Drawing and Painting Portraits




- Introduction -

Hey, Leriisa here! Welcome to my tutorial and tips for drawing, painting and post processing portrait pieces. I will be drawing in my semi-realistic style that I am most comfortable with, so please keep that in mind.


Firstly, I will teach you the basics for constructing the head - including proportions, posing the head in perspectives. I'll also touch on drawing different facial features such as eyes, noses and mouth/lips. Then I'll be showing you various applications of lighting found in portraits and to finish up, my step by step process of a summer portrait with more dynamic lighting. So many things can be covered on the topic of portraits so this is my take on portrait drawing and the useful fundamentals for beginners!





  • Any normal round hard brush like 'G-pen' or my general go to pen is DAE_PEN2 (linked provided below, check it out!)

  • For painting, Redjuice's brush asset collection. I often use the 'Watercolor' brush which is good for blending and smoothing edges of hard pen strokes. I also use Kloysius' manga studio brushes which can be found online.

  • Soft airbrush for creating depth in lighting using multiply and overlay layers.


Thank you for your time, comments and support! Let's get right into some face anatomy owo!


Anatomy of the Face

Let’s firstly touch base with some facial anatomy for portrait drawing.



Keeping the Loomis head method in mind, we can divide the face into three vertical sections - on the standard face these sections are equal but varying the size is important for portraying certain age groups and ethnicities. The first line represents the brow line, second is the ‘base’ of the nose and the third is the chin.



Note that from the side, a face and it’s corresponding features such as eyes line up at a slight angle, you can find this line for creating the angle and position of the neck.

Other proportions: a head in side view roughly occupies a square. Again, keep in mind the tilt create creates a ‘sunken eye’ from the side. To draw a face in three quarters view, simply divide the plane of the front and sides into a 3:1 ratio, shifting the center line closer to the side the face is facing.



>>> Foreshortening


Important for placing your features accurately - using a flat plane, notice how the three sections can change in length as it recedes away from the viewer.

If the plane was a curved piece of paper, you can see how a face turns in perspective.


Using the curved paper technique we can now try placing the eyes, nose and mouth, trying to portray them as wrapping around the horizontal section lines.

>>> More Construction: Using the cylinder


A head can be constructed with a cylinder and a partial dome over the top.




First, start with a sphere and create an tilted axis for the planes of the face. I keep faces here mostly aligned with the vertical axis and changed the tilt of the side and frontal planes. I draw another smaller circle depicting the side plane - the ears fall roughly in the third quadrant.


Contour lines are especially helpful in highlighting plane changes from the nose bridge, dip under the lips and sunken planes of the eyes.

>>> Hair


I like to group hair and portray the strands as ‘flat noodles’ with two sides. Hair often curve and twist, so it’s essential to distinguish the planes of hair that are facing towards or away from a light source.


To simplify hair, you can draw a simple short or long Asian ‘bowl cut’ on your character, then draw groups of hair with more ease.



Drawing and Painting Eyes

Using a sphere to depict the ‘eye ball’, we can draw several eyes in perspective.

The eyes can be drawn with 4 lines - upper lid to tear duct and the bottom of the eye curves in a way opposite of the top lid - this asymmetry creates a tilted diagonal.

Side view: the eyes and lids wrap around the eye ball, to create fold and dips of shadow.

If you’re drawing a portrait facial variations of eyes are also crucial.


Westerners often have ‘hooded’ eyes where the upper lid occasionally droops, their eyes are also more sunken. Asians are well known for their epicanthic folds and thicker upper eye lids, which overlaps - monolid eyes. Studying from photos can help you grasp these differences!


Starting with a rough sketch using pencil

Adding base colours - A good time to establish colour harmony. I’m using reddish pink undertones and green eyes. Also I’m subtly introducing some darker tones under the brows to depict the plane changes there. Be sure to never use white for the eye whites - rather a light desaturated color of the skin can do more good for appeal.

Here I’m adding shadows to the eyes - you can use multiply layer over the base colours and a warm colour to paint warmer shadows.

In this step, I am going with my normal pen to create some harder edged and finer details such as eyelashes, refining her eyebrow hairs at the corners and using the watercolour brush from Redjuice to paint and smooth the shadows of the eye whites. Imagining the eyes as spheres lit from the top, add in a hard shadow from the upper lid and gradient shadow around the eyeball.


I merged the sketch and painting layer to continue with same layer painting beyond this point.


Going in with highlights - use your hard round pen set at near 100% opacity - be sure to stray away from pure white and use instead a yellow green, cyan or play around with the highlights! Some reflective surfaces such as the tear duct should also have highlights.

Here I’m using the overlay layer clipped over my painting. Brushing over with the soft airbrush using a warm orange to brighten and saturate her face.

Here’s the completed eye painting!

Drawing and Painting the Nose

The nose is structurally important on the face as it aligns with the edges of the eyes. You can depict its volume through a triangular volume with three side planes and a bottom plane. Cones can also be used here, for the nostrils and nose bridge.

The edge of the bottom of noses make a ‘M’ shape.


Again variations in shapes of noses are very important - some noses can have a low bridge (Asians) and a pointy, slightly upturned tip. Others have visible and sharp angles formed from the higher nose bridge and tend to have a ‘hooked’ end.

