How to Draw the Head in 3/4 or Side View

A common approach to drawing the head from 3/4 or side view is to use a 2 step construction approach. The first step is to draw a ball for the cranium, followed by drawing the frontal plane and jaw. Below is an example by Andrew Loomis (Fig. 1).

how to draw a head step by step Andrew Loomis

This tutorial will introduce a more fluid and gestural approach to drawing the head. The focus is on the major gestures, or “thrusts” as Steve Huston refers to them, and their relationships to one another. We’re also want to keep our lay-in simple, by using geometric shapes. The first shape we will use is the “pie”.

Step 1: Using The “Pie” Shape

The geometric shape we will use to capture the head in side or 3/4 view is called the “pie”. The name comes from the resemblance to a pie slice or wedge. We get the pie shape by connecting the major thrusts of the head.

The first major thrust is the frontal plane of the face. To get the frontal plane, simply draw a gesture through the point of the forehead (sometimes will be defined by the edge of the hairline) and the tip of the chin (Fig. 2).

How to draw a head-step 1-figure2

This defines where the features of the face will lie and the general length of the subject’s face.

The next step is to draw a line through the point of the forehead to the back of the cranium (Fig. 3). Often times this point will be hidden because of hair. In this case you will have to rely on intuition to guess or estimate where that point is.

How to draw a head-step 1-figure 3

To develop this intuition, first observe and then use your minds eye to imagine the subjects cranium. With that line and shape in mind, confidently make your mark. Through study and practice of drawing from life, your judgement and observation will naturally improve.

The final major thrust is drawn through the back of the skull to the tip of the chin (Fig. 4).

How to draw a head-step 1-figure 4

As you can see. you’ve created a pie shaped triangle. However, it really has all the essential movement and information that the rest of the drawing can be built upon.
Step 2: Grounding The Head

Having captured the pie shape, draw 2 thrusts for the neck that will anchor our head to the torso (Fig. 5).

How to draw a head-step 2-figure5

The key is observation and good estimation. Use the point of the back of the head as a guide for the back of the neck, and the point of the chin as a guide for the front of the neck. The key is good observation, confident estimation and fluid marks. As you make your marks, always consider their relationships to the whole.
Step 3: Laying In The Features

First, I plot the major anatomy such as the brow ridge, bridge of the nose, mouth and mandible (Fig. 6). At this stage, I still want to stay fluid and rely on observation and instincts. I don’t want to get too caught up in measurements and structure.

How to draw a head-step 1-figure 6
Step 4: Fill in Cranium and Locate The Ear

Next, I draw a fluid curves for the jawbone and then follow the rhythm up around to give me the back of the ear. Then, I more accurately fill in the cranium, or shape of the hair, hats, etc. (Fig. 7). Of course, I could also add as much construction as needed to guide me when adding details, light and shade.

How to draw a head-step 2-figure7
Step 5: Begin Lighting & Shading

Satisfied with the lay-in I can flesh out the features and add light and shade (Fig. 8).

How to draw a head-step 5-figure 8
For reference, here’s a step by step diagram of this process. For more info on lighting and shading, check out the head drawing tutorials and videos.

How to draw a head step by step
The great thing about this approach is it’s fluid nature. It’s also a good way to quickly establish the tilt of the head. Fig. 9 below is an example of the always tricky up-tilted head. Fig. 10 is a down tilt. The numbers are the stroke order.

How to draw a head looking up

How to draw a head looking down

Below are 2 step by step diagrams for reference.

how to draw a head looking up step by step

how to draw a head looking down step by step

A lot of this approach is inspired by the work and teaching of Steve Huston. You can view his work here.

For homework, find yourself a live model session and try drawing your 3/4 or side view heads using  the pie shape and major thrusts. It will be great exercise in observation and intuition and really add some dynamic ‘punch’ to your head drawings.  As always, I would love to see your drawings and progress so please leave a comment below or drop me a line.

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48 thoughts on “How to Draw the Head in 3/4 or Side View”

  1. Thanks again for posting another great tutorial!, it´s a very interesting aproach that i´ve never heard or seen before, going to give it a try when this x-mas madness is over and have some free time left 😛


  2. uhm, good tutorial but you go from a figure that looks like a head kinda, to a well shaded well developed figure. you really need to include the steps how you go from step 6 to 7 in the first drawing and 5 to 6 in the second.

  3. Thanks for the comments.
    @Francisco, yes practice as much as you can. Draw from live model if possible and you will see dramatic improvement!

    @lilwow, yes it is a big jump. This was meant as more of sketh tutorial, as an ‘introduction’ to this method. I’m working on more detailed content and tutorials to be released soon. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the steps involved in lighting and shading, there’s a lot of great information and live demos in the Concept Art Webinar. You can view archives here:

    Good luck!

