How to draw faces: A Tutorial and Demonstration

            I love to paint faces and to this end, I’ve amassed a large collection of vintage photographs over the years and sometimes when I just want to draw a character, I will sit around in the evenings listening to music and pick a photo and do a drawing.  My fascination with the characters I draw has also led me to make paintings of them as well and I’ve noticed that the paintings that I’ve drawn first always seem to go better.  They come more easily and I think the paintings’ quality is also improved.  Here’s a step by step of one of my portrait drawings and the painting that it was a preliminary study for. 

            Since I’m working from a tiny photobooth photograph, I use my digital Canon EOS single lense reflex camera to photograph the original photo.  I pull that image into Adobe Photoshop and manipulate the value structure in two different versions of the image.  I like working off the computer because I can also use it as magnifying glass to blow up individual sections of the photos.  I have my laptop on a music stand inside a cardboard box so that the screen has less glare on it.

            Starting with a 9B pencil, I situate the two ovals on the paper (12”x9”).  The ovals are standard basic shapes that contain the head.  I then subdivide the ovals with marks that stand for the placement of the features.  Since photographs, are static forms and so in some ways it is easier to measure and divide the proportions.  My proportional system for marking features is based on a rule of halfs.  The eyeline is usually half way through the head, the nose line is half way between the eye line and the chin.  The mouth falls about half way between the bottom of the nose and the chin.   In this drawing, these proportions needed to be modified to catch the character of the two people in this photo booth photograph.  For example, Buzz’s nose is very long and Sadie has a slightly shorter distance between her nose and lips than the ideal.

            Next, I began to define the forms a bit by indicating in the masses of hair and the general location of the features.  I’m going to work out Buzz a bit more first because the graphite I use is always 9B and this smears really easily when I rest my hand on the paper.  With the features blocked in and some of the shadow masses indicated.  I’m ready to begin the process of developing the shading.  I mass in the shading with the flat sides of a graphite stick.

            Next I go back to the pencil.  I sharpen the pencil tip like this so that it’s a bit more precise.  Then indicate in the proportions, some directional lines and begin to firm up some of the more linear qualities of the features.  Then I remove some of the guide lines with a kneaded erasure.  (I think of it as the much ‘neaded’ erasure.) and clean up the extraneous smears.  I switched to a 9B woodless pencil because it has a broader tip and begin to  refine and darken the major masses.  Then I alternately use the finer point of the wooden pencil with the woodless pencil until I get the value structure and shading the way I want it. 

            I’ve been drawing since I was eight years old, especially faces, but now in my forty-fifth year on this planet I’ve only just begun to realize the importance of preliminary drawing as a way to rehearse and prepare for the problems I will encounter while making a painting.  This drawing of Buzz and Sadie Word was then used as a working model for the finished painting on masonite.

            I have literally hundreds of quick portrait drawings and many have corresponding paintings so for my next show.  I was thinking that it might be cool to give the drawings away as a prize to people who make up short stories about the characters in the paintings.  So I designed a a project that incorporates the studies with the paintings on a blog and will culminate in a show at San Francisco’s ArtHaus gallery in April 2011.

            Every week I post one of the completed portrait paintings along with its graphite study.  Authors are then invited to participate in a short fiction challenge and submit stories thay have written about the characters on my blog.  At the end of two weeks I choose a winner who the is mailed the original drawing.  The stories and the paintings will be published in a catalog integrated with an exhibit in San Francisco at ArtHaus Gallery (April 8th for the reception).

The show is called: Renovated Reputations:Paintings and Fiction inspired by Vintage Portrait Photographs  The exhibit will include a series of 20-40 paintings and mixed media works ranging in size from 8"x10" to 18"x24" framed with thrift store and vintage frames. At the show’s reception we're going to have a photobooth for the show for participants to play with and vintage costumes.

For more information please visit my site and click on "Competition" 

Here's the finished painting that the drawing is for:
There's a painting step by step that goes with this one here:
More tutorials on this page:

More "How to" Articles and Tutorials
Upcoming shows:

Art Museum of Los Gatos, California
Saturday December 3, 2011
5PM-8PM Show up in costume and get into the photobooth!  You may end up being my next painting!

January 2012    
Santa Clara College, California

February 2012    
Ohlone College, Fremont California 
Elliott Fouts Gallery, Sacramento California 

Win one of my watercolors or drawings! Visit my web site and click on one of the contests for details! 

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