Having a hard time sticking to Mr. Loomis' method/Side planes of the head

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    I have drawn a number of portraits over time, and when I initially encountered Mr. Loomis methods it certainly gave me a major boost in finding the proportions of the face and a decent placement of its features. Especially his use of browline, centerline and chinline helped me a lot, then I improvised along and muddled the method with my practical experience into a satisfactory result, especially in quick sketches. Getting more confident and with the goal of finishing my sketches quicker I started to leave Mr. Loomis' method more to the wayside. Instead of finding the browline, I just started drawing with the brows and tip of ears, etc. Shortcuts that worked well at the level where I was.

    Now I want to improve my shading, which means first, that I need a way more detailed understanding of all the darn planes and angles on a human face, a real proper constructional foundation. I have seen some drawings of people, who obviously stick way, way stricter to Loomis than I ever did, and was gripped by constructive envy. I want to be able to do that, too.

    So, back to grinding foundations, I am currently working mostly at drawing from reference, timeframe 10 minutes+, and with the goal of starting each and every draft with a complete and detailed Loomis construction. The results look OK until around 5 minutes, when I am done with the initial construction and begin to add details. Adding details reveals all the minor deviations from the reference, that would have been largely unproblematic in a rough sketch. Also, I can see those details on a reference, but I would have a hard time drawing them all from memory.

    My biggest hurdle atm seems to be the side planes of the head. With Mr. Loomis and most of his epigones it all sounds so easy: "The human head isn't a perfect sphere, so let's cut off a bit on both sides, approximately 2/3 of the size of the initial sphere. The ear is in the lower backward quarter of this circle". When trying to apply that to a reference, I feel like I am totally guessing. Are there some landmarks on the skulls, where to actually place that cut-off? The tip of the cheek bones, outer edge of the brow and the area where the flat of the forehead turns to the temples might fit. They are often lighted very prominently and make excellent marks on the face, but they are not really aligned in a half-circle (or only very, very roughly). Also the way they correspond to the ear seems way off in comparison to Loomis templates.

    In many drawings that I've seen the ear almost fills the lower hind quarter of the cut-off, but if that cut-off extends forward until the cheek-bones, with the ear in the centre, that would only happen with semi-elephants. Without any landmarks on the other hand, when I judge the size of the cut-off from the size of the ear, I feel like I am just drawing a random circle, that doesn't really help me later on with placing details, and seems quite arbitrary and useless.

    I'll probably upload a few attempts later on today to illustrate my points, but I know there are some people on this site, who are extremely proficient with Loomis construction and hope someone can answer me one of these questions from my description of the problem so far: Either, where to place that cut-off exactly when drawing from reference, or, what parts of the face/head the rim of that cut-off actually is supposed to correspond to.

    I would be very grateful for some instructions, as I feel like I am turning my wheels without really getting off the spot. Reference literature, that explores the subject in detail would be appreciated, too, but a straight answer, if possible, would obviously be a quicker, more immediate help.

    Thanks for everyone's attention

    Aunt Herbert

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    The straight answer is you're just plain not doing the Loomis method, which is easy to see if you do a redline on any of your recent-ish portrait drawings. If you sketch in the initial "ball" of a Loomis head, with the eye line/horizontal center line and the nose/vertical center line... it winds up that you don't wind up with a correct cross shape. Maybe the nose is off center. Maybe the "cross" of your original drawing isn't even on the circle.

    What you're doing is not wrong in artistic terms. I really like several of your pieces, and I recognize the reference on a couple! So you're getting likeness and you're thinking about execution in a good way. But it's definitely wrong if you're trying to use Loomis's method.

    Using class mode (I'd suggest sticking to 30 minute classes unless you have a really strong pedagogical reason to go longer) will force you to do 30s and 1m drawings so that you're getting a lot of drill on how you move from the ball with a cross to roughing in the chin, jaw line, neck muscles etc.

    If I were trying to polish up Loomis in your position (I wouldn't be exactly, because Loomis makes me stabby), I'd focus on classes with full length figures. Trying to get an accurate head shape that works with the whole figure is challenging, and forces you to think about how the overall pose affects the head. Also it gets you a lot more variety in the kinds of heads you have to draw. I'd "grade" my class work afterwards by marking up the 1-2 sketches for each time interval that come closest to having an accurate "cross" for the pose. If you skip the part where you mark up your best work, you skip out on a lot of the learning process.

