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pencil portraitsThere is a wide range of styles when it comes to pencil portraits. They can be quick gesture sketches, cartoons, or even highly detailed and shaded; it all depends on what the artist is trying to convey. Artists have been creating portraits of people for ages. Some artists are commissioned to create a portrait, while other artists were able to choose their own models. Throughout history they have created portraits of noblemen, kings, and deities. Art of the 19th and 20th century gave way to new artists with new ideas and art styles, like Impressionism, and Cubism. It’s important to know your art style in order to figure out your drawing process.


To begin your pencil portraits you must first start with your layout. You want to select a pencil that is not too hard, like an HB, to begin your outline. If you use a pencil that is too hard you could create indentations on your paper even after you erase the lines. If you use a softer pencil you just have to remember to press lightly and sketch your layout. This is better because you can either draw over the lines you created or erase them if needed.

Take your time when creating the layout of your subject. You want to make sure that it resembles your subject. If it doesn’t look like them now, it won’t look like them even after you add in all the details. There is no rush, and it’s common for an outline to take a while to complete. A good place to start is by drawing the eyes and creating the outline of the face. Eyes are an important part of pencil portraits and allow you to create a good likeness of your subject. Your drawing will be much better in the end if you can outline the eyes and other facial features correctly. If you’re drawing in a more caricature style you still want to get the expression of your subject right to make sure that they look like themselves.


how to draw eyes step by stepAfter you’ve created the outline of your subject, you can spend some time working on the eyes. In order to capture the likeness of your subject is important to draw the eyes correctly as they are the most expressive feature. Find the darkest parts of the eyes and begin shading them in. Once you shaded in all of the dark areas of the eyes, you can start with the next value that is slightly darker than your blacks. As you continue shading in your eyes, try and develop some depth with your lighter tones. Once you’ve lightly shaded in the iris you can use a smudge stick to blend the values together. You can also use your eraser to create some more highlights within the iris. Once you are happy with the iris you can move on.

After you’ve created the pupil and iris the next part is shading in the white part of the eye. That part of the eye really isn’t just white and will need to be shaded. Lightly sketch in the areas of the eyes that are slightly darker and leave the highlighted spots empty. You can then use your smudge stick to blend the shadows with the highlighted area. If you’re eyes begins to look flat you can use your eraser again to create some more highlights.

Continue shading around the eyelid and adding in the eyelashes. Start with the darker areas and blend them into the lighter ones. Add in your eyelashes before you finish highlighting around the eyes. Once you finish shading the eyelid and area just above it you can begin working on the eyebrows. Drawing the most important details first and then blending it together. Continue shading areas of the eyes that still look flat. You can also use your eraser to create more highlights if needed.


shutterstock_110368493When it’s time to move on to the mouth double check that the outline you created still works well with your newly shaded eyes. If everything looks good begin shading in just above the top of the lip. Once you’ve started to shade in the darkest area, use your smudge stick to blend together the area just above the upper lip. Next you can add in the shadowed area at the bottom of the top lip. Continue Up the top lip, shading with less pressure as you go in order to define the lip.

Next you can start with the gums if your subject is smiling and showing their teeth. Because the teeth are lighter you want the gums to be darker than them. Begin shading the gums darker than the teeth, but slightly lighter than the upper lip. Next move on to the teeth and start in the back. Continue to work on each tooth lightly shading them one at a time. Many people think that teeth are white however they do have highlights and shadows on them. Make sure to pay close attention to this and use a harder pencil so that the shading is much lighter. As you move to the teeth in the front of the mouth they should be the lightest.

Once the teeth are finished you can move on to shading in the bottom lip. Start with your darkest tones again, blending with the highlights. Bottom lips can be little bit harder as there are many different values within them. Make sure to use your smudge stick and a eraser if you need to create lighter tones or add highlights.


pencil portraitsTo create the hair you want to start at the top of the head and on the left, or right side, depending if you’re left or right-handed. This will keep you from rubbing over your drawing and smudging it you’re your hand. Start with the darkest areas around the highlights making them lighter as you approach the highlighted areas. Make sure to draw the hair and the direction that it flows. There’s no need to use a smudge stick for a lot of blending in this area as seeing the lines and imperfections will help create texture in the hair. You can also use your eraser to brighten up the highlights if you end up shading over part of them. You’ll want your darks to flow smoothly into the midtones, and then the highlights, by pressing lighter on your pencil as you draw. Take your time in this area as drawing the hair can be just as much work as drawing the features of the face.

Knowing yourself as an artist, and what process you use, will help you to create beautiful pencil portraits. Remember to take your time and focus on the details that are important to you. Is important to practice your art regularly in order to improve; carrying around a sketchbook is a great way to practice your drawing skills. You can do quick sketches of people on the bus to help you practice your layout skills. If you have a long commute to work on a train you may also be able to get a semi-detailed sketch of someone. The more you practice your drawing skills, the more confident you will feel when creating pencil portraits. Having this confidence will definitely be visible in your drawings.

Once you feel confident creating pencil portraits, you can try creating some without a model. When you feel like you’ve mastered being able to create a portrait from memory, you can look into expanding your portraits. Instead of drawing just a face, you can draw a full body, or even learn how to draw pinups if you enjoy that art style. If you find you’re having trouble drawing a full body, try studying some anatomy to help with your figure drawings. With all these great skills your developing you could take your pencil portraits to the next level by creating some digitally. Digital painting will allow you to take your art to a greater audience. It’s also a great way to share your art and receive critiques on how to improve. Get out there and create some fantastic pencil portraits to share with your friends!

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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