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How to draw hair

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How to draw hair in graphite pencil, by pencil artist Darla Dixon

You can learn how to draw hair

Are you stumped about how to draw hair? You aren't alone. A lot of people find it difficult. I think one of the problems is that people think they have to draw every hair. You don't, as you will see in this tutorial, it's a matter of spotting the dark and light tones, then placing highlights.

Another thing I would advise you is to try to relax. Being tense about drawing hair will give you rough, jagged looking hair when you may want soft, flowing locks. So I hope this page will help you. It's not meant to answer every drawing question. I also assume you have a little bit of drawing experience and have the art tools you need already.
 
A couple good things to have -- in addition to of course, your pencil and eraser are: A "click" style eraser (the kind that comes in a plastic barrel that you click to advance the eraser), a mechanical pencil (for drawing the finer hairs and details), a kneaded rubber eraser, and chamois for blending.

Steps for drawing hair

This method for drawing hair works for me. It is a method I taught myself through experimentation. You can use this for human hair or pet fur (it's going to be pretty much the same!)

You want to draw on a heavy grade paper. Regular printer paper sheets are too thin. Look for Bristol paper, about 2 ply thickness. It needs to be pretty strong to hold up to the drawing and erasing.

As you look at the photo or the person (if you are drawing from life), look for the darkest parts of the hair. Try not to think too much about what you are drawing. Look for the shapes of dark and the shapes of light. Draw in the darkest parts first, then use the side of your pencil lead to fill in the rest of it.

Tip: Squinting your eyes can help you spot the dark versus light areas. (This trick also works well later when you are looking at your drawing, to make sure you have enough contrast).

If you are working from a reference photo, you can turn the photo sideways or even upside down to help locate the tones of light and dark without being distracted by the image.

Once you have the darks and lights down, start drawing in the lines of the hair in the direction that it grows. Don't try to match every line exactly, just go for the feel and direction of the hair. Don't try to "save time" by filling in whichever direction you want to. Always draw in the direction of the hair. Each pencil line should be working for you.

You will want some of the actual hair strands to show, but you should not see every strand. Use a tissue (regular facial tissue without lotion) to blend areas in which the lines seem too prominent. This will soften it nicely so it should look like hair. Keep working at it until it looks more like real hair or fur. Don't be hard on yourself if you don't think it looks "perfect." Keep in mind -- even real hair never looks "perfect," and what you have done is hand-drawn. When you think about it, even cameras don't always get a perfect image, do they? So lighten up on yourself.

Blending and eraser techniques in drawing hair
 
A kneaded rubber eraser (usually less than a Dollar each) is a useful erasure tool for bringing out the large areas that will appear the lightest. Go gently with the eraser so you won't over-rub the paper. Look closely at your reference photo or the person. When you actively try to find the lightest part of their hair, it should be pretty apparent. Sometimes it appears like a half-circle of light as it goes around the head of someone with smooth hair.

After you take out the brightest areas with the kneaded eraser, use the tissue or chamois to blend the light to the area next to it, so the change in contrast will have a subtle rather than blunt edge.

Take the Click Eraser (Pentel makes one called "Clik Eraser") and either pinch off or cut off the tip of it. The edges of the eraser can now make a fine line. This is great for hair and makes quick work of the light hairs. (It is so fun that you can get carried away --I often do, then I have to draw hair back in!)

Try using the edge of that Clik Eraser like you would a pencil, using soft and flowing movements. Don't try to use it too straight or apply too much pressure. It is best to have a light touch. "Draw" with the eraser.

This part is going to sound odd, especially after you have done all that erasing -- But draw hair back in. Looking at the areas where you have erased, you will see a hint of the hair lines. Go over that area gently with a mechanical pencil. Don't be afraid to let a few "stray" hairs fly -- those will make it look more realistic. Everybody has those hairs that don't obey. You want the hair to look realistic and not like helmet hair.

And that's about it it -- but it does take a lot of practice. Everybody has their own way of doing things, but try this and let me know if it works as well for you as it does for me.

Darla Dixon, Artist

Darla Dixon Portrait Art & Illustration


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