The Loomis Method of Drawing the Head, a Step-by-Step Guide

Loomis construction studies by Gvaat

The techniques in this tutorial come from Andrew Loomis’ book on drawing the heads and hands. A book descriptively named “Drawing the Head and Hands”. Loomis was a masterful illustrator and a great teacher, I highly recommended you pick up his book. Insights and depth of knowledge in it are phenomenal – thank you, Mr. Loomis.

“No matter how great your talent, talent must work with knowledge to do anything well.” –

Andrew Loomis

The Loomis method for the construction of the head is very popular because it is easy to learn and remember and can be applied to any drawing of the head.

Although learning the method is easy, drawing the head and the face almost never is. This is because there are lots of different individual factors that must go right: the perspective, the proportions, the structure of the individual features, their placement, and on and on.

Moreover, we have to learn the ability to bring all of that together into final coherent work, a feat that is more difficult than it sounds.

However, great progress can be made with diligent practice and attention to detail. In this tutorial, I will discuss everything you need to know to get started with the Loomis method of construction of the head. If you are looking for video instruction on Loomis head construction, head over to the Academy, where I teach my course, Learn to Draw in 18 Steps. In it, I cover all major points in painstaking detail in Step 13.

Loomis head construction: start with a ball, divide it into four equal parts by driving a line through the center vertically and horizontally, thereby creating a cross. Use the cross to place features according to the Loomis formula. (Construction study by Gvaat)

To draw a head with Loomis construction, first start with a ball, then divide it by drawing a line in the middle, separating the ball into two vertical halves. Then draw another line separating it horizontally. Given the direction of a cross that has formed, slice off the excess on each side and begin to place features: brows at the cross, hairline half-way to the top, and the tip of the nose half-way down.

If all of that sounds difficult, no worries – we will go through the process step-by-step together. There are plenty of detailed

“Some very clever artists do not really know how to construct correctly, and they spend many hours of added difficulty as the result. No ‘knack’ of drawing heads can compete with sound knowledge”

– Andrew Loomis

What is the Loomis method of head construction?

The Loomis method of construction is a technique using simple forms and measured landmarks to construct the human head, in any angle. The method starts with a ball, breaks it into four equal sections with two lines and then uses the created measurements to place facial features.

How long does it take to learn to construct the head using the Loomis method?

Although the method is simple, and everyone can begin constructing heads in just a few minutes, it is also nuanced. Like with everything drawing related, expect the strong proficiency in the Loomis method to take months or longer. The alternative is that one may never learn to draw heads correctly, which would be a huge shame. Heads and faces are notoriously difficult to draw, and an artist with a good skill of drawing the head is sure to stand out. Without further ado, let’s get started!

Step 1: The Ball

Step 1: the sphere or the ball.

In the Loomis method of construction of the head, each head starts with a ball or a perfect sphere. Yes, that is right, just the ball and nothing else.

The jaw section is later attached, so the ball represents the upper part of the head, or the section that houses the brain. Andrew Loomis looked for a shape that could most resemble the head, even though he knew the head is not really like a perfect sphere at all.

But in this way, the method of construction begins every time. It is foolproof, and a real constant regardless of pose, angle, direction, perspective or anything else. It always starts this way.

The cranium is more like a ball than anything else – Andrew Loomis

Step 2: The Cross. Cross of the ball – nose and eyebrow lines

Cross drawn at the center to represent the direction of the front of the face and orient the head. Don’t worry about the sides of the face, we will get to that in the next step.

Once we have the ball drawn, we draw in a line through the vertical center of the face, which will represent the line where we will draw the nose. We will also draw a horizontal line through the ball, representing the eyebrow line. Together these lines form a cross and are of utmost importance to getting the Loomis construction right.

Okay, you say, but Gvaat, it is hard to draw a ball, or a sphere and place these lines on it. Yes, indeed it is, it requires some knowledge of perspective.

But, don’t worry, Gvaat has you covered. Here is what you can do for practice. Use a real life example and draw this sphere from life a few times before drawing from imagination. You can use either a basketball – a large sphere with the Loomis guiding lines already established, or a golf ball.

A standard basketball already has the cross lines drawn for you. So you can practice from it. This requires a lot of space though as most often you will need to place some distance between your drawing and the basketball. Image credit: Clarissa Watson.

