Drawing Portraits: The Layout | Emily Armstrong | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

Drawing Portraits: The Layout

teacher avatar Emily Armstrong, The Pencil Room Online

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Introduction To The Class


    • 2.

      How I Teach And Why


    • 3.

      Project: Take A Selfie And Draw Your Own Face Layout


    • 4.

      Explaining The Structure of the Face


    • 5.

      Exercise: Drawing A Generic Face


    • 6.

      Drawing the Layout of Your Own Face


    • 7.

      Final Thoughts


  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

In this class you will learn about the general guidelines and proportion for drawing a portrait from a front-on position. The human face typically follows a general pattern in the way the different features of the eyes, nose, mouth are laid out. We will sketch the layout for a generic face together and then take a look at the layout of our own faces for the project.

This lesson is about the technical framework for starting a portrait and goes right back to basics, so we wont be completing a finished portrait but you will gain useful information and experience for applying to your own work. 

Ive attached a free guide to the general layout of the face in the Class Project section. Draw along with me in real time to process the information and to practice as you learn!

This class is suitable for complete beginners or artists wanting to improve their portraiture.


Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Emily Armstrong

The Pencil Room Online


After finishing a Masters of Art & Design in 2010 I returned to the simple joy of putting pencil to paper and just drawing. Since then drawing has become my passion as both an expressive art form and an enjoyable and mindful practice. In 2017 I started The Pencil Room, an art education studio in Napier, New Zealand, where I teach drawing and painting classes and workshops. In the last few years I have also been building my Sketch Club drawing membership over at The Pencil Room Online.

I love the simplicity of drawing and I value doodling from the imagination as much as realistic drawing. Drawing doesn't always need to be serious, it can be simple and playful and it can change the way you see the world!


I teach learn to draw courses an... See full profile

Level: Beginner

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • 0%
  • Yes
  • 0%
  • Somewhat
  • 0%
  • Not really
  • 0%

