Tips for Drawing Portraits

Drawing portraits can become easy over time, but you have to make sure to use the right tools, pencil strokes and symmetry to produce a stunning product. Here are five tips for improving your ability with drawing portraits:

Use a basic photocopy/office paper or cheap sketch paper

Is your drawing too pale? Maybe the culprit is the paper you are using. Some lower quality papers have a sheen on the surface that is too smooth to grab the particles off of the pencils, says A thick notepad also can have too much “give” under the pencil and now allow you to use enough pressure. Basic photocopy or office paper or even cheap sketch paper could make the difference for you. Use a card under a couple sheets of paper to give you a firmer surface.

Portrait DrawingsCheck your pencil

If you use a No. 2 (HB) pencil, you will have a hard time with dark shading and your picture will often turn out pale. Though these pencils are good for light shading, choose a B, 2B or 4B pencil to get darker shades and hues to come through.

Remember the rules of facial symmetry

According to, most human faces follow a few basic rules of symmetry:

  • The eyes are positioned at the vertical center line of the head
  • The bottom of the nose goes to the vertical center line of the bottom half of the head
  • The ears go from the eyes to the end of the nose
  • The width of the eyes is roughly 1/5 of the distance between the outer edge of each ear
  • The eyes are one eye-width apart
  • The width of the nose is the same as the width of the space between the eyes
  • The lips are located 1/3 of the way down the bottom quarter of the face
  • The width of the lips is roughly the distance from pupil to pupil

While keeping these guidelines in mind should help you refine your skill at drawing faces, it’s important to remember that they are only general recommendations. Nothing takes the place of taking accurate measurements yourself to get the dimensions, angles and positioning just right.

Use feathery pencil-strokes when drawing hair

If you use single pencil lines for every hair, you will end up with what looks like tangled wire. Using feathery pencil strokes to draw shadows behind hair will help solve this issue. A combination of light and dark pencil strokes with correct shading can more accurately emulate your subject’s locks, allowing you to achieve a more natural appearance.

When photographing your subject, don’t use flash photography

Using flash photography flattens the features of the face, which gives you nothing to work with. Have your subject turn slightly to one side so you can model their face with natural lighting. This will also give you a more accurate impression of their natural skin tones and a more authentic expression that shows their real personality. Otherwise, if your subject faces you straight on, it is hard to see the contours of the face, and an unnatural grin will make your portrait look unflattering!

At Hunakai Studio of Fine Arts, we offer a number of classes year-round to help students develop and grow their skills with portrait drawing and many other artistic mediums. This fall, we are offering Portraits I and Portraits II (Human Figure in Art) for both teens and adults, as well as many other classes. Classes start Sept. 14, and registrations are being accepted now by phone. Call the studio today at 508-543-5665 for more information or to sign up for one of our fall sessions and let us help you build your drawing skills!