Learn to draw and paint portraits

Lesson 12: Drawing the Skull

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#1: Intro and Notes on Drawing

#2: Unity

#3: Elements of Composition

#4: Architecture of Design

#5: Beginning a Painting

#6: Color Harmonies

#7: Creative Process | Pochade

#8: Creative Process 2 | Watercolor Study of A Young Girl

#9: Getting the BIG Shape

#10: A Walk in a Frozen Wood

#11: Drawing Hands

#12: Drawing the Skull

#13: Velazquez: Alla Prima

#14: Creative Process - Redux

#15: The Power of Triangles

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Portrait Drawing Lessons - The Skull-1

Often when studying the skull it is that of the male skull. This is the classic starting point in learning portraiture.

However, for this lesson I am going to present the female skull.

The female skull differs from that of the male in several respects. The male skull is generally larger than the female and becomes markedly rougher and angular as it grows into adulthood. In particular, the ridges and sites of muscle attachments are more pronounced. The female skull retains the gracile attributes of the prepubescent male skull.

As we proceed in constructing the female skull I will discuss further the specific attributes differentiating the female from the male.

To begin the construction of the female skull in the 7/8’s profile view we begin with striking the arabesque. Quite often, you will note that the skull in the 7/8’s profile view fits within a square - the width of the skull often equals the height from the Mental Protuberance to the top of the forehead.

As in the Facial Arena the browline, base of the nose and the condyle need to be placed using the same methodology used in drawing the portrait proper.

Portrait Drawing Lessons - The Skull-2

To begin developing a 3-dimensional quality in your drawing think of the skull, in this 7/8’s profile view, in terms of a cube. The facial arena and forehead are on the side plane of the cube. I shall be discussing this concept in more depth in the chapter on The Facial Planes of the 7/8’s Profile.

Critically important is the placing of the center line of the facial angle. To do this you must assess the center point of the mental protuberance of the chin and the half-way point between the eyebrows. This must be felt and as you gain both experience and knowledge your sense of accuracy will improve remarkedly.

To further emphasize the 3-dimensionality of the skull I’ve re-indicated the brow line and base of the nose stressing the perspective – parallel lines recede together meeting at the vanishing point on the horizon.

Portrait Drawing Lessons - The Skull-3

As I construct this female skull in the 7/8’s profile view I will also build up your vocabulary. A shared terminology is important for both discussing and refining the cogent skills of portrait drawing. Following is not THE method for drawing the skull. I will be using only lines as they are better suited to expressing the numerous anatomical components.

In any discourse on anatomy there are six basic terms that are used to describe the general location of a specific bone or muscle. These are: superior, anterior, posterior, inferior, lateral and medially:

Superior, or Cranial, means towards the top - above.

Anterior, or Ventral, means the towards the front of the body.

Posterior, or Dorsal, means toward the back of the body.

Inferior, or Caudal, toward the bottom, below.

Lateral, means toward the side.

And, finally, Medially, which is to the center. The Median is on the center, or midline.

My starting point is the brow ridge, the Supra Orbital Eminence, which I also refer to as the Nasal eminence or, even, Supra Orbital Prominence. Different authors employ slightly different terms.

Portrait Drawing Lessons - The Skull-4
Portrait Drawing Lessons - The Skull-5

Portrait Drawing Lessons - The Skull-6

In the Female, the Supra Orbital Eminence is less pronounced, more rounded whereas the Male is heavier and ridged. The same is true of the frontal sinuses, the Supercilliary Arches. Indicated here, too, is the placement of the Condylar Process which is the hinge of the jaw.