How to draw the head – Realistic portrait proportions front view

Portrait drawing can be very difficult, you not only need to draw the facial features correctly, but you also need to place them in the right places in order to produce a believable face. Placing the facial features in the wrong area and drawing them in the wrong size will make you lose likeness in a portrait. Drawing the head in the correct proportions is going to make your portrait drawing way more realistic and have more likeness. In this post, I’ll show you the basic proportions of the average human face and some tips you should take note of when drawing a portrait in the front view. There are different ways you can decide on how you use proportions. I’ll be showing you the ones that work for me.

General proportion

the face can be divided into 6 squares, as seen above with the dark red lines. The top of the face where the top red lines are is also where the hairline would be. Note that this is only for the face, the top of the skull is slightly higher than the hairline. I’ll talk about it later in this post.

The length of the top of the forehead to the eyebrows, eyebrow to the bottom of the nose and bottom of the nose to the bottom of the chin are the same.

Nose placement

The outer side of the nose is usually in line with the inner corners of the eyes. Look at the blue lines in the photo above and you will see it. The bottom of the nose is also a good landmark where it touches the red line. Note that depending on the shape of the nose tips, the nose can seem longer or shorter but the base of the nose should be roughly 2/3 of the face when the face is facing forward.

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One eye apart

The distance between your two eyes is normally one eye length apart. The length can vary a little. It can be slightly closer or further apart depending on the person. So make sure you measure carefully.

Ears placement

It’s very easy to find the height of the ear on an upright face if you follow this: the eyebrows align with top of the ear, bottom of the nose align with the bottom of the ear. This is the basic proportion when the face is facing you straight. If the face is slightly tilted upwards or downwards. The position of the ear will change as well. Look at the image of the forward-facing face at the top, you can see that the ears are roughly in place.

Below are 2 faces, one slightly tilted up and one slightly tilted down. By drawing a red line between the opposite ears on the top and bottom, you can see how the placement of the ears change when the head tilts.

Lips placement

It’s a common mistake to draw the lips right on the middle of the chin and bottom of the nose. If you observe carefully, the bottom of the lips is actually just slightly below the middle of the chin and bottom of the nose. So always remember to place the lips a little higher than the middle. Look back at the pink lines on the image at the top, it is in the middle of the red squares, which is also the middle of the chin and nose.

Also, at the yellow lines on the image at the top. The left and right ends of the lips are usually shorter between the 2 yellow lines.

The hair has volume

The hair is not flat on the skull. If you trace the skull of a person, you will notice that the hair is sitting on top of the skull. Depending on the hairstyle, the height or volume of the hair can vary.

Here I roughly sketched out the shape of the skull. As you can see, the hair lays on top of the skull and has volume and thickness. when the hair is wet or tied up tightly, the volume will be flatter and less thick.

So these are the general proportions you should take note of when drawing portraits. However, remember that they can vary slightly depending on the person. Everyone looks different unless they are identical twins. My mom and her sister are identical twins and sometimes it’s really difficult to tell them apart.

Recommended Reading

If you wish to improve your portrait drawing or painting skills, this book is worth a read. Even if you just want to draw and not paint, you’d still learn lots of useful information from this book. I’m still in the process of reading through it and I’ll make a book review on it once I’ve finished reading it.

Portrait painting: expert answers to the questions every artist asks.

This book answers 200 common questions on portrait drawing and painting that artists have. They provide tips and talks above various topics such as materials, techniques, colours, value, facial features, structures, hair, proportions and lots more. You’ll definitely find information that’s useful for you. You can buy this book on Amazon here. If you get the book using the link I’ve provided I get a small commission which helps me keep reviewing more art products.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post and has found it useful. If you purchase anything through the affiliate links that I’ve provided, I’ll get a small amount of commission (at no extra cost to you!) which helps me continue writing art-related blog posts and tutorials like this one.

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13 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting this, this is one of the greatest skills I wish I had but luckily for me, I have a sister who is so good at drawing I want to help her build herself in that aspect. I think portrait painting has gotten a really good recognition in the world of art. I’ll check out the book on Amazon. T

  2. Thank you so much for this article, right now in my free time I am always trying to improve my drawing because that is something that I like to do and hopefully one day I can good at it and draw my own things. I checked out your artwork and I love it. And the article you wrote today is also good and very detailed. Thank you again.

  3. This is great! I am an art enthusiast and I like anything in line with artistry. I like the fact that this  is teaching is how to draw realistic human portrait. Though I have flare for it but I suck at drawing. But I have a friend who does. I will suggest this post to her and I hope that this would help her well and improve her skills too. Thanks for this

  4. Hello Mary 🙂

    This really is a simple portrait hack you have shared with your “how to draw the head of a realistic portrait to proportion” and i would definitely be giving it a go.

    I also enjoyed reading Your “Portrait drawing tips for beginners and common mistakes” and think both posts are awesome for anyone looking to start drawing.


  5. What a fabulous informative post. I’ve got a daughter who loves art but I have no way of helping her with learning how to draw particular things, especially portraits. You have explained how to do it really clearly and point out the things to observe and raise awareness around the importance of the distance and location. I’ve got a friend who also paints portraits and have often heard her mention that she sees everything in lines imagining if she was to draw them. Now I understand why. I’m not much of an artist, but after reading this post it makes me feel like I could have a try at drawing at least an outline of a face. I’ll be sharing this with my daughter and showing her these tips on how to draw portraits. Thanks for a very helpful post. 

  6. I can remember the problems I had with faces and hands when I was studying art as a sixteen year old in school – I really wish they had offered us some information like this to make things a little easier. 

    I was really surprised by the hint you pointed out on hair, and the volume of it effecting the overall shape of the face – definitely something I would not have thought about myself!

    Great article – you break things down so easily…

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