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How to Sketch a Portrait
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How to Sketch a Portrait

Difficulty Intermediate
Budget £10 - £30
Time 1 hr +

Grab your pencils and learn how to sketch a portrait! Whether it’s a self-portrait or one of a friend or family member, you’ll learn all the key steps to drawing portraits in this step-by-step guide. Discover how to create a detailed portrait from start to finish, including sketching and measuring, as well as shading and blending.

Ideal for those with a little more sketching experience, this guide will give you the confidence to sketch a portrait and display it with pride for everyone to see!

Project and instructions by Hobbycraft Artisan Charlotte Baker.

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How to make

Sketching

Step 1

Draw out a rough oval to give a rough idea of the size of the head. Next draw a line across halfway down the head, which will be the eyeline.

Step 2

Mark where you’ll be drawing the eyes across the eyeline (middle line we have drawn). There is usually one eyes’ space between eyes, so measure this distance and compare this to each eye, using your pencil and finger to measure this space.


Eyes are lemon or almond shapes and are more curved at the top. Draw the iris and pupil in too, paying close attention to how big the iris is and making sure it is circular and not oval. Draw a whole circle to avoid drawing an oval. The pupil should always be located in the middle of the iris.

Step 3

To draw the nose, first work out how far down the nose needs to be on the face. Look at your reference and measure in eyes, how many eyes down the nose falls. In my self-portrait, my nose sits about 1 and a bit ‘eyes’ down. Look at how wide the nose is too – my nose lines up with my inner corners of my eyes.


Draw three circles, the biggest in the middle and one either side for each nostril. Then draw the shape of the nose starting in the middle and working out – it is sort of like a very soft ‘m’ shape.

Step 4

To sketch the mouth, measure the distance between the bottom of the nose and the top of the lips in eyes again – this is usually approximately half an eye. Start with the top lip, creating an ‘M’ shape for the cupids bow and looking carefully at the angles. Always start with the top line of the top lip before working your way down the mouth. The middle of the bottom lip is usually the largest part so draw this in first before bringing the lines up to meet the corners of the mouth.

Step 5

Work out how far down the chin comes by measuring from the bottom of the lips to the chin on your reference photo in eyes again. Look closely at your reference to determine the shape of the chin – rounded, pointy, or angular/flat.

Step 6

Once you have sketched your chin in, you can draw the sides of the face. Keep looking at the spacing between the facial features to the edge of the face and use measuring to help double check distances. Our faces can be rounded, curved and angular so identify the places where the face dips in and out.

Step 7

Eyebrows are elongated triangular shapes. Make sure they are the correct distance away from your eyes and are lining up where they should. On my face, my eyebrows are in line with my inner corners. Look at the rough shape and don’t add too much detail in at this stage.

Step 8

To work out how big the forehead is, you need to measure the forehead on your reference photo. I prefer to measure from the top of the forehead to the inner corner of my eye. Once you have this measurement, move your hand down so the pencil tip is now in the inner corner. This will then compare how big the forehead is. On my portrait, the measurement comes down to the bottom of my lips, so this is how big I will draw the forehead.

Step 9

Hair can be broken down into shapes and sections. Make sure you don’t just draw lots and lots of individual strands, you want the hair to be drawn in clumps. My hair is curly, so I have drawn the curves and waves in sections.

Shading

Step 10

We need to apply a midtone to our portrait to act as a base and to get rid of the white paper. Use a dark pencil such as a 6B and shade a small section on a separate piece of paper. Using this shading, use your finger or a tissue and smudge this onto the portrait to create the midtone. You should press lightly.

Step 11

Add base highlights to your portrait using a putty eraser. Putty erasers are great as they just take off the top layer of pencil, unlike a normal eraser, which takes away all pencil. Look at where the light catches the face, high points such as the bridge of the nose, forehead, cheeks, and chin.

Step 12

Using a HB pencil start adding in more shading to the darker shadows of the face, for example under the mouth, round the eyes and underneath the cheek bones. Any shading is going to recede the area of the face and any highlights we add with a putty eraser will push the areas of the face forward. This is how we create a three-dimensional effect.


Use a blending stump to softly blend these areas of shading in.

Step 13

Shade around the circles you drew in for the nose using a HB or 2B pencil to make it seem more rounded and three-dimensional. You can use the blending stumps to soften this shading out. Don’t forget to add more highlights over the top using the putty eraser.

Step 14

To shade the eye first shade the iris and pupil using a HB. We want to softly build the eye up and darken areas over time. Don’t shade the pupil too dark to begin with in case we need to adjust the placement later. Make sure to leave the highlight un-shaded.

Next, using a 2B or darker, start shading little lines in from the outside towards the middle of the pupil to create those darker details in the iris. You can darken the pupil using a 4B or darker.

Draw the eyelashes in darker using a very sharp 4B pencil and curve under and up to create the flicked look. Really look at the way the eyelashes are going, as they change direction over the eye.

Step 15

We want the lips to look three-dimensional, so we are shading in a slightly curved way to create the roundness. Look for the shadows using a 2B and start adding in darker parts to create shadows in the lips.

Use a putty eraser or a perfection pencil eraser to erase little highlights in the center of the bottom lip. Then add in finer details using a HB pencil, looking at the little lines in the lips.

Step 16

Eyebrows are just little hairs, so we will be shading them in the direction they are going in and looking at the length of the hairs. Start lightly with a HB and get darker using a 2B in sections.

Step 17

Shade your hair in the sections you have drawn to make sure it’s in clumps rather than lots of individual hairs. Use a 2B to start and shade the darker sections in shade – this will help you to see the sections of hair you have. Remember to still follow the direction and curve of the hair.

Start adding more hairs using HB pencil in the sections still and then use the blending stump to soften these lines.

Finish by using a putty eraser or pencil eraser to pick out highlights in the hair, making sure to follow the curve and direction. 

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