Bumps and Grooves That Mean I’m a Psycho Killer

Okay, I’ll admit that skull reading and phrenology sound a little silly to me. Trying to get a sense of a person from the hollows and grooves on their skull? Not buying it. But I do know that “reading” the skull as an artist is key when it comes to learning how to draw a human head for a portrait or figure study. The planes and angles of the skull determine how everything else in a person’s face works, from the angle at which they hold their head to the way their mouth is pursed to how their eyes rest in the cavities of their eye sockets.

Shadden by Kristin Kunc, 2008, 8 x 10, oil on board.

These anatomy drawing art lessons are crucial when it comes time to render a person’s likeness, so here are a few tips on skull anatomy:

When drawing the skull, proportions are of primary importance. When you are doing the anatomy drawing in profile, you’ll usually find the head can be split into three equal parts: from the chin to the upper lip, the upper lip to the brow bone, and the brow bone to the top of the head. When drawing the head straight-on, the head can be split into four equal quadrants, with the horizontal axis drawn at the bridge of the nose, and the vertical axis bisecting the face right through the center of the nose.

If you are drawing eye sockets, note how big those suckers actually are! Usually the eye socket is three to four times the size of the eye that we see on the surface of the face. These openings impact how far the brow bone and cheeks jut out on a person’s face. Drawing the depth of these areas will give a realistic sense of dimension to your anatomy drawing.

I always try to keep the anatomy drawing of the mouth in my mind when I am drawing this area of the face, because my instinct is always to draw the mouth much lower than where it actually is. Avoid this by remembering how much space our teeth and gums take up behind our lips. The lowest part of the gums (not the lips) rests right on the top of the chinbone.

Antonio by Kristin Kunc, 2008, 8 x 10, oil on board.
Antonio by Kristin Kunc, 2008,
8 x 10, oil on board.

For the artist trying to become better and better at how they paint people, keeping the anatomy of the face in mind will serve as a roadmap for painting every feature of the body. I didn’t realize how essential drawing anatomy is when you are rendering a face or doing a body drawing until I spent time with our anatomy DVD, Anatomy for Artists: The Human Head, and our downloadable DVD, The Human Form Revealed.

They show that human anatomy for artists is really about painting and drawing the body with dimension, and explain that although the skin of the figure may appear smooth, underneath are complex interrelationships that you want to capture visually in order to create a realistic painting. Check out these resources and enjoy!


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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.