Alternatively, you can buy a golf ball, and draw the lines yourself with a permanent marker. After a while, try to draw from a sphere without the lines on it, and then try to draw from imagination.

These cross lines divide the ball into four equal parts, meaning they are centered (like the equator) on the ball.

Every artist must be prepared for a certain amount of struggle with construction, so do not allow yourself to get discouraged… That is what the artist’s job really is, in learning how to construct things in three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface.

. . . When search for particular knowledge becomes pleasant as well, half the battle is won. Construction need not worry you; it comes with practice. – Andrew Loomis

Where these two lines meet is the “cross” on the ball.

The cross or the point where the brow line crosses the middle line of the face, is the key point of the construction of the whole head. – Andrew Loomis

The cross is important because it determines the direction of the face, or the position of the face on the ball. The brow line, when moved around the entire ball, assists in finding the position of the ears.

Step 3: The Flattening of the Ball

Loomis determined that although the cranium is the best represented by the abstracted and simple form of the ball, the ball does not represent the head perfectly. A more relevant representation is one of a “flattened ball”. That is to say, of a ball that is a bit flat on each side.

To accomplish this flattening of the ball form, Loomis suggests to imagine a knife slicing off small sections of the ball on each side, resulting in a flattened ball.

Flattening of the ball, by “slicing” off sections on each side.
Ball with each side (sides of the head) sliced off to make a flattened ball – a shape more representative of the shape of the head.

Which sections of the ball are we flattening? The sides of the head, or more precisely the sections where the ears attach. How do we know which are the sides? We determine the sides by determining the direction of the ball, which we can do by defining the cross on the front of the face.

Step 4: The Breakup of the middle line into four sections – hairline, eyebrow line, nose and chin.

Before we go any further. Let’s look at how the cross created on the front of the ball, and the top of the ball, as well as the flattened side, line up with the final drawing.

If you have been confused so far, this diagram (below) should help clear things up. If it does not, it may be a good idea to go back and review before you proceed further.

The top cross is the top center of the head. The front cross is the centerline on which the eyebrows are placed. (Construction study by Gvaat)

Okay, so now that we understand how these landmarks lineup. Let’s talk about the distances between the top of the head, the hairline, the eyebrow line, the nose, and the chin. And, thankfully, there is not much to talk about – these distances are all the same.

So there is no confusion, look at this diagram to see an identification of each marker:

(Loomis Construction study by Gvaat)

Now that we know the markers, let’s visually define this same distance between each:

(Loomis Construction study by Gvaat)

The line down the center of the nose will help us identify five landmarks. These landmarks are in this order from top of the face to bottom:

  1. 1. Top of the head
  2. 2. Hairline – the line where hair usually starts
  3. 3. Eyebrow Line
  4. 4. Nose – line where the nose ends
  5. 5. Chinline – the line where the chin ends

Facial features placement in Loomis Construction

Hairline at 1, eyebrow line at 2, nose tip at 3, end of chin at 4. (Loomis Construction study by Gvaat)

The hairline is established about a half way up from the brow line to the top of the head. The space between the eyebrow line and the hairline is attributed to the forehead.

The distance from the tip of the nose to the brow is, on average, equal to the height of the forehead.

Distance from the bottom of the chin to the base of the nose equals the space from the bottom of the nose to the brow.

These landmarks are easy to find in Loomis construction. Of course remember that each person is different, and you will have to somewhat vary the construction based on the model you are working from and the likeness you are drawing to achieve.

The fact that the distance between each marker is the same makes it easy, after getting this basic template down, we can adjust as we see fit.

Construction of the face and head depends upon establishing the points of measurement. Any other way is bound by guesswork, which is a gamble any way you take it. For the one time you guess right, there are many inevitable mistakes. – Andrew Loomis

In summary – the facial feature construction guide Loomis recommends follows the following distance sequence:

These three distances are qual to each other:

The brow to the hairline (forehead) = The brow to the tip of nose = The tip of nose to the chin

So all three spaces are qual down the center line of the face. Easy enough to remember! Or is it? Well, it gets a bit complicated if you begin to consider the angle of the head and perspective and foreshortening caused by the angle. But otherwise, yes it is that easy!

