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.


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