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Tips for drawing baby portraits

Updated on June 23, 2012


Baby portraits make up a sizeable portion of my portrait business. Not to mention, they are a true joy to draw. Here are some tips for spectacular baby portraits.

Reference photo. I’ve been doing portraits long enough that I can work from a less than pristine photo but I don’t recommend it. Always work from the highest resolution photo you can. With so many people snapping photos with their phones, it’s not uncommon to get photos that you just can’t work with. I always work from a reference photo that is the same size as my artwork. However, if I have to blow the photo up, I keep the original photo next to the enlarged photo and work from both throughout the drawing process.

Paper selection. Choose a paper color that most closely matches the most prevalent skin tone of your subject. I use Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper. I like the side with the more prominent tooth. Some of my students find the additional texture challenging to work with so you may want to experiment with which side of the paper best suites your drawing technique. I purchase my paper by the sheet at my local art store. You can also purchase pastel paper by the tablet. You may find that you don’t use all of the colors offered in the tablet but, it is a great way to experiment with manipulating colored pencil on different shades of paper.

After I’ve selected my paper, I mount it on crescent board and flap it. See my tutorial

I always work in standard sizes so that my clients do not have to spend big bucks on custom framing unless they want to.

Delicate skin tones. Babies have very delicate skin tones. The color needs to be built up slowly using a light touch. I use a light circular motion allowing the colored paper or my previous pencil layer to show through. Keep a piece of your paper handy to test color.

Eyes. I do a lot of sleeping babies. Anyone who has a baby knows they spend a lot of time sleeping and there is nothing more precious that a sleeping baby. With a sleeping baby the most challenging part of rendering the eyes is getting the eyelashes to go in the right direction and shape. Using a sharp pencil, press down with significant pressure and flick the pencil. This will motion will give you the tapered end to your pencil stroke that ideally simulates eyelashes.

Most of my students draw eyes much larger than they actually are. This is where referring to your reference photo in the same size as your drawing will help. To check the size and shape of the eye you have drawn, take a piece of tracing paper and trace your eye from your reference photo. Place your tracing over your drawing and see how they compare.

Eyes are rarely one color. Spend some time really looking at the color of the eye and you will find a host of other colors lurking in the shadows and around the pupil.

Nose. In an adult portrait the nose is a very defining feature but with babies it is often not much more that a little button. Often I render the nostril in a red or purple. You will want to use a light hand subtly defining the crease of the nostril and the round ball of the nose.

Mouth. The mouth on a baby portrait stands out because of its color and shape. Like eyes, the mouth is rarely one color. It usually contains at least one and often a cluster of white highlights. I use a white charcoal pencil to achieve these whites. If I want to add a white highlight over an area that I have already added color pencil to, I will use a little acrylic paint with a very fine liner brush.

Outlining the lips with a hard line creates a very unnatural appearance to the mouth – like it has been pasted on. To avoid this, I begin lips from the center and work my way out to the edge blending the outline of the lip into the surrounding skin tone.

Hair. Delicate little brows and wispy strands make baby portraits challenging. Because so much of the scalp shows, it is important to render the skin tone first as if the hair was not there. Then go back in using the same press and flick motion you used with the eyelashes. Pay particular attention to the director of the hairs to give the hair a natural flow.

Order. I like to work the “T” area first (eyes, nose and mouth). Once my subject is looking back at me, I move on to the surrounding skin tones, ears, forehead and neck. I work the skin tones as far into the hair as I need to and then draw the hair and clothing last. I like the focal point of my portraits to be the face so I rarely put too much detail into clothing. Clothing can also really date a portrait so I like to keep it as simple as possible so my work with have a timeless feel. I seldom draw backgrounds for the same reasons.

Put it away. I could draw for hours at a time. But, fresh eyes are really important. Sometimes I walk away for a cup of coffee and come back and find something that needs work.

Done? I find most artists are pretty critical when it comes to their own work. I’m no exception and I could probably endlessly fuss at my work. But, there is always your next subject to think about!

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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      oh my goodness. You are an artist. Did you ever draw for an income? You should. So talented

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 5 years ago from Northern California

      These are great tips! I just did my first baby portrait as a gift, and now that I look at your pictures, I think maybe I could have tried doing a color portrait, since I just did black and white. Thanks for sharing!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      You're very talented. I enjoyed reading this and looking at your great artwork. Voting up.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      A beautiful hub and well put together. The pictures are marvelous and so is all of this information. Voting up and more. Thank you.