Art Blog

Learn to Sketch Better Portraits With Just 3 Simple Tips

If you take the image all at once and dwell on how many details you have to draw and how difficult it will be, trying to tackle drawing a portrait would be intimidating for anyone! You can make the process significantly less daunting by taking it one step at a time.

Following these straightforward tips to make drawing faces less intimidating and more enjoyable!

Portrait sketch of Lea Seydoux by Antonella Avogadro

Portrait of French actress Léa Seydoux by Antonella Avogadro

1. Simplify by using shapes:

simple shapes on portrait sketch of Lea Seydoux

Firstly, the most useful technique to get started and past the initial fear is to simplify the major shapes of the face.

If you are drawing from an image, then you can even draw the shapes on your reference photo before you draw them on your paper. This will help you get a good understanding of proportions and the distances between features.

The most common shapes used to break up the face are circles and triangles, but you can use whichever shape comes closest to the elements in your reference. Look at your image — or live subject if you are drawing from life — and try to find the underlying shapes that create the structure of the face and skull.



2. Analyze the way the features align:

feature alignment on portrait sketch of Lea Seydoux When drawing, it is easy to let your brain take charge and begin to draw what we think is there instead of going with a fully observation approach and drawing what we actually see. One way to overcome this problem is to draw lines in order to analyze how the features align on the face. Using this technique will help you learn how things like the eyes, hairline, nose, ears, cheekbones, etc. interact with each other.

Draw vertical and diagonal lines to get a sense of how the placement of the nose relates to the placement of the mouth, and chin; how the corner of the eye interacts with the neck and jawline; or the relationship between the eye and the edge of the nose.



3. Use lines to measure distances:

Feature distances on portrait sketch of Lea Seydoux

This tip is closely related to the previous one. We are still drawing lines over our reference image, but this time their purpose is to measure distances.

Sketching the features of a face at the correct distance from each other is very important to achieve likeness. Some people have eyes that are closer together, others are wider apart, some have longer noses and others shorter ones. All of these details make up the person as a whole and define their individual and characteristic look. When you get the size and distance of the features right, a face becomes instantly recognizable and can come alive on the page.




All of these tips are aimed at improving and refining our observational skills and analyzing the individual and unique proportions of the person we are sketching. Give them a try and see how, after just a couple of attempts, you will start to notice improvement with ever new sketch you create.

This is tremendously encouraging, to witness as we slowly improve our skills and get better right before our very eyes. After all, that’s what practice is all about, nothing but a beautiful journey of discovering how much we are capable of.

Complete Portrait sketch of Lea Seydoux by Antonella Avogadro

Gary Faigin, Craftsy instructor, said that drawing portraits is one of the most magical things there is because, by using the simplest of tools on a blank piece of paper, a person suddenly appears on it. I could not agree more, and I think he put into words exactly what the amazing beauty of the portraiture experience is all about.

If you are interested in sketching portraits you can learn a lot more about capturing the essence of a person with the Craftsy classes Drawing Facial Features and Traditional Portrait Drawing Techniques.

Or, check out the FREE downloadable guide, Drawing the Human Face: A Primer, and discover how to draw specific facial features in stunning human likeness!

What other techniques do you use to draw faces? Have you tried any of these and noticed improvement? Let me know your portrait drawing experiences in the comments below.


susan Adlam

awesome ,, I have alot of learning to do ,, Love pairing and drawing But really nead to be taught properly from an expert like you


great tips.

Audrey Skoreyko

Very interesting! I will give it a try. Thank you for sharing.

Ravena Lamph

I have done more than 700 portraits….and I feel that I have an easier way to do them….I am self taught ….no art school or instruction. Lots. Of practice

Notmy Realnameobv

Can I, please, see some before and after practice pictures? Please? And how long did it take for you?

ginny burwell

how do you do your portraits?

Paul Howarth

Thank you in advance for any help that’s available 🙂


great tips. very good.


Love this


very interesting.


That is really outstanding


very good techniques i like the grid method but can draw straight lines with a ruler


I use a proportional divider instead of a grid. Derwent makes one. Sells for about $15. All you need then is your center lines dividing the paper and photo to work from.


I love this and I will give it a try..nice tech


nice post..

Devin Van Horn

Hi! I draw myself and have given drawing instruction to others. I love sharing what I’ve learned. The most important lesson you shown is to learn to see and not let our brains draw what we think should be there. It’s learning the relationships of one element to another, as with your lines. I’m going to share a lightening bolt experience I had, shown to me by a friend. I had finished a portrait with four faces and one face just didn’t seem right to me. He told me to take it to the bathroom mirror and hold it up and look at it. Your eye goes directly to the problem! It works! It has to do with how our eye reverses the image on the way to the brain. Happy drawing! Devin, Texas

Alphones okoth Agutu

surely its fine for fine art.good lesson.


Very useful and encouraging. Thank you for this! ?

deep ochhane

How do I learn …..
Its a shading problem with my drwa …
How do I observed that help me to get more and easy tutorial for it …..


hey that’s really osumm tips.. easy way to handle!! thank ya.. 🙂


How please


thanks for the tips …. love it .. 🙂 🙂 🙂


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