Good head
March 20, 2013 9:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm a pretty faithful sketcher of still life, birds and landscapes. But I can NOT draw faces for the love of the sweet baby jesus. Seriously the average seven year old can render a more accurate version of a person. Please help me learn how to draw faces properly - techniques/books/youtube/anything welcome!
posted by everydayanewday to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Why not start by tracing the drawings that you admire?
posted by oceanjesse at 9:26 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Faces are hard because your brain automatically starts to interpret what you're seeing, moreso than with other stuff - you know, those are eyes, that's a nose, who cares what it looks like, we need to know is that person mad or sexy or what? So while learning rules of thumb for proportions and stuff is great, what you really need to do is make your brain stop interpreting and start seeing- get a reference photo and turn it upside down and copy it, or do some sort of abstracting thing like this where you break something down into blocks and color it like a paint-by-number. (That pic should work, it's a high school art class assignment of mine, if I knew the name of the style I'd find a prettier one as an example.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:42 PM on March 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Buy some tracing paper and use it to composite together faces.

Jack Hamm's Drawing the Head and Figure is good.

I'd use it in conjuncton with Bridgman.

For figure drawing, I've found training in comparative measurement to be very helpful.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:45 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another hard thing about faces is that in real life they are curved but when you look at a mirror or picture they are flat. Starting by drawing a curved plane and then sticking a nose etc on top of it helped me a lot.
posted by rmless at 9:47 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Our brains make faces seem more prominent (i.e. bigger) than they really are. They don't cover the whole front of the head, with that pinhead look like kids tend to draw.

The eyes are exactly halfway between top and bottom of the head (really!) and the ears are about even with the eyes. Those two rules of thumb improved my amateur head-drawing immensely.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:17 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Burne Hogarth's Drawing the Human Head is also very good.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:36 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think faces are hard partly because your brain deals with them differently than other objects:
Prosopagnosia (Greek: "prosopon" = "face", "agnosia" = "not knowing"), also called face blindness, is a disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while other aspects of visual processing (e.g., object discrimination) and intellectual functioning (e.g., decision making) remain intact. The term originally referred to a condition following acute brain damage (acquired prosopagnosia), but a congenital or developmental form of the disorder also exists, which may affect up to 2.5% of the population.[1] The specific brain area usually associated with prosopagnosia is the fusiform gyrus,[2] which activates specifically in response to faces. Thanks to this specialization, most people recognize faces much more effectively than they do similarly complex inanimate objects. For those with prosopagnosia, the ability to recognize faces depends on the less-sensitive object recognition system.
Oliver Sacks has this, and I get it at the beginning of every migraine. For me it's not just blindness; faces become profoundly disturbing to look at as the individual features swim around like insects on a puddle, and when I close my eyes, I can't bring even my partner's face to mind.

Autistic drawing savants are often said to be generally incapable of doing faces, but there is at least one who specializes in them.

My own ability to draw anything is such that upon seeing my stick figures, sensitive 5 year olds will come over and pat me on the back and tell me it's really OK once they've stopped laughing, but the one time I took speed (a single black beauty) I was able to draw a very recognizable caricature of my girlfriend without even meaning to.
posted by jamjam at 12:26 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

The books by Andrew Loomis are classic. I can highly recommend "Drawing the Head & Hands".

A Youtube channel that I like is Proko's. His method is based on Loomis', and he presents it in a very practical, easy-to-follow way. I've learned a lot from these videos.

Once you've got the basics down, grab a mirror and then just draw your own face, over and over. Copying photos is useful too, but they will only get you so far. You'll learn a lot more from studying a face that exists in a three-dimensional space.

Good luck!
posted by Caconym at 12:51 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm currently teaching university figure drawing.

Others are right that one of the biggest challenges in drawing faces is getting people to let go of their preconceived notions of what a face is.

I bring out the human skull first, and get students to draw and study that. How the jaw connects to the rest of the skull at the ear hole, where the high points on the skull are, how low the eyes actually are in relation to the brow/forehead/top of the skull, how the teeth actually take up some space such that the "mouth box" consisting of the lips covering the teeth aren't flat but actually a convex form.

Then we draw the head from a live model with the skull nearby for constant comparison. We focus on proportion and underlying anatomy first - now that we have flesh, how does it connect to what we learned from the skull? Where does the earhole sit on this head, and from there you can draw the jaw coming off and the back of the head coming out. Where are the model's high points? The face is three-dimensional, so the flat stylized features we all know and love from children's drawings of faces (eyelid-less almond eyes, a full frontal mouth, etc) need to leave and we need to really observe what happens when the face falls away from the midline. What happens to the shape of the features at a 3/4 profile? What happens to them when they're foreshortened (model reclining)?

Some of these drawings I have them completely switch up their method in order to generate new thinking and seeing. So I have them do blind contour drawings, continuous line drawings, drawings where their pads face away from the model so they can look at the model to their hearts' content but have to turn away and just look at their pads to draw. I've had a lot of success doing subtractive figure drawing, where they cover the sheet with charcoal and erase the figure out - it's actually way easier to make and "erase" mistakes by filling back in with charcoal in subtractive drawing and students really respond to it. Early on in doing the face, I make them start a lot of drawings. Do 10 different drawings in a hour.

