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How to Draw African American Hair – Tutorial

October 10, 2010

One of my readers, Dee, brought it to my attention that there are no good online tutorials on drawing African American hair. Hopefully, this post will help answer some questions!

The biggest difference between African American hair and hair of other ethnicities is the texture. It is often more coarse and can range from tight, corkscrew curls to a softer, almost fuzzy texture. It can also be straightened, in which case you would draw it like any other hair.

African American hair is also very dark. I would use a combination of 2B and 4B pencils, possibly even a 6B. Because of the coarser texture and darker colour, this type of hair doesn’t reflect light as much. This means that your highlights will be only slightly lighter than the rest of the hair. Let’s look at an example:

african american hair

Here we have an example of a very curly style of African American hair. Take a look at the values. Notice how the darkest value is nearly black, and the lightest value is still a very dark gray. When working with dark hair like this, you are working at the darker end of the value scale, even when drawing the highlights.


These are the values I pulled out of the above picture. The left-most gray is the highlight, the lightest part of the hair. The middle gray is the midtones and the black is the shadows. As you can see, there is no bright white highlight in this hair!


Using the above image as a reference, I’m going to show you how I would go about drawing curly, African American hair.

Here, I have used a 2H pencil to draw the outlines of the basic shapes I’m working with. For the purpose of this tutorial, I’m going to ignore the faces and focus on only hair.


Next, I use my 2B and create a layer of very tight, spirals. I’m avoiding the edges of the hair and where it falls on the forehead because I will add that in at the end. This creates a base layer that reflects the texture of the hair. Then I used a large tortillon in a spiral motion to blend out my pencil lines.


Take your 4B pencil and start to lay in the shadows. Use the spiral motion again, and pay close attention to the reference. This is where we can start to highlight some of the individual curls in the hair by defining the dark shadows around them. Remember that you don’t have to draw every little detail, just look for the patterns of light and dark created by the hair. Create darker shadows by layering more graphite, then blend it out using the large tortillon.


Next, I used my 6B pencil to create even darker shadows, again avoiding the lighter areas that are the curls. Then I used the tortillon to blend out the entire area of hair. This tones down the highlights a little, but that’s okay.


Now for the finishing touches. Create a fine point with your kneaded eraser and pick out a few highlights along each curl of hair. Use short, curved lines to mimic the direction of the hair. Then, using your 3B, add some details around the edges of the hair and onto the forehead. These fly-aways are what make the hair look realistic. I used more of a zig-zag line than a spiral pattern to re-create the look of the ends of each curl. You can also use the tortillon to soften these lines slightly.


Do you have a burning question or a great idea for a tutorial? Let me know!


From → Drawing, Tutorials

  1. Great tutorial on this! Thanks! I practiced this technique before finishing my pen drawing of Jimi Hendrix! Love your site!

  2. darla permalink

    Thank you sooo much for this. I have frequently scoured the internet looking for a tutorial as concise and clear and this. Most of the time when you search “drawing kinky” or “curly hair” all that pops up is anime or manga curls, or wavy hair. If you search drawing black hair all that seems to come up at first is black hair care. To be honest it makes me feel ignored as a person of color…and it makes me feel bad for girls who happen to be white but possess highly textured kinky/curly hair. Thanks for this tutorial, and for adding a bit more diversity to the world of art 🙂

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