Ingres Edme Bochet

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres - Drawing of Edme Bochet, 1914


Strokes of the Head

There are many fabulous books on drawing the head. I learned a classical technique that was like ballet dancing, no imagination or impulsive art, just learning the steps. Rather than draw an egg shape or a circle like most books instruct, we learned the fourteen strokes of the head. This head is a paradigm, or the human standard. However, for each head, no matter what the shape, there are these strokes, right and left, that make up the face from the front.

Life Drawing Raja

The drawing instruction of the head paradigm was combined with life drawing where we learned the basic shadows of the head. This was a smear of powdered charcoal on gray paper that was cut into with a kneaded eraser. (See the Ball demo.)

Life Drawing Christine

Learning to see the head as a mass with light and shadow is a necessary part of breaking out of the habits of drawing the eyes and nose and mouth that we learned in school. You can see here that the work grows finer over time until the face begins to take shape.


It is essential when learning to draw the head to understand the anatomy of the head. Here are the basic points where light and shadow appear on the skull. As you can see below, you lighten and darken with sublights and very light shadows to indicate the form, BEFORE you add the light source. In life drawing, you will do this as you work with the macchia or paint, but in paradigmatic drawing (without a model) it is important to get the shape of the head before you put the the light. As you learn, you than then look at photos and know where the shadows should be to bring out the form of the head from the confusion of the light in the photo.

Light: Frontal Eminence, Superorbital Ridge, Upper Rim Lower Eyelid, Zygomatic Bone, Nasal Bone, Maxilla (Lower), Lobes of Lips, Mental Process

Shadow: Under Frontal Eminence, Tempora Fossa, Orbit Under Superorbital Ridge, Upper Maxilla, Cast Shadow Under Alar Cartridges (nose) Winges of Lips, Zygomaticus Fossa, Mandibular Fossa, Fossa Between Tringularis and Mentalis, Orbicularis Oris Under Lobes of Lips, Cast Shadow of Eyeball, Cast Shadow of Head (on neck).


This structure holds for all people, even children. What varies is the amount of light and shadow. Children will have much more light on the frontal eminence and much less under the brow ridge. Models usually have a lot of shadow in the cheeks under the zygomatics. Men usually have a stronger brow, including the temporal lines, but this varies quite a bit. People tend to draw extremes and exaggerate features depending on stereotypes in beauty.


You can see from this head, with the exaggerated light from the upper left, the had takes on shape. You should memorize this sequence: Placement, Structure, Shape. Placement is to measure and get your anatomy right and is often done in a very light sketch of lines. Structure is the first two layers of shadow and sublight and follows the anatomy of the head. Shape is all about lighting.

The head is difficult. We tend to exaggerate based on what differences we see in ourselves. Elvie used to say that there was about a ten percent variation off the human paradigm. He got on me about my figures being eight heads tall instead of seven and a half until we measured me and found out that I was eight heads tall (long legs.) Even the slightest variation will stick out in our minds. Use the old trick and reverse your drawings. You will immediately see the problem.


As you can see here, I slightly changed this drawing and what a difference! The little bit of widening of of the superorbital and skull has made a different person.


And with a little different manipulation, you have yet a different head.


And yet again, for another face. If you study these variations, you'll see that the changes are extremely slight. And yet, millennia of predjudice is built on these slight variations. As an illustrator, you must be aware of this and of the strong impressions you will give with even the slightest variation from the local beauty paradigm. The more isolated the population, the narrower the prejudice. The prejudice for race is not nearly as strong as a prejudice against variations from the norm. A lopsided eye is impossible to overcome. As an illustrator, you usually try to stay away from strong variations to the paradigm. These variations represent about a percent of change. Ten percent is usually inacceptable in drawings. In Ingres's drawing above, you see the man's eye off by enough of a degree to be distracting. This is a life drawing. In a paradigmatic drawing it would considered a mistake. Ingres's drawing represents about a five percent variation. Be aware of the fact that paradigmatic drawings vary by only about a percent or two. For lifelike illustrations, you push that two percent hard.


