Portrait Art: How To Draw Faces | Morgan Swank | Skillshare

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Portrait Art: How To Draw Faces

teacher avatar Morgan Swank, Illustrator

Watch this class and thousands more

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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.

      Supply List


    • 3.

      Choosing Your Photo


    • 4.

      Gridding Your Drawing


    • 5.

      Shading Techniques and Drawing Your Grid


    • 6.

      Outline Your Drawing


    • 7.

      Shading Your Drawing


    • 8.

      Shading Hair and Finishing Touches


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About This Class

This class is for anyone who has ever wanted to draw a face from a photo and have it really look like that person. While I share the basics of pencil portrait art, it is also in depth enough for the intermediate to advanced artist. 

In this class you will learn:

  • What tools are needed to create a pencil portrait
  • How to pick a good photo for drawing
  • How to get an accurate outline
  • How to create smooth skin tones
  • How to draw hair ( For more on hair, check out my follow up class here!)

Please note that I draw in inches, but you can easily convert to centimeters! I have attached a conversion chart in the class documents to make it easy! 

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Morgan Swank



I run Morgan Swank Studio which is an art and design studio based in Richmond, Virginia that specializes in custom illustrations, wholesale greeting cards, and art education.

I first fell in love with drawing as a little girl and have never lost my passion to create. I began developing my skills as a portrait artist and my work has continued to evolve as I explore a variety of subjects in pencil and marker.

Want to keep up with the latest illustrations?  Check out my Instagram, and let's be Insta friends! 


You can follow my artistic endeavors on my website! I even have a page of free resources!


