Learn to Draw People - Basic Portrait Measurements




Basic Portrait Measurements

The beginning "egg" shape"

One "eye" between the eyes

Shannon Doherty's eyes.

As you turn your head from a profile view to looking straight at the artist, the placement of the various facial elements on your head doesn't change. So many of the measurements and proportions you saw in profiles are still true in straight on drawings. Your eyes are still at the halfway point on your head, so drawing an "eyeline" is still helpful in placing facial elements.

You can start your drawing in much the same way as a profile by drawing an egg shape and bisecting it with an eye line through it's horizontal midpoint. The egg you'd sketch in for a straight on portrait would look like an egg that would appear upside down - with the narrower portion of the shape at the bottom. In addition to bisecting the egg at it's horizontal midpoint, bisect it with a vertical line down the middle. This will help you correctly place the nose.

The basic unit many artists use in portraiture is the length of the eye. This is probably because it's one of the first things drawn, and it's also a nice medium-sized element on the face. For me, it's because the right eye is almost always the first thing I draw, and then the first measurement I take is the space between the eyes - which is one eye. There's your first common measurement. As with all "global" measurements, measure them on your subject to make sure it's true - not all people have exactly one eye length between their eyes. Also, the eyes usually are horizontally aligned, but not always. Looking at the two tear ducts to see if they are on the same horizontal plane is an easy way to see if the eyes are aligned.

Measuring the eye

Find the horizontal placement of the nose.

Measure the space between the nose and lip. 

So, in most cases, there is one "eye" measurement between the eyes, what else? Almost the entire face and it's features can be measured using the eye. When measuring, first compare the eye with another facial feature on your subject, then measure your drawn eye and measure out the feature you'll be drawing. After you have drawn and correctly spaced the two eyes of your subject, here are the measurements you can take...

Measure the right eye with your pencil by placing the tip of your pencil at the outside corner of the eye, then place your index finger at the tear duct. Hold that measurement, and at the tear duct, turn the pencil 90 degrees down, you're measuring for the length of the nose. On many people the nose is one eye, or one and a half eyes long. This will get the vertical placement of the nose.

Gauge the horizontal placement of the nose by placing your pencil vertically on one edge of a nose lobe. Note where the lobe will line up on the eye above. Right at the tear duct, usually, but not always. Use the same vertical measure on the other nose lobe and DO NOT assume that the placement will be the same as the other lobe. On the bearded guy to the right, notice that his left lobe is a tad bit larger than his right one, but his nose looks pretty centered on his face. This shows that the ball of his nose points a bit to the right, his nose isn't straight. Note this kind of stuff when you're drawing portraits.

After getting the placement of the nose, measure the width of the nose. Often the nose is one eye wide.

The space between the nose and upper lip is often half an eye. This will help to get the vertical placement of the mouth.

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