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Start Drawing: Techniques for Pencil Portraits

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Drawing is an art that is accessible to anyone. Originally a self-taught artist, I learned so much through practice alone. However, through studying tutorials posted by peers online, taking classes with professional portrait artists, and by studying the works of old masters, I’ve been able to reach a new level of knowledge that I would love to pass on to anyone willing to learn.

I’m teaching this class to share my process with you so you can learn the drawing secret it has taken me years to discover: the most beautiful drawings are often the most simple drawings.

What You'll Learn

In this class I'll teach you how to get started drawing your own beautiful life-like pencil portraits. We'll cover:

  • Materials. Which materials and references will make for the best portraits.

  • Basic Sketching. How to compose your basic sketch through gesture and accurate proportions.

  • Planes. How to understand light and shade on the planes of the face.

  • Features and Forms. How to structure the forms of your subject's eyes, nose, mouth, and hair.

  • Finishing Touches. How to capture those finishing details that will really make your portrait special.

What You'll Do

Use this class to get started on your own pencil portrait. Collaborate with classmates from all over the world and share your project for feedback.

Class Supplies

You can get started with any pencil, paper and erasers but below are some more specific recommendations from me.

  • Paper. Heavy weight bristol paper. I'd recommend: 100lb Canson vellum bristol, 9”x12” or 11”x14”

  • Pencils. Mechanical pencils, I'd recommend: 0.3mm Draft Line and 0.5mm graphite 925 Staedtler

  • Lead. I'd recommend: Pentel lead refills 0.3mm 3H lead and 0.5mm 4B lead

  • Blenders. Tissues, q-tips, and blending stumps

  • Erasers. Regular erasers, I'd recommend: Pink Pearl eraser, kneaded eraser, and Faber-Castell eraser pencil


Class Outline

Drawing portraits. In this class, you’ll learn how to draw your own beautiful, lifelike portraits. Gabrielle will discuss:

  • Graphite pencil techniques
  • Proportions and measuring tricks
  • Other tips, which will help you create beautiful portraits

Creating your own. With Gabrielle’s help, you’ll use this class to get started on your own pencil portrait. You’ll be invited to collaborate with classmates from all over the world, and to share your project for feedback.

Using materials. You’ll learn which materials make for the best portraits, and the other tools you need as you begin drawing realistic, dynamic works of art. Gabrielle will make specific recommendations about:

  • Pencils and erasers that you should use
  • Ways to hold your pencil to create different tones
  • The correct way to blend, in order to keep your dark and light strokes distinct
  • Ways to make textures in your drawings by using a simple eraser technique.

Relying on references. Gabrielle will give you tips on what makes a photo a good reference tool, and how to break it down, in order to analyze its shadows, lights, and shapes more clearly. You’ll learn how to add drama to your portraits, and how to work with light and dark values, in order to make more successful drawings.

Sketching. In this pencil drawing tutorial, Gabrielle will help you understand how to compose your basic sketch with gesture drawings and accurate proportions. By using the simple rule of thirds and other measurements, you’ll learn how to divide the face accurately, and how to place eyes, brows, the bottom of the nose, the lips, and the hairline. As Gabrielle demonstrates the way she sketches, she will narrate her thought process and explain her techniques, so that you can easily follow along as she works.

Working with planes. You will learn how light and shade interact with the planes of the face, and how to work with those planes when you are drawing portraits, in order to take your work to the next level. Gabrielle will break a face down into planes, and will discuss how different lighting can create different tone values on each one.

You will also learn about half-tones, highlights, reflected lights, form shadows, and cast shadows. And you’ll learn how to identify the soft and sharp edges between them.

Understanding features and forms. Gabrielle will explain how to structure the forms of your subject’s eyes, nose, mouth, and hair. You’ll learn the basic anatomy of facial features, and how to accurately sketch, shade, and blend their forms. You’ll also come away with tricks for drawing hair in quick, confident strokes. Finally, Gabrielle will show you how to avoid the common mistakes that make portraits look unnatural, and how to tweak the eyebrows to create expression.

Finishing touches. You’ll learn how to capture finishing details, which will help make your portrait stand out. Gabrielle will also share her extra tips for approaching your work with a new perspective, helping you see details that you might otherwise miss.

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Start Drawing: Techniques for Pencil Portraits
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