Before we get started sculpting an entire face, let’s talk about how it is put together. You’ve probably drawn a face before and tried to get each of the features right, but when you’re finished, something looks a little off. This is probably because of proportion. Even if each of the features is accurate on its own, if the proportions are off, the whole thing looks a little strange.
I’m going to give you some general rules about facial proportions to get you started, but remember that everybody is different and these rules will not apply to every face.
Here are the topics we’ll be discussing:
In this lesson, you will be sculpting a human face. In Exercise 1, you’ll do some introductory readings then view the entire 43-minute sculpting lesson found in two separate videos, Part 1 (about 33 minutes) and Part 2 (about 10 minutes). In Exercise 2, we’ve suggested convenient stopping points in the 33-minute Part One video. In Exercise 3, you’ll add final details to your sculpture in the 10-minute video. We expect that this entire lesson will take about five to seven hours to complete, though this may vary from student to student depending on your individual pace. Take your time, don’t rush, and if you need to stop you can. If you have more than an hour to spare, then work as long as you feel comfortable!
Exercise One: Watch The Entire 43-Minute Tutorial
Exercise 1 consists of reading the text below through Proportions Of The Adult Female Head, then watching the two videos. Reading first will make it easier for you to follow Kent in the first video as he discusses the measurements of the face he’s sculpting. We recommend you watch the video in its entirety before you try to begin sculpting. This will help give you a better sense of what it is you’re going to be doing. Once you’ve done that, you can move on to the next exercise and begin sculpting the face along with Kent as you watch the video a second time.
If you like, you can always open the YouTube video in a separate tab in your browser to make it simpler to switch back and forth between the video and the text in our lesson. To do this, simply click the YouTube button in the lower right-hand corner of the video that’s in the lesson. This will open the video in a new tab on YouTube. We recommend watching the video in full-screen mode. For more information on YouTube video watching, see our Being A Successful Student post.
We also recommend students (particularly non-English speakers and those with hearing challenges) watch the videos with the closed captions turned on. For information on YouTube’s Closed Captioning, see this post here.
It’s strange to think about, but your face is basically shaped by your skull and the muscles that cover the bone. Obviously, there’s cartilage and fat and tissue there too, but the very basic shape of the human head is determined by the skull. While you may think of the head as an egg shape, it’s really much more accurate to think of it as a ball with a sort of blocky triangle on the bottom for the jaw.
Remember this when you begin sculpting a face.
As a general rule and as you can see above, eyes sit directly in the center of the head, measured from the top of your head to the bottom of your chin. Because hair usually covers the top part of your head, we assume that eyes are actually much higher on the head. This is one of the main reasons faces end up looking a little wonky.
In this study by Leonardo da Vinci, you can see that the eyes are in the center of the head. There is the same amount of space between the very top of the man’s head and his eyes as there is between the eyes and the bottom of his chin.
Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his notebooks that the face can be divided into thirds—one-third from the bottom of the chin to the nostrils, one-third from the nostrils to the eyebrows, and one-third from the eyebrows to the hairline (not the top of the head). Let’s get into even more detail now, examining the male then female head, as they are somewhat different.
Proportions Of The Adult Male Head
Here is an image from Andrew Loomis’ book, Drawing the Head and Hands. You can download the book as a PDF from here if you want, using the Download Options box on the lower right to download it to your computer.
In the book, Loomis explains that the head is three and one-half units high, nearly three units wide, and three and one-half units deep (side view) from the tip of the nose to the back of the head. The three units divide the face into forehead, nose, and jaw, the same way Leonardo da Vinci divided his faces. The last one-half unit at the top of the head encompasses the hairline up to the top of the cranium (skull).
You can establish your own unit—it’s the proportions that are important.
The Vertical Lines Of The Male Head
Looking above at this model, if you draw a vertical (red) line down the center of the face, you divide the face into two equal portions. Divide each of those halves into thirds (green lines) and you’ll find the line of the pupils at the first green line away from the red line, and the outside of the jawline on the second green line. Now if you draw four more vertical (blue) lines in the center of the two green lines on each side, you’ll see that the inner and outer corners of the eyes, the arch of the eyebrow, and the outer edges of the nostrils touch the blue lines.
The Horizontal Lines Of The Male Head
Looking now at the horizontal lines of the head, the center dividing line (red) marks where the eyes sit on the overall size of the head, from chin to the top of the cranium. If you divide the face into three and one-half (green lines), you’ve established the areas that hold the mouth, the nose, and the forehead. The one-half at the top establishes the hairline and the top of the cranium. Look at the lower third on this face—the bottom two green lines at the bottom of the nose and the end of the chin. If you divide that section in half (purple line), you see where the end of the bottom lip will fall. If you divide that section into thirds (yellow lines), you establish the center of the mouth where the top and bottom lips meet, as well as the beginning of the chin.
Proportions Of The Adult Female Head
Women’s faces tend to be softer and more rounded than men’s faces and their features more delicate. The bone and muscle structure is lighter and less prominent; the eyebrows are generally higher on the face than men’s eyebrows, the mouth is smaller, the lips more full and rounded, and the eyes slightly larger.
The two red lines are the vertical and horizontal center lines. The vertical green line, from the bottom of the chin to the eyebrows is almost equal to the width of the face where the eyes sit (the horizontal green line is exactly the same length as the vertical green line to illustrate this point).
In the right image, I have overlaid the grid from the male face over the drawing of the female face to show you some of the differences. Notice the biggest difference is in the height of the eyebrows on the face—the green line just above the center red line is where the man’s eyebrows sit. They are considerably higher on the female. Otherwise, the basic proportions are very similar.
Okay, now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get to sculpting an entire face in proportion!
Exercise Two: Sculpt The Face!
