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This is a step by step tutorial on how to draw a realistic portrait. I would suggest that you have a basic understanding of drawing and shading before attempting to draw a serious portrait. For this lesson I am drawing on 11"x14" Fabriano Hotpressed Watercolor Paper . I am using Derwent Graphic Pencils ranging from 2H to 7B. For more information on any of the drawing tools that I mention in this tutorial, visit the drawing materials page. The subject for this drawing is one of my favorite women, the beautiful Kelly Monaco. I am using a reference picture of her that I found on the internet. Let's get started.
Step 1 - First I have laid down a basic outline. You can either grid or freehand your outline. I prefer to grid because it's a lot faster and more accurate. Don't make your outline too dark. An HB pencil is perfect for outlines, not too dark and not too light. This step is very important in obtaining a likeness of your subject. If your outline doesn't resemble the person, your final product won't either. So take your time and get features and proportions correct. It's not uncommon for your outline to take a few hours.
Tip - Do NOT use a hard pencil (example: 5H, 2H) for outlines or grids. They will indent your paper and show up later when you are shading. They are almost impossible to cover up once the indentations are there. Don't say I didn't warn you. :)
Step 2 - Next I have started working on the hair. I always work from top to bottom, left to right, just like reading. I work this way so that I never have to rest my hand on a finished area of the drawing (I am right handed. Lefties would work right to left, top to bottom). I won't spend too much time explaining hair, since this is a face tutorial. But pay attention to which way the hair is flowing. Kelly's hair is very dark. I'm using a mechanical 3B and a 7B woodcased pencil on it. The mechanical pencil allows me to add the fine details and the 7B allows me to push the darker areas, adding contrast.
Step 3 - I continue working on the hair. Be patient and don't rush anything on a drawing. It's the small details that will make your work stand out from others'. Hair can take just as long, if not longer, than the face. Notice the hair is defined with different tones, not lines. If you just scribble a bunch of lines onto your paper, the hair will look flat and unrealistic. I use a mechanical 3B for most of the hair, using broad strokes in the direction the hair is flowing. Also there is no blending involved in drawing hair. I want the imperfections and paper texture to show through somewhat. Darken areas around highlights first and then fade your darks into the highlights. The highlights in the hair are darker in the back and become more brilliant towards the front. Remember that, for the most part, tones flow into eachother. Dark tones flow into midtones then into lights. Lights flow into midtones then into darks. If your hair isn't looking quite right, this may be your problem. Make sure you have a balanced flow of darks, midtones, and lights. If you just remember to keep tones flowing in gradients, you will end up with a realistic drawing.
Step 4 - I am still working on the hair. The first area that I will shade on the face is the forehead. So I want that area completely framed in with the dark tones of the hair. That will give me a reference to compare facial tones to. Remember when I said hair can take a while? I have worked about 6 hours on the hair so far and I am not even halfway done with it yet. I am done with the hair momentarily though and will move onto the forehead.
Step 5 - Whenever I start working on a face the first thing I do is identify where the lightest areas will be. When you find these areas you can lightly outline about where they will be . Highlights are usually found on the forehead, cheeks, tip of the nose, bottom lip, and chin. I know where my highlights are on the forehead. I know that the rest of the forehead has to be darker than these highlights. So I start by laying down some H graphite around the highlights. I just scribble it down VERY lightly and then blend it out with a tissue. If you are not darker than your highlights, you need to lay down more. After we do this, we have to blend the tone you just laid down into the highlights to form a light gradient. I do this with a q-tip. Remember what I said earlier about tones flowing into eachother? You have just defined the form of the light area of the forehead. Now onto the dark.
Tip - Highlights give you a good opportunity to suggest skin texture if you want. Skin texture can be achieved by either using the circulism technique (very lightly) or by dabbing a kneaded rubber eraser on surrounding shaded areas. Just make sure you don't make your texture darker than the lightest surrounding tones because it won't look natural.
Step 6 - The further away from the highlights you get, the darker you get. I am basically making a gradient that starts light around the highlights and gets darker along the hairline. The shading around the hairline is important. Have you ever seen a drawing that looks like the hair is pasted on? I have seen plenty and that's the reason it looks this way, not enough shading around the hairline. There will always be darker shading around the hairline from the hair casting subtle shadows onto the skin.
Tip - Take breaks when you are drawing. Sometimes when you stare at something too long your mind starts playing tricks on you. Work on your drawing for a few hours, take a break, and come back to it later, with fresh eyes.
Step 7 - I move onto the left eye. I won't spend too much time explaining eyes because I already have a dedicated eye tutorial. First I lay down some 3B graphite into the iris and blend it out with a blending stump. Usually there will be brilliant highlights in the eyes so shade around those. I always make the highlights bigger than they actually are. It's a lot easier to make them smaller than make them bigger after you've shaded everything else. I always make my tones around these highlights slightly darker than they actually are. Doing this makes the eyes appear to sparkle more. Next I darken underneath the upper eyelid. This indicates a shadow from the eyelid. I also darken in the center of the eye to indicate a pupil. The "whites" of the eyes are not actually white. I shade them with H graphite. There will be a cast shadow from the upper eyelid also. Pay attention to tones in your reference photo. The answers are there, you just need to see them.
