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Michael Britton

How to Draw the

Facial Features

The Drawing

How to Draw the Facial Features

Drawing Expressive Eyes ......................................................... 3
Understanding the Nose .......................................................... 8
Anatomy of a Smile ................................................................. 14
The Smiles Construction ........................................................ 19
The Ear 5 Easy Pieces ......................................................... 22
The Clavicles Adding a Graceful, Finishing Touch ............... 29

Drawing Expressive Eyes:

Tone, Form & Anatomy
Convincingly rendering the human eye in ones portrait
drawing is an immensely satisfying endeavor. Of all the
features of the human head, it is the eyes that draw and
hold the viewers attention. However, when drawing the
eyes, symbolic preconceptions manifest quickly resulting in eyes that are unconvincing and lacking in emotional resonance.

Lateral Canthus

Medial Canthus

To begin the eye the medial and outer, or lateral,

Canthus must be placed. Bear in mind that the
eye is much smaller than you think The eye is
very seldom perfectly horizontal - it either slopes
upwards or downwards from the medial Canthus.
The degree of slope varies from individual to
individual. Sonyas eyes slope upwards.

The arabesque of the eyes opening is struck.

Try to avoid having a wide-eyed look. The
relaxed eye is open only about two-thirds to half
of what one would normally draw. Note the culde-sac of the medial canthus. Our symbolic preconception of the eye is that of a 2-dimensional
football. Think of the eye as being like a hard
boiled egg. It is a 3-dimensional orb recessed
into the eye socket.
The medial upper eye lid is slightly higher while
the outer third of the lower eyelid is slightly
lower. These two are diametrically opposed.
The upper and lower eyelids wrap around
the eyeball. The eyelids consist of the thin
Orbicularis Oculi - Palpebral Portion which
lie over the semi-rigid Tarsal Plates within
each eyelid. The upper eyelid is opened and
closed by the Levator Palpebrae Superioris,
a muscle within the eye socket. The upper
eyelid forms a distinct crease.Take careful
note of this crease and render it with architectonic straight lines. It is not a florid arc - that
is another symbolic preconception.


Within the medial Canthus is the pink Caruncula

and the third eyelid, an evolutionary trace, the
Plica Semi-Lunaris .

Plica Semi-Lunaris

The colored disk is the Iris. Like the lens

of a camera it functions as an aperture controlling the amount of light entering the
eye by dilating and constricting the pupil.

Iris (concave)
The Iris is concave while the Cornea, the clear
contact lens-like covering is convex. This has the
effect of refracting the light entering the eye and
lighting up the opposing side of the Iris from the
Cornea (convex)

The radiating lines of the Iris are colored folds,

very much like a Japanese fan. The dark circumference are small muscles that pull and relax the
radiating folds of the Iris thus dilating and closing
the pupil.

The so-called white of the eye is the Sclera

which is anything, but white: it is a neutral
gray generally tinged with yellow, red or
blue. Keeping the Sclera white lends the
portrait a quality I call the Village of the
Damned look. White eyes have no souls.

Bearing in mind that the eyeball is a sphere

Ive applied tone to the Sclera and Iris. Note
how quickly the emotional resonance of this
eye changes. The upper eyelid also effects a
cast shadow upon the Sclera and Iris.

Ive further developed the eye with tone.

The eyes are recessed within the eye
sockets. Therefore they will always be a
little darker that the forehead or cheeks.
It is the accents of light upon the eyelids
and the glistening Sclera that often mislead the beginning artist into thinking
that the eyes are light. Look at your sitters, or people on the street, with soft
eyes and you will quickly realize how
dark the eyes really are!

Finally, there are the eyelashes. The

eyelashes are arranged in double or
triple rows. If you attempt to draw each
eyelash, the result will be like a bad
make-up advertisement. Instead, suggest the eyelashes tonally. The lower
eyelids should be suggested with great
caution. If you decide not to attempt the
lower eyelashes, no one will miss them.
The upper lashes also cast a shadow
onto the Sclera and upper Iris.

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The Nose
Michael R. Britton

The nose is a particularly troublesome feature, its forms are complex

and subtle. The nose does not present the drama of glistening lights,
darks and emotions that the eyes does, nor does it carry the delicate,
serpentine gestures of the mouth. The nose is the largest feature of
the face and is the fulcrum upon which all of the other features are
placed and proportioned.
When drawing the features of the face, the nose should be established
first. It is from the nose that the inner corners of the eyes (the medial
canthai) are aligned and the interstice (opening) of the mouth placed.

