Portrait Drawing Tips for Beginners

Portrait Drawing Tips for Beginners

Portrait drawing is tricky but interesting. It is a beautiful way to depict human emotions. There can be no other way to communicate the expressions of human faces than portrait sketching. Portrait sketching can become a lot easier with some great portrait drawing tips.  

In this article, we will cover some basic as well as advanced portrait drawing immensely helpful tips.

Portrait Drawing Tips for Beginners
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Before we start, I have a piece of good news to share with you!

If you like drawing and sketching, you should join the amazing GoSocial Community. The community is a great way to meet people in your field and make amazing friends. Also, you can share your sketches and drawings with the members and gain followers. 

Do you like participating in events? Yes? Great!

Go Social conducts many workshops where you get a chance to train yourself. You can leverage workshops to get better at your art as well as learn from the events.

Now, let’s begin without Portrait drawing tips.

Top Portrait drawing tips for beginners….

Know where your subject is

Who is your subject and why? 

This is the first question that you should ask yourself. 

While drawing a portrait you do not have many options like in architecture or traveling drawing. You can either choose to go with a familiar face or a stranger. 

Many times, artists ask strangers to stop in a street or a cafe and start sketching their portraits. Well, this takes a lot of mastery and skills. If you are not very confident in drawing portraits of strangers, you can go with faces in your family and friends. 

Remember that, not always the prettiest face makes the best portrait. You need to find a subject that speaks some emotions or catches your eyes. A bald man with wrinkles can make as good a subject as a young pretty woman. 

Spend some time looking and finding your subject. Sometimes your subject is right in front of you but you may not notice. If you are a beginner you can also start by recreating the already made portraits. Start with the simple ones. Once you get better at the art of portrait drawing, you will be able to draw extempore sketches too. 

What is important here is to understand how your subject makes you feel. Does it make you happy, sad, calm, or uneasy? Rather than drawing what you see, go for how you feel. A baby sleeping or a father cooking food etc. Can create some beautiful emotions that can help you bring out great emotions in your viewers.

Define your composition

Once you have finalized your subject, it is time to focus on your composition. 

Avoid making a complicated composition. Keep it simple. 

Think about how you can bring life to the drawing. For example, the head need not be straight but can be slightly tilted up or down. 

Next, decide on the direction of the subject’s looks. 

You can have the subject gazing right at the viewer. This makes the viewer participate and relate to the subject in one glance. 

Facial expressions are another thing that you should work on. What do you want your subject to express? Happiness, Sorrow, Pity, or Surprise? You can depict various personalities through different facial expressions. 

Don’t go for flat portrait sketches that don’t convey much. Think about how you can make portrait sketches that are catchy to their viewer’s attention. Think about how you can arouse emotions in your viewers through your portrait sketches.

If you need help, here’s a guide that will help you with Sketching Basics

Create a quick Thumbnail

An outline is always better before digging into the details.

Create a quick thumbnail in 5-10 minutes before you begin with your elaborate sketch. 

This will create a draft for you to detail out later.

This will also help you to find your point of interest.

Not sure what are points of interest? Don’t Worry, I will explain. 

Basically in a portrait sketch, there are some main focus points. All these points that you gradually emphasize are called points of interest. These may be birthmarks, hair curls, nose shapes, hats, etc. 

When you draw quick thumbnails, you will automatically focus more on your points of interest. This will help you to know yourself more. This will in turn also let you discover your strengths.

Start with a light sketch 

Start with a very light outline. The human face may at first seem very easy to draw but when you start drawing you will see that the proportions of the face are not exactly like you see. For instance, the eyes are not just below the head but halfway between the crown of your head and your chin. 

Create a light foundation first so that you can easily dig into the minute details later. Even if you make a mistake you can delete it early and easily.  

Jump on the structure

When you are completed with the composition, and thumbnail the next is drawing the structure. 

Start with the head, eyes, and nose. 

One of the interesting portrait drawing tips is to leave emotions here and look for shapes and geometry. For instance, the head is mostly a sphere with flat sides and a chin. This might look odd to hear but while drawing the structure the shapes will help you a lot. 

Think from 3 Dimensional views. Place the elements one by one – eyes, nose, ears, lips, hair. Add some shadows on the neck so that your face doesn’t seem floating in the air. The final details will be the ones that will add realistic qualities to your portrait. 

Take proper time, don’t be in a hurry. The placement of these items is necessary. Even the elements when sketched off by a few millimeters can make the portrait look completely dull. After drawing the basic shapes the below portrait drawing tips will make your work easier. 