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Introduction To The Class: Hi. I'm Emily, and welcome to the Pencil Room. In this lesson, I will teach you about the general layout of the face for drawing portraits. I'll show you how to start a portrait drawing and teach you about positioning and measuring the different features of the face. We will look at how the eyes, nose, and mouth are positioned, and then we will draw a generic face together. After that, I'll take you through drawing the layout of your own face. So we'll make a start on a self portrait. Now, this class is about understanding and building the framework for drawing a face. So won't be creating a finished portrait here. Instead, you can take what you learn in this lesson and apply it to your own work or you could build on what we do today by taking my follow on classes in portraiture. So grab a pencil and a piece of paper or a sketch book, and we can get started. 2. How I Teach And Why: So I just wanted to talk a little bit about how I teach drawing and why I'm going to be teaching that way in this particular class, and I hope you'll take a few minutes to listen because I think it's quite important. We're going to be talking about the layout of a face. Obviously everyone's faces are really different to each other. But there is an underlying structure of the skull that follows some basic general rules. We'll be looking for those markers, and even if those markers aren't exactly the same on the face that you're drawing, you can use those as guidelines to see how the face that you're drawing differs in relation to those markers. Our aim is to get an accurate lightness of a face. Even though we're starting with just a plan today, the underlying plan is really important today. There's nothing worse than doing an amazing drawing, sketching in the eyes, sketching in the nose, and the mouth and then realizing that they're too far apart or too close together and it just doesn't look like the person. Now, you could get a really good lightness using something like the grid method, which is where you take a photograph or a photocopy of a person, and you grid it up into even squares, and then you take your piece of paper and you'd grid that up into even squares and you look at each square in the photo and you draw that in to the same square on your piece of paper. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it. I prefer to teach from the essence of how you see something. I mean how you draw it, rather than using some of the shortcuts that can be limited in the use. I do use shortcuts all the time in my own work. If I can then i will use it. But I feel like if you're going to take the time to grid up something, you may as well make a photocopy, enlarge the photocopy, and trace it on a light box and use that as your framework. Like I said, that's completely fine, but it's limited to that one particular process at one particular photo. Instead, I want you to understand how the different parts of the face fit together, and how you can then apply that to any face that you're drawing, whether it's in real life or whether it's from a photograph. Then perhaps you can even take the same techniques and apply them to other things that you're drawing, objects, or landscapes as well. 3. Project: Take A Selfie And Draw Your Own Face Layout: For the project for this lesson, I thought it would be cool if we use our own faces as the subject matter. We're just going to be drawing the layout of a portrait. We need a really simple front on facing photograph of ourselves. I've got a few tips that I'd like you to follow when you take your selfie. The first one is that make sure you have from the top of your head to the top of the shoulders in the frame. Make sure there is nothing around your neck, you've got no big dangling earrings or neckless on if you're a woman or man. Make sure that your ears can be seen at least one of them so we can see where they line up with other parts of the face. You might want to tack you're hair behind your ears. When you're looking at your phone, I'm assuming most people will use a phone to take a selfie. If you look just above the top of your phone, rather than looking at yourself on the screen, this because we want your eyes to be nice and open, and if you're looking a little bit above the screen, then we'll be able to see the full shape of your eye. Now we know I did this for myself it was a little bit confronting. We're not used to seeing ourselves straight or not posing. It's a very plain photograph of ourselves, and you can have a little smile on your photograph if you like, it might make it a little bit less scary-looking, but no teeth. Just a little gentle smile is fine. But do try to think of this as subject matter. The other thing is you're not going to be showing you photograph in your project at all. You don't need to worry about what it looks like so much. We just need a really basic photograph of a face to follow the instructions and to also see how your face matches against these markets, I think will be quite interesting. Once you have your selfie, you might want to crop it so there is nothing too distracting in the background, so that your face is in the center of the photograph. 4. Explaining The Structure of the Face: To start with, I want to talk you through the general underlying structure of a face for portrait drawing. Just relax for a few minutes and watch. Then after that we will have a go at drawing a general face layout together. The first thing to notice is the axis of the face, which because we are drawing a portrait facing straight towards us, it's an even cross. The line of the eyes is halfway between the top of the head and the chin. Often we have this idea that the eyes are quite high up in the face. But if we're talking from the very top of the skull to the bottom of the chin, then the eyes are actually halfway between those two points. You can check this on your face now just using your finger and your thumb to measure from your chin to your eyes, and then move that measurement you've taken so that your thumb is in line with your eyes in your fingers should now line up with the top of your skull. The width of the face is generally three-quarters of the length. It's a pretty broad generalization but we can use it to draw an egg shape. It's a little bit longer than it is wide. Across the eye line, you can usually fit five eye lengths. The two actual eyes and then an eye length between the eyes and then an eye length on either side of the eyes. The top of the eyebrows is about one eye height above the actual eyes. Once it is drawn, then we can divide space between the eyebrow line and the bottom of the chin in half. That's where the bottom of the nose sets. The forehead is also the same size as one of these sections. Next, the section between the bottom of the nose and the chin is divided into thirds. That gives us the middle of the lips and also the recess of the chin. Each side, each of the nose usually lines up with the inner corner of each eye. But this is something that can vary quite a bit depending on the shape of the nose. When the mouth is in a neutral position, the corners of the mouth usually line up with the pupils of the eyes. The bottom of the ears are in line with the bottom of the nose. The tops of the ears are in line with the tops of the eyes. Again, the ears are a feature that can vary quite a bit. Anything that is made of cartilage, like the ears and the nose can be quite a bit bigger than the general guideline. 