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

December 17th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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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  1. December 19th, 2009 at 10:16 | #1

    These are some great articles. Love seeing technique articles like this. Very inspiring and helpful. Thanks.

  2. francisco
    December 19th, 2009 at 10:31 | #2

    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 :P


  3. lol wow
    December 19th, 2009 at 22:31 | #3

    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.

  4. admin
    December 20th, 2009 at 20:23 | #4

    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: http://www.freshdesigner.com/teaching/webinar/

    Good luck!

  5. December 21st, 2009 at 00:21 | #5

    Nice! I love Loomis methods of drawing. It has a dynamic feel to it. This is a fantastic post! Thanks for sharing it with us :)

  6. December 24th, 2009 at 08:42 | #6

    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

  7. admin
    December 29th, 2009 at 17:14 | #7

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

  8. January 4th, 2010 at 20:49 | #8

    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.

  9. stinky472
    March 18th, 2010 at 02:05 | #9

    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.

  10. stinky472
    March 18th, 2010 at 02:14 | #10

    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.

  11. admin
    March 19th, 2010 at 22:28 | #11

    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!

  12. admin
    March 19th, 2010 at 22:30 | #12

    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.

  13. oscar
    March 29th, 2010 at 20:22 | #13

    Thank!!! I love your tutorials , i think i’m improving alot thanks ! :D

  14. admin
    March 29th, 2010 at 23:36 | #14

    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 :)

  15. April 13th, 2010 at 13:55 | #15

    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!

  16. admin
    April 23rd, 2010 at 20:56 | #16

    You’re welcome Ryan. I have to give credit to Steve Huston for showing me this one. Check out his work. His head drawings and paintings are amazing!

  17. roy white
    June 23rd, 2010 at 15:22 | #17

    do you know what issue steve hustons article was in, would like to try and purchase it

  18. Pookie
    July 11th, 2010 at 04:26 | #18

    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.

  19. December 28th, 2010 at 05:36 | #19

    Really helpfull !! to bad you havent post any articles lately :(

  20. admin
    February 25th, 2011 at 18:25 | #20

    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.

  21. June 5th, 2011 at 07:27 | #21

    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?

  22. holly
    November 3rd, 2012 at 03:59 | #22

    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.

  23. Simi
    December 4th, 2012 at 10:40 | #23

    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!!!!!

  24. Chris
    December 4th, 2012 at 11:27 | #24

    Thank you Simi. Yeah there’s a gap there. This was meant to be more of a sketch tutorial. If you watch the current webinar series on head drawing, I go over all the “steps” that go from line drawing (construction) to shading. Here’s a link to the webinar:

  25. Chris
    December 4th, 2012 at 13:28 | #25

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

  26. Chris
    December 4th, 2012 at 13:29 | #26

    Thanks Bvan. Yeah, it’s good to get a refresher or kickstart from time to time.

  27. Chris
    December 4th, 2012 at 14:05 | #27

    @roy white
    It was the May 2001 issue. Here’s a link I dug up: http://backissues.com/issue/American-Artist-May-2001. I’ve never ordered from them so you may want to contact them as well.

  28. Chris
    December 4th, 2012 at 14:08 | #28

    The dots are just to mark landmarks which are parts of anatomy that help us identify structure, gesture and rhythms.

  29. BaiDu
    December 31st, 2012 at 23:56 | #29

    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!

  30. February 4th, 2013 at 02:54 | #30

    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.

  31. Chris
    February 10th, 2013 at 12:29 | #31

    Thanks Baidu! You’re welcome. Definitely share with anyone who you think could use this information.

  32. Chris
    February 10th, 2013 at 12:30 | #32

    @Agapetos Very cool!

  33. mork
    March 18th, 2013 at 08:14 | #33

    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!

  34. Chris
    March 21st, 2013 at 20:42 | #34

    Cool thanks. Yeah learn as much as you can from various good sources.

  35. Sinner85
    June 9th, 2013 at 03:53 | #35

    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!!


  36. Chris
    June 14th, 2013 at 12:22 | #36

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

  37. marriz
    January 17th, 2014 at 17:16 | #37

    this one’ s cool

  38. Chris
    January 20th, 2014 at 17:29 | #38

    Thank you!

  39. paul
    January 29th, 2014 at 00:51 | #39

    I like to learn how to draw portlait from 3/4 way turn. The riht

  40. Chris
    February 10th, 2014 at 09:48 | #40


  41. sunday
    March 3rd, 2014 at 12:29 | #41

    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…

  42. Chris
    March 10th, 2014 at 17:26 | #42

    Thanks! Yes, I do free crit sessions on our facebook group. I’ll be able to help you there.

  43. August 13th, 2014 at 06:31 | #43

    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.

  44. Chris
    September 25th, 2014 at 21:46 | #44

    Thank you Karen. Glad it was helpful. I will release a 2014 update to this soon!! It’s long overdue!

  45. Curtis
    February 6th, 2015 at 12:27 | #45


    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

  46. Chris
    February 13th, 2015 at 14:43 | #46

    Thank you so much! Yes drawing is the foundation of good painting.

  1. January 27th, 2014 at 23:29 | #1
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