Drawing a likeness of the human face is one of the most difficult, and most rewarding, challenges for budding artists. All faces have the same basic features, but small changes to the size and shape of features in each face makes it unique, and even smaller nuances show the character, emotions and feelings expressed by different faces.

It is extremely difficult to draw faces without a great deal of practice, and many artists resort to some sort of ‘method’ to help them. Perhaps one of the most flexible and useful methods, used by fine artists as well as caricaturists, was developed by Andrew Loomis.

Loomis was a brilliant American illustrator and art instructor who died in 1959. During his lifetime he wrote several books aimed at encouraging people to begin, or improve, their ability to draw. His method was based on the idea that complex shapes could be broken down into smaller, simple shapes that everyone could draw. By combining different shapes (circles, cylinders, squares etc), a frame for more complex objects (like the human face) could be developed. This then serves as the basis on which to draw an accurate outline of the object, and also helps to create a sense of the ‘volume’ of the object.

As Loomis himself wrote in “Fun with a pencil ” about his ‘Ball and Plane Method’ for drawing faces:

“To me the real value of the method is that it makes possible the accurate construction of the head without copy or model or, when a model is used, that it allows you to render the type recognizably and with certainty. It possesses powers of exaggeration for comic drawing and caricature as well as of serious interpretation. It opens an avenue of
approach to the novice, dispenses to a large extent with the necessity for tedious and prolonged study, and gives almost at the outset the much
needed quality of solidity which usually comes only with a knowledge of bone and muscle structure.”

Buy Andrew Loomis’s books from Amazon here:(Affiliate links)
Click here if you live in North America
Click here if you live in the UK/Europe

Alternatively, you can buy directly from the publishers, Titan Books.(This is not an affiliate link)

Remember, the books were originally published in a different era – so the hair and clothes styles, ideas of (American) beauty, and social prejudices will also be interesting to some readers!

For a more recent written explanation of this method, visit Stan Prokopenko’s brilliant blog, where he has this post on drawing the head from any angle

Have you used Andrew Loomis’s method for drawing the head, or have you found another method that works for you? Let us know in the comments section.