Drawing simple faces

Illustrator comes bundled with plenty of basic shapes: circles, squares, stars, etc. Anyone can ‘draw’ a cute star with the click of a button. So what? Well, with a little know-how and creativity you can easily use these simple shapes to create great illustrations.

In this tutorial, we’re going to create a very simple smiling face using Illustrator’s Ellipse Shape Tool (and a little point tweaking with the pen tool). This face is very very simple but hopefully you’ll get an idea of how to use shapes like circles to create more complex illustrations.

Base Shape

Let’s start with the base shape of the face. In your toolbar, click on the shape tool and hold until you get some different shape options: rectangle, rounded rectangle, ellipse, polygon, star and flare. Click on ‘Ellipse’ (the round icon) and draw an oval on your artboard:


face-32Shape Tool Tip: When you click on the shape tool and hold to bring up your Shape Tool options, you’ll notice a little extra tab on the right. If you move your mouse onto this tab and release theface-02 mouse button, it’ll open a separate mini-toolbar of your shape tools. This is called a ‘tearoff’ toolbar and gives you one-click access to all of your shape tools. Tearoffs work on several tools including the Pen and Pencil tools.

Now we’ll give the oval more of a facial shape, which is wider at the cheekbones and narrower around the chin. Click on the Direct Selection Arrow (the white arrow), click and drag across the 2 central points. With these 2 points selected use the direction arrows on your keyboard to move them up a little:


Adding Eyes

Let’s draw some eyes. On a new layer, draw another oval, this one horizontal:


With this new oval selected, hit ‘P’ on your keyboard to bring up your Pen Tool (you can also click on the Pen Tool icon in your toolbar). Hover the cursor over the left hand point of your oval while holding down the ‘Option’ key. You’ll notice the cursor changes into a small ‘V’ shape: this is our anchor point conversion tool, meaning this tool will change a curved point into a corner point. Click on the point and this is what you get:


Repeat this with the point on the other side:


To make this shape closer to an actual eye, bring up your Direct Selection arrow again and select the 2 middle points by clicking and dragging across them. Using your keyboard’s direction arrows move these points to the right:


We’re also going to select the bottom point and move it up slightly:


And last but not least, let’s rotate the shape a little, since eyes on a face generally angle upwards towards the outside of the face. With the shape selected, type a number (in this case we used 5) into the rotate field of the Transform Palette:


Adding Eyelashes

Let’s add eyelashes. Bring up your Pen Tool again (‘P’ on your keyboard) and draw a point at the left hand corner of the eye. Click again a little to the right of the right hand corner of the eye, but keep holding down your mouse tool and slowly drag away from the point. This will add a handlebar to your point, giving you a nice simple curve to play with:


When your curve is where you want it, release the mouse button and click back on the point you have just created. It might seem weird to click on a point you’ve already drawn but we have very good reason to do this! Note how the handlebar on the other side of our curve has disappeared.


If we didn’t remove this handlebar, our next point will be forced into curve, which looks really wonky:


This isn’t what we want! We want the edge of the eyelash to end in a nice sharp point. Now, we could always go in with our Direct Select arrow, select the curved point, and hold down ‘option’ while we click and drag the offending handlebar back into the point to remove it. But why create the extra work? Simply by clicking on that point a second time as we were drawing, we’ve deleted the extra handlebar. This is how our next point will look now:


To close our eyelash shape, hover your pen cursor over your first point. You’ll see a little ‘O’ shape appear next to the cursor: This means you’re about to close the shape! Click and hold down your mouse to bring up your curved handlebars again, and match the curve to the top eyelash path:


Drawing Tip: It’s important to note here that we are deliberately using as few points as possible in drawing. The less points you have, the easier it is to control your curves. If we drew this eyelash with a whole bunch of curved points we’d have a really tough time changing the angle of the curve because each and every point would need adjusting.

Adding an Iris and a Pupil

To add pupils and an iris, bring up your Ellipse Shape Tool and while holding down ‘Shift’ on your keyboard draw a circle. Holding down ‘Shift’ will make your ellipse into a perfectly round circle:


With this circle selected, copy and paste it in front of itself (Command-C Command-F on Mac, or Control-C Control-F on a PC). Holding down Option and Shift on your keyboard, resize the new circle with your Select arrow (black arrow) so it’s smaller than the first:


Holding down ‘Option’ while resizing objects will ensure the shape is sizing from the center as opposed to the corner, which is handy! ‘Shift’ makes sure that the shape doesn’t warp vertically or horizontally.

