No matter your current level, learn how to draw a face by following these simple steps.
(Image credit: Neil Edwards)
If you want to know how to draw a face and head perfectly, this guide is for you. Whether you've got a multitude of faces to draw or just one in particular, when it comes to drawing heads nothing is set in stone. All characters have widely different features. But having a basic understanding of drawing and a grounding in head anatomy means you'll be able to have confidence when experimenting – and these skills are sure to improve your drawings.
On this page, you'll learn how to draw a face – beginning with initial drawings and using references containing lots of different faces to draw, plus our specific techniques. When you've mastered that, you can flip to page two to learn how to further your skills. We will impart tips on how to draw a face with personality, including showing different expressions.
For more drawing lessons, see our roundup of excellent how to draw tutorials. Or if you're looking for a classic tool to hone your line work, check out our list of the best lightboxes. But for now, grab a sketchbook or your Cintiq and let's get cracking with this tutorial from Neil Edwards.
01. Start with two circles
Two circles form the basis of the head
The first stage in learning how to draw a face is drawing two overlapping circles. Where they intersect is the eye level. From there, put a centre line down the two circles. This gives the basis of the human head.
02. Add construction lines
Use the guidelines to position the features
Draw two lines slightly in from either side of your circles. These will indicate where the forehead and cheekbones sit. From the centre intersection, place a triangle for the nose and mark out where you want the mouth to go. Then add two triangles for the eyes – these will also help you locate the eyebrows and eye sockets.
03. Explore different proportions
Different sized circles will create different effects
You can experiment with different sized circles to give different head dimensions, perfect for any ideas you have of different faces to draw. The more squashed the circles, the wider and heavy the face, while the more elongated the circles, the longer the head shape.
04. Line up the features
Imagine the features are wrapped around a cylinder
Always remember that the eyes, nose and mouth are on the same plane on the face, otherwise things start to go a bit lopsided and weird! Imagine the facial features are wrapped around a cylinder, so they have a natural curve.
Position the top of the eyebrow and bottom of the nose so that they’re lined up with the height of the ear. This helps the face look more natural; giving it a flow, and stopping it from feeling flat.
05. Start with the eyes
A light source helps eyes look more alive
Your character’s eyes are crucial to conveying the right emotion – a key part of conquering how to draw a face. Try to keep them focused and tell a story with them. Give the top eye a thicker line to indicate a shadow from the eyelid, and add a light source to give them life. Longer and thicker eyelashes create a more feminine look.
06. Add in the nose
The tip of the nose is roughly diamond shaped
Noses can be pretty difficult to get right. I initially create a triangle with a diamond shape for the tip of the nose. From there I draw nostrils, remembering to add line weight and shadow to the bottom of the nose. I keep the details light, adding only what’s needed.
07. Try different lip shapes
Look at your own mouth to explore different lip shapes
I keep a little sketchbook to practise different lip shapes. Study films and TV programmes to see how actors exaggerate their mouths. Experiment and explore different mouth shapes. Try to convey ‘oh’, ‘ah’ and ‘esss’: this will help when you want figures to look like they’re having a conversation.
08. Consider differences between male and female faces
Male faces tend to be more angular – although this isn't a hard and fast rule
The male face is a harder, angular shape. The female face is softer and rounder in general. For women, try to depict fuller lips, larger eyes and rounder cheeks. These are not hard and fast rules, though – just a guide.
09. Finish with some hair
Remember, the hair is bigger than the scalp
Of course, learning how to draw a face and head also means learning to draw hair. When drawing a character’s hair, I first create the basic hair shape, noting that the hair is bigger than the scalp. I then add direction to the hair, remembering to draw strokes from the crown of the head. To give hair a more natural appearance, I introduce a sense of weight to the bottom of the shape. Trying drawing the hair shape with a thicker outline and thinner internal lines. This gives it direction.
10. Exaggerate emotions
Make your characters over-act
Once you’ve got the basics it’s time to have some fun with your figures! As a general rule, try to make the character over-act, to really convey the emotion in your drawing. I usually start with a super-quick gesture drawing to capture the emotion I’m after. Look in the mirror and exaggerate your facial features. Try to put feeling into the drawing.
11. Use photo references
Try out different expressions in a mirror
When drawing characters, try to get into their mindset: how they’re feeling and where they’re coming from emotionally. Then act out the expression, using a mirror or photo reference to capture the emotion. Always try to get that perfect snapshot moment, and make it look as dynamic as possible.
12. Add creases
Remember to consider the character's age when adding facial lines
Adding facial lines to characters can emphasise an expression, but it’s important to bear in mind the age of the person. The more character lines and emotion lines you depict on a face, the older a character will look. Men usually have harsher lines and females have fewer. Younger characters will have also have fewer lines around the eyes, forehead and mouth. This is a good excuse to put together a reference library of different faces to draw – young and old.
13. Make subtle tweaks
A creased eyebrow can instantly make a character look anxious
Sometimes, though, subtlety is required. A slightly raised eyebrow or smirk can be very effective. Adding just a touch of emotion or quirkiness to the character can make them feel natural and lifelike.
14. Try new facial expressions
Push the boundaries with your characters' expressions
Grab every opportunity to experiment with the expressions. Try to push what you’re used to drawing, and look at yourself in the mirror to see how the face can move. Try and be whacky with the different facial expressions, but be careful not to hold your breath for too long!
15. Explore feature close-ups
You don't need to show the whole face to convey emotion
Both the eyes and mouth are expressive. A powerful technique when drawing a comic page is to use a close-up of one of them. Consider illustrating an open mouth, snarling teeth or stern lips. Using just one area of the face will really push you to convey the emotion and sell the drawing.
16. Remember body language
It can help to draw outside the panel
While thinking of different faces to draw, you also have to think of the different figures' varied body languages, which will show in the close-up. A tilt of the head or shrug of the shoulders can emphasise an emotion. I draw beyond the panel to check that the body language is working and is anatomically correct. Remember to have fun and try out new things!