How to Shade Human Faces

Written by carol kory
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How to Shade Human Faces
Drawing from life is an effective way to see details in your subject. (Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

The human face is a complex form that can be simplified into smaller shapes for shading. Though each face you encounter will express different features and emotions, understanding the basic bone and muscle structure will help you visualise where shadows fall and highlights catch. One way to learn how light and expression change the shape of a face is to get a friend to model for you as you draw.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • A human model
  • Drawing paper
  • Charcoal
  • Gum eraser

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  1. 1

    Determine the direction of your light source. Experiment by moving the light to see how the shadows change.

  2. 2

    Imagine your model's head as two overlapping egg-shapes. The roundest part of the first egg will make up the skull. The pointed end of the second egg will be the chin.

  3. 3

    Note which areas of the face are in highlight: the cheekbones, the tip of the nose, the bridge of the nose, the curve of the top lip, the protruding areas of the forehead and chin, and a few structured areas around the muscles of the mouth. Leave these areas the colour of the drawing paper.

  4. 4

    Place your halftones on the areas of the face that are curving away from the light. To create halftones, make light hatch marks with the charcoal in areas that are not quite light, then use your finger to blend the marks into the paper for a lighter tone.

  5. 5

    Use the side of your charcoal to shade the areas of the face most in shadow. A shadow is cast on the side of the egg-shape that makes up the front of the head in the areas furthest from the light source. The nose also casts a triangular shadow on the upper lip. The chin will cast a shadow on the neck. The bottom lip will cast a shadow just between itself and the chin, and the same shadow will follow the curve of the chin. The ear lobe will cast a shadow where the jawline, neck and ear meet.

  6. 6

    Use your gum eraser to lighten the areas of reflected light. Reflected light occurs where a part of the body bounces light into a shadow, making the shadow paler. Light usually reflects from the neck to the bottom of the jawline and in areas around the eyes, where the cheekbones reflect light to the underside of the brow.

  7. 7

    Add details around the eyes. A darker tone occurs between the bridge of the nose and the eye, curving up along the brow bone. Draw a dark line to mark the fold of the eyelid into the socket, another to mark the underside of the top lid where the lashes are, and two lighter lines to suggest the top and folds of the bottom lid. The iris is shaded as a half-tone with a dark outline, and the pupil is fully darkened.

  8. 8

    Darken the area of the top lip that angles downward and deepen the shade at the line where the lips meet. Note the groove in the upper lip that runs down the centre and shade accordingly. The bottom lip protrudes into light at a curve, and one side of the bottom lip is partially in shadow.

  9. 9

    Darken the underside of the nose in shadow and make the insides of the nostrils completely dark. Use a gum eraser to define the contour of the shape of the nostrils with reflected light. One side of the nose will be in shadow, darkest in the area around the nostril and between the eye and the nose, under the brow.

  10. 10

    Darken the shadows in the ears with heavy strokes, noting the darkest areas inside the ear and in the folds of the cartilage.

Tips and warnings

  • Use your gum eraser to lift charcoal from any highlighted areas that were smudged during the drawing. If you are working on toned paper, use white chalk to highlight the brightest reflections: inside the pupils, on the tip of the nose and nostrils, on the upper edge of the top lip and the protruding area of the bottom lip.
  • Use fixative spray to preserve your drawing.

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