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Portrait Drawing for the Ultimate Beginner: The Basics

Updated on April 23, 2014


The purpose of this lesson is to teach beginning artists how to draw realistic looking images of the human face & features. In order to draw realistic looking images you have to learn the art of blending, the value scale (or gray scale) of light & dark shades, and the 5 elements of shading. Blending has to be smooth & seamless. You have several options to achieve a smooth blend: tortillions, tissue, a q-tip, or even your finger. The value scale below consists of 5 shades from light to dark. You can also use a value scale using 10 light to dark shades.

Smooth Blend
Smooth Blend

The 5 Elements of Shading

  1. Cast Shadow This is your darkest shade, which is a full black. This is when an object casts a shadow on a surface.
  2. Shadow Edge This is a medium-dark shade. This shade draws away from the reflected light of an object.
  3. Halftone This is the medium shade or the middle shade. The halftone would be the actual shade or 'color' of the object in black & white.
  4. Reflected Light This shade is lightest next to white on the value scale. The reflected light is located directly on the edge of the object located between the cast shadow & the shadow edge.
  5. Full Light This is the lightest shade, which is white. Where the light fully hits the object is the full light. It should be naturally blended from the halftone.


In order to draw anything it must be considered in terms of basic shapes. This can make drawing more fun & less complex. Knowledge of basic shapes is all you need to learn how to draw. If you can draw a square, triangle, or even an imperfect circle, YOU can draw anything. Below is a diagram of basic & 3D shapes:

Basic Shapes
Basic Shapes
3D Shapes
3D Shapes

The above examples seem simple enough. Drawing the face, body, or any other object is just as simple. All you need is basic knowledge of shading, blending, & shapes.

The Image below is a simple rough draft of the face outlining the various shapes of the face.

Now that you have basic knowledge of how to draw just about anything, all you have to do is apply it to drawing realistic portraits, which you will have the chance to do in this series of step by step instructions.

  • Fixative Spray or Aqua Net Hairspray (to seal your drawings so that they won't smear)
  • Ruler
  • Templates or Stencils
  • Tortillions or any blending tool of your choice
  • Art Case/Box (optional)

Things You Will Need:

  • Drawing paper
  • #2 Pencils
  • Mechanical Pencil (for more precise drawings)
  • Block Eraser
  • Kneaded Eraser

Key Points to Remember

  • Blending is the key to making realistic looking art.
  • Although I used 5 shades in the grayscale example, you may can use more.
  • There are 5 elements of shading: cast shadow, shadow edge, halftone, reflected light, & full light
  • When drawing the face (or anything) simplify it by associating it with simple shapes.
  • Have patience.
  • Don't be hard on yourself.
  • Have fun!!
  • Keep practicing!


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