Today I’d like to share a few suggestions for drawing people, specifically faces and beards. But before we start, here’s the reader question.
Do you ever do people portraits? I know your main passion seems to be horses, which is cool, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions as far as drawing people, their faces and features. I think I do okay but I’d love to improve on drawing beards and other hair, dimples, etc. Thanks!
I’ve only done a few human portraits, and they were in oils or graphite. Only one of them was a commission piece.
So I can’t answer you from a wealth of information as a portrait painter.
However, I can answer your question in more general terms.
Suggestions for Drawing People
Regardless of the subject you want to draw, drawing is the absolute best practice you can get. The more you draw, the better you’ll get at seeing your subject and reproducing it on paper. It doesn’t matter what you draw. The reason my horse drawings look the way they do is because I’ve been drawing and painting horses for over fifty years. That’s a lot of horses!
But what should you practice drawing? Here are a couple of suggestions.
Challenging or Difficult Features
If a particular part of the face gives you special problems, practice sketching and drawing that feature. A lot.
Some time ago, I was commissioned by a horse owner to paint her portrait in oil. To this day, it remains the largest human portrait I’ve ever done, measuring 24 x 30 inches. The size meant there was a lot of room for details.
And that meant I needed to get the details right.
So I did a lot of sketching. Not of the lady herself, but of the more important parts of the portrait. This sample shows you some of what I did in working out the shape of the eyes.
I also sketched other parts of the portrait such as her handbag, one of her feet, and some of the background elements.
The reader mentioned faces and beards, so that’s what I’d start with. Sketch eyes, noses, and mouths. Sketch different types of beards and hair. Get a sketch book and fill it up with sketches!
I did my sketching with graphite, but you can also sketch with colored pencils, charcoal, conte, or whatever medium works best for you.
Sketch Some Fun Features
Don’t limit your sketches to the hard parts of the face. Have some fun!
One way to do this is to draw amusing, odd, or funny expressions. How many different expressions can you convey just by sketching an eye, for example? Or a mouth?
Find a Good Teacher
Find a portrait artist whose work you admire and who is doing the type of work you want to do. Study their work and their methods. Try their methods. Keep what works, and discard what doesn’t work for you. If something almost works, then experiment with that technique until it does work.
Chances are that you won’t ever draw exactly like someone else, but you will accumulate a wealth of knowledge and out of that wealth, you’ll be able to develop your own specific methods.
Finally, if your favorite artists offer courses, I strongly recommend you consider taking one. Tutorials are great, but what you really need if you want to improve is the type of course that gives you direct feedback.
The first person to come to mind for me is John Middick. He’s a great portrait artist and he has a set of video courses that will get you started. The collection of portrait and basic courses* he offers is amazing.
He also mentors, and his group, Monthly Sharpener, is a great forum where you can post work and get feedback.
Most of the artists there are portrait artists, but there are also lots of animal artists and landscape artists. I’m also a member there and have found that particular resource invaluable. Even on the free side.
The Bottom Line
I hope that helps. There really isn’t a shortcut to improving your work that works any better than learning everything you can learn from other artists who are doing what you want to do, and drawing a lot.
For a bit more information on this subject, read How to Draw so Things Look Real. I share a few basic principles in that post that will help you draw anything you want to draw more realistically.
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