The Skull – Side

It is very cool being able to draw the front part of the skull; we used to do that since we were in school. If you want to understand though the volume of the skull, the structure of the bones and mainly how all these affect the proportions and arrangement of the facial features, then you really need to be looking at the side of the skull too. It is important to know what the proportions are and this is exactly what we are going to study today. As always, this drawing might not be 100% accurate, but it will definitely be a good starting point for you to understand and expand your knowledge in the long run.

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  • Step 1: Setting the Grid
  • Step 2: Boxes make it easy
  • Step 3: The Cranium
  • Step 4: The Jaw
  • Step 5: The face mask
  • Step 6: The Nose
  • Step 7: Teeth
  • Step 8: Remove grid lines
  • Step 9: Tone

Time: 2h


1. Charcoal Sticks
2. Sketch Pad (A3 or A2 ideally)
3. Kneadable Eraser
4. Measuring needle (or pencil, ruler etc)

Step 1: Setting the Grid

Simple, quick and vital…Before starting your drawing it is very important to set your grid lines. This will save you loads of time measuring. It breaks your drawing down to smaller areas and is much easier to for your eyes to focus and quickly “measure” without even using the needle or ruler. Also, it helps you memorise some basic proportions.

Your drawing area must be approximately a square. Once you have drawn your square box divide it to 3 equal part vertically and 4 equal part horizontally. By the end of this step you must have something like the picture below on your paper.

Step 2: Boxes make it easy

I agree that memorizing a million proportions is quite tricky (and also sometimes unnecessary). Just remember that the skull consists pretty much of two parts: the cranium and the jaw (always in terms of drawing – proper anatomy studies are much more complicated than this oversimplifying approach).

With your grid lines in place, defining the area for the cranium and the jaw is dead easy. See the picture below. You will need to draw slightly outside this boundaries but generally speaking these bold lines will be good and easy to remember guides.

Step 3: The Cranium

You have already defined your working area for the cranium. The top box should help you keep the proportions correct. This means that the cranium you will be drawing won’t be too long or too small compared to the overall composition of the skull.

A couple of things to remember; the rear part of the cranium is much steeper than the front part (forehead). If you just follow the line of your head with your hand you will be convinced immediately…Also, at the bottom (just above the spine) you will notice the curve will have to go slightly lower than the “box guide line” you had drawn previously.

Now try sketching the outline of the cranium as shown below.

Step 4: The Jaw

Time to sketch the jaw. This is not as difficult as you might think. Use as your reference point the top left corner of the “jaw box”. This is where you jaw starts (approximately). Also this is the ear hole – try to follow the line of your own jaw…don’t be surprised when you discover it ends pretty much under your ear.

Now you have the starting point; you also need a finishing line. This is the bottom of the chin. This coincide with the bottom line of your grid. Having the grid in place will help you define approximately where the chin is. Notice that it doesn’t touch the right hand side edge of you box. The chin is slightly “in” compared to the nose and the teeth above (will go through this in a second).

For the rest of the jaw lines follow the drawing below. Again these are not 100% accurate but should give you a first feel of what the jaw looks like.

Step 5: The face mask

So far we have sketched the cranium and the jaw, the next dominant element is the “facial mask”. I am not quite sure this term actually exists but it definitely helps me understand what the next step is. We will be looking at the area around the eyes and very basic stuff about the upper jaw (teeth details in following step)

You need to define the bottom and top of your facial mask. As top, you can use the “eye brow ridge”. This is located approximately at the second third of the skulls height (which coincides with one of your grid lines – clever!). The bottom of the mask coincides with the bottom of the cheek bones which again sit on a grid line – the first third of the skull height. You have top and bottom defined. Try to follow the shape of the picture below to complete the mask.

A few things to notice. Just above the eye pockets and below your top of the mask point there is an extrusion; you can touch that on your face just above and between your eyes. Make sure the cheek bone lines have the correct angle; it immediately look wrong if those lines are too steep or too flat. Allow some space for the nose structure (one of the following steps). Remember the eye sockets are not just round holes. They have a unique shape almost “angular circle” in an angle. Read the It all in your head article for an idea of what you are trying to achieve.

Now try to follow the picture below.

Step 6: The Nose

I think the nose is one of the most sculptural elements of the face. There is not much point in trying to describe such an irregular shape. Looking at the grid lines, try to follow the shape of the bone and keep it within proportion.

What I found very useful is that the front of the skull is very flat in reality. The bone which supports our nose is not really that long. When sketching the nose during life drawing classes (looking from the side) i find quite helpful drawing the skull flat and then just adding a small extrusion. The drawing below shows quite well why this is valid (tip of nose bone does not go beyond your right hand side grid line).

Step 7: Teeth

I won’t pretend I am a teeth expert. Actually, I messed up last time I drew teeth (see It’s all in your head). Anyway to make your drawing more complete and realistic you cannot omit this element! Top row of teeth is slightly longer than the bottom. Also, remember you can only see the side of the front teeth (draw them thinner than the rest of them). To make it look more realistic it is quite important to show the “roots” of the teeth. This will be easier shown using tone (see last step).

Count right (!) and add the teeth as below.

Step 8: Remove grid lines

We have completed our drawing. Obviously with the grid lines still in place it looks a bit messy so get rid of your grid now. Make sure you don’t start erasing useful lines!

Step 9: Tone

As with the previous article, tone is beyond the scope of the anatomy tutorials. However, I really like having complete drawings in my collection so I quickly add some tone. General advice, start from your dark areas and then gradually move to the midtones or more lit sides of the skull. Once you are pretty much done grab your kneadable eraser (or a normal rubber if you wish) and add some highlights. This will make your drawing look so much better.

Here is mine:

Brief Summary:

Goal of this article was to give you a quick (as quick as possible) overview of the steps needed to put together the side of the skull. As mentioned previously it might not be absolutely accurate (I am sure a doctor would find a million mistakes). However, it is a good start for understanding the structure of the head. Grid line is very helpful (approx square). Divide that vertically and horizontally and roughly sketch the biggest elements (cranium and jaw). Then move on to details, using the gridline to keep everything proportionally correct.

Happy sketching!

The Artist says:

“It is so amazing when you start studying the human anatomy before you go to the next class. You gain an understanding of how things work together and then instead of just sketching individual shapes and planes you understand how the body structure works as a whole!”



Art is more fun when you meet the artists themselves! Visit THE ARTIST…


Love Sketching & Painting


2 thoughts on “THE BRIGHT SIDE

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