The Head and Neck Anatomy Drawing

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Begin with the Skull

© Stockbyte / Getty Images

Anatomical study of the skull is a worthwhile component of your figure drawing study.

If you can, buy or borrow a well made medical or artist's model skull to draw from - beware of inaccurate Halloween decorations. All tertiary art departments should have their own skeleton, and a high school science department will have one. If studying independently, molded plastic skulls are available from some art suppliers and medical equipment suppliers. (Photographs are a last resort, but better than nothing.)

Your model should preferably be life size, as it will help you have a clear sense of the relationship between the skull and the visible surface anatomy of the head. Check that the jaw is correctly placed, and if using a full skeleton, that the skull is correctly placed on the neck.

If you can't access a real skull to draw, you can still benefit from copying good photographs. Try to use images showing the skull from various angles so that you can build up a three-d picture in your mind.

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Skull Study

click to see the full sized image
Click to view a larger version. © S. McKeeman, licensed to, Inc.

Draw the skull from various angles and in a range of mediums. Ideally, you should internalize the forms of the skull to the extent that you can sketch a good likeness from memory.

This study by Sharon McKeeman shows the development of a skull study. The drawing is begun with simplified forms describing the skull and jawline, then detail quickly developed. She's begun using some hatching to indicate the planes of the jaw and maxilla. Naming the anatomy may be useful but is not as important as the drawing and observation itself.

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Musculature of the Face

musculature of the face
H South

The surface anatomy doesn't always reveal the musculature beneath, depending on the thickness of subcutaneous fat, especially on the cheeks. The muscles come most into play in expression, and you will also observe the connection between muscle groups and expression lines or wrinkles. Draw a sketch from life of the face, then drawing in the muscles that lie under the skin, using an image like this as a reference.

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Musculature Study

© S. McKeeman, licensed to, Inc.

This study combines a study of skull and muscle placed within a sketched surface anatomy. Take care to place and scale the eyes correctly with a study like this - the size of the eye socket is surprisingly large.

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Skull and Surface Anatomy

© S. McKeeman, licensed to, Inc.

The combination of skull and surface anatomy in this study is quite macabre. It's an interesting project that gives a satisfying result for the student. Begin with a self-portrait in the mirror, sketching the structure of the full face and paying great attention to observing the brows, jawline, and correctly placing the eyes. Then look for corresponding points as you draw the skull. Touch can be useful: feel where the bone sits under your eye, and where your teeth sit behind your closed lips.

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structure of the neck

© Henry Gray

The neck and throat are often neglected in figure drawing, resulting in a featureless column that looks incapable of holding up the head. This example from Gray's Anatomy shows the cartilages of the throat and the surface anatomy of the neck, with the prominent Sternocleidomastoideus which is often thrown into sharp relief when the head is turned or tilted. It terminates toward the back of the head, behind the ear. Note also the quite acute angle formed by the jaw, quite at odds with the flatness with which many faces are rendered. While the anatomy is less defined in many relaxed poses, paying attention to the subtle changes of tone, or using implied and broken line to indicate it will help you create a convincing, three-dimensional neck.

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the head in profile

George Doyle / Getty Images, Patrick J. Lynch, licensed to

Beginner artists sometimes make a real pig's ear out of drawing the profile. But it really needn't be as problematic as you imagine it to be. Observation is key; bone structure and musculature obviously varies between individuals, so there isn't a set formula - and a slight tilt of the head changes everything! Look at the alignment of the features, such as the corner of the eye and the top of the earlobe.

Note the indented triangle formed between the sternocleidomastoid, sweeping up behind the ear, and the trapezius, behind the neck. Observe the depth and angle of the jawbone in relation to the ear. Look at the angle of the throat and chin.

The planes of bone and muscle aren't flat, nor are changes of plane always sharp: sometimes they are so gradual that it is hard to tell where they happen. In a strong drawing, this change of plane will often be articulated with a subtle change of tone or use of implied line. It needs to make sense, reflecting the anatomy of the model, and not some 'classical' rule or guess. So think about the underlying anatomy as you draw, and closely observe your individual model.