Exploring the muscles of the head

Reading this article is possible because someone is working hard for you at the moment, without you even noticing. Your head muscles not only support your head but also allow you to turn around or even eat your delicious sandwich. It comes as no surprise we have numerous facial muscles to help us with all these facial expressions, however the head muscles are equally important for anatomic reasons as well from an artistic perspective. Today we will have a quick look at these hard working parts of our body and see how they affect our portraits and figures.


  • Step 1: Foundations First
  • Step 2: Eyes
  • Step 3: A big muscle
  • Step 4: The nose and the fan
  • Step 5: Mouth
  • Step 6: Chin and Zygomatic Arch
  • Step 7: Cheeks
  • Step 8: Neck and Back
  • Step 9: Tone, Ears and Completion
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1. Charcoal Sticks
2. Kneadable Eraser
3. Ruler or measuring needle
4. Sketchpad

Step 1: Foundations First

Well, before we start looking at the muscles we have to quickly draw the foundation; the skull. We have looked at this exercise in detail previously so now I will assume you can do it quickly and easily. If not, have a quick look at this: THE BRIGHT SIDE.

This shouldn’t take too long and it doesn’t have to be a detailed drawing. In the end the skull will be completely covered in muscles. Basic outlines will suffice.

Step 2: Eyes

The easiest and most well defined muscles of the exercise are the ones surrounding our eye sockets. You literally have to surround the eye sockets with parallel circles.

Part of these muscles are the eyelids too. Remember that our eye ball has volume projecting slightly from the eye socket. To show this, the eyelids have to be curved. Follow the lines as shown below like contours.

Step 3: A big muscle

The next is step is to draw the forehead muscle (epicranius) which extends to the rear side of the skull forming our scalp and controlling the movement of our eyebrows. Follow the outline of the forehead and the top part of the skull (cranium). The muscle terminates at the base of the skull. See the sketch below: detail the area above the eyebrows and work your way to the back of the head.

Step 4: The nose and the fan

In this step I got slightly carried away and added two elements at once. Let’s break it down to two individual parts as it should be.

The “fan muscle” was referring to the soft bit of muscle above and between your ears and eyes (temporalis). This is again a large muscle which actually has the shape of a fan, wrapping around the side of the skull. This muscle extends to the bottom of the head pulling the jaw upwards, closing our mouth. Follow the contour of the gap behind the eyes and the zygomatic arch (this gap is called sphenoid)

The function of the nose muscles (nasalis) should be more straightforward. They control the movement of our nostrils. Spend a few minutes touching your nose and observing the curves of your nostrils in a mirror. Draw the outline of the nose on your paper. To ensure it is proportionate to the rest of the head compare it to the eye muscles. Once the outline is ready follow the contours of the nostrils as shown below.

Step 5: Mouth

As you would expect, our lips are surrounded with muscles. This enables us to talk, smile, eat and so on. For the sake of this exercise copy the shape of the lips. from the sketch below. (I strongly believe that copying from the reference photo without understanding how to do it properly is not great; we will look at shapes of eyes, lips etc and techniques of drawing them in following tutorials).

To form the muscle around the muscles literally just follow the shape of the lips and gradually make the curves more gentle. Notice this muscle extends in the nostrils.

Step 6: Chin and Zygomatic Arch

Now that the muscles around the mouth are in place we need to “frame” them and provide support. Notice the muscles extending and wrapping around our chin. There are layers of muscles there, so pay attention to the details (this will be more apparent at the end of the exercise where tone will have been properly applied). At a higher level, notice how the zygomatic arch connects with the mouth muscles. Pay attention to the small extension under the eye socket muscles which reaches under the nose.

Step 7: Cheeks

Our cheeks are so nice and soft because they are all wrapped in muscle. Pay attention to how the lines in the sketch below follow the contours. Touch your face and feel how the skin curves around. This will help you understand why your lines should be curved.

Step 8: Neck and Back

A very important part of the anatomy of this area is the connection of the head muscles onto the neck muscles. We will avoid going into deep detail at this stage as this will be the subject of our next tutorial. For now just notice how the strong neck muscles provide support to the back of the skull.

Step 9: Tone, Ears and Completion

This final step shows the complete work. I won’t lie; between the previous step and here, a good amount of work was required.

I added the details for the ears and strengthened the tones of the muscles to make them more obvious and well defined. Also, notice how the head muscles wrap around the tubular muscles of the neck (sternocleidomastoid). Follow the curved lines to show the volume and shape of these big muscles and their relationship with the thinner sheets above.

Feel free to copy elements of the image below. These will all be covered gradually in following articles, so do not feel you will miss anything.


Brief Summary

With this tutorial we completed our head studies. We have now studied the head muscles, front and side. You might not need to draw these on your portraits, however it will greatly help you understand the structure of your model’s face. It is all a matter of practice and the more time you spend studying the last few tutorials the more comfortable you will feel next time sketching a face. There are still a lot to learn but this should be a good start!

Our next Tutorial will be about the neck muscles. Until then…enjoy drawing the head and feel free to ask any questions.

The Artist says:

“It is so amazing studying the human anatomy. 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


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