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Portrait Sketch Tutorial: Bonita at 102

Older people provide a varied facial landscape to draw. In many ways, it’s easier to describe the external contours when there are more landmarks.  But structure is still important. Whether or not you begin a portrait drawing with a gestural lay-in, stay aware of the underlying structure of the face as you develop the portrait. Every feature needs to relate to all other features in shape, scale and proportion. In this portrait sketch tutorial, I show how you can quickly set up the proportions and overall shape of the face, and then confidently and accurately add the features.

I’ve broken down my drawing process in this sketchbook session into a series of simple steps.

  1. Lay in the general shape of the head, paying attention to height and width proportions. Seen from the front, the head is roughly 2/3 of the width of the head in profile view. Begin by drawing an oval. Draw loosely.
  2. Locate the shoulder line and its axis. Look for the angle of the shoulders and how it relates to the angle of the neck and head. Most people relate when sitting, and those varied angles can be used by the artist to “animate” a drawing, making it more lifelike.
  3. Find the centerline axis of the head. In a 3/4 view — as in this tutorial — the center line will be offset from the center of the oval, either to the right or to the left. The centerline helps you keep all the features properly aligned with each other.
  4. Find the eye line. The eyes are generally positioned halfway from the top of the head to the end of the chin. The brow line is higher. See from the front, the eye line is perpendicular to the centerline axis. In all other views, it will be angled based on perspective.
  5. Locate the glabella. It’s a triangular shape that transitions the brows to the bridge of the nose. It can be prominent or subtle, but it sets the proportions of the eyes and nose.
  6. Find the corner of the head. That’s the point at which the front plane stops and the side of the head begins. It’s important to find the corner to create a sense of volume, and to isolate facial features to the front of the head. If you don’t acknowledge this 3/4 line, your portrait will appear flat, without dimension.
  7. The base of the nose is generally located 1/3 of the distance from the brow line to the chin. The ball or point of the nose sits above it. The nose is a wedge with a top plane (the bridge), side planes, and bottom planes. Look for these conceptual planes as you draw.
  8. Once the gesture is laid in, then begin describing the contours. Contours are the interior and exterior edges of a form. Build up light and shadow to create the illusion of volume.

No one becomes better at drawing without actually drawing. Practice is necessary. Find a photo, a friend, or use a mirror to draw yourself. When you begin a drawing with a gesture lay-in, you are better able to understand structure and how the skeleton and skull support the visible features of the face and head. This is true for everything you draw.


Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and design director at Alvalyn Creative, an independent practice near Thousand Oaks, California. She creates visual branding, publications and books for business, entrepreneurs and authors. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business roadmap program for creative freelancers. Contact her for your visual branding, graphic and digital design needs. Join her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and subscribe to her free monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Alexandria

    So my art teacher has assigned us a Portrait or ourself or a famous person, or a family member and i have never drew a Portrait before so i need alot of help so if you would like to help me just reply to this comment and i will get back to you as soon as i can.

    1. Alvalyn Lundgren

      Hi, Alexandria: I have a few articles here on my blog and a variety of tutorials on my YouTube channel you can check out. You can apply for individual instruction with me here: I teach students of all skill levels, but you have to be 18 years old or older for me to work with you. Best wishes for good success on your portrait assignment.

  2. Sulyman Mustapha Bola

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    Sulyman Mustapha Bola by name I am an artist from Nigeria please I have an ideas due to my childhood practices of creative life drawing within 20 minutes and get done with my clients with total package (Frame & Glass) within 30 minutes or 40 minutes, I really work on my speeds during my quick sketch so that gave my courage and boldness to face my clients and get his or her portrait no matter condition. Therefore I will like you to make me understand and give me
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