    Also you don't HAVE to work on a full figure, just I've done enough life drawing to know that for me I will get better results with full length figure classes vs focused ones if I'm having a problem with a smaller part of a figure. Understanding how I simplify on a full figure and really focusing on the very short poses and how to get that detail in... that teaches me more than a focused class can by itself. The focused classes (again FOR ME) are helpful once I've done some solid ground work on full figure.


    Mhm, I have just gone away from using 30 sec and 1 minute for heads, as I feel, like I am not self-critical enough to learn much from it. Thing is, all the results look "good enough" to me, and I don't even realize what mistakes I made until minutes later, when I try to fill in the gaps. Evaluating them after the lesson, without access to the original reference is also a bit hard. I can see on a 30 sec full body figure if my lines convey a convincing pose or not, but after 30 sec of Loomis construction, there is always the same very unspecific arrangement of circles and lines on the page, and little to judge quality from.

    Practicing circles and lines is certainly good in itself, but I would rather rate that as line quality training than as portrait training, and I seem to miss the crucial difference to benefit of it. Is actually looking at photo reference even a benefit in such an endeavour, or would it be more "methodical" to just look at examples of Loomis construction instead, and maybe use a 20-sided dice to randomize perspectives?

    You are certainly right, that I am not really sticking to a method here. I was always just talented enough to cut the corners and get decent results while dodging the hard work, and it kind of bites my in the ass, when I want more than decent.

    Using full figure poses as reference for portraits is actually a good idea. At least it gets a bit around the problem, that 90% of this pages portrait library seem to be taken from the same 4 or 5 people. On the other hand, when I judge my own full figure drawings, the relationship between head, neck and shoulders doesn't strike me as my central weakness, but maybe that's my bad old nemesis of "good enough" again.

    Talking about my character flaws, I wanted to be drawing for hours now, instead of debating in online forums.... GET .... TO ..... WORK, lazy bum!

    See yas,



    Hmm, I certainly didn't reach new heights today, but OTOH, drawing from different reference clearly threw me out of my comfort zone, which is always a good thing.


    Redlining is an invaluable tool for self criticism. Even if you mostly do physical art, if you have a smart phone you have something that will let you do a redline on your own work without destroying the original. When I'm working on something challenging, I'll often wind up doing several redlines at various stages, marking up the good parts, checking that my proportions are right, testing out fixes for weaker areas, making notes to myself...

    And honestly, it doesn't sound at all like you think your short drawings are good enough since you're describing them as unspecific. That means whatever you're putting down isn't enough that you can come back to the sketch later and figure out a way to continue. That's a really brutal, unforgiving memory exercise, and it will teach you a lot about what bits you actually need in an initial sketch to keep going. You don't need to match the reference if you're continuing a sketch from memory... but it will really challenge your understanding of proportions and anatomy. It's also a great way to push your creativity!


    OK, I have been wondering what exactly you mean with "Redlining", and been googling it, but so far my search hasn't turned up conclusive results. Can you elaborate?

    And yes, if I stick to Loomis construction, I am drawing a basic circle, a brow line, a center line, one or two cut-outs for the planes on the side, a marker for the nose and the chin, ears, a chinline, and at least two lines to indicate the neck. That's a lot of lines to draw properly in 30 seconds, and more intricate Loomis heads also include lines for the cheeks, eyesockets and the lip muscles and more. Compare that with a center line, three masses and four limbs in a basic 30 sec figure sketch, it's just a lot. The 30 sec sketches in figure drawing are to encourage the use of fewer, more essential lines to describe the pose, what is gained by hurrying up, when I already stick to a fixed formula for how many lines are deemed essential?

    And all those lines won't give me much individual information about a head, except its orientation in space. Mimical expressions or individual features certainly won't be visible by then, and heads don't have a lot of joints for complex poses. I can certainly try to include some first informations about neck and shoulders, but they are not really at the core of the Loomis method, unless I misunderstood something on a very basic level. 30 seconds is about the earliest, when I am almost done with sketching out basic proportions. And they are pretty much identical on most heads, so "unspecific" in relation to the reference, whether done well or badly. After 30 secs I can see whether my circles are smooth and my lines are straight, but not whether they properly relate to the reference. Especially not without the reference.


