For the past couple of months I’ve been working through the beginning stages of “Drawing the Head and Hands” by Andrew Loomis.
There’s any number of books out there, all promising to teach you to draw this most difficult of subjects. But since getting hold of a copy of “Creative Illustration” by Loomis, I’ve come to expect something special from his books. He has a way of boiling things down to their essentials and then presenting them in a clear and concise way. When it comes to teaching drawing, Loomis is the man.
I thought it would be useful to cover some of the elements of the book here as I work through it. Of course, I can’t do more than provide a basic introduction. The text accompanying Loomis’ illustrations is indispensable, so if you like the look of what you see here then get the book. Like all of the Loomis books, this one is out of print, but Abe books usually have a few copies second hand.
“Drawing the Head and Hands” begins by introducing a deceptively simple method for constructing the head, and for ensuring that all the features are correctly placed. The drawing above shows Loomis’ basic sequence of building a head.
1. Establishing the brow and centre line
First, you start with a basic sphere. A cross is then placed somewhere on the surface of the sphere, and this defines the two most important anchors for the features: the centre line, and the brow line. Most similar methods of building a head that I’ve ever seen define the eye line first, but starting with the brow line on the ball helps to get the main features correctly proportioned.
2. Marking out the main divisions
The next step is to cut off the sides of the sphere, since heads aren’t perfectly round. This gives us the basic shape of the cranium. After dropping a vertical line down from the brow line to define the centre of the plane of the face, we can now measure out basic positions of the main features, using the brow line as a starting point.
About half way up the line running from the centre of the brow to the top of the skull comes the hair line. Taking this same distance vertically down from the brow line gives the base of the nose, and down once more for the same distance gives the bottom of the chin. I’ve labelled these 1, 2 and 3 on the second drawing above.
3. Establishing the form of the head
From here it’s pretty easy to draw out the general form of the head. I usually start with the jaw line and the ear. The ear fits into the bottom quarter of the flattened plane at the side of the head, furthest back from the face. The back of the jaw runs down from the ear, and then joins with the bottom of the chin. The merest suggestion of cheek bones, and the outline of a brow on the far side, and we’ve got a basic a head shape. The eye line will fall somewhere below the brow (obviously) and the mouth will fall a little less than two thirds of the way up from the chin to the nose.
4. Placing the features
With stage three as a basic framework, the features can now be drawn in. They’ll tend to work because they’re in the right place. I’m sure every beginner has had the frustrating experience of spending ages drawing an eye or a nose until it looks just right, then standing back and realising it’s in the wrong place. Bugger. Building up a drawing in this way should stop that happening.
Of course, like all things, it takes practice. Loomis recommends spending time at each stage of the book drawing many heads from different viewpoints, and at different angles. So that’s what I’ve been doing. My first ones were pretty awful. But gradually, as the basic form began to fix itself in my mind, the drawings started improving.
In this first section of the book, Loomis spends a little time on the construction of the skull, and a lot of time showing examples of heads, built up in this way and drawn from many different angles. Tomorrow I’ll post some of my drawings showing this in practice.
After a bit of practice with this, he moves on to looking at the head as a series of simplified flattened planes. It starts getting a bit more complex here. This is the stage I’m currently at, and I’ll be posting some of that soon. Since I was having some trouble with the planes, and also because I need a head to paint and draw for practice, I thought it would be a good idea to sculpt a life size head in clay based on these basic planes. I though it might take me a couple of days to make the head.
So far it’s been over a week and I’m still not done. You can’t fudge the lines you’re having trouble with on a sculpture like you can in a drawing. But the practice has been very good, it’s teaching me a lot and it’s forced me to think much more clearly about the form of the head in three dimensions, which is what all these exercises are about.
Throughout this first part of the book, all the emphasis has been on understanding the basic form, being able to feel and understand it in three dimensions. At one point in the first few pages, Loomis relates a comment from one of his tutors which had confused him when he was student: “Be able to draw the unseen ear.” Later, he realised what this meant. A head is not drawn until you can feel the unseen side. I understand this to mean that unless you can conceive of the whole head, and understand it’s form from all viewpoints, you can’t do a good job of drawing it from a single viewpoint.
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