How to draw portraits
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How to draw portraits and faces

Learning to draw portraits and faces is often difficult for most artists. Mistakes made are not very forgiving. An eye, lip, or ear drawn out of proportion will jump off the page at its viewer. Approach your portrait drawing by focusing on the shapes that make up the face instead of drawing the face as you think you see it. For a better explanation on this topic you can read my article learning to see before beginning. Contact me with your questions or comments anytime.

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original portrait completed portrait drawing


 Portrait drawing tutorial


Materials used:
Pencils - H, F, B, 2B, 3B, 5B
Paper - Strathmore 100lb. sketch paper
Erases and sharpeners
Rulers - 15" ruler

how to draw faces

(FIG. 1) - Start with an H or F pencil to begin your drawing. Be careful not to press to hard or you'll create indents and creases in your paper. Our focus is to draw the major details of the portrait with an emphasis on setting the proportion correctly. Don't worry about the smaller details such as wrinkles, pupils, teeth etc. at this stage. Focus only on the major details lining up properly. This stage took me approximately 10 hours.

how to draw portraits

(FIG. 2) - Once you're confident everything is in proportion pick a starting point to begin your shading. Be careful not to jump around the drawing only doing little bits of everything here and there. It's easier to keep things in proportion by working from one point and moving in a logical order to another. I chose the jacket as my starting point to get warmed up before tackling the face.

portrait drawing

(FIG. 3) - As you can see from (Fig. 2) I started on the left of the jacket and worked towards the right. This is what I mean by working in a logical order. I didn't jump from the jacket to the forehead and back again. By jumping around in this manner you may waste time and effort drawing something (ie: the forehead) that might have to be erased and repositioned again. You can see as well by the crude shading in the jacket that I'm not worried about perfection at this point. Once I get the first layer of shading on I begin to add a second darker layer.

drawing lesson

(FIG. 4) - This is a view after adding a second layer of shading. I've made sure the shading remains a couple shades lighter than it should be. By doing this I'm allowing myself room for mistakes by not going to dark. Eventually I'll add two more layers of shading before it's complete. I'm confident with what I've done to this point and begin to move onto the face. To get to this point in the drawing I've worked for almost 20 hours.

IMPORTANT NOTE: At the end of this step I've sprayed a light layer of fixative on my drawing so I don't spread the darkened areas around with the palm of my hand. Be sure you've erased around all the areas you've not yet completed so it's not stuck that way.)

drawing a portrait

drawing tutorial

(FIG. 5 & 6)
- For beginners I might suggest starting at the chin and working your way up. Again, to ensure you keep everything in proportion. However, I know that I've done a good enough job with the major details that I begin at the eyes. (Fig. 6) is a close-up of (Fig. 5) showing you how crude the beginning details are. Keep in mind that drawing realistically is literally about reproducing the lines and shapes that make up the face, and not actually about drawing the face as you think you see it.

portrait tutorial

(FIG. 7) - I continue on from the eye and move in a downward angle with my drawing. I've lightly added the first layer of shading to the face. However, I've ensured that I went very light with my shading knowing that there are mistakes to be corrected when it comes time to add further layers. I'm shading with an F and a B pencil at this point.

learn to draw a portrait

(FIG. 8) - I've now begun to fill in the dark spots that I feel won't need much fixing later on. When compared to (Fig. 7) you can see the eye is darker, the spot around the mouth and inside the mouth as well. This is a big step to begin filling in areas with a darker pencil. It let's you know your into the meat and potatoes of your drawing and there is no turning back! In this case I used a 2B.

how to draw a face

(FIG. 9) - Here's how it looks overall. I'm still focusing my attention in the middle of the face and leaving the forehead and hair line till the end. All major lines and smaller details are drawn and have at least one layer of shading on them.


drawing a face tutorial

(FIG. 10) - I'm satisfied with the face, although not yet complete, to begin turning my attention to the forehead and hairline. The first attempt at drawing the creases in the forehead is not to get it right the first time. It's simply to 'plot' the points in the approximate area where they should be.

how to draw portraits

(FIG. 11) - On the second go around with the details, I can begin to fix the mistakes of the first go around the tighten up my drawing.

how to draw faces

(FIG. 12) - This is now the third layer of details on the forehead and I'm confident everything is set where it should be. I can begin to add the final layers of shading with a darker pencil.

drawing tutorial

(FIG. 13) - The final details on the forehead and hairline are added.

drawing lessons

(FIG. 14) - The final touches are added to the drawing. This is where I pull out the blacks as dark as they need to be with my 3B or 5B pencil and ensure I've taken care of as many wrinkles and shading as possible.

how to draw a face

how to draw a portrait

(FIG. 15 and Original photo comparions) - Complete!


Nova Scotia artist Robb Scott
2221 Lilyvale Road
Greenfield, NS
B6L 3T9
All images copyright 2001-2009 Robb Scott ©

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