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Uploaded: June 11, 2011
Artist: Catherinelennon
Difficulty: Intermediate  Intermediate Skill Level
Steps: 15
Updated: June 11, 2011
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In this tutorial, I will show you how to freehand draw a realistic face. The tutorial can be adapted for drawing digitally or traditionally! I will be drawing the portrait of a young woman from oval to stray hairs, all without using a single reference! (Though references for each piece can definitely be beneficial and the tutorial can be adapted to include drawing from a reference. Simply pay close attention to your model for each piece!)

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how to draw real faces, draw faces

How to Draw Real Faces, Draw Faces

how to draw real faces, draw faces step 1

STEP 1.

Introduction and 3 Things to Keep in Mind || As an untrained artist (or rather one who learned simply by a combination of real life observation and tutorials much like this one), there are a few things about faces that I have learned: a) Every object can be taken down to basic geometry, and our faces are no exception. The basic nose is in the shape of a triangle, the basic eye an oval. We can use basic shapes to create a three dimensional picture in our heads, allowing us to take perspective into account when drawing faces. In addition, playing around with these shapes, combining them and changing them ever so slightly, we can create uniqueness parallel to the variation found in the diversity of life on earth. b) Proportions are important, but they aren’t everything. There are certain patterns that allow the brain to recognize a “face”. When these rules are broken, our brains alert us. There are many tricks of the trade when it comes to facial proportions, and the best part is, they’re easy to remember! I’ll cover them as we draw, though bending the rules can create not only stylistic variation, but also an air of realism. c) Rules were made to be broken: People aren’t perfect! Everyone knows about scars, freckles, and birth marks, but when it comes to proportion, there isn’t a single perfect person on the planet. In fact, humans are quite asymmetrical. No person looks normal when you copy, flip, and paste one half of their face to form the other. For these reason, particularly when drawing faces, perfection is the enemy of realism.
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 2

STEP 2.

Facial Layout || When drawing a face, most artists begin with some sort of circle. This circle may represent the head in its entirety, or just the top of the head, but it provides a basic landscape for the features of the face. Heads are never naturally in the shape of a perfect oval, so this will be discarded later. From here, you are going to want to draw a horizontal line right through the middle of the face. Eyes lie on this line. The distance between the eyes is about one eye length apart, and the distance of each eye from the outside of the oval is an eye as well. Between this line and the bottom of your oval, draw another horizontal line. This is where the base of the nose lies, but from the front it appears to fall between the base of the nose and the upper lip. From these two lines and the eye-size, you can layout the rest of the face. The sides of the nostrils generally fall in line with the inner corners of the eyes, while the corners of the mouth should fall right below the center of each eye. *Tip: The hairline falls equidistant from the top of the oval and the eye-line, though this varies from person to person. For example, the hairline of a man will be further back than that of a woman. The hairline of an infant or senior will be much further back than that of an adult. These variations, though, are small, so don’t go crazy!
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 3

STEP 3.

Eyebrow Layout || Whoa! Eyebrows get a step of their own? Yes. Eyebrows lie somewhere above the eye, but are far more diverse and determine the size of the forehead, the expression, and provide much of the character of the face. As a general rule, the eyebrow naturally lies an eye-height and a half above the eye. With the dawn of the tweezing, however, this may be closer to two eye-heights. Eyebrow shape is also unique, though the most common shape involves a slight peak towards the outside edge of the pupil. *Tip: Reflection- When I was first starting out drawing faces, I tended to make the eyes too large. We often think of the eye including the eyelid, eyelashes, and eyebrows, causing us to overestimate the size of the eye. Remember, the face is five eyes in width, and the generic eye is the shape of an almond. Because so much is based off of the eye in facial proportion, it’s important to draw it correctly!
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 4

STEP 4.

Structuring and Lining the Eyes || There are many different eye shapes and settings. Eyes can be wide-set, close-set, puppy-dog and hooded! What does all of this mean? Wide set eyes are set slightly wider than one eye-length, close-set slightly closer. Models and on-camera talent generally have wide-set eyes. Puppy dog eyes are turned slightly down on the outer edges. Hooded eyes are “hooded” by the skin around the eye. This is commonly seen in Asians and elderly people. As far as pupils are concerned, the upper eyelid will cut off 1/4th to 1/3rd of the iris, and the bottom should barely touch the lower lid. *Tip: The more you reveal of the iris, the more intense the expression will be. The less you reveal, the more relaxed the expression will be.
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 5

STEP 5.

