A Beginner’s Guide to Drawing Hair: Tips for Realistic Portraits


Drawing a person’s hair can be one of the most challenging aspects of portrait artistry for beginners. However, with the right guidance and practice, you can create realistic, stunning hair that brings your portraits to life.

Related Class: Quick Sketch Portraits with David Tenorio

This article offers practical tips and insights to help you understand the basics of drawing hair, highlight common mistakes, and outline strategies for adding detail and depth to your sketches.

Understanding the Basics of Drawing Hair

One common misconception that most beginners have is that hair is composed of individual strands. Instead, consider hair as a series of grouped strands, or locks. This perspective allows you to focus on the hair’s volume and form, which is essential in creating an illusion of depth and dimension.

When you begin drawing, visualize the hair as a three-dimensional object, not just a set of lines on a paper. Try to portray the volumes, the gradations, and value differences that show changes in plane, as these create the illusion of volume. Avoid the pitfall of drawing too many individual lines, which can leave your drawing flat and lifeless.

Common Mistakes When Drawing Hair

One common mistake beginners often make is forgetting about the volume of the hair. Our heads typically have over 100,000 strands of hair, a fact that can be quite overwhelming. However, remember that these strands group together to form volumes and shapes, not just a mass of lines.

Another common error is adding too much texture. While texture is critical in creating a realistic hair appearance, excessive use of repeating lines in the lights, halftones, and shadows can be visually distracting. It’s essential to leave areas of rest to maintain focus on the face rather than the hair.

Beginners often struggle with impatience, leading to poor design. It's crucial to approach your drawing with purpose and confidence. Don't rush to capture all the random little shapes in hair; instead, focus on overall design and volume.

Furthermore, avoid drawing sharp outlines, as they can give the impression of a wig or a clip-on beard. Strive for softer edges that add depth, atmosphere, and establish a connection between the subject and their environment.

Tips for Drawing Hair

  1. Consider the Form Underneath: Hair isn't isolated from the rest of the head; it follows the shape of the skull underneath. This affects how the hair falls, its volume, and how it catches light. Remember to incorporate these aspects into your drawings.
  2. Create Volume: Consider hair strands as grouped into locks, similar to ribbons. Before diving into texture, consider the geometric shape of these locks to maintain the illusion of volume.
  3. Master the Four Elements: Highlight, Halftone, Shadow, and Texture are four fundamental elements in creating realistic hair. The Highlight and Shadow areas will be most eye-catching, while Halftone acts as a gradient between these two. Texture, the final element, includes the separations between smaller groups of hair and a few lines representing strands.
  4. Confidence in Every Stroke: When drawing hair, confidence is key. Bold, sure strokes often produce better results than hesitant ones, even if they're slightly out of place.
  5. Use the Right Tools: If you're working with graphite, use a combination of softer duller pencils for larger soft gradations and harder sharp pencils for more defined shapes.


Drawing realistic hair is a skill that comes with practice. Remember, it's all about understanding volume, mastering the balance between highlight and shadow, and adding texture in the right proportions.

Follow these beginner-friendly tips and, over time, you'll see your hair-drawing abilities improve significantly. Happy drawing!

Related Class: Quick Sketch Portraits with David Tenorio

Learn to sketch the human head, quickly and accurately. Learn more.