In my drawing Verna the placement

of the eyes is definitely not halfway between the top of the head
and the chin. In fact, beginning
with the placement of the eyes is
probably the worst way to initiate a
portrait drawing.

In placing the features of the face there is a serious

misconception that immediately leads beginning artists astray. That misconception presents the features
of the face as being proportioned by thirds (that is, the
eyes are halfway, the nose a third of the way down,
so, too, with the mouth). As with all misconceptions,
there is a grain of truth to it. The problem is that
these are general, and approximate, proportions; to
achieve a likeness and sense of life and spirit the
proportions of the portrait you are drawing must be
spot on. Then there are those who have long noses or
short, pudgy noses. The rule of thirds sort of works
only when you are looking straight on at the sitter.
You can make the necessary adjustments of course,
but things can quickly become muddled. And once
things become muddled, every artist no matter what
their level falls back onto their sense of symbolic
preconceptions what they think something should
look like rather than its true appearance. The result
is a litany of portrait drawings that pretty much all
look the same.
Another problem with this Rule of Thirds is how
does one deal with a fore-shortened head?

The so-called Rule of Thirds does not work for either of

these portrait drawings.

The good news is that there is a better way. This better way is the centuries-old
classical method of portrait drawing. Quickly summarized, the classical method
establishes the facial arena (the area of the head that encompasses the eyes, nose,
mouth) by first fixing the brow ridge. The brow ridge is established by sighting
its horizontal relationship relative to the top of the head and the bottom of the chin
at the mental protuberance.

Figure 1 illustrates the basic underlying

skeletal structure of the upper face. Ive
indicated the brow ridge, the nasal bone (the
root of the nose) and the Nasal Aperture.
At the base of the Nasal Aperture is a small,
shelf-like protuberance called the Anterior
Nasal Spine. This is the base of the nose
and where we sight and fix the length of
the nose relative to the brow ridge and the
bottom of the chin (mental protuberance). It
is roughly half-way between the brow ridge
and the mental protuberance.

With a small piece of medium grade

vine charcoal I block in the primary
darks, stump them in with my finger
and then with a kneaded eraser clean up
and roughly place in my primary lights.
The width of the nose is too small to
gauge by sighting. Instead, this method
of first blocking in aids greatly in finding the correct width of the nose.

The nose is significantly larger than you

realize. In our symbolic preconceptions we
interpret the nose as being small and dainty.
It isnt. The width of the nose is usually a
little larger than the width of the eyes.
Consider this when you adjudge the width
of the nose. Here I have placed two small
marks to place the widths of the wings of
the nose which is called the Alae Nase.
Ive made my marks quite dark here to illustrate the lesson. In your portrait drawing
keep these marks as light as possible.

I always structure the nose from the

base upwards. The foremost structure
of the nose is the tip of the nose which
is the Greater Alar. The Greater Alar
is comprised of two pieces of asymmetrical cartilage. Very rarely will
you see perfectly symmetrical cartilage. In a fair number of people the
vertical separation, or groove, between
the Greater Alar is visible.
The Greater Alar is situated above the
base of the nose. You must realize
the horizontal underside of the Alar
in your drawing to achieve a 3-dimensional result. When the sitter is lit
from above, which is most of the time,
the undercut of the alar will be in form
shadow. Neglect this at your peril!

The Alae Nase, the wings of the nose, are

also cartilage that, with the Alar form the
body of the nose. The wings are more
symmetrical than the alar, but observe them
closely for subtle variations. The Alae
Nase along with the Medial Wall of the
nose form the nostrils. The nostrils are
the Nairs and they are not two little black
holes in the face. The darkness of the nostrils is the result of cast shadows from the
Alae Nase onto the medial wall. There is
usually a subtle reflected light cast up unto
the medial lip of the Alae Nase and into the
Medial Wall. A chiselled edge of a kneaded
eraser will pick out this reflected light quite
Building the nose from the base upwards
we come next to the Bi-Lateral Cartilage
which is flat and paired and concludes
at the base of the Nasion where often
a plane change is noted. The Bi-Lateral
Cartilage is covered by a thin muscle
which is called the Nasalis but also
referred to as the Rhino Laterali.
In the frontal view the Bi-Lateral Cartilage is 3-sided: it has two sloping sides
and a top plane which is very often
ignored. Always to the peril of the artist.
Failure to acknowledge the top plane
results in a flattened nose. The difficulty
in articulating this top plane is the subtleties of tone. You want neither a hard cutout nose, nor a flat squashed nose. It is
a balancing act that requires patience and

