How to Draw Portraits

Human faces have always fascinated artists and to be able to see and capture the likeness of someone using pencil and paper is a challenging and inviting prospect. To quote Frederick Franck in his book The Zen of Seeing, 1973: “When drawing a face, any face, it is as if curtain after curtain, mask after mask, falls away….until a final mask remains, one that can no longer be removed, reduced. By the time the drawing is finished, I know a great deal about that face, for no face can hide itself for long. But although nothing escapes the eye, all is forgiven beforehand. The eye does not judge, moralise, criticise. It accepts the masks in gratitude as it does the long bamboos being long, the goldenrod being yellow.”  

There are many great tips out there which you can use to help you draw realistic portraits and the great thing about art is that there is definitely no right or wrong with how you go about it and with the end result – it is the process and enjoying it that are important. Below I’ve outlined some tips that you can add to your “portrait from photo to draw a portrait” checklist for when drawing portraits from the side profile.

Know the proportions of the human face from the side profile:

  • The distance from the bottom of the chin to the eye level is the same as the distance from the eye level to the top of the head.
  • The distance from the bottom of the chin to the eye level is the same as the distance from the corner of the eye to the back of the ear.
  • The bottom of the ear should be approximately in line with middle of the space between the bottom of the nose and the top of the lip. This invisible line is also the approximate place where the back of the neck reaches the skull.

Other tips:

  • At the start of the drawing just draw the shared edges that you can see of the subject. Different shades, tones, lights, and shadows can be added at the end.
  • Focus on and draw shapes and spaces to avoid falling into drawing symbols rather than what is actually in front of you.
  • Break the eye down into parts and just draw the shape as you see it of the white of the eye and then do the same for the shape of the eyeball.
  • Drawing hair is largely a light-shadow process and given enough clues the viewer can work out and in fact enjoys working out the texture and nature of the subjects hair.

As I said there is no right or wrong and plenty of other good tips and techniques you will learn to get better and better, and as with most things practice and repetition will build your skill – enjoy!

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