Structuring and Lining the Nose || The nose consists of four simple lines placed around an upside-down triangle. The two triangles that represent the geometrical shape of the nose can be drawn using facial landmarks. From the center of the line that splits the lower half of the oval, draw two lines connecting to the outside edges of the eye-line. From the inner edges of the eyes, draw two lines straight down until they intercept with the first two lines. Draw a line connecting the two intercepts. At this point, you may look like you have a puppy-nose. Position the four lines as drawn in red, and resist the temptation to draw any more than these four lines. We will cover the rest in detailing!
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 6

STEP 6.

Structuring and Lining the Mouth || I like to think of the mouth as a combination of four ovals positioned around a line. This line should be darker in the edges and center, and should come to two very subtle peaks, as shown. These peaks will cradle the four ovals, which should be positioned around the center of the line. Lip shape and size varies from person to person. There is no golden guide as to how big the upper lip is in comparison to the lower lip. Feel free to play around with lip proportions until you see a shape that you like. The lips should sit between the lower line and the bottom of the oval.
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 7

STEP 7.

Facial Structure and Shading || This step is where your portrait really starts to take shape: shading! In this step we will be paying attention to face shape. If white represents your midtone skin shade, then the blue represents shadow and the yellow represents highlight. Always err on the side of less variation from shadow to highlight. Save dramatic colors like black and white to intensify depth. Note that there are breaks between the highlights on the side of the nose and the cheekbones. These breaks can really give depth to your portrait, so don’t omit them, but feel free to tweak and change shadows to make your portrait, and its subject, unique. The pink represents reflected light. Imagine that this person has a white shirt on. The light reflecting off of the white shirt will make it up to the face, provided that the light is bright enough. Rarely do you find pure shadow or pure highlight. Every surface has a profile of its own. In addition, make sure you blend well between shadow, midtone, and highlight, while keeping them separate. A poorly blended portrait looks blocky, while an over-blended portrait may just look like a blur.
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 8

STEP 8.

Detailing the Eyes || This is where your portrait truly receives its identity. Eyes have the power to capture the viewer, even if every other part of the portrait is off. Begin by shading the outer corners of the whites of the eyes. This will make the eye appear to be round. Also shade right below the upper lid, as the combination of a thick set of lashes with the lid itself will cast a veritable shadow. Once you have shaded the whites of the eyes, choose a midtone for the iris. At the top of the iris, shade down, highlighting the middle of the bottom of the iris. Make a clean, very thin highlight around the pupil and towards the outer edge of the iris to mimic reflected light within the eye. *Tip: The size of the pupil can also affect the intensity of the look, as many different situations and settings can cause the pupil to shrink or dilate. Many people forget that the lower lid comes off of the eye slightly, creating a thin surface where the tear ducts are located. Putting in this surface, or duct area, can lend much depth to the eyes, and shading the corners will maintain the rounded protrusion of the eye. Pair with the duct area a highlight and reflection on the very bottom of the eyeball itself, as both are wet and reflect light easily. If drawing a female, as I am in this tutorial, make sure that you shade a bit around the outer edges of the eyes before adding eyelashes. This will serve as shadow and eyeliner as well. Remember that the lashes themselves often come out at an angle. You can improve the realism of your portrait by criss crossing a couple of eyelashes at the tips. Often times beginning artists will make the mistake of ordering lashes from smallest to largest, curling them perfectly like artificial lashes. This rarely happens in real life, and looks very fake on the canvas! Finally, begin the eyebrow by drawing long darker streaks along the shadow drawn previously. Towards the top, short highlighted hairlike strokes will separate and add realism to the brows. We will use a more dramatic version of this technique again when shading the hair.
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 9

STEP 9.

