The Secret To Drawing Portraits: The basic Loomis heads

Andrew Loomis was an illustrator and art instructor in the 1920s and 30s. He developed a system for drawing basic heads and figures for advertisements, magazines, and fashion illustrations. His system is still used today by art students, illustrators, and animators all over the world.



This system can help the budding portrait artist draw as well.

REMEMBER: Loomis Heads are just aids for drawing portraits

The previous lessons for portrait drawing are great ways to get STARTED but that’s all that those lessons are… a start. There’s a lot more to drawing realistic portraits than presented in that lesson and that’s what we are going to cover here.

We are adding another layer of practice to drawing heads and faces.

Remember I am a beginner like you … never drawn before in my life and I was able to achieve some decent results. Check out this portrait of Christopher Walken.


Graphite drawing of Christoper Walken

Yes, I know very smudgy…


Is it a great drawing? Or classically drawn?  Of course not but look at the likeness. What does this prove? That quality art is within reach for ANYBODY. The question is

“Are you willing to do what it takes to master the craft?”

These portraits were drawn by a beginner with nothing more than a graphite pencil in an ordinary sketchbook.

Do you want to know what the key ingredient is for drawing ANYTHING?

I will reveal the secret….later

But for now, get out your sketchbook pen or pencil, piece of paper, or whatever it is your draw with.

Caution: Use a light touch in all these drills

  1. Take the pencil and start drawing circles. Just plain simple circles. Draw about 20 of them or more. Feeling ambitious? draw a hundred more. Fill up the page with circles and draw them on the other side of the paper. Do the circles have to be perfect? Not really but try to make them as round as you can.
  2.  Next, draw some ellipses. Heck, draw one hundred of them as well. Different sizes until you fill-up the page. Do you remember how to draw an ellipse? Try drawing them in different positions for example laying on their sides at an angle etc.
  3. Finally, draw a bunch of cubes

“Circles, spheres, boxes, and cylinders are present in all portraits and figure drawings. Get comfortable drawing these shapes”

How are you doing? Is your hand getting cramped? Try drawing them with your whole arm from the shoulder. Or if you are feeling a little adventurous try drawing them with a non-dominate hand.

Use Large Format paper: 18 x 24 Smooth

Large format paper is ideal to practice with. It’s cheap and plentiful. Plus it helps with drawing bigger portraits and pictures. Commercial artists use it when they’re outlining a painting for Commission. Budding portrait artists will use it to develop their drawing skills.

I want you to get your whole body Into the drawing process. Put the pad in an easel and draw standing up. Or buy a drawing board such as this and lean it up against a chair or desk. You can purchase a drawing board from Amazon. Incidentally, this is what the Ateliers or drawing studios recommend drawing with.

Now stop and take a break.

Exercise, Exercise

Remember to take care of your back and do some exercises.


Do some Yoga or core exercises.

All done with the exercises?

Great, let’s continue on.

Now draw some more circles about ten of them.

The next thing we are going to draw is the cross of the face.

Like this




This is the best way to master drawing.

On the first circle draw a centerline down the middle then draw another line dividing the circle in half.

On the next circle draw the vertical line a little to the right of the center. Like this. Then draw a horizontal line across the circle like this.



Finally, draw a vertical line to the left of the center like this.

Now we will finish this drill by drawing the rest of the head in ¾ view.

Look at the Loomis Book for Heads and notice we drew the same heads look at the Loomis Book you’ll see we drew the same heads. Practice these heads over and over again until you can see the heads turning to the left and the right and looking down and up.

The Profile

Let’s draw some more circles

Next, quarter the circle

Then draw another line from the top of the circle out a 1/4 distance from the edge of the circle like this.



Finish drawing the rest of the head in profile.

That’s it for this drill.

Remember to do these drills over and over again.

Here’s the secret to drawing portraits as promised.

The secret is a DESIRE to learn. That’s it.

DESIRE is a pretty powerful ingredient. And can make up for lack of talent.

To master anything: music, sports, etc is to practice over and over again until these moves become ingrained. Natural. Like breathing. Do you think when you breathe? Of course not. you just do it. That’s how drawing these heads should be, automatic like tying your shoes.

Drawing Loomis Heads are Challenging..But don’t get discouraged!!

The plates from the book are difficult to draw so don’t feel bad if you can’t achieve a good likeness. In the above lessons, we did not draw in the features: nose, mouths, ears, and eyes. That’ll be done on another day. Right now get comfortable doing these drills.

  1. Draw the circle
  2. Find the cross of the face at different angles
  3. Finish off the head by including the jawline and hairline

But if you want to add the features, then go ahead.

Remember it’s all about the process, not the result. And I’ll bet your drawings look better than you think.

Don’t be discouraged if your drawings lack quality. The quality will come with practice. Just keep up the passion and the desire to learn.


I have another assignment for you. Look in the newspapers, magazines, or find some pictures of people’s heads and faces on Pinterest. Find the centerline and the cross of the face, and divide up the face into thirds.

Here’s to happy drawing and see you on the next drill.

How did this lesson go for you? I hope you found the secret to drawing portraits lesson helpful. Please share some of the drills that have worked for you. I am always looking for other ways to learn. What I am trying to do is to come up with lessons and drills that are beginner-friendly and effective for learning how to draw.




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