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How to draw a realistic portrait from pictures

Updated on January 27, 2012

Drawing portraits from photos

Everybody can draw a portrait with 100% likeness !

Don't wait for the muses to kiss you. All it takes is that you know how to get the proportions right. That's it. Sounds easy enough? Unfortunately, most people who have the courage to try to draw a portrait fail right there and give up. Don't be intimidated by that!

I am not saying that you do not need talent. Some people can take a pencil, look at you and draw your face exactly the way it looks on paper. Those people have a real natural talent. ( And even they did not learn that without a lot of practice and failures!) What I am saying is that even if you never drew a picture before, you can draw a portrait with absolutely 100% likeness. That still does not make you an artist, but it will lay the foundation for a realistic life-like portrait.


Meet Albrecht Durer

Even world famous artists have used that technique if they were struggling to get proportions in a picture right. One of them was Albrecht Durer. He was a renaissance artist. You may know one of his famous drawings, the praying hands. I want you to meet him for two reasons.. a) He was a really very talented artist who certainly could draw almost anything with no "help". b) He used the same technique I am about to introduce to you.

So if you think what you are learning is not really drawing or even cheating, think again!

With anything you draw, it's proportions that make it look like "exactly right" or not. Now if you draw a tree for example, you have some lee way there. At the end it still has to look like a tree. But whether that branch on the right side really was there in that exact direction and angle ... no one except you will ever know. If you start drawing a face, however, everybody will know if it is the slightest way out of proportions. Even people who have never seen the original face will sense that there is something wrong. Most of the time they can't really put their finger on it, but they "feel" it.

The Grid

You may not be able to put all the complex features of a human face in the right place on your paper just looking at it. I certainly can't. But you can overcome that with the help of a grid. The picture shows what Durer's grid looked like. Relax! You do not even have to build a device like that.

Here is how

You start with a picture. Not a thumbnail where you can hardly see any details, but a good picture that shows the face in every detail. Use a digital camera, get a print and then go to a copy shop and make copies. It is not necessary that you get the exact size you want in your portrait drawing, but it makes things easier in the beginning until you get more confident. Once I have a copy in the size I want, I make a couple of extra copies - just in case I mess something up.

The next step

You are almost there! Take the copy of the picture you made and draw a grid on it. (That's why you need more than one copy of the original. You lose at least one in that process.)

I usually draw my portraits on an 11x14 paper. It's just a size I am comfortable with. It is a standard size, which means after you finally produced the artwork of your life you can buy a standard frame to hang it on the wall.

To start with, it is probably best to use the same scale. 1 inch on your picture = 1 inch on your paper. Just transfer what you see square by square on your paper. If you counted the squares right, you will end up with an exact copy of the outline in the original photo!

Now, you no longer have to think about where exactly the eyes have to be in relation to the nose, or how long a certain line should be. Just do one aquare at a time and it will all come together.

Bonus Tip:

Usually on a 11x14 page a 1 inch grid is enough for me. However, if there are any really tricky areas or you want to make sure yo get every detail right in a specific area, you can always use a smaller grid, like say 1/2 inch in only certain areas.

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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Welcome, very nice article and good ideas to try out!

    • Bmm209 profile image

      Bmm209 5 years ago from California,U.S.A

      I've used this technique in Art class before. It works well. I drew a picture of a celebrity and I thought that it wouldn't turn out well, but it did!

    • stschulz profile image
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      stschulz 5 years ago from Delaware

      Thank you for posting that. I can say a lot about this, but it is always more credible from an other source. I have taught classes for no reason other than to prove my point that with this grid and a little shading ANYBODY can draw a decent picture. If anybody out there eeds more help or advise just email me.

    • profile image

      emma-liegh 3 years ago

      i like drawing emma-ligh

    • profile image

      StevieB2015 21 months ago

      I used to draw quite a lot when I was a lot younger, thanks for the post that has pricked my conscience to start again. I will of course take the advice you have given and draw from a photograph. As an aside I have given myself a target of 100 hours to complete. Many thanks

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