Drawing Portraits -- Tips
Many people have asked me for tips and stuff in drawing, so I might as well write a post on it.
1. Find a good picture to draw
I cannot emphasize this enough; choosing the right picture to draw is as important as drawing it. And when I say right picture, I mean that the subject chosen has an interesting expression or the shot is taken at an interesting angle. Most importantly, the picture must have good details (relatively large resolution) and good lighting. If you just happen to start drawing, pick a picture where the face is not at an angle (the subject is outright facing you). It is hell lot more difficult to draw faces tilted at an angle. I still cannot do it well to date.
2. Do some treatment on your selected picture (only applies to picture found from the web)
After you found such picture, enhance the picture even further, by editing the contrast and brightness of the picture. For me, I always turn a colored picture into black and white, and making sure that most parts of the faces are not too bright such that all the face and skin details are almost non-existant. A side note, it is easier to draw something dark than to draw something bright.
3. Have the appropriate materials
Pencils is a must, of course. Normally I will only use 4H, 2H, H, 2B and 6B. Mechanical pencils is required too, if you want your portrait to look sharper, especially the eye and hair areas. Get a tissue for blending; for me I will also use a cotton ear bud for blending small areas. While drawing always ensure that you have another clean piece of paper between your drawing and your drawing hand to prevent unnecessary contact with the drawing. Never touch your drawing with your bare hands and fingers! It will be useful to own a kneadable eraser, the type that feels like a bluetack. It is useful in erasing mistakes gently without greatly affecting the drawing. Lastly it is the paper. Do not use ordinary white printing paper, go get a sketching paper! Printing paper is too thin and does not hold on to graphite very well. It also curls up when you apply too much pressure on it.
4. Start drawing!
Normally I will leave the picture on my computer screen while I draw it on my sketching paper. For great projects, I got the treated picture printed out in A4. Printing out the picture has its advantages. You can gauge the proportions better, and sometimes you need to rotate your drawings to draw certain areas easily. Printing the picture allows you to rotate it as well.
Using 4H pencil, I will sketch a very light outline of the picture, to try to fix the location of the eyes, nose, mouth, chin. After you are satisfied with the proportions, start with the eyes. The eyes can greatly identify the subject that you have chosen to draw. Spend most of your focus on the eyes. After finishing the eyes, extend outwards to other parts of the face.
Use 6B and 2B pencils with caution! Do not darken the areas until you are dead sure you will not change the position of the features (eg. eyes too big, eyes too far apart, etc) It is very hard to correct an area darkened by 6B and 2B. For me, I always use 4H and 2H to shade the drawings, and darken the areas slowly and subsequently when I have made sure I can proceed.
5. Adding details
While checking if the eyes are drawn accurately, look at the whites in the eyes, because it determines the distance between the pupil and the outsides of the eye, and the shape of the whites determine the angle the eyes are in. Take note of the whites! Normally there are eyebags under each eye, be sure to shade them in so the eyes look bigger and rounder.
Blending makes the drawing more smooth as you even out the different shadings on your drawing. But it can also remove some details of the picture. Just remember to draw back the details after you blend. I used to blend the faces of my portraits and I finished it with that. But now I will add in little cross hatches on the skin to resemble the little lines we have on our faces. It makes the picture sharper and more vivid.
As for the hair, I will identify the dark areas of the strands (the shadow) and draw them in first, then start to draw the strands of the hair outwards from the dark areas to make sure the hair looks flowy and shiny. Complete the hair strand by strand. I normally use 0.5mm and 0.3mm mechanical pencils for the hair. And yes, you have to train your hands to be steady, no two ways around it.
Noses can be a nuisance to draw, because it has so many contours in such a small area. But I feel that the most important thing for the nose to be drawn well is the nostrils. It is the darkest areas a nose can have, so it is the most noticeable part. Spend more time correcting the position of the nostrils than the other parts of the nose. To add details, normally noses have slight flaws in them, like uneven bumps and blackheads. Draw them in to look more life-like.
As you might have noticed, the two sides of the mouths is the darkest, and I would suggest locating the positions of the two ends accurately before you start drawing a line to connect them. If the subject's mouth is open and bearing his or her teeth, draw the dark parts of the mouth surrounding the teeth, instead of the teeth itself. You will be surprised by how shiny the teeth is. For the lips, remember to add in the little creases and lines the lips will have. Remember to keep the shine of the lips so that it looks kissable.
Do not neglect the texture of the clothes they are wearing as well! I understand that once the face and hair is done, you have little motivation to finish the clothing that they have. But again, patience is the key to drawing.
As you draw more, you will learn of the things that you can do, and ought not to do while drawing. Different people can develop different styles of drawing. I have seen other artist drawing with methods that I cannot emulate and I don't wish to do that either. Take my tips and advice as a template, not something that you have to conform to, although I feel that most of the stuff I pointed out are what most artists will do as well!
Good luck, and remember to have fun in drawing!