Exercise: Draw a portrait


Set up a board with A3 paper. Then use a 2B or 4B pencil to sketch someone sitting in front of you. Do this in a good light (by a window or use a strong artificial light) to create some modelling aspects.

What are the characteristics of the person? How can you achieve a likeness?

Produce three portrait sketches. Photograph your results and put them in your learning log or blog together with your comments.


To say I wasn’t looking forward to doing this is something of an understatement. Eventually I got comfortable with the knowledge that I can’t draw and that this exercise isn’t about my drawing ability per se. Still, this is definitely the most reluctantly I’ve uploaded any images to any of my learning logs!

I’ve done two portraits. I haven’t found found a victim for the third yet but will attempt to do so and update this post.

Hilariously, they’re supposed to be both of the same person.

I made a lot of mistakes and learnt a lot doing the first one. I should have started with a straight-on presentation of the face rather than a side-on like I did here. The sitter wasn’t used to staying still for long periods of time and moved her head quite a lot, and that made it a little tricker to get the proportions and shapes of the various facial features right.

What I found most frustrating was that I could clearly see the toning variations caused by light and shade, but just couldn’t get the pencil to recreate them effectively on the paper!

For the second one I cheated slightly and drew from a photograph. This made it somewhat easier as it eliminated the wobbly head problem from portrait 1. The other thing I did that made a big difference (at least to how I found the exercise, if not the quality of the end result) was that I took the advice in the brief and worked propped up against a near-vertical board (for the first one I was leaning downwards as I drew). This matching of angle and perspective made the recreation of the nuanced shapes of facial features less troublesome. The shading still caused me some issues but I think I did a better job second time around.

This has been a fascinating (if anxiety-inducing) exercise from the point of view of really seeing the effect of light and shade on a face. Pockets of light and shade, shapes and contours, and (whisper it) lines and wrinkles that are generally unnoticed in normal ‘looking’ are suddenly visible when one is working on actively ‘seeing’ what is in front of one’s eyes.

Hopefully I’ll be keeping this in mind next time I look through the camera viewfinder. I am however very relieved to get back to photographing rather than drawing portraits.


2 thoughts on “Exercise: Draw a portrait

  1. Catherine 16 May 2016 / 14:24

    You won’t over the hurdle though – and survived!


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