Learn to Draw People - Profile Problems




Profile Problems

Three angles you could draw a person's head

There are three common ways that the portrait is drawn: Profile, Straight On, and Three Quarters. We'll look at each view in turn. First, let's look at the human head in profile. The profile is when the subject is looking left or right so that only one side of the face is visible. Many people feel that the profile is the easiest of the three views to draw because the facial features are very minimized in relation to the rest of the head. You're only dealing with one eye instead of two, there's also only one ear, and half a nose and mouth. I won't dispute that profiles are easier, but the same problems of proportion happen in all three views, so let's look at these problems first using profiles.

Egyptian Profile

Fixed Egyptian Profile

Here's an ancient example of a profile. The Egyptians were a highly developed culture, but their depictions of humans were very highly stylized and not really true to life. Look at the photo to the right. Can you see any factors in this painting that would make it look "less realistic"?

The two biggest errors are the eye and the ear. The eye looks more like an eye that is seen from the front, not the side. And the ear itself looks fine, but it's too high up on the head. These errors aren't confined to this one image, every ear they drew seemed to be too high up on the head, and they never seemed to see the eye in true profile. The Egyptians placed the ear so that the bottom of the earlobe fell about to the middle of the nose and the top of the ear ends up above the eyebrow. They seemed to have the general size of ear correct, it's size is usually from the eye to the bottom of the nose, but they always set the ear too high. The top of the ear should line up with the eye and the bottom should line up between the nose and mouth. Look at the next illustration to see what a profile with these two errors fixed might look like.

Measuring features on the face to get them in proper proportion is really important because each person's face is unique, and has unique proportions. Because of this, you must measure one feature against another feature on the same face in order to get the proper proportions for that face. For example, if you measure on your subject that his ear is the same length as his nose, in your drawing of this person, his ear better be the same length as his nose.

An incorrect profile

Even though each face is unique unto itself, there are still some general guidelines to help you with proper proportion. Many of the same measurements and proportions happen on every face, and if you know these "global measurements and guidelines" you will have a good starting point for your drawing. Many of the errors that happen when drawing people happen because the artist isn't aware of these "global measurements and guidelines", and is allowing his own mind to fool him with what he thinks he sees. Look at the profile drawing to the right. It shows how a beginning artist might draw a profile. It also shows some of the common errors in drawing the face that artists make. It's obvious that this profile is "incorrect", but why is it incorrect? Click on it and I'll show you why.

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