How to draw Portraits
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When someone asks you to draw a picture of them, many people are afraid that their drawing would look nothing like the subject they are drawing. There are numerous reasons why a drawing does not end up looking like the subject. The first reason is that people tend to have a “symbol” in their head, a perception of how someone’s nose looks like. However, that image in your head looks nothing like the subject, and the first step is trying to focus on what you see instead of drawing the “symbols” you see in your head. We have multiple guides on our site that can help you make a portrait such as the one below:
How to draw a Portrait Step by Step
In this section, you will find illustrated step by step tutorial that will guide through of drawing a portrait.
The first part of drawing a portrait is the proportions of the face and head. If the proportions aren’t right, it isn’t a person. Drawing people can very easy to do using this method.
Proportions usually vary from person to person, but for beginners, it is good to make note of these guidelines.
If you are viewing from the head, then the width should be approximately two-thirds the height.
If you are, however, viewing from the side, then the width should be approximately seven-eighths the height.
The next step in drawing a human face is dividing the portions of the head into 4 equal quarters.
The first quarter goes from the top of the head to the hairline.
The second quarter goes from the hairline to mid-eye.
The third quarter goes from where the eyes are at level with the ears down to the bottom of the nose. This quarters is the most important since it will contain majority of the features of the face.
The fourth quarter goes from the bottom of the nose to the chin.
Note: These proportions only apply to eye-level view of the subject.
Ok cool, so you understand the above! But how do you apply this? Lets show you!
Ok lets draw a circle first and split the head up into quarters.
Next we can split this circle into the three areas we talked about above. Notice what goes where!
Don’t forget that the face is NOT a perfect circle. However, we made a circle because we wanted to account for the ears! So let’s make some lines for these ears now.
Ok pay attention now! This is the MOST important part. Under the second line we draw another line for the eyes!
Now we place marks inside this because the nose is about the same WIDTH as the eyes. That’s why we want to have that space to create a nose in between the eyes (and this space needs to be the same width as the eyes). Essentially we want to have space for THREE eyes right next to one another. After each eye we also want to have space for one more eye (our faces don’t end at our eyes) so really we want to have space for FIVE eyes!
At the bottom of the circle we make the mouth. The mouth starts at the halfway of one eye and ends at the halfway of the other eye! This is basic proportions!
Now let’s just fill in the features using what we said above.
We now have our face! This is pretty basic, BUT it gives you the normal proportions. Remember each person is different so you’ll have to change it up a bit depending on who you are drawing.
Drawing the Features
Drawing the features of a portrait requires a close attention to detail. In order to be accurate in your depiction you have to observe the face from multiple angles multiple times. Not only will this give you a better portrait, it will also give you a better understanding of the human face making future portraits easier. (NOTE: We MAY have advanced tutorials for each of these features on our blog! Just click “Free tutorials” at the top and go explore!)
Lets get into some major features!
(These eye pictures are copyright artyfactory.com no infringement intended)
We start by outlining the eye. This is relatively straight forward. However we have to pay attention to the eyelids. The eye is not completely symmetric and you have to observe this difference and put it on your canvas.
Next we have to draw the iris. The most important we have to notice is that the upper eyelid covers part of the iris (or eye hole) so we are NOT going to have a full circle.
Finally we have to add our details to the eye. The eye is glassy and we account for this by showing some light being reflected. If we were making a pencil portrait this would mean we would leave part of the ye unshaded. We would then color the eye multiple different shades to account for the difference in light. The best way to prepare yourself for this is see how light interacts with everyday objects.
When it comes to the shading, people often have a lot of trouble! Keep it SIMPLE and remember basic rules. Shading is ALL about how light reflects off an object. Remember that. Look up pictures of light reflecting off eyes in different ways to see how to shade eyes. It is all about imitation and observation. There is no one way to shade, we all perceive images differently.
A few rules to remember:
Shade the white part of the eye because it is not flat!
Make highlights on the tearduct to make it seem wet
add a highlight to the pupil
Add lines in the iris (the bigger circle) because most eyes have small muscles there
Shade the top part of the iris a little darker and add a highlight to make it look more realistic
Sketching the nose is the easiest part! Just remember three things! The bridge, ball and nostrils! Make sure to account for all three of these!
The width of the nostrils is 1 eye width
Shade in the nostrils
The nose bridge usually widens around the top (slightly)
Every nose is different, just remember those two rules and sketch the rest based on observation!
