Drawing realistic hair can seem daunting because we artists sometimes get caught up in just how many strands of hair we can see, and lose sight of the big picture. The key to drawing great hair is to think about shape and value, and not always the finest details.
Here’s a tutorial to help you draw realistic hair.
As with so many aspects of drawing, less is often more. Overworking any area can detract from the rest of the image, and hair is one of those areas that can easily be overworked. For the ultimate lesson in just how simply hair can be drawn, look at George Seurat’s The Artist’s Mother from 1883.
There are no individual strands and dramatic highlights. Only her subtly drawn part gives any indication of the shape of her hair, while the lightness at the top tells us it’s probably light brown or blonde, rather than very dark.
To begin drawing hair, start with drawing of the face and head. Even if your subject has big hair, it’s important to understand where the head is located underneath. The head determines how the hair falls, whether or not the hair is full-bodied and coarse or thin and limp. It is useful to indicate the shape of the hairline at this phase, and show the location of the ear, even if you know it will partially or completely covered by hair.
Using a light pencil, draw your outline of the shape of the hair. You can draw lines to indicate the shape and direction of the hair, but be careful not to get carried away at this point. Note that hair does not always fall down away from the top of the head. In this woman, the hair at the front of the hairline is pulled back behind the ear, and it droops enough that the shape of hairline between the ear and top of the forehead is concealed. This will not always be the case, so observe carefully.
Using a darker drawing tool such as conte crayon or charcoal, start to lay down the location of the darkest values in the hair. It often helps to use the edge of your too here, and to lay down the values in blocks, rather than think too carefully about the direction of the hair.
Finer and narrower areas of value can be laid down using a charcoal pencil. Some areas need to remain light, as they will serve as your highlights. Also, remember that it’s not necessary to indicate every hair.
You can allow some lines to cross the highlights, but not all. For the most part, the highlights will follow the contours of the head. Some strands will cross over others, and may have different highlights if they project out or do not follow the shape of the head, as with the group of strands behind the woman’s ear.
This drawing could be simpler still. Even if you only focus on shape and value within the hair, you can still show hair effectively, as the Seurat drawing at the top illustrates.
Learn more about narrative portraiture here.