Using Frank Reilly’s “Abstraction” Method to Draw Facial Expressions

Using Frank Reilly’s “Abstraction” Method to Draw Facial Expressions

Posted by

Hello everyone, this is a quick video tutorial, I got another question on the Frank Reilly’s method video in the portrait video series and I thought it will be a good subject for a video since I couldn’t find any available resource for it online. And the answer is yes of course, Reilly’s method works for any emotion since it follows the basic muscles and bones structure of the face. As long as it’s a human face, it doesn’t matter what emotion you do, you will still be able to draw it using the reilly’s method. You just need to adjust the rhythm lines to accommodate the emotion. I’m gona give 6 examples here, Happy, Angry, Sad, Surprised, Disgusted and confused . I’m gona draw each one with Reilly’s method adjusting the rhythm lines to fit the movement of the muscles with each emotion Before we start, here is a quick revision on Reilly’s method in the front view. If you want to check out the whole method in all views in details please check out the link in the description. We start with a circle, and then I divide equal thirds for the hair line, nose and the chin then divide the whole space in half for the eye line. The 2 cranium circles on both sides from the hair line to the nose line. I draw the visor for the eyes next between the brow line and the eye line. The glabella is in between with V shaped line. . The bridge of the nose and the bottom of the nose. . First rhythm circle between the hair line and the top of the nose bridge. We draw the ball of the nose 2nd circle between the top of the bride of the nose to the bottom of the nose Divide the area between the nose and the chin into 3 equal thirds. Chin circle on the last third. A rhythm circle from the top of the ball of the nose to the top of the chin circle Another rhythm circle between the top of the nose bridge to the bottom of the chin. 2 rhythm lines from the top of the ear helix touching the corner of the visor of the eyes and the rhythm circle of the nose to the corner of the mouth connecting together at the center of the mouth. Finally a rhythm line from the bottom edge of the ear helix toward the mouth corner and then merging with the larger rhythm circle. A triangle on top of the lower lip and another one on top of the upper lip under the nose. Brow ridge line and 2 rhythm lines touching the eye corner, nose circle and the corner of the mouths Also we draw the nose wings between the nose circle and the mouth circle intersecting with the top of the ear rhythm line. Now lets start changing the defult state into couple of facial expressions When you smile, the muscles around the eyes tighten up, the cheeks rise up, and the corners of your mouth rise up toward the ears. So lets adjust the framework of reilly’s rhythm lines to fit with these adjustments. We start the same way but now we narrow the eye visor a little bit. Lower the jaw to accommodate the open mouth. The mouth circle is now wider since the mouth corners are raised up and toward the ears. As you can see the mouth circle almost reach the bigger circle around it. The ear rhythm lines also adjust with the open mouth. Even before detailing it you can tell just by the framework that this face is laughing without any details yet. Same framework, just minor adjustments and you are good to go. Im drawing this framework from imagination but when im detailing Im looking at the photo reference you saw before I started. So any modifications you see in the detailing part is due to the specific properties of this person im drawing. In case of being angry with an open mouth as in screaming or shouting, you brows go in toward the center and then arch up. The eyes are narrower. The cheeks go up and toward the top of the nose bridge making wrinkles in area between the eyes. Also the upper lip roll inside the mouth which make it look very thin. Now to modify the framework. With the rest of the emotions, all you have to do is know what changes between the normal state and the emotion you want to draw first, then modify the framework accordingly. As you can see here, narrower eyes, lower eyebrows, open mouth and the nose is raised up due to the cheeks being pulled up which result in a wider area between the upper lip and the bottom of the nose. You need to be able to see the emotion before you start detailing as you can see here. After you are done with the framework, the detailing is the fun part of the process. A sad face will have a raised up inner edge of the brow and lowered down outer edge of the brow. Also the outer edge of an eye will go down diagonally a little bit and so will the corners of the mouth. In this expression, the eyes will be wide open that you will see the whole pupil as a circle in the middle of the eyeballs. The brows will be raised high up and the cheeks stretched down thus making the eyes wide open. Also the jaw will be lowered opening the mouth as well. Notice that the mouth circle here isn’t as wide as it was when smiling, that’s because the mouth corners aren’t being pulled toward the ears, they are still in the same place, its just a lowered jaw. Here we will see the cheeks, the brows and the eye corners all pushed toward the Glabella making the eyes narrower and the whole area wrinkly. Also the nose will be raised up with the cheek muscles resulting in raising the upper lip as well which will open the mouth a little bit. Finally in this emotion you will see half the face raised up while the other half is raised down resulting in a confused unsymmetrical look. Right brow’s corner is raised up, left is raised down. Right corner of the mouth raised up diagonally, the left is raised down the same way. The right cheek is raised toward the Glabella while the left is stretched down. Only the inner corners of the brow is pushed toward each other resulting in some wrinkles in between them. All you need to remember that Frank Reilly’s method is meant to be just a framework. You can modify it, change it, move it the way you want to fit your portrait’s character, properties emotions and so on. The same thing can be said for all the 10 methods I discussed in the portrait series by the way, same rules. Know your emotion, know your facial muscles and know what change between each state and adjust the framework accordingly. Hope this quick tutorial helped answering your question please keep the questions coming. If I see a question that I cant find an answer for on YouTube or online, I will do a video for it. I want this channel to talk about all the subjects that doesn’t have a clear explanation for on youtube. As I said before you will never see me do a video about how to draw an eye because its all over YouTube. This way I can keep this channel fresh and new and not just another copy of the hundreds of art channels out there . Not saying that are bad, I just hate being another copy. So please keep the questions coming, if I didn’t make a video I will make sure to answer it as a comment as soon as possible. Thank you for watching guys and see you in the next video.


  1. The subtitles are going to be up in a bit. Its not in the video anymore, click on the subtitles "CC" to put them up. Im writing them as we speak..

  2. This is awesome! Thanks for the tutorial and direct video answer to my question.
    I bet, when I've got practice with this method, mistakes like with the ear of Dean Ambrose in won't happen again so easily.

  3. There sure is a lot more lines to learn in Reilly's method. I don't think I will change my avatar any time soon 😉 but I will continue to practice both. The subtitles are a nice touch btw. Cheers

  4. Great vid. The voice over is great. Please consider adding voice to the other head vids. It helps incredibly. Thanks

  5. This was fantastic, Salem. Definitely helps me on my own drawings. Feel free to check out my channel to see them. 👍🏼. I use these Reilly abstractions to help me primarily to see the plane changes on the face for shading.

  6. Amazing video. Thanks! Saved me so much of study and time. Could you do a video on the planes of the face? Loomis book pg.33 shows it but not too clearly. I recently saw an artist named Edizkan but he only has 1 min videos on the planes which don't explain everything and don't show all the steps.

  7. This method was introduced to me by an artist I follow on Instagram, Edizkan, but I am so glad I found a teacher of the Reilly Method!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *