How to get started with portrait drawings

Black and white picture of woman drawing a man with hat on canvas

Portrait drawings are brilliant; they embody a person’s every feature and cleverly highlight details that even they may not notice about themselves. On the other hand, with self-portraits you can toy with your perceived image of yourself.

You may already know how to draw portraits but there may be finer details you wish to tweak when drawing, or areas of improvement you want to work on. Luckily, we have a whole selection of tips and tricks to help you improve when drawing a portrait. These are sure to bring a new lease of life and extra depth to your creations. Simply read on to uncover some useful insights that you can use forevermore.

Concentrate on each facial feature individually

Black and white drawing of an eye

When drawing a portrait you will be able to create your design much faster and with more detail if you focus on each facial feature separately. This makes for a speedier process because the subject matter is not as intimidating to draw all at once. After all, there are so many wonderful features of a person’s face to depict in your artwork. A person’s lips, eyes, nose shape, cheeks and even ear lobes are what makes them unique, and you always want to portray this when you are drawing portraits.

If you are wondering how to draw a self-portrait or a standard portrait art piece using this technique, it’s easy. All you need to do is take a photograph of your own face, or their face, and print out a collage of each of these isolated features. This means you can get to grips with the intricate details of, say, the eyelashes and eyelids because you are working on these features at different points, rather than all at once.

Smudge your shadows 

As unusual as it may sound, portrait drawing isn’t simply about drawing; it’s about what you do with what you’ve drawn that makes the artwork truly stand out. For instance, smudging the shadows you draw is a great way to bring professionalism and an added layer of realism to your piece.

Use either your finger or a smudging tool to initially ‘draw out’ or smudge the shadows as this will blend the medium effortlessly no matter what you are drawing with. Smudging the shadows you create also makes it much easier to fix if you make a slight mistake along the way.

Ensuring the lighting is right when producing shadows is important too, especially when drawing a self-portrait. To complete a piece portraying yourself, you will either use a mirror and draw your reflection or use a pre-prepared photograph of yourself. That’s why it is a great idea to focus on getting your lighting right to find perfect shadows, both when you are drawing yourself in real-time or taking a photograph beforehand. Simply use top-lighting, such as a ceiling light to help you characterise the natural shadows forming on your face.

Add thick lines for the hairline first

Man in grey shirt creating drawing a portrait of a woman

The hairline is an important feature when drawing a portrait because it involves attention to detail and is what frames the face. To begin creating the hairline, firstly outline the head. It’s useful to approach the head and hairline in this order as it makes the process much simpler. It helps to avoid mistakes being made to the head design after spending so long on the hairline.

Start by determining how long the hair is of the person you are painting. Once you have done so, fill it out with thicker lines. You can introduce further detail and use shadowing to add extra elements to the hair as you draw. If you are drawing a self-portrait, this is particularly useful as you will likely wish for your hair to be as detailed and realistic as possible. You can do just that by returning to it at different points in the drawing process.

Start putting these tips into practice

Man with glasses and purple top drawing eyes for self portrait

Knowing these helpful tips on how to draw portraits will now set you up for your next drawing. Simply meet with the person who is going to be your muse, or get what is needed ready to create a self-portrait. Then, pull out your tools and begin your masterpiece. Each time you put pencil to paper you will notice excellent improvements.

In fact, a great way of noticing how much your drawings have changed and improved is by comparing any former portrait drawings to the new ones you have created. Sit the pieces side by side on your art desk and study the obvious differences in technique. It will encourage you to keep producing and improving this kind of artwork.

For other insights into drawing, painting, and framing artwork of various kinds, venture over to our blog. Discover everything you need to know about how to get started with painting landscapes or how to begin painting flowers. You will be an expert in painting and drawing in no time!