See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Morgan Swank. I'm an illustrator and accessories designer, and I'm excited to share with you my class on portrait art. How to draw a realistic faces from photos. I've been doing portrait art for about 13 years now, and over the course that time I've got two different classes and workshops, and I've picked up quite a few different tips and tricks for getting the end result that you're looking for with your drawing at the end of this class, you'll know how toe outline accurately create smooth skin tones and realistic hair. Thank you so much for taking this class with me, and I can't wait to see yells projects. 2. Supply List: in this video, we'll be going over the supplies. You need to take this class. In addition to a computer, you'll need Bristol Board. You can get this in either vellum or smooth surface. I prefer vellum, but it's a complete personal preference. You also need a pencil sharpener, a kneaded eraser, and optional is mapped E P. A. Ra razor. You will need a mechanical pencil. I like the lead to be 0.5. It should be, but this again of the personal preference. In addition to the mechanical pencil, you will need several different regular pencils in a variety of weights from HB 24 B. You also need a pack of tissues. I like the Kleenex travel tissues because they're easy to carry around, and, most importantly, they don't have lotion in them. You also need a to buy 18 grated ruler. The next video. We'll show you how to go about choosing a good photo for you to draw 3. Choosing Your Photo: in this video, we're going to go over. How did you the good photo for you to draw your portrait from? It is important to remember that when you are looking for a photo, you want to make sure that the photo is crisp and clear, so it has to have a pretty high degree of resolution. If you're starting to work from a fuzzy photo or one that you can't clearly see the details , your drawing is not going to be as crisp and clean as you would desire it to be. But the most important thing when you're choosing a photo to draw is choosing an image that is crisp and clear and has just a face looking directly at the camera. Those are the easiest photos to start from. Added degree of difficulty would be including scarves, including headdresses. Any sort of additional fabric jewelry hats. Anything that requires additional skill sets are more of an advanced technique. Another difficulty. It can be adding things such as facial hair or glasses. Those are two separate skills as well that take time to master. I always recommend when you're starting out, choosing photos of subject, looking directly at the camera. A lot of people love seeing eyes, seeing the detail in the eyes having but viewer, and the portrait connects to one another. I'm so even beautiful images such as the one seen on the screen here can be really difficult when you're starting out. I also recommend not choosing images such as the one seen here, the one on the left, the images a little bit blurry. It's also a little bit dark in areas that will make the photo look a bit muddy. You want to make sure that if there are dark areas, the dark areas aren't to extensive, because then you're just putting layer and layer on layer of pencil on your drawing, and it really isn't creating that beautiful contrast that we're looking for the drawing on the right. I wouldn't choose either both of these drawings. You can't see the ice very well on the drawing on the right is higher contrast, which I normally um, enjoy. A bit of contrast, however, with her smiling with an open mouth, it creates an odd shape of that black bar between her teeth, and that could be difficult for somebody newer to portrait art to be able to translate into pencil teeth are also a difficult thing, so I would stay away from teeth at the beginning because they take a lot of work to master . This final photo is another example of a beautiful face, a beautiful composition. However, the way it's cropped makes it difficult. You can see on the left hand side you can't totally see your hand. The hat. You don't know the complete picture of what the hat looks like. You're not seeing her neck, so you want to make sure that you can complete the whole head, that you can kind of give her a little bit of a shoulder and body because you don't want your drawing running to the ends of the paper like in a photograph. 4. Gridding Your Drawing: in this lesson, I'll be showing you a free online tool you can use in order to put a transparent grid over your photo. The reason we're doing this is to get a good, accurate outline on your page before you start shading and adding and details there many times withdrawing. You can put an outline down and start putting in shadows and shading and realize in the end that your eye is a fraction of an inch off or just a tinge to high. So the grid method helps you get a correct outline that you have a better chance at a quality final product. So go to pick slur dot com. That's P i x l r dot com Up here on the right hand side, you can sign up for free. Since I already have an account, I will log in and I will log in with Facebook and we can go down here to the arrow and click our arrow. And now the two options. We have our pick slur editor and pixel er express. You're gonna wanna launch the web app for Bixler editor. Now we have the option to just open an image straight from here. Or you can go to file open image, grab my image that I have selected. I'm going to crop it so that it looks like a portrait. So this is the crop function tool right here. It's going Teoh like this Enter. And then what I'm going to do is go to file open image and grabbed the transparent grid. That is a dot PNG and I'll have this file uploaded for UT uses wealth. So here you can see the checkerboard