Drawing the Face

It’s time to begin a new series.   The face is one of the most fascinating subjects to draw,  yet it’s also one of the most difficult.   Like most subjects, some basic guidelines can go along way  to get us started in the right direction.  Over the next several weeks I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned that have helped me.

When we think about drawing a person, we often judge our drawing by how well we have captured a likeness. Getting a likeness is great, but it’s only part of the goal. Learning facial proportions,  observing line, values and texture all contribute to the experience.  And experience is an appropriate word.  Drawing the face takes practice.  In the winter months I am privileged to meet weekly with a group of exceptional artists to work from a portrait model.  This regular practice has propelled my progress.

Our model sits in the same pose for four hours – with a break every 20 minutes.  I like to take the first two 20 minute sessions to do a drawing on toned paper.   I use a white charcoal pencil for highlights, leave the gray paper for light gray, then use soft pencils to go darker.  This has become my favorite way to do portraits.  Here’s a photo of my materials. The drawing by Scott Burdick on the cover of the Strathmore pad is an inspiring example.

Portrait supplies

Occasionally I will do portraits in ink in my sketchbooks.  These sketches are quick impressions of a glance or an gesture.

market man

But I prefer pencil for portraits because soft textures are ideal for capturing skin and hair.



What do I do after 40 minutes of drawing at the portrait studio?  I spend the rest of the time on an oil painting.


In her book, “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,”  Betty Edwards  writes, “Once you have drawn a person, you will really have seen that individual’s face.  As one of my students said, ‘I don’t think I ever actually looked at anyone’s face before I started drawing. Now, the oddest thing is that everyone looks beautiful to me.’ ”   Spend some time considering any face and I’ll bet you’ll discover the same thing.

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