Here are some tips on Face drawing that will help you out. 

Get better at measurements

Portrait Drawing Tips for Beginners

Many think that artists have a natural quality of being perfect at measuring. Something which others cannot understand and learn. This is not at all the truth. 

Portrait sketchers are always measuring by the eye (mostly) as they draw. One of the best ways to get your measurement correct is to imagine the axis running down the center of the face and horizontally through the eyes. This will help to determine how much the head is titled and how far the eyes are from the head. 

Don’t guess the distance and measurements. Instead always keep asking questions to understand the correct measurements.

Is the distance between the width of the two eyes smaller or larger than the distance between the two eyes?

Is the distance between the nose and the chin greater than the head and the nose? How much more?

How much is the head tilted as determined by the axis?

Constantly asking these questions will guide you towards the correct measurements. In this way, the final portrait drawing will come out more natural and realistic. 

Work on your hairline 

Work out the proper length of the hairline starting with the head. Draw thick lines and add shadowing and highlights as you proceed. Start drawing the forehead and figure out the proportionate length. Pull the hair from the scalp to the tip and ensure that you draw a thick outline. Later, add shadows and fill up the internals with thinner strokes. 

Add shadows and define the depth

Shadows is one of the most important portrait drawing tips. Without shadows, your portrait will not have any depths and demarcations. Shadows are the only way that helps differentiate one element from the other in a portrait sketch. 

Just imagine, without shadows how will the nose show? Just two lines where the nostrils are!

Hair, eyebrows, etc. can make a great experience if proper shading techniques are applied.

Even if there is too much light around your subject. Try to find out where your shadows are. Apply shading techniques to bring out the depth and variety in your shading. Sometimes fast and rough shading can bring out a great shading effect.

Avoid emphasizing the shadows, be light. Use small and light pencil strokes or rounding strokes. These strokes will get mixed with the graphite or charcoal and give a smooth shadowing effect. 

Refer to the hand sketching principles and best practices to polish your sketching. 

Focus on the details

After you are done with the basic foundations add the details of your portrait. Find the shadows under your nose, lip, eyes, and neck. Try to give a realistic look to your portrait. Capture the emotions and fine details with focus. 

Avoid rubbing your pencil in your paper to create shadows

Smudging to create smooth shadows may be good for hair but while drawing skin, avoid rubbing your pencil with your hand. This creates dull areas instead of light shadows. Smudging crates airbrushed skin tones contrast to light tones that ideally fit well. Additionally, it gets mixed with graphite dust and creates sharp dull marks.

So what should you try instead?

Go for hatching and cross-hatching. Build up layers of very fine hatched lines. If you want to increase the depth of shadows, cross-hatch lines in the opposite directions.

Portrait Drawing Tips for Beginners

You can also use light-erase pencils if you don’t want the graphite to rub heavily on the paper. While sketching over the texture grain of paper the irregularity of the paper will leave space, which will help to convey the luminosity of the skin. This will be lost if you will create smudges by rubbing with your finger or cotton. 


Do you know what squinting is?

Well, the dictionary says – “Squinting means to look at someone or something with one or both eyes partly closed in an attempt to see more clearly or as a reaction to strong light.

So, how is squinting one of the most useful portrait drawing tips?

It can help you to identify broad areas of different tonal values. Begin by identifying the darkest tons that you see. They can be in the pupil of the eyes or in the cracks between the fingers. 

Next, try to identify the brightest lights. Once you have identified these two major tonal values then you can fit the other tones amongst them. Again, measuring and comparing becomes important here. The better you get at the art of comparing tones and measuring the better you will be able to differentiate and bring out the essence of different tones in your sketch. 

Learn from the historical portraits

While sketching your portrait you will face specific problems. You may not know how to proceed after a particular step. In those cases, learning from historical portraits is important. 

For example, you may not be good at fading out the head and shoulder portrait after you reach the mid-chest. Historical portraits apply most details in the face, less in hair, and even less to the rest of the body. You can get inspired by this. Sketch very lightly on the portion after the mid-chest with very light shading. Even if your subject is wearing a dark-colored top make it light in a tone so that it doesn’t distract from the head and it is easy to fade out. 

Choose a good frame

A nice frame complements your sketching and highlights your art skills. If you are using a pencil, a simple black frame is good. If you are using some colors in your portrait you can go with a frame with wood.

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The above tips will help you a lot to master the art of portrait drawing. If you want to explore more, join Go Social Community or participate in Go Social Workshops.

Don’t forget to share your next portrait on GoSocial!

Have Fun Sketching!!