Throughout these lessons I have touched upon how age changes things in the body and particularly in the face. Here we will look at the full progression of the body and face from birth to very old age.
A Few Preliminary Words
Let's get this clear: Everyone ages differently. The diagrams below are not meant to be invariably true to the letter, but to help you draw people that look their intended age. I know for myself that while I was learning to draw, I ended up with many children who looked eerily world-weary, or adults stuck in their twenties, before I identified the visual clues of age that I was misusing. They are collected here to save you much trial and error, but you will not need to use them all – as a matter of fact, unless your style is very realistic, you might want to use the fewest possible, just what is enough to make a character's age clear.
About the Stages of Life
The stages used here (Newborn, Baby, Child...) are a compromise between the “official” division (which for instance groups 13- and 20-year-olds together under “adolescent”) and the way I feel they can be classified visually. Up to adolescence, children change very quickly, but I can’t do a diagram for each passing year so I condensed them into as few stages as possible. Naturally, a 5-year-old doesn’t look the same as a 10-year-old, so these portraits are snapshots of a continuous transformation.
Factors That Influence Aging
As I said above, we all age differently. The childhood stages are somewhat uniform, but once we reach adulthood, the changes to our appearance, whether in the face or the figure, depend on many factors: genetics, ethnicity, living conditions, work/life habits, health, exposure to sunlight and wind, exercise or lack thereof, usage of cosmetics or surgery, and so on.
People in poor countries have a shorter life expectancy and no access to health care, let alone beauty products, so they may look very old by the time they’re middle-aged, while in developed countries, some people can look barely forty well into their sixties. In those same developed countries, in centuries past, middle age was old age and brought with it blackened or fallen teeth, a failing body and stained skin.
Exposure to the elements will line even a young face: in Viêt Nam I met a woman who worked outdoors in a very windy place, and the many fine lines on her face made me think she was in her forties, but she turned out to be just 20. Inversely, the Japanese famously keep their smooth skin for years and years, and I was shocked to meet a “teenager” who turned out to be a mature, married woman. Traumatizing events can also accelerate aging, visible particularly in worry lines.
With all this in mind, it is best to look at the stages below not as fixed values but as steps that are relative to each other. The exact age is less important than the differences between a stage and another.
Sexual Dimorphism (or Not)
You’ll notice I only provide separate male and female diagrams for some age categories. This is simply because up until puberty, boys and girls are not very differentiated. They are recognizable mostly through socially created factors such as haircut and clothing. You can't easily tell a young child's gender just from their face. Adolescence marks the beginning of serious differences in face and body, and that’s when the separate diagrams begin. Then, after menopause, women start losing their differentiating factors again. As they get older, men and women become once more increasingly similar in the face, save for the fact women’s hair never recedes quite as much, and women very rarely go bald.
Stages of Life
Newborn (0-1 month)
Newborns can only lie on their belly, retaining the foetal position with limbs folded against their body. Therefore body length = 2.5 heads (legs not counted). Note how short the legs are – remember that in adults, in this position, the knee reaches the shoulder.
The first week, the head is elongated. This is called molding and it is due to the passage through the birth canal, which makes the bones of the skull overlap. C-sections don’t result in molding.
- Many newborns have a full head of fine, dark hair, but they can also be quite bald.
- The ear is flat against the head.
- No neck or chin.
- The nostrils are very evident in a tiny button nose.
- The line under the eyes is clearly defined.
- The eye slits, as well as the line of the mouth, look very wide.
- The upper eyelid fold may not exist yet. At this stage, the eyes are only opened for brief spells and tend to squint.
- There is the merest hint of eyebrows, very high on the face.
The eyes of newborns only take their final hue between 6 months and 1 year. The skin also has a "birth coloration" that soon changes. Roughly speaking, for different types, these birth colors are:
- Caucasian types: Dark blue-grey eyes, pink to reddish skin (strong vascularity)
- African types: Dark grey-brown eyes, reddish-black skin
- Asian types: Dark grey-brown eyes, tea rose skin
Baby (1 month - 1 year)
Although babies develop at an individual pace, here's a general guideline:
- At 2 months, a baby can lift its head halfway;
- At 3 it can hold an object;
- At 4 it can lift its head and chest when lying down;
- At 6 it can hold its head steady and sit with help;
- At 7 it can sit and stand unsupported, and tries to put its foot in its mouth;
- At 11 it can stand up alone;
- Around 1 year it starts walking unsupported.
