How To Draw Portraits Step by Step

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Drawing people is one of the most common practices since the very early ages. Long-time ago people used to do it to immortalize the rich (as they are the only ones who could afford it). Now, we do it for the fun experience and for the beauty! It is probably the most drawn thing…and the hardest.

For this tutorial, I will use a photograph I found on Sktchy ( an app where people post their photos for artists to draw them).

Check out the whole process video at the end of this post!!!!!

Let me walk you through my process of making a portrait:

Step 1: Basic Linemarks

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Start off with basic straight lines, then some curves. The goal for this step is to find the right proportions for the whole figure. Think about what angle does the line go in from one shoulder to the top of the head, and then to the other shoulder etc.

Step 2: Fixing Basic Proportions

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When you have the basics figured out – the next step will be to fix them up (still roughly) and add a little more detail. I’m using Photoshop for this tutorial and I love the ability to work with layers. Therefore, I keep the 1st rough layer below and turn down the opacity of it to 10-20%. This way I can still see the base, but can esily make adjustments on the new 100% opacity layer.

Step 3: Basic Face Linemarks

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Our proportions are all set in the right spots, and now it is time to zoom in and focus on the face. I put the second layer on opacity 10-20% and created a new layer where I’ll be putting down basic landmarks of her face.I like working in different colors rather than black, which then lets me focus on my main layer rather than the dimmed one.

Step 4: Linework

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The “blue face marks” layer’s opacity gets lowered as the previous ones and now we get to work on our most refined part – linework. It doesn’t have to be perfect as we are painting over it, but it has to be correct. Thus, I’m going in and creating pretty neat lines while fixing some minor mistakes I’m noticing. I also sometimes have basic marks of where the shadows go (as the one on her neck and a bit on her face).

Step 5: Basic Colors

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I like working with greyscale and starting from gray rather than white. The reason for that is that when you are done – the portrait most often than not will be overexposed. But when I start from gray I can go really dark, and then add white as the most important highlight! Usually, there are not many (a few dots on the lips, nose, eyes and sometimes forehead). Since the original photograph has a black background I keep it at that, but the skin is gray.

Step 6: Basic Values

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On a new layer ( while still keeping the linework layer visible and on top of the new one) I start figuring out the shadows and where the main light source is. In this case, the light is coming from the top left. Knowing this, I take a big brush and go over the gray color with black on her bottom right, and a light gray (not white) on the top left corner – it’s a good start! Then repeat that on her face as it is a new surface on its own.

Step 7: Building 3D Forms Through Values Focusing On Skin

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The main focus of the portraits is obviously the face. If my whole painting will look amazing, but the face won’t – there is no point in even trying (again, it’s just my way of drawing this). That’s why I start off with the most important part first. I always try to find all the darkest values and apply them at the beginning – don’t be afraid to paint it in pitch black, but don’t overuse it either. Most of the dark spots have a lot of value in them that is just different variations of dark gray. Then I go on and make my color lighter, lighter and lighter until I reach white. This is a very important step as all the values define how the viewer reads every form – if it’s round, sharp, plain etc.

Step 8: Adding More Values On The Whole Piece

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When I’m 90% happy with the face I focus on the rest of the painting. Some people like focusing on every area equally – and it’s a great way of doing it as you make sure that every area has as much detail as the previous. However, in my case, the main focus is the face and so I give it most of my painting time.

Step 9: Merging With Background

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Because I previously created a selection and worked within it (as you can see in the speed paint video tutorial I created), my figure stands out sharply from the background. That’s why I now will create a new layer and take some of the background color and go over the figure to blend them together. If I do it on every single part it will look blurry, and so I only select some areas – most of the right side and bits and pieces from the left.

Step 10: Adding Finishing Touches

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My favorite part is when the piece truly comes to life. So in the last step, I add little details here and there – highlights, shadows, little invisible right away lines, hair strands etc. Details are what makes up the piece! The viewer won’t necessarily notice them, but their subconscious will register those details and make your piece more realistic and interesting 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

So that’s it! And if I want to color this piece it will be so easy! I have the most important part done (values) and now on a new Overlay layer I can play around and plan my colors! I usually have a few thumbnails that look like this :

 

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! Please leave any comments on it below, and share on social media if you found this useful 😉

Also, don’t forget to check out all of our other awesome stuff and subscribe to our newsletter 🙂

 

 

And here is the promised video tutorial: 

 

 

 

*  ” Artist Interview #2 – Featuring B. Blue “ for her story and colorful paintings!

*  ” Artist Interview #3 – Featuring Agnieszka Nienartowicz “ to get inspired by her art and tips.

*  ” Artist Interview #4 – Featuring Daria Golab “ for her insights.

” Artist Interview #5 – Featuring Christian Orrillo “ where he shares his Art Path!

*  ” 14 Best Figure Drawing Books for Beginners “ with a list of great resources!

*  ” How to Art – 7 Beginner Steps to Improve Your Drawings “ for some more tips on how to get started on Your Art Path!

 ” 15 Leonardo Da Vinci Quotes ” to learn from the master’s ideas!

*  ” Top Oil Painting Tutorials on YouTube or 8 Steps to Learning How To Paint in Olis ” to master oil painting in no time!

Good luck on Your Art Path,
– Your Art Bud 😉

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Win Bill

    I am the first one to comment here but I doubt I will be the last want to say this. Your art seriously amazes me. I started off looking at the rough sketch of all the way in the first slide in the beginning. My first impression was that after you finish drawing the full picture it will look like some kind a cartoonish character of a woman. As I got to the part of the gray 3D area, you totally shocked me. Her eyes actually look like a pair of real eyes from a photograph. I am not sure if this picture you drew is modeling after a real person or not, but if this was a persons image that you imagined in your imagination then I would say that you put a soul into your picture. How long do you think I have to practice before I can draw like you?

  2. Brendon

    This is a very interesting post. I myself am not much of artist, but I always loved to doodle.
    I think I am going to take your suggestions and try to do a portrait of my girl.
    Better wish me luck, this is going to be interesting!
    Thanks for the read!
    Brendon

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