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How to Draw Curly Hair – Tutorial

August 27, 2010

curly-hair-tutorial-4Hair on its own can be enough to send the beginning portrait artist into fits of anxiety.

Make it curly hair and the anxiety only increases!

Curly hair presents its own set of unique challenges, but at the end of the day, drawing it is no different from drawing straight hair.

The key to drawing realistic, curly hair is paying close attention to the interlocking shapes, building layers of texture with your pencil strokes, and simplify, simplify, simplify!

If this is your first time here, make sure you check out my tips for drawing hair and my tutorial for straight hair. I’ve also written about how to draw different hair colours.

This tutorial features a slightly different technique than my tutorial for straight hair. Instead of shading in the values, I am using only pencil strokes to create volume. Both techniques are good and valid and produce similar effects; it’s just a matter of preference!


Our reference image again comes from the Wetcanvas Image Library, which is a great place to go for royalty free images to practice your drawing skills.



First, we’re going to use an Hb or 2H pencil to draw our gridlines. Then we can start to map out the basic shapes created by the hair. To help you identify these shapes, it can be useful to squint at the reference. This is where it’s important to simplify. You can’t draw every single hair, instead focus on the “chunks” of hair and the major shadows and highlights. Follow the grid to help you get an accurate line drawing. Carefully erase the gridlines.



Next, using a B pencil,we will lay in the pencil strokes in the direction of the hair growth. The important part here is that you treat each chunk as separate. Use a wrist-flicking motion to create each pencil stroke, going from the darkest part of each chunk and pulling towards the highlight. Build up layers in the darkest areas, letting the pencil lines taper off. Pull a few strokes all the way through the highlight as well. It’s also essential to make sure that each pencil stroke curves in the direction of the curl.



Now we’ll use a 2B to darken the shadows and add another dimension to the hair. Again, pull some lines all the way through the highlight, but focus on building layers in the darkest areas. You want to make sure that your pencil is nice and sharp!



All we have left are a few finishing touches. Use a kneaded eraser to clean up the highlights. You can also use a 4B or 3B to make the shadows even darker. The last thing we need to do is add some fly-away hairs. No hair sits flat and perfect, so adding some fly-aways will make your drawing look that much more realistic.



Did you like this? Let me know what other tutorials you’d like to see!


From → Drawing, Tutorials

  1. Joanna permalink

    thanks a lot for this tutorial ,that really helped me.I have also another question ,do you always draw using a grid method or maybe thanks to practise you’re able to draw all with proportions and in the apropriate shape?
    i ask cause i have a problem ,when i draw people’s faces how to maintain proportions and harmony …
    also i dont know if to adjust grid on the photo of reference or only on the paper i am drawing the portrait?
    thanks in advance for your response:0

    • I’m glad this helped, Joanna. As for always gridding, that’s a very valid and common question! I’ve written about when not to use a grid as well as explained when and why I use them.

      I’ve also written about tips for using grids and done a gridding tutorial.

      If you’re using the grid method, you will definitely need to grid your reference image. It’s the lines of the grid that help you judge the placement of the facial features, both on the reference and your drawing. Another tip for drawing complicated images is to use a smaller or finer grid.

      Best of luck!

  2. Luisa permalink

    I loved that, really helpful, thank you so much!

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