In this magnified view of a rendered nose you

can see the reflected light on the lip of the Alae
Nase and the Medial Wall. The Alar is carved
out. The portraitist John Singer Sargent quite
often slightly exaggerated the carving out of
the Alar and Alae Nase to a very nice effect in
his charcoal portraits.
Incidentally, instead of using a kneaded eraser
to pick out his lights, Sargent, and everyone
else, used pieces of fresh bread. Myself, I
prefer the kneaded eraser.

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Anatomy of a
Michael R. Britton

Capturing the subtle, fleeting expressions of human emotions in portrait drawing is a challenge for every artist. Charles Darwin wrote
in his book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,
that there are six primary emotions: happiness, sadness, surprise, fear,
anger and disgust. The expressions of these primary emotions are
instinctual, the muscle interactions and movements are involuntary.
Unlike animals, human beings can express counterfeit emotions such
as a fake smile to mask anger or deceit.
The facial muscles are delicate, finely attuned and more easily seen
as they lay just under the skin. The facial muscles not only convey
moods and expressions they also exhibit sympathetic characteristics.
For example, when we are threading a needling we very likely purse
our lips to help the thread through the needles eye. Or consider
the wringing expression on our face when we are wringing out a
heavy towel.

A smile is the product of a complex series of muscle actions.

First, we need to understand the
construction of the mouth:
The mouth is much more than
the red lips. The mouth region
extends from the base of the
nose to the Mentolabial Sulcus,
the sulk line of the chin. The
mouth is a convex form it
wraps around the muzzle of the
face. This wrapping convex
shape is best appreciated in the
7/8s profile. In the frontal view
the mouth must express this
convex shape.

Raphael Santi, Detail of The Three Graces, 1518

I always begin the mouth by articulating the Interstice, the horizontal line
where the upper and lower lips meet.
The lips wrap around the convex projection of the dental arch and the
Interstice roughly corresponds to the
middle portion of the frontal, upper
The Nodes of the mouth are lower
than the middle of the Interstice,
except in a smile when the facial
muscles pull up the Nodes. Note how
I have simplified the interstice with
straight, architectonic lines carefully
observing the structure.

The lips, or Labia, are

composed of mucous membrane whose redness is the
result of blood capillaries
lying just under the skin.
The upper lip has three
forms. In the center is the
Tubercle which is non-muscular and contributes to the
V shape of the upper lip
where it meets the base of
the Philtrum.
The Philtrum is the elongated, vertical trough that
extends from the base of
the nose to the tubercle of
the upper lip. The Philtrum, which means Love
Drop is bordered by ridges
on either side. Practically
every beginning artist overextends the Philtrum, thus
placing the mouth too low
and running out of chin!
The other two components
of the upper lip are two,
horizontal elongated forms.

The muscles here, however, are the visible

ridges of the central vertical fibers of the
Orbicularis Oris whose action results in
the puckering up of the lips. The numerous facial muscles attaching to the Nodes
of the mouth do the pulling and pushing.
The upper lip is flatter than the lower lip.
It is a downward facing plane and usually
appears darker than the lower lip. Unless
your sitter is lit from below, of course.
There is a small up-plane on the vermillion
border of the upper lip that quite often
catches a gentle light. I refer to this as
the Milcus Lineas, the milk line. It doesnt
really have a name that I am aware of.
The upper lip, in most people, tucks into
the commissures of the nodes. The lower
lip stops a little short. Not always though.

The lower lip is heavier

and fuller. It is comprised
of two elongated form that
gives it a more squared-off
look than the upper lip.
Slightly below the vermilion
border is a raised edge
that develops laterally and
is more noticeable at the
The vermilion border of the lower lip should not be drawn with a distinct
line, it has to be suggested more than drawn. Otherwise it will look
like lipstick.
The lower lip is an up plane and will often catch
the light. Like the upper lip, the ridges of the
central vertical fibers of the Orbicularis Oris form
the texture of the lower lip.
The base of the mouth region is at the Mentolabial
Sulcus, the sulk line. Forming at the bottom edge
of the lower lips two elongated form are two
columnar tubes that radiate diagonally downward.
These are the Pillars of the Mouth.
This is a down plane and thus will fall into shadow.


