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6 Portrait Drawing Styles You Should Try

The human face is my favorite drawing subject. But lately, I was getting too comfortable drawing portraits the same way and not learning different art styles, which is essential for beginner artists like me who are early in their art journey.

So to improve my portrait drawing skills, I have recently been studying different ways of drawing the human face, and here are six portrait drawing styles inspired by contemporary and classic art that I have come to like and would love to share with you.

1. Semi-Realistic

My study of a portrait drawn by Ulyana Sanchenko in a semi-realistic art style.

I find it satisfying to draw portraits in a semi-realistic art style that is somewhere between realism and caricature art. Two artists that draw portraits in this style really well are Ulyana Sanchenko and Louis Van Baarle (Loish), so I recommend you guys check out their artwork for inspiration.

What works well when drawing faces in this art style is to draw slightly bigger eyes, use fewer and simpler planes of the head, and subtly exaggerate the shape language and face proportions.

Here’s a lovely demonstration of drawing portraits in this art style by Loish.

2. Sketchy

I need to learn to draw more loosely.

My default drawing style tends to be stiff, so I make it a point to do some quick sketches of faces at the start of a drawing session.

I often find these messy sketches more aesthetically pleasing than more detailed finished portraits, and doing these sketches quickly helps me loosen up and draw more freely.

One thing that has helped me to loosen up when sketching a face is to use a blunt colored pencil to avoid the temptation to go into too much detail, which I find hard to do when drawing with a graphite pencil.

Another thing I try to do when doing these quick portraits is not to get too caught up with pencil shading and likeness and go with the flow of the drawing by embracing any mistakes I make.

2. Academic

When I’m feeling creatively exhausted, I prefer to get some practice drawing faces and sculpture heads in a generic academic style which I find pretty relaxing.

As someone who hasn’t been to an art school, I think doing academic-style portrait drawings based on what I have learned from Youtube art instructors like Proko has helped me a lot in learning some art basics. In particular, I think drawing academic portrait studies regularly has improved my understanding of the human head, tones, structure, draftsmanship, and observational skills.

4. Minimalist

I think I’m onto something with this art style.

Like all artists, I have been finding my own distinct art style for drawing portraits.

Recently, I think I’ve been leaning more towards a minimalist art style that involves drawing a simple outline of the head with minimal shading in areas of focus like under the eyes, nose, and lips, along with a few rhythmic lines to show the significant transitions in the planes of the face.

I take a lot of inspiration from Eliza Ivanova, who does a terrific job of conveying the forms and focal elements of the face using minimal strokes.

5. Disney

This is my study of a drawing by Loish inspired by Disney aesthetics.

As someone who grew up watching classic Disney movies, I love their stylization of characters. It is incredible how Disney Studio’s legendary animators like Glen Keane can seemingly breathe life into their characters by conveying an amazing sense of movement in their drawings.

Drawing a portrait in Disney style can be a fun and nostalgic experience, but it can also be deceptively challenging because it forces you to improvise a lot and constantly consider the stylistic decisions you need to make to render a face that looks believable in the Disney universe.

Here’s a video of a quick little sketch of Tarzan effortlessly drawn by the Disney legend Glen Keane.

6. Trois Crayons

Trying out Trois Crayons technique on toned paper.

Trois crayons is a technique used by the old masters to draw portraits and figure drawings on toned paper using just three colors. Traditionally, artists like Paul Rubens, considered a pioneer of this technique, used red, black, and white colors on tan or grey toned paper.

As someone who has almost exclusively drawn in monochrome, drawing portraits using three colors has been a refreshing way to introduce myself to the possibilities of color without getting overwhelmed by infinite color combinations.

I plan to learn more about this technique to get better at drawing with colors and explore different ways I can use this medium to draw interesting portraits.