3 Tricks for Sketching a Portrait That (Miraculously!) Looks Just Like the Person


Bringing a person to life with just a pencil and a piece of paper is a magical thing — and a really good reason to learn how to sketch.

If you're not sure where to start, I'm here to break down the process for you. Give these tips a try and after a little bit of practice you'll start to see improvements with every new drawing. I think you'll find it tremendously encouraging!

1. Look for circles, triangles and other face shapes

The best way to get started is to simplify the major shapes of the face.

If you have a reference photo, you can even sketch the shapes right on it! This will help you get a feel for the proportions.

Most faces are made up of a lot of circles and triangles, but you can use any shape that works. Look closely at your image (or live subject, if you have one) and focus on the geometry of the face and skull.

2. Figure out how the features align

It can be easy to draw what you think should be there instead of what you actually see . That's why you want to use your powers of observation to analyze how the features align on the face. Draw vertical and diagonal line on your reference photo to help. Look carefully at the placement of the nose and analyze how it relates to the placement of the mouth and chin. Do the same with the corner of the eye and the neck and jawline, and the eye and the edge of the nose. 

3. Draw lines to measure the distance between features

If you want your portrait to look like real life, you need to sketch the features of the face at the correct distance from each other. Eyes can be closer or wider apart; noses can be longer or shorter.

These details are what make a face recognizable. Get them right and you'll be amazed at what happens.

Portrait of French actress Léa Seydoux by Antonella Avogadro

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Choose paint and create a preliminary drawing of the subject's face. Block in shadow shapes.
Put a smile--or relaxed lips--on your portrait subject.
Meet your instructor, artist and author Gary Faigin, as he shares his techniques for consistently capturing a person's likeness. You'll discover a new -- and better -- way to draw your subjects. Gary illustrates how drawing facial features is different from drawing a likeness, as well as how to use shapes and patterns to start sketching out your portrait.
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3 Tricks for Sketching a Portrait That (Miraculously!) Looks Just Like the Person