A smile is the result of happiness however fleeting. A smile lifts and widens the lower face, the
uplifted cheeks will crease the flesh just below the
eyes creating crows feet.
The main muscle of smiling is the Zygomaticus
Major, a long and narrow band that inserts at
the Node and is attached to the outside of the
Zygomatic Arch (cheek bone). When we smile
the Zygomaticus Major pulls the face up and outwards, in effect, raising the entire cheek so that
it bulges out. The lower eyelids are also pushed
upwards, this is the result of a secondary action
where the Orbicularis Oculi (the muscle of the
eye socket) contracts.
The smile line, the Nasolabial Furrow, is deepened as it is simultaneously pulled and pushed
upwards and outwards. It is best, in my
opinion, to understate the sharp fold of the
Nasolabial Furrow, otherwise the smile will
degenerate into a grimace.
As the Node of the mouth is pulled out and
upwards the flesh is gathered into suble vertical
The Interstice of the mouth curves upwards,
stretching and flattening the lips while shortening the Philtrum. The nostrils of the nose also
widen as they are pulled outwards.

The second major smiling muscle is the

Malaris which is rests on top of the Zygomaticus Major, is attached to the temple and inserts
into and forms the lower half of the Nasolabial
Furrow. The Malaris is the cheek muscle.
When smiling the Malaris is pulled out, up
and backwards thus bulging giving the puffed
cheek look.
The upper portion of the Nasolabial Furrow
is created by a slender, 3-part muscle called
the Levator Labii Superioris Alaeque Nasi
(LLSAN). This is the muscle that creates wrinkles in the nose (i.e., sniffing). The parts
of this muscle are the furrow portion which
inserts into the upper part of the Nasolabial
Furrow; the alar portion inserts under and

behind the wing of the nose (Alae

Nasi); and the lip portion which
inserts continuously into the ridge
just above the upper lip and to the
Over these muscles is the most
complex of all the facial muscles,
the Orbicularis Oris which functions in an enormous range of
movements and expressions.

The composition for Anatomy of a

Smile is a Golden Rectangle (1.618).

To position the head within this Golden

Rectangle I sketched my arabesque so that
the eyes would be just above the rabatement. Additionally, the head was sized so
that it was aligned with the constructing arc.
And that was it, the natural law of design
pretty much guaranteed me a strong, effective composition providing, of course, that
my drawing also was correct proportionally.
The white, dashed arc illustrates the power
of the natural law of design. i.e., the little
fingers placement of the left hand.
And last, yes, I deliberately configured the
light/dark pattern of the gold disk on her
necklace to resemble a happy face. I like
subtle humor in art.

The Ear Five

Easy Pieces

Michael R. Britton

Of all the features to be wrestled with in a portrait drawing, the ear

is probably the easiest to master, yet surprisingly far too many artists
fumble with the ears architecture and end up with cauliflower ears.
Unlike the nose or mouth, whose subtleties of form can radically alter
the expression and likeness of the model, the ear has an easily seen
and definable anatomy.
The external ear, which is called the auricle or pinna, resembles the
flattened mouth of a trumbet. It is a funnel that directs sound into the
ear hole (meatus). In this lesson I will present the construction of the
auricle in both profile and frontal views.

Once the placement and overall size of the ear has been established,
begin with the arabesque (the outside shape) of the Auricle which
includes the ear lobe (Lobus). It is important that the arabesque is drawn
with architectonic lines. By this I mean lines that are more or less
straight that describe the plane changes and change of directions. The
illustration above is drawn with architectonically straight lines while the
illustration below is drawn with round lines. Which gives the better
impression of form and structure?
Obviously, the drawing to the right is
an exaggeration, but it is something to
be aware of not only with the ear, but
with everything that you draw.
In profile, the ear is generally one
and a half times greater in length than
its width, which is a 3:2 ratio. Not
always though! Remember everyone
has their own distinct proportions.

Once the arabesque has been established, the first step in constructing
the auricle is the placement and arabesque of the Concha. The Concha
is the bowl of the ear. I find it easiest
to draw in both the Tragus (Latin for
Goats beard), which is just above
the oblique notch and the anti-Tragus all in one go. The anatomical
terms of the ear are unique in that
there is both the primary term (such
as Tragus) and the anti which
refers to the usually smaller, mirrored form.

