Drawing Basics: Breaking Down the Head

Rob Zeller's drawing of a male head and neck.
When learning how to convincingly draw the head on
the body, focus on the location of the neck in relation
to that of the head.

When trying to draw the head correctly on the body, pay specific attention to the neck and the placement of the head upon it, above the ribcage. Creating a realistic portrait or drawing a person well is often a matter of paying attention to the way our bodies are structured, so double check the alignment of the center line of the face, as compared to the sternum (centerline of ribcage) and linea alba (centerline of abdomen).

I then proceed to break the head down into very specific shapes. I am not necessarily thinking of features (eyes, nose, mouth, ears), but rather abstracted shapes that just happen to contain these features. I am essentially separating light shapes from shadow shapes. I try to simplify these shapes as much as I can without stylizing them. Simple is better for many reasons, not the least of which is ease of ability to transfer the drawing to canvas for painting.

Painting by Rob Zellers illustrating good drawing of head and neck.
The success of the body's forms rests on
understanding them as shapes first.

Once transferred, I try create surface form on top of each one of these shapes. I try to show how light moves from one to the other in a pattern that reveals the beauty of the surface form.

Along the way, if I did it just right ( or got lucky), a portrait/head emerges that fits seamlessly onto the neck and ribcage, and bears a likeness to the model.


Rob Zeller is a practicing artist and the director of the Teaching Studios of Art. He's also a guest blogger for Artist Daily.

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About robz

Rob Zeller was born and grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana. Although he has resided in New York City for 12 years, the surrealistic and Catholic Baroque quality of his birthplace permeates his art to this day.  
He received a BFA from the Boston Museum School and Tufts University, and an MFA from the New York Academy of Art. He studied with Jacob Collins at the Water Street Atelier. He is the recipient of two Posey Fellowships and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. Rob has taught at the New York Academy of Art, the Stevenson Academy of Fine Art, and the Long Island Academy of Fine Art. He has exhibited in galleries in New York City and nationally.
In January 2009, he founded the Teaching Studios of Art, with locations in Brooklyn and Oyster Bay, Long Island.