How to Draw a Realistic Face: The Step-by-Step Guide

how to draw a realistic face
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Any aspiring artist would agree that one of the hardest skills to learn is how to draw a realistic face using pencil and paper. The process can be painstaking and that inner urge to achieve symmetry are some of the causes why plenty of rough drafts end up in the garbage bin.

Drawing a face is easy, making it realistic is where things get all blurred and smudgy, pun intended. However, like most skills, drawing a realistic face can be learned by following a step-by-step guide that, coincidentally, is the same steps that you need to take to create a non-realistic face.

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How to Draw a Realistic Face

The steps you need to learn to draw a realistic face comes in two phases: 1) knowing how to draw a face and 2) making it realistic.

I. Drawing a Face

Step 1: Start off by drawing a circle or an oblong, as long as the shape follows the general shape of the face you would want to draw. Draw the circle lightly as you would need to highlight certain sections later to make the face stand out, the circle is just a guideline.
Step 2: Draw the vertical guidelines on the face by drawing a vertical line, or the nose line, from the tip of the chin until the top of the head and then make another parallel line outside the outline of the face.
Step 3: Draw the horizontal guidelines by dividing the second vertical line, the one outside, into eight sections. Start off by marking the center line and then dividing each half into four. Extend the points across the outline of the face. The lines from steps 1 to 3 should be as light as possible.
Step 4: Using the horizontal center line, or the eye line, divide it into five sections, taking into consideration the nose line. This means that the middle part of the eye line should have the nose line right in the center. Don’t forget to make ticks to mark each section of the eye line.
Step 5: Using the ticks on the sections of the eye line closest to the nose line as guides, start drawing the eyes, beginning with the iris which should be in the center of the section. Draw the eyelids next and then the eyebrows. It does not have to be symmetrical since no one has perfectly symmetrical eyes and do not be afraid to go above or below the eye line as most eyes have different placements anyway.
Step 6: Using the ticks on the inner corners of the eyes, extend it downwards until you reach the horizontal guideline, or the mouth line, before the chin. This will serve as the guide for the nose’s width and should be as light as possible.
Step 7: Using the intersection of the nose line and the horizontal guideline above the mouth line, or the cheek line, as a guide, draw a small circle that would serve as the face’s nose tip.
Step 8: Draw lines coming from the edges of the small circle upwards going to the eye line and make them slightly curve outward at the top. This will be the guidelines for the nose bridge.
Step 9: Complete the nose by extending lines coming from the tip going towards the boundaries of the nose’s width, angle them as much as you can following your subject’s nose. Once your lines reach the boundary, curve the lines inward until you reach the lines created in Step 8.
Step 10: Chisel the nose as close as possible, following your model’s nose, of course.
Step 11: Extend the lines coming from the nose bridge outwards past the eyelids, with a curvature running downwards towards the endpoint. This is your brow line. Shape your brows according to your subject’s and smudge it later for effect.
Step 12: From the center of each eye section, draw a line downwards until you reach the mouth line. This will serve as the guide for your mouth’s boundary.
Step 13: Form a triangle with the apex coming from the same intersection in Step 7 and then drawing the hypotenuse going towards the intersection of the mouth line and the lines from Step 6. This is called the triangle method.
Step 14: Using the triangle as a guide, form your mouth above the mouth line, using the bottom points of the triangle as the boundaries for the lower lip and the lines from Step 12 as boundaries for the upper lips. The section near the apex would serve as the guide for the cleft. Follow the curvature of your subject’s mouth as a guide.
Step 15: Using the center line and the cheek line as the guides, draw the ears outside the circle or oblong from step 1. The ears may or may not go beyond the guide, depending on the actual ears of your subject.
Step 16: Using the top of the ears and the line closest to the top of the head, or hairline, draw the hair as you see it on the subject. You can always stylize it to your preference but for the meantime draw the general outline of the hair first.

II. Making it Realistic

By the end of Step 16, you should have a rough draft of the face that you are trying to draw. Use the following techniques to make the face appear more realistic and less like a comic character.

  • Darken

    Using a 2B or 3B pencil, darken the outline of the face first, and then move to the different parts of the face starting with the eyes, then the nose and finally the mouth.

  • Shade

    Using a smudging pencil, smudge the lines around each facial part going in. This should leave a defined edge and a more pronounced interior.

  • Highlight

    Highlights are the lightest or whitest spot in an object or drawing. Using this technique to make your face more realistic brings it to another level. Apply shade over the area you want to highlight and use a kneaded eraser to pull the highlights with it.

  • Detail

    Add details to your drawings, like hair strands, eyebrows, and eyelashes. This would be the best time to make your face more feminine or masculine using shading and highlights.

Tips

Here are a couple of tips that can help you learn how to draw a realistic face easier.

  • Proportion is Key

    A face may be asymmetric, but it does not mean that it’s not proportional. Here are some basic proportion guides for drawing a realistic face:

  1. The eyes should be halfway down from the top of the head.
  2. The edges of the nostrils should line up with the tear ducts.
  3. The space between the eyes is equivalent to the width of a single eye, but it can be narrower too.
  4. On average, a person’s head is about five eyes wide.
  5. The corners of the mouth line up with the center of the eyes, or the pupils.Take note that these proportions were included in the step-by-step guide. Also, the proportion between the face of a man and that of a woman varies slightly.
  • Take Advantage of Shadows

    Shadows add a lot to your drawing, and it can even dictate the emotions that your drawing projects to the audience. Take full advantage of it by placing your light source on a single spot and orienting your shadows, your shades and your highlights from there.

Drawing a realistic face does not come to you overnight, you need to practice, practice and practice. Do not be afraid to fail the first one hundred tries; it means that you’re getting better each time.

Moreover, do not be afraid to experiment as well, there is no such thing as a set rule when it comes to drawing realistic faces. Set free your inhibitions and let your hands work their magic.

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