Detailing the Nose || The nose is the easiest part of the face to draw in profile, but the most difficult to draw from the front. Most of its bulk must be represented and portrayed by shadow and highlight, as it is little more than a bump with two holes. To begin, shade a curve as shown in the picture for this step. Also shade below the nose and lightly in the crease between the nostrils and the face. The highlights should appear on the tip of the nose and towards the outsides of the nostrils. The space on the face immediately to the sides of the nostrils should not be shaded, as there is no light coming from an angle to cast such a shadow, unless you put one in. For now, leave those areas highlighted. Lightly shade the sides of the bridge of the nose, and put in the reflected light shown in the picture. It may seem difficult at first, but pairing shadow with highlight and reflected light can turn your nose from a simple 4 lines into a true centerpiece! *Tip: Putting a break between the highlight of the tip of the nose and the highlight of the bridge can give a slight button nose effect!
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 10

STEP 10.

Detailing the Mouth || Begin by shading the upper lip. Aside from a highlight that we will add later in this step, the upper lip should be a good one or two shades darker in its entirety than the lower lip. Add shading to the corners of the mouth and to the center. Now lightly highlight the centers of both the upper and lower lips. From here, you can use curved vertical strokes to give the lips their round shape in addition to a little bit of texture. Older lips will have deeper lines, while younger lips will have many fine lines. To mimic the effect of wetness, draw a few dramatic but very small highlights to the lower lip. These, the highlights that I mentioned earlier, should be reflected in the upper lip. The last part of this step is to draw a horizontal highlight lining the tip of the upper lip OR above the upper lip. Either way, this portrays the slight protrusion of the upper lip from the face.
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 11

STEP 11.

The Jawline || Jawlines come in many shapes and sizes, and often determine the overall face shape. Square and triangle jawlines are often seen as more masculine, though they are also used to portray strength in women. Oblong and oval face shapes have oval jawlines. Round face shapes have round jawlines. Rectangular, square, and triangular face shapes have square jawlines. Finally, diamond, inverted triangle, and heart face shapes have triangular jawlines. You are free to choose any jawline you’d like, or to combine them! I chose a soft triangular jawline for my example.
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 12

STEP 12.

Imperfections and Optional Details || This is where you really get to make your portrait unique! Moles, freckles, birthmarks, pores, zits, you name it! These my seem like small details, but they take your portrait’s realism to a whole new level! *Tip: If working digitally, you can easily create new brushes with a few simple polka dots to produce large amounts of freckles and/or pores. Just make sure to work at a low opacity and build up. If working with pencil, try lightly shading as a precursor to freckle placement. It will create the illusion of more freckles even without having to put each one! Again, press lightly and build up, you don’t want pure black freckles or they’ll look artificial.
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 13

STEP 13.

Ears || Ears aren’t truly necessary to draw a face, as you can always draw hair to cover them. However, I figured I might as well add in a short step about them and their placement just in case you want to draw a Mohawk. ;) Ears are another very diverse piece of the face. They come in all shapes, sizes, protrusions and placements! I generally line mine up with the bottom of the eyebrow and tip of the nose. They have been known to sit lower than this however, and elven ears will definitely extend further up!
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 14

STEP 14.

Hair: The Frame of the Face || Hair frames the face, but if drawn incorrectly it can come out looking flat, stringy, or lasagna-like. I generally begin with an outline, marking pieces and parts that I want to stand out. Then, I make general shading blocks of a uniform color. From there, I use the same technique as we used in the eyebrow coloration. I begin by adding thick shadows of a darker color, then use a highlight color to block out the highlights. I then repeat with a smaller line, and then smaller until I get to the detail lines. Adding stray hairs and kinks can give the hair a sense of realism. Keep in mind the source of the light, and DON’T FORGET THAT HAIR CASTS A SHADOW ON THE FACE AS WELL. Stray hairs framing the forehead? Make sure you add a shadow!
 
how to draw real faces, draw faces step 15

STEP 15.

Conclusion || You now have a complete portrait from baseline to stray hairs! You can go back and tweak, add imperfections, or do what you like until you feel like you are finished. *Tip: When working digitally the liquefy tool comes in very handy, but it helps to use it along the way so that this last step can be your finished masterpiece. Playing around with contrast using the dodge and burn tools can also come in very handy!