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How to Draw a Charcoal Portrait Step by Step

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Items you will need for this tutorial:
-Canford Card Stock Dreadnaught Gray (or any other tinted paper)
-General's charcoal pencils, Hard, Medium, Extra Soft, and white
-medium sized painting brush or facial tissues for blending

1. I begin the portrait by sketching out an outline. The paper that I do finished works on is kind of expensive so I always do my outlines on regular printer paper first. When I am happy with how my outline looks and I'm confident that it's fairly accurate, I transfer that outline to my tinted paper using transfer paper. When you are transferring a drawing be careful not to push too hard with your pencil. Pushing too hard will leave indentations in your paper that will show up later when you are shading. When you are doing an outline you need to identify key areas and areas where tonal changes occur. This first step is very important in attaining an accurate likeness of the person you are drawing. Take your time. If you want to make certain that the likeness is spot on, you may try the gridding method. I use this method myself, sometimes. If you'd like to know more about gridding do a Google search on it first.

2. I've decided for this portrait I will start by adding a simple, unfinished background. I don't always do backgrounds but I do like the painterly feel of a simple toned background. Plus, it can add tonal variety to your drawing if done correctly. When you are doing your drawing always think about making it tonally balanced. If you are using a lot of lighter tones, think of ways to incorporate some darks and vice versa. Having a tonally balanced drawing is pleasing to the eye and draws the viewer in. I'm using the extra soft pencil from General's and blending it out with a regular facial tissue. Make sure the tissue is aloe free.

3. Ok, time to start on the actual portrait. I begin the face by introducing some of the lightest tones. I use a white charcoal pencil for these areas. Laying down your lightest tones first gives you a base tone to compare every other tone in your drawing to. By starting with our lightest lights, we know that every other tone in the drawing must be darker than these. Typically the lightest areas on a face will be on the forehead, cheeks, and nose.

4. Next I start working on the eyes. Eyes are a very important element in attaining a likeness of the person. If you are going to spend a lot of time on a certain area, eyes should be that area. Keep in mind that the "whites" in in the eyes are not actually white. The only whites that you would use in eyes would be highlights in the iris and pupil if the they are hitting the light just right. For my portrait the eyes are mostly in shadow so they will be dark. I'm using a medium General's charcoal pencil for the initial shading. Try to think about the form of eyes as you are working on them. The upper eye lid will typically cast a shadow just underneath it onto the iris, pupil, and white of the eye.

5. The eye is recessed into the skull so be prepared to use some dark tones. I've shaded the lower eye lids or the "bag" areas. Eyes can typically be the focal point on a portrait. They are the windows to the soul. Make sure you look for details in your subject's eyes and try to render them in your drawing. I've darkened the under sides of the eye brows in this step as well.

6. I've begun some shading on the right cheek. My light source is coming from the upper left. That being said, the right side of my portrait will be in shadow. I will make the right side darker than the left. I've introduced some darker tones underneath the hairline also. Again, think about how light plays on your subject. The bang hair in the front would cast a shadow onto the forehead. I've seen a lot of portrait drawings over the years that look funny because the artist failed to shade along the hairline. It results in a helmet head type of look which is extremely unnatural and unrealistic. Shade along your hairline, just do it.

7. Next, I started shading the forehead and nose. When you start shading the face, start out light. Use a hard charcoal pencil with a light touch. I use a painting brush to lightly smear the charcoal after I've laid it down with a pencil. This will give you really smooth tones.

8. More shading on the face, looking for tonal changes on my subject. When you are shading think about the yin and yang symbol. It's light on one side and dark on the other. So if my light is coming from the left, it will be darker on the right. If my light is coming from the top, it will be darker on the bottom. I've begun laying down some darker tones in the hair. My subject has short hair so I'm using short, quick strokes of the pencil. Always shade hair in the direction the hair is flowing. Hair can be loose shading. There is nothing critical in hair. It can be completely random. Make some areas light and some dark. Having said that, you still need to pay attention to your light source and shade accordingly.

9. I've done a lot more work to the hair, adding both darks and lights. I'm paying close attention to my reference material to locate where these areas of light and dark should go. For dark areas I'm using an extra soft pencil and for the lights I use a white charcoal pencil. The white pencil is great for rendering light flyaway hairs like I've done on the bangs area. You can lay down your dark tones first and then go back with the white pencil and add your flyaways directly overtop. The flyaway hairs can add a lot of detail to your drawing and are sure to impress viewers. This is the only instance where I will lay white pencil over darker. The reason is that I've found the white pencil can turn a bluish hue when it's layered over dark charcoal. I find that to be kind of distracting to the viewer. So that's just something for you to be aware of.

10. My subject has some facial hair and that can pose a difficulty for some artists. For a long time I avoided drawing people with facial hair because I was intimidated by it. It's not too difficult though. I start out light. It's easy to go darker but it's not so easy to go lighter. So I start by making short, quick strokes in the direction the hair is flowing. Just like any hair it's completely random and should be rendered that way. We are transitioning tones from the beard into the cheek. This should be a soft transition. Do not have a dark beard come right up to the cheek tone and just abruptly stop. Realistic drawings have tonal transitions. Use a light gradient to transition into the cheek. You can even use a brush to lightly sweep the beard into the cheek, which will make for a smooth transition.

11. I've continued to work on the beard tones, using the white charcoal pencil to render some random, light hairs.

12. Remember where your light source is coming from. The right side of my portrait is in shadow so I've made the beard darker on that side. Try to think about the contour of a face as you are working on your drawing. There are elements on each face that jut outward, like the nose and lips. Depending on where your light source is coming from these protrusions will cast shadows. In my drawing the light source is coming from above. So underneath the bottom lip there will be a cast shadow.

13. I've finished the chin area of the portrait and the lips. Often times, there will be highlights on the bottom lip. You can really make lips shine, if you are inclined to do so, by adding some hard white highlights. In my portrait I chose to let the tone from the paper show through and shade around the highlights. I didn't want the lips to appear too shiny. I moved on to the ear using a white pencil for the outer ear and some darker tones in the inner areas. Next, I started laying down some dark tones on the neck.

14. I finished off the neck area by shading the rest in with a medium charcoal pencil. Then I took a brush and blended everything in.

15. Earlier in this instructional I talked about trying to achieve a tonal balance in your drawing. I used a lot of darker tones in this drawing and not many lights. So to finish the drawing off I made the decision to add some tonal balance by using some light tones in the shirt. In closing, always remember that you are the artist. You may take license to make your drawing however you wish it to be. Despite what your high school art teacher told you, there are absolutely no rules in art. This is your vision on paper, no one else's. Have fun with drawing, take your time, don't get discouraged. Every new drawing you do you will learn something new. Happy drawing everyone!

All of my tutorials are free, I don't ask for anything in return. I make them because I enjoy talking art and teaching others. They do take me quite a while to put together, a lot of work goes into them. If you have enjoyed or benefitted from this tutorial all I ask is that you help promote it. You can do this by submitting to social networking sites, linking, blogging, or posting links on forums. Promoting my tutorials is a huge help!!

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