How to Draw a Realistic Face - An Artist's Insight
My History of Drawing People's Portraits
I've loved drawing people's portraits ever since I was yay high, and the passion has never died, though these days, I don't have as much time to dedicate to drawing and doodling as I did when I was in high school biology class. (Don't tell the teacher!)Here, I would like to share with you my personal tips and tricks about how to draw a realistic face. I am not a master by any means, but I've been told that my portraits are very realistic, with particular praise being given to the expression of the eyes. My hope is that my methods for drawing will be of use to you as well! Happy reading!
Feel Passion for your Subject
Passion will help you transcend spirtually as you draw!
I find that if I am very passionate about my subject, my mind transcends to a new and hyper-perceptive level of consciousness. Details become clearer, my art tools and body become one, and the physical world around me melts away for those few hours I am completely and utterly spellbound by my work.I don't know if this sort of out-of-body experience happens to every artist. All I know is that the degree to which I become spiritually united with my art piece will determine just how good it will be.If you are just starting out on your portrait drawing path, I would suggest that you draw someone whose face will trigger your inner artistic passion. That person could be anyone - a dear friend, a relative, a lover, a person you admire from afar, a superstar, a person you have lost. Can the person you have chosen make you smile from ear to ear, just at the very thought of them? Then you've picked out the perfect subject.At the risk of sounding very cliché, I have always found that, personally, drawing the man I am in love with, or a singer I enjoy listening to, is a sure fire way of reaching that level of intimacy with my work. However, I am not going to presume that these subjects will necessarily work for you!Note about the above portrait:This is a portrait I did of Hyde out of L'Arc-en-Ciel, a Japanese rock band. I drew this at the height of my obsession with Japanese culture and music, and it probably one of the finest portraits I have ever completed.
"Draw what you see, not what you THINK you see."
Every artist has a motto. This is mine.
Whenever I begin a new portrait, I repeat these words to myself. Why? Because it is too easy to become distracted by what you THINK exists in a subject, as opposed to what is actually there.Yes, it's all fine and dandy if you want to create an impressionistic portrait that deviates from reality, but if you want to draw a realistic face, it is very important to respect the details you see before you.A good example is a person's ear. (I always find ears the most challenging, which is why I bring them up as an example.) An inexperienced artist might draw a half circle containing another half circle, and a number of squiggly lines to suggest the auricle (outer ear). If you do this, you aren't actually drawing what you SEE. Look closer. Are those REALLY lines in the inner ear, or are you actually seeing a number of depressions, humps and hollows that create shadows which resemble lines? Focus in on those shadows. Block in the light and dark areas of the ear to create contrast. By doing so, you will gradually end up seeing those lines appear without even drawing them in!
The Best Graphite Pencils for Drawing Portraits - The Mars Lumograph Brand
Mars Lumograph Pencils are quite affordable and are available in a wide range, from 9H (the lightest) to 9B (the darkest). It is the brand that I tend to use when I draw realistic faces!
1. I've got my model. Now where do I start?
A good place to start is always at the beginning!
When I begin a portrait, 99% of the time I start out by roughly blocking in the most important features of the face. Which are the most important features? They are as follows:
the head - the eyes - the nose - the mouth - the ears - the hairStart by drawing the outline of the head. If you are unable to do this freehand, draw a grid to help calculate where each feature stands in relation to the other features. Generally, when drawing a frontal portrait, the eyes should be on the same line as the top of the ears, the nose, somewhere along the invisible line that joins the middle part of the ears, and the mouth, just below the point where the neck meets the ears. These are general rules, and may vary slightly from subject to subject. (Barack Obama's eyes, for instance, fall below the line that joins the top of the ears!)
Artists who will inspire you! - These artists will teach you how to draw a realistic face in a few easy steps!
- Pencil Drawing Lessons by Rosinski
Carol runs a studio called Toad Hollow Studio. She has a great talent for artistic realism with the graphite pencil. On her site, you will find a wealth of information about useful art tools, tips for drawing, lesson plans, and much more. Sadly, it s
- The Artwork of Brian Duey
Brian is a portrait artist with a soft style and a knack for creating brilliant contrast in each of his pieces. He sells his portraits, and has a tutorial section on his site which I find very helpful.
