Portrait Drawings Advices

7 Easy Advices on drawing portraits. Learn how to improve your portrait drawing and make it look more realistic.

1. Proportion

While every face has a series of unique features, a general proportion is useful for portrait drawings. When you have enough experience you can easily make adjustments to the proportions to fit a custom description. The face starts out as a stand up rectangle divided into six equal squares. Inside the top four you can draw a circle that will be the top of the head. The chin goes down from both sides of the circle down to the base of the rectangle. The eyes will be at the middle of the rectangle while the nose will be a third of the bottom squares. The mouth is in the middle of the bottom squares. The ears run from the top of the eyes to the bottom of the nose. This is just a rough sketch:

2. Eyes

The eyes are the most essential part of the drawing. No matter what the cartoons tell you, they are not dots inside circles. The eyes are of spherical shape, but they are not fully visible, as they are partially covered by the eyelids. Take your time when drawing the eyes.

3. Nose
When drawing the nose keep in mind where it’s pointing. If it is pointing directly at you then you can not see any hard edge of the bridge. Instead you see a combination of shadows and highlights. The only lines you can make out are those of the nostrils and tip of the nose.

4. Mouth

The biggest mistake people make when drawing a mouth is that they are trying to shape it through hard lines. The key is to observe the shadows the mouth is casting. Under the lower lip you can observe a bigger shadow. On top of the upper lip you can observe a highlight. The only hard line should be between the two lips.

5. Ears
Don’t overlook the ears. Although they are usually not an important feature, if done sloppy they can make the whole portrait look clumsy and hasted. Take your time and observe. Remember that although the ears have the same structure, they can be very different in size and shape.

6. Hair

One of the most difficult tasks when beginning to draw portraits is drawing the hair. The hair can come in a variety of shapes, sizes, textures and colors. Each of this can be accurately represented if you follow some simple steps. Start by drawing the overall shape, move on to the highlights and shadows. Then draw whatever makes that hair unique. Is it curly? Is it long or short? Different hair lengths produce different results. Don’t be afraid to draw some loose hair strings around, but don’t over do it.

7. Shading

You can give depth to your drawing by shading and highlighting. Observe the way the light flows and shade accordingly. In a natural environment (ex: outside) the parts that will receive the most light are the tip of the nose, the cheekbones and lower lip. But that depends on the position of the subject, light source and of course the shape and size of the features. That why is very important to observe carefully.


Famous Portraits – Portrait of a Man (in a Turban)

Jan van Eyck was one of the first painters to use oils on panels. Born in Netherlands, the Flemish is now regarded as one of the best painters of the 15th century.

His paintings show a great technique and are full of details. In 1433 he completed what is now seen as his most famous work. He titled it simply “Portrait of a Man”, and it could be a self portrait. It shows a quarter view of a man wearing a red chaperon, with its sides lifted.

Although might seem unusual today, for that time in the Western Europe this type of head wear was common. The black background, dark garments of the subject as well as the light that falls from one side make his face stand out and emphasis its volume, making it appear three dimensional. Another great visual impact is the contrast between the red chaperon and the dark surroundings.

Van Eyck makes use of the technique called “sfumato” which is applying the paint in overlapping thin layers to blend the hues. This makes the portrait look smooth without any hard edges or visible brush strokes.

Famous Portraits – Dora Maar au Chat

While some praise him as an incredible talented artist and others describe his works as being similar to those made by a two year old, Pablo Picasso was never the less an influential painter that “broke” the traditional rules of painting and cast a new light on what people were regarding as art.

He and his friend started the cubist movement, one that has lead to a more abstract style. Although he was able to pint in a realist manner his creative spirit wanted to bring something new and never seen before. Therefore he began mixing more than one viewpoint of his subjects into a single form and the resulted work seemed “broken”, containing straight lines and sharp angles.

This was called “cubes” by a French art critic in the early 20th century and there resulted the term “cubism”. Dora Maar was the name of one of Pablo’s girlfriends. She was a professional photographer and the artist depicted her in a number of paintings.

In “Dora Maar au Chat” we find her in a calm state, resting on a chair with a black cat behind her right shoulder. Picasso breaks the image in a way that the sense of space and depth is lost, while the shapes seem to be colliding violently. The woman’s red and dark blue dress is ornamented with dots and her green blouse with horizontal black lines.

The hat is also represented as an important element of Dora Maar and her involvement with the surrealist movement. Known for her coquette hands, they are painted here with long sharp nails symbolizing both femininity and violence.

6 Beginner Mistakes in Portrait Drawings

How to approach drawing when you are just beginning. Learn what are the most common mistakes made by beginners and how you can avoid them.

1. Study your subject before drawing

When you are drawing what you know and not what you see can end up in a portrait that does not resemble the subject. Don’t draw what you think a nose, a mouth or an eye looks like, instead try to capture the unique shapes of your subject’s features. It is crucial to draw with your eyes and not your mind. Learning to see is the first step to drawing a better portrait. You can often move away from the drawing and compare it to the person you are trying to draw. Keep looking back and forward till you see the differences.
2. Take the right proportions

When drawing a portrait try to focus on the whole rather than the parts. Otherwise you can end up with a portrait that has parts of the subject but has no resemblance to it as a whole. Measure carefully the distances between the eyes and the nose, mouth, chin and try to stay accurate. In time, as you gather more and more experience, you will improve your skills and be able to reproduce the features exactly. There is no point in moving on to finer details if you don’t master the proportions. Getting the right proportion of each feature is doing half the drawing.

