Drawing a head can be intimidating, especially for those just starting out in art. However, the Loomis Method of drawing simplifies the process by breaking it down into its basic elements—perspective and proportions—making it easy to learn and apply.
Using this approach, you can portray the structure of a head, that accurately represents the anatomy, with confidence and accuracy. This guide explains in detail how to use the Loomis Method to draw a head. It covers everything from drawing the basic shapes to more complex details.
By mastering these fundamentals, you’ll be able to create realistic and expressive portraits that capture the personality of your subject.
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What is the Loomis Method?
The Loomis Method is a drawing technique developed by Andrew Loomis that simplifies the process of creating realistic and expressive portraits. The method involves breaking down the structure of the head into basic shapes and measurements. Artists can do this in order to better understand how to accurately depict it.
These shapes—circles, ovals, lines and curves—represent the underlying anatomy, perspective and proportions of the head and are used as guides for sketching. Using this approach, artists can create more lifelike drawings with greater accuracy and confidence.
Additionally, the Loomis Method makes it easier to incorporate details such as eyes, noses, mouths and hair, placing them in the proper positions without overwhelming the entire piece or making it look cartoonish.
Who invented the Loomis Method?
Andrew Loomis was an American illustrator and author who is best known for his series of books on art instruction. His works include “Drawing the Head & Hands” and “Fun with a Pencil” which focus on teaching fundamental drawing skills.
He developed the Loomis Method in order to simplify the process of drawing realistic portraits. By breaking down the structure into basic shapes, Loomis made it easier for aspiring artists to understand how to accurately depict faces. His approach revolutionised art instruction and remains one of the most influential methods today.
Drawing different perspectives of the head with the Loomis Method
The Loomis Method is a powerful tool for creating realistic portraits of people from different perspectives. With the Loomis Method, artists can learn to draw the head from the front, draw the side profile and turned at an angle. The principles are similar for each, starting with a circle, an inner ellipse and marking the brow line with a cross.
Loomis Method: Head construction steps
We’ve drawn the head using the Loomis Method from the front on and side view perspectives, both of which are pretty simple, flat viewpoints. Now, we’ll try a 3/4 view. This ups the complexity a little as now we’re going to have to start thinking in three dimensions.
You can use these same steps to draw the turned head from any angle. Whether that’s two-thirds, three-quarters, or just about any other angle.
Draw a circle
The key to successfully drawing a Loomis head from any angle is to remember that the outer circle, representing the cranial mass, is a simple ball shape.
To draw this circle, either freehand with a pencil, or use a drawing tool like a compass to create a more accurate shape. Start with light lines on the paper, as you’ll likely want to erase these when you’ve finished your drawing.
Draw cross lines
You’re now going to want to orientate your ball shape to visualise it in 3D space. Use the brow line ‘rubber band’ through the middle of the ball (horizontally) and another ‘rubber band’ perpendicular to this to give yourself a 3D ball.
If you’re having trouble visualising where these crossed lines should go, use this 3D model to help guide you.
Draw an ellipse for the side of the head
The inner circle, which appears as an oval in this early stage of the drawing, is a flat plane. This represents the side of the head. It’s effectively a slice of the side of the ball shape.
Use the ‘rubber band’ crosshairs to guide your creation of the ellipse that represents the side of the head. The equivalent slice on the other side of the head will be partially visible from certain angles, especially on the forehead where the plane change is most acute. You’ll want to keep this in mind and square off the line of the forehead a little to account for the plane change.
Draw a centre line
Drop your centre line vertically down off the middle of the ball. This represents where the centre of the front of the face will be, which splits each side of the nose and lips, each eye, chin and eyebrows. The centre line will help you to symmetrically place features on the face.
Mark guides for the nose, chin and hair
The next step is to divide the face up and mark where the nose, chin and hair lines will go. The proportions of these lines remain relatively consistent for all head shapes.
When looking at the proportions of the head, it can be broken down into thirds to help with accurate drawing.
The first third is from the hairline to the brow and includes the forehead and eyebrows. Then, the second third is from the brow to the nose and consists of details such as eyes and nostrils. Finally, the last third goes from the nose to the chin and contains features like lips and jaw.
The other measurements you can consider are that the hairline is halfway between the brow and the top of the head. Then the nose is halfway between the brown and the chin.
Draw the nose and hair lines
Mark off where the nose line will be parallel to the brow line above. Then, the hairline is equidistant from the brow line and sits at the top of the head. You can see the faint line for the hair at the top of the demonstration image.
Draw the chin line
Drop that same measurement down to mark off the chin line. Each of your measurements should be about the same distance from one another, as measurements of thirds.
Draw the cheek
From the brow line at the outside of the ball, drop the cylinder shape of the far side of the face and jaw line down to the chin line. This cylinder will have a slight convex curve to it representing the outer edges of the far cheekbone and tapering of the jaw towards the chin.
Mark the width of the chin
Estimate the width of the chin, depending on your model’s jaw shape and square off this part of the jaw to represent the far side of the jawline.