The placement of the facial features is more important than the drawing of the features themselves. – Andrew Loomis

Painting by Gvaat using Loomis construction.

Step 5: Ear placement using the Loomis head construction method

Now that we know where all the facial features go, we can place the ear. The ear goes in the bottom-back corner of the circle created by the flattening of the head. Check this diagram for its location:

Ear placement in Loomis construction. Study by Gvaat

Okay, Gvaat, but how do I draw the ear? I have a separate tutorial all about how to draw the ear, check it out at this link. (Want to draw simplified ears? Check this tutorial about drawing Anime ears instead.)

Visible bones

Skull practice drawing by Gvaat

With the exception of the cheeks, all the flesh of the head lies over bone and is fluency by the shape fo the bone. – Andrew Loomis

The bone structure of the face is a great importance to getting the drawing of the face right. This is because while muscles move this way and that, the bones are a rigid framework that remains constant underneath.

Not only is the framework constant, it is also symmetrical on the left and right side of the face, which becomes an issue if the artist is not careful with placement of the features.

Although we do not see bones in detail, we must think of them as the framework of the head. – Andrew Loomis

Loomis’ approach to the construction of the head is actually based on the bones underneath. Since the landmarks of the skull somewhat vary by person, you can adjust the spacing to create different types of head drawings.

Want to draw a long nose – increase that space by a significant amount. How about a longer, and bigger chin? No problem, get to the distance between the nose and the chin, and increase that, and so on.

The best way to memorize the bones of the face is by practicing to draw the skull from various angles. I have an exercise to do just that, which is available for my newsletter subscribers. It is one of many exercises and downloads available. You will also get a 7 Day Artist Trainer to get you to improve fast, you can sign up at this link.

(Loomis Construction process, study by Gvaat)

Study Loomis construction by creating construction on photographs

So we went through the theory of the Loomis construction above. Now comes the most overlooked and yet the most important part of Loomis construction – practice on photographs.

If you want to draw to achieve beautiful, full of life illustration, I highly suggest using photographs to practice on and then begin to construct your own Loomis drawings. It is a great way of practice and just doing a few photographs a day for two weeks, followed by a short drawing session can help you move to the next level of portrait drawing.

Try it, consistency and perseverance are keys. Keep going back to the construction rules to check your work!

Most important points in Loomis Head Construction

(Loomis Construction study by Gvaat)

So you have been trying Loomis construction of the head but things are not turning out that great. If you are a beginner in drawing, it will help you a great deal to be patient. It will require some effort, but if you practice is diligent and consistent, I am sure you will se results.

One of the pillars of being able to draw anything, including heads in any angle is understanding of perspective. To improve your perspective skills, check out this tutorial I created about drawing vehicles in perspective by clicking here.

What are the most important things to take away from Loomis construction?

  • Point one: understand perspective, without it, you won’t be drawing heads well, or anything for that matter. It is (perhaps) the sad truth, but it is the truth. So see the above link for the perspective tutorial. (It is also not so sad, since perspective can be learned in a very systematic way, there are clear rules and progress is easy to measure).
  • Point two: note that the cross divides the ball into four equal parts
  • Point three: Note the equal spacing between the brow line, the nose, the chin, and the hairline.

And finally: drawing the head is difficult, expect to do many practice drawings from reference before they start to improve. I would suggest a 100 head challenge – draw 100 heads from reference in a matter of 2-5 days, and then repeat, repeat and repeat, with intervals of correction and reflection. If you need step-by-step help on how to learn to draw the Loomis method and beyond, head over to the Academy. In the Academy course, we go from the basics of how to make marks on paper to eventually drawing a very complex human head.

That is it! This is the end of the Loomis construction summary.

What is left to say? Now it is your turn to draw!

RATED A2.

This article is rated “A2” in the Workshop’s Rating System because it discusses intermediate art concepts. For more on the rating system and to find other rated content, follow this link: Workshop’s Rating System.

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Skyrocket your art skills with the ultimate guide to drawing that takes you step-by-step from beginner to full competency. 

Venture beyond fundamentals through a carefully structured curriculum. The 18 Steps will transform how you think when you draw – which is the only way to achieve real results.

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