How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal

This Lesson in drawing portrait is set to guide you a step by step procedure based on a classical approach using charcoal and graphite. You may use grid lines if you find it difficult to draw by free hand.

The following illustrations will get into more detail, methods and techniques in every stages of the drawing process.

STEP 1 – ESTABLISH THE PROPORTIONS OF THE FACE

For the first stage, you should use a light grade charcoal pencil to start. Now, I would like you to learn the essential points to consider to achieve accuracy of the portrait.

In all portraits, it is essential to establish first the correct position of the head and set the proportions of the face.

Then, take a careful observation and measurement of the accurate relationship between the eyes, nose and then the mouth. Remember this will have a great impact in copying your subject. Consider the distance between the two eyes, the length and the depth of the nose, and the size and the length of the mouth.

Always remember that the early stages of the charcoal drawing are not permanent and you make a lot of changes. That’s why you need to draw in a light manner so you may able to erase any mistakes and changes quickly and maintain cleanliness in your drawing.

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STEP 2 – OUTLINE TECHNIQUE

After ensuring the correct proportions of the head, you may now start drawing more details for the features of the face. In order to be effective in setting accurate details, you have to do a thorough and precise observation. Moreover the ability to see small variations of shapes, line, form and tone are required artistic skills.

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STEP 3 – INTRODUCE THE BASIC TONES OF THE FACE

For this stage of drawing you may use medium or soft charcoal pencil. Usually, medium charcoal pencil looks like dark when use but it lightens when you do smudging of the surface. Since we’re done drawing the lines of the portrait, we can now proceed to the basic tones in the face.

Now, BE CAUTIOUS. Apply shading lightly in the process of establishing the depth of tone. Try not to make more erasures for it would compromise the fineness and neatness of your drawing. In case you use soft charcoal for delicate lines, you can blend them with a surrounding flat area of tone. If you want to focus on observing basic tones in your drawing, you may close your eyes partially to emphasize the dark and light areas.

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STEP 4 – START TO DEVELOP THE TONES AND DETAILS OF THE FACE

For this step, you may need to use a sharp charcoal pencil to emphasize the major features of the face. The main objective here is to recognize the darker tones for the eyes, mouth, ears, nose and hair. By doing these, you can establish some key features that would serve as a foundation in building the tonal structure of the face.

Try to be more careful in this stage since building up the face’s tones and details need much attention and precise drawing. In other words, don’t make it fast. Using charcoal pencil in drawing the details is almost the same when you are using an ordinary pencil. The difference is that using charcoal makes darker pigments and you need to be more control to avoid overworking your work.

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STEP 5 – STRENGTHEN THE TONES OF THE FACE

After strengthening details of the features, deepen now the surrounding tones to set a balance with the head’s overall shading. Start by looking carefully at the shading you’ve finished earlier and check if there are subtle tone variations in these areas. For some larger areas of tone the surrounds the cheeks, neck, chin and forehead should be darkened gradually with the use of soft charcoal pencil and blending stump.

Moreover, you need to enhance smaller details located around the eyes, ears, nose and mouth to gain the depth tone. Make some mild blending between the sharper and smaller details and with softer tone areas around them.

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STEP 6 – DEEPEN THE TONES OF THE HAIR

You may need soft charcoal, a sharp charcoal pencil, blending stump (cotton as alternative), and an eraser with sharp edge. Start by drawing the bunch and strand of hair using a hard charcoal pencil or graphite pencil. Use a rhythmic or patterned line following the style of the hair cut. Using a soft charcoal stick and a blending stump, smudge a layer of shading on the hair and improve its volume.

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STEP 7 – REFINE THE DETAILS OF THE HAIR     

It’s kind of a trick. Cut an eraser to create a sharp edge and use it to make lines of light in the shading area. This technique is so effective to enhance realistic detail and texture. In case there lines of light that are very thick, use a sharper charcoal pencil and your eraser to break it up into more detailed hair strands.

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