Portrait Drawing for Beginners: How To Draw Faces Quickly And Accurately | Louise Stigell | Skillshare

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Portrait Drawing for Beginners: How To Draw Faces Quickly And Accurately

teacher avatar Louise Stigell, Artist, writer & creative coach

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.



    • 3.

      Common Mistakes


    • 4.

      The Reference


    • 5.

      The Rough Sketch


    • 6.

      Drawing the Facial Features


    • 7.

      Shading & Refining


    • 8.

      Class Project


    • 9.

      Full Demonstration Front View


    • 10.

      Full Demonstration Profile


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About This Class

In this class, you will learn how to draw any face you want - quickly, accurately, and creatively.
I will teach you the concepts that have made the biggest difference for me in my practice, like picking the right reference photo, and approaching my portrait in the right order: Starting with big but accurate shapes, placing the facial landmarks before starting on details, and working with light and shadow. We'll also touch upon the challenge of capturing likeness, and how to shade our drawings to give them some depth and drama.

This class is primarily for beginners. We're keeping things quick and relaxed. No anatomy lessons or complicated wireframe blueprints. No aim for photo realism. Instead, we're focusing on simple but powerful observation skills and sketching techniques that will de-mystify portraits. And on developing our creativity and artistic expression with our drawings.

Your class project will be to apply what you have learned in a series of 3 small portrait sketches. And by that time, you will have the tools and strategies that will make portrait drawing feel easier and more fun.

To see more of my work, go to my website: www.louisestigell.com. I also have a YouTube channel, where you'll find more art tutorials, tips and talks about art and the creative life. 

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Louise Stigell

Artist, writer & creative coach


Hi! My name is Louise. I'm a Sweden-based artist, writer, and creative solopreneur.

I'm a former freelance writer & web designer who re-discovered and committed to art after a period of burnout. Now, I write and paint full-time, and teach what I've learned on my YouTube channel, in my writings, and here on Skillshare.

I write a newsletter called The Calm Creative, all about making a living on your art, without burning out or going insane. Check it out here.