Around 3 months old, the body length is closer to 3 heads (legs still not counted). Although the proportions have barely changed, the body and limbs are noticeably chubbier.
Around 10 months, we start thinking in terms of height, as the baby starts standing on its legs. Height = 4-5 heads. The features are less crumpled than a newborn’s, appearing very open to drink in the world.
- The little hair present is very fine, and can be light then get darker as baby grows.
- The ear starts sticking out.
- A baby’s eyeballs are near their adult size, but the eye slits are not, so the iris appears much larger than an adult’s.
- The lips become more visible, drawing a tiny mouth.
- The eyes are wider apart than an adult’s.
- The eyebrow ridge is hardly present, there's only a very gentle curve.
- There's no cheekbone to speak of either, but a round cheek.
Toddler (1 - 4 years)
The body begins to slim down a bit, losing the rounded tummy, but retains an endearing clumsiness. At age 4, a child’s height is at least double its birth length. Height= 5 heads
- We can see the beginning of a neck
- The legs are short relatively to the body.
- The hair is thicker, darker, and now hides the head.
- The eyebrows are now about half as dark as they will be in adulthood (so they’ll still be very light in fair children).
- The cheeks are full and often pink.
- The mouth is small and puckered, looking pouty.
- Double chin
- Toddlers still have their baby fat, especially in the face.
Child (5 - 11 years)
In normally-fed children, all baby fat is gone, but the muscles are still infantile, so the body looks skinny. Body proportions change from 5.5 heads in early childhood, to 6 heads between 7 and 9, bearing in mind that the speed of growth is unequal – some children look younger than their age and some grow so fast they look like teenagers. This balances itself out before adulthood, with a growth spurt for the former and a slowing down for the latter. Note also that in children, the face occupies a smaller area of the head than in adults.
- The neck grows out of an almost horizontal shoulder line (instead of the trapezius of adults – see Basic Body Proportions) because these muscles are not developed.
- The eyebrows still appear high.
- The ears grow before other features so they looks large for a while.
- Thin neck
- The chin becomes defined, but not yet strong.
- The nose looks short because it’s still upturned.
- The nose bridge gains dimension.
- The face contours start to appear, but are still soft.
Adolescent (12 - 17 years)
Females actually begin puberty between 8-13 years of age, with males starting between 9.5 and 14 years. Height= 6.5 to 7 heads (males are taller).
- In males, shoulders broaden.
- Hair appears on the body, legs, arms and face.
- The feet, arms, legs and hands may grow faster than the rest of the body, leading to the gangly look and feeling of clumsiness.
- In females, the development of the breasts is the first sign of puberty, but they don’t reach their full size until adulthood. First the breasts form small mounds, then the areola gets larger. The breast keeps growing from there.
- The waist gets smaller and the hips get wider.
- Fat may increase in the buttocks, legs and stomach.
- The eyebrows are full and lower on the eyes, attenuating the wide-eyed look of childhood.
- The most noticeable difference with adult faces at this point is the size of the eyes, which are still large.
- The bone structure is in place but still softened by a full face.
- As the nose take its adult shape, it looks longer.
- In males, the neck is thicker, the Adam’s apple appears.
- In females, the neck remains slender, with NO Adam’s apple.
- Eyelashes can be left out to convey adolescence, as their presence in a drawing tends to make a female look older.
Young Adult (18 years - 30's)
Adulthood is when growth stops: this is the tallest one gets in one’s life. The body achieves maturity, with fully developed muscles, and in women’s case full breasts. Height= 7.5 heads (Note that we use 8 heads when learning to draw people, as explained in Basic Body Proportions). The full details of adult female and male bodies are described in Advanced Body Proportions, but note the most obvious differences between them at this point:
Grey hair can start appearing in one's thirties or even late twenties, though most people (especially women) will remove or dye them. Female eyebrows at this stage are often styled (at least, in parts of the world where that is done) so they look neatly drawn, while male eyebrows retain a natural look than is rarely as crisp.
- The eyelids become more visible, toning down the gaze and conveying maturity.
- The eyes look slightly smaller.
