How to Draw Realistic Hair for Portraits

The number one thing you need to remember about drawing realistic hair: don’t get caught up in all those individual strands. As with so many aspects of drawing, less is more, and overworking any area can detract from the rest of the image. Instead, you want to use value and shape to define your subject’s hair. Here’s how.

Good to Know: We used charcoal in this tutorial, but the method can be replicated in any medium.

Drawing Hair

Level: Easy

What You Need

  • Pencil
  • Charcoal or conté crayon
  • Charcoal pencil
  • Eraser
  • Instructions

    1. Begin With the Head

    Before you draw hair, you have to have something to draw it on. Start by lightly drawing your subject’s head without any hair, and detailing the facial features. Even if your subject has big hair (maybe some curls?) it’s important to know where the head lies underneath, as this determines how the hair falls.

    It’s also useful to indicate the shape of the hairline at this phase and show the location of the ear, even if the hair will cover it.

    2. Outline the Shape

    Using a light pencil, draw the outline of the hair’s shape. You can draw lines to indicate the direction of the hair as well, but be careful not to get carried away — this should be basic.

    Pro Tip: Hair doesn’t always fall away from the top of the head. In the photo above, the woman’s hair at the front of her hairline is pulled back behind the ear and droops enough that the hair between the ear and top of the forehead is concealed. Observe your subject carefully to replicate how their hair falls.

    3. Shade

    Using a darker drawing tool, such as a conté crayon or charcoal, begin laying the darkest values in the hair. Use the edge of your drawing tool and lay the values in blocks.

    4. Add Fine Values

    Finer and narrower areas of value can be laid down using a charcoal pencil. Keep some areas light, to serve as highlights, and follow the contours of the head.

    Pro Tip: It’s not necessary to indicate every hair. Some strands will cross over others, and some may have different highlights if they project out or don’t follow the shape of the head. (For example, the group of strands behind the woman’s ear.) It’s OK to allow some darker lines to cross the highlights, but not all.

    By focusing on shape and value, you can draw realistic hair every time.

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