See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Intro: [MUSIC] Hi guys. I'm Louise. I'm an artist and an art teacher from Sweden. In this class, you will learn how to take your portrait drawings from this to something more like this. This has been the progression of my own portrait drawings over the course of just a few months, working with the process and the principles that you will learn in this class. For me, keeping my practice really quick and simple has been key. No anatomy lessons and no complicated wireframe blueprints or anything like that, just simple observational skills and sketching techniques. I will teach you the concepts that have made the biggest difference for me, like picking the right reference photo and approaching my portrait in the right order, starting with the bigger shapes of the face and head, and then placing the landmarks before diving into details and working with light and shadow in my portraits. We'll also touch upon the challenge of capturing likeness and how to shade our drawings for more depth and drama. This class is primarily for beginners. It's about the practice and not as much about the final results. We're also not aiming for photo realism in this class, but more for artistic expression. I want you to be able to capture any face you see in an accurate and also creative drawing and to find your own way of drawing portraits. When you're ready, let's get started. 2. Materials: Let's keep this lesson really short and sweet because you don't need a lot of materials at all for drawing. My guess is that you already have everything you need at home. Whether that's a notepad [NOISE] and a ballpoint pen, or a whole stack of sketchbooks and a drawer full of pencils. This class is about practicing and not about creating beautiful frameable drawings, that can come later. So just use what you have and like. If you're starting from scratch, just get a part of simple sketching paper and an eraser and a few pencils. Three things that I do recommend that you get, if you don't already have them, are blending stumps, which are these little paper stumps that you just use to smudge and blend your graphite or your charcoal, a kneaded eraser, one of these little moldable, squishy little balls that you can shape into any form you want. They're pretty soft. The great thing about them is that they rub off graphite really well without leaving any residue and you can use them in many different ways. You can sweep them or dab them cross the graphite to just really carefully lift out some of the tone, or you can form it into very fine tips or wedges and you can create shapes with them. You can almost draw with them. The third one is one of these mechanical erasers with a very fine tip. There are also ones that look almost like pencils and that you sharp just like a pencil. Something that lets you erase with more precision is great to have. Other than that, pencils doesn't really matter as much. Try a bunch of them out and see which one you like best. What it looks like is not as important as what it feels like. When you're all set up, let's move on. 3. Common Mistakes: [MUSIC] What are the most common ways our portrait drawings fail? The first one happens even before we start drawing, and that's when choosing our subject. Either when we're setting up a live model situation, or when we're picking a reference photo to work from. Since we'll be working from photo references in this class, let's focus on that. If the photo we're using is boring or lacks good lighting, then our drawing is doomed to look kind of boring and bland too. [MUSIC] The second very common mistake is to dive straight into drawing the details, before we have established the overall shape of the head and placing the landmarks correctly, the facial features. This big picture, rough sketch, is what establishes the likeness and believability, not to the eyelashes or the shading of the hair. The more time we spend on these minor details, the less we'll be able to correct this mistake later on. I can't be the only one who's done this numerous times, spending an hour on a portrait drawing and then stepping away from it only to realize that the face and head are way too small for the facial features, for example, and it's too late to fix it. The third common mistake is to over-complicate our drawing. Rendering in every little lock of hair, every wrinkle, every eyelash. Thinking that these things will make our drawing more lifelike, but less is more, and what all of these details will likely do instead is create a cluttered appearance with too many lines and shapes. Too much information can confuse the eye. In art, it's often the removal of stuff that makes it fascinating to look at. Keeping some parts of the subject in shadow or a little blurry, it adds mystery to the piece, and it gives our brains something to work with. The fourth common mistake is focusing only on drawing the contours of everything and ending up with something that looks like it belongs in a coloring book. There's no three-dimensionality, and no sense of the form, or shape of the head, it looks flat. [MUSIC] What can we do about these mistakes? How do we avoid them? Well, that's what the rest of this class is about. We'll learn what to look for an a reference photo and why, and also how to take creative liberty with our references to make our portrait stronger. We'll practice starting with a big picture, and getting our overall head shape and facial landmarks right before we zoom in on the eyelids and nostrils. We'll practice simplifying what we see and focusing on values. That's the scale between light and dark, more than the contours and being really brave with our shadows and highlights. Now, let's move on to finding reference photos that make our job as artists easier. [MUSIC] 4. The Reference: [MUSIC] A great drawing begins with a great reference photo, or at least a decent one. But a drawing and a photograph are two very