The Best Head Drawing Methods – Loomis vs Reilly vs Asaro

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head drawing methods comparison

What Is The Best Method For Drawing Heads?

The best head drawing methods are the Loomis method, the Reilly abstraction and the Asaro head. They are probably the most popular methods and tools for drawing a head.

But which one should you use when? And if you can’t draw faces, where exactly do you start?

To find out, let’s first look at each one by itself.

The Loomis Method

the loomis method

The Loomis method is a step-by-step system to draw the head that was developed by Andrew Loomis. It’s present in most of his books, but is described in most detail in Drawing The Head And Hands from 1956.

It breaks the basic structure of the head down into simple forms.

In a nutshell, the method works like this:

It all starts with a ball:

loomis method - step 1

You then draw vertical and horizontal center lines:

loomis method - step 2

Then you slice off the sides:

loomis method - step 3

Then you lengthen the center line of the face and divide it into three equal parts:

loomis method - step 4

Then you draw the jaw and the general head shape:

loomis method - step 5

And finally you place all the features: the eyebrows …

loomis method - step 6

… the eyes …

loomis method - step 7

… the ears and nose …

loomis method - step 8

… and finally the lips:

loomis method - step 9

With all the guides and simple shapes, the Loomis method helps you get the basic structure and proportions right and it shows you how to place all the features correctly.

It can produce solid results for beginners quickly.

Also, it allows you to draw the head from any angle:

drawing a head from any angle with the loomis method

To do this, you have to rotate the sphere in perspective and draw the center lines around the sphere. You need to think in three dimensions instead of just two.

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While the basic front view of the Loomis method is quick to learn, this 3D view is much harder. It requires some experience drawing simple forms in perspective correctly.

The Reilly Abstraction

the reilly abstraction

The Reilly abstraction was created by Frank Reilly at the beginning of the 1900s. Reilly never published a book on it, but he taught it in art school for about 30 years.

The Reilly abstraction describes the head differently than the Loomis method.

Instead of being rather technical and focusing on straight construction lines like the Loomis method, the Reilly method focuses more on rhythm and flow.

It shows how all the facial forms connect and kind of „flow“ into each other.

The method uses a lot of circles and curved lines to emphasize the rhythms of the face.

To do this, it incorporates not only the basic structure of the head, like the Loomis method, but also things like bones, muscles, wrinkles and other anatomical details.

For example, it uses circles for the eyeballs and the chin and curved lines that kind of represent the cheekbones:

round forms of the reilly abstraction

Therefore, it’s more useful, if you already have a basic understanding of proportions and anatomy.

You can learn about this method in the book Mastering Drawing The Human Figure by Jack Faragasso who was actually a student of Reilly.

The Asaro Head

asaro head

The Asaro head is a different animal altogether. It was invented by John Asaro in 1976 and is a simplified model of the planes of the head.

You can actually buy a real one on

Typically, it’s not used for constructing a head drawing. It’s too geometric for that.

Its purpose is to act as a model for light and shadow. Shading is a complex topic, but the simple planes of the Asaro head can help you understand it faster.

Unlike the Reilly model, the Asaro head is rather simple and doesn’t show any muscles or something like that. The shapes are kept basic, so you get a clear separation between light and shadow.

When you have drawn your head, you can use the Asaro head as a reference for how light and shadow fall on a head.

Just put the Asaro head under a specific light source to achieve the lighting you want and use that as a reference:

asaro head painting from reference

Apart from using it as a reference, you can also use it to create basic light and shadow studies with simple exercises:

asaro head drawings filled with 2 values

I recommend checking out my article about the Asaro Head where I describe this in detail.

The Differences Between The Head Drawing Methods

Plot Twist:

When talking about the Loomis method, everyone just thinks about the basic construction method. But did you know that Andrew Loomis actually had his own version of the Asaro head?

That’s right, 20 years before the Asaro head was invented, Loomis showed a similar model in his book. He called it basic and secondary planes of the head:

Also, way back in 1943, he used a simple mannequin head to show some basic lighting situations:

Another thing is that the Loomis method and the Reilly abstraction look somewhat different at first.

But if you compare them, actually both methods start with a simple sphere:

loomis vs reilly method

And in both methods, the sides are cut off:

loomis vs reilly method

So, altogether these head drawing methods aren’t as different as you might think at first.

Still, all of them have their place:

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Loomis vs Reilly vs Asaro

In isolation, each one has a specific advantage:

  • The Loomis method is great for beginners to learn the basic construction and shape of the head. It also offers a useful step-by-step process.
  • The Reilly abstraction is good for making your drawings more rhythmic and flowing and making them look less „constructed“.
  • And the Asaro head is a useful tool when you try to learn lighting and shading.

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Which Head Drawing Method Should You Use?

And this is actually a good sequence to follow:

Try the Loomis method first, to get familiar with the basic shape of the head.

the loomis method

Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, try experimenting with the Reilly abstraction to put more flow into your drawings:

the reilly abstraction

Finally, use the Asaro head to learn how light and shadow fall on a head:

asaro head

And actually you can use this exact sequence on one specific drawing, too:

Start with a basic Loomis head …

drawing a head - loomis method for shape

… draw flow lines from the Reilly method on top …

drawing a head - using reilly rhythms

… and draw your final lines on top of everything.

drawing a head - finishing

Finally, use the Asaro head as a shading reference:

drawing a head - shading using the asaro head

But, as John Asaro himself said:

There comes a time when you will probably break the rules.

You will break free of these constrained models and the exact step-by-step process.

The more heads you draw, the more intuitive your ability to draw the basic head shape will be. And you will kind of get a feeling for getting the proportions right without hundreds of lines to guide you.

The more experience you have, the less you will depend on drawing the exact construction every single time. You might even find that you end up mixing and matching certain elements from different head drawing methods. Use what’s useful to you and discard what’s not.

And still, you can always fall back on these basic methods of construction whenever you feel stuck. Or when you’re trying to draw new or extreme angles.

Going back to the basics is always a good idea.

Why Can’t I Draw Faces? These Are The 5 Reasons Why!

2 thoughts on “The Best Head Drawing Methods – Loomis vs Reilly vs Asaro”

  1. I spent most of my day reading your “Why I cant draw a face”; it was most
    helpful; then I attempted to follow all directions to complete my task using 2 styles.
    For me Loomis was my most productive. I understood all directions having just learned how “artists” talk. Enjoy your easy style of expression. I tried the Rielly
    style which was harder for me to see points of reference; but surprise my project was was good and the head came out looking female. Nice touch. I will try to locate
    your sessions. You have helped me see what I hope will be good one day; got to
    learn fast cause I am 78 years young. Don’t dismiss me due to age. Bye, Kate
    not bad and the head was female. Don’t know how that happened.

    • Very cool, Kate! You’re a prime example that it’s never too late to pick up drawing. 🙂 Love that you’re making progress and I could help you out a bit! Yes, the Reilly method is a bit weird for beginners, but it can still be useful to get a good “flow” in your head drawing.


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