Step 8 - Next I move down to the left cheek. I start by locating my lightest tone. I lightly shade this area with H graphite and blend it with a tissue. Then I lay down some B graphite around the H and blend it out. Just as the forehead, we are making a gradient that will get darker as we near the outside of the face. I work my way right up next to the nose.
Step 9 - Noses can be a struggle for many artists, especially beginners. Just try to remember that noses are nothing more than different tones representing contour and depth. I start by shading the bridge of the nose with H graphite. It is quite possible that there will be a subtle highlight on the tip of the nose so watch for that and shade around it. Next, I shade around the bridge with B graphite, making it slightly darker than the bridge area. I am making a subtle gradient towards the outer edges of the nose and into the cheek. As you are working on the nose area, make sure that tones flow seamlessly into the areas that we've already done. If an area of shading seems to abruptly stop, you need to work on blending it in so everything flows nicely.
Step 10 - I move onto the other eye. Just as before, I start by laying down some 3B graphite onto the iris and blend it with a blending stump. Again, shade around any highlights in the eyes. Leave them paper white. I darken the pupil and any areas under the eyelid to suggest a cast shadow. The eyelashes are drawn in now too but be careful not to make them too dark. Also, make them completely random. Eyelashes are never perfect and evenly spaced. I lay down some H graphite in the "whites" of the eyes. Even though these areas look white they never are. The only things that should be white on your drawing are brilliant highlights.
Tip - For most of my portraits I will add a small highlight where the iris meets the lower eyelid. This helps in attaining that wet look.
Step 11 - Now I am working on the right cheek. I lay down some H graphite in the lightest area and blend it out. Then I lay a slightly darker B graphite around the lighter area. I hope by this point you are noticing a pattern. The pattern is that most everything on a portrait drawing is done with gradients, light tones flowing into darker tones and vice versa. The tones continue to get darker until I've reached the outside of the face.
Step 12 - Following the jawline, I lay down my darkest tones with a 3B pencil. The darkest tones for the jaw will be towards the edges. If the subject is smiling as is the case in my reference, there will be folds in the skin so watch for those too. These folds will be darker. I move onto the upper lip area laying down some B graphite. Make sure that you are making the whole jaw area darker than the highlights on both the cheeks and nose. Since my light source is coming from above, there is a cast shadow underneath the nose. This is not always the case and will depend upon where the light source is coming from. I shade this shadow area with a 3B pencil.
Step 13 - As you work your way down on the face don't forget about the hair. I play catch up on the hair until it's about down to the jaw area. Working this way prevents you from having to rest your hand on the finished facial area to get at the hair. Don't go too far down with the hair either because you'll have to rest your hand on the finished hair area to get at the face. Try to keep every part of the drawing at about the same point horizontally. I'm often asked how my drawings look so clean and this is the reason. You'll never see smudge marks all over my paper. Just as before, I use my 3B mechanical pencil along with a woodcased 7B for darker areas. The only lines that you draw in the hair should indicate the flow and direction. Now I'm down far enough with the hair on the left side where I can go back to working on the face.
Tip - A retractable eraser is a useful tool to have when working on hair. You can use it to erase small fly-away hairs, adding detail and realism to your drawing.
Step 14 - I go back to working on the jaw and mouth area, on the right side this time. I start by laying down my darkest tones along the jawline, again watching for laugh lines and dimples. Next I lay some B graphite and blend it into the darks I just laid down, making a subtle gradient towards the edge of the jaw. When I'm happy with the jaw area I go back to working on hair, catching it up to the jaw on the right side.
Step 15 - Next I move onto the lips. I start by laying down an even wash of 3B graphite on the upper lip. Next I go slightly darker all over the lip except for the middle part, leaving that lighter. The darkest parts of the top lip will be the outer edges. The top lip will always be darker than the bottom. We used a 3B on the top lip so we will use a B on the bottom. I start by laying an even layer of B graphite down. Usually there are highlights on the bottom lip so make sure you avoid shading these. Underneath the bottom lip I shade in a shadow with 3B.
Step 16 - We finally reach the end of the face by completing the chin. I lay down some H graphite in the highlight area and blend it out. Then I lay down some B graphite surrounding the highlight so it's slightly darker. I may adjust this area later when I am working on the neck area.
Step 17 - Depending on where the light source is coming from, there may be a cast shadow on the neck from the chin. This is the case with my drawing. I start by laying down an even wash of 3B graphite in the shadowed area. How do you know how dark to go with this shadow? Compare tones on the face with the shadowed area. I see that my shadowed area is about the same tone as the cast shadow underneath the nose. The shadowed area will be darker as we near the edges on both sides. I have also begun working on the shoulder on the left side. For the hair I decided to fade it out at the bottom. I think this is a really classy, artistic look in portrait drawing. I attain this look first by drawing the hair at the bottom with a 5H pencil. This will give me my lightest tones and the tones that I need to transition down to. Then I go back up the where I left off and use a 3B, getting lighter and lighter as I near the bottom. When you reach the bottom it should be a smooth gradient from dark to light.
Step 18 - I move on to the chest area. I start by laying down an even wash of H graphite and blend it out. Then I add some darker tones along the outter edges where the hair is. Just as I did with the hair I am blending this area out at the bottom.
When everything is complete and the way you want it spray your drawing with a good fixative. I recommend Winsor & Newton Workable Fixative Start to finish this drawing took me around 20 hours over several weeks just working a few hours at a time.