different art mediums, and what makes a great photo is different from what makes a great drawing. A photograph can capture an immense amount of detail and nuance. A drawing, which might be in grayscale a lot of the time, can't contain as much information, and it shouldn't have to either. The purpose of a reference photo should be inspiration and maybe anatomical reference, not something to be copied down to the last detail. Let's instead focus on what makes a great portrait drawing, believability and contrast. The believability lies in getting the proportions and the angles and the scale of things right. That comes from training our hand-eye coordination and approaching the drawing in the right order so that we can correct ourselves along the way. The contrast comes from creating a clear sense of shadows and highlights in our drawing. We need to look for reference photos that help us do this. These are some examples of portrait photos that might be great photos, but that lack that element of contrast that we're looking for. The lighting is too bright or the lighting is too dark or the lighting is just too even. We can't really make out where the light is coming from. There are no clear areas of shadow. If I were to draw this portrait, I wouldn't be sure how to shade my drawing to make it look more three-dimensional. Shadowy areas or shadow shapes, as I'll call them in this class, also help a lot with creating likeness because shadows tell us about the shape of someone's face, how deep-set their eyes are, the shape of their nose and forehead, or the form of their cheekbones. All of this is described by how the light falls on the face. In this photo, the lighting is very strong. We can clearly see where the light is coming from, what areas of the face are in the light, and what areas are in the shadow. If we look for the shapes of the shadows, there's a clear line around those shapes, and that's going to help us a lot when we're drawing. So the clearer the shadow shapes, the easier it's going to be for us to create an interesting and believable drawing. We can also look for contrast in focus and sharpness. Like here, we can see that some parts of the face are out of focus, a little blurry, and that's something that we can use in our drawings as well. Whereas in this photo, all of the face is similarly sharp and detailed, and that means that we might have to [NOISE] invent some contrast to make our drawing more interesting. But the more help we can get from the photo, the easier it will be, and this is a beginner level class, so let's make it as easy as we can for ourselves. I have already made a collection of royalty-free photos for us to work with during this class. All of my demonstrations will be drawn from that collection. You'll notice that they're all black and white photographs because that makes it easier to see the value scale of the image and to transfer it to our drawings. You don't have to use these photos though. You can work with any ones you like. But when you choose your references, keep these points in mind. Look for a clear contrast between light and shadow, where the shadow shapes are easy to make out, and possibly also a contrast and sharpness, where some areas of the head or face are out of focus. If you can find these things, then it's probably a good reference photo. Now let's start practicing. [MUSIC] 5. The Rough Sketch: I believe in quantity over quality when it comes to art practice, especially as a beginner. Rather than sweat over one large drawing for hours, I recommend that you aim for many smaller sketches. Why? Firstly, because we get more practice in a shorter amount of time that way we learn something from every finished portrait. You could either spend one hour on one big portrait and learn something from it or spend one hour on for smaller portraits and learn four times as much. Also staying small helps us to simplify what we see. The larger we draw, the harder it is to grasp the big picture, and the more tempted we are to include everything we see, every little detail. That often doesn't add to the finished drawing. It just makes it more busy and cluttered. For this class, let's keep our sketches fairly small, only a few inches big. Then the more comfortable we get with our technique, the bigger we can draw. The first stage of the drawing, the rough sketch is all about getting the big picture. This is our first priority. If we get the larger shapes of the head and the landmarks of the face right, then the rest will be so much easier. I usually start with just a circle for the head. It helps me just place the sketch on the paper and decide on the scale of it and it gives me something to start building on. Then I tried to find the silhouette or the outline of the portrait. I squint at the picture and I tried to make out the overall shape of the head and the neck and the shoulders around the background. I tried to see a simplified version of the reference photo. I prefer using a harder pencils for this and very light and loose strokes. You want to be able to easily erase your lines because of course there's going to be a lot of erasing and correcting going on here. I rarely get it right from the start, and I know that the more time I spend on the stage, the better the final result will be. This lays the groundwork for the refinement and the shading and all of the fancy stuff that we'll do later. But this takes a lot of practice, it's a hand-eye coordination skill. The more you practice, the better and quicker you'll get. When I have a rough outline that feels accurate to me, I usually place the horizontal lines of the brow, the center line of the face, the bottom of the nose, the bottom of the mouth. Then I add in more and more landmarks and move them around until it feels accurate. For me, it helps to first focus on the features of the subject that stick out the most for me. Sometimes that's the silhouette of the hair, sometimes it's the shape of