3. Drawing only with lines will make it look flat

From the first doodles as a child we learn to draw using a simple hard line to point out the outline and create shapes. In portraiture this is can make your finished work appear cartoon like. Try to use as much hard line as possible, even though you think you see a line don’t rush into recreating that on the paper, use multiple fine pencil strokes to create subtle tones. Remember that in nature we find very little hard lines, so try to avoid placing them in your portrait.
4. Don’t leave the eyeballs and teeth white

Another thing to avoid is leaving parts of the drawing to be pure white (blank paper). The only pure white that we find is in the highlight of the eyes and, sometimes, in very white teeth that receive a lot of light (it is actually the saliva that reflects that pure white light). The same goes for the pure black. You only find it in the pupils of the eyes and inside the nostrils.
5. Don’t draw hair like a bunch of lines

Drawing hair can be a painful experience for beginners. You start first by struggling to draw lots of lines but that only makes it look worst. What you should be doing is to try drawing hair as composed from parts of different tonal values, and only do the actual hair strings to suggest flow and add more realism to it. Especially in drawing hair it is important to observe the subject and reproduce what you see as accurate as you can.

6. Use shading

Instead of using simple lines try and use shading. Take into consideration where your light source is and shade accordingly. This is very important as it gives your portrait a smoother shape and a third dimensional appearance. In the beginning you want to start your tonal values in steps. First cover the whole portrait with a light tone. Then move on to the darkest parts, as this will give you a better idea of the final contrast you will want to achieve. The very last thing to do is the highlights in the eyes, lips, teeth if needed and hair.

Famous Portraits – Portrait Of Dr. Gachet

When we hear the name “Vincent van Gogh” we immediately think of two things: his impressionist paintings full of color and the fact that he cut off his ear. While his works are now worth a fortune, he was only able to sell a few paintings during his lifetime.

What is generally not known is that Vincent started painting only in his late twenties and his style was totally opposite to the one that made him famous. He started using dark earth tones and then moved on to brighter ones after being told by his brother that these were the kind of paintings that got sold.

Because of his mental illness he was assigned to Doctor Paul Gachet who took him under his custody. At first Vincent was reticent about him and was even questioning the doctor’s sanity but as the time passed by he got to accept him and even painted his portrait. The “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” depicts the doctor sitting at a table with his head held by the right hand, while the left hand rests on the table.

There we also find the books written by two brothers, probably suggesting the close relationship of Vincent and his doctor, and a vase of flowers used for a heart medication that might represent the doctor’s health condition. His eyes have a melancholic feel, also empowered by the eyebrows, and even make his physical appearance seem sick.

Through the warm colors and the blank stare van Gogh manages to depict Paul Gachet in a calm absent state that gives us strong clues about the doctor’s own condition, as seen by the artist.

Famous Portraits – Girl With A Pearl Earring

While now it is regarded as one of Netherlands’ finest painters of the 17th century, Johannes Vermeer was only discovered much later in the 19th century when his works caught the attention of a French art critic and a German historian.

Vermeer lived in a small house together with his many children, wife and her mother. There in his studio he has arranged and reproduced a series of domestic activities such as writing or reading a letter and playing a musical instrument as well as social gatherings. One of his paintings of a young girl has attracted many viewers.

The “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is sometimes considered to be the “Mona Lisa of the North”. Her identity is unknown. The portrait depicts a young woman half turned towards the viewer. Her garments are not common and, while her dress could be something worn by a child, the headpiece is probably inspired by another painting.

Whatever the case, Vermeer has adopted his two usual colors for the headwear: bright yellow and ultramarine. This contrasts greatly with the dark background that has also been preferred by the artist to highlight the face and make it appear three dimensional.

The central point of the portrait, the pearl earring, is sitting in the shade and its outline is not presented through hard lines but rather suggested with a few touches of gray and white.

Famous Portraits – Mona Lisa

Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is probably the most recognized portrait in the world. You are likely to ask why it is so well known.

The piece was completed in 1519 by the already famous Da Vinci that was not only a painter but also a sculptor, an architect, a scientist, a mathematician and more. After being owned by a number of French Kings, the painting was finally placed in the Louvre museum in Paris.

At the beginning of the 20th century it was stolen and only recovered a couple of years later. Together with the growing appreciation from symbolist painters and art critiques this has boosted its popularity. Further more in 1962 it was lend to the United States for a televised tour.

The painting has always been surrounded by a shroud of mister as the identity, although widely accepted as Lisa del Gioconda, is still not certain and people continue to speculate. The mysterious half smile was also fuel for the imagination. The sitter is placed in the center of the painting, forming a pyramid with the hands forming the base and the head being the top.

The separation between her and the viewer is due to the placement of the chair, thus creating a sense of distance, reservation and dignity. The soft yellow light creates a feeling of intimacy and silence, while the contrast between the face and the darker area surrounding it draws the attention to her gentle eyes. As if breaking the solemnity and gravity of the composition, the barely perceivable smile expresses calmness and comfort.