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Drawing a Skull

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Skull Drawing Easy

By Alexander Ryzhkin

In this video lesson, we will talk about Skull Drawing Easy. When drawing portraits, many art students face challenges because they lack knowledge of the head's internal structure. The human head and face are mostly shaped not by muscles, but by the bones of the skull. These bones are fixed and stable; muscles do not influence their shapes. That is why good knowledge of skull anatomy is very important when drawing portraits. So, if your goal is to draw portraits, start with the anatomy of a skull. The sooner you do it, the easier your learning curve will be, and the sooner you will be able to draw proportionate and correct portraits from life, memory, or imagination.

Skull Drawing Easy

In this lesson, we will cover the skull anatomy and its application in real life. I will try to use common names instead of Latin terms wherever possible, to make this lesson easy to follow.

We can start with the big volume of the head. Its height-to-width ratio can be represented by a rectangle. The cranium's volume can be simplified as a big circle. The smaller circle will represent the volume of the skull's facial part. The center of the head is aligned with the eye-line. We can mark eye sockets as small circles. The vertical axis of symmetry together with the eye-line divides the skull into equal halves horizontally and vertically. Above the eye sockets, there is the forehead bone or the frontal bone. Below the eye sockets, there is the upper jaw bone. On the lateral sides of the eye sockets there are two cheekbones. Converging outlines describe the lower jaw.

Now, we can talk about the skull's construction. Let's start with the nose bridge. This is the place where the frontal bone connects with the nose bone. The semicircle above the nose bridge goes to the level of the eyebrows and then changes its direction along the eye sockets. On the lateral side of the eye socket, there is a curved line of the frontal bone that goes downward along the socket.

Above the nose bridge, the frontal bone has several shapes. There are two brow ridges in this area, which give three planes:

  • the bottom one is inclining down
  • the middle plane is located frontally
  • and the top one is leaning up.

There is a concave downward curve that goes along brow ridges. The height of the brow ridges is the most prominent in the middle of this curve. The lateral sides of the curve are almost flat. The walls of the eye socket resemble the shape of a horizontally turned pyramid that points inward, into the skull. At the top of this pyramid, there's a hole for the optic nerve. If we draw a vertical line from the optic nerve hole upward, it will point to the frontal eminence, which is a prominent landmark at the top of the forehead. The concave upward curve beneath the two frontal eminences shapes the middle plane of the forehead. On both sides of this plane, there are side planes of the forehead. Behind the frontal bone, there are two bones that form the sides and roof of the cranium. They form the dome of the skull and are quite large in size. Starting from the frontal eminences, the vertical plane of the forehead continues to a more horizontal, rounded surface of the roof of the skull. Right below the nose bridge is the nose bone. This bone consists of two parts, divided in the middle. These two parts are fused straight or at an angle. This is an individual feature that influences the shape of a nose.

The bottom edges of the eye sockets are very close to the level of the cheekbone arch. For drawing purposes, we can say that the floor of an eye socket is almost at the level of the cheekbone arch. Under the nose bone, there is the nose cavity, in front of which is the nose that we see on a face. The bone at the bottom of the nose cavity divides it in half. The width of the nose hole is comparable to the width of the wings of the nose. Two of the smallest bones of the skull are on the medial sides of the eye sockets and are vertically aligned with the wings of the nose. The base of the nose is an important landmark. The distance from the chin to the base of the nose is the same as from the base of the nose to the brow ridges, and it is the same as the height of the forehead. This is one of main proportions of the head.

You need to keep in mind these three equal dimensions every time you draw a portrait. The length from the edge of the brow to the middle of the face is the same as the height of the nose. You can check this dimension in real life and use it in portrait drawing as well. The lower border of the cheekbone is arching up. The bottom edge of the cheekbone is located on the same level as the base of the nose.

From the lateral edge of the cheekbone goes a side plane of the cheek that changes its direction at the frontal side of the face. This geometry repeats in the directions of planes of the frontal bone. The cheekbone ends approximately in the middle of the eye socket. Between the cheekbones, there's an upper jaw bone. It used to be two bones that fused into one quite early in life. Two canine teeth coincide with the corners of the mouth. The bigger the distance between those teeth, the wider the mouth. The two upper teeth in the middle, the incisors, influence the protrusion of the upper lip. The more prominent their roots are, the more the groove of the upper lip protrudes. And there are two more teeth on the frontal part of the upper jaw bone. All these teeth have an impact on the surface of the upper lip.

There are two concave surfaces on the sides of the nose. The deeper these pits, the deeper the smile-lines of the face. These folds run from each side of the nose to the corners of the mouth. There is a triangular plane at the front of the chin with two corners at its base. This plane also has a small triangular surface that shapes the bottom edge of the chin. The width of the chin's plane is smaller than the width of the mouth.

Another landmark of the lower jaw is the place where the chewing muscle connects to its bottom edge. The border of the chewing muscle separates the two planes of the face. The dental edge of the lower jaw is horizontal, while its arm points upward almost vertically. On both sides of the skull there are temple bones. The widest part of the face is individual. It has to be checked on a model.

