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How to Draw a Portrait – Tutorial Part 1

October 25, 2009


As a follow-up on my post about tips for drawing realistic portraits, here is a tutorial that will take you through all the steps. Portrait drawing can be very overwhelming at first: figuring out where to start, what to do next, and how to integrate all the little details… You will need to develop a process that you’re comfortable with, one that works for you. This is an example of how I approach portrait drawing, meant to help you find your own way. I find it’s best to start with the most challenging part, the face, and then work on the other details. This tutorial will give you strategies for learning how to draw realistically.

My reference today comes from my good friend Jocelyn. Aside from being gorgeous herself, she also takes some gorgeous photos. Check out her Flickr if you have a chance.



Start with your grid. You’ll notice that I’ve done a finer grid just for the face. This is to give myself a few more points of reference when drawing the facial features. Every millimeter counts when you’re drawing the eyes, nose and mouth, and the finer the grid the easier it will be to get the right placement.



When you do your line drawing, remember to outline everything you can see: the facial features, the contours of the head and body, the highlights, the shadows and any other subtle variation in tone you can see. Having these lines to guide your shading will be a huge help! Use a hard pencil, like a 2H pencil, for this part and press very lightly; you don’t want these lines to show through  your drawing! When you’re done, erase the gridlines. As you can see, I don’t worry too much about erasing every little bit. As long as the lines are light, they will be obscured by your shading.



Now we start shading! At this point, I usually focus on the face and ignore everything else. Resist the urge to start with the eyes. Your shading can sometimes point out problems with the placement of the eyes, so first work on shading the rest of the face. Use a 2H again to shade the base skin tone. Shade everything but the brightest highlights. Don’t press any harder for the shadows, just spend more time going over that area to build up more layers of graphite.



Use your blending stick to smooth out your pencil strokes. If this is looking too dark to you, remember that the only areas we want to be as white as the paper are the highlights, which in this image are small areas on the cheeks, chin, nose and forehead. You can also see that I’ve blended some graphite into the area under the bangs. When I do the hair, we will be able to see skin showing through, not white paper.



Using your B now, go in and add another layer of darker shadows. Here I have shaded around the nose, the eyes, the mouth, the left forehead and the shadows down the right side of the face. You can also block in the shapes of the eyes at this point, but lightly in case you need to make any changes. When you blend, you want a smooth transition between the shadow and the midtone, but be careful that your shadows don’t grow in the blending.



At this point, you can start adding some detail to the eyes. First, double check that they are in the right position. You can do this by comparing your drawing with your reference. You can also do this by looking at your drawing in a mirror, or scanning your drawing into the computer and overlaying it with a transparent copy of your reference. Still using your B, add more dimention to the eyes by drawing the corners, the iris and the pupil. Also draw in the fold of the eyelid. Don’t forget to include a highlight and the tear ducts! Carefully blend your marks and blend into the whites, creating a shadow under the lash line.



Next, use a 2B to define the darkest shadows. They include the ones around the nose, eyes and mouth. I’ve also added some extra shading on the right by the eye and cheekbone, as well as under the chin. Be careful blending: this pencil is quite soft and it will be easy to blend. You don’t want your shadows to expand.



For the finishing touches, use your kneaded eraser to pull out some lighter areas and clean up your highlights. You may also need to go back in with your pencil to touch up certain areas. Pay close attention to your reference at this point because it’s often these little touches that make all the difference. I’ve adjusted the highlight on the end of the nose as well as added highlights around the lips.



So we’re done the face now. In part two we will continue with the hair and the body. To get notified when the second part is ready, you can sign up for an email subscription. This lets you keep up with Learn to… Art! by receiving updates in your email inbox!


From → Drawing, Tutorials

  1. Nice portrait tutorial. YOu did a good job on this. 🙂

    • Thanks Brian! I’m a big fan of your tutorials as well; your drawings are amazing!

  2. Itsheroic permalink

    I drew my idol with your help, omg, it looks like him. It’s so amazing. I’m going to draw forever. Thank you!

    ps. now the hair haha

  3. slashmastah permalink

    This is just what I was looking for! Thank you so much!!

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