    To improve your shading you don't really need all that plane thingy, just look for shadow shapes to group your value and fill them in with light hatching so that you can build it up later


    The problem with light hatching, especially if you work with ink, is, that you can't really dodge the decision how to orient your hatching lines. There needs to be a clear graphical separation between additional features, like wrinkles, scars or face hair, and the lines of the hatching pattern.

    In my experiments the best results appeared, when I actually found the constructional underpinning and oriented the hatching lines along them. The hard part is, these are not anything that can really be observed from the reference, they only become painfully visible when I ignore them with my hatching.

    I think I understand what you mean, and it works well if the reference is extremely dramatically lit, just a stark separation of dark shapes on a light background, but if the reference is lighted out somewhat more naturally the image loses a whole lot of information if I just ignore the middle tones.

    The effect, that the edge of the hatched out shapes is pretty much defined by where my hatching lines end doesn't make it any easier. Sometimes I draw in those edges with an extra line, but that is often a heavyhanded solution that impacts the overall style more than I intend. If I want to define those edges in more details OTOH I am forced to put the hatching lines closer together, which I would need to correspond with making the lines even finer, to avoid darkening the tone. Drawing the finest possible lines with a brush without losing contact to the paper and ending the line prematurely is a bit of a pain in the butt, too.

    So my theory is, if I get that "plane thingy" nailed down to a far further extent than where I am currently at, it would free my focus to concentrate more on my brush work.


    Redlining is exactly what it sounds like. These days, most people do it digitally, but if you strongly prefer physical media you can work that way too using clear plastic or tracing paper. You take a piece that you think has problems, and you go over your work marking up the good spots and trying out ideas to improve the strong areas, usually using a reddish color. Mine usually end up as more of a pinkline, and I've met artists who wind up editing in blue or green. The exact color doesn't much matter, what matters is you're taking some time to mark up your work and write yourself notes or try ideas. If I take a piece to a high level of finish (totally not the focus here but!) I might end up with 2-3 layers in my digital file that are redlines.

    If you have a smartphone even a simple free app like Autodesk Sketchbook has plenty of features to allow you to redline.

    I usually don't focus on the weak areas when I'm redlining. Obviously you can sketch out fixes for mistakes this way! But a lot of editing art is focusing on making it do the good parts more, so too much focus on "mistakes" can obscure your ability to see the things you got right.

    For most Line of Action classes, redlining would be beside the point. But it's a really useful tool for evaluating longer drawings in the context of your practice goals. I'll also use my editing pencil to mark up which 30s and 1m sketches are the ones that I judge as best meeting my goals.


    Thanks, I think I understand now what you mean with "redlining", and see the advantages. I'll have to spend some time scratching my head to decide how to best integrate it into my daily practice routine, though.

    Deleted user

    A bit of a late response, but I've been studying Loomis recently as well. I'm not good enough to remotely be an expert on the method, of course, but I feel like I can at least give you a push in the right direction.

    To actually answer your question, there are couple of landmarks you can use to identify the side plane:

    The main one, of course, is the brow, which marks the center of the head sphere. The top front quarter of the side plane runs along the curve of the skull, where the curvature of the front/top of the skull meets the flat portion on the side. You did mention using where the forehead turns to the temples as a landmark, but this landmark is a bit further back and has a corresponding ridge on the skull. Additionally, the bottom front quarter of the side plane runs down alongside the outer corner of the eye socket, where the cheekbone transitions to the brow ridge. This landmark is also along the same ridge on the skull on the outside of the orbital rim, rather than inside the orbital rim closer to the eye. It's a bit more visible on an actual face than on a skull. For a clearer feel of where the landmarks are, I'd recommend feeling out those locations on your skull with your fingers while looking at yourself in the mirror.

