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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.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

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How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

Do you struggle with learning how to draw realistic dog hair? The challenge differs depending on the breed of dog, but even with smooth-haired dogs, many of us struggle with drawing hair.

Here’s the reader question to get us started.

My question is, how do I learn to sketch the fur on the body of a dog to look realistic? This is my last attempt from your tutorial on drawing golden retrievers and thank you for that. I am completely new to this. Thanks, Delma 

The tutorial to which Delma referred is from my art blog and is called How to Draw a Golden Retriever. It’s one of several tutorials Peggy Osborne put together as a guest blogger. If you haven’t seen it before and want to draw a Golden Retriever, I encourage you to take a look.

Now let’s see how to help Delma draw realistic dog hair.

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

Delma provided a photo of her drawing, which I include here with her permission.

Delma has done a good job with this so far. The eyes are beautiful and life-like and really draw the attention they should.

But Delma’s portrait isn’t finished, yet.

I cropped the image, then printed it on Bristol Vellum so I could use colored pencils on it. I used Prismacolors, but Delma can do the same thing with her favorite pencils if they aren’t Prismacolor.

Glazing for Color Saturation

The first thing I did was glaze Prismacolor Light Umber over the upper right quarter of the background. I started with circular strokes, followed by alternating layers of horizontal and vertical layers. For each layer, I used a sharp pencil and light pressure.

I didn’t do the entire background to show the difference a few additional layers make, even with light pressure.

Next, I looked at the reference photo in the tutorial and chose the lightest color to glaze over most of the dog’s hair. I layered Goldenrod over all of the dog, but I used different strokes based on the nature of the hair. On the face, where the hair is short, I held the pencil in a normal grip and used short directional strokes.

Where the hair is longer (the chest, back, and ears,) I held the pencil in a more horizontal grip and shaded color with the side of the exposed pigment core. The pencil had quite a long point, so I could make broad strokes following the direction of hair growth.

I glazed Goldenrod over all of the dog except a few places where there are brighter highlights, and over the black areas.

After that, I glazed a slightly darker, redder color (Prismacolor Sienna Brown) over the darker parts of the hair. I used similar strokes with this color that I used with the previous color. Long, directional strokes where the hair is longer, and shorter strokes where the hair is shorter.

I worked around the lightest areas to preserve the lighter, golden tones in those places.

Why Glaze?

The purpose for glazing is to fill the tooth of the paper. Filling the paper’s tooth makes your colors look brighter and livelier because there’s less paper color showing through. Since I’m using Bristol for this tutorial, it only took a few glazes. The rougher the paper, the more layers it will take.

Glazing is also an excellent blending tool. It smooths out textures and too-bold pencil strokes without covering details. Many artists use glazing for blending layers after every few layers of regular color application.

Building Depth in the Hair with Directional Strokes

The next step was adding layers of directional strokes to create the look of hair. I mixed the same three colors (Light Umber, Goldenrod, and Sienna Brown.) I matched the strokes I used to each area.

For example, in the chest, I used long, curving strokes to establish the length and shape of the hair.

In the face, I used shorter strokes because the hair is shorter. It’s also straighter, so I used straighter strokes.

Over the nose, where the hair is very short, I used circular strokes.

Always draw in the direction of hair growth. Most of my work in this step was drawn “from the skin out.” Around the edges, however, I stroked background color opposite the direction of hair growth in order to separate hair groups and get the look I wanted.

This is also a good way to add darker details “under” overlapping lighter colored hair.

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

You can push this method as far as you wish and as far as your paper will allow.

Three Things to Remember About Drawing Realistic Dog Hair

Drawing hair is one of the more difficult subjects portrait artists face, whether they draw human or pet portraits.

If you remember the following three tips, you’ll find it much easier to draw realistic hair of any type.

Don’t Draw Every Hair

Don’t draw every single hair. Instead, draw groups of hair. Look for the larger hair groups and draw those groups. You’ll end up with more realistic hair this way.

And less frustration.

Focus on the Edges

You also don’t have to draw hair in every place.

If you draw enough detail along the edges between different colors and different values, the eye will “fill in the rest.” This detail illustrates what I mean. I’m still at an early stage with this piece, but you can see how I’ve used directional strokes to define hair along the edges between highlight and middle value and layered smooth color in most other places.

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

Don’t Stop Too Soon

The final point I’d like to make is based on something Delma mentioned in her question. “I’m completely new at this,” she said.

So whatever she thinks of her art, she’s done a fabulous job with a difficult subject. When I first started with colored pencils, I’d been painting portraits of horses for many years, so I already knew my subject. I just had to learn a new medium.

But I struggled with the same thing that has frustrated Delma. Drawings that didn’t look real enough!

My problem was the same problem Delma has discovered. I stopped before my drawings were finished!

The solution to this problem is easy. When you think you’ve finished a drawing, work on it for another day. You’ll be amazed at the difference. I was!

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

Remember, this project is based on a tutorial by Peggy Osborne. Her method for drawing realistic dog hair is different from mine.

Delma would definitely benefit from going through Peggy’s tutorial again, step-by-step, and drawing over the hair again. Every layer will fill in the paper a little more, and create more detail and depth.

And more realistic looking hair.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!