Here are some noses from different angles. Drawing noses in perspective can be hard to achieve sometimes, so learning the structures and grouping planes allow for more success!

>>> Painting Noses


Start with sketching the volume - using whichever technique you find most helpful. Try to make the tip or ‘bulb’ of the nose flow into the nostrils. It might be easier to establish the front and side planes.


Here I’m painting some general darker tones.

Again for the cast shadows of the nose, you can use multiply layer clipped over the painting layer. I’m blending the transitions using my watercolour brush. I try to keep my shadows relatively desaturated here, as I use my brighter and warmer reds for the edges of the shadows and nose.

It’s important to really contrast the type of edges, the bulb of the nose is going to have smoother gradual shadows whereas the nose cast shadows are harsher around the edges. For example a sphere overlapping a cylinder will create a shadow with hard edge wrapped around the cylinder behind it.

Drawing and Painting Lips

The upper edge of the lips can be portrayed with a ‘M’ or the shape of a Cupid’s bow. Sometimes fuller lips mean flattening the ‘V’ on the top lips though. Drawing lips well usually means grasping the angles and simplifying them. There are a few round plump spots which I have grouped in the image - two in the bottom lip and three in the upper lip. Generally males tend to have thinner lips and hence more prominent angles.

It’s important to portray the corners of the mouth as ‘rolling inwards’, hence why they usually have strong ambient occlusion and dark values. There is also a ridge along the bottom lip. The bottom of the mouth is casted in shadow whereas the chin points upwards - a clear plane changer here!

Some more lips in perspective:

>>> Painting the Lips

I’m starting with rough sketches of lips in different angles.

Here I’m adding some pinkish coral tones and establishing the shadows under the lips, as well as the shadows on the upper lip.

A small tip on painting : I like to combine lots of saturated and desaturated tones to make the colours pop. When an edge is approaching, colours tend to become more saturated, and then then dip back into desaturation. Kind of like ‘rolling’ towards and then away from the ‘bright’ version of the colour.

I painted some soft pink hues over with the overlay layer and added some highlights with the hard pen set at low and high opacity.

Lighting Colour and Mood

Lighting can make flattering portraits of a subject - it’s important to show how light and shadow play across the face to create different shapes. Here are 4 types of lighting scenarios:

1. Top side lighting

2. Lit from below

3. Back side (also rim lighting is good for portraits)

4. Lit directly from above.


Top side lighting is common and favourable for a dynamic piece as the light source usually isn’t directly overhead. Light coming from below creates a dramatic and sometimes ominous mood for the portrait. Light overhead creates shadows under checks and chin. It’s common to combine and use multiply light sources - instead study from simpler images first.

Notice how the eyes of the girl catches the direction (and shape) of the light. In photography this is called ‘catchlight’ and gives the subject life, brightening the iris. Otherwise the eyes will appear dark, dead and rather lifeless.

Colours play a paramount role in the mood and learning about colour theory is (probably) useful. I’m playing around with a selection of colour palettes here - the simplest trick is to use colours at the opposite ends of the colour wheel, like bright pinks with dark green shadows, or peachy skin tones and bluish colours.

To create these effects go to Edit > Tonal Correction > Color Balance. Changing around the colours can create a moonlight effect and a lot more appeal to the portrait you are making. I always leave this step as a part of my post - processing art routine.

My Portrait Process Steps

Finally I am creating a fun portrait piece in direct light, it’s nearly summer here in Australia and I’m enjoy the sunshine!

Firstly, I’m starting with the sketch layer using a mechanical pencil or pen. I’m making sure to flip the canvas horizontally often, and making sure the features are aligned well on the same tilt / angle.

Now I’m painting the base colours, with some minimal shadows. I’ve established the light source will be coming from the top to the right. I’ve also painted the background since it’s important to paint and refine portrait subjects according to their surroundings - such as bounce light from the greenery to her left.

I’m using a multiply layer over the sketch and colour layer. Using a warm orange yellow, I’m painting in some hard shadows over her hat and face. Since her nose is more protruding, the nose tip will have some light hitting it. Make sure cast shadows on a face is ‘wrapping’ around it, conforming to the shape of the planes that are being casted on.

Here I’m using an overlay layer over the multiply layer to bring in brighter hues around the edges of the shadows of the leaves.

Now I can finally work more on her face! Using my processes from before, I rendered her features. Although I’m still not satisfied with how her eyes turned out.

For post processing, I use a colour dodge layer and created some little random light specks scattered around areas of light near her hat and hair. I also blurred the areas around the corners of the canvas, away from focus. You can do so by using Gaussian blur from Filter > Blur. Lastly, I played with colour balance, mostly adding some extra yellow and magenta to highlights and blues to the shadows. I like to experiment and check what looks good from far away or by squinting.

My outdoor portrait piece is done!

- Thanks for reading! - 🎀

Thank you for taking your time and making it to the end of my tutorial. I’d like to apologise as my tips may have been too broad for the subject of portraits, but I hope you’ve learnt something from colour and painting to drawing faces and facial features.


In my opinion as much as the fundamentals are important in drawing portraits, it’s also portraying the subject in a personal and fun way and eliciting positive emotions from the viewers from whatever playful and niche way you paint your subjects! (´。• ᵕ •。`)


You can follow me and find my work on Instagram @Leriisa

See you all and happy portrait making! ٩(。•́‿•̀。)۶



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