Saturday, November 3, 2012

Drawing Tip: Avoiding the Cut-Off Skull

My 6-year-old daughter has been experimenting with portraits lately. Not of anyone that she knows, but simply figures out of her imagination.

Besides being beautiful, what is interesting about these pictures is that she has successfully avoided what art educator Betty Edwards calls "the mystery of the chopped-off skull". Both adults and children tend to misinterpret the distance between the top of the skull and the eyes. They will usually judge it as being about 1/3 of the distance between the top of the head and the chin, when it is in fact 1/2. Their drawings then appear to have a "chopped-off skull" effect with no forehead to speak of. Edwards writes that this is probably because the brain leaves out the details that it doesn't find important. Only when the final drawing appears out-of-proportion do they realize that something went awry. 

About three years ago, I began to teach my son about drawing faces with realistic proportions. We used some of the lessons in Drawing with Children, but talked many times about this important point from Betty Edwards. Though I have not had nearly as much "lesson" time with my daughter, I am pleased to know that she was paying attention when we've talked about how to draw heads. 

If you are teaching a child to draw faces, it is helpful to have them look at close-ups of people's faces and measure the distance between the eyes and the top of the head and between the eyes and the chin with their fingers. They will then realize that the distance is the same and that the eyes are halfway in between. 

Understanding this one simple principle can transform the way your child (or you!) draw faces! It was definitely a revelation for me when I did Betty's art course, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. In time, it becomes intuitive and not something you have to think about anymore. 

Linked to Kids Get Arty at Red Ted's Art Blog


  1. Oooh thanks for these great tips. Definitely helps to know some basics. And you have reminded me to dig out my copy of drawing on the right side of the brain. Bought it years ago, but haven't read it yet!! Argh.

    Thank you for sharing on Kids Get Arty.

    Great to see you there.


    1. Thanks, Maggy! Hope you enjoy the Betty Edwards book!