Things I'm frequently reminding students: The eyes sit lower in the face than most people think. No, lower. Slightly above halfway down but lower than a third of the way down. When you think you have it right, draw the eyelid instead and draw the eye below that. The eye is a sphere, and though you see only a part it is still shaded like a sphere. The ear hole helps position the jaw and skull, and also gives, particularly with the hairline, a good width to the face and a good idea of where the nose and eyes are. The nose you are drawing is probably too long. Shorten it and add the philtrum. The nose does not immediately segue into the mouth. The mouthbox comes out from the face and is not flat. If you're at an angle, the features on the far side have to fall away with the side of the face. This might mean you don't get to point both or even perhaps either side(s) of the mouth and eyes. If you do anyway, you're flipping that side up and losing perspective. We have bilateral symmetry. The closer of the two body parts that are the same will be at least slightly bigger in your drawing due to perspective. This goes for eyes, ears, breasts, hands, what have you. This does not mean you should draw one eye much larger than the other. We're talking tiny adjustments particularly when they're that close together. Watch your overall proportions. Are the features the right size for the head? Are they too small or too big? Are you accidentally drawing yourself and not the model? Really LOOK. Step three feet back and look again. Is the head caved in anywhere? Concavities, apart from coming off the brow to the nose or from the back of the skull to the neck, tend to signal illness and/or old age. Angularity tends to signal age up until old age. Really flat/straight lines tend to signal tension. Jawlines and browlines tend to signal gender. Watch the chin and profile, particularly that you're drawing the model and not your own or an idealized version. When drawing hair or shading, keep your marks following the form. Cross-contour shading is also nice. When drawing teeth or wrinkles, keep your marks super, super light.
posted by vegartanipla at 1:13 AM on March 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

restless_nomad is totally talking about how I work on fixing my drawing problems. If I take a photo of a face, turn it upside down, draw a grid on it, and recreate each square on my paper, a minor miracle occurs. Once each square is faithfully recreated in pencil on my paper, I turn it around and an incredibly accurate drawing of that face is looking back at me. Fooling my brain into seeing shapes and shades instead of a FACE is key.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:15 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Two more things I forgot to mention: Sight lines for the midline and eyes are so helpful. If you're having real proportion issues, sight lines for the top and bottom of the nose and mouth are also nice. And the cheekbones are high points on the face.
posted by vegartanipla at 1:19 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: do some sort of abstracting thing like this where you break something down into blocks and color it like a paint-by-number. (That pic should work, it's a high school art class assignment of mine, if I knew the name of the style I'd find a prettier one as an example.)

I might describe it as more a procedure than a style. "Draw the outline. Lightly draw the parts of the face as a underdrawing. Draw the terminator lines of the shadow shapes. Fill in the values, posterizing them. Once you have the values right, figure out the hue and chroma."

If I take a photo of a face, turn it upside down, draw a grid on it, and recreate each square on my paper, a minor miracle occurs.

I would worry that using a grid may block you from analyzing what you're seeing another time you're looking at a figure or a face. Try using a knitting needle or bamboo skewer to transfer over (scaled) horizontal and vertical measurements, and to compare vertical and horizontal positions of stuff. This is the foundation of sight-size and comparative measurement, and is extraordinarily good training for formal drawing and more casual noodling.

Sight-size and comparative measurement takes a while. Drawing a face from life and for a short pose, I'd use it to check larger proportions and compare verticals and horizontals.

Copying these bargue drawings would be a good exercise. It's how Van Gogh, Picasso, and countless academic painters and early impressionists learned their art, and is still current practice: -

I think Russian academies used this more structural approach, as a opposed to optical approach, but one which is also a good way to learn to draw the face.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:47 AM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Good book: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (or Left Side, whatever)

This is full of exercises to help you switch off your verbal, logical perceptual sense in favour of your visual sense. It like what vegartanipla said but in a book with exercises.
posted by glasseyes at 5:15 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am not the best at faces either, however I can say "Do as I say, not as I do.. or can do.."

The first step- as others have said - is getting proportions correct. This includes where things line up on the face, and how the shadows work. For instance, eyes are about half way on your head, that's your head, not the face.

One book that I really enjoy is The Complete Guide to Drawing. It starts with basic shapes, textures, etc, then moves onto still life, fabric draping and faces. This book also covers the dreaded hands and feet.

One of the best tips I got from a life drawing teacher was to sketch yourself in a mirror. Don't sketch from a photo as photos can loose their three-dimensionality. Also, you know your face the best. That is why if you were to just draw a face it will end up looking like you! (Cool huh!)

Using your own face/head you can start to learn proportions such as where your ears line up, how far your eyes are apart, how do your eyebrows arch, etc.

Good luck!
posted by Crystalinne at 3:28 PM on March 21, 2013

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