Draw the jaw
Line the near side jawline curve from the chin line, altering the tight curved change of angle just below the bottom of the ‘sliced off’ ellipse to suit your model’s jaw shape.
Draw the ear
Draw the “C” curve in the appropriate bottom quadrant of the nearside ellipse to represent the ear.
Mark the plane of the face
You can now also drop a convex rhythm line from the corner of the near side brow down to the near side corner of the chin to represent the plane change of the full head shape.
Constructing the planar eye sockets and brow
Now we need to start sculpting our 3D head. First we’re going to concentrate on the eye sockets and brow ridge. It’s easier to conceptualise the eye sockets as a trapezoid shaped overhang that’s inset into the front plane of the face at an approximately 20-30 degree angle.
We’ll then draw a rhythm line from the outer and most inset lower corners of our overhang shape down toward the outer edges of the chin to create the lower part of our eye sockets
Constructing the nose
The nose, especially in a 3D view can be a complicated beast so we’re going to want to simplify it. As you get more comfortable with the basic geometry of the nose, you’ll get a feel for the shape of the nose and be able to estimate where in space it should be.
If you’re struggling with this, we’re essentially going to find the centreline shape of the nose, extrude it equally sideways to create a planar version, then we’ll stretch it out at the base to create a more trapezoid shape. We’ll also find where it meets the glabella so we can join it up to the brow.
The nose centre line
First, we’ll find the triangular centre line of the nose, bringing the top of the line to align roughly with the upper eyelids and inset slightly underneath the overhang of the brow. We’ll then bring a line at a change of angle to the centre of the brow line to give us the angle of the glabella.
Finding the nose width
We’ll now draw equidistant points at the ends and along the changes of angle of this centreline to find the outer points of our planar nose. remembering to account for the slight foreshortening and perspective shift with the points furthest from your viewpoint.
Extruding the planar glabella
The glabella will have a trapezoid shape with the upper edge being significantly wider than the lower edge.
Extruding the planar nose
The underside of the nose will form a trapezoid shape with it being wider at the base and narrower at the tip of the nose. Connect the lines to create our planar version of the main nose shape. You can now knock this shape back with an eraser (or layers if doing it digitally) and use the guidelines to create a more natural nose shape.
Creating a more natural nose shape
We can now use the planar guidelines to indicate the nose bridge, tip and wings of the nostrils. At this stage I usually suggest the outer line of the bridge of the nose and where it overlaps or merges with the glabella. I’ll also round out the underside of the nose with a dip to indicate the top of the nose then round out and thicken the outside edges of the underside of the nose to suggest the thickness of the nostril wings.
Placing the eyeballs
Add in a couple of spheres with centre lines inset into the eye socket area to represent the eyeballs. There should be an eyeball’s width between the two spheres.
Indicate the shape of the upper eyelids wrapping around the sphere shape of the eyeball. Remember that there is some thickness to the eyelid. Using the centre lines of the eyeball spheres as a guide, indicate the direction of the pupils and irises with the suggestion of an ellipse.
Any emphasis on the lower lids can age or tire the look of your model, so at this stage, I’ll leave indications of the lower lid until later in the drawing. The principles for the lower lids are the same as the upper lids though; they wrap around the spherical eyeball shape and the skin has thickness.
Constructing the mouth
Remember that the mouth wraps round the muzzle shape of the tooth cylinder. Then, the upper lip protrudes above the lower lip (usually). The central triangle shape of the upper lip locks into and partially in front of the central part of the lower lip. The furthest wing of the upper lip can look quite foreshortened so you’ll want to account for this.
A simple line with an upturned curve at the end indicates the lower lip but pay attention to how the upturned curve is affected by any foreshortening as it can quickly look distorted.
Rounding off the eye sockets and brow
I’ll now knock back the robotic look of the abrupt planar trapezoid of the eye sockets and round them out at the outer edges. I’ll also round off the glabella area and indicate the bony protuberances of the eyebrows.
The hair volume
Add in some volume for the hair. It’s not super important at this stage but we want to bear in mind the volume thickness. Treat the hair as one whole mass and remember the planes change as the hair follows the shape of the head.
You can also erase the guidelines at this point. From here, you can add depth and realism to your drawing by shading the head. Use soft graphite pencils and choose your favourite shading technique to create contrast and accurate value transitions. To obtain accurate depictions of light and shadow, you can refer to your drawing reference. If you’re drawing from imagination, make sure to establish a light source and work from there.
Enjoy practising The Loomis Method and once you’ve mastered the basic angles we’ve covered here, try moving on to more challenging angles. The more you practise the easier it becomes! The Loomis Method isn’t perfect but it works well as a basic and easy to remember system for constructing heads. It’s also adaptable. So you can put your own spin on it, you don’t have to rigidly stick to the original method.
If you want to learn another method for constructing heads, try the slightly more complex Reilly Abstraction approach. Good luck with your head drawing everyone!