Drawing Marilyn Monroe, a Stars Portraits tutorial

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Drawing Marilyn Monroe

by Jagans

Drawing Marilyn Monroe

Author : Jagans

Tutorial submitted on September 24, 2010

In this lesson, featuring the beautiful Marilyn Monroe, you'll learn how to chose your art materials, where to begin a portrait, outlining and shading, how to see the different shapes on your reference photo, and how to make your portrait realistic. A big thanks to Jeff Agans for this second fantastic tutorial.


There are so many different techniques of various artists out there.  I am not going into every detail as most on this site have at least a basic knowledge of drawing.

Materials that I use

Sketch book - I chose a pad of recycled paper and of thicker quality so that I can use a darker lead and eraser. It’s important to draw on thicker paper if you want to create a drawing with good detail. Thinner paper is less expensive however drawing with detail requires multiple levels of shading and erasing. Shading excessively on thin paper might put a hole in it.

Pencils – I’ve read so many different tutorials with all the different types of pencils. That’s all fine and dandy, but if I had to mess with a handful of different pencils for one drawing, I wouldn’t draw much! I use TWO pencils and that is it! The one I use the most is a simple mechanical pencil. It uses a lead thickness of “0.5.” All you have to do is keep the chamber full or replacement leads. It has an eraser on the end, but I never use that kind of eraser, which I will explain shortly. The second pencil is for when I need a darker shadow, all black clothing, or hair. It’s an ebony pencil and leaves a nice dark pencil mark. The only problem using an ebony pencil is that it doesn’t blend as easy as my mechanical pencil lead.

Erasers – The eraser is equally as important as the pencil you use. If you have the kind of eraser that is normally on the end of a pencil, THROW IT AWAY! Those kind crumble, leaving stains on your paper and make a mess of the drawing! The only eraser to use as far as I am concerned is a gummy or similar type eraser. The one I use is black in color and the texture is exactly like a wad of used chewing gum. It’s flexible and moldable. I use that kind because you can mold a point to erase in detail and it doesn’t leave a residue on the paper. You can use it over and over again and it’s been a life saver for my drawings.

Ruler – I use a ruler to measure locations of things like eyes, mouth and other features. A short ruler that is made out of clear plastic is best.

Blending tools – You can’t beat a tortillion for shading. It’s a tightly wrapped paper tool that resembles a pencil. It even has a point on at least one end. Sometimes it will have points on both ends. There are various different sizes, get a good assortment of them. The smaller ones are good for details on the eyes and smaller features and the larger ones are good for larger areas that don’t the same attention to detail. Another great tool for shading is to use a chamois cloth.

Computer – I always set up my computer right behind my drawing stand. I bring up the reference photo on screen so I can blow it up. If I have trouble seeing small detail I can blow the smaller areas up life-size!

Where to begin

Once you have all of your materials ready, begin with a good quality photo copy. I usually scan the photo so I can have several copies of the reference photo. The reason I might want more than one copy, is because I will fold the picture allowing me to see certain parts of detail. It also allows me to fold up the picture and hold it right on top of my drawing to compare back and forth.

I use a drawing tri-pod stand. I do this because it allows the drawing to sit upright and I can see the details better than laying flat on a table. I can also slide the stand right up almost in my lap. I can even adjust the legs up and down making it easier on my arms. I sit in good lighting so I don’t have to strain my eyes and turn on some good music for the mood. I normally listen to something like “Sound Scapes” on cable. It’s soothing allowing me to draw for hours at a time. Don’t forget to get a HUGE glass of ice water and sit it on the table next to your drawing materials where you can easily reach it.

Step one

I completely outline the drawing before anything else. There are many different methods to accomplish this task. If I’m making the drawing bigger than the reference photo I will use a grid. If it’s the same size as in this drawing, I free hand what I can and use a ruler to make sure the eyes and mouth and other critical areas are correct. I draw the outline lightly, but make sure I can see the lines for later on.  The places I like to make certain, are things like “distance between the eyes, location and size of the mouth and nose.” If you want, go ahead and lay the reference photo right on top of the drawing and compare back and forth. Make the changes now that need to be made. This will make the rest of the drawing much easier.

