Six Steps to Exhibit-Worthy Pencil Portraits



This Drawing Demo with Graphite Makes It Easy

Pencil plus paper. That’s all it takes to create an exhibition-worthy piece of art. That is, if you understand the power of pencil portraits. I’m excited to show you how one can come together in just six steps, under the deft touch of artist Nicholas Raynolds.

As you take in each step of the process for pencil portraits, remember:

+It is all about the block-in and modeling stages. Work on these A LOT. Then continue on.

+Work from the general to the specific-looking for the big shapes and spatial relationships.

+Take note of how graphite or pencil is used as a transparent medium, which allows you to develop the drawing in stages based on specificity–going from the general and the broad, to the specific and the detail.

And after you’ve browsed through these steps, take a good look at the resources available in the Deluxe Portrait Drawing Workshop bundle. You will find lifeline upon lifeline when it comes to savvy drawing tips and techniques that will have you drawing full-fledged portraits in no time!


graphite drawing, block-in1. The Block-In:
Begin with the big proportional relationships, height to width. The arrows point out the four cardinal points. Think in flat, graphic terms, describing the envelope (or the broad outline) of the head, using tilts and angles.


portrait drawing, graphite block-in

2. Refining the Block-In:
Establish the contour, or outline, of the head and face. Plot the features and look for the negative-space shapes.


graphite, drawing eyes

3. Building structure:
Develop everything at the same pace. For instance, don’t obsess over the eyes, leaving everything else behind. Look for and describe the internal shapes and structures, which help resolve the contour from the inside out.


creating shadows with graphite

4. Massing in Shadows:
Here I clearly distinguish shadow from light, establishing the key (darkness or lightness) of the drawing. I generally keep shadows flat and even, neutral and restricted within a limited value range. Despite this, I strive to give my shadows luminosity, keeping in mind the effect of reflected light.


graphite drawing, light and shadow

5. Modeling Form:
As a general rule, I work from dark to light, describing the value scale up toward the light. Here I’ve begun the modeling of dark to light along the jawline and chin. Order your values based on a clear understanding of the anatomy of light and shadow–the phenomenon of incidence and reflection.


Pencil portrait by Nicholas Raynolds.


6. Finished Work:
Subtle, realistic and honest value gradations give Nikoma (pencil, 10×8) a sense of volume. The mastery of value is a skill that’s easily transferred from drawing to painting.

Pencil portrait drawing is really quite simple in steps, but of course the complications are how you execute those steps. Work through each of them fully and you’ll find your skills really growing. Work with the resources in the Deluxe Portrait Drawing Workshop bundle if you are ready for a fun, accessible way to create beautiful portrait drawings for friends, family, a portfolio or an upcoming exhibition. Enjoy!

Drawing tools & materials for this demo:
Winsor & Newton vine charcoal, medium or hard
Faber-Castell compressed charcoal
Staedtler pencils (F, 2B to 6B)
Moleskine sketchbook (no larger than 8.5×11 inches)
Strathmore Artist Papers bristol drawing paper, 500 or 400 series

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