This guide is for the people who say "I can't draw" but want to be able to make portraits of people. I've taken almost no formal art classes and have very limited technical knowledge about the human anatomy, drawing, and everything else for that matter. In fact, I'm just a computer geek. As such, this guide will take a similar form to various technological guides I've been influenced by. That is to say, it's raw and specific, trivializing every aspect of humanity presented herein. Still, people seem to like my art, so here goes...

The first thing the aspiring artist needs to make quality drawings is proper equipment. Good equipment is like having a low ping in a quake game. It emulates skill. A lousy player with a T1 can generally take down a good player on a 28.8. Similarly, even an inexperienced artist can make really nice drawings with good supplies.

It is recommended that a variety of pencils are used, if possible, but a #2 will be fine. Ideally, 3B, HB, and maybe 4H can be used for a better effect. These are just my personal preference, but so is most of the stuff in this guide.

Paper quality is important because it determines the texture the graphite takes on when it's applied. I know almost nothing about paper but generally, any tablet that says it's drawing paper and costs between 5 and 10 cents (US) a sheet will probably work fine. Typing paper, or printer paper as it's now called, will be ok for practice but it won't produce good results.

There are a few other things that are useful. In my experience, the best erasers are Magic Rub. The best pencil sharpeners are eyeliner pencil sharpeners because they cut the graphite instead of grinding it like other sharpeners and this lets you make a knife like edge at the tip for detail. My favorite surface to use under my paper is a mirror, though I have also found the smooth side of the side of a computer case, a chalkboard, and a countertop to be suitable surfaces.

Ok, the most important thing to do first is override your set of symbols associated with the human face. Draw a quick sketch of a face, then look at a picture of a real face and notice the differences. Maybe you put the eyes too high on the head or you made the ears too small, forgot eyebrows or something. Measure angles and sizes of things to get a feel for how the face really looks. The eyes, for example, are in the middle of the head and the end of the nose is about as wide as the distance between the eyes. Keep looking at the comparisons of the parts of the face and how they go together.

Look at your face drawing again. Look at how you drew the parts in relation to each other and what you did right and wrong. Make a new drawing, this time of the face in the picture. It helps to draw it up side down (that is, draw an up-side-down face from an up-side-down photo) so that your brain is forced to register it as a bunch of shapes instead of symbols like before. Look at the face as a bunch of shapes. There's maybe the shape of the jaw line, the form of the hair, the forehead. Also pay special attention to the space between the eyebrow and the eye. Draw this shape instead of drawing the eye. That way, you override any desire your brain may have to substitute a symbol for the actual form of the eye. Remember to keep everything light so you can use the eraser.

When you have your shapes outlined in the right place, start filling in shades. There are numerous methods to shading but if you have never done shading, just color stuff in with the pencil whatever way seems "right" to you. Look at the picture to see what parts are dark and what parts are light. Notice any places where dark fades to light and shade accordingly. The way to fade when shading is to press hard where you want dark and ease up on the pencil as you work your way to the lighter areas. Be careful not to shade too dark at first because it's much easier to add more later than to try to erase what's already put down.

OK, you're done with your first portrait now. You probably noticed that while you were drawing, you got "into" it and lost track of time/surroundings for a bit. What you now have probably doesn't look much like the person in the photo but if you turn it over and compare it to the drawing you did first, you'll probably think it's better.

The next thing to try is doing a drawing right side up. Do the same thing. Don't draw the symbols, though, just the shapes around them. Then, fill in the detail after the basic shapes are in place. This one may begin to resemble the person on the photo. Keep practicing with different pictures of people and different techniques. It takes a while but, eventually, they start turning out nice.


Learn how to shade. Shading techniques are important in a drawing and are usually relatively easy to learn. Look online for instructions and also experiment.

Detail on the hair determines how much attention is paid to the face. If you don't like how a face turned out, put lots of detail in the hair. If you like the face a lot, make the hair less defined.

Don't blend/smear. This method may make the pictures look better at first, but it's better to shade without blending, since it gives more detail to the picture.

If you're having trouble focusing on shapes, and you find the symbols showing up in the drawing, try drawing the outline of your hand very slowly without looking at the paper. Concentrate on the shape and every fold or angle. The picture doesn't turn out looking like a hand but it helps your brain get used to looking at shapes and angles and stuff.

Don't let your self be distracted when drawing. Reading, talking, basically anything with words interrupts the drawing process. Music is ok, but conversation will be a real distraction.

All the information you need to draw the portrait is in the model. Don't worry about drawing it the way it's "supposed" to look but rather, how it actually looks.