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Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil

Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil

Drawing hair in colored pencil is our topic for today, and it was suggested by a reader question from a few weeks back.

That question was specifically about drawing long, curly hair, and I intended to find a sample of long, curly hair and do a tutorial. But other obligations got in the way and rather than holding this topic until time allowed for a tutorial, I decided to write about four basic principles that apply to drawing all types of hair.

Including long, curly hair!

Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil

Hair looks like a perfect subject for colored pencils. Pencils are perfect for drawing lines, and lines are the perfect way to draw hair. Or so it seems.

But there’s more to drawing realistic hair than just making lines. In fact, if all you do is make lines, the hair you draw will not look like hair, or it will look very stringy. If your style is realistic, you want hair that looks natural.

Here are a few tips for drawing hair that looks touch-ably real.

Choose the Right Stroke

One thing I tell readers and students often is take a good, long look at your reference photo, then choose the type of stroke that will produce the best results. For example, if the hair you want to draw is long and straight, use long strokes when you draw that hair.

But don’t stroke from one of the hair to the other end. Strokes should be only as long as they need to be to draw the part of the hair you’re drawing.

Take a look at this example.

The horse’s mane is long and straight, so I used long, straight strokes to draw it. But there are very few strokes that go all the way from the root of the hair to the hair tip.

Instead, the strokes in the darker values cover only the darker values. The highlights were made either by adding darker colors around them, or by using lighter colors within them. When I used lighter pencils, the strokes are only as long as the highlights.

Yes, there is some overlap, but only enough to keep the edges from being too straight, and to keep the mane looking natural.

Avoid Extreme Detail When Drawing Hair with Colored Pencil

Unless you’re goal is hyper-realism.

Instead of drawing individual hairs, look for hair groups. Block in those larger shapes first, then break them down into smaller details. Don’t draw every hair. That’s not only frustrating, it’s unnecessary. A few shadows and middle values in the right places, and a few highlights are all you need. Get those right, then add other details.

This example looks like I drew every hair. I did draw a lot of hairs, but what makes these shapes look like hair is the movement in the lines, the shadows, and the few “stray details” along the top of the neck, and toward the ends of the hair.

Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil

Pay Attention to Values

Believe it or not, color matters less than values.

Also remember that glossy surfaces show more dramatic values. The shinier a surface is, the darker the dark values look and the lighter the light values look. That’s part of what makes a surface look glossy or reflective when you draw it.

Healthy hair is glossy. The highlights should be bright, almost intense; especially in direct light. Shadows appear also deep and intense. Depending on the color of the hair, you may also see other colors in the main color.

The bright highlights and dark shadows in this example give the hair a high-gloss appearance.

Note also that the shape and placement of the highlights gives movement to the hair. It’s not just hanging there; it’s blowing in a strong breeze.

The type of strokes (straight or curved or wavy) help define movement, as well.

Use Multiple Colors

Always use a minimum of three colors: light value, medium value, and dark value.

But even for white or black hair, you want more than just shades of gray. For the black mane above, I used different values of blue and brown in addition to black. Those colors are not obvious, but they provide depth for the black, and create a more lively black. Hints of them are visible in the actual drawing, and they provide the illusion of sparkle.

To see the colors in hair, look closely at the highlights. Secondary colors appear most closely where the highlights transition into middle values and shadows. Add those colors throughout the rest of the hair.

It’s helpful to look at hair in natural light. Strong sunlight is best, since morning or evening light often produces a golden glow.

Pay Attention to Your Reference Photos

When it comes to drawing hair, we all too often set our reference photo aside and wing it. We all know what hair looks like, after all. We see it every day in one form or another.

But what your brain tells you hair looks like, and what the hair looks like in your reference photo may be two entirely different things.  If you want to draw hair that looks real and that looks like your subject, pay attention to the large shapes, the values, and movement of the hair in the photo.

Then draw what you see; not what you think should be there.

Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil

Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil

I think the thing that scares most artists about drawing hair is that it looks so complicated and detailed. Water has much the same affect on us and so does glass or any highly reflective surface.

But break it down into more basic elements, and then draw it the same way you draw anything else.

Go slow. Draw carefully. Break the hair down into sections and, if it helps, think of it as an abstract subject.

Still looking for help? Read How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair here.

Remember, all hair is basically the same. My examples are horses and I’ve linked to post on drawing dog hair, but the principles talked about in both posts also apply to human hair, and any other type of hair you might want to draw.

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