Portrait Drawing Proportions

self portrait 12th December 2005

Common proportions of the head used for laying out a portrait

I’ve just been reading chapter 10 of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, where author Betty Edwards gets her students to draw their first self portrait. I must admit I haven’t been following every exercise in the book, but have followed a roughly parallel course and some of the exercises I’ve done.

Chapter 10 devotes a lot of space to determining the proportions of the head, drawing attention to a few which are generally common to all faces, and need to be right in a portrait:

  • The eye line – typically half way between the top of the head and the chin
  • The width of the distance between the eyes – the width of one eye
  • Eye level to the end of the nose – most variable measurement and must be taken from the model. I assume that means that this measurement is important in getting a good likeness.
  • The centre line of the mouth – typically about a third between the nose (end or base?) of the chin
  • The inside corner of the eyes line up vertically with the edge of the nostrils
  • The centre of the pupils line up vertically with the corners of the mouth

Interesting stuff. Since today’s self portrait was pretty carefully measured and also pretty much frontal, I’ve tested my measurements against these.

Now some of the above measurements I did take: eye line, nose length, mouth, head width to ears etc. But I didn’t take any eye width or nose width measurements. It appears I got the eye widths, or their placement, a bit wrong. I got the ears way too small, the base of the ears should be lining up somewhere between the nose and the mouth. And speaking of the mouth, I’ve got it too narrow.

Now this is really interesting. Everything else pretty much agrees with Betty’s proportions, which I guess is good news – I’ll have to pay special attention to eye widths and the length of the nose in future, and to the size of ears.

Of course all this, (at least a lot of it), goes out of the window when the sitter is three quarters. But the book still has some proportions for that, and a ‘recommended order’ for laying out a three quarter face. A ‘recommended order’ of drawing something rubs me right up the wrong way to be frank, but I’ve just read it and it makes sense. I plan to try it out tomorrow, but my plans have a habit of going astray on the day.

I should point out that I’m blessed with a coggly face. With my head straight on most of my nose is off to the left, in a mirror. To compensate for that in this drawing, and to get my nose running down the middle for measuring purposes, I slightly moved my head into a three quarter.

They do say that perfectly symmetrical faces are especially beautiful. That’s me buggered then.

Related posts on this site:

Previous post on Loomis and the Planes of the head.

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  1. 1

    artdude says

    “Of course all this, (at least a lot of it), goes out of the window when the sitter is three quaters. ”

    THIS, right here, is the single biggest problem for me as an aspiring artist. It’s just… damn it, it’s a doozy. I’ll get there someday though. But really, there are no answers out there. You just have to learn to draw through the form, and learn perspective. That’s the road I’m on.

    I’ll make it, but it’s really damn disheartening in the beginning knowing you essentially have to guess those 3/4 proportions most of the journey.

    There’s only advice, but there really isn’t any guideline. Artists only get there by drawing from life until their hands nearly fall off.

    Once that face becomes something other than a Platonic profile or front symmetrical view, once it becomes an actual living breathing HEAD in space, is when SHTF. That foreshortened eye haunts me every night.

    One day I will get it.

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