- Full block of plastiline clay
- Small board
- Sculpture tools
- Soft paintbrush and paint thinner (optional)
For the next exercise, we are going to follow along with Kent and sculpt the general face as he does in this 32-minute video. You should have just watched this video. We don’t expect you to be as fast as Kent (he’s been doing this a long time!) so go ahead and pause the video when you need to. Plan on taking three to four hours to complete the entire face. If you need to stop for the day during that time, just store your unfinished face in a cool, dry place.
Section 3: 20:01 to end at 32:45
Okay, let’s get started! You’ll see for each section 1-3 we have described Kent’s sculpting and added notes. We suggest you read our notes first before starting sculpting in each section.
Here’s Section 1:
A few notes here: Kent’s version is slightly different than Andrew Loomis’ version, and you can do it either way. People are all different and unique and this is such a small difference that it won’t matter much.
You will also notice in the video that Kent skips around on the face as he’s sculpting it. This is a very common technique and it works across all art forms. Lay out your general forms and continue refining, moving from one element to the next to keep them all at the same stage of development, For example, you wouldn’t want to sculpt an absolutely perfect eye without having figured out where the nose is going—you’ll just end up having to redo your work if you go about it this way.
Kent has set up some clay on his board in a general oval or egg shape about 8” long. You can make your head larger or smaller—it won’t change the proportions. Using a ruler or other long tool, mark your halfway points vertically and horizontally in the clay. Make a mark halfway down the length of the face (the midpoint on Kent’s face is 4”—yours may be slightly different if you’ve made the face a different size). Next, mark the vertical halfway line, making a cross shape in the clay. To create the eye sockets and cheekbones, push the ruler into the horizontal mark and pull it towards you.
Then repeat the process, pushing up towards the top of the head to make a nice divot about 1” deep where the eyes will sit later on.
Now mark the face into three and one-half units as we discussed in the beginning of this lesson. Kent begins this by first marking the top one-half measurement for the hairline, then making the eyebrow line just above the divot for the eye sockets. Measure the distance between these two marks (eyebrow and hairline) and using that same measurement, move down and mark the line where the bottom of the nose will sit. When he measures the last third, he realizes he’s a little short, so he adds more clay to the chin to make the face in correct proportion.
To find the placement of the mouth and lips, mark the halfway point between the nose line and the bottom of the chin. That will become the center of the lips
Now mark halfway between those marks and you’ll have the measurement for the top of the upper lip. Mark again halfway between the line for the center of the lips and the bottom of the chin to mark the line for the crease of the chin.
Your clay should look similar to this now:
Now that all your horizontal measurements have been made, you know where the nose is going to go.
If the nose you sculpted before is the right size and still intact, you can add it on to your face now. If not, that’s okay—practice makes perfect! Sculpt a nose in the same manner you did at the beginning of this course. Obviously, instead of setting the nose on a piece of wood, you’ll attach it directly to the face you’ve made.
The width of the nose is approximately the same width as each of the eyes. Measure the width of the nose, from the outer edges of each nostril to determine the size of the eyes. Mark vertical lines from the edges of the nostrils up towards the divot you made for the eyes. This line marks the inside edges of your eyes, or where the tear ducts will go. Measure the width of the nose out from that tear duct line and mark it—this will be the outside corner of your eye. (Pause at 10:43 if you need to stop for the day!)
After Kent pushes in the clay to create holes for his eyes, he makes some diagonal lines from the inner corner of the eye running at a 45-degree angle down the face.
He does the same with the outer corner of the eye running at a 45-degree angle towards the nose. This will create an upside-down triangle underneath each eye, the tip of which denotes the outermost limit of the bony eye socket underneath. Keep in mind that this is not the bottom of the eye—but the socket. If you gently touch your own face in that area, you’ll be able to feel that your socket is at the bottom edge of your lower eyelid.
The corners of the eyes are at the same depth. In the video, Kent pushes a tool down through the bridge of the nose and across the pupil line. You do not have to do this—Kent is just demonstrating the fact that the corners of the eyes are at the same depth on the face. Once we add the eyeballs they will bulge out at the center.
Take a small piece of clay and roll it into a ball form. Cut it in half and add half to each eye socket. Continue sculpting the eye in the same manner that you did in our Sculpting the Eye lesson. (Pause here at 20:00 if you need to stop for the day!)
Move on now to the mouth. Use the guidelines you created for yourself earlier to create a mouth that’s in proportion to the rest of the face. Remember that the outside corners of the mouth line up with the pupils—if you need to, draw in some vertical lines from the centers of the eyes down to the mouth to help guide you. Continue sculpting the mouth in the same manner as we did in Sculpting the Mouth.
Exercise Three: Add Details To Your Face
Watch Sculpting The Face: Part Two and follow along with Kent as you add details, refine, and finish your sculpture. Once you’ve added the mouth, go ahead and refine and add details to your whole face! Remember, these can be details of your own choosing–they don’t need to be the same as Kent’s!
Right now you’re probably saying, wait a minute—what about the ear? I thought this was going to be a full bust in the round! Well, you’re right—we are going to be doing that, in the next lesson. This lesson was to get you comfortable with where everything goes on the face and how the different elements work together. If you’ve gone through our drawing or painting course, you know that we have sort of a one-track mind (cubes and still life). This is because we want you to build on the basics and get really good at those, so you can be more confident moving forward as you tackle more advanced art techniques and subjects. By sculpting the face over and over, you’re honing your skills and undoubtedly getting better at it. Trust me. It may not seem that way, but practicing will only improve your skills—never make them worse.
Great job for completing your first whole face—there’s a lot to it! Send us a photo of your results using our submission form.
See other students’ results in our student gallery:
Key Lesson Learning: You’ve learned about the differences between male and female faces, and sculpted your first face.