Ringing the Auricle is the Helix which begins within the floor of the
Concha at the Crus de Helix. It is absolutely imperative that the
Helix be drawn with architectonic, straight lines even if you have to
exaggerate the straightness of the lines. Otherwise the result will be
a doughy ear.

The anti-Helix forms the main body of the Auricle. It roughly
parallels the Helix. At his juncture I am also defining the plane
changes, particularly the inward turning plane of the anti-helix as
it turns into the Concha and further articulating the anti-Tragus.

As the anti-Helix sweeps upwards it
forks into an upper, larger and more
rounded leg and into a smaller, narrower and sharper leg. The resulting depression at this fork in the
road is called the Fossa Triangularis. Some people will have a very
defined Fossa Triangularis, while
others will have a very subtle form.

Now you are ready to develop the tones and values of the ear.
To avoid having formless, cauliflower-like ears, construct the ear
following these five steps. Keep in mind that the ear is cartilage and
varies significantly with each individual, but the structure remains
the same.

A note on placing the ears:

Looking straight on at the model, as in
the drawing on the left, the Helix will
generally align with the brow ridge

and the Lobus will align with the nose. But note that the ears themselves
are not aligned! The human head is asymetrical.
In the drawing of Colleen, on the right, we are looking up at her. Thus the
alignment of the ears are completely different: the Helix is aligned with
the bridge of the nose and the Lobus with the left node of the mouth.

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The Clavicles Adding a

Graceful Finishing Touch

oo often I have viewed a portrait drawing where the artist has

paid careful attention to all of the requisite, plastic criteria and
be saddened to see the entire drawing fall apart due to the
collar-bones, or Clavicles.
The Clavicles play their role in framing the head. Perhaps not so
much as the hair or a scarf, for example, but in a work of art everything counts.

Medial Head of the


Suprasternal Notch

Lateral Portion of the


Medial Body of the



First, lets examine the Clavicles anatomical structure. Understanding structure is a critical key to improving your drawing and painting.
The Clavicle is a gentle S shaped bone, it gracefully arcs backwards from the
pit of the neck (the Suprasternal Notch) like a birds wing. If you own one of our
fine skeletons try standing on a chair, or ladder, and look down. Youll see that
the Clavicles describe an archers bow. When we stand with our arms relaxed
the Clavicles descend downwards from the sternal notch. But fold your arms
and the Clavicles will ascend upwards.
The medial (inside) head of the Clavicle originates at the Suprasternal Notch
and is attached to the Manubrium,the upper portion of the sternum, by ligaments. The medial head of the Clavicle thickens into a conical shape at the
Suprasternal Notch.
The medial two-thirds of the Clavicle is roughly cylindrical. The lateral (outside) portion, the final third, flattens and widens as it concludes at the Acromium Process which is visible as the second, lateral bump on the shoulder.
The Acromium Process is actually the forward projecting part of the Scapula
(shoulder blade), but the Coracoacromial Ligament joins the Clavicle and
Acromium Process together so that it appears as one gentle form.

Sternal Notch


Acromium Process


Another important note is that all of the neck and

shoulder muscles attach behind the Clavicle. The
only exception is the thin, sheet-like Platysma that
originates at the lower lip and continues into the
chest. Jut your jaw out while clenching your teeth
and you will see the Platysma.

Placing the Suprasternal Notch is relatively straight-forward.

Always take your best guess first, as this will train your eye, and
then sight the distance from the base of the chin to the sternal
notch. Compare that measure to the face. In this case the
measure is just below the horizontal placement of the eyes.
It is also a good idea to check the length of
the clavicle against the face. Too long a clavicle and your model will have the shoulders of a
line-back. Too short a distance and the result
will be equally incongruous.

In this pose the model is hunched forward. Note the radical difference in measures from the previous pose. The Clavicles are
also swept upwards much more dramatically.
When the shoulders are
raised there is a marked
triangular depression above
the Clavicles.
This depression is called the
Supraclavicular Fossa.

Although in most portrait poses the Clavicles are subtle they should not be overlooked nor skimped on. Ive illustrated
the rhythmic movement that the Clavicles
serve here as the viewers eye travels
down the facial arena the far Clavicle
guides the eye leftwards along the corresponding Clavicle, up the shoulder and
back of the neck and back into the head.
Without this rhythmic guidance that the
Clavicles serve, the viewers eye would
simply drop off of the page. No one likes
to be dropped.