5 Easy Tips For Drawing Pencil Portraits

Pencil portrait drawing is one of the complex forms of illustration. Since ancient times, it has been in existence when famous artists drew portraits of prominent people like kings, warriors, etc. You can still find several historical portraits in renowned museums. Pencil portrait drawing is still prominent and has only gained popularity with the evolution of social media. It is one of the best ways for budding illustrators and artists to learn the art of realistic drawing and add it to their portfolio. Moreover, pencil portrait drawing also serves as an excellent side hustle as several people are keen to get their or their loved one’s portrait sketch these days.


If you are interested in learning portrait drawing, here are five tips to better understand this art form. 


1. Learn to view abstractly

Looking at the drawing abstractly by squinting your eyes helps you to a great extent. Amateur artists mainly focus on tiny details when drawing portraits and ignore the larger tones and shapes. Squinting helps focus on the larger shapes, therefore helping you recreate realistically from the source. Many artists recommend emphasizing any negative spaces, i.e., the entire area around the subject’s head. Abstract viewing helps in drawing the shape of the subject’s head more accurately. Once you start drawing the subject matter features to fill in the details, it’s better to keep assumptions at bay. Make sure to pay utmost attention to simply recreating the subject’s features and not go with your assumptions about how the attributes will or should appear in the drawing. Then carefully analyze the shades such as the whites and blacks on the subject’s face and proceed accordingly.


2. Explore historical portraits


Here’s another helpful tip using which you can get acquainted with several new techniques of portrait drawing. Try and view as many historical portraits as possible in your free time and try to analyze them. You can find several images of historical portrait sketches on the internet if visiting a museum or an art gallery is not an option for you. Many historical artists used to draw with chalk or pencil on colored sheets rather than the white or cream base. That means the sheet itself serves as a medium to represent the mid-tones rather than shading the entire region in grey. The emphasis remained on picking the highlights and shadows, which results in bold hatched lines and tones. The hatching technique used by the artists of the nineteenth century comes in handy while drawing skin.


3. Use premium quality art supplies.

It’s ok to use the art materials at hand in the initial stages of learning. However, you may consider upgrading as you keep moving forward. Having the appropriate tools and good quality art materials will simplify the drawing process for you. For instance, using a premium quality cartridge paper for your drawings is better as they are thicker than the usual paper. You may have to erase too many times while drawing pencil portraits, and doing so disrupts the top layer of the thin paper. That is not the case with cartridge paper with at least 130 gsm thickness. It gives you the freedom to erase and correct your errors without bothering about damaging the paper. Go for brands like Faber Castell and Derwent that offer artist-grade materials.


4. Avoid creating shadow by rubbing the pencil marks on paper.

Here’s another common mistake many people commit while drawing pencil portraits. We all learned drawing the lines of faces with the pencil and used the side to shade shadows. We would then smoothen and blend in the shading onto the paper with the help of an eraser. Stop continuing the practice starting immediately if you are guilty of it, as it does not give you any control over the tones, and overall it looks dull. You may also smudge the drawing paper with the grease on your hand while doing so. Instead, try and create layers for shading using harder pencils to shade the light tones and darker ones to shade any dark shadows.


5. Learn to measure accurately

It is essential to judge and analyze the features’ distance accurately to get the features right and create a realistic portrait. Try to make at least three virtual axes in your mind while looking at the subject. The first being a vertical one running downwards at the center of the face and the other horizontal ones at three different levels, the eyes, nose, and chin. You can easily align your subject’s features by practicing the above method of creating virtual axes. Keep in mind the distance between each eye, the distance between the lips and eyes, etc., while drawing. Doing so will reduce the room for any errors.


Final Thoughts

Those were the five simple tips for drawing pencil portraits. You can also get your hands on an electric eraser that helps erase effectively even the shades of the darkest pencils. It comes in handy, especially while drawing hair. Apart from the ones mentioned above, you can read Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the right side of the brain to enhance your portrait drawing skills.



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