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Portrait Drawing Lessons - Learn to draw portraits

How to Draw Hair

How to Draw Hair 1

Rendering hair is dictated by several factors: the type of hair, its color, texture, quantity; the arrangement and styling of the hair; the personality and mood of the sitter; and the light effect upon the hair.

For this lesson I have chosen the profile view as it lends itself to a more direct understanding of hair rather than the frontal pose where one is confronted with the issue of foreshortening and perspective. I’ve taken a small departure from the usual working method – whereas it is highly advisable to bring all of the elements of the portrait up simultaneously I’ve left the hair at an initial beginning stage: the arabesque.

How to Draw Hair 2

The arabesque, as the starting point, is critical to establishing the likeness. Many beginning artists begin with the face and ‘grow’ outwards. At first this may seem the easier way, but it is a poor method and instills many bad habits that will prove difficult to break. The arabesque is especially critical when embarking upon the hair. Attempting to render the hair working from the inside out, hair lock by hair lock, piece by piece, is a recipe for disaster. The hair will result in being either too small for the head or too large.

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    The hair is rendered from general to specific, working from accuracy to even greater accuracy. Working within the arabesque of the hair use the broad side of a small piece of medium grade vine charcoal (about 1/2” or smaller) to block in the primary darks. These primary darks are best seen by squinting down your eyes until a general pattern of light and dark is seen.

    Next, you need to stump down the vine charcoal in a painterly fashion following the general gesture and movement of the hair. I prefer using my fingers. A paper stump results in a deadened look. Don’t worry about the small amount of oils in your fingers degrading the paper, its effect is minimal and frankly you have more to worry about the degrading effects of air pollution and direct sunlight. However, make sure that your fingers are dry. I constantly wipe my stumping fingers with a paper towel. Using a kneaded eraser like a loaded paint brush pick-out the major lights.

    How to Draw Hair 3

    Don’t be overly finicky here. A bravura approach (aka Franz Hals or John Singer Sargeant) effects a sense of life and rhythm into the hair. If you make a mistake just stump down again with your fingers and do it again. This is a very forgiving method.

    No sooner had I blocked in the hair than the light on the chin appear to ‘pop out’. This required my immediate attention and is a significant reason why working the entire head is necessary.

    French braiding is a beautiful hair style, but extremely complex and the devil to draw. Our agenda is to render these French braids fluidly and with movement.

    A balancing act is required here: the complexity of the hair’s styling is best handled by ‘mapping out’ the main locks and braids. As you ‘map out’ be sure to plumb and carefully size and place each main lock and braid.

    When working from a photograph there is the beguiling temptation to ‘copy’ it down to the smallest detail. That decision is best laid to each artist’s intent. However, for the drawing to be successful it must have a sense of life to it. Don’t be so maniacally obsessive that your drawing drops dead.

    How to Draw Hair 4
    How to Draw Hair 5

    I ‘map out’ only as much as I need to. In most cases, you will not need to map out to this extent – I am hard pressed to think of a more complex hair style than French braids. Although long curly hair cascading over the shoulders can be quite demanding too.

    Using a soft 8B pencil further block in the darks paying attention to the direction and gesture of the major locks of hair and blocking in only shapes of darks where there are many minor locks

    The most difficult thing is to refrain from plunging into an area of detail. This requires both mental discipline and faith.

    Once again I stump down using my fingers like paint brushes – short, stubby paint brushes. And, again, using a kneaded eraser I paint out the lights. This is a layered approach that progressively stalks the arrangement of the hair lock by lock. You’ll notice, too, that I have softened the edges of the hair line so that it blends into the face. Hair does this naturally.

    Barring the bang of hair traversing the forehead, I rendered the hair with super-sharp HB and 2H pencils. I sharpen at least a dozen of each – they dull quickly and dull pencils lead to dull, life-less hair.

    Having previously mapped out and blocked-in the major locks of hair made the finer rendering much easier, though, still, labor-intensive.

    It is important to keep stepping back from the drawing to maintain an overview of the primary light/dark pattern. Detailing can result in flat chaos. Beware!

    I deliberately avoided rendering the bang of hair for two reasons: first, is to illustrate the transition from the previous blocking-in stage; and second, the tonal interaction between the hair and flesh.

    I have a decision to make here. Whereas the ear is definitely anemic and requires strengthening, I would like to maintain a pale, porcelain quality to the flesh tone.

    How to Draw Hair 6

    How to Draw Hair 7

    Again, using super-sharp HB and 2H pencils I deepened and further resolved the tones in the face, ear and neck. As I progressed down the neck I left the drawing more and more unfinished.

    The bang of hair is the last to be rendered. Holding off on this bang of hair helps ensure that the hair and flesh are unified into a coherent sense of spirit.

    Rendering hair so that it reads naturally and with a rhythmic gesture is challenging. In this drawing it took me several hours to ‘do’ the hair and only about 45 minutes on the face and neck. Usually it takes as much time and effort to render the hair as it does the face and neck.

    The caveat here is that you must be spend as much care in prepping the hair as would in the rest of the portrait.

    The challenge when working from life is that you must have the hair blocked in and mapped out before the model takes their break. Otherwise the hair will very likely have changed when the pose is re-assumed. If the hair does change, you must stick to your guns. No chasing the hair locks. That is a chase you cannot win.

    The strategy, then, is to devote a whole 20-30 minutes of a pose segment to the hair. Don’t wait until the last 2 or 3 minutes – otherwise the chase is on!

    The ideal workshop to begin your portrait drawing training is my Mastering Portrait Drawing 1: the frontal pose. This 4-hour instant video download trains you step-by-step in the entire process of drawing a young woman in graphite pencil. Included within the video workshop is your comprehensive facial anatomy so that you can understand and better articulate the forms you are looking at. The workshop concludes with how to analyze and correct your drawing errors. A consideration not to be underestimated.

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    How to Draw Hair 8


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