The Mystery of Head Drawing Revealed

Head drawing and the ideals of proportions have changed dramatically over the centuries. However, one thing has remained the same–a secret system of rules that few artists even know about, which are universally truthful and, when closely studied, can crack the code on understanding the mystery of how to draw the head.

A Leonardo sketch of the head.
A Leonardo sketch of the head.

Since the Renaissance there has always been a multifarious system to help guide the artist through the complexity of portraiture. Yet most contemporary artists never even use this method, either because they are unaware that these “systems” exist or over-confidently assume they don’t need to learn them. Looking back at Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketches, we can see that his painstaking, almost mathematical, process was instrumental to his greatness–not only in the way he understood the rhythms of nature but in the insights he shared, unknowingly, with the generations of artists who have applied his basic and advanced rudiments of formulaic head drawing.

A straight on drawing of the head by Leonardo.
A straight on drawing of the head
by Leonardo.

For example, Leonardo found that the top of the helix of the ear lines up to the brow ridge and the bottom lobe lines up to the bottom of the nose.

In addition, he found that if you have a straight on view of the head you could find all your key features.

By drawing a diagonal from the helix of the ear through the tip of the nose, to the corner of the mouth down to the jowl you find your basic proportions.

My approach to drawing the head.
My approach to drawing the head.

Since Leonardo there have been many “abstractions of the head” that have revealed the unknowns of head drawing. The great artist and instructor Frank Riley as well as Fred Fixler had their versions. I myself have created my own method that helps guide me through solid head drawing.  Over the years I have modernized my technique based on the principles of Leonardo and Riley’s system and found this to be an invaluable tool for all of my drawings and paintings.  I call my abstraction of the head the “BUAstraction.” By extracting the most important elements and key rules of head drawing, anyone can learn how to draw a solid portrait.
Here are two tips to better understand and execute a head drawing that I’ve realized after years of practice and study:

1) One of the most common mistakes is making the eyes too big. Drawing from a front view, one way to avoid this is to always measure the outside of the nostril to the tear duct of the eye. In other words, draw a straight line from the nostril to the tear duct. Proportions on point!

2) Another great technique is to line up the corner of the mouth vertically to the pupils. If you draw a straight line from the corners of the mouth to the pupils you are more than likely drawing proportionally!

For more information on my drawing system, visit my online school.

–Justin BUA

Justin BUA is internationally recognized as a gifted and commercially successful artist, best known for his best-selling collection of fine art posters. His piece, The DJ, is one of the most popular prints of all time.Classically trained, BUA taught figure drawing at USC for ten years. In 2009, he released the book, The Beat of Urban Art, which captures his unique style and voice. He currently teaches at the ArtistWorks Online Art School.






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About BUA

Groundbreaking artist Justin BUA was born in 1968 and grew up fascinated by the visceral street life that surrounded him in New York City.  Born into a family of art connoissuers, he became interested in art at a very young age from being exposed to the great master painters in the NYC museums.  As a way to develop his raw talent, BUA attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Performing Arts and later earned a  B.F.A. from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.  

An active member of the early Hip Hop movement, BUA also spent a lot of time studying the old graffiti writers and developing his own style of street art into what he calls “New Urban Realism”.  BUA soon expanded beyond the streets of his native New York to become internationally known as a gifted and best selling artist.  An entrepreneur by nature, BUA got his start in the world of commercial art by designing and illustrating different projects that include skateboards, CD covers, and advertising campaigns. He has also worked on video games, music videos, and TV shows.  He rose to international recognition for his best-selling collection of fine art posters.  His most famous piece, The DJ, is one of the most popular prints of all time.

Classically trained in all fields of visual art, BUA taught figure drawing at the University of Southern California for ten years. In 2009 he released his first book The Beat of Urban Art, which captures his unique style and voice.  His latest book, The Legends of Hip Hop, features portraits of 50 of the greatest Hip Hop artists (including DJ Qbert, who gives DJ lessons at ArtistWorks).

Just as Bob Ross used technology in new ways to teach people how to draw through television, BUA is now channeling his passion for art by teaching people how to draw online at ArtistWorks.  In addition to his online art lessons, BUA continues to contribute to the art world with exhibits around the world of his work.  He also does speaking engagements and makes frequent appearances on TV as a host and guest.  BUA is celebrated worldwide from a diverse range of fans that include former presidents, actors, musicians, pro athletes, dancers, street kids, and art connoisseurs.