ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Sketching Portraits

Updated on September 23, 2019
AdeleCosgroveBray profile image

Adele Cosgrove-Bray is a writer, poet and artist who lives on the Wirral Peninsula in England.

A sketch is not a finished drawing. The purpose of sketching anything is to capture the moment while it's there, or to record a visual idea which might be developed more fully later. The sketching process tends to be rapid, and the speed of drawing brings its own character to the work. Sketches aren't meant to be detailed, accurate studies; they're impressions.

Sketch books come in all shapes and sizes, of course, but I tend to favour the smaller ones as they can be carried in a jacket pocket or shoulder-bag, or they can sit amongst a pile of novels next to a cup of tea where they're within easy reach. All that's required is to find a blank page and something to draw with.

Usually, I use an ink pen. Again, this is partially for convenience. There's no need to sharpen it, unlike with a pencil, and it won't spread sooty fingerprints over the furniture unlike charcoal. Charcoal is a lovely medium to work with but can be messy, but charcoal pencils can help limit mess.

Self-portrait; charcoal on a watercolour background.
Self-portrait; charcoal on a watercolour background.
Pen and ink.
Pen and ink.
Sketches don't have to be serious. This ink drawing pokes fun at hubby's taste in music.
Sketches don't have to be serious. This ink drawing pokes fun at hubby's taste in music.

Sketchers Check List

Here is a simple list of items which can be used for sketching. Not all these items will be needed - just choose the ones you like to work with.

  • paper
  • sketch pad
  • pencil
  • ink pen
  • charcoal
  • felt tips
  • crayon
  • paint
  • oil pastels
  • chalks

A corner of the painting studio, from my art school days.  Ink on cartridge paper.
A corner of the painting studio, from my art school days. Ink on cartridge paper.
Rapid portrait done with a felt pen.
Rapid portrait done with a felt pen.
Flight of Fantasy.  Ink and watercolour.
Flight of Fantasy. Ink and watercolour.

Learn How to Sketch!

There are countless 'how to' books on the subject of how to draw, and while these can offer useful guides the best teacher is yourself. To learn to draw, draw. Practice then practice some more, and over time you will get better. Take a course if you wish, or join an art club, but real progress will only come from your own sustained effort.

There is no need to spend much money, especially at first. If you are new to sketching, invest in an economical A4-size sketch-pad and a 6B pencil, and that is all. You can easily widen your choice of materials later.

Don't be put off if your first efforts are weak. Everybody's are! You will learn as much, if not more, from mistakes as you will from successes.

What Should I Draw?

Sketch anything! Look around your room as if you've never seen it before, and draw the first thing which catches your attention. If the weather is good, go outside and sketch in the garden or local park. If the weather is against this, take a few items from your fruit bowl or vegetable rack and draw these. Or draw your jacket draped over the back of a chair. Sketch your own face in a mirror. Perhaps you would prefer to let your fantasy take flight, and sketch whatever comes to mind. The subjects you can sketch are limited only by your imagination.

Portrait in ink.
Portrait in ink.

Heavy Tones or Light Lines

A comparison of the sketches immediately above and below show how different sketching techniques give very different results.

The portrait above is heavily shaded, with deep shadows and a highly textured look created by multiple crossing lines.

The portrait below is minimal in detail, and uses only the lightest of rapid lines.

Both sketches were created using the same ink pen, and on similar paper.

Experiment with light and shadow, soft lines and heavy shading, and discover for yourself which you like to use in different contexts.

Minimalist self-portrait in ink.
Minimalist self-portrait in ink.


Self-portrait in ink and graphite.
Self-portrait in ink and graphite.


An art student once asked why so many artists create self-portraits. The tutor replied by saying mirrors don't charge for their services!

If you can't find a model, look in a mirror.

It can be fun to build up a collection of diverse self-portraits, using different materials and approaches to drawing. Feel free to experiment with facial expressions, poses, hair styles and backgrounds. Try adding personal touches which convey a sense of personality rather than just a set of features.

Most important of all, have fun with it.

Share Your Opinion!

Do You Enjoy Sketching?

See results

© 2009 Adele Cosgrove-Bray


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)