Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Drawing the Planes of the Head

An important area of study which with I've always struggled is memorizing and understanding the planes of the head. When I was first approached this subject in the summer of 2010, none of it made sense. I was trying to understand this page from the Andrew Loomis planes from his book "Drawing the Head and Hands":

For some reason, I couldn't "get" it. I couldn't remember the location of the planes, I kept forgetting them and eventually abandoned learning them. But I knew I had to go back to it eventually because it's vital to drawing; the head CANNOT be properly depicted without understanding how light falls on it which means knowing the planes.

I don't know what happened between now and then but I suddenly understand the planes. I think it's because I'm now relating the planes of the head to what causes the planes which is, of course, the skull! The planes are directly related to the shape of the skull and, to a lesser extent, the facial muscles. NOW it makes sense!

It also helped to use other diagrams in addition to Loomis's. There are various ways to depict some of the planes, some ways more complicated then others. Here's some of the photo reference I've been using to study the planes:

This is from James Gurney's website. I based my studies of the front of the head primarily on this drawing.

These Asaro heads are really helpful for understanding the planes in profile.

The Fred Fixler planes, particularly helpful in showing the 3/4 view.

Another 3/4 view for studying via the Asaro head.

As you can see, each of these examples varies slightly. I was originally overwhelmed by the differences. But once I realized that the differences are minor, I set about just absorbing the approaches that made the most sense to me. What makes sense to me is more likely to be retained than pure memorization.

Happy studying!


  1. Thanks, Terence! I'm starting a new, more in-depth series about drawing the planes and artistic anatomy! Hope you like it!

  2. Thank you, that makes sense.. thank you for sharing your insights with us. The planes give so much better definition to any head/face =)

  3. Thank you for your comment, Edward! Thank you, also, for becoming a blog follower. I looked at your web page and especially liked the self-portraits. Let's keep drawing!

  4. how did you go about studying this? did you just find different references and copy them until you found you could do it on your own?

    1. Thanks for your question, Allyson. My first approach to studying the planes was from the Loomis diagram shown in the post but I was struggling to understand why the planes in the diagram were drawn that way. As I said in the post, it’s not possible for me to simply memorize the planes without fully understanding the why behind it. After the Loomis diagram, I tried learning the planes from the other photos in the post. Again, it was confusing because all the photos differed slightly and looking at photos felt limiting since we’re dealing with a 3-dimensional object. Eventually I discovered that the Asaro head could be purchased at I’d read how helpful it was for others so I invested the $98 to buy the original head plus booklet. If you’re serious about understanding the planes, I highly recommend buying this mannequin. It’s helpful to have the planes right in front of you for clear study. You can hold it, move it around and light it to aid your understanding. In addition to the planes head mannequin, I use a skull model to study the planes (I bought a full-sized skeleton model about 20 years ago. Another investment I highly recommend for anatomy studies.) The combination of the planes head mannequin, skull model and knowledge of head muscles are the tools I’m using to study the planes. I’ve recently returned to studying the planes after abandoning it and will post what I’ve learned once I get to a good point.