Portrait drawing tutorial - a Stars Portraits tutorial

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Portrait drawing tutorial

by Timon

Portrait drawing tutorial

Author : Timon

Tutorial submitted on November 10, 2010

Another outstanding tutorial by Tomáš (Timon), about drawing the whole portrait with all its parts enriched with useful tips. The tutorial aims at those of you, who are beginners or intermediate in drawing portraits and don't want to spend money for expensive artistic stuff.



I have introduced the Hair drawing tutorial so far, where I focused on some drawing techniques to achieve realistic hair look in a portrait. This time the tutorial is rather about drawing the whole portrait with all its parts enriched with useful tips. The tutorial aims at those of you, who are beginners or intermediate in drawing portraits and don't want to spend money for expensive artistic stuff. You need about four cheap pencils, charcoal, tissue or tortillion for blending, smudging eraser and ordinary eraser. All those things can be bought in a stationery, or you may happen to find them somewhere at home.

Freida Pinto

The reference photo is taken from an image to the movie Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

Here I give the list, where you can see particular phases of drawing the Freida Pinto portrait:



Well, I don't have to tell you how a proper outline should look like. You just have to put reference photo's main features down onto your paper. Not too many, but still enough to be able to draw a portrait proportionally.

I make outline using my laptop. I lay a paper (which is actually a drawing paper) on a screen of the laptop where I open a reference photo. The picture is usually clearly visible (through the paper) in a darken room and I can easily make an outline. It looks like this.


One can say that there is nothing to mess up when drawing a black background. The opposite is the truth. A bad background can depreciate the whole drawing. Therefore never underestimate a black background.

Here I show how to draw that kind of background.

  1. We use charcoal for the black colour.

  2. We make circles slightly with the charcoal as long as all area (or certain part of it) is complete. (For more about 'circle drawing' see the brilliant circulism tutorial by Lianne Issa – I've learnt a lot from it!)

  3. Once we have tiny circles, we blur them softly with a cloth.

  4. If the colour is not black enough, we can repeat the whole procedure once or twice.

  5. When it's black enough, we take the 'smudging eraser' (see the section Hair: part I or the Hair drawing tutorial) and smudge the area making circle moves with the eraser. Remember that this kind of eraser doesn't actually erase, it just rub or smudge.

  6. Finally we take an eraser (ordinary one) and adjust (increase) the brightness of the background at certain spots with it. In this case the light spots are caused by blurred light reflection in the background. You can do this erasing also before (e) or (d).

Click to enlarge. (Apply to each picture in this tutorial.)










You can see the blurred light in the background - it is done as I said in (f). It's part of the portrait of Tereza Kerndlová

icon tip

You may lay some kind of toss pillow under the paper when drawing the circles with charcoal. The area has then the same brightness. You also avoid situation when you sometimes push harder or not and the circles are here darker and then thinner.


Hair: part I

This chapter will mainly discuss the part of the hair which separates the background from the head. We talk here about dark hair only but you can use this technique for blond hair as well. In our portrait of Freida Pinto it is the part you can see in the pictures below.

The background is complete. Before starting to draw dark hair, we should take an eraser and make those single light hairs. They look white in the foreground because they are lightened from the back. Since we have the left side clean, it is quite easy to erase thin lines moving the eraser from the left to the right side. The light hairs can be seen in the next picture below.


Now the next thing is to draw dark area at the place where her hair is black. There is nothing else, just deep black. We can use charcoal and fill in the whole black area without any gap.


Then take the 'smudging eraser' and make the area smooth as we did in case of the background. But the background was less dark. Hair should be a little bit darker. The result could look like this.


Filnally we take the 'smudging eraser' once more and complete this part of hair by making some kind of transition from the black to the withe as you can see in the picture. You don't need to use 'smudging eraser' if you don't want to. Pencil is just fine.


What is the 'smudging eraser'? First time I explained this issue in my previous tutorial. There is explained everything about it (except how does it look like). So here it is. The smudging area is really smooth, it does not erase anymore – it just smudge. The longer you use it, the smoother the smudging area is.



It is really useful little thing. You can make smooth hair with it and much more. But mostly with charcoal. I don't use it for smudging pencil (the pencile is pictured just to compare its size).


There is plenty of different materials you can come across when drawing clothing. I personally use several techniques to achieve most of them. But we'll get to this in some other tutorial. Besides, I don't want to set myself down as an expert in this field.


