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How to Draw Hair – Tutorial

October 11, 2009


As I pointed out in my post about tips for drawing hair, drawing hair realistically can be very tricky. Don’t give in to the temptation to draw every single hair. The best way to approach drawing hair is to look at it as a solid object. You need to look for the shapes the hair makes and the patterns of light and dark. When drawing hair, it’s necessary to simplify quite a bit. Here is a tutorial to show you the steps I take when drawing realistic hair.

Here is my reference image, from the Wetcanvas image library. It has been gridded using Corel Draw, but you can also grid it by hand. I find it’s easier to see the different values if you put your reference into greyscale before drawing it; that way you aren’t distracted by colours.

how to draw hair, reference image

Now, using a 2H pencil or harder, use the grid to draw the shapes that you see. Try to ignore the individual hairs, instead look for the dominant light and dark shapes. Here I’ve drawn the highlighted shapes of the hair as well as the darkest shapes. Try squinting if you’re having trouble making out the lights and darks.


At this point, before you start shading, you can use a very hard pencil (6H) to draw in some of the individual hairs. Press firmly so that you indent the paper, and when you shade the lightness of the pencil will be preserved, leaving what looks like an individually highlighted hair. Then, use a 2B to shade all of your midtones. That’s everything that isn’t a highlight or a shadow. Make sure your pencil strokes to in the direction that the hair is growing in, but shade as if it were a solid object.


Now use your 2B pencil to shade in the shadows. Pay close attention to the subtle dimensions of the hair. Here I have shaded in the shadow areas that I identified in my line drawing stage, but I’ve also added some darker midtones in the rest of the drawing.


Next, use a blending stick or tortillon to blend your pencil together. Make sure you blend into the highlights; you don’t want a solid line where the highlight meets the midtones. Also blend out your shadows in the same way. Again, blend in the direction of the hair growth.


Now you can start thinking of the individual hairs. This shading serves as the base of your hair drawing. It describes the form of the hair and tells us that it’s an object of volume. Using a very sharp 2B pencil, start laying in some of your hairs. When you do this, draw in the direction of the hair growth. Use quick pencil strokes by flicking your wrist. Remember that every hair isn’t going to be parallel; some should go in a slightly different direction. Draw the hairs into the highlights, preserving some white just in the middle.


Now use your 2B pencil to do the same in the shadow areas. Make sure these strokes blend out into the rest of the drawing. Sharpen your pencil as often as you need to; you want a nice point!


At this point, you can repeat the steps as often as necessary. The key to hair is to build up depth and dimension. Blend out your pencil strokes, then go in with more. Once you feel like you’ve achieved the look you want, it’s time to clean up the highlights. Grab your kneaded eraser and form a thin edge. Use this edge pick up thin lines within your highlights. It works best if you use your eraser the same way you did your pencil: short strokes going in the direction of the hair growth. Remember to add a few thin highlights in the midtone area of the hair where the light might be hitting a single strand.


And now you know how to draw realistic hair! Don’t forget to check out some of my other tutorials!


From → Drawing, Tutorials

  1. This is an amazing tutorial. You have very successfully combined the visual with the words (words I keep thinking are a difficult one here). Your tips are fantastic and your art shows your skills beautifully!

    Thanks so much!

    • Wow, thanks Kim! I can’t tell you how valuable your comments and support are! I’m still waiting to get a few minutes to check out the video you posted on Rothko, I’m really looking forward to it!

  2. Carol B permalink

    So beautifully done you can almost feel the softness of the hair. Spectacular! Thanks for sharing.

  3. shazneen permalink

    can sum1 show how to draw and shade a potato

  4. the best article on drawing hair I’ve read….thanks to you I will conquer the drawing world and reign supreme!!! or maybe just draw better.

    • Haha, thanks Michael! Hope the tutorial helps, feel free to send me some pics if you want some feedback.

  5. Sandi permalink

    Hi there, i absolutely love this website. thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Amazing.
    Thank you so much for this.

  7. Kat permalink

    Hi Miranda

    Thank you for a wonderful tutorial, a friend of mine wants to start drawing and I have finally found a tutorial hotspot for him to go through to get the basics 🙂
    I also appreciate that you choose simple, straight forward subjects and have photos of each and every step, with very clear instructions. It helps so much in understanding where and how other artists use their techniques, but without all the mumbo jumbo – and skipping the very important steps: explaining even the most simple of concepts.
    I haven’t even tried your technique yet, but I feel the next time I do, I’ll be able to do it no problem!

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