How to Draw Portraits in 4 Steps With Photoshop

Learning how to draw portraits is one of those things that you must learn as an artist. From the the eyes, nose, ears, and the mouth, you will be using head proportions to fit these facial features in place in this lesson on how to draw realistic portraits.

In history, portraits are a showcase of people with status as only those with wealth could commission these types of artworks. A good portrait will not only portray an accurate representation of the subject, but do it in a way that is both flattering and social status of the person.

Portraits can be drawn in several ways. While you can see some portraits being full bodied drawings, it is more common that portraits have evolved to mostly showing the 'bust' area of the subject, where only the head and the shoulders are drawn.

Profile wise, portraits can be drawn with a full face view or a three-quarter view. Regardless of which view, portraits will usually have the subject's eyes stare back at the audience as much as possible. With this in mind, here are the key steps in learning how to draw portraits.

How to draw portraits: the sketch

You should at least be familiar with how to construct the head and all of its proportions before learning how to draw portraits. The realism would be found in this step as the more accurate the proportions are to your subject, the easier it is to introduce proper shading.

In my opinion, the most important part of drawing the face, aside from the facial features, is the chin structure. Having the chin match your subject will make it a lot easier to measure the width of specific facial features. As the size of the chin is different from individual to individual , you can think of the chin as a horizontal ruler that is unique to that face.

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After that, use your knowledge of vertical divisions to correctly place the eyes, nose, and mouth. A tip I like to use measuring features through angles. How slanted should I make the eyes? What degree does th nose bend inwards? Questions like these will help dissect the individual features a lot faster and better.

Once you are done with the sketch, fill it in and start blocking in general shading. These shaded areas should be a response to what you know about the facial topography. For example, the eye areas are indented into the face, and therefore, the darker value must be blocked in.

How to draw portraits: facial topography

Having done your gesture drawing, the next step is to block in light and dark tones. There are four primary areas that require you to paint large light blotches: the forehead, the cheeks, the chin, and the nose. Hair can be blocked in using a darker or lighter tone than the face depending on hair color.

Continue blocking in dark blotches for where the eyes, lips, and the neck. That way, you are working on the whole composition all at once. The trick here is to let light and shadows create the overall shape of the head and face while your gesture drawing gives you a guideline on where to draw the facial features.

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Ideally, you should be able to get rid of some of those gesture lines through blocking these tonal values. If there are some lines remaining, I suggest smudging it in. In this step, you should also be focused on defining the facial features a bit more.

If you should come across large areas of flat skin, consider using a large smooth round brush to glaze in a neutral tone. Otherwise, stick with the chalk brush to get more jagged textures. When you think you have a rough shading of your subject done, you can move onto the next step of refining the details.

How to draw portraits: the facial details

You will probably spend a lot of time on this step in learning how to draw portraits. Your three tools here will be the smudge brush, the eraser, and the painting brush. Combining these tools with chalk brush tips can help you block in additional details while soft round brush tips will create good shading transitions.

For example, you can switch to a small smudge brush and create eyelashes where your drawing of the eyes are but switch to a small painting brush to show additional details like the reflections in the pupils and the tear ducts.

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Now would also be a good time to use the eraser tool to refine the outline of your subject. After that, use the smudge tool to hard smudge the hair outsides these boundaries strand by strand. For creating boundaries between the chin and the neck, I do recommend drawing in a thin rim light.

For other parts of the skin, use a large round brush to blend in the rough lines from the chalk brush. This is especially important around the shoulder areas. All the while, you need to be using your eyedropper tool to sample the colors on the canvas as a quick way to pick up the right colors.

How to draw portraits: shading in realism

After adding in details, your portrait should look fairly complete at this point. To bring it to life even further, you need to work on where the light will hit your subject. First, you need to decide where your light will hit. On most portraits, the light source is usually at the top left, top right, or top center.

You can choose where you want to put your light source so long as you understand how to create the shadows found in that location. If you have your portrait in several layers, now is the opportunity to group it or merge it all together. What you are going to do now is create a new layer on top of your portrait.

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From there, set the opacity level to about 50% and begin painting light and shadows on that new layer. This way, you won't lose any details as well as backtracking shadows that do not look right. The idea here is to create shading that enhances facial features like eyelashes while emphasizing facial topography.

Use a large round brush to paint large areas of light and shadow. This glazing effect will tone down any cartoonish lines while bringing your portrait to life. Think of the face as a series of dips and valleys where light can hit.

Use a small brush to work on additional details such as eye bags, light reflected off the lips, the shadows underneath the nose, hair details, etc. Sometimes, you may want to go back to your portrait layer and improve on the details in case the layer with the shading effects does not bring out the details correctly.

Just let your eyes wander over the entire composition and correct any mistakes that you see. It's OK to spend time on drawing a portrait if it's your first time. While the example here is done in roughly an hour, it may take you a lot longer to finish your portrait. With practice, you can draw it just as fast.