Here, in our portrait, we have actually two types of clothing. First, we'll discus the main part of her clothing – the scarf. I'm not sure what fabric it is, but it looks really velvety and feathery. That's exactly how we try to draw it. I used a pencil H for the fabric and HB for shadows and those darker circles, that are actually golden and shiny. I started on her shoulder where I did the same glow effect as with the hair (see Hair: part I – the first picture).


I chose this part as my next step. This is all about shading, making the right tone, and shade all transitions well. Once it looks wavy, we add the shadow cast by the upper part of the scarf as well as the shadow on her skin. Note that the shadow on her skin is darker than the one on the scarf. That's because the skin itself has darker tone than the scarf, which is almost white.

Now we continue with the horizontal part of the scarf. Good way to imitate this kind of fabric is to draw many parallel lines very densely. You need to keep the direction of moving the pencil. A pencil H should be adequate for this. To make it more clear, the arrows in the picture represent the directions of drawing the lines. You may aslo blend the lines a little with a tissue.


We continue in the same manner. As for the pencil, we can use HB for shadows and 5B or 8B for the circles. The light can be easily done by erasing the drawn lines. Don't forget that the light is shining from the right and from the back. So all the shadows should be according to it.


In the last step, we accentuate the dark circles and probably make some more details in the folds of the scarf. You may have noticed, that the left part of the scarf is not complete yet. That's because in the original reference picture, she holds her hand in front of this part of the scarf, so that we have no reference to draw. But we're not going to draw her hand with cell phone, therefore we have to make up this part ourselves.
In the next picture you can see that her hair and face are done suddenly. That's becase I followed through with all three next chapters before finishing the clothing, but it doesn't make any difference. Except the fact that you know the scarf goes together with the hair.


The easiest way to make up this part is to extend all shadows and folds to the left. We add lightening coming from the back and also some details like those darker rings.
The second type of clothing, part of her vest, is something like wool. Well, this may need some experiments. I made it with pencils H and 2B, making shadows that look like those in the snow in moonlight. Then I used an eraser and make some spots lighter, especially in the upper part because of the light comming from the back.
And her clothing is complete now.

Hair: part II

In this chapter we continue with hair. We've already done hair lighted from the back. This time the matter is hair lighted from the side. You can use this technique in a lot of portraits and it's quite easy to do. Before going on this part of hair, you just need to complete the uniform black area of the hair. Again, simply with charcoal and 'smudging eraser'.


As usually, start with the background. You've already seen it in Hair: part I. In the same way, erase the light (protruding) hairs.



Then use a charcoal to draw hair. But now comes the difference. You have to leave thin lines white. These are going to be the lighted hair. In case you have some thin and effective eraser you may fill the whole space with charcoal and erase the lines after that. But I would recomend the previous way – it keeps the lines in maximum white. As you can see, some lines are thin and some are a bit wider. The wider once represent thick strands of hair. All lines should be curved, because streight lines look weird in this case. Note that some white lines should join the light protruding hair, and the corresponding charcoal lines should lead slightly further, as you can see in the picture (red arrows in miniature or red circles in enlarged picture). Click on the picture to enlarge it and see other arrows. Just remember that you may enlarge each of the pictures in this tutorial this way. In the enlarged picture you can see the directions of smudging the charcoal. You can also click here to see the original picture without any marks.

Now that you have charcoal lines done, you can use the 'smudging eraser' again and smudge them in marked directions (see the left picture). Still, the result doesn't look life-like. You need to make more light, and blur distant hairs. The nearer hairs should be kept thin and sharp. We use regular eraser for erasing the charcoal a bit, and make more light in the hair as well as blur them.



reference picture

Compare the two pictures (left and right). The third one is taken from the reference picture. You may also notice that we've filled the blank gap in her hair with charcoal.

Ok, that's it. We can leave hair for a while, and move over to face. We get back to finish the hair in the chapter Hair: part III. I also recommend to have a look at the drawings / hair of Adriana lima and Tereza Kerndlová, since I used the technique there.


I merged all parts of the face into one chapter. When you draw quite small portrait (as here), it's difficult to draw all details, for example in eyes or lips. Therefore I will not explain all in detail. I would have been able to draw all parts in detail if I had drawn them on larger canvas. But this is 21 x 21 cm, which is still pretty small. Anyway, it is not easy to draw things looking real in such a small space.

Face 1 smallForehead complete

I started with the forehead. It's important that you do not make strict borderline between hair and forehead. Particularly Freida Pinto's hair is like this. There are some hairs on the gradual transition from hair to forehead too. Note that an eyebrow always consists of upper and lower part. The directions of growing in the both parts are shown in the left picture.
I continued with the nose. But it doesn't matter what part you start with and which one follows after. It usually depends on the routine. Sometimes I feel that when the eyes are finished, drawing other parts seems to be easier suddenly. Ironically, I chose the reverse way this time.

