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Drawing & Painting Life Portraits

Lesson #3


The major difference between the frontal view and the profile view is that the entire head, seen from the front, is considerably more narrow. A male head, 9 inches high, is 6 1/2 inches wide, with maximum width just above the ears. The vertical proportions do not differ from the previous profile diagrams, that is, the eyes are halfway down the head at horizontal line 1 to 3, the base of the nose is halfway between C (the brow line) and G (the chin line).

A rule of thumb says the head (on the eyeline) is five eye-lengths across. The outer two eye-lengths are normally somewhat obscured by hair.

The corners of the mouth (when its not smiling) often fall in a line directly beneath the pupils of the eyes. The neck of the athletic male is as wide as the jaw, while the adult female neck is often more slender.


To make your own charts, copy these proportions onto a large piece of paper. Then fill in the squares with your own versions of these heads, working freehand from the instructions provided above.

Using the diagrams you have made, give your male and female drawings hair and collars. Try several more with different characteristics. Vary the race, the age. Add beards or eye-glasses. Remember, glasses must sit on the bridge of the nose. Look at candid photographs in newspapers and magazines for ideas; every person is unique.

Try ten profile views one day, ten front views another, giving yourself at least four days on each view until you can draw the diagrams comfortably and without strain. Later you'll need only the vertical and horizontal lines as corrective checks in case you get into trouble on a head.

Children are not that different from adults. Just remember, the younger the child, the lower the eyeline. And the child's head is wider in relation to its length, giving the whole head a more round appearance. As the child grows older, the eyes move up to the halfway eyeline, and the face (along with the entire body) loses the baby fat, becoming less round and more elongated. Check this out below.


The eye is actually a ball that rests in an opening in the skull known as the orbital cavity. Held in place by muscles and ligaments, the eye is protected by the eyelids. These folds of skin close over the ball. They are made up of soft tissue and conform easily to the spherical eyeball. The eyelids have thickness, easily perceived when you study them. Because of this thickness, the upper lid casts a shadow upon the ball. At the edge of both upper and lower eyelids is a fringe of fine hairs, the eyelashes, which keep out dust particles and foreign matter and further protect the eyeball.

At the inner corner of the eye opening, near the nose and just over the tear duct, is a small pocket, which is pink inside. This inner corner of the eye is most often lower than the outer corner.

The colored part of the eye is the iris. Shadowed by the upper eyelid, it appears to be darker at the top. It is often shaded like an empty bowl.

The pupil in the center of the eye is black. It's actually an opening into the eyeball. The pupil grows larger in dim light, allowing more light to be admitted; in very bright light the pupil contracts to protect the retina (the light-sensitive membrane lining the inner eyeball).

The eyes move together - looking up, down, left, or right. And they always look wet and shiny because they are always bathed in tears. The eyebrow follows the bone forming the upper edge of the orbital cavity. Where the light hits this bone, the brow appears lighter. This brow bone is called the superciliary arch. The eyes are the very best indicators of mood, of emotion.

OBSERVING THE EYES: Begin your study of the eye by observing your own features in a mirror. That way you don't have to look for someone to pose, and you can study each feature as intently as you like without embarrassing your sitter.

Find a place in a fairly good light where you can sit or stand. You may want to use your easel for this study. You'll also need a hand mirror for the profile views, unless you have a three-way mirror.

Move your head slowly to one side, then the other, and notice how the shape of the eye opening changes. Now, move your head up and back so you're looking down your nose at the mirror. See how much smaller the eyes look?

Scrutinizing your eyes this closely you may find that one is larger, or higher, or has a droopier eyelid. This is quite normal - don't be alarmed. Not one face in a million is perfectly symmetrical. Besides its what makes you, you. Don't generalize the forms you see, it takes away character and personality from your portrait.

I know that this is an odd place to leave you for a week but it is necessary that you do an in-depth study of the things we have talked about. Next week we will move on to drawing the eyes.


Every day of our lives we look at the eyes, noses, and mouths of our own faces and those of our companions. Indeed, we are so familiar with these features that in order to draw them we must step back and rediscover each one. To accomplish this we will try to reduce the eye, nose, mouth and ear to their most basic components. In doing so, we will become more aware of their construction and form.

You may wonder why you will be asked, over and over again, to study your own face in a mirror. I have the best of reasons. The mirror studies that will follow the description of each feature will help you to become more observant. A fine portrait painter is sensitive to the most infinitesimal changes in shape and aspect of the facial features. The portrait you paint can only record what you've seen. Seeing is even more important than understanding color or knowing how to handle the brush. My most important obligation in these lessons is to help you to learn to see.

See you next time!