Creating Cel Shaded Portraits in CSP


Hello everybody! My name is Likri and I’m a webcomic artist and illustrator. Today I’m gonna show you how to make stylized portrait using photo reference – some general tips and guidelines for anatomy and soft cel shaded coloring. Well, let’s go!

Basic Guidelines

First let’s start with some general info on the head and face proportions. Certainly, though they may differ from person to person depending on their age race and personal features, these are some guidelines to have in mind when drawing a young adult/adult without reference or if something doesn’t feel quite right.
These tips are useful in most styles that cater to more realistic proportions.

Typically the face is divided vertically into 3 roughly equal parts – the forehead, eyebrows to base of nose, base of nose to chin. Horizontally on eye level it’s approximately 4-4.5 eyes wide

The distance between the eyes equals the width of the eye.
The width of the nose is about the same as the width of the eye.
The mouth may vary, but doesn’t exceed the distance from pupil to pupil at it’s widest grin.

The eyes are located approximately 1/4 of the way to the nose.
Mouth is located 1/3 between the nose and chin.
Ears are roughly the size from the eyebrows to the nose.

Now, having these quick guidelines we can start working on our portrait!

Base Sketch

Pick a photo you’d like to reference for your portrait. In this example we have a slightly tilted ¾ view, but as you can see, all our vertical measurements apply.

I always start with a freehand base sketch of the overall volume of the head and proportion markings, and proceed to detail features on a second one so that I don’t have to erase around the base if I want to adjust something.

Pro tip – flip your canvas from time to time to see that everything looks alright. It’s an easy way to spot weird placement and proportions. Fun fact - this is also the reason we feel that we don’t “look quite right” in photos in comparison to mirrors – because we usually see a flopped image of ourselves.

Notice the eyebrow ridge is a bit pronounced as well as the cheek on the ¾ view.
For a stylized look we simplify the shapes and slightly exaggerate them, like making the eyes more expressive, but trying to keep the unique features like the shape of the jawline, the forehead, the shape of the mouth, nose and eyes.

We don’t draw in all the fine lines human faces have, such as the under eye on nose lines, since in a stylized portrait they will make the person look more aged or tired. So if you don’t want that, best omit the finer details a selfie filter would smooth out.
Though we don’t see the ear behind the hair, I sketched it in just to have a more complete picture on this stage.

After a few adjustments to the chin to make it closer to the reference, I sketch out the hair on a separate layer with a softer brush, since the shape of the volume and individual locks is quite soft and this helps me get less rigid guidelines for inking. I also sketch out the neck and shoulders, and the glasses on a separate layer.

Next, I put all the sketch layers in one folder and lower it’s opacity – time for inking!


As I ink I follow the sketch loosely to avoid the lines be too rigid. It’s a good idea to ink all parts on a separate layer – hair, eyes, body, - in case you want to adjust something and also to make coloring the lineart easier on future steps. Don’t shy away from flipping and rotating your canvas to get the line you want, since your hand moves smoother in some directions than in other.

For the glasses I used the ellipse tool and then transformed them into the proper perspective.

I also used transformation to adjust the jawline for a better portrait match.

All the layers are put in a folder so that we can reference them all at once when we color.

Base Color

First we make the lineart folder a referenced one and pick the “reference other layers” fill tool.

Using separate layers for each big mass of color (i.e. skin, hair) we flood in the colors under the lineart and then brush in the nooks and crannies the fill tool didn’t reach or over spilled if the lines weren’t closed.

I personally like to add some blush (separate layer, clipped to the skin layer) on the face to give in more depth and dimension. I roughly blob some peach pink with a watercolor brush on the cheeks, nose, lower lip and eyelids and softly blend it out and use a knead eraser tool if it spreads out too much (to keep a soft edge). You can also adjust the opacity of the layer if the color is too intense.


Shading can dramatically change the mood and atmosphere of the portrait and it’s wise to reference different lighting schemes for artists if you want a certain effect. But for my example I’ll just go with the soft front light of the original photo, but in a pink hue to give the piece a more pop-summer vibe.

Here I first tried out different brushes too see which one has a semitransparent soft edge and will layer/blend nicely, since I like my shadows to be on the softer side of cel shading

As with the blush, I start on a separate clipped layer, this time set to Multiply – usually I cover the areas in broad strokes and then use an eraser to get more precise shapes, as well as the blur tool for a softer edge where needed.

For the hair I have 2 shading layers – first one is an light airbrush to give the overall volume.

The second layer – same process and tools we shaded the skin with. Broad strokes and detail with a semi-hard eraser.


For highlights in the hair I use exactly the same steps as for shadows, but with a warm orange color and the clipped layers set to Add (glow).

Airbrush a soft light.

Blob the highlight.

Detail with eraser and blur in places to soften.

For the skin we apply a very light airbrush highlight to the upper half of the face – it makes the eyes “pop” and also gives more volume.

I add soft watercolor highlights on the nose, lips, near the eyes and a soft stroke along the edge of the face and neck.

For the eyes we flip the scheme – an airbrush highlight on the lower side of the iris and soft specks following the curve.


As with everything else, we color, shade and highlight the rims on a separate layer set ad then use the Magic Wand and Selection pen to select the lens.

We fill the selection on a separate layer with a violet-pink gradient and set it to Lighten to give it transparency and a tint to the face behind it.

As a finishing touch I add some reflected highlights on the lens.

Final Touches and Tweaks

If you like, you can stop here, but I like to color my lineart with darker shades of the corresponding colors to their areas – in this case plum for the hair, pinkish-brown for the skin, mustard for the rim, etc. – and set the lineart folder to Multiply, so it nicely blends with the color tones underneath.

Also as a last detail I like to add a hard white highlight to the iris to overlap the pupil a bit.

Once we’re done. We put all the folders with thee colors and lines of our drawing into one (this will also reveal the lens that doesn’t overlap the face).

Technically, we are done, but here is a trick to some final adjustments – duplicate the whole final folder and merge the copy into a single layer. This way I can use the Mesh Transformation (Edit> Transform>Mesh Transformation) tool to slightly fix the hair I found to be too high on the final drawing.

And We're Done!

Sign your work and you're good to go! Thank you for your attention and I hope you'll find this tutorial useful.

If you'd like to see more of my art, feel free to check my Twitter and Instagram links!


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