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Drawing portraits is a tough art. That’s why you need a bit of guidance and today I am here exactly for this reason. We are going today to focus on drawing (and eventually painting) portraits from a picture.

So we will learn how to grid the picture to sample proportions and how to scale the proportions to the final size we want to render the portrait. Finally, we will venture briefly into a technique to digitally paint the portrait to render it up to a semi-finished state.

You should know, drawing a portrait it’s not just about getting the proportions of the face of the subject right but, believe me, that alone helps a lot. That’s why we’ll focus in this tutorial on capturing the essential proportions or elements of the face that will, at least deliver a resemblance to the subject. That’s the easy part, believe me. More difficult is capturing the soul of your subject, but we’ll leave this argument to another tutorial.

Let’s get our hands dirty with portrait drawing now! I have chosen an old picture of Sean Connery as a subject, definitely one of my favorite actors. The reason is, he has an interesting expression here, the face is at a nice angle and it’s in black and white so we can concentrate on forms and not be distracted by colors.

This is how the picture looks.

Portraits – let’s get started!

What we are going to do now is to trace a few lines on the picture to define with precision the salient landmarks of the face in order to subsequently be able to reproduce them at the size we want.

The first grid lines are going to define the contour of the face. In this case, three lines are sufficient. As you can see, the chin, forehead, and jaw position are captured by these lines.

You know that the face must remain within this square, an essential guide for drawing it later.

The next step will be defining the position of the eyes. In capturing the resemblance to a subject it is crucial to reproduce with fidelity certain facial features. Two of these are the relative position/distance of the eyes from each other and the positioning of the eyes on the face.

There are many ways of drawing a series of grid lines to do this however I think that the most effective consists in marking with four points the position of the angles of the eyes, exactly as I have done in the picture below.

The points give you precise geometrical info on where the eyes are. Obviously, each point needs two coordinates to have its position defined within the red rectangle, and the blue lines are there for this reason. With two coordinates you’ll be able to reproduce exactly the position of these points when you scale your grid up or down.

At this point, we want to do the same thing for the other two essential facial landmarks, the nose, and the mouth.

In the picture below you see I have used three points this time to fix the nose position. I have used three because I am quite confident drawing in between these points but you can certainly use more than three.

It really depends on the picture and the complexity of the form you are trying to capture. You see that with these points I have marked the tip of the nose, the base, and the nostril. Now I know exactly the size of it and its distance from the eyes.

One of the neat features of this method is that while you are marking landmark points you are also drawing a series of lines and other points will naturally form as lines intersect each other. This secondary structure will work at the end as a perfect grid that will give you even more reference points and lines to draw an accurate portrait.

The last series of points we are adding to the grid will be for the mouth. Five points are necessary in my opinion this time to capture the complex structure of the mouth.

The process really does not take more than 10 minutes and once you are finished you are off to draw a fantastic portrait.

This is what our finished grid looks like. If at his point you want to scale up or down the size of the grid or simply transfer the grid from the picture to a sheet of paper to start drawing the portrait you need to measure it with a ruler a few things.

You need to measure each side of the rectangle and all the distances between the various points formed by the intersection of the grid lines with the rectangle sides. That’s it. This is all you have to do.

Once it is done, you simply take these measurements and reconstruct the rectangle and its points on a white sheet of paper.

If you want to scale the rectangle to make the picture bigger or smaller you just multiply/divide all of these measurements by the number you want your portrait to be compared to the original picture.

Let’s say you want to double it. Then you multiply the measurements by two. Do you want the portrait to be half the size of the original? Divide all the measurements by 1/2. It’s that simple.

Now let’s move on to the actual drawing, which is also the easy part 

With your grid in place, you have a solid foundation to start drawing the portrait. I would start with the face and draw its shape of it as in the picture below.

Portraits – let’s draw it!

When you are happy you can start adding the facial features. I start from the eyes normally and from the eyebrows. I have not set points specifically for the eyebrows for two reasons. The first is that as I told you before you have the grid lines you can use as a reference and the second is because eyebrows are less determinant for recreating the resemblance than eyes, nose, and mouth.

So, just start to sketch in the contour of eyes and eyebrows as in the figure using the points to position them properly.

Let’s continue with the nose and finally the mouth. Again I have used 5 points for the mouth but if you feel you need more control you may use more than that. Remember the more points the more intricate will be the grid.

You want to balance ideally the intricacy of the grid and the fidelity of the drawing. A very intricate grid will warrant higher fidelity and control but the drawing will look less natural. It’s really up to you. Here is the final result after removing the grid. Pretty neat I think. And that’s where you are heading if you followed this simple tutorial.

Now it is time to bring a bit of life and color (better say tones) to the portrait. I have used Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for the entire project.

I won’t go into super detail about coloring here but as a general outline:

Create a basic, more or less solid background. Choose a mid-dark color. We’ll add darks and lights.

Portraits – time to color

In this step, I have darkened the background and some areas of the portrait leaving more or less untouched the parts that I feel will be getting light.

At this stage do not care about details. Lay down quickly, large color washes leaving untouched the areas that are lit.

Start refining things a little bit. Increase the contrast with the background and smooth out shadows. have here added a simple wash of brighter gray to define better the areas of the face that receive illumination. Use the original picture as a guide.

At this point, you can start working on a few details on the nose, mouth, and eyes.

Added the shirt detail (I have kept it really loose) and turned the picture Black and White like the original.

I have also drawn with a very fine tip a few wrinkles here and there to give a bit more sharpness to the portrait.

The final touch in this case has been adding a bit of texture to simulate skin pores and to harden the image. I am not going to refine the portrait more than that as the point of the tutorial was really about creating an effective grid on the picture we want to draw a portrait from.

I am definitely thinking of creating a more detailed tutorial on coloring and drawing in the future. let me know what you think.

Hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Leave comments and let us know what you think about the site.

See you next time!! and happy drawing!!


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