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How to Draw in a Semi-Realistic Art Style

This year I was particularly interested in learning to draw in a semi-realistic art style influenced by artists such as Eleeza Ivanova and Loish. In this post, I share what I have learned about drawing in this aesthetic and some tips that I have found helpful in doing so.

What is a Semi-Realistic Art Style?

Semi-realistic art style combines realism with artificial and stylistic improvisations on the drawing subject based on the artist’s creative vision. Although semi-realistic art does not aim to represent the drawing reference, it is more realistic compared to caricature or animation art.

4 Tips for drawing a portrait in a semi-realistic art style

While a whole spectrum of portrait art can be classified as semi-realistic with varying degrees of stylization, I feel some general principles behind them make it unique. I describe my understanding of those in the following tips.

If you are new to drawing portraits, it will help to familiarize yourself with the average proportions of the human head and basic head construction techniques such as the Loomis Method and the Reilly Abstraction first because the following tips build upon these basics.

Tip 1 Simplify the shapes of the head.

A defining characteristic of semi-realistic portrait drawings is that they simplify the shapes of the head, such as its silhouettes, planes, shadows, rhythms, and contours.

So if like me, you started learning to draw the face in the traditional realistic way, you will have to get over the habit of trying to capture every dent, eyelash, and wrinkle of the face and focus on how you can simplify the different shapes in a way that the portrait feels more fluid and loose.

Tip 2 Exaggerate the proportions of the face.

To draw a portrait in the semi-realistic art style, you need to depart from the average proportions of the face and exaggerate them a little to achieve the sort of look you’re going for. This takes some getting used to because if you exaggerate them too far, the portrait can end up looking like a caricature, so experiment with what works for you.

For example, when drawing feminine faces, I like to make the eyes and forehead slightly bigger relative to the rest of the face, and I think this makes the portrait attractive.

Tip 3 Draw rhythmic lines to show the significant shifts in the planes or values on the face.

Not all artists who draw semi-realistic art use this technique, but I like how some artists like Eliza Ivanova use subtle flowy lines to indicate the shifts and overlapping of forms across the front and side planes of the face as well as creating a pattern of shadows and highlights.

I’m still learning to find relationships between different parts of the face that these rhythms can link to, and I think studying and practicing the Reilly Abstraction is key to drawing these flowy lines confidently.

Tip 4 Use shading sparingly to bring the unique features of the face into focus.

One tip I picked up by watching a tutorial by Loish is how you can use shading to show the three-dimensional form of an object without necessarily relying on the particular lights and shadows in your drawing reference.

When drawing a portrait in a semi-realistic style, I like the understated look that comes from minimally shading in some critical areas of the face, like the eyes and the lips, leaving plenty of white space to emphasize the focal point of the portrait.

Of course, there are different ways of shading in semi-realistic portrait drawing. Still, the main takeaway is that you can shade in a way that doesn’t necessarily conform to the traditional illustration of light and shadow in realistic art.

Here’s a video demonstrating the different ways of stylization of portraits in the semi-realistic art style by Loish, in which she shares her thought process, tips, and techniques, so do check it out if you’re interested in learning this art style.

Some of my favorite artists who draw in a semi-realistic art style