How to Draw Faces : Critical Mistakes to Avoid

Have you been studying how to draw faces for a while but still not happy with the results? We all have two eyes, one nose, and one mouth, yet each of us looks completely different from everyone else! The trick to getting a likeness is to account for both the specific anatomy of your subject, but also to infuse your drawing with their personality. It's a challenging task.

Still, nobody is born knowing how to draw faces, and if you have the desire, you can learn the skills.

To help you, study the following checklist of common mistakes artists make while you learn how to draw faces :

  • The overall placement of features is wrong
  • Misplaced large features on the face are the very first mistake beginners make. See the example for what can go wrong when the placement of eyes goes haywire.

    how to draw faces - it can go very wrong

    The eyes are 1/3 of the way down from the top of her hairline. You can see the result is a off I exaggerated this result a bit just to show you the shift in vertical or horizontal placements of lines and feature can make a huge difference!

    I have learned over the years that the difference between a successful likeness and a disaster can be a simple, but subtle, shift in the length, width, and distances between landmarks on the face. So use careful measurements or grids to plot your drawings.

  • Mistakes involving eyes
  • Once you get the overall proportions of the face right, let's look at some common mistakes made when drawing eyes. It is natural to overemphasizes the eyes, since they are usually the first feature we focus on when we look at a face.

    • All edges around the eyes too hard, eyelashes too dark, too many eye lashes...

      To avoid these problems, remember that “less is more”:

      • Keep the edges of the eyelids soft, saving crisp touches for accents.

      • Use restraint when indicating eyelashes. Keep some of them in perspective as they come toward you.

      • Lighten up the eyelashes so you don't age a child or make the person looking like they are wearing mascara.

    • Making the highlights in the eyes too white or too big
      Adding highlights to the eyes is an exciting part of painting, as it brings the face to life. However, restrain yourself or you can easily diminish the quality of your work. Note that sometimes only one eye has a highlight while the other has none.

    • Draw the whites of the eyes too white
      The term 'eye white' is a misnomer since the local tone of the eye is darker than pure white. It is never stark white, it is more of a bluish or cream white. It is affected much by the lighting.

  • Mistakes involving noses
  • Noses are another challenging feature to master when you learn how to draw faces. Watch out for these common mistakes when you learn to draw faces :

    • Running a highlight down the whole length of the nose.
      In reality, you will never see a highlight running all the way down the nose from the bridge to the tip. Avoid the temptation to stylize your subject.

    • Definition lacking at the junction of the nose and the forehead.
      In reality, you will not see a nose come straight down from the forehead without a shift in plane.

    • Making black holes in nostrils
      We all picked up the habit when we were in school. Make the nostril holes less prominent in your drawings. If you are painting, mix warm red colors. Remember that all the openings in the head (ears, mouth, nostrils) are warm.

    • Making the shadows too dark
      Often when you learn how to draw faces, another common mistake is to overemphasize the shadows under or beside the nose too solid or too dark. Shadows are supposed to be transparent and luminous. Underplaying shadows is always a good idea; making them too dark or crisp will create a black hole in the face and destroy the form.

    • Extending the shadow from the nose onto the lip
      Doing this may make your subject look like they have a mustache. Avoid this by lowering the lighting above the head so there won't be a long shadow cast over the upper lip. If you are copying from a photograph with this kind of lighting, modify the shadow cast from the nose over the upper lip to avoid the problem..

  • Common mistakes with mouths

  • For the mouth, watch out for the following:

    • Making the outlines of the mouth too heavy
      Use a very light touch with your pencil or paint brush. You only need to search out small points where you can place an accent, such as the corners of the mouth, on the lips, or under the lower lip. Often these simple accents will help produce the likeness you are after.

    • Making the teeth too white or look like a cob of corn
      Shade the teeth a bit so they do not look like they are protruding.

      Vary the size and shape of the teeth and indicate the gaps between the teeth with slight hints. Never use dark straight lines to delineate the gaps between the teeth. Look at the teeth as a mass with changing value.

    • Making the highlight on the lips too glossy
      In drawing, you can use a kneaded eraser to create highlights on the lips, but never overplay it, because it distracts when too prominent.

Here is the corrected version of the first illustration you see above. You can compare the two drawings and see if how many mistakes are there in the first place and the improvement you can create just by being aware of the potential pitfalls.

how to draw faces- a corrected drawing

There is no doubt that learning how to draw faces is challenging. There is so much to know and learn! I have drawn and painted human faces for decades. They never cease to amaze me with their endless variations and challenges. I am fascinated with faces and I hope you will be too. If you have the desire, you can and will learn to draw faces and human figures well.

Human faces along with their features are extremely expressive. Learn how to draw all the expressions better.

Drawing the Human Head

> > Draw Faces: Don'ts

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