How I Draw a Portrait: Layout

When I begin drawing a portrait, I start by drafting a very light outline to place all the features. But before I can do that, I’ve got to get the reference photo edited so I know what the final drawing will look like. I mentioned before that I can edit a photograph if there are small problems. I actually do all of these edits in Photoshop before I even begin the drawing. I want my reference photo as close to the final drawing as I can get it.

I start with your photograph. This beauty was taken by Laura Leigh’s Photography.

Although it is a beautiful photograph, it isn’t really perfect for a portrait drawing because we want the final to be a close-up of her face. For the best results, you want to choose a photograph that is as close to the final as possible. In this case, it’s a very high resolution photo and so can handle a little (ok, a lot) of cropping. I was also able to supplement the details some because I know this girl’s face pretty well… considering she’s my sister!

And so I take it into Photoshop and start editing and cropping until I figure out what the final will look like. When you order a portrait, you’ll receive an email with this image so you’ll know what the final drawing will look like before I even put pencil to paper. If it has selective color, it will also be shown in this sample.

From here, I print a full size copy of this to the scale of the drawing. Working from that and from my computer, I get out my tools are start measuring.

There are two ways I use to transfer a drawing to paper and it just depends on the drawing to determine which method I use.

I use a 1 inch by 1 inch grid drawn on my paper to lay out each of the major elements. Sometimes, I use a light table with a black grid on another paper underneath or I just pencil the grid right on the paper, VERY lightly so that it disappears as I draw over it.

The other option still uses a grid, but instead of doing squares all over the paper, I design my own guidelines based on where the major elements are.

I measure out each of the lines and intersections on the paper and use these to fill in the major features of the face.

At this point, I draw very lightly until I have a likeness of the person and all of the major facial features are placed on the page. If I run into issues, I can use a light table and my scaled print-out to touch up and make sure everything is exactly where it needs to be.

This beginning sketch is very, very light.

Actually, I had to manipulate this photo a lot just so you could see the sketch. There are almost NO lines in one of my final portrait drawings and these starting lines need to be light enough to fade away as I’m drawing.

Once I’ve got it all laid out, it’s time to start on my favorite part… detailing the eyes!

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