the shadows in the face or the shape of the hairline. Some landmarks that you will often see me add are the brow line or sometimes an outline of the entire eye cavity. Almost looks like sunglasses. The corners of the eyes, the tip of the nose and outer edges of the nostrils. The upper and bottom lines of the lip, and the corners of the mouth. These are all different ways of measuring out your subject and transferring those measurements to the page. Try to forget that you're looking at a face. Try to see it as an obstruction, just a collection of shapes, lines and angles. Don't think about what it is you're drawing just squint at the image and notice what shapes are there and get them down to paper. We have an idea in our head about what a face is supposed to look like, and that can really cloud our judgment when we draw. A classic method is to look at your reference upside down because it makes it much easier to draw what we honestly see without preconceived notions. Usually the end result will look surprisingly accurate. Working with straight lines also helps a lot at this stage, it's usually easier to get a straight line right, then getting the exact curve of something right, drawing a complex curved line, for example of a jaw can become much easier if we divide it up into shorter straight lines. Straight lines help us simplify what we see without getting lost in the details. We sketch out the stiff and blocky version of something first and then we soften it and refine afterwards. Something like this is what your sketch should look like at this stage. Like a very simplified, blocky version of the person with just a few lines and marks to help you start drawing in the details. That's when you're ready to move on to the next stage. There, we will start drawing the different facial features and start refining our sketch. But for now, do this exercise with at least three different photo references. Place the sketch on the page with a circle and start carving out the silhouette and the larger shapes of the head, add in the important landmarks, and correct, until it looks as accurate as possible. This is usually the most difficult part of any portrait drawing. The more you practice this, the better your final results will be. 6. Drawing the Facial Features: Now we start refining our sketch and building out the different facial features, the eyes, the nose, the hair, maybe a little bit of the neck and shoulders. This part, just like with the rough sketch, is just about observing drawing and redrawing a lot of back and forth. I won't go into too much detail about drawing the different facial features, partly because I prefer learning to really look at our subject over learning a specific formula. But mostly because this is a beginners class and I don't want to bog you down with too much technicalities. We tend to develop our own shorthand for facial features after a bit of practice. Our own way of simplifying and indicating, for example, the lips and the nose. There's no right and wrong way here, so just experiment. Look at how your favorite artists draw eyes and lips and try to imitate them. See what methods you like best. For example, when I draw eyes, I like to indicate the shadow under the eyes and leave a bright line right underneath the eye to indicate the lower eyelid, which is usually brighter than the upper eyelid. I also like to emphasize the inner corner of the eye, and leave a little highlight in one or both of the eyes. With lips, I like to emphasize the shadow under the lower lip and the corners of the mouth. Then to draw the upper lip darker than the lower lip since that area is usually in shadow. These are just methods of drawing the facial features that I have tried out, and that I think it looks good. You might find other ways that you prefer. Try different ways of drawing the facial features. Try emphasizing different parts of the phases you draw and see what you like. Remember that you don't need to draw in everything. You don't need to over-explain your drawing by contouring, for example, the entire lip or both of the eyes. If one area of the face is in shadow, try leaving most details out there and simplify it for the viewer. What about hair then? Hair can be really tricky to draw and the temptation is often to go really detailed to aim for photo realism. I like a less is more approach with hair, at least for a smaller sketches like these. Often just leaving the hair-like an outline or filling it in with tone can look cool and really pull our attention to the face. Maybe we add just a few small indications of the quality and the texture of the hair, and a few highlights, but we don't render it all out. In the cases where you do want to spend more time on the hair, it helps to start out really minimalistic. Just a few lines to indicate the length and the flow of the hair. Then when I start refining it, I don't follow the entire length of the hair with every line. I add partial lines here and there, usually where the hair is more dense and in shadow. I keep my pencil strokes more forceful in the beginning and then thinner towards the end, like a strand of hair. I avoid drawing in the areas where the light hits the head. As you'll see in the next lesson, I'll also be refining the hair in this portrait with a blending stump and an eraser. As soon as I've drawn in the eyes and the eyebrows and the nose and the mouth, I usually move over to adding tone to my sketch and start refining the details. Practice a few times. Getting your sketches to this point, you can work from the rough sketches that you made in the previous lesson, or you can do a few new drawings where you take them all the way to this point with all of the features added in. When you're ready, we'll meet up in the next lesson to finish up our drawing. [MUSIC] 7. Shading & Refining: [MUSIC] Now it's time to start shading and refining our drawing. This is when we take our pretty basic and flat portrait and