    The Loomis method is more of a template of the skull rather than that of the complete head, so keep that in mind. The structure of the Loomis head isn't arbitrary, but helps to map out the landmarks of the head, although the top front quarter of the side plane is the main thing to keep in mind here. Also, focus more on the *axes* of the sphere rather than dwelling on the shape of the ball and side plane too much. Proportions that are too far off aren't great, but most skulls aren't going to be perfectly spherical, nor is the side plane going to be perfectly circular. The side plane isn't perfectly flat either, nor is it a perfect 90 degrees to the front plane.


    Anyways, regarding your practice, I feel like you're spending too little time understanding the structure of the Loomis head, and are instead rushing to get the facial features in quickly. Your 1 minute drawings stand out in particular, as, although nearly all the facial features are filled in, there's practically nothing on the page regarding the structure of the loomis head itself. Your longer head drawings *are* quite good, but it's difficult to tell what parts of the head are coming from genuine understanding of the 3d forms of the head, and what parts are simply copied from the reference. Right now, ignore the shading and the smaller details, and just focus on getting the construction of the Loomis head down properly.

    This means not just drawing the head, but going back and asking questions like: Where's the center line of the head? Where's the brow line? Bottom of nose? Chin? Jaw? Are the center line and brow line properly perpendicular? Is the brow line parallel to the nose line and chin? Can you draw the brow line wrapping around the entire head? What about the nose line? If you could see through the head, where would the other side of the jaw be? Can you draw it? What about the center line? Brow line? Side plane? Ear? Was everything properly symmetrical? Where does front plane of the head start and end, particularly at the chin/jaw and cheeks? How about the side plane? Back plane?

    Get the ball of the head, side plane, chin/jaw, and center/brow/nose lines down, as well as a simple ear, if you'd like; don't bother with anything else for now. Draw the head, look back over the drawing (looking through a mirror or taking a photo and mirroring it can help spot mistakes), ask the questions, make corrections/redline, and *redraw* to make sure you understood where you went wrong. Ideally, you'd do your corrections immediately after, with your reference in hand, but even without the reference, it should still look like a solidly structured head.

    Also, I'm going to have to greatly disagree with Torrilin here, 30s/1m is way too short to get a proper Loomis head down on paper. You're preventing yourself from properly observing/analyzing the reference and aligning it with the Loomis head, and are just rushing yourself to get anything down. Give yourself at least 5 minutes, or just pause the auto-advance entirely, and take your time to analyze and understand the 3d forms of the head. Even highly experienced artists take a lot more than 30 seconds to draw a simple Loomis head, as can be seen by Stan Prokopenko in one of his videos (I'm sure he's slowing down for the camera, but still).

    Additionally, you mentioned that drawing these lines doesn't provide much information on an individual's head, which is partially true, but I think you're missing the point of the Loomis head, which is to serve as a 3-dimensional basis for any head drawing. As you stated earlier, when drawing from a reference, mistakes in adding smaller details make the deviations from the reference exceedingly more obvious. If you're looking at things two-dimensionally, when you start adding details, you might end up having an eye a bit too far up, or the chin a bit too far down and to the right, or the back of the head in the wrong perspective. However, if you look at things *3-dimensionally* and orient your details relative to a fixed base, these deviations in detail are greatly minimized. You might have a head that's tilting a bit too far to the left, but since all the facial features are drawn relative to the head, rather than the reference, you still end up with a proper-looking drawing. Adding the lines might be tedious, but they help reinforce your understanding of 3d structure. Once you get the basics down, you can build up that knowledge to start drawing the basic and secondary planes of the head, which can then be used to properly structure detailed human faces. Line quality is a good thing to focus on, but isn't the point here.

    (Adjusting the proportions and shapes of portions of the Loomis head is also extremely important in establishing character too, and can be done without adding any extra details. See the video linked above.)


    Sorry about the extremely long post, but hopefully this provides some insight for your next steps regarding this.

    Some extra comments:

    - Not being able to draw these details without a reference is normal. You learn these things over time with practice, but using reference properly is still extremely important as an artist.

    - If possible, I'd recommend not using the brush you seem to be drawing with for this kind of practice. Thinner lines mean you need to be more exact with your line placement, which forces you to be less vague as to how things are oriented and structured. Something erasable like pencil/charcoal would probably be the best, since correcting mistakes is important, but if you only feel comfortable using your brush, then stay with that.

