How to Draw a Self-Portrait

Drawing a self portrait is an excellent way to learn about shading, sketching, and proportions. A common mistake novice artists make is creating a portrait without knowledge of the theory behind drawing realistic portraits. Knowing the proportions and anatomy of a human face, how perspective works and other nuances make the process of creating a portrait much easier.

This article was created to educate aspiring artists about the main steps of creating a self-portrait. We break down the creative process into easy-to-understand steps so that anyone can follow along. As you practice and keep observing the human form, you’ll find yourself improving and eventually you’ll become an expert!

The first thing to understand is that, in general, all people are the same. Of course, we have differences, but for the most part, we all have the same parts. Almost everyone has eyes, ears, mouths and so on. Everyone’s facial features are placed in similar locations which we can determine by looking at proportions. The first thing we want to do is to create a general shape. 

Note: The artwork must be created according to the system from general to specific. In the initial stages, you don’t want to get too invested in the details. Think in large shapes. Do not get hung up on how to draw an eye or nose. At this moment, we’re just determining where they should be located.

Step 1 Start with a light sketch

Take a moment to observe your face in the mirror or take a close look at your photo. Use lines to outline the height and width of the head on the sheet. Start with a light outline. Get the major features first, lightly, to create a foundation so you can add in your details later. This way, if you make a mistake, you can easily erase it and it wont affect the minute details you will spend more time creating later on.

Step 2

Outline the face. Everyone thinks they know the proportions of a face, but when you really study the human face, its easy to realize that the eyes are not near the top of the head, they are more about half-way between the crown of the head and your chin. Start by sketching the hairline. Next, divide the area from the hairline to the chin into 3 equal parts. The first part is from the beginning of hair growth to the eyebrows. The second part is from the eyebrows to the base of the nose. The third part is from the base of the nose to the chin. Generally, these three sections are the same for all people. Also, the distance between sections will be equal to the height of the ear, but we’ll discuss that later. 

Step 3

If the face (the area from the hairline to the chin) is divided into two parts, then we’ll understand where the eyes are located. In order to draw the ear, you need to keep in mind that it should be on the same level as the second section. At this step, sketch an oval for the head.

Step 4

Sketch pupils on the line where the eyes should be. Make sure they are looking in the same direction. Add a line for the upper eyelid and give it a bit of thickness. The distance between the eyes is equal to the width of one eye.

After that, you need to draw the brow bone. This is also done to avoid making the face look flat. For the same reason, sketch the cheekbones.

You can also draw an axis of symmetry to help you.

Step 5

Add details to the parts of the face. Since all the parts of the head are interconnected, it’s necessary to draw everything relative to each other. If you draw a vertical line from the inner corner of the eye to the bottom of the second section, then it will be equal to the width of the nose. Draw another vertical line from the middle of the eye to the line for the mouth to get the width of the mouth.

While we’re drawing the nose, don’t forget about its volume. The nose has a top, side edges and a bottom edge. Don’t forget to sketch the bridge of the nose.

Divide the area from the base of the nose to the chin into two parts and place the lower lip exactly in the middle.

Also sketch your hairline on the side of your head.

Next, draw in the eyebrows. Look carefully at your facial structure. Our brain perceives tones better than lines. Add some shadows in the shaded areas to give your drawing dimension. Usually shadows will appear under the eyebrows and under the nose. The upper lip will also be mostly in shadow. In this case, the light source is on the right side, which means that the left side of the portrait is in the shadow. The neck is also in shadow. At this stage, it is important to create a tone that you can continue working with throughout the portrait.

Now that the sketch is ready, you can work with the individual characteristics of what makes you unique. To do this, you need to constantly compare your drawing to the photo or your face in the mirror and analyze.

To make your sketch look professionally done, add shadows. You will want to go lightly here as well. To create realistic shadow effects, use a smudging tool to draw out the shadows. This will blend the medium you use whether it is graphite, charcoal, or pastel and your shadows will end up lighter and easier to clean up in case you make a mistake. Lighting is important in finding shadows and one of the best ways to properly “light” yourself is use top-lighting or lighting from above. This is something to take into consideration when you take the photo you will use to do your self-portrait, during your set-up if you plan to use a mirror.


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