How to Draw a Portrait

By | November 15, 2016

How to Draw a Portrait

How to Draw a Portrait in Pencil Step by Step

Getting Started and Creating the Head

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First and foremost, you should examine the photo, namely the general appearance of the head as it is rotated horizontally and vertically. To draw a portrait of a person in pencil correctly, we need to know some features of the skull. This can be consulted in any anatomical atlas. On the basis of the shape of the head of the person you’re portraying, you need by light lines picture on the paper a general outline of the hair, facial and lip line, nose and its height, eyes and eyebrows.

Work with Planes

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Now, when the overall lines are applied, we can move on to the planes of the face. We will indicate the height of the nose by the plane (if you wish, you can shade it to see the volume, so you can come with all spots which are in the shade), a plane of cheekbones, which is closest to us, lip and eye plane, connecting with the eyebrows. At this stage we do not draw the face by smooth lines, we try very easily to identify geometric features of a human face.

Face Details

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At this stage, we take the eraser and on the plane of the sheet remove the top layer of a pencil, that is making the lines, drawn before, almost invisible. This is the difference between drawing portraits from photos and academic portraits, in the second case, lines are made thick and will remain in the final form of a portrait, because of what it can get messy. It is not suitable for us. After we did the lines invisible wherever needed, start to draw all facial features, rounding them up and attach individual similarities with a photo. In order to achieve similarity you can measure the dimensions and relations to other dimensions of the face, thus selecting the optimal proportions. For example, how much the width of the nose fits in the width of the face, etc. You can measure anything you like, there are no limitations.

Start Hatching

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For hatching, you must wipe away all unnecessary lines in the drawing, because after the start of toning you will not be able to do it neatly. There are no uniform rules for hatching, each artist makes it so, as it is convenient. It may depend on how you are used to hold a pencil/pen, whether you are right-handed or left-handed, etc. We suggest that you start hatching with the darkest areas of a portrait. Because you can proceed from them later, not darkening too much the skin, clothing and eyes.


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Next, we must go to halftones, i.e. to give tone to the skin of the face, hair and clothes, if it’s not black, as the black clothes are worth to make an accent, (even if the clothing is white, it will necessarily have halftones, to identify relief and texture). At this point we must not wipe anything (unless you put the stain or smeared something). Start the intense hatching of halftones (if you’re right-handed), with the upper-left corner of the sheet, in order not to smear by the hand that you have already done, and therefore, if you are left-handed, you need to do some flips. At this point, a small elaborating of the background of the portrait is allowed.

Work with Highlights

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When you’re done with hatching, you should get nearly the finished portrait, but it will not look three-dimensional. Don’t get upset, one of the most enjoyable steps in drawing portraits in pencil, is the stage when you highlight the brightest spots on the face. This is most likely the tip of the nose, the whites of the eyes, upper cheekbones, brow bones, lower lip and in certain cases the chin. In the same way, you can draw the folds on the lips and small wrinkles that will make your portrait more alive. Hair need to be highlighted at the biggest fractures of forms, then they seem shiny and vibrant.

Darkening of Depths and Cleaning

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After highlighting, spots need to be darken where you want to show space, it can be: neck, hair edge, ears, creases on the hair, background. With the help of this darkening, we will feel that a man whom we draw, is not “glued” to the sheet, but is looking from there. This is a very important factor in creating a portrait in pencil.

Our portrait is ready. But you for sure will have some unnecessary strokes or spots from your fingertips remained, because they will be stained in pencil (by the way, to avoid messy portrait, we advise you to wash your hands several times and carefully wipe them), so you should take the eraser for the last time and wipe all that is visually unpleasant. Even in case of absolute similarity of the portrait with the photo, we always leave room for creativity, you are not required to redraw what you don’t want to paint on a portrait, you can create and invent new clothes, hair color, eyes, etc. The photo is not always successful in all parameters, so we adjust, correct and do what the photographer could not make, in the virtue of his work, namely, to create the perfect image.

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