Exercises for Portrait Drawing - Basic Structure

This is the exercise demonstration for the Basic Structure of Portrait Drawing. We've already talked about the key concepts in the previous post, and I shared some of the best resources I know. Now, I'll be showing how you can put all those things into practice. After you do the exercises, there's a form at the end of the post where you can submit your drawings for feedback!

Below, you can find a video where you can see me drawing. So, I recommend watching the video first, and then using this post as a study guide.


1. Recap of Key Concepts

Let's start by recapping what the key concepts we need to learn are. They are the different landmarks of the head that will help us show the direction the head is facing. The most important one is the T-Zone, consisting of the line for the eyebrows and the middle of the nose. This is the easiest way to indicate where the head is facing and should be the first thing you look for in a portrait. The side planes are another great way of showing the direction of the head. The more you can see of the side plane, the more the head is facing sideways, for example. The jaw has a v shape that can look flat or inverted if viewed from the bottom, so it also shows some direction.

We also talked a bit about the basic proportions of the face, such as how the head is usually divided into equal thirds for the hairline, eyebrow, bottom of the nose, and chin. For the features, we haven't dived deep into them yet, but the very basic idea is that the wings of the nose go as far as the inner corner of the eyes, and the corners of the mouth go to about the middle of the eye. If you want to see a more in-depth explanation of these concepts and see more resources to study them, check out the previous post I did on the Basic Structure of Portrait Drawing.

2. The Demonstration

Here are some exercises that you can do to better learn these concepts. We're going to slowly increase the complexity in each step, by having the steps build on one another, adding more and more concepts. Also, I'll be drawing using the Loomis method, but you can use any other method like drawing with a box, the basic idea is the same. By the way, I'm going to be using references from the posespace website, which is an amazing resource for artists. So, let's get started.

Step 1 - T-Zone

As I said, this is the most important landmark, so it deserves to be practiced separately. Not only that, but trust me when I say that this alone can be incredibly difficult. I really struggled with the Loomis method at first because I didn't do the basics, after I studied it by doing these steps, I was able to finally understand it. So, for now I only want you to focus on identifying the main mass of the cranium (in my case a sphere, but you can use a box) and the direction the head is facing with the T-Zone.


To make this step easier, I recommend starting by drawing on top of references. The most difficult part in the beginning is figuring out where these forms like the sphere are supposed to start and end. Really try to identify the general location of the cranium, ignoring the rest of the skull such as the jaw. If this is still too hard, you can do some exercises drawing on top of skulls. Also, try to make the sphere look really 3D by wrapping the lines of the T-Zone around the sphere properly. It's fundamental that you understand this is a sphere and not a circle.


After you draw on references and then draw just looking at references, it's time to try drawing from imagination. Because this is one of the easiest steps and you don't have a lot of parts to worry about, it's a good idea to try doing Imagination Level 3, which is drawing completely from imagination. Try to experiment with wrapping the line for the eyebrow and nose in as many different ways as possible.

Step 2 - Side Plane & Jaw

Now, we're going to build on step 1 by adding the side plane and the jaw. You're going to need to divide the head into thirds to find the location of the jaw, so make sure you either watch the videos I recommended or read the books to understand well how to do it, I'll only be giving a basic overview. Start by doing the same things in step 1, next, try to identify the side plane. Again, if this is hard, it's good to start by drawing on top of references or the skull, remember that the side plane start at around the end of the eyebrow.


Then, extend the middle line of the nose in a more straight way, going until where you think the bottom middle of the chin should be. Then, divide the head into thirds, with the top and bottom of the side plane consisting of two of the three lines. Then you can use the distance between these two lines to find where the third line should go, this will show you where the jaw ends. This is something that might be easier to understand by watching the visuals, so check the video if you're confused. I also think it's a good idea to add a cylinder to indicate neck as well so you see the portrait in context.


For imagination, it might be better to do Imagination Level 2 in this step, which is combining two or three references together. So try combining the direction the head is facing in one reference with the neck from another to see if it works out. You could also combine the direction of the eyebrow from one photo (whether the portrait is facing up or down) with the direction of the nose (if it's sideways or front view). Try to create different combinations to help build your visual library.