Now, let's examine a human skull in the side view. We will begin with overall height-to-width proportion of a skull. In the front view, the width of the skull is comparable to the distance from the chin to some point on the forehead. In the side view, the depth of the skull is almost the same as its height, so a skull can be inscribed into a square. The center of such a square will coincide with the line of the eye sockets. The ear channel is located slightly lower than the absolute center of the skull. The horizontal level at the base of the nose goes through the ear and points to the bony projection behind the ear. This level also coincides with the base of the skull. So, we can mark the base of the skull. Then this line turns diagonally up and reaches the back of the head, outlines the dome of the skull, and slides down along the outline of the forehead. In the side view, a virtual diagonal line that connects the brow ridge with the base of the skull divides it in two parts—the big volume of the cranium and the facial part of the skull. The facial part occupies one third of the skull and the cranium two thirds. So, a face is smaller than the rest of the head.

Many beginners make a common mistake in portraits, drawing the cranium smaller than it should be. You need to recognize the difference in volumes and draw the masses of those parts accordingly. In the side view, we see the outline of the brow ridges, which tilts towards the eyes, then goes vertically, and then slides diagonally towards the forehead. These three planes are drawn here schematically, and a bit exaggerated for explanation purposes. In real life, this outline is individual, but it follows those directions. The frontal bone has its own planes, angles of which are also individual. This is the edge of this bone. This bone makes up the forehead and protects the frontal part of the brain. The eye socket's outline goes right below the brow ridge, following its contour and then sliding downward. At the lateral side of the brow ridge, there's a curved contour of the frontal bone that gradually flattens out to the side plane of the frontal bone. This curve points to the eminence of the parietal bone, which is quite big in size, consisting of two fused bones. It covers the dome of the skull.

This curve is an important landmark of the skull. It is the border between the roof and the side surface of the cranium. The cheekbone arch is located at the same level as the bottom edge of the eye socket. This arch is fused to the temporal bone. The lower edge of the cheekbone arch is at the level of the base of the nose. The cheekbone arch goes above the ear channel. Behind the ear channel, there is a prominence of the skull to which the neck muscle connects. The temporal part of the skull forms an additional volume on the side of the cranium. In the side view, the outline of the cheekbone is slightly tilted, starting from the lower border of the eye socket.

The nose bone is protruding diagonally forward until it reaches its end, where it turns and slides down in the opposite direction. At the bottom, this line curves forward and reaches the bottom edge of the nose. At this point, there is a sharp bony tip that is pointing forward. The alignment of the top and bottom tips is individual.

The upper jaw bone terminates at its dental edge, and at the back, it ends with vertical outline. The lower jaw is the only movable bone on the surface of a skull. In the side view, the angle of the frontal outline of the lower jaw bone is individual. The chin usually protrudes slightly forward. At the point where the chewing muscle attaches to the lower jaw, there's connection between the horizontal and vertical branches of the bone. The angle of the lower jaw is between the vertical and horizontal outlines of the jaw. At the top of the lower jaw bone, there are two protrusions; one is the point of a muscle connection, and another is part of the joint. The plane of the vertical branch is located at a different angle to the plane of the horizontal part of the lower jaw. The border between planes of the upper jaw bone coincides with the location of the canine tooth. As you remember, the location of canine teeth influences the width of the mouth.

The cartilage of the nose forms the shape of the nose. Its angle depends on the small tip of the nose bone. It this tip points downward, the nose will follow this direction; should it point higher, a person will be snub-nosed. The bony tip at the base of the nose also influences the nose's shape. If it points horizontally, the base plane of the nose will also be horizontal. An upward tilted tip will give an upward tilt to the plane. And should it point downward, a person will be hook-nosed. As a rule, the side-view of curvature of the nose-hole is mirrored by the curvature of the tip of a nose. So, if this edge is sharp, the nose tip will be pointed; should it be smooth, the tip will be rounded. There is a symmetry of these curves across a vertical axis.

When you draw portraits, you may notice that often the roundness at the tip of the nose is mirrored by the shape of the nose wing. The tip of the nose is formed by the cartilage inside. In the front view, contours of the nose are formed by the nose bone and paired cartilages. That is why, at the tip of the nose, there are two points with the plane between. The nose wings are additional volumes that shape the nose construction. The thickness of the upper lip is about 12 millimeters, or half an inch. The upper lip usually ends at the middle of the upper teeth, although this alignment is individual. In most cases, the lower lip overlaps bottom edges of upper teeth. You can check this configuration in a mirror when smiling with semi-closed lips.

The shape of the lower jaw influences the shape of the chin. The thickness of chin tissues is only six millimeters. The thinnest tissue of the face is over the nose bone—only three millimeters. The thickness of tissues around the forehead is constant at about six millimeters. Because all the tissues of the head are very thin, the head's shape depends greatly on the shape of the skull. So, to draw accurate portraits, you have to know the anatomy of the skull. For example, the forehead is shaped by the geometry of the frontal bone and its key-points. Knowing the planes of this bone will give you an advantage in drawing what is on the surface...

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