Learn to Draw Portrait

Drawing portrait is a process which involves various steps such as identify a reference photograph, line drawing and shading. Line drawing is 2D art, which gets transformed in 3D by shading process.


Step 1: Art Supplies

You will need art supplies mentioned at Blog – Set up an Art Studio

Step 2: Identify a Reference Photograph

Identify high quality, and clear sharp portrait photograph, which should have good combination light and shadow. Convert the coloured photo into black and white using professional image editing software.

Step 3: Analyse Drawing

Observe the subject from drawing perspective and break it down to smaller parts such as eyes, nose, lips jaw profile etc., their proportions, angles and relative distance from each other.

Step 4: Draw

For drawing, break down the smaller parts into simple geometrical shapes such as circles, ellipse, triangles and lines etc, which helps in defining navigational points and proportions. Always sketch gently and lightly on the drawing sheet. The lines in a drawing are temporary container and guide lines for shading to take place.

In case of front pose of the face, ensure that left side of the face is exact reverse image of right side of the face. Keep on evaluation and improvising your drawing till you are satisfied. Improvisation (i.e. draw, evaluate and redraw) is important step and should not be ignored.

When drawing is final, reduce the darkness of lines by erasing a bit, just leaving a light impression of lines. Don’t touch the sheet with your bare hands, as it will stain the sheet with skin dust and skin oil.

Step 5: Analyse Shading

Objects in the real World are formed with light and shadow, and not by lines, which are necessary for shading to take place. Identify the direction of source of light and understand the shadow and it’s gradation. Some professional image editing software have posterization facility i.e. conversion of a continuous gradation of tone to several regions of fewer tones, with clear-cut demarcation. To start with you can posterization the digital photo, up to 5 or 6 levels, which will help you to further analyse and understand the light and shadow. Also identify the darkest, lightest and in between values in the subject and practice the same on a rough paper and shading strip.

Step 6: Shade

You can either use lead of different grade or use pressure with the same lead pencil to create light and dark values. Use layering technique to further darken the area. Use same pattern of strokes to shade. Use stump, tortillon, cotton buds or dry face tissue paper to blend the pencil strokes on the the paper. Start shading the subject from lighter to darkest value. In order to avoid smudging, a right-handed artist should start the art work from top left corner and finish it at the bottom right corner of the drawing sheet. In successive iterations, to avoid smudging, an artist can fine tune the art work by resting the hand on a wooden stick or an acrylic bridge, which is slightly elevated from the sides.

When you are through with shading, use eraser to create highlight the areas to depict reflection. Take feedback from your friends and improvise further. Keep on evaluating and improvising your drawing till you are satisfied. Pick erased dust with putty eraser, which is also known as knead eraser. Try to increase the contrast a little, which will enhance the portrait to a great extent.

Step 7: Finishing Touch

Write your name and current date at the bottom right corner or any other suitable place. Give it a meaningful and interesting title. Clean the sketch with a soft brush and ensure there is no eraser dust.

Step 8: Preserve

Put the mask on and spray 3 to 4 layers of fixative, which create a thin protective layer on the sketch. Laminate the portrait, get it framed and commission it on your wall and enjoy. Avoid using glass frame, as it will make you artwork heavy and will reflects light, which is very annoying.

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About Author

Artist Surinder Shanker Anand

I live in Chandigarh – the City Beautiful, situated in Northern India at Shivalik foothills. Since childhood, I was blessed with innate artistic abilities. My artistic expressions are engaged with the subjects related to humans portrait and body dynamics, nature and spirituality. I like to sketch using pencil, charcoal, watercolor, acrylic, pastel, oil, mixed media and digital tool such as Wacom Cintiq Pen/Tablet, CorelPainter, CorelDraw, Adobe Photoshop, After Effects, Adobe Premier, 3Ds Max and ZBrush etc. to create digital artwork. Passion in visual arts lead me to start Shanky Studio, offering a wide range visual arts services such as personalized portraits, customized paintings, graphic design and one-to-one visual arts classes for the students aspiring for various design courses such as NID and NIFT. I have conducted visual arts & craft workshops for Elante Mall and The North Country Mall / VR Punjab and various schools in and around Chandigarh. Some of the activities were directly conducted by me for Marvel Worldwide Inc., Mattel Inc. (Barbie), Rovio Entertainment Ltd. (Angry Birds), Hamleys Toy, Hasbro Inc. (My Little Pony) and Cartoon Network (Dexter’s Laboratory). Shanky Studio is also engaged in various CSR activities such as such as free visual art class, visual art exhibition at no-profit and no-loss basis and free sessions design career counseling. By profession, I am software professional, having over 35 years of experience in the IT, primarily in Analysis/Design, Software Development, Delivery, Project Management and rest of the phases of SDLC. I have worked at on-site with American Express (TX, USA), Nekema Inc (NJ, USA), Premier Inc (NC, USA), Syntel Inc (MI, USA), Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd (Mohali, India) and Semiconductor Complex Ltd (Mohali, India); and managed various on-site/off-shore Global IT projects. I am Masters in Economics from Panjab University, Chandigarh, India, with Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management.