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Have you been trying to learn how to draw faces, but it just didn’t work out?
Maybe you have started questioning your sanity and thinking „Why can’t I draw faces?“.
Don’t fret. I’m here to help!
In this article, I’ll explain 5 beginner mistakes – the reasons why you struggle with drawing faces. And I’ll give you some tips and recommend courses on how to get better at it.
You can’t draw faces because:
- You Don’t Understand Correct Proportions
- You Lack Knowledge Of Anatomy
- You Haven’t Practiced Drawing The Features Independently
- You Don’t Approach Faces As 3D Objects
- You Don’t Know The Difference Between The Faces Of Men And Women
Table of Contents
Why Is Drawing A Face So Hard?
Drawing faces can seem to be more challenging than drawing other things.
But why is that?
The reason is actually quite eye-opening once you know it: Just think about how many faces you look at during a regular day. Two? Eight? Twelve?
Count them for one day. I bet it’s a lot of faces.
It obviously depends on your work. If you’re a professional bodybuilder, it might just be your own face and body in the mirror … 🙂
But if you work with people (even in an ordinary office job), you will look at a lot of faces every day.
And it’s not just that you see a lot of faces regularly, it’s also the amount of time you look at them. Every time you talk to someone you look at his/her face for most of the duration of the conversation.
Drawing a face is so hard because people look at a lot of different faces every day. Besides, they look at them for long durations of time because most of us look people in the eye during a conversation.
Therefore, you subconsciously know how a face looks right. The slightest drawing mistakes will be visible even to the layman.
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The Reasons Why You Can’t Draw Faces
Now we know why drawing faces is so hard. But what are the actual reasons why you have trouble drawing faces?
1. You Don’t Understand Correct Proportions
The first reason why you can’t draw faces is that you don’t understand the actual proportions of the human face.
There are several distinct rules when it comes to proportions.
Every face is unique to a certain degree, yes. Otherwise, we would all look the same. But there are relationships between the features of the face that apply to most people:
• the face can be divided into three parts of equal size:
– forehead (hairline to brow-line)
– nose (brow-line to bottom of nose)
– mouth and chin (bottom of nose to bottom of chin)
• the face is about 4 to 5 eyes wide
• the sides of the mouth line up with the center of the pupils
• the nose fits between the eyes (width)
• the height of the ears and nose are the same
• the lip-line is about one-third of the way between the bottom of the nose and the bottom of the chin
These relationships are not hard rules. They will vary a bit.
But you would be surprised how many faces they apply to if you drew these lines over several faces.
Take my face for example:
1.1 Common Mistake #1: Drawing The Eyes Too High
The most common beginner mistake when it comes to proportions of the face probably is drawing the eyes too high.
When talking to other people, we tend to focus on the eyes. You don’t look at another person’s mouth when he/she is talking to you. (Except if you want to kiss him/her, ha!)
The next point of attention is the mouth – because it’s moving.
So, you tend to focus on the eyes and maybe the mouth during a conversation.
Moreover, the forehead is often covered by hair. Hence, beginners tend to ignore it when placing the eyes and draw them too high.
The Solution: Draw Them In The Center Of The Face
The eyeline is approximately in the center of the face. Put your eyes there and you are good to go.
1.2 Common Mistake #2: Drawing The Eyes Too Big
Another mistake beginners often make is to draw the eyes too big.
The reason for this is pretty much the same as before:
Because we look into the eyes of other people much longer than we look somewhere else, we tend to put much more importance on them than needed.
Due to that, the natural tendency is to draw them too big.
The Solution: Draw Them Smaller
Yes, that’s it. How much smaller?
Remember the rule from above: The face is about 4 to 5 eyes wide.
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2. You Lack Knowledge Of Anatomy
The second reason why you struggle with drawing faces is that you don’t know jack about anatomy.
So many artists are in a love-hate relationship with learning anatomy. Yes, me too, I admit it.
