Successful Portraits

Producing a portrait

It is important to know the position of the features of the face. People who can draw the face well are often so able because they are aware and know the positions of the skeleton and the muscles and the laying of the skin that make up the portrait. Anatomical drawing and life drawing were once essential skills behind successful drawing and painting of the human figure. Art schools once encouraged repeated drawing of the human form. These two drawings show the essential features that make up the face and also animate the face for example in smiling and laughter.

Picture 1: The muscles of the face and skull

Muscles of the face 1

AMentalisRaises the lower lip and puckers the skin
BDepressor labiiFlat form on chin side - pulls down lower lip and corners
CObicularis orisContracts and pulls mouth open
DDepressor anguli orisFlat form on chin side - pulls down lower lip and corners
ELevator anguli orisLifts corner of mouth
FMasseterChewing, curved form
GRisoriusGrinning muscle - pulls corner horizontally
HZygomaticus minorSmiling muscle - lifts and draws mouth corner
IZygomaticus majorSmiling muscle - lifts and draws mouth corner
JLevator labiiShares work of lifting upper lip
KLevator labii alaeque nasiShares work of lifting upper lip, wrinkles nose skin
LObicularis oculiSeen outwardly under the eye
MCorrugatorPulls skin above eyebrow towards nose, vertical folds
NFrontalisRaises eyebrows and horizontal folds in forehead


Picture 2: The muscles of the face and skull, with emphasis on smiling, laughing and grinning

Muscles of the face 2

AParotid gland
BZyg bone
DZygomaticus major
EZygomaticus minor
FLevator anguli oris
GOrbicularis oris
HLevator labii
ICompressor naris
JLevator labii alaeque naris


Picture 3: Tracing face boundaries

As a faster way of producing a successful portrait I suggest a two stage process. Take a portrait (for example in a magazine), with both eyes visible and open, of a size where the eyelids can be traced through an overhead projector acetate with an OHP pen. Acetate drawing 1Remove the protective paper and place the acetate over the picture and draw the essential boundaries. If two people are pictured together, do both, and include as many other features in the line drawing (no shading) as desired. Keep the acetate still and make sure all boundaries are covered. These can include darks and lights within hair, but only boundaries and NO shading! When done place the protective white sheet back under the acetate and see the line drawing produced.

Now place the line drawing alongside a sketch book and by copying (not tracing) reproduce the face. Then use the original image to fill in detail. Of course the face may be painted on painting paper. Always try more than one face.

Picture 4: Tracing face boundaries

Acetate drawing 2

Notice how faces combine symmetry and asymmetry in a complex relationship. General rules regarding proportions and symmetry are broken in the detail.

Tracings like this, reproduced as drawings and then paintings, as well as by looking at anatomical drawings, help the artist gain confidence to produce the features of the face covering the correct proportions in the right places. They make the task of drawing and painting life studies easier which is the natural progression and the best practice of all.


Adrian Worsfold