5-Star Tips for Portrait Illustration

Portrait Illustration Drawing

There are a few key factors to Portrait Illustration, none of which involve owning expensive material, and all of which are easy to implement.

There’s no magic formula to drawing realistic head shots, but a having a few techniques and tricks up your sleeve will certainly help whilst you practice! And practice will get you a long way.

Let’s take a look at 3 main elements to creating stunning portrait pieces:

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Looking at an image objectively.

By considering your reference image as an object rather than a face, your approach to portrait work is going to be a lot easier. Everything we see is made up of shadows, highlights, shapes, blobs, lines etc. Once you uncomplicate what your eyes are seeing, you can then begin to map out there proportions of your subject, highlight main features and add to it layer by layer.

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Skin & Shading

The secret to perfectly smooth skin and even shading is light pressure and the absence of pencils! The process that I show my students is to drop graphite in dark areas of the face, then gently push around the graphite using tissue paper (the type you blow your nose with!). Blending stumps are a fantastic tool as well but are more suitable for blending in tight or small areas.

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Mechanical Pencils

We are blessed on this earth with many incredible drawing tools but we are especially blessed to have mechanical pencils. These are an absolutely saviour. Blunt tip? Nuh-uh! Mechanical pencils (or pacers, as we called them in school) have a metal or plastic cylinder casing that you fill with graphite leads which come in a variety of thicknesses. It means you’ll always have a sharp tip, solid line of graphite and can re-use the same pencil forever. You just need to top up the leads, which come in 0.3mm, 0.5mm, 0.7mm, 0.9mm and possibly thicker. I prefer 0.5mm in 2B and oftentimes use the 1 pencil to complete a fully rendered portrait illustration!