Learning anatomy is not always fun. It’s boring dry stuff you have to do to learn drawing well. But unfortunately, it’s also the key to getting really good really fast.
You can master the proportions of the face to the extreme. So much that your faces will look like god himself designed the proportions with utmost care … but if you don’t acquire enough knowledge about facial anatomy, your faces will still look bad.
Take a peek at what’s beneath the face:
The bones …
… and the muscles:
Studying this will give you important knowledge about what a face is made of and what influences the forms you see from the outside.
Fun fact: Leonardo da Vinci was so obsessed with learning anatomy that he illegally dissected up to 30 bodies in his lifetime – just to be able to draw better.
Please … don’t do that! 🙂
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3. You Haven’t Practiced Drawing The Features Independently
Anatomy is a complex topic. There are about 650 muscles in a human being – of which almost 50 individual muscles belong to the face alone.
That said, each of the features of the face is a challenge in itself.
To get good at drawing faces you really need to do individual studies of every feature.
Just because you are great at drawing eyes, doesn’t mean you can draw noses well.
To draw beautiful faces you need to be able to do it all. So do some studies of eyes, eyebrows, noses, mouths and ears.
Concentrate on your weak points and your face drawings will improve in no time.
4. You Don’t Approach Faces As 3D Objects
The fourth reason is a very important one:
Your facial drawings might look bad because you are not treating them as three-dimensional objects.
That’s the most frustrating part of it all: You probably start out drawing faces from the front, like I did (as you can see in my gallery). This way you can get the basics down relatively fast.
Or maybe you’ve stuck to drawing a side profile (check out my guide).
But once you start turning the face just a little bit upwards or sideways, it changes the look of the features a lot:
Don’t worry, all of your practice drawing faces from the front wasn’t for nothing … but it’s a whole new challenge to draw a face from an angle.
It requires you to understand the form of the head as a whole – and do further practice sessions drawing heads from various angles.
For this, also check out my guide on the best ways to draw a head.
5. You Don’t Know The Difference Between The Faces Of Men And Women
A common problem of beginners is that their male face drawings look like females – or the other way round. I know the struggle …
Understanding the key differences between the faces of men and women can eliminate that problem quickly though.
5.1 How To Draw Male Faces
Men’s faces tend to have the following characteristics:
- shape: square
- jaw: angular
- eyes: small
- eyebrows: low above the eyes & thick
- lips: thin
- nose: big
- cheeks: hollow
- chin: pronounced
- neck: wide
5.2 How To Draw Female Faces
In contrast, women’s faces tend to have the following characteristics:
- shape: rounded
- jaw: rounded
- eyes: big & pronounced eyelashes
- eyebrows: high above the eyes & small (but more defined)
- lips: full & curved
- nose: small and narrow
- cheeks: not so hollow
- chin: not as pronounced
- neck: thin
Of course, not all of those characteristics are equally present in every man’s or woman’s face.
How To Shade Faces Correctly
If you have mastered the basic drawing and need to learn how to shade a face, I’ve got you covered.
First, check out my complete guide on shading faces.
Afterwards, check out my Asaro Head tutorial to learn how to refine the values in your portraits.
Then, read my in-depth article about how to draw midtones.
Also, check out my tutorial video series:
Recommended Courses For Learning How To Draw Faces
If you want to dive deeper into drawing heads and faces, I recommend watching the following great drawing courses of industry professionals.
How to Draw Superhero Heads
by David Finch, Comic Book Artist
Understanding and Painting the Head
by Marco Bucci, Professional Illustrator & Teacher
Painting Faces with the Power of Photoshop
by Hardy Fowler, Digital Artist
Head Drawing Basics
by Mark Hill, Fine Artist
Intermediate Head Drawing
by Mark Hill, Fine Artist
Now you know the most common pitfalls when trying to draw faces – and you should be well equipped for your journey to drawing perfect heads. Good luck!
Thanks for reading and see you next time!