This picture shows two different skulls. Most people would jump to the conclusion that the left-hand skull is Neanderthal or older. Nope. They are both Homo sapiens, the right skull is merely female. Skull variation is wide. Again, it is a topic of prejudice, but the usual difference in males and females is that, in the male, the eye ridge is much more prominent. This has a racial modification and tends to vary quite a bit, but most males find that as they grow up, the superorbital ridge gets much more prominent. Drawing male characters is not so much chin as it is eyebrow ridge.


Again, that ten percent variation makes a huge impact on us. Here we are, four male skulls and a female on the extreme right. Four racial types: Caucasian, Asian, African and Australian. Even without the skin, you can see some of the variations, but that would fade if we looked at variations within the types. Humans are all over the place. Don't make the boring mistake of exaggeration. It works, just look at advertisements, but it's overdone.


All right. Here we are different pictures which I have exaggerated so you can see the primary shadows. With the exaggerated contrast, the structural shadows fade and the cast shadows are more prominent. You see here light upper front, light low left, light high left, light top, light upper left.


Note that the women tend to have less shadow under the brow, although this is obscured by the color of the eyebrow showing up in the contrast.


I have selected here to start teaching you about the standard. Here are some faces where the contrast is so high that you can see only the feature cast shadows.

Life Drawing Raja

In the macchia layer here shown again, you see that the cast shadows of the face are the only shadows kept at the basic level.


Here, I'm showing you the paradigm. In almost every face, you can construct a triangle from the outer points of the eyes to the bottom of the lips. You can see it on the skulls.


Let's look at a photo of a real person. Here are two, so you can see a slight rotation of the head.


You will note that in rotation, the bottom point of the triangle moves across the lower lip shadow. One of the ways to construct a face where you can get the eyes and mouth placed correctly is to draw in this triangle. This triangle is less susceptible to skull variation and nose placement than the lines that divide up the head.


Here are pictures of three actors from a time when photographers knew more about lighting.

headhead head

You can see here that I've exaggerated the contrast to pull up the cast shadows.

headhead headhead

I've added Chopin here to let you see a painting where the cast shadows are very similar to the photos. Orson Welles is lit from the top left. Tyrone Powers is life from the top. Jimmy Stewart is life from the right and Chopin from the left. In Stewart and Chopin, you see the cast shadow of the nose.

There are two head usually drawn: the six point head and the eight point head. The six point shadows are: the eye socket left and right, the nasal shadow, the wings of the lip shadow, the lobes of the lips shadow and the cast shadow of the head. In the eight point head, the eye shadow is broken up into four shadows, two for the cast shadows of the eyebrow ridge, two under the orbit of the eyes.

headhead head

All right, this is where it gets interesting. Note that on this image of Tyrone Powers, I have ignored the distracting information of the hair and brows and suit. This is his basic six shadow head. No matter what the color of the eyes, they will rarely be fully as light as the light on the forehead or the cheeks. If you don't start with the ghost layer of the basic shadows, you are doing what is called "chasing shadows" or trying to copy a photo.

headhead head

Here, I have done an eight point head with Jimmy Stewart. The rest of the shadow and the hair and the tie and the ears are a distraction. People like eyes. I, too, chased eyes, so to speak. I had to unlearn this. Often artists will start with the eyes and let everything follow from this. Don't do it. I now put in my eyes last, just to make sure that they don't charm me away from the structure of the head. Lips are another one that distract artists, or hair. All of these are superficial to the basic structure of the head.


Here are a number of fast sketches done by the artist, John Singer Sargent. You can see that he is not distracted by the eyes, yet he captures them wonderfully. In some of these you can see the fast laying down of the chalk background and first layers. The focus is so tight on the face, that often the background and the hair is left as indications with the pencil.


This shows more clearly in the portrait of Delacroix, where the high point on the nose and brow is no where near as dark as the whites of the eyes. I've taken out the color and heightened the contrast to show you what I mean.


And here again, the painter Ingres and the high contrast where you can see the eight point head.


I began this portrait sketch with the six point head, then put in the structure, increasing the layers little by little until I could go in with the pencil and do some line work. Then I darkened the shadows, smoothed it over and put in some highlights. It takes a while to get here, but I have found the journey well worth the effort! Here, I can take drawing six and then change it into a more stylized drawing for a comic. I tried to do something a little more real for you.

© 2017, A.R. Stone

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