behind. It shows that it's transparent. Um, so hearing to do if you're on a Mac is hit, command a and you'll see the little running ants along the edge. If you're on a PC, use control A. And they were going to come and see or control. See for a PC. There were Click here on our original image, and we're going to command be or control the If you are on a PC. Now we see that we have two layers. Here are background, which is our main image, and then our layer one, the layer one is what has are transparent grit on it, and I can use this tool appear that I'm selected on and I could just move my great around. However I desire to be moved, and then I'm going to go toe edit free transform, and this is important. When you're moving, you're stealing your box. You're gonna want to hold down the shift key so your box does not become distorted. Right now, you're grids are complete squares, which is exactly what you want for your grated drawing. If I don't hold down shift and I start doing this, it gets completely off kilter and it's gonna do you no good. That's what I'm going to do is I'm going to hold down, shift and see. I can move it larger or smaller. So if you have an 11 by 14 piece of paper and you decide to do one inch grids, you are only going to wanna have 11. Space is wide on this picture and 14 spaces long, so one inch per one square. I usually do my grids on my paper at about 3/4 of an inch, and then I will keep my image grid to be about 11 by 14 and then I'll center it in the in the middle of the paper So what this does is it gives me extra room on the outside and helps make sure my face isn't too big on the paper and go over to file save. And you can name this whatever you want. Winning this my skill sharer drawing. But okay, we'll save it to my desktop. Save. Now we can go over and open our picture and you can see that this picture now has the grid on top of it. This is what we will be using to draw from. 5. Shading Techniques and Drawing Your Grid: in this video, I'll be showing you some tips and tricks for how to shade correctly. And then I will show you how to grade your paper in order to start outlining your drawing. But you're going to need is your mechanical pencil and a piece of scrap paper, preferably from your Bristol board pad. Every time I go from top to bottom, I lift my pencil off the paper and go from top to bottom again. Looking at shading techniques, you want to be able to draw very lightly with your pencil. How you are going to end up getting darker shades is not drawing harder. It's putting more and more layers of pencil blood. So that's why we have different weights of pencil. So where we start off with the mechanical, we have HB. I like a to B three B a four B, and the way that you add more in is by continuing to add layer upon layer upon layer of your pencil lead. Remember to practice your shading over and over. I do it when I'm taking notes for something. When I'm on the hold on the phone, it's really important to continue to grow your skills with shading, working on not putting your pencil down to hard working on picking up your pencil after every stroke so you don't get the dark little hooks that you get. If you just go up and down like a zigzag motion. It's important for you to really work on those techniques, drawing lightly, drawing your strokes consistently the same weight and drawing them not to firm that you don't ruin the tooth of the paper. All of those things just need to be practiced over and over, and you'll start seeing improvement as you continue to practice. Now, see if I tried to erase these darker lines. Um, you're not going to be able to get rid of the imprint they have in the paper, and you can still see the dark color. Whereas if I erased the entire shading that I just did, you see that there's no residue on, and that's what you want. So you need to practice your pencil lines and making sure that you're keeping your pencil really light. Sometimes it helps if you hold your pencil farther back and keep it at a more of, ah, horizontal angle and just gently you put your pencil starting at the top, and then you work down in small strokes, always lifting your pencil up before going back up to the top. We're going too fast. Forwards. You can kind of see how this works. Using a Kleenex. Um, I do a little bit of shading. She had a little bit more. Take my Kleenex, put it over, rub it around. So this quarter sized piece just represents a small portion of what it would look like on Anak actual face. Um, I would go through with the majority of the face, and I would do a really light layer constantly using my Kleenex to gently shade and smooth it out. And then I would go over it and over and tell. My base layer is done. It's going to look pretty dark, Um, from doing like to light layers. It definitely becomes significantly lighter once you start, can't contrast ing it with the darker tones. And so, of course, with the darker tones, um, you'll just be adding more and more layers of pencil onto that. The best way to great a drawing is to use the grids on your ruler in order to make the boxes. You do not want to start by looking specifically at the sides of the paper to be your measurement guides, because the paper will never be exactly 11 by 14 inches. So if you start moving in from the sides and drawing little tick lines along the edge and then connecting them together, your boxes are gonna be perfect squares. The first thing we do is do a little bit of math if I want my grits to be 3/4 of an inch, but my paper is 11 by 14. What? I need to dio IHS. Figure out how maney box of how do I center it on the paper if I need it to be, um, 11 boxes wide and 14 boxes tall. So doing a little bit of quick math, you're gonna want to start on the long side. In the 14 inch side, you're gonna wanna start up at one