Here we continue with the cheek. It is going to be darker in a while, but this layer is the shade of the skin. After that we add a second layer – the shadow. On the left side before blurring and then on the right.

This is the left eye. It is quite impossible to make more detail on small format and sometimes it looks weird if we try. It's because if we put too many details in such a small space, they will pour together and the result won't look good. Moderation in detail is necessary here. We also have to look at the canvas from a distance very often so that we are able to decide and see which detail is essential and which one is not.

Once we have the left eye ready, we can go on the mouth. As I said, choose any order of parts you like. In this chapter I keep the order as I draw. I find eyes and opened mouth the most difficult parts of face. But when you draw mouth correctly they add real glamour to the portrait.
Spots are made with charcoal. At the place of the lips we make base layer in the same shade as skin. Then a bit darker tone around. After that we add more detail in the lips. Rounded dark lines followed by light lines made with thin eraser. Note that the upper part of teeth is darker due to the shadow of the upper lip.

You can also see that on the second and the third picture, there is complete shadow on the face as well. I did it with charcoal like the background, which I kind of regret now. Maybe it's better to use 8B pencil or more-B because charcoal, when aplied on a surface with smoothed pencil, can make this unpleasant spots that can't be smoothed anymore.

Now comes the final eye. We can draw more detail on this eye since it is in light unlike the other one, which is in shadow. We start with eyelids, make shadows around the eye and eyelashes on the upper eyelid. Then make lens with charcoal or some black pencil, leaving small white spots – glitter. After that, we draw base for the iris with H-pencil, and a blurred circle around the iris with HB. I find this eye quite good-looking so far. It's like light blue eye, but Freida Pinto has dark brown eyes, so we have to darken it a little bit. We also continue with eyelashes on the lower eyelid. Note that there is a small gap between the eyeball and the eyelashes, because of certain thickness of the lower eyelid. People sometimes draw them right from the eyeball, which looks kind of unrealistic.

Hair: part III

Let's get back to hair again. You see in the reference photo, that Freida Pinto holds a cell phone in her hand. I didn't want to involve this phone in the portrait, so I replaced it mostly with hair. Also her hand disappeared being replaced with the rest of the scarf and vest that are behind. (See section Clothing).
It's quite easy actually, we just imagine how this forelock could look like. If you don't know, how to draw forelocks using charcoal and 'smudging eraser' see my previous tutorial about drawing realistic hair (Hair drawing tutorial).

As usually we start with making several lines with charcoal. The lines radiate from small area, which we may call the root. Generally, you may see many „roots“ in hair, especially when drawing chaotic hair. It is a place in hair, where a forelock goes from within the hair, so that you can see it. The root should always remain black (in case of dark hair), because there is almost no incidenting light there.
Next step is to rub these lines in direction out of the root. You can see it in the picture.

Hair 10

We continue in the same way, so as to elongate the forelock. (a) We can keep blank space in the position where the light incidents on the forelock. (b) As we rub the charcoal lines, we move across the blank area as well. Still, this area naturally remains a little lighter than the rest, while looking hair-like and gradually shaded. (c)




In this case, I decided to make the forelock darker. I made several lines with charcoal along the forelock (d) and rubbed them. (e)



Now, the procedure is the same as before. When we want to make reflection on hair, we make small blank gap as you see in the picture (f). And than we rub new charcoal lines in (g). We still can make reflection anywhere we want just by erasing the area. But the result may not look like we wanted. For more, see the blue box below.



Well, we have finished the forelock. The last step, finishing hair, is going to be quite easy, since we have gone through the chapter Hair: part II (hopefully). We just continue where we ended in that chapter using the same technique as there.
Our result should be complete drawing of Freida Pinto, that you see in the head of the tutorial.

Icon Tip

In case of Freida Pinto drawing, it doesn't matter whether we erase the area (reflection) after rubbing the charcoal, or we leave a gap before. Where it does matter is this drawing of Alessandra Ambrosio, for instance. We need to use the technique described earlier to achieve the efect. Which means that we leave a gap as you see in the pictures (b) and (f) above.



Thanks for reading this tutorial. :)

Please, share your opinion or questions relating to this tutorial and post it here on my blog. I'll try to answer all your questions.
You may also use this contact form to contact me via email.

Best regards, Tomáš.

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