- The line of the nose is chiseled.
- The face contours now show more bone and muscle structure than soft flesh.
- The ear size stabilizes at the measure that is roughly the distance from the top of the eyes to the tip of the nose.
- Males have a strong squared jaw.
- Dark-haired men often have a shadow around the jaw even when they’re shaved. At this age, facial hair would be at their strongest if grown.
- Female lips at their most fleshy (and frequently look much redder or contrasted, due to the use of cosmetics).
- The eyelashes are now emphasized.
Middle Age (40's and 50's)
The body doesn’t change all that much, but muscle density decreases, and female breasts start losing firmness. Elbows and knee caps show wrinkles. The tendency to accumulate fat increases. Men and women store it in different places, indicated in blue:
The changes in the face are mostly in the lines, no longer in the structure:
- The eyelids become heavier.
- Crow’s feet begin to appear.
- A downward fold shows up at the corners of the mouth, giving a bit of a wry expression. It is now safe to draw more expression lines that would have made the face look too old otherwise.
- Lines may also appear at the root of the nose.
- In males, the hairline is likely to start receding.
- The hair shows more sign of aging, the “salt and pepper” look.
Menopause happens in a woman’s fifties. The drop in estrogen levels has many effects on the body, the most visible ones being:
- The bones lose density so the body starts getting shorter.
- The breasts dry up.
- Weight gain is redistributed to the abdominal area, so the waist starts disappearing.
Early Old Age (60's)
- The hair turns decidedly grey. It thins, and its growth is now limited, so women wear it shorter.
- Worry, frown and smile lines become permanent.
- The eyebrows may stay dark longer than the hair (if they were dark in the first place), but grow sparser.
- Pockets appear under the eyes.
- The skin loses elasticity and starts hanging at the jaws, resulting in a less firm jawline.
- The male hairline recedes to a varying, but noticeable degree.
- Female eyelashes are no longer prominent.
- The lips get thinner. The face in general starts losing femininity.
Middle Old Age (70's)
People who keep exercising into old age keep a younger body longer, and may not slump or lose much muscle mass. Slumping makes the neck look shorter and the arms fall lower than usual. Male pectorals droop visibly.
In males, hairline recedes considerably or all hair is lost. Women’s hairline recedes little: this is the main difference between male and female faces at this stage.
- The skin becomes thinner, showing veins, blemishes and age spots.
- The hair is thin and wispy, almost transparent as all pigment is gone.
- The upper eyelid may droop to permanently cover the outer corner of the eye, giving it a triangular shape. This happens to populations of Western and Northern Europe and to people heavily exposed to the elements.
- The earlobe droops (mostly noticeable in people who wore earrings).
- The skin adheres to the bone, hollowing the cheeks.
- There is a jowl effect as the skin on the cheeks sags.
- The corners of the mouth run down.
- The folds join the chin to the neck pit.
- If there is any facial hair, it’s getting sparser and weaker.
- The lips lose color, with vertical lines running up and down from them.
- Loss of cartilage makes the nose tip droop.
- The eyes become watery and their iris less intense in color.
- Sparse or scraggy eyebrows.
Very Old Age (80's and up)
The appearance of carrying the burdens of the world that old people usually have is mostly due to the physical changes of their face – the “sad” eyes (shaped this way by the drooping eyelid in Caucasian types), permanent “worry” and frown” lines, corners of the mouth drooping... We read these as expression lines even though at that time of life, they are just always there. When drawing an elderly face, we need to be aware of the expressive power of these lines and balance or attenuate them according to the facial expression we wish to convey.
- More age spots.
- The eyes sink back, letting the orbits show through the skin.
- Crow’s feet can become really long and abundant.
- People who spent their lives exposed to the elements can have abundant lines on the cheeks as well.
- The jaw line is lost.
- Double chin.
- The mouth puckers in if lost teeth are not replaced by dental work (only affordable or available to a portion of the industrialized world)
- These lines deepen.
- Observe people on the street, on the bus, etc. On first impression, what age would you give them? Try then to deconstruct the visual clues, picked up unconsciously, that led to that impression.
- Consciously sketch age groups that you don't normally draw or that you have trouble portraying, both with and without reference.
- Play around with imagining your favourite comic book character (or your own character) at different stages of their life.
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