You can’t skip the theory, so I’ll explain how to understand faces. But rather than teach how to draw or general pencil drawing techniques, what I want to teach is a way of observing your surroundings and then make notes for yourself visually. Use whatever technique you’re most comfortable with, but don’t use erasers while studying.

The common problem with depicting faces and their volumes is that most people have no knowledge about the empty spaces between eyes, nose and mouth and all around them. You have to be in control of these flat surfaces, and know how they behave and fit together. If you could draw these empty surfaces then the main facial elements would be pushed into the right position automatically.

But how can you draw something that isn’t there? The answer is to translate volume information into lines and use them as a construction basis for your drawing. I’ll give you one thing to observe for each step, that you later have to turn into lines. I’ll also provide some examples of how I do it, using Photoshop for sketching and colouring together with my Wacom Intuos graphic tablet.


First I cut out the main planes around the actual face: they’re the most ignored part of the human head and the main cause for incorrect perspective. In the second step, you’ll draw eyes, nose and mouth in relation to each other, to get their position right. And in the final step, I’ll show how much you’re able to rely on these lines, even in rendering and shading.

01. Shadow language

Even under different lighting some shadows share the same lines

Here are the main planes of the face. Notice the empty space between eyes and ears, and how small the face is. For the surrounding planes I use shadow lines – the area where light turns into shadow. Even under different lighting some shadows share the same lines. Some ethnicities have their own shadow language. Collect and use them.

02. In proportion

Don’t skip the studying of proportions here

What I won’t teach here is how to draw eyes, nose and mouth. Rather, I add the idea of using mimic and gesture lines to locate the face. The base for my lines here are wrinkles, folds, mimic folds and highlights. Don’t skip the studying of proportions here – take a ruler and a book and start making up your own rules!

03. Shadows and volume

Mimic lines make it easier

Here I ink the construction lines and add shadows and volume. Since I employ shadows and mimic lines as construction for my face, I can now use them to find the fitting rendering for the face. It makes life so much easier. If you study the face by yourself you’ll know how to use these lines. Don’t worry, you’ll get there!

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 110.