Drawing Basics: Measuring Facial Features

Drawing by Dan Gheno on measuring facial featuresIn the fall 2006 issue of Drawing, we explained how to draw dynamic heads. We present an excerpt from the article about measuring facial features.

by Dan Gheno

In my “Portrait Painting” article in the February 1993 issue of American Artist, I explained several feature-measuring techniques for drawing people. Here is a brief recap of these important concepts:

First, partition the features into three equal divisions (Fig. A): The top partition runs from the hairline to the eyebrows, the second one from the eyebrow to the base of the nose, and the third one from the bottom of the nose to the bony point of the chin. This classically derived system of measurement has been used by artists to get their bearings since the Greek golden age, and it’s nothing more than an averaging of our collective facial proportions. AsDrawing by Dan Gheno on measuring facial features artists, we need to look at the model and determine where their particular proportions diverge from this standard.

Ask yourself, Which of these three divisions is the largest, which is the next largest, and which is the smallest? If you don’t catch these divisions correctly in the beginning, it doesn’t matter how elegantly you render the specific features. Many people have a hard time locating the position of the ear when drawing a side view; they usually underestimate the overall width of the head compared to its height. Try comparing the horizontal distance between the outside of the eye and the front of the ear with the vertical distance between the outside of the eye and the outside corner of the mouth; these measurements are usually very similar.

Notice, as Leonardo demonstrated in his diagrams, that the overall width of the eye is roughly equal to the nose and that, consequently, the wing of the nose usually lines up with the inside of the eye. Meanwhile, the top of the ear lines up with the eyebrow, and the bottom coincides with the base of the nose. Once you begin to render the individual features, you must be equally diligent about their peculiar likeness.

Ask yourself some basic questions, using a horizontal line as a reference point: Do the features rise above the line, sit flatly across it, or drop below the line? Does one side or the other rise or drop past the reference line?

To read more features like this, check out the fall 2006 issue of Drawing magazine.

Related Posts:


Drawing Blog

2 thoughts on “Drawing Basics: Measuring Facial Features

  1. Hi!

    Great tips. Can I know if you know something that I can use in measurements and gridding in my drawings? i am searching the net for this. Is there such a kit or tool available in the market that I can use?