Category: How to draw people

How to Draw a Portrait

Step by step tutorial

How to Draw a Portrait

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If you have practiced how to draw a head and feel confident in it, you can tackle a portrait next. Portraits are one of the more difficult subjects to draw, but anything can be learned.

Find a Reference for your Portrait

For a portrait drawing that is as realistic as possible, we should definitely use a reference. This can be a photo or a person.

A photo is an easy reference because, as our drawing, it is two-dimensional, making the translation from photo to drawing not too difficult. In addition, a photo also doesn’t move or get impatient if we take too long.

However, if you are lucky enough to find a living reference (i.e. a person) with a lot of patience, you should not miss this opportunity! While it is a much more difficult endeavor, you can also learn a lot more in the process.

From Reference to Sketch

First, we translate our reference into a sketch. For this, we should take a lot of time and check again and again whether we have drawn the proportions of the face and head correctly.

When drawing the proportions, it is allowed to work with many helping lines, but we should draw them with a hard pencil (e.g. an H4 or H2). This is because the helping lines of our sketch will disappear under the later drawing with this pencil hardness.

If we hit the distances and sizes of individual elements precisely, the portrait drawing will look exactly like the original. Discrepancies, on the other hand, will result in the finished drawing only resembling the original.

In addition, we should not overlook special characteristics. The position of the teeth, the lines of the lips, wrinkles, freckles, or birthmarks are just a few examples of details that need a lot of attention in the sketch.

How to draw a portrait: sketch

Beginners should not put too much pressure on themselves. The goal at the beginning should be to draw a person realistically.

From Sketch to Portrait Drawing

The next steps are recommendations and do not have to be executed in the same order. Some artists start with the eyes, others with the hair. The more you draw, the better you will understand what works best for you.

Draw the Skin

Skin is particularly exciting because we create a sculptural illusion through it. First and foremost, this involves drawing shadows and leaving blank spots for light reflections, no matter what skin tone or skin type we want to depict.

It is best to start with a hard pencil with which we draw all the shadows. Only when we are satisfied with the result can we gradually enhance the shadows with softer pencils. In order to be able to make timely corrections, it is important to check each step in between before continuing.

By the way, while we are drawing and modeling the skin, we can also say goodbye to the helping lines that we no longer need. Most of them should disappear by themselves under the hatching, others we can carefully remove with an eraser.

How to draw a portrait: Draw Skin

Draw the Eyes

Eyes really bring a portrait to life. At least that's how it appears to many, which certainly has something to do with the fact that we humans usually look other people in the eyes first - even in drawings.

When drawing the eyes, you usually need a wide range of different pencil hardnesses to do justice to details such as wrinkles, eyelashes, eye shadows, etc.

Because of the strong contrasts of the soft pencils, it is not uncommon to start drawing shadows darker elsewhere on the face to bring balance back into our portrait. This shows that there really is no set order when drawing a portrait.

Learn how to draw eyes
How to draw a portrait: Draw Eyes

Draw the Nose

When we drew the skin, we probably also drew most of the nose. In the case of the example drawing, the bridge of the nose is too wide and needs to be improved.

We can already strongly influence the shape of the nose with very fine shadows. This may sound good at first, but every wrong stroke has big consequences.

If you want to play it safe, you can even use an H4 and patiently work your way through barely perceptible shadows.

Learn how to draw a nose

How to draw a portrait: Draw a Nose

Draw the Mouth

Depending on the emotion of our portrait, we may encounter different challenges when drawing the mouth. If it is resting, we need to draw many fine lines to the lips. If it is smiling, we need to draw teeth.

Similar to the eyeball, teeth are white but still require very fine shading to look realistic. Here we should go by less is more. Otherwise, our portrait could look as if it urgently needs prophylaxis. The hardest pencil in our possession is the best choice here.

In order to make the lips look realistic, we should try not to draw a lip outline, but softly hatch it while drawing the rest of the lip. This way the lip contour will remain soft and realistic.

Learn how to draw a mouth

Portrait zeichnen lernen: Lächeln zeichnen

Draw the Hair

Depending on the hairstyle, we can draw the hair either at the end of our portrait or at an earlier stage. In the example drawing, we have a very dark bob with bangs. So, since the hair partially covers the face, in this case, it is worth waiting until the end. Hairstyles where the hair is out of the face, on the other hand, can be drawn at the beginning.

Once we're done with the hair, it's worth taking a final look at the portrait drawing and possibly touching up some shadows on the face or neck, because dark hair in particular can make the rest of the portrait look washed out.

Learn to draw hairstyles
Learn to draw a portrait

Does a portrait need a background?

A portrait drawing does not necessarily need a background. While a portrait without a background draws full attention to the person depicted, a background can add tension to the drawing. Specific spaces, environments, or monochromatic backgrounds can each have a different impact on the portrait and put it in a completely new context.

Final tips

  • Drawing portraits is really not easy! Therefore, don’t get discouraged if the result looks different than expected. It’s more important that you make progress with each drawing!
  • Feel free to practice individual elements like eyes or mouth in detail before or while drawing a portrait if you are unsure.
  • Have a separate piece of paper at hand, as this will help to prevent you from placing your hand on your drawing and smudge it.
  • The darkest point in our portrait should always be the pupil. Since it absorbs all light, nothing else should be darker. If you use a very soft pencil to touch up your portrait in places, you should also use the same pencil to touch up the pupils.

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