How to Draw Hair in Portraits

An artist drawing a portrait.
Lou Jones/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Drawing hair can be difficult for beginners in figure and portrait drawing. It can even remain a challenge for experienced artists as well. Many will even go to all kinds of lengths to avoid having to draw it.

It is a great pity to spend time and effort drawing lifelike features only to be defeated by a mass of curls. To break down this barrier, let's get a few tips for drawing hair that looks three-dimensional and shiny.

Practice, Practice, Practice

If you're struggling with hair, practice will help you overcome the challenges. It is one of the most difficult things to draw and the best way to get it right is to grab a variety of photographs of people with different hairstyles and just start drawing.

After a while, you'll learn from your mistakes, discover your own secret tricks, and be able to make anyone's hair look great. To get you started, grab some pencils and erasers and your sketchbook. 

Materials Needed: paper; soft, medium and hard pencils (for example, H, B, and 5b); a white plastic eraser cut to a clean surface; Blu-Tack or kneadable eraser.

Tips to Improve Your Hair Drawing Skills

When drawing hair, first ensure that the skull is accurately drawn. The features should be in proportion and the ears properly placed -- the ears are particularly important with short hair.

  1. Begin by drawing in the darkest areas. Use pencil strokes that go against the direction of growth while carefully leaving white areas where there are lighter hairs. 
  2. Build up the hair in short strokes, working up to lighter areas. Take care to leave highlights clear.
  3. Use a harder pencil to lightly even out the tone between dark and highlight.
  4. Where hair is very short or lighter hairs cross over dark hair, very short marks may be needed.
  5. Further highlights may be picked out with an eraser. If need be, a sharp Exacto knife or scalpel will work as well. Experiment with a knife on scrap paper first as it takes a very light touch to avoid tears.

Most importantly, remember that you do not have to draw every single strand of hair. In fact, less is often better. Focus on using fewer lines to represent the flow and volume of your subject's hair and your drawing will be much cleaner.

Keep practicing and sketching until you develop the techniques you need to draw great hair. It is possible if you don't give up.