How to Draw: Portraiture

Start by drawing a box you want your drawing to fit into on your tracing paper. It helps if you decide what part of your source image you want to draw and make your box proportional to that. Measure the height and width of your box and take note.

draw a box on the tracing paper and measure the height and width

Next, draw a box on your source image around the chin, outsides of the hair, and top of the head. The width of this box will be the width of the box you drew on the tracing paper. Figure out how many times the width of the source image box goes into the height and use that proportion to draw the same scaled box on the tracing paper. For example, if the width is two-thirds of the height, you would use the width of the tracing paper box to figure out what height would make the width two-thirds. In this case, the width is the same length as the height, so I made the height of the tracing paper box the same as the width I had already drawn.

draw a box around the face and hair
draw a box proportional to the one on your source image

Once you have your boxes established, pick a part of the face to draw first and draw a box around it on your source image. I chose to draw the eyes first, so I drew a box around one eye where the edges of the box touch all edges of the eye. Use your thumb and pencil to pick up the distance between the edge of the small box you just drew and the edge of the big box closest to it. Figure out about how many times that distance fits into the width—the distance we have determined is accurate and on which all other distances, including the height, are based on. If the measured distance goes into the width five times, figure out what distance will go into the width five times on the tracing paper and make a mark. That is the edge of your eye.

draw a box around each eye

Continue to measure until you have the whole box on the tracing paper. Then, look at your source image and pick out the shapes in the box that form the eye. Draw the outline of the eye first, then put in the smaller shapes, making sure everything is proportional to the box.

draw the eyes in the boxes

Work through this process until you have all the outlines of the image drawn in.

measure between the hairline and the top of the hair
put the hairline proportionally on the tracing paper
use your thumb and the tip of your pencil to determine the measurement ratios on your source image and then use that to measure out the correct distance on the tracing paper
box around the nose
box around the nose on the source image
box around the mouth
draw a box around the mouth and use your pencil to measure how many times the distance between the edge of the mouth and the edge of the big box goes into the width of the big box
draw the mouth inside the box
use crosses instead of boxes for specific points, like where the jawbone is
you will probably have boxes and crosses all over your drawing when you're done
almost finished with the outlines

The next steps are to transfer what you drew on the tracing paper onto your final draft paper. I used Bristol paper. To do this, you have three options: 1) put the tracing paper onto a light box and the Bristol paper on top of that; 2) shade the back of the tracing paper with a soft dark pencil like 6B, focusing more on the lines than the empty space, and then trace over the outlines of your drawing on top of the Bristol paper so it transfers over; 3) place graphite transfer paper between the tracing paper and Bristol paper, then trace over the outlines of your drawing so it transfers onto the Bristol.

transfer paper under tracing paper and on top of Bristol paper

I used method number 3 for this project, but you can use whichever method you prefer. If using method 3 (or 2), be sure to trace over the outlines extremely lightly. You don’t want hard dark outlines, especially for a face, which has soft lines and shadows.

the outlines are being transferred to the Bristol paper
the finished traced outlines

Nonetheless, when you’ve finished tracing, run an eraser through the entire drawing to lighten the lines even more.

erase all the lines so they're as light as they can be without disappearing completely

Now you can begin smooth toning. Smooth toning is a method for adding value to a drawing evenly and without hard lines or white dots. To do this, pick a place to start, look at the value on your source image, and choose a pencil hardness that will give you that value. Then, begin making tiny circles on the Bristol paper, making sure to not dent the paper. Try to match the value of the source image, pressing harder or softer to get the desired effect. A tip: if you have to press harder to obtain the value, use a softer pencil instead so you don’t make craters in the paper or worse, rip the paper.

Continue smooth toning until your drawing is complete. For the hair, it may be necessary to draw lines instead in order to accurately depict the texture. When drawing the teeth, make the value of the shadows between the teeth lighter than you think they need to be, or else your subject will look like he/she has food in her teeth. A kneaded eraser works great for lightening values.

smooth toning process
more smooth toning

When you think you’re finished, take a step back and look at your drawing. Make any adjustments necessary to have it look like your source image, then look at it again. If something doesn’t look right, even if you’re sure you measured correctly, you may need to move lines over or adjust the value in some places to make your drawing look realistic. This is where artist’s discretion comes in. You must use your eyes to see if something needs to be changed or left alone.

And now you’re done! Take a minute to appreciate all your hard work.

the finished piece

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