Portrait Drawing Part 1

My drawing class at co-op recently expressed an interest in learning to draw facial features, so I decided to find a fun model for them to practice on. It’s harder than you might think to find a good, straight-on portrait to draw from, but I finally came across this timeless photo of Audrey Hepburn.


The first step in drawing a portrait is to map out the basic shape of the head. You’ll want to start with an upside down egg shape. It doesn’t need to be perfect right now, just draw VERY lightly so that you can tweak the shape of your face to make it more exact as you go.  To keep things simple, I drew my portrait the same size as the original.

I used a ruler to measure the height and width of the head, but you could easily just hold your pencil up to it and use your thumb to mark where the edge is. Measuring will help you get your proportions right.

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Once you have a basic egg shape, you’ll want to measure off where the eyes and nose will fall. Draw a line across the middle of your egg for her eyes to fall on and another line up and down the center of your egg for her nose and mouth to center on. Audrey’s eyes angle up a bit in this photo, so I curved my line a bit. Think of a string laying across the egg. Draw these lines VERY lightly as well. You will erase them later. You may be thinking that this will put her eyes awfully low, but remember, a large part of her head is covered with hair.

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Audrey’s face is actually turned ever so slightly to the right (our left) in this photo, so I adjusted my lines accordingly by moving the nose line over about 1/8 of an inch to the left.

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Once you have your eye and nose lines drawn, you’ll want to measure an eye.

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Typically, a face is five “eye lengths” across: one eye length from the side of the face to the corner of the first eye, one eye length for the eye, one eye length between eyes, one eye length for the next eye, and one eye length from the corner of that eye to the side of the face. Once you have your eye length, go ahead and mark it off across the eye line. Audrey’s eye was about 3/4 of an inch for my drawing. Because Audrey’s face is turned slightly to the left in this photo, I measured the space from the corners of the eyes to the sides of the face separately, and adjusted my marks accordingly.

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Once your eye lengths are measured off, go ahead and LIGHTLY sketch in the eyes. Eyes are typically almond shaped. Once you have almond shapes, study the shape of the eyes in the photo and adjust your lines accordingly. Do this lightly.

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Next, add the iris. Try to pay attention to how much white is around the iris and where the edges of the iris fall on the upper eye line.

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Once you have your iris mapped out, add the pupil and highlights. If you are drawing on tinted paper, you can use a charcoal white pencil to add the highlights. If not, you’ll want to outline the highlights with pencil, so that you don’t accidentally fill in over them.

I’ve already added lines for my nose and mouth in this photo, but  you don’t need to. I’ll explain how to do that in my next post.

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Next, shade in the iris. Notice that parts of it are darker than others. Try to make your shading as similar to the photo as you can.

I like to do most of my drawing with a good ole No. 2 graphite, mechanical pencil. It will stay sharp and is able to do both very light and fairly dark lines. Then, I use a nice, soft (extra dark) graphite pencil to deepen the darkest darks, such as the pupil. Soft drawing pencils usually have a ‘B’ on them.

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Next, add the little tear duct in the corner of the eye.

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Now, begin to thicken up the top eyelid line to make lashes.

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Once you have the eyelashes shaped right, go ahead and add a line for the crease about 1/16 of an inch above the lash line. Pay attention to the shape of the crease in the photo and how it intersects the lashes.

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It’s amazing how much more realistic a few lines and a little shading can make your drawing, isn’t it?

Next, measure the space between the corner of the eye and the eyebrow. Notice that the beginning of the eyebrow lines up fairly well with the corner of the eye.

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The other end of the eyebrow is at about a 45 degree angle from the outer corner of the eye, and the highest part of the arch is almost directly over the outer corner…perhaps a little before it.

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Measure off where you want your brow to start.

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Lightly sketch out the basic shape of the brow, and line the end up on an angle with the corner of the eye.

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Now you’re ready to fill in the brow. Notice that it is darker in places and lighter in others. Try to match your shading to the photo. Also, remember that eyebrows are made up of little hairs, so use little strokes to mimic the hairs. Start light and work your way darker. I often come back and darken areas later, after moving on to other parts of my drawing.

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Short little strokes fill in the bottom lashes. There is a teeny, tiny space between the lashes and the bottom of the iris.

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Add a light shadow from the beginning of the brow angled down toward the nose, one just over the iris, and one from the outer corner to the end of the brow. Just draw the shadows you see in the photo. Start light.

We will add more shading to this eye later, but for now, go ahead and repeat this whole process to draw the eye on the other side.

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Et voila, eyes!

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If you’re drawing on colored paper, you may want to color the whites of her eyes lightly with a charcoal white pencil.

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That’s all I have time to post tonight.  I’ll show you how to do the nose and mouth in my next post. 🙂






2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Portrait Drawing Part 2 | The Swan's Nest
  2. Trackback: Portrait Drawing Part 3 | The Swan's Nest

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