Portrait drawing for beginners – Dos and Don’ts

Portrait drawing for beginners – dos & don’ts. If you are new to portrait drawing, you have reached the right place. Here are a few tips for you….
 There are several people that like my style of portrait drawing. One thing that they like most about my portraits is my resemblance to the character of my interest irrespective of whether my portrait study is from photo or from life. Does it come naturally to me ? No… Then what is the technique that I use to achieve the resemblance and realism. Here are a few tips that might help you if you are new to portrait study.  
Freehand portrait study from photo
Portrait drawing for beginners

Portrait drawing for beginners – What not to do ?

Let me first share with you a few things that you should avoid in order to get the study right, both resemblance and realism wise.
1. Portrait drawing for beginners Knowledge about pencils, erasers and papers
Pencils
Portrait drawing for beginners
Go to your nearest shop and buy a few b pencils ranging from b to 12b. Go for a good brand, spend a little from your pocket and collect all these pencils from one or two good brands. A good drawing should show a beautiful balance between the presence and the absence of light values. You should have a pencil in hand, the highest of the values 10 or 12b which should give you the darkest shade. This is something which you will never understand if you have done portrait study only from photo. Please do purchase an ordinary eraser like Non-dust to erase and a kneadable eraser to create values.
2. Portrait drawing for beginners You should not do portrait study from photo
Photoshopped photo
Portrait drawing for beginners
Portrait study from photo is only for people who know the basics of portrait drawing. This is something only an expert or an experienced person can do. The problem begins with the selection of photo. If you are a beginner you will have difficulty finding the difference between a photo taken in a good day light/under room light and a photoshopped photo. I prefer photos taken in a broad day light but I would not suggest you this because it is very difficult to study values from a photo. Never ever go for photoshoppped photos, it is not at all possible to predict the values.
In case you want to try a portrait study from photo, ensure it is not photoshopped. One more important thing is that, when you choose a character that you want to study, your character in the photo should look like the character of your interest. Let us say you want to draw Scarlet Johanson. You should choose a photo of hers where she very much looks like herself. You should not choose a photo where she remotely looks like herself.
3. Why is it important to learn the basics of portrait drawing ?
Basics of portrait drawing
Portrait drawing for beginners
Portrait drawing for beginners
Basics by which I mean, the fundamentals of portrait such as the structure of the facial features and also the construction of the face. Structure of facial features would cover the parts of the features too. However this is not going to be difficult. We are not going to study this in detail. We will only be doing an overview of the facial features which will make your understanding of facial features much easier. Construction of face will help you assess the measurement and placement of features within the face. It will help you understand the structure and shape of the face which will lead to better study.
4. Why you should not ignore light theory ?
Portrait drawing for beginners
What is very important in portrait drawing second to achieving resemblance is the technical aspects of the drawing. One should know the direction of source of light, which will help you demarcate between the presence of light zone and the absence of light zone. This theory will help you decide the values that you should choose to place in intricate areas like the separation line in the mouth in between the lips, on the eyelashes, in the contour zones and other complicated areas.   
5. Do not use the grid technique
Portrait drawing for beginners
Grid is a technique that is more or less a physical cut copy paste effect. This is exactly like copying every inch from the reference photo to your drawing sheet. When it comes to art, what you should do is study and not copy, particularly when you study from a photo. If you are new to portrait drawing and if you do not know how to study faces, there is a good possibility that you may not achieve resemblance. One more important thing to remember is that, if you are addicted to grid you will not be able to study from life. This is a major drawback, one of the pleasures of studying from life is the resemblance-achivement part. If someone is sitting in front of you, you will not know how to start the portrait study and how to complete it. Grid is not the right way to practice.
6. Attitude matters a lot
Attitude matters a lot, Portrait drawing for beginners
Portrait drawing for beginners
This is a problem I find with a lot of up-comers. They do a few portrait study from photos and they think they are improving. You may achieve resemblance using grid and you may think that you have achieved realism but if you took your work to a senior artist, she/they/he would say where you have gone wrong. There is a lot of difference between realism and photo-realism. There is a lot of difference between studying a work and copying a work. Stay humble if you want to learnt fast and in a better way.

Portrait drawing for beginners Things to do

1. Portrait study from life
Portrait drawing for beginners
A lot of people fear portrait study from life, but that will help you learn fast and practice portrait in the right direction. It will help you overcome your fear, learn about light and values faster than you think and also it will help you understand construction of face.
2. Practice
Portrait drawing for beginners
Practice is the key. I always tell my students the secret ingredient to perfection is “learn a little, practice what you learnt, a lot”. All you will have to do is learn the basics and practice in order to put that in application.
3. How to practice
Portrait drawing for beginners
There are 2 things that you should focus on, the light and the resemblance. In order to achieve resemblance, what you will have to do is a rough portrait study, let us say a 30-minute-portrait-study on a daily basis for 90 days (3 months). Name your works as portrait study 1, portrait study 2 and so on. Let us assume you are not getting a model to pose for you, so you have chosen to practice from photo. If you are to achieve resemblance it is ok to practice from photo, however this should only be your second choice. And I would like to remind you that it will not help you with the value study. Now at the end of this practice routine compare your last work with your first work. This routine will break your fear and hesitation towards portrait study and lift your confidence level immensely.
How to focus on learning light theory. Beg someone to pose for you. Practice at least once a week for 3 months which will give you 12 portrait study works. Ask your friends or relatives to pose for you. You can allure them into posing for you by mentioning that you would not charge them for the artwork, lol. This is one of the best ways to understand light and values and it will also help you get better with the study of facial construction.

Ramya Sadasivam has been practicing art since 2006. She so loves to portray Indian culture, customs, day to day chores of the hard working laborers, happy village life and life of women.

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