- Drawing Lesson: Step-by-Step Portrait
This easy-to-follow tutorial takes you through the steps behind drawing a realistic portrait. It was written by J.R. Dunster, a professional artist who has sold her work to superstars such as David Hasselhoff!
- Draw Realistic Girl's Face - Front View
A step by step tutorial that will teach you how to draw a girl's portrait. This tutorial is interesting as all the drawing is done with a Wacom drawing tablet.
- Paul Cadden Portraits
Amazing realistic drawings that look like photographs by artist Paul Cadden. You will not be able to distinguish his drawings from a black and white photo!
2. The Importance of Eyes
Eyes are the windows to the soul, right? So make them count!
Let's be serious.The rest of the drawing may be roughly drawn or incomplete, but if you have captured the expression of the eyes, you have a winning portrait.Why is this? It is because the eyes of a person are the first thing to which we are drawn. They are the physical feature that express most profoundly our genuine emotions. Have you ever tried looking at a person in the eye for more than two seconds, and attempted to hide how you really feel about them? You can't - that is, unless you are a sociopath.It is for this reason that, when you have finished blocking in the basic features of your subject, you should immediately start working on the eyes. You don't have to complete them. Just make sure that you shade them to the point where you almost feel as if your portrait is looking back at you. (This is very important as you want the portrait to communicate an emotion to the person viewing it.)Some wonderful online tutorials for drawing eyes:
How to Draw Realistic Eyes - by Mark Crilley
When you have finished the eyes, start shading the entire face (nose, mouth, ears, hair and all) with a very light 7F pencil. Why? Because you don't want any white space in your finished portrait, except for the sparkle in the eyes!
3. The eyes are realistic. The portrait has been shaded. Now what?
It's time to block in the shadows!
Now that you have a shaded drawing without any white space, and two realistic eyes looking back at you, you are basically free to start blocking in all of the shadows. Where will you normally find shadows on a face?Well, it depends very much on the lighting, but you are guaranteed to find shadows in the following places:
- around the nose - under the eyes - around the jawline - under the bottom lip - under the hairline - in the ears - under the cheekbone -Jason Brain has created a very nice example of a portrait that marks out all the important shadow zones on a person's face (see picture on the right). Look carefully at your own subject and see just how prominent each of these shadows are in relation to the lady in Jason's portrait.Picture courtesy of Jason Brain.
The Best Sketch Paper for Drawing Faces - Arches Hotpress Watercolour Paper
This is some of the best paper on the market. It is a little pricey, but worth it for the degree of detail you can achieve with any grade of pencil, from 9H to 9B. It is made of 100% cotton.
Finally, it's time to draw the rest of the features of the face! *claps hands*
4. Drawing in the other features
The easiest part of the portrait!
Now that you've got the perfect eyes, and the perfect shading, you've reached the easiest part of the process - drawing in the rest of the features! The most important thing to consider when you are filling in the features is to remain true to the original guidelines you laid out. Do not let the nose sink below the midline of the ears, for example! (It can be easy to get carried away and ignore your original sketch!)Below, I have included a number of helpful videos - one for drawing noses, one for mouths, one for hair and one for ears.
How to Draw a Realistic Nose - A tutorial by The Virtual Illustrator
How to Draw Realistic Lips and Teeth - by Brian Alan
How to Draw Realistic Ears - by The Virtual Instructor
How to Draw Realistic Hair - by Matthew Archambault
More examples of my portraiture - From 2001-2011Click thumbnail to view full-size
Buy Erasers for Drawing and Sketching - by Design Kneaded Rubber Erasers
These erasers are a must for pencil sketches! They are easily moulded into various shapes, so that if you need to erase a tiny portion of your drawing, you can simply pinch your eraser into a fine tip, and gently rub away the mistake. They are also fun to squish when you're feeling a bit frustrated with your sketch!
Poll about Portraiture
When you draw a portrait, what is your favourite medium?
Yes, I do commissioned portraits!Just send me a message and I'll give you a free quote. :-)