Face Time

The last couple of weeks we’ve been exploring drawing faces realistically. Hey, it’s not better, just different. This is an important distinction. The natural style these young people have is fantastic, down to the last smiley face with giant markered eyelashes. Learning to draw a proportionate face is a tool, just like the other art supplies we have around. They might make use of it in the future, or not. I think it’s good to know there’s a formula, rather than it remaining a big mystery that picture book artists and animators can somehow accomplish.

Before class, I drew out a step-by-step face and copied it for the kids to have for later. I also copied other artists’ samples of noses, eyes, and hair (not to sound forensic or anything). I stapled all this into a packet, along with a sample of blind contour drawing. They each got a homemade sketchbook just for this class, and everyone walked away with their own origami cyclops eye (more on that in another post).

The class was a solid hour and a half and followed this structure:

*Freestyle Face Draw: I asked them to sketch any kind of face they wanted: a simple smiley, a head with four ears, anime, anything. I wanted them to do this for two reasons. One, to loosen up and draw without guidelines, because we were about to spend a while doing something fairly structured. And two, to have something to compare with after learning about drawing a proportionate face.

*Step by Step: I drew along with them to create a face, explaining everything as I went. I didn’t show them the diagrams, that’s for later reference. This was much, much better than simply handing them the step-by-step and letting them figure it out. Those hockey-mask grids can be pretty intimidating! I did bring out the packets once we got to the eyes, noses, and hair, so they could see some different styles. Near the end, I offered tortillions so they could learn about shading if they wanted to.

*Blind Contours: After nearly an hour, we did blind contours for a few minutes—a relief to draw something that is not going to come out looking “right”, no matter how hard  you try! They tried, and laughed, and kept trying. It was good.

*Origami Cyclops: Lastly, we made cyclops eyes, and in the process discussed why to draw a very circular eyeball inside the origami folds that act as eyelids, as well as the “starburst” color pattern that irises have. This project was the most fun part for some of the kids. My daughter might have taped hers to her forehead. Possibly.

I always expect the faces to come out uniform and dull with a structured follow-the-leader project like this, but they never, ever do. It’s pretty amazing 🙂

A big change, before and after instruction (age 8):

First drawing (age 6):


With instructions (these eyes are saying a lot):

First drawing (age 8) (the ears!):

Next, with instruction and a charcoal pencil, in-progress:
IMG_2694And then some catastrophe with the charcoal that disappointed him. I really like it, though. Seems to be a windy, shaggy-hair kind of day…

A nice first sketch (age 13):
IMG_2687Next, carefully following the guidelines:


After erasing (she drew the lines lightly so they came off easily):

IMG_2711First sketch (age 5) (love the beard):IMG_2683Next, in progress:In progress (age 10):IMG_2693

Finished (such expressive eyes):


Initial drawing, in charcoal (age 6): IMG_2722

Next, with lines erased (I really like how the shading grounds the eyes):IMG_2723

Everyone interpreted this project in their own way, some choosing to ignore parts of what I said as we drew together. (Really, we don’t all need eyebrows. Or ears.) It was a bit harder for the  younger kids to focus on, while the older ones were glued to the page. In the future, I’ll make a page of mostly-blank faces, for the younger kids to fill in when they get bored or need a break. “How many different kinds of mustaches can you give these faces?”



Filed under Drawing

2 responses to “Face Time

  1. Thank you for sharing! I love seeing the before and afters…really amazing changes with a bit of direction. And the biggest change seems to be that you can see emotion in the afters!


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