and 3/4 of an inch for your first line, and from there you will continue to make the lines every 3/4 of an inch until you had 14 boxes so you'll have a border on the top and bottom of one and 3/4 of an inch. You may wonder why I don't like to have it directly to the edge. And there's several reasons. The first is. I find that the drawing ends up being quite large. If you do it one inch per square. It's nice just to have extra paper that's untouched so that people can really get the feel for the portrait. It really the face contrast really well when you have it not directly covering the entire per sheet of paper. This drawing is still gonna be a little large because how we graded it, Um, sometimes if I want the face to be a little bit smaller, I'll just make sure that I have less squares on the head. So sometimes I'll account to make sure that I don't have too many squares on the head because you can easily do the math when you overlay your grid in the computer program. If you know that each grid is going to end up being 3/4 of an inch, you can then go okay if I want the head to be four inches or three inches, that I know how many boxes I need to do that. All right, so then we're gonna flip the page sideways, and we're going to do the grid that way. So on the 11 inch side, if we're doing 3/4 of an inch of boxes, you should have a one and 3/8 inch border on the left side and right side, so we go ahead and grid. The most important thing about the grading of the paper is that you don't press too hard with your pencil. You really wanna have an incredibly light hand? Um, the most important thing is to make sure you're not losing the tooth of the paper. At the moment. You press too hard with your pencil that's going to completely get rid of the texture of the paper, and it's going to leave really difficult hard lines, and you're not going to be able to erase them. All of these grid lines need to be able to be erased. So if you want to try to first practice your shading and pencil methods, holding the pencil really lightly, not pressing too hard because those lines need to be a race. And if you press too hard on your grid lines, and you draw your entire outline and then you start erasing your grid lines and they don't come off. You just wasted a bunch of time. You're just not gonna be able to use that outline. And also, if you press too hard here and there, even if you're able to successfully race a lot of the outline good lines, you will have a difficult time shading over them and getting a consistent skin tone. 6. Outline Your Drawing: in this video, we will be going over how to start putting in your outline using the grid method. When using your grid, what you're going to do is count over to the different squares. So starting with this drawing, if I count over five squares on the top row, that is the first time I come in contact with a part of her hair. So I'm just going to lay down some little markers constantly looking at my computer screen . What you're going to need for this is your computer open with the drawing with the grid on it, and then you're essentially going to look at the grid and count over the spaces to where that you should start putting different marks. I'm just going to start off by outlining the hair and going around the farthest edges of the drawing. You can start at any place you want. I think it's just easier going square by square, and then I just start going down the side, looking at the squares. Sometimes where it hits a line, a look and say, OK, this is hitting exactly at the intersection of these lines. This area's hitting maybe 1/4 of an inch on the horizontal line of this box, and you're just gonna have to start eyeballing what's happening in a specific square where lines intersecting and start putting down little marks. I just start marking things that I feel like are important. So I started on the left hand side. Sometimes it's easier to work left to right, because you don't like smudge your hand over everything at the end. Sometimes I just jump around. It really just depends what you're comfortable with. If you want to start at the top and work your way down to the bottom, you want to start the middle and work your way out. Just make sure you're constantly counting what square you're in and where it is in relation to the side of the drawing, because you need to just make sure you're drawing the eyeball in its correct square. Otherwise, you're going to have an eyeball in the wrong spot in the drawing. So keep counting which grids air where you can even make small notations on the X and Y axis a through K on the X axis and one through 14 on the Why. If that helps you keep things straight. And then once you start getting more pieces or more lines of the illustration, and it's easier to remember where you are or where things are supposed to be placed. So we're just going to go and keep adding in different lines. Keep making marks continuing to go back. This is never just a one time through the box and you're done. I start putting in some basic lines. Some lines are easier for me to see, especially things like Intersect at certain points. I like putting those lines, and then sometimes I'll just put the lines on the box edges and then I'll go back in and kind of put the curve. And if I'm on the chin, um, doing different hairlines as well, you need to really get this outlying or this frame where correctly cause otherwise, anything topical and pretty you put on top of it is just going to be on top of a bad framework. It won't look like the person you are intending it to look like, So take your time on your outline. I'll go through it and I'll draw the outline and then I'll take a step back, take a break from drawing. I'll leave it. I'll come back. I'll look at it and just be like, What does it look like? You know, I