Portrait Painting 101:
Parts, Placement, & Proportions

Purpose: To learn about the basic shapes of the face, their proportions, and placement.

Medium: Any media. This tutorial is meant to help both dollers and CG artists drawing faces (with any program) and people using more traditional media such as graphite, markers, or paint. This tutorial does not go into detail on the particular facial features or the color schemes and shading, as those are more advanced and specific topics to be addressed in further, more specific tutorials.


1. It is best to start by sketching some guidelines to determine the dimensions and position of the drawing; these should be made lightly with a pencil if drawing on paper or with a color you will not be using on your doll/painting if working on a computer. Start with a circle; this will be the part of the figure that goes from the very top of the head to about the underside of the nose. Do not worry if it is not a perfect circle; as long as it is relatively there, you are fine.

2. Add the center line. This is the line that goes down the middle of the (subject's) forehead, down along the nose, along the middle of the lips, and ends at the chin. Note that, depending on the angle of the face, this line may not be straight and/or may not be in the middle of your drawing; the center line should follow the curves of the face. Then, draw a jawbone; jawbones tend to be more angular in males and smoother in females. The subject used for this tutorial is male. Look carefully at your subject to see how their particular jawline looks, as it is different for most people. When more than the head is present in the drawing, the length of the head from chin to top should be the same as the length of an extended hand from wrist to the tip of the fingers.

3. Erase the bottom of the circle. Add guidelines for the eyes (the eyeline runs from corner to corner of the eyes and curves with the face and angle), for the bottom of the nose, and for the lips. Note placement and proportion in the drawing above.

4. Draw in the outline for the eyes; they should be, in general elliptical in shape and slant alont the eyeline. The exact shape and slant depend on your subject. The red lines are there to show you that, in a perfectly proportioned subject, the space between the eyes should be equal to the length of one eye. The green lines show that the ears, if visible, are roughly box-shaped, and the middle of the ear is approximately aligned with the outer corner of the eye. You can also start drawing the outer curves of the face, with one of the darker colors of your skin pallette, as shown with the brownish line.

5. Draw in the eyes and eyebrows. I suggest you look very closely at your subject's eyes, as every person's eyes are different. Note the size and angle of the tearduct, the slant of the top outer side of the eye, and the "weight" of the eyelid. On Asians, the eyelids are usually "heavier" and weigh down on the eye a bit more. Note the behavior of the bottom lid, paying attention to lines, expressions, etc.

6. The nose: remember, except for the nostrils and the area immediately surrounding them, the nose is nothing but shadows and lighting (for drawing purposes, anyway). The green lines show that the outer, bottom boundaries of the nose (those immadiately surrounding the nostrils) should be roughly aligned with the inner corner of the corresponding eye.

7. Cheeks and cheekbones. Look carefully at how puffy or deep the subject's cheeks are; take special note of the structure of the cheekbones, which may be more or less prominent depending on the subject.

8. Draw the lips. I find it useful to forget all you know about the shape of lips and just look at how your subject's lips are shaped; all mouths are different. The green lines show that the outer corners of the mouth should be roughly aligned with the center of the eyeball.

9. Fill in the rest of the face. Take particular note of the direction of the light source, and coordinate your lighter/darker shades to match. To give it a 3-D feel, make your strokes as if you were literally moving your brush/pencil/etc. along the face of the subject, i.e.: follow the curves of the face with your brush/brush tool.

10. Hairline: How high or low the hairline is in relation to the eyebrows depends on the subject. However, the standard is that the height of the forehead is the same as the width of a hand (or 5 fingers wide); as mentioned, this varies in each subject. If a widow's peak is present, it should be aligned with the center line described in Step 2. Finish off the portrait.

I hope you found this tutorial helpful, if you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know. Happy dolling/drawing!