5. Exercise: Drawing A Generic Face: So before we get to drawing the layout of our own face, we're going to draw a generic face layout. Then after that, you could work on your project along with me while I draw my own face from my selfie, so you can see how to apply the principles of what we learn in the generic face layout. I'm just using a 2B pencil so you can see it. If we were starting an actual portrait, we'd be working really really a lot, so using a to 2H pencil, so that you can't see any of this underlying work. First thing we are going to do and the first thing I would always do when starting a portrait is to draw an axis. An axis is just a cross. It's going to be the length of the face and then this is going to be across the width of the face. This is for a person who's facing straight on. Now this line here is going to be the line of the eyes. The eyes are halfway between the top of the skull and the base of the chin, so this distance and this distance should be the same. Going to make a mark here and here you can adjust the mark, so that these two sections are exactly the same. The width of the face is generally three-quarters of this height, this length of the face. So if I wanted to, I could take a measurement of three-quarters of the length and then I could try and place it in the center, that's how wide my face is going to be here and just here. Now, I'm just going to sketch very loosely like an egg shape. It's a bit wider at the top, that's the top of the skull. It's narrowed down the bottom where the chin would be. Across this eye line or across the face, you can usually fit five eye links. I'm going to just take a guess, thinking about where the actual eyes will go. Between the two eyes, this should be the same distance. Is across one of the eyes, so that distance, that distance, this distance and the distances to the size of the face should be the same. I think that's about right. If I wanted to, I could take my pencil and could just check that each one is the same. I'm going to sketch some almond eyes. When we look at the features of the face in the next video, we're definitely not going to be doing this it's just for a place holder so you can see where the eyes go in this video. Just erase this section I made that side of the face a little bit too wide. Once we've got the eyes and the next thing we're going to do is we're going to put a brow line and the eyebrow line. The top of the eyebrows is usually the same height as one of the eyes. I keep saying usually because these are just guidelines and often you'll find when you're drawing a face that does don't quite match up, but these give us something to look for so we would look and check how high above the eye the eyebrow is. I'm going to sketch in some eyebrows there, so it's the top of the eyebrow this line. Now, between this brow line that we've put in and the chin halfway is where the nose falls, the the bottom of the nose. Check that these sections are the same. Spring this down a little bit. This is where the noise is going to go. The edges of the nose usually line up with the corner of that an eye. I'm sketching a general nose shape there. Between the nose line and the chin, we can divide them up into suits. I might not quite have this right let me block. This one down the bottom is a little bit big, so I'm going to move everything down just a little bit. Those lines there give us the middle of the lips. Like the dimple of the chin, the races where the chin starts to go in. The width of the mouth. We can usually determined by lining the corners of the mouth up with the pupil of each eye. I'm going to sketch in the mouth shape, so we got have eyes and nose and mouth, we need to put both hears in the hears usually line up with the bottom of the nose and the top of the eye. Of course, anything that's curtilage that is not part of the actual scale could be quite different. You know how some people have big hears, some people have small hears, some people have big nose and some people have small nose. They could be quite a bit higher, it could be a little bit lower than the top of the eye. The other thing we need to put in is the hairline. The section that we made before, between the brow line and the nose and the chin, it is usually the same size as the forehead. From here to here, here to here. This is our hair usually, unless it's someone who's bald. Then in here would also come a little bit higher than skull. Come out a little bit wider than the face, so this is the generic face, what we can do now is we can read about these guidelines. You can see that even though it's very simple and it looks a little bit flaky, a little bit expressionless like a police sketch or something like that, this is quite a realistic looking face and that's because we've got those proportions in the right place. I hope you've been drawing along with me, as I do this. It's a really good idea to actually do something rather than just watch and listen, especially when you're learning our techniques. By actually doing this, just installs the concepts more permanently in your mind, I think, so if you haven't drawn this, you might want to go back and just watch the video again, listen to it and quickly do this exercise so you get a really clear sense of where all those features fit. 6. Drawing the Layout of Your Own Face: Here's the fun part where we get to draw the layout of our interface. Here is my very simple selfie. Hopefully this isn't going to be too traumatic for anyone having to stare their own face for a little bit. But you want to see put it up like this intro along with me. I'm going to go through it step-by-step the same way that we did with the generic portrait, but I'm going to be looking for areas where my face might be different to the general guideline, and obviously your face is going to be different to mine as well. Make sure your phone is set up so that it doesn't keep the screensaver, it doesn't keep going on. It's annoying. The first thing I'm going to do is draw across. This is going to be the long axis of my face and this is going to be the