth, measure the distance between the nose and the mouth. We’ve been using the length of the eye as our standard of measuring, so measure to see how many “eyes” there are from the bottom of the nose to the top lip.

You can start drawing the mouth by first drawing the line between the lips. Notice this line extends past the lips, about to the center of the eyes. Once you have this line drawn, draw the lips. Remember the lips will be halved by the vertical reference line you drew at the beginning.

9. Good work getting the features on. As you continue to draw a face, let’s measure the distance to the chin and sides of the face. You may need to change your original shape of the head to make it fit these measurements.

10. To add the ears, remember that our horizontal line marked where the top of the ear was connected to the head. This is where you will start the ear -- notice the ear goes up from there and then comes back down to reconnect. Most ears reconnect somewhere around the nose and mouth. Add the lines you see for the inside of the ear.

11. Let’s move on to the hair. When you draw a face that has hair, draw your lines for the hair in the direction the hair is going. For long hair, you would draw long lines, and for short hair, short lines.

12. Now let’s add the neck and shoulders. When you draw a face, you don't want a head floating around without anything attached to it. You can add her arms and hands, too, if you’d like.

13. Next, erase the guideline you made to place the features on the face. Be careful not to erase the eyes, nose, or mouth. If they do disappear, fill them in again where they were before.

14. Last but not least, let’s add some shading and finish the nose. Just like with the still life, shade the side of the face where you see the shadows. Then, use a tortillon the blend it in. After the tortillon has graphite on it, use it to create the sides of the nose by “drawing” them with the tortillon (you don’t need to use a pencil). You can also use the tortillon to go over the hair, filling in between your lines. Or, if you have a larger space to blend, you can use your finger to blend the pencil. If you make a shadow too dark, just use the kneaded eraser to pick up some of the graphite.

By Cathryn, Age 9

Finished? Great job! See? You can draw a face! It may not look exactly like the photograph, but as you practice, your drawings will get better and better. You can find lots of other “models” to practice drawing portraits in magazines, or you can use your own photos.

Older students (10 and up) may also want to draw a face using a grid. This technique is very helpful in when drawing a face, enabling the artist to place the subject's features in exactly the right places so the drawing looks even more like the photograph.