really just like to spend as much time as I need on the outline because, like I said, I know that it's not going to look as nice In the end, if I don't have this outline right, take breaks, step away, sometimes prop it up on a bookshelf and then look at it from a distance off after not looking at it for a while, see if there's anything that just doesn't quite seem right, Um, and that just takes practice. It just takes time to understand what you're doing. Time to see kind of trouble spots you might have and working through those. So I'm just going to keep going and outlining using a very light hand. Easy to your right to a race. Don't worry if you're lying isn't exactly correct. If you feel like something is not looking quite right, just, you know, flip your pencil around and erase it, or use your needed a racer and just kind of a race that is need be, do everything in relation to that one box on the grid, just really asking yourself questions, going back and saying, Does this look like what's in the box? Does it not, um and then just keep adding in pieces as you go, and then eventually you will come out with an outline. 7. Shading Your Drawing: in this video will be going over how to shade the face. It is important when you begin to really use your pencil very likely on the paper. You want to utilize the techniques you've seen in the previous video on how to hold your pencil and how lightly you should shade. We're going to shade the entire face with a thin layer of graphite when doing this straight in small sections. Then use your Kleenex to go over the pencil, working your Kleenex in a circular motion in order to remove the pencil lines. You're going to continue to do this for this entire first layer skin tone, and then you will repeat the process a second time. You will notice when you start shading that it's a little bit rough to try and get nice, smooth lines as you start to build up the amount of graphite on the paper. But then it'll become smoother and smoother as you go. Another important thing is to ensure that your outline doesn't get completely removed when you start shading and using your Kleenex so I will continually go back in and reinforce those lines that were honor outline around the eyes, the nose, the lips and then continue to shade. Usually, I start with my mechanical pencil or my HB pencil. The mechanical pencil can be difficult if you don't have a light touch, so I would then recommend using your HB, usually sharpen my HB on and then hold it at a slight angle. Well, it loosely from the bottom and then shade consistently over the entire face. Once I have the entire face shaded twice, I will start going in and adding where I see darker tones come. If you're not used to drawing from photos, you can go on to pick, slur and change your photo to black and white. This might help you be able to see the different values in the skin tones. Sometimes it's hard to translate the color photo to black and white. If you want to, you can definitely go and change your photo to gray scale. I continue drawing. I start working around the edges. I look at the darker tones in the drawing, and I will start adding some of those in still using my HB pencil, just slowly building up the layers of graphite. It's just a long, arduous process of continuing to put in the layers of graphite needed. And when you're doing this, especially on the first layers, you're going to want to spread them white. So there's like a dark spot around the face. You want to make sure that you're not just shading at one little dark spot, but your shading all the lighter tones around it, too. And then we'll go back in with a to B and a three B and sometimes even a four B. And then we'll we'll continually making those darker spots a darker so we're just It's a gradual process of continuing toe layer upon layer of the graphite. You also can start putting in the different nose area. I usually just start with the nostrils first in the area around the edge, gently stating and then using my Kleenex to smudge shading some more smudging. And then I will use my eraser to sometimes lift the graphite off the paper. Either I make a mistake. You can always go in with the eraser and lightly use your kneaded eraser to pick up some of the some of the graphite off the paper. Also, where there's some highlights after I add in tones for a while. Sometimes I will go in and use my eraser to lift some of the graph it off the paper. So I can really see the contrast between the light tones and the dark. It's just constantly adding in the shadows, adding in the contrast ing tones. Usually when I'm drawing, there's a period of time where I think I've ruined it, that I can't really tell what's going on. Just trust your instincts. Use your hand lightly. Keep looking at the photo, going back to your drawing, seeing where the dark tones are, where the lighter tones are. When you're looking at a dark tone and you can't tell how dark it is, look at the photo and say, Okay, how is it dark in relation to, say her nostril? How is it dark in relation to her eyebrow? How was a dark in relation to her chin tone? And then you're going to be able to say, OK, it's not as dark is her nostril. It's a little bit lighter than her eyebrow, but it's but it's definitely darker than her chin. So then, you know okay, need to be between the range of her eyebrow and her chin for the shadow. So it's just using a method of deduction. It's just using a method of deduction to yellow. Tell which tones you need to use. Everything is in relation to each other. The right amount of shading on a face contrast with the right amount of shading on the hair . That is, when you're drawing looks realistic. It's like if you're taking a photo of somebody in a really light setting and they're completely blown out, everything's really light, and then you go take a picture. Somebody in a really dark, shadowy room. You're not gonna want to put the face of the shadowy room with the light blown out hair, but the room that had a lot of exposure. What you want to do is to make sure that they both match each other because when your portrait matches when your face shadows and those tones matched the tones that you're getting with a hair, that's when your face looks realistic. 