width of my face across the eyes. What I want to do first is check that my eyes do indeed form in the middle between the top of my head, in the bottom of my chin. You could try and measure it with pen. I'm going to do a little bit by eye, I'm imagining where the top of my skull is. I'm just going to draw down too my eyes and then we're going to draw down to my chin. Do that a few times. I think my eyes might be slightly higher up much in could be a little bit lower down to give a fairly broad chin. Then I'm going to think about the width of my face is at three-quarters the height of my face. I'm just going to take my pencil measure across the eyes, over cheekbones, the widest point. I'd say that's pretty accurate. That's the width of my face is three-quarters of the highest of my face. I can check that with my pen as well. I'm going to draw and very loosely the sides of my face. I have a chin. It's a little bit broader than an ink shape. Like this is really about getting that layout practice and learning the guidelines. So don't worry about trying to get an exact likeness at the moment. The next step is to put in the eyes and generally the eyes fit five times across. If I have a look at mine and you have a look at yours at the same time, we've got one eye length. I would say I do have one eye length between the eyes, but between the outside of the eye and the side of the face, I would only have probably three-quarters of an eye length, sorry. I'm going to sketch out five segments. Three of which are the same, the middle three and in the two on the outside, I want to be slightly shorter. Here's one eye and here's the other eye. Let's draw the other few of those extra marks that I made in here keeping it very generic. Then I can add a bit more shape if I want to. But I don't want you to get caught up in that because that's what we will cover in another lesson. Next thing is to put an brow line and usually the brow line is one eye height above the eyes. I need to check that on my own face, one eye height, and then there's another one up to the top of the brow. I'd say that's pretty accurate. Once we've got that brow line in and you could draw a line across here if you want to. We can divide the section between the brow line and the chin in half and that should give us the nose. But again, that's why we go to check on our own face from the brow line to the nose and the nose to the chin. I'd say the very bottom of my nose, the point underneath is halfway between here and here. Quite a little bit high there. That now should be the same. Once we've got the line of the bottom of the nose, we can divide between there and the chin into thirds. In a generic portray, those thirds are even. But I want to check on my face if those sections at even so from the bottom of my nose to middle of my lips, middle of my lips to the middle or the laces of my chin and then laces of the chin to the bottom of my chin. What I found is between the middle of my lips and the laces of the chin is actually shorter than the other two thirds. I need to make sure that is reflected in my plane. Instead of having these three thirds even, this on is a little bit. I've made sure that this middle one is just a little bit shorter than these other two. These are the two are exactly the same as each other. This is middle of my lips. This is the laces of my chin. Next step is the width of the nose. I'm going to find the outside of my nostrils and I'm going to draw a vertical line up and see width lines up with my eyes and it's just inside the inner corner of the eye. You check both sides because sometimes noses are a little bit wonky. That is where the outer corner of my nose hits. Corners of the mouth usually line up with the pupil of the eye. If I checked if my pupil is in the middle of my eye, and it is, but it's slightly higher because I'm looking up a little bit so I'll just move up a bit. The corner of my mouth should line up with each pupil. Let me check that. Yeah, it does. Next thing is the ears and I've got one is showing here, but I can see that the bottom of my ear is actually slightly above where my nose line is. Usually it would line up with that ear is slightly higher, I have small ears. In the top of my ear lines I'll put the top of my eye. I'm going to assume that my ears are the same on both sides. The forehead up to where the ear line is, is usually the same as that section between the brow line and the bottom of the nose and the bottom of the nose to the chin. I'm going to check that. What I've noticed the brow line, brow line to hair line, and I'm pretty sure that it's the same. The sketching the general shape of my hair line comes a little bit in front of the ears, I've got a pat on one side that's going to go near. Comes in a little bit over the side of the face on the side. You can actually see my ear on the side, I'll make sure I can draw that one out. Remember this was the top of the skull that the hair actually if you have hair it goes above the skull, usually rises up a little bit. Just going to tidy up the shape of the face. That might be all we do. This is really an exercise in laying out the beginning of a portrait. I don't want you to get too worried about whether it actually looks like you or not, because that comes when we start to look at the specific shape of the features and we'll do that in a future video and also the shading. The shading is really important because that's what gives it a sense of deep that gives your features, your nose, your lips assume to volume and helps you to get that likeness. I'm going to go through this very quickly in sketch and a few more details looking at the shape of my lips, shape if my eyes. You can do that too if you want, but just very loosely and again, if it doesn't look exactly like you, that's not the point of this exercise. I promise we will get on to the fun stuff very soon. So check out my next videos. 7. Final Thoughts: I hope it's given you a better understanding of how to start a portrait drawing. How to create an accurate framework or layout before you then do the drawing on top of that, make sure you download the free guide that I've got for you of how to layout a portrait. Remember that it is just a guide. For instance, you might be drawing a person whose nose is actually wider than the inner corners of the eye. But the guide is there to help you figure those things out. We can actually use it as a way to find out how the person that you're drawing differs to the general guideline. I hope you'll join me soon for some more classes on portraiture. We will look at how to accurately draw a likeness in the mouth, the nose, and the eyes. That will include sketching plus shading as well to get some depth, some form, and those features. But thanks for joining me today and as always, happy drawing.