    - For studying this topic, I *highly* recommend reading Loomis's "Drawing the Head and Hands" directly. Could be personal preference, but I find that his book best describes what to specifically focus on when using this method (it is his method, after all).

    - Drawing from reference photos is important for learning how the Loomis head landmarks align with those of a non-Loomis head, so that's what I recommend. However, if you need help structuring the Loomis head itself, you look up the Loomis head (or facial planes) on a site like Sketchfab to see recreations in 3d.


    Thanks a lot CCC, you truly answered the most important questions, that led me to create this thread.

    You are probably right, that I should temporarily switch back to pencil for a deeper dive. Unfortunately, at the moment it seems like all my graphite pencils have been swallowed up by the creative chaos around my workplace. It's probably time to put tidying up my workplace on the schedule. :(

    You mentioned how on my 1 minute drawings the Loomis construction is barely visible. I noticed that too, but chalked it off as somehow a natural development: When I draw actual brows, the browline will mostly disappear, when I draw nose and chin, the markers for their placement will be usurped by the lines, the only lines that stay visible in my experience are the excess parts, that don't indicate facial features, like the lower front quarter of the original sphere, and the rim of the side planes.

    When I mentioned the lack of individual informations on a Loomis head, that was mostly a reaction to the proposal to quick-sketch them. After 30 secs there just isn't enough visible on a paper to actually critique myself, just the beginnings of a very generic geometric pattern that gives little clues as to whether its proportions or alignments are where they need to be or slightly off.

    I still think spotting such inaccuracies without filling in the features first is hard, but your post just inspired me to give it another try.


    Here is an example of why I find assessing the barebones Loomis construct hard:

    The head obviously has 2 right ears. The outer one is where I expected it to be, merely from following the construct method, only after I indicated the right eye and the outline of the shadows along her right cheek did I realize, that the distance from her cheek to her ear was way too big, and indeed the cut-off of the side of the head on that side should have been way closer to the centre, making the right side of her head too wide.

    Deleted user

    Your main issue seems to be that the perspective of the drawing isn't particularly consistent across the head, which is probably because you simply aren't indicating enough of the structure of the head to keep the perspective consistent inside your mind, and aren't taking enough care to lay the lines out properly.

    If I indicate some of the Loomis construction lines you put down on your drawing, it's clear that things aren't adding up properly. The brow, nose, and chin lines seem to be parallel, but aren't properly perpendicular to the center line (which also seems to be a bit too far to the right). The vertical line of the side plane didn't seem to be indicated in your drawing, but if we assume it's parallel to the center line (which it should be), it doesn't seem to match up with the side plane that was indicated (although I wasn't very sure as to where the side plane was meant to be).

    If we use the inferred vertical line of the side plane (not looking at the center line), it matches up with the plane, but of course isn't parallel to the center line.

    The inner ear seems to line up fairly well with the side plane, although it's too high (top of the ear should be under the brow line). However, if you thought the outer ear was correct during construction, you're either having issues placing the ear on the side plane, or I didn't read the side plane correctly (and therefore the perspective of the side plane is even further off from that of the front plane of the face). I wouldn't worry too much about ear placement on the basic Loomis head, though, since the side plane on an actual head isn't perfectly flat and also bulges out slightly.

    When practicing, I would try to indicate the center line of the head and the nose line across the entire head, rather than just across the face, such as Loomis does in some of his drawings:

    I feel like drawing these lines (as well as further lines around the head in other locations) helps me understand the structure of the head a bit better.

    I would particularly make sure you get the center line of the head in around the whole head properly, as it and the brow line are are the most important lines for forming the structural basis of the head. Make sure you indicate the vertical line of the side plane properly, as well.

    Regarding the visibility of the structural lines of the Loomis head when adding in the features, you can try switching your drawing instrument when transitioning from one to the other for better visibility. For example, you can use ink for the structure and pencil for the features, or black ink for the structure and red ink for the features, or pencil for the structure and colored pencil for the features, etc. etc.

    However, if you're using the placement of the features as an excuse to not properly indicate the structural lines, I'd advise against doing so. Unlike the brow/nose/chin lines, the actual features aren't perfectly aligned with each other, so you'll need to keep the brow line around to better offset the brow ridge a bit forward, or the chin a bit back, etc.

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