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DFH: Portrait Drawing - Hair

12 Jul. ' 20

We will finish our look at the elements of a portrait on hair. Hair can be challenging to draw at first as it is complex, and has a lot of natural variety, pushed even further with the many different ways we style it. To draw hair we are going to look at how to describe different kinds of hair in our drawing, dealing with its complexity and its overall behaviour.

(Main image: Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys – 'Study for a Woman's Head')


Features of Hair


There is no single way to draw hair, but it does tend to have common properties, as the one thing we can reply on is that it is made of many tiny strands. To get away from this perceived complexity, it helps to think about how we can simplify this in a way honest to how we see. You probably cannot see every strand on someone's head at once!


(Hair showing clumping (blue), soft edges with surrounding skin (red) and broken versus solid edges (green))


Instead, we tend to see hair in 'clumps', or locks as it groups together. When drawing, use this to simplify hair – shadowy gaps are often found inbetween hair locks and can help break hair into simpler shapes. Whilst hair varies in texture, it is generally a soft subject, and as such, tends not to have lots of hard outlines unless it is very straight, or has been styled into shape. Often there will be loose strands around the edges.


Hairlines are also an important feature of hair. In this area of transition between the hair and the skin, we find that hair tends to be a bit finer. Once hair is pulled back, the hairlines create an origin point for locks of hair, and help imply the form of the head.


(Hair strands tend to group together with a common direction (red))


Hair has no muscles to support or articulate it, and is therefore heavily influenced by gravity, and external support, such as hair ties. It will wrap around the skull as it gets pulled down by its own weight or into a bunch (such s a ponytail or braid). Pay attention to the form under the hair as you build up marks, as the overall direction the strands will follow the roundness of the head. Curly or frizzy hair will begin to resist the effect of gravity and be more self supported – as can very short, straight hair. 


(Negative shapes when drawing hair (red). A clear silouette can help describe texture)

Try looking for the relationship between the shape of the mass of hair and negative shape. This works especially well when hair is seperated into locks, such as with curls, or if the hair is specifically styled as such, like with braids or dreadlocks. 


Hair Texture


Hair comes in many different types, depending on curliness, thickness and density. This is further expanded by the huge range of hair styles and cuts that we can have. It is useful to recognise texture as this affects what drawing techniques are best for describing it – should you focus on directional marks, or textural ones? How important are the edges?



Straight hair readily forms into locks, and is very much subject to gravity, wrapping around the head, and in longer styles, dropping straight down. It tends to look quite flat, until you reach the bottom edge of the hair, where may start to spread out. Look out for the direction in this style of hair – try to let your marks follow it, but avoid drawing every strand.



Wavy hair is similar to straight hair, but with a little more randomness to its direction. Keep an eye out for opposing directional marks that help show the different directions locks of hair flow in – the waviness resists underlying forms a bit more. You are also more likely to spot curved 'C' and 'D' shaped shadows.



The sheer amount of detail in curly hair styles can be a challenge. When drawing this style, look at the silouette early on, and the negative shapes created by the curls – conveying the shape well will really sell the texture of the hair. Like straighter hair, curls are still clumping into locks of hair, and will have highlights.



Kinky hair varies tremendously from person to person, and encompasses a diverse range of hair textures, including afro-textured hair. When it comes to drawing, soft diffuse edges are one of the key features we need to portray. Because kinky hair can often hold itself up against gravity more, it might not always clump as noticably, which means we need to rely on its soft outline and loose strands of hair at the edges for describing texture. Denser styles tend to still have distinctive edges for showing texture.


Putting it Together – Drawing Hair


(Charles Dana Gibson)


In these ink drawings, there is a consistent direction and flow of hair that sculpts out the volume of the styles. Because ink can only be black or white, a sense of tone is created by changing the density of marks – sculptural lines cut through light areas whilst dark areas are almost totally black.


(Walter Fryer Stocks - 'Portrait of Fanny Eaton')


In this drawing, the extra soft edges of the hair sell the diffuse texture, an effective use of charcoal or conté. We can see a few loose strands that imply the wavyness around the edge, and the shadow shapes of the hair around the face follow a similar pattern.


(Giovanni Battista Piazzetta - 'Youth in profile')

This example of short hair shows how clear marks around the outline and around shadow shapes can effectively portray direction, length and texture. We can see the soft spread of hair at the top of the head as the marks are loose and spread out. Be mindful of the direction of the marks you make – it takes very little to imply hair.


Over to You


Much like other features, it is a good idea to push yourself to try drawing a variety of different styles of hair. Whilst hair varies a lot, it tends to repeat different behaviours such as clumping and splaying out, have a direction to the overall flow of strands, and a tendency to soft edges. 


(Hair studies done in ink)

It is also worth thinking about how you will approach these challenges in different media – drawing hair in charcoal is a very different experience to ink!


This is the eighteenth and final of our weekly 'Drawing From Home' blog posts, commissioned during lockdown to help you draw more at home. If you've enjoyed these posts, we'll be continuing them weekly on the Draw Patreon page - for £3 per month you'll get access to monthly photo reference, weekly blog posts and a monthly online life class. These blogs have been our way to provide work for our tutors with work during the Covid-19 pandemic, while helping to keep you all drawing and we're very grateful to all our patrons for their support during this difficult time. Please do share your drawings with us, as we would love to see what you have made from the blogs - just tag us with @Draw_Brighton on social media or use the #DrawingFromHome #DrawBrighton hastags. These articles are written by Lancelot Richardson.

Published by on 12 Jul. ' 20

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