8. Shading Hair and Finishing Touches: in this video, we'll be going over how to shade hair. When I start shading, I usually start at the top of the hairline up near the part. I'll start putting in longer strokes in the direction that the hair is going. So unlike when you're drawing the face and you just go in whatever direction you feel like . I like doing longer strokes in the direction that the hair is going so that it creates that downward fall. You'll start off closer to the face, and then I'll start taking my pencil line. Going in different lengths on this makes the hair look more natural. Sometimes when im working around the curve, it can't be helped and my lines are of similar length. I work hard to not have the same amount of shading overlapped by the same amount of shading cause then they can just look really fake and it doesn't look like natural hair coming from the head. So I move around a lot. I use my mechanical pencil and my HB to start, and I will just look at the drawing and I'll see where the highlights are and where the shadows are. I'll just start placing those lines in and then start working around, gently shading all the way down again. You're not pressing hard with ease with your pencil again. You're not pressing. Heard with your pencil. What you're doing is you're using your pencil lightly and notice adding lawyer upon layer when you go back into a race for highlights or a definition or make a change, you don't need to worry about pressing too hard in the paper and that you can't erase what you need to a race. I do use the Kleenex on the hair. I do this because I want to make sure that the hair underneath what I'm going to start putting on top is well shaded. What I want to do is I want to make sure that the hair isn't too light underneath it, that there's not gaps in the hair, so usually the first layer or two. I will use my Kleenex to starts moving, and then I'll go over it again with my HB and my mechanical pencil in order to create the hairline. So in the end, you don't want the hair toe look smudge. Do you want to see individual lines? But you don't want to have it look really stringy. The problem with hair is it can look really smooth or it can look really stringy and stringy. Hair isn't good because it just looks like she has greasy hair, and it doesn't look realistic and takes away from the overall quality of the drawing. But to smooth hair makes it look too much like skin tone. And one of the great parts about drawing and what makes it look more realistic is when you get the contrast of that smooth skin tone with the contrast to a little bit more rough texture of the hair. I like to flip the drawing around. I do this, too, when I shade the face. I didn't for this demo video because I wanted to keep it straight up and down as much as possible for you, for you to constantly see the evolution of the drawing. However, if the hair it's just too difficult for me to get the long lines needed, so I am flipping it around. Somebody keep flipping it around. There's times where I'll draw and all race cause it doesn't look right, but it's easy to do that if you're using your pencil lightly. So after the Harris done, what I like to do is go back and continue working on the tones of the face. After you put the hair and you can see whether you have enough or too little shading on the face, I realized that I needed to make the area around her eyes darker that the picture that that was more contrast ID that when I had put in a little bit of clothing on the side. So she's just not a head floating in space and gently smoothing that in the night. Erase all around the drawing on the white paper, and then I'll look at it and see what needs to be changed. What's great about not drawing too heavily and being able to keep the tooth of the paper is that you really can go back in and erase a significant amount if you need to, to make a change. So on this strong I realized that I opened her eyes a little bit too much and that I needed to go back and make those look a little bit squinty. Er, make her look a little bit more pensive. I went back in and realised that her hair needed to be done a little bit differently, that I did have her hairline. Quite right. So then I went back in and worked on that again. It's just a fine tuning process For the sake of this demo video. I tried to make that process a short as possible so that you could see the evolution. But if I was working on a full portrait for as a commission piece, I would do this process over multiple days in order to give myself a fresh perspective. When you draw for a couple hours at a time, it can eventually morph into what you think you want to see, and you're not actually seeing the drawing how it is most the time you can. If you draw lightly enough, you can definitely erase and reshape obits to get it to where you want it to be, so I just work through this process. It doesn't happen on your first go around. Usually, Um, it's definitely a process, and what's great and rewarding about it is that as you continue to do this process, you get better and better. I still enjoy doing this over and over and seeing improvements that I make. And I'm excited to see where your drawings go and how much you will improve. I would love to see your projects. Show me in progress shots. I'm excited to have people also doing portrait art along with me.