We’re going to add a little highlight in our eye. Click on the center shape and hold down ‘Option’ while dragging to the side. This copies our shape. Holding down ‘Shift’, we’ll make our new circle a little smaller and we’ll move it to the side:


Group these shapes and put them on the same layer as the eye, then size them appropriately:


One last thing and we’re done our eye: We need to draw an eyelid to ‘hide’ the top of the iris and pupil. Take the eye’s base shape and copy-paste it in front of itself (Command-C Command-F on Mac, or Control-C Control-F on a PC). Using your direct selection arrow, click on the bottom point and hit ‘delete’ on your keyboard. In the example below we’ve colored this stroke red so you can see it more clearly:


Bring up your pen tool and over over one of the outer points (look for a little ‘-‘ sign to appear next to your pen cursor). Click on that point, then click on the other open point while clicking and dragging your mouse to create a curve. Fiddle with the curve until it will be hidden by our eyelash:


Time to color our shapes! The eyelash and eyelid shapes can be grouped together in front of everything else, and we’ll add a black stroke to the white of the eye so that you can see the edge. We’ve also made the eyelid’s shape a bit bigger and thickened the eyelash slightly:


Creating a Second Eye

Group everything then copy and paste it in front of itself. Move it to the left and in your Transform palette select ‘Flip Horizontal’ from the drop down menu:


Looks good, right? Not really! This is one of the most common mistakes I see new illustrators make. Take a good look at the eyes above: The highlight of the left eye is now on the wrong side because we flipped the eye horizontally. Always remember, highlights in an illustration should come from the same angle to create visual consistency.

Select the left eye’s highlight with your direct selection arrow (make sure you click in the middle of the shape and not on one of the points around the edge, otherwise you’ll just be editing a point and not moving the whole shape). Use the direction arrows on your keyboard to move it over so it matches the right eye:


Place your eyes about half way down our face’s base shape (which we’ve colored). Group your eyes together and then select everything and hit ‘Align: Center’ in your Pathfinder palette so that the eyes are centered on the face:


Drawing Tip: Another common beginner’s mistake when drawing faces is to place eyes too high on a face. I have no idea why this is but it’s very common! But if you look in a mirror, you’ll notice your eyes are roughly halfway down your head, and align with the tops of your ears. Another common newbie mistake is to place the ears higher than the eyes, but in real life, they should be horizontally leveled and in alignment with each other.

Adding a Mouth

Now let’s draw a mouth. Using the Ellipse tool, draw another horizontal oval. Select your Pen tool and hold down the Option key (Which changes your cursor to a ‘V’) while clicking on the left and right points (just like we did when we started drawing the eyes):


Copy and paste this shape in front of itself. Using your ‘select’ arrow (the black arrow), hover over the bounding box at the top: you’ll see your arrow turns into a little up-and-down arrow. Holding down the option key, click and drag your bounding box down to create something like this:


This will need some tweaking to make it more mouth-like of course, but we’re off to a good start!

Using your Direct Selection arrow (white arrow), click and drag over the points on the left, then hold down ‘Shift’ and click and drag on the points on the left. What you’re doing is selecting everything except the points in the middle, which should be left with a white fill (your selected points will have a blue fill like this:)


Using the directional arrows on your keyboard move those corner points up a bit. Now it’s looking more like a smile đŸ˜‰

Tweak time. We’ll soften the curve on the lower lip, narrow the upper lip and shrink the ‘teeth’ slightly so that they don’t butt right up against the edge of the lips. Here is what we end up with after adding color:


Group these shapes and use Pathfinder’s ‘Align Center’ to align them with your face and eyes. We’ve also draw a quick little oval for a nose:


So there you have it: A very simple, very quick way to create a basic face using the Ellipse tool and some simple point editing. From here you can add hairstyles, accessories, makeup, eyebrows, ears, whatever you like. Happy drawing!