  4. I am glad to have found your blog, as i have recently been refreshing my drawing skills. Its always good to get a refresher course using some one elses style or technique. Thanks for this blog

  5. Thanks for the props Farik and Bvan! Send me your drawings some time. I like to see how you guys apply this method.

  6. Fantastic tutorial. Thank you so much for posting this and all of the others. I’ve become quite interested in the Reilly method but can find very little info on it. Are there any books you could recommend? Cheers.

  7. Wow, I love your approach to drawing the head!

    I studied and practiced more structural methods (Loomis being one example but even more tedious), especially those which focused on the planes of the head, proper angle/distance measurements, and putting a whole lot of information on paper (basically resulting in a diagram before I even begin really trying to draw the final result), but I quickly got bored and found the very heavy structural approach to figure drawing to be uninteresting and too time-consuming for a lot of poses.

    It was a good learning experience (good torture) but this approach seems so much more fluid and expressive, and, most of all, fun! I’m eager to try it out.

  8. I’m predominantly interested in achieving greater economy and speed in my work, especially when it comes to faces. I think if I can work faster, I can work better.

    I’ve heard skilled portrait artists say that capturing the likeness of a person comes down to carefully measuring proportions, and yet good caricature artists can often capture the essence of a person with a minimum number of strokes and no tedious time spent measuring reference points. I wonder how they manage that.

  9. Thanks stinky. That’s great. I went through the same thing. It is necessary to learn structure and construction or ‘diagraming’ like you said. Eventually if you do it enough you can internalize the construction and draw more fluidly. Keep drawing!

  10. They are both right. It all depends how you ‘see’ your subject and your own aesthetics. It is good to know both construction and exaggeration and find the medium that works for you.

  11. awesome! thanks oscar. where are you located? I’ll be teaching in bay area soon. Or if you’re in LA you can learn from my teachers directly, which probably would be better :)

  12. I have been drawing for 14 years, and what I always found annoying is how I draw a circle for the face and then adjust it from then on and at the end it always looks so.. cartoonish. But after trying this just once, I realize it improved the structure of the face and i create much more realistic drawings now. THANK YOU!

  13. This is just awesome. I’m going to keep at it and make sure I try this out at least once a day for a week, but I think drawing heads just ‘clicked’ for me.

  14. I know! I’ve been dedicated to my Fine Art training and new website. Have you the new articles and videos yet? I’m also some teaching and free webinars too.

  15. Thank you for the tutorial! This whole website has been really helpful for me. Do you have any drawing sessions in SF this coming months?

  16. what a great method. Never see it done this way. Of course this is for side-on or 3/4 view. I guess you don’t use the “dots” for front on. But thank you, I’m going to try this.

  17. OMG!! your drawings are so good but it would be better if you descride how you got from step 3 to 4 on the last one because it was a litte trouble getting from 3 to 4 but they are really good and it helped me a LOT with my art home work!!! :) THANKYOU!!!!!

  18. Thanks Farik. If you have any drawings or homework, post a link or email me. I’d love to see your progress.

  19. Hello there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  20. I succeeded in combining gestural method with A. Loomis method. :-) I start with a circle, then draw gesture lines to establish correct angles, and then continue with Loomis approach. It works pretty well.

  21. I have been following your sites for a while and been applying this approach to head shots.
    I learned the loomis method first but found that I had a hard time differentiating male from female, the massing was not nuanced enough. So with that base, I added your/SH pie thrusts and found that the essence of the facial shape suggested the gender better, especially for femaile shapes which tend to look better narrow, slimmed down, with a tapered chin. So a combination of Loomis and Pie seems to broaden my shape making and quickly establish gender. Might be good to do a tut on how to differentiate M/F thru massing square/round, etc and mark making that clearly separates the gender and enhances it…a good portrait is better than the sitter!

  22. Man i read a ton of artbooks yet (Loomis, Hogarth, Betty Edwards,….)

    But your Trainings and approaches (often a summery from different books) changed my (art) life!
    I would love to talk to you one day (or via Email). would be very interesting for me!!


  23. You are welcome! Glad it was helpful. Sure, the best way to reach me is through the newsletter or on our facebook group.

  24. Chris, thank you for posting this abstract “shortcut” for potraits, it is helpful. You motivate a lots of us. Still having problems with the eye socket, with the eyes. Reading and studying all kind of drawing books but still having problems. Can you help me with that ? Maybe an advice or sharing some helpfull pics or tips…

  25. I love your tutorial. I am a musician, but total beginner in painting, drawn to paint my visions….this material is very supportive. Thank you so much.

  26. Hi,

    I love your webpage. :) I’ve been stuck in pencil medium for a long time and want to get into rendering the figure in oil and acrylic. Althogh I need more practice on gesturing the head and actual portraits in different angles. This helped allot. LOL

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