make it look more alive. We do this by adding tone or value, adding shadows and mid-tones and highlights. I start by identifying the darker parts of the image and I just fill those in with lines. I like to keep all of my lines in the same direction for a cleaner look, and again, this comes with practice and preference. Sometimes I draw the lines vertical and sometimes at an angle. Sometimes I do it in a loose and sloppy manner, and other times I'm very deliberate. It all creates a different look and I encourage you to experiment and see which look you like best. You can also add tone with a blending stamp for a softer look, just shade lightly with a pencil first and then go over it with a blending stamp. Don't overdo it though. If we soften every line and shadow shape like this, the whole drawing is going to look smudgy and out-of-focus and we still want some sharpness and contrasts in our drawing. Use the blending stamp on the areas that you want to keep out-of-focus. This example, I've blended out the whole neck and back of the head to really draw the eye to the front of the face where there's more contrast. In this one, I've used the stamp primarily on the neck and shoulders that they won't distract from the face. For me, there's a lot of gone back and forth with a pencil and eraser at this stage, I might add some shadows to a place and then realize that I don't like it and erase it back out. The kneaded eraser is great for this. You can just dab it over an area to lighten it up, and you can create soft highlights as if the sun is hitting that part of the face. Maybe I want to slightly change the shape of the facial features or add little highlights to the eyes or to the hair in this portrait. Here, it's really useful with that fine point eraser. I can essentially draw the highlights back out as with a pencil. I always love a few really crisp, bright highlights in my portraits and usually that's a glare in one of the eyes or a highlight on the tip of the nose or the lower lip. This is a method of adding contrast and the darker the area is where you add your highlight, the more it's going to stand out. You can even add in some extra darkness around your bright highlights to enhance it even more. When I've added a highlight to an eye, for example, I usually draw around it to make it pop some more. If there are shadow shapes on the face, I might want to outline them a little extra to clarify my decision. We want our shadow shapes bold and confident. As always, with a refinement stage, it can be difficult to know when to stop. When is the portrait finished? Well, of course, only you can decide that. For me, the drawing is finished when I can't think of anything more to add that would enhance the portrait. If I'm going for likeness, I will spend more time at this stage comparing my drawing to the photo and making tiny little adjustments because it often comes down to very fine details to really nail the likeness of a person. It can feel like detective work to figure out what is off about our drawing and finding the defining features that make or break the likeness. It helps to slightly exaggerate these features. Often it's the silhouette of the face, and so I try to exaggerate that a bit to make it a clear read. Then maybe it's the eyelids or the hairline or the shadows around the nose. It helps to squint at the photo and try to identify what sticks out to you, and to emphasize that in the drawing, a little bit of caricature. You can always dial it back if it turns out to be too much. Getting an exact likeness is mostly a matter of extra time and patience. First, at the earliest stage of the sketch to get the larger shapes right and then towards the end of the drawing to fine tune the details and add a bit of caricature. But I want to reiterate here that likeness isn't everything. Unless we're trying to draw a celebrity or a commissioned portrait of someone's family member. I just don't see the point in obsessing over likeness when we can instead spend that time making a more beautiful work of art and adding a personal touch to our drawings. [MUSIC] The last thing I usually do with a portrait is to go over it one more time and try to punch up the contrast as much as possible. Deepening the darkest darks, adding crispness to maybe the brows or the eyelashes or the lips. Maybe strengthening some lines to make the contrast between light and dark more visible, and then I'm done. Now that we have looked at the whole process of drawing a portrait, it's time to practice it altogether in a final class project, so when you're ready, I'll see you in the next lesson. [MUSIC] 8. Class Project: Hi, again. Are you ready for your final assignment? This is when we try to apply everything that we've learned so far altogether in one exercise. We're going to draw three little portraits, each from a different angle to get some variety in our practice. You can pick any three reference photos you want but try to keep in mind the things we talked about in Lesson 4 about choosing the reference photo and try to find one photo showing the full face from the front, and then a second one in profile, and then a third in three-quarter view, so something in-between front and profile. Look for photos with really clear shadows and shadow shapes in the face so that you have something to work with. Searching for black and white photos can make this easier and don't spend too much time on each drawing. That's why we're keeping them small so we won't feel tempted to sit for an hour and obsess all the details. Have fun with this project. If you want to, share your work here for some feedback and encouragement. Thank you for spending time with me. I hope you've enjoyed this class and I hope you feel more confident with your portrait sketches and drawings. Check out my other classes here. I also have a YouTube channel where you can find more videos about sketching and watercolor and the artist's life in general. [MUSIC]