© 2009 Jennifer Borton


27 thoughts on “Drawing simple faces

  1. travuis says:

    wow really cute design đŸ˜‰

  2. I enjoyed the guide for showing incredibly easiest ways to draw with vector than the ones I was using. As you speak substantially about the proportions of the face I would like to point out that it is also important to put the distance of one eye between the two eyes.

  3. Giselle says:

    By far, this is one of the best tutorials I have read. Thanks so much!!! I just tried it and it works like a charm!!!

  4. Kristin says:

    Thank you! This is so cool!

  5. Awesome tutorial! One thing I can’t figure out though, how’d you get the black stroke to align so perfectly with the eyelash, and how did you delete it off the top? I used hte path eraser tool, but the ends are just messy!!

    • bortonia says:

      Hey Avanika! It’s really easy. If you want things to line up absolutely perfectly: When drawing the black eyelash shape over the eye, I’d try to place the points as closely to the corner of the eye as possible.

      Then, using the Direct Select tool (white arrow), click and drag over both the corner of the eye point and the corner of the eyelash. Once both points are selected (they’ll have a blue fill while all other points will be white), just use the ‘Horizontal’ and ‘Vertical’ Align Center buttons in your ‘Align’ palette. This will put both points directly over each other.

      For the stroke around the eye, I set the stroke to appear on the inside of my path. In CS4 you can set this under ‘Align Stroke’ in your Stroke palette. This will make the eye and eyelash line up dead on on the corners. Hope this helps!

  6. iMaia says:

    Im using Illustrator since my past life, but i feel like a dork now đŸ˜€ No matter time, im so happy to find this :)) Thanx a mil!!

  7. Anmar says:

    awsome ,really love the way used to explain. thanks for it.
    but one more thing, that was about the face only. so how about the rest of the body???

  8. Ashley Carter says:

    I LOVE THIS! The basics were great and I was able to add my own things like earrings and blush with a fade to make them more personable. thanks soo much!

  9. fere says:

    great!! I just did it and it was easy… I’m getting pretty excited with AI, yay…

  10. Melekshen says:

    Please answer to my question which program did you used to draw the picture

    • bortonia says:

      Adobe Illustrator CS4, but most vector programs work the same way. Things’ll just be named differently and the icons might not look like they are shown here đŸ™‚

  11. Saskia says:

    Terrific Tut.. This helped me so much. Thank you..

  12. […] silliness aside, Bortonia: All Things Vector has some great tutorials. Here’s one for making faces using simple shapes. Check it […]

  13. Kerleisha says:

    Eyes have always been so tricky for me! Thanks for the tutorial!

  14. Great tutorials, even though i know illustrator very well, you can always learn new things. Also it’s always good to go back to basics and brush up on those old skills. Plus simple and alot of the time be clearer and more appealing. Kepp up the good work.


  15. […] Sometimes a beginners (such as me) think that drawing a human face is difficult, but while I found this tutorial, I realize that what I think is totally wrong. This tutorial will guide you step by step how to drawing cartoon face from basic shape (circles, squares, stars, etc.). We’ll learn how to create a very simple smiling face using Illustrator’s Ellipse Shape Tool (and a little point tweaking with the pen tool). This face is very very simple but hopefully you’ll get an idea of how to use shapes like circles to create more complex illustrations. Its perfect tutorial for beginner. Read Complete Tutorial […]

  16. Derky says:

    hey i am a newbie and I’ve been trying my hand at making vectors…your tutorial is really awesome. It would be great if you could do like a part 2 and have the body…anyhoo this tutorial is neato && will def help me out =)

  17. poolegrafix says:

    Neat tutorial, Jen!

    Using the anchor point conversion tool to create corner points of smooth curves and deleting the second handle bar by clicking the end point the second time. Great time savers.

    Thanks so much!

  18. bortonia says:

    Hey Dan, the hair is made in much the same way as I created the shapes in the eye: Simple circles, circles with the edges converted to points, etc. The only parts where I drew from scratch were the highlights of the hair, and the curly hair: I drew these on-screen using the pencil tool on a tablet (which isn’t as precise as a mouse, but a lot faster!).

  19. Russell Tate says:

    That’s neat Jen!

  20. Dan says:

    Really great tutorial.

    Curious what your technique is for making the hair (vector newbie).

    Many thanks!

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