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6 Ideas For Drawing Faces You Must Try

Although I love drawing people, I get easily bored filling out my sketchbook with the same type of portrait drawings all the time. Since getting back to drawing last year, I have learned that even small changes in the art style, mood, composition, reference, technique, and drawing medium can make a big difference in making your portrait drawings look more interesting.

So in this post, I share 6 of my favorite ideas for drawing portraits that I really enjoy doing, and I hope these inspire some of you to try them out!

1. Draw portraits with minimal shading.

I love the understated, minimalist portrait drawings in a semi-realistic art style that lack detailed rendering by artists like Eliza Ivanova. Drawing a face this way involves sketching out a clear outline with an interplay of hard and soft edges.

What works well with this sort of portrait drawing is leaving a generous amount of white space so that the subtle details in critical areas become more prominent. Shading only the focal points of the face, such as the eyes and lips, contrasts nicely with the ample white space.

2. Draw portraits with only three colors.

Artists have used the Trois Crayons technique to draw portraits for over half a millennia. Traditionally, this technique involves drawing a portrait on a toned paper with just three colors:

  • White for the highlights;
  • Black for the shadows and the outline; and
  • Red for suggesting the darker mid-tones, background, and some areas with higher saturation.

The technique works best if you have a pre-toned sketchbook but can be done on a self-toned paper after applying a watercolor or ink wash, although it will make it harder to create vibrant highlights.

Drawing portraits with only three colors is deceptively challenging (at least for me) and can lead to some interesting results. For inspiration, you should check out drawings by the old masters like Jeune Antoine Watteau, Paul-Cesar Hellue, and Paul Rubens, who are considered the pioneer of this technique.

3. Draw faces with quirky expressions.

I am guilty of drawing people with the same neutral static expression for far too long, so it is a lot of fun to explore different emotions and facial expressions in my portrait drawings.

What I find interesting about drawing faces with unique expressions is how a particular expression affects the different parts of the face. Recognizing those subtle changes in the different parts of the face and bringing these details into your portraits can make your drawings look more dynamic and lively.

4. Using props in your portrait drawings.

Using props like flowers, jewelry, animals, and accessories such as eyeglasses and rigolettes can add an interesting element to your portrait drawings and can be a great tool to convey the story of the person you’re drawing.

My favorite artists who use props well in their portrait drawings include J. C. Leyendecker, Alfonse Mucha, and Loish, so do check out their artworks for some inspiration.

5. Redraw portraits done by the old masters.

Whenever I’m out of new ideas for drawing faces, I resort to redrawing portraits done by the old masters, which always brings me so much satisfaction.

Redrawing portraits by the artists you look up to is a great way to study different aspects of what makes their artworks great and get some low-pressure portrait drawings done when you are feeling creatively drained.

6. Sketch quick and loose portraits.

One bad habit I am having trouble shaking off is drawing with precision instead of allowing myself to loosen up and draw more freely. Recently, I have been doing some quick exploratory portrait sketching that is not aimed at getting the likeness of the face or achieving a certain aesthetic.

There is a lot of charm in sketching portraits that don’t look like finished works of art and allow the artist to explore, make a mess, and just have fun while drawing. What I have found helpful in drawing faces more loosely is to use blunt pencils and give myself a maximum of ten minutes to sketch each portrait.