I was in high school art class when I first learned the “rule” that when drawing a portrait, the eyes are halfway down. That always stuck in my mind because when I heard it, my immediate thought was “No, they’re not!” It sounded preposterous.
Of course, at the time I didn’t understand that the teacher was referring to the entire shape of the head, not merely the portion we designate as face. Once I realized what she actually meant, I had fun drawing ovals and marking the line for the eyes. Since I couldn’t draw and I was only in art class because it was mandatory, drawing ovals and a line was about as far as I ever got. At least I grasped the principle of proper facial proportions.
Last summer when I began learning to draw, it was inevitable that drawing faces would come up in my lessons. I smiled when I read about the “halfway mark” for the eyes. I already knew that. I was a step ahead of the game.
As I read more about facial proportions, I got hooked on drawing faces. For me, there’s something comfortable about knowing where to put things — meaning, facial features. It’s fun to sit down and draw quick little sketches, like the fellow here.
When I first started drawing faces last year, I was actually surprised — and very pleased — when I saw that I could capture a resemblance in my portrait drawing. Then, when I started learning to use charcoal, it made portrait-drawing even more exciting.
One of my first attempts at drawing “a real person” was to do this charcoal drawing of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
In looking back at it now, of course I can find a lot of things wrong with it, but I was very proud that I’d drawn a recognizable portrait. I recognized her, anyway. So did my husband. I’m not sure anyone else sees the resemblance though.
I’d been drawing for about five months when I did that portrait. It encouraged me to keep drawing. Since then, I’ve practiced drawing the eyes, drawing the nose, drawing the mouth. Yes, as you know, I’ve practiced drawing ears, too.
And all the while, I’ve continued to be fascinated by the proportions of the human face. Of course, we’re all created differently, and no one has a “perfect” face. That fact, I think, is what makes portrait-drawing so interesting.
As part of my study on figure drawing, I’m re-visiting old lessons on drawing the head and face. I have an entire page in my sketchbook filled with eyes, another with noses — both male and female — and still another with drawings of the mouth.
Seeing them jumbled together is a bit comical, isn’t it?
Like so many other things, facial features can be tricky to draw, so I keep practicing on them, and slowly but surely I’m making progress.
Recently, I learned something new about portrait-drawing, something that surprised me a bit. I’ve spent so much time going over facial proportions, I thought I knew it all! But before I share my new little tidbit of knowledge, let me first list a few of the proportion tips I’ve learned in the past year:
- Did you know…the face — from hairline to chin — is approximately the same size as the hand?
- Eyebrows align with the top of the ear
- The bottom of the nose lines up with the bottom of the ear
- The middle line of the mouth is at the same level where the angle of the jaw changes
- Leave out most of the lines when drawing the female nose
- Add more details for a masculine nose
- You can omit eyelashes when drawing a man’s eyes
- Five eyes should fit in the distance from the outside of one ear to the other
- The eyes should be separated by about one “eye-width”
- Cheekbones begin just below eye level
- For men, the nostrils are the same width as the tear ducts
- For women, make the nostrils the same width as the inner eyebrow
- For men, the lips extend to the width of the iris or outer side of the pupil
- For women, the lips should only extend to the inner pupil width
- The lower lip is normally thicker than the upper lip
Again, though, no one has an ideally-proportioned face, but knowing these general guidelines make it easier to notice — and accurately draw — an individual’s unique features.
So, what was that little bit of information I learned? Portrait artists and illustrators have discovered that “bunching up” the features on the lower half of the face creates a more “youthful-looking” image. Instead of placing the eyes on or above the midpoint eyeline, place them immediately below. So, now you know!
I guess what we need as we get older isn’t a face-lift as much as an eye-lowering!