In this demo, I create a charcoal pencil drawing a face. If you haven't drawn a face successfully already, you may want to brush up on basics of drawing a human head before working through this page. I always say that knowing how the human head is structured sets you more at ease when drawing people.
The woman I will be drawing is turning away from us toward her right side. As this is to be a pencil drawing of a face, I won't cover anything beyond her head and neck. Drawing a human face is challenging enough, and I do not want to overwhelm you with more than that.
I start by 'framing' the head with four marks, at the top of the head, bottom of the chin, and on either side at the widest point.
I use a pencil and my thumb to come up with the ratio between the two distances. This is an important step! The ratio will vary from person to person. In this case, it is about 3.5 to 5 (width to height). I measure carefully, and transfer that to the painting surface.
I connect the four points to create a rough outline of the head, paying attention to the angular direction of the lines. I'll make necessary changes later. Next, find where the eyes are in relationship to the height of the head. Draw a line across the face where the eyes are.
Remember that this is like drawing a line on a globe; the line will appear curved instead of straight (unless you are drawing a front view of a head).
I draw the top of the eyes and find the peak of the eyebrows. I add a line to align them in relationship to the eyes. I will use the eyebrow line to position the bottom of the nose.
The bottom of the nose is about the halfway down from the top of the eyebrows to the chin, so I put a mark there.
Now it is easier to locate other landmarks on the face. I quickly measure where the lip line is—about halfway down from the bottom of the nose to the chin. This subject's face has a relatively “standard” structure, and the rules of thumb about positioning facial features work well with her.
I next measure where the top and bottom of her ears are in relationship to her eyes and nose. I also locate her hair line using the distance between her eyebrow and the base of her nose.
Now I fill in big masses of her hair, and locate the neck line. Because she is female, I make sure that her neck is not too thick. I position the neck by aligning it with the features on the face.
I have finished checking the vertical positions, so now I am checking the horizontal features. For example, I make sure the eyes are not too far apart, the lips are not narrower than they should be, etc.
Since no feature stands by itself, always work out the relative proportions of features. These spatial relationships are vital for achieving a likeness. When the measurements are wrong, the drawing will be “off”. So, compare and measure constantly.
Once I get the lines and contours correct, it is time to model the head by shading. I look for where the light is coming from and put down the dark-toned shadows on the head and the neck. At this point, I am not yet paying attention to minute changes in the shadow or the mid-tones yet.
In the next step, I look for variations within the shadows and vary the pressure of my pencil to produce different shades for more three dimensional forms. Or I just vary the layers of hatching and cross hatching. I start to add mid-tones and light tones, too.
The tonal relationship is a relative thing, just like the proportions of the spatial features of the face. I go back and forth to make the relationships work. Sometimes it takes a lot of time, but it is well worth it.
Finally, I declare my pencil drawing of the face done for the time being. Compared to painting, it is fairly simple to use a pencil drawing a face, because I do not have to mix colors. When painting a portrait, I often spend more time on the drawing stage, because, if you are after a likeness, it is worth spending the effort to get the line drawing right before coloring.
If you practice often with a pencil, drawing a face should come easily. Another thing I do often is to observe people's faces and mentally rehearse drawing them.
I hope you enjoy and learn from my pencil drawing of the face of this ballet dancer (yes, that is her true identity).