Marilyn Monroe tutorial

Step two

Once you have the drawing outlined, pick a place to begin shading or adding value to your drawing. When I am drawing something like this, I know I will be spending a lot of time blending, shadowing and erasing. I always start at the top left corner, because I am right handed. If I were left handed I would start on the right upper corner. While I am shading the drawing, I lay my hand down on the paper. If I didn’t do it the way I mentioned, I might smudge or smear my handy work. The other thing to do is have a blank piece of paper under your hand. This helps with the mess as well.

Marilyn Monroe tutorial 

Step three

One of the many secrets of my artwork is to understand the difference between “light and dark” values! Another one is to learn how to increase the darker value slowly! I use a mechanical pencil most of the time and the lead is sort of sharp on the edge. I say this, because it’s important not to dig into the paper. I softly shade the darker areas and later come back adding to those areas creating more of a contrast in the drawing.

Marilyn Monroe tutorial

Step four

Learning the different values is critical, but another skill that you need is to learn how to see different “shapes” on your reference photo. I always look for shapes and sketch them on my drawing paper in the appropriate areas. In the next photo, take a look at Marilyn’s right cheek (left side of paper) and around the chin and eyelid. I tried copying the shapes onto my drawing. They don’t have to be exact, as you can use your blending tools to extend them, or an eraser to remove the parts you don’t want. The picture directly under this one shows how I continued adding more value.

Marilyn Monroe tutorial
Marilyn Monroe tutorial

Step five

This is where the magic begins to happen! You want your portrait to look sort of 3-dimensional and the only way to do this is by making your shadowing gradual and smooth. You will also need to eliminate the defined edges.  If you take a close look, you will not see a definite edge on Marilyn’s chin or nose. I create these boundaries by adding and blending the layers of values. I keep the reference photo very close by for comparison, looking to find the areas that need to be darker or lighter. Now is when I break out my “ebony pencil.” I only use the ebony pencil if I can’t get my mechanical to go dark enough. You can see the areas in the next photo where I had to create some really dark shadows in her hair. I did this with the ebony pencil. 

Marilyn Monroe tutorial

Step six

I briefly begin to blend my lines of value as I go, but before I spend a lot of time on blending, I make certain I have all of the dark areas shaded. Once it get most of that finished, I round up the rest of the tools that I need. I keep them all within reach at this point. The items I am referring to are my pencils, eraser, tortillion and my chamois cloth. I think the blending stage is where most portraits will differ. You can have perfect proportion and shading, but if you don’t smooth the lines, the drawing might not look realistic! The tortillion is a great tool when shading a drawing. You hold it like a pencil and use the tip to blend the lines. This takes a great deal of practice, so be patient. The chamois cloth is great for backgrounds of the drawing as well as making the skin smooth and silky looking.
Marilyn Monroe tutorial

Step seven

Blending with the tools I mentioned is the real art behind making a portrait look realistic. Below, are some photos showing before and after the blending tools. You can see how the drawing begins to come to life.

Marilyn Monroe tutorial
Marilyn Monroe tutorial

Finishing up

The rest of the drawing is using the above steps over and over until you’re happy with the results. Remember that us artists are not perfect and we will never get our drawings just exactly the way we want. There comes a time when you can say, “It’s finished!” before you put the drawing away, make sure and protect it from fading and smudging by spraying it with a good quality clear spray. I use hair spray sometimes and it seems to do just as good of a job. Below is the finished Marilyn Monroe portrait, enjoy!

Jeff Agans (Jagans)

Marilyn Monroe tutorial


view and comment the finished portrait | all Marilyn Monroe portraits

 Add a comment
0 3537
svetliaciok - 11 years ago

:kiss: :kiss: :kiss: :kiss: :kiss: :kiss: :kiss:

0 18440
fotoguy - 11 years ago

Marilyn would seem to me to be the hardest person to draw, especially to those of us who love her so much. You did a great job. And thanks for the helpful tutorial.

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