After we have sketched our nose lets begin shading it. The majority of the shadow will fall on one side based on the lighting. In this case it falls on the right side so I have shaded that in! But remember to be observant! I can’t stress this enough. OBSERVE OBSERVE OBSERVE! There are also slight shadows on the other side so I have accounted for these as well.
Now lets start shading in the bulk of the nose. Make the original shadows darker and smooth them in. Then shade the outlines of the nose since we want this to be well defined. Finally, add a highlight strip in the middle of the nose. This functions as the “top” of the nose where the most light is reflected. Also remember, shadows don’t just end! We want to shade into them and shade out of them.
Blend the different shades together and you have a nose!
Remember the proportions we talked about and sketch an outline of the mouth. Keep in mind the lower lips are usually fuller and thicker when compared to the upper lips! Also add slight shading based on the lighting (like in the nose here we will shade the right side a bit darker).
Now lets add in slight shading. We are making the right side darker so we slowly shade into it. Note we haven’t made anything too dark except for parts of the mouth (no light goes there!). Also add in the definition for the teeth. Slightly color the top lip because the top lip is usually darker.
Now we want to concentrate on the upper lip and the “lip line.” Focus on the shadows of the upper lip and shade them in! Focus on what should be the lightest based on where the light is hitting the mouth! The middle of the lip should have the highlights since it reflects the most light. Also make the lip line prominent. Remember, it is not perfectly straight and natural mouths have slight variations.
Shade in the teeth really dark. The teeth aren’t in the same level as the lips and are actually below the lips so we want to show this by creating the shadow the lips create on the teeth!
Do what you did for the top lip with the bottom lip. Remember that the bottom lip should be much lighter. Also, the highlights of the bottom lip occur in big blotches in the middle (look at a photo and you’ll notice this as well).
Shade in below the bottom lip to account for the shadow the bottom lip makes and you have your mouth.
Now I understand a lot of you may be having trouble with shading so I created a whole section on shading!
There are three aspects of shading
Now these three depend entirely on how light hits an object. Where light hits directly is a highlight, where the light does not hit is a shadow and the rest is middle tones. Remember this, this is the basis of shading!
Now how do you know where to highlight and tone? This all depends on the image in front of you. This is why I tell you to analyze so often! Look at the image in front of you to get a good idea.
Now we want to use the instructions above to draw a basic sketch!
After the basic sketch lets split the face up into the three sections I talked about. In this situation light is hitting the left side of the face! Also remember that the eyes are a different material from the rest of the face- they are more glossy. We have to individually separate the eyes into the shading sections as well!
Let’s fill in the shading of the eyes! The highlights are the Iris. We want to have a shadow on the top of the pupil and then tone into it. The white part is mostly highlights, but there are some middle tones so let’s account for that as well.
After the eyes lets start shading the face based on the sections we created. Leave the highlights white, start slowly shading in to create a middle tone and ease that into the shadow section we created. Use a tissue (NOT FINGERS) to smudge them together. Fingers contain oil and this can mess up the coloring.
Don’t try to get the color right away. Use light strokes and go over again and again until you get the color desired. It is better to be too light and fixable than too dark. Coloring light also gives you more control. Remember, this is a process.
Now let’s shade the nose and mouth using the shading tips given in those tutorials!
Also shade in parts of the rest of the face. Note that the edges of the face are darker because the face protrudes out and we want to show this. Look at any picture of a face and you’ll notice these slight shadows! Always be observant.
For the hair begin by drawing the general direction of the hair. Then slowly darken the hair based on the direction. Focus on each patch of hair going in the same direction at one time. Remember, each different direction has different highlights, shadows, etc.
There you go! Your full portrait is complete!
Share to Unlock FREE PDF’s and FREE Portrait step by step lessons (Advanced lessons too)!
Now most the information above is for beginner artists. If you want to move past that stage look below! You can also scroll to the bottom and check out pencil kings!
Learn to Paint
Following these instruction, you should be able to construct a very basic portrait. It’s easy to learn how to draw characters if you learn the basics. The next step after you have finished your drawing, is to learn how to paint.
Painting in its nature is VERY complicated. There are hundreds of different methodologies. I can teach you the basics of painting, but in order to master it you NEED some sort of tutoring. I recommend the books below or Pencil Kings. You can hire a personal tutor if you want, but that is extremely expensive. Again, please don’t rely on free videos, they often skip over the finer details. Remember, the greatest artists take years to master their skills. You need some guidance, however, so I highly suggest purchasing a book and getting a tutor or taking some online lessons.
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