The Uninformed Problem Of The Loomis Method of Drawing Heads

Editor’s Note: I posted about my Supplementary series trying to solve the problems and misconceptions of the Loomis method here

There has been an issue I had with the Loomis method of drawing heads when I first started practicing it years ago and how it is presented and admittedly it can be solved with proper practice of ellipses and perspective of the circle, enough guesswork to suit your own needs and reference to real life proportions. However, I still feel the need to address it. Starting out with the book’s method without properly learning perspective of the sphere at first can be detrimental to your efforts.

Modeling a Loomis Head in Rhino - WikID, the Industrial Design Engineering  wiki
The Loomis method

The Loomis method is based on a average/ideal proportion system, the hair line to the brow line is the same as the brow line to the nose line and also the same as the nose line to the chin line. It starts out with the circle/sphere, brow line and center line, but without a proper knowledge of the sphere in perspective and how the cross counter lines work on a sphere it can be detrimental to just keep copying what the book shows/solely rely on the book.

But that’s not the only problem, another one is the Loomis method going, now cut a little bit from the sides, now this needs guesswork cause how much is actually a little bit, how much is too much, the method starts with very proper even mathematical proportions that is followed by a rough method of “just cut a little bit off the sides” This side plane represents the side of the head, which are flat and also turns accordingly to perspective which is where ellipses come into play. Just copying the planes in the book is not enough. You have to know and understand ellipses to some extent and also from real reference experience know how much to remove. Remove too little and have you a huge misshapen head, remove too much and you get a impossibly narrow for realism standards one.

Why bring this up? It is vital and bears reminding that just throwing the Loomis method or any other step-by-step method to drawing anything at beginners has a detriment of them sticking to it as the only way to draw something, not focusing on real core fundamental skills like perspective and proportions. They will copy the planes faithfully but cannot replicate it properly by themselves, there’s no active reflective practice with reference to real life.

Every construction method should be a crutch to be semi-discarded upon internalizing it with enough drawing and practice to apply to your own purpose in drawing regardless.

Do you have any problems with conventional drawing practice methods regularly suggested by drawing instructors/the internet? What information do you find is lacking from a lot of tutorials?

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Stay safe~!
JR

5 Comments

  1. Hi there, I’ve gone through a cycle of trying and giving up and later trying again with loomis’ books and methods on doing the head and it’s always been a struggle for me for the exact reasons you mention! I always get frustrated at how he doesn’t specify how much or how far to go or how to know if you’ve done it right exactly. Also the starting diagrams he shows can be too complex. Since you bring up the problems with this method, do you know of any alternatives/ways to counteract these problems other than learning the perspective of a sphere since i can hardly find information on it, sorry for the long reply.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, Kimia!

      Thank you for your comment and don’t be sorry for the long reply because I’m going to have to give a much longer one in return, ahahaha, I understand fully what frustrating cycle you are going through, as I myself started with the Loomis method and have wrestled with it for years, leaving it and coming back to it on and off and still feel the same way about it.

      He starts with very precise measurements like hairline to brow, brow to nose, nose to chin then goes really imprecise with “a little off” the sides of the sphere which can be very frustrating to handle.

      I want to make a “Supplementary” series that address Loomis’ short comings with drawn examples but since that won’t be out for awhile let me just try to address your problems in writing as much as I can. Please bear with me as I try to put it in writing without picture examples.

      Lets think about WHY Loomis cuts off the sides of the sphere, the sphere represents most of the cranium without the bottom jaw attached, and the cranium/skill is a bit flat on the sides, so Loomis goes ok to match that lets shave a bit off the sides.

      The thing is if I shrunk the sphere and I have tried this on a front-view anatomical skull, the sphere will also fit the cranium WITHOUT having to cut a bit off the sides. If I enlarge it then I have to cut off the sides. Loomis doesn’t cut off the sides in “Fun With A Pencil” which is more cartoony and may be a better reading start but if you are adverse to cartoony style/that’s not what you want to achieve, you might not care for it.

      You can give it a read and see what you think. He starts off very simply in that book compared to “Drawing The Heads and Hands” starting diagrams. He also destroys a lot of his set measurements for caricature purposes in that book (he even says to vary the hairline-bow-nose-chin lines for different facial types in Drawing The Heads and Hands).

      So in the end, his method can be seen as a “soft not set in stone, depends on what you want to draw” method rather than a “by-the-books follow mathematical measurements” method to follow, that’s how I am understanding it.

      So, my point is why cut it off at all if it doesn’t seem that important anymore, if I say that the sphere can fit the skull without having the sides cut, maybe you can even try that, get rid of that cutting and just try it without and see.

      But lets say that we still do it because its to find the position of the ear more properly or to determine the side planes/where the side starts and where it ends to better turn the form of the head. Lets say we still want/have to cut a bit off the sides, how do we handle that.

      There are several ways to handle it, they can be combined:

      1) To follow the not-set-in-stone method and just cut however much you wish, honestly, just cut like a little bit if you want someone with a wide face, cut more if you want to start the jaw line from there for a slimmer face, try a “its right because I think it looks right to me” approach. I want to draw a big headed small features guy, cut very little.

      Want a handsome slim pretty face, cut a bit more, see how it goes. Experiment. Then you know ok I want to draw a handsome guy I cut this much off roughly. Just roughly. No need to get too into whether its truly right or not. Everyone’s skull is different, the skull you see when you google is a generic likely Caucasian skull as a benchmark so it differs from person to person.

      2) Learn the perspective of the circle not the sphere but the circle, Loomis goes into quite mathematical detail about the perspective of the circle in his book Successful Drawing if you want to try a resource from the same source, for a sphere he might have talked about it or shown it too, if there’s hardly any information out there (I haven’t checked properly, if there really isn’t any can find/draw one as part of the Supplementary series) from the top of my head, another book “Perspective Made Easy” might have it.

      Now, this is my thinking here, other artists have broke it down the same way before, the head can be seen from a horizontal axis/angle of 360 degrees, so basically you walk one round around someone you see a 360 view of their head, you don’t have to/shouldn’t memorize and draw all 360 degrees of view, you just have to remember some sets like front view (0 degrees), side view (90 degrees), half view (45 degrees) (three-quarter view 67.5 degrees), same with looking down from the top or looking up from below.

      You remember how the side plane circle looks like in those set views like side view is a full circle, then as the head turns the circle turns smaller and smaller until its a flat line in the front view where you sliced off the sides, you don’t have to account for every minute change in perspective, you just have to remember as the head turns from the front to the side, the straight line becomes an ellipse and slowly becomes bigger till its a full circle in the side view.

      I hope what I wrote made sense, I think with drawn examples a lot less words can be used, and I can go more in-depth with it in a proper blog post, I definitely don’t think I covered everything but please do let me know if you have further questions and I will try to address them as best as I can.

      Good luck!
      JR

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