Effective Techniques for Drawing a Realistic Self-Portrait
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Use photos as a reference
  2. Start with basic shapes
  3. Focus on the eyes
  4. Pay attention to the light and shadow
  5. Practice drawing textures

Creating a self-portrait might seem like a daunting task, but with the right approach, it can be an enjoyable way to explore your artistic talents. In this blog, we'll cover some effective self-portrait drawing techniques that can help you make a realistic depiction of yourself. Whether you're a seasoned artist or a beginner, these practical tips will guide you through the process and help you improve your skills.

Use Photos as a Reference

One of the first steps in creating a realistic self-portrait is to use a photo as a reference. This can be a helpful guide, especially when you're just starting out.

Choosing the Right Photo

When selecting a photo to draw, you want to make sure it's clear and detailed. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Lighting: A photo with good lighting will help you see the details of your face better. Natural light is usually the best option.
  • Resolution: A high-resolution photo will allow you to zoom in and see the finer details of your features, which is key when you're trying to capture a realistic representation.
  • Expression: Choose a photo that represents you. Whether you're smiling, serious, or somewhere in between, your expression can add depth to your self-portrait.

Tracing vs. Freehand Drawing

Once you've chosen the right photo, you may wonder whether you should trace it or draw freehand. Both methods have their merits:

  1. Tracing: This is a good way to get started, especially if you're new to drawing. It can help you get a feel for your facial proportions and understand how your features fit together.
  2. Freehand Drawing: As your skills improve, you can start drawing freehand. This allows you to put your own interpretation into the portrait and makes your art more personal.

Remember, drawing a self-portrait is a journey. It's okay to start with tracing and gradually move towards freehand drawing as you become more comfortable with the process. What's important is that you're learning and improving. After all, mastering self-portrait drawing techniques is a step-by-step process—much like any other skill in life.

Start with Basic Shapes

When it comes to creating a realistic self-portrait, it can be helpful to break down your face into basic shapes. This can simplify the drawing process and make it less overwhelming.

Breaking Down Your Face

Think of your face as a combination of geometric shapes. Here's a simple way to visualize it:

  • Head: Start by sketching an oval shape to represent your head.
  • Eyes: Two circles can serve as the foundation for your eyes.
  • Nose: Consider your nose as a triangle placed in the middle of your face.
  • Mouth: Your mouth can be represented as a stretched-out semi-circle or ellipse.

Remember, these shapes are just a starting point. As you continue to draw, you'll make adjustments to capture the unique features of your face.

Proportions Matter

Placing these shapes correctly is crucial to achieving a realistic self-portrait. But don't worry, there are guidelines to help you get the proportions right:

  1. Halfway Point: Your eyes are usually at the halfway point of your head.
  2. Nose Position: The base of your nose is about halfway between your eyes and your chin.
  3. Mouth Position: The line where your lips meet is approximately one-third of the distance from the base of your nose to your chin.

While these are general rules, remember that everyone's face is different. Don't be afraid to adjust these guidelines to match your unique features. After all, that's the beauty of self-portrait drawing techniques—they're flexible and adaptable to individual faces.

Focus on the Eyes

Now that we've laid down the basic shapes and understood the proportions, let's turn our attention to the eyes. Eyes are often said to be the windows to the soul, and they can really bring a self-portrait to life. Let's explore some self-portrait drawing techniques to make your eyes look as realistic as possible.

Drawing the Shape of the Eyes

Drawing realistic eyes begins with the shape. Here are some tips to help you nail it:

  • Not Perfect Circles: Eyes are not perfect circles. They are more like an almond shape. The inner corner of the eye tends to be more pointed, while the outer corner can be rounded or slightly upturned.
  • Spacing: The space between your two eyes is typically the width of one of your eyes.
  • Upper and Lower Eyelids: Pay attention to the thickness and curve of your eyelids. The upper eyelid usually covers a part of the iris (the colored part of your eye), while the lower eyelid just touches the iris.

Take your time with this step. Accurate eye shapes can add a lot of realism to your self-portrait.

Adding the Details

Now, let's add some details to make your eyes truly pop. Here are some things you might want to consider:

  1. Iris and Pupil: The iris is the colored part of your eye, and the pupil is the small black circle in the center. The top part of the iris is often partially covered by the upper eyelid, and the pupil can reflect light, so it won't always be completely black.
  2. Highlight: Adding a highlight or two can make your eyes look shiny and lively. These are the reflections of light sources, so their positions will depend on where the light is coming from.
  3. Shadows: Don't forget about shadows. They can be found under the eyelids and help to give your eyes depth and dimension.

By focusing on these details, you can make your eyes look realistic and expressive. Remember, practice makes perfect when it comes to mastering self-portrait drawing techniques.

Pay Attention to the Light and Shadow

Light and shadow play a vital role in creating depth and realism in your self-portrait. Understanding how light interacts with the human face can make a significant difference in your drawing. So, let's learn some self-portrait drawing techniques related to light and shadow.

Identifying the Light Source

Before you start shading, it's important to identify your light source. Is it coming from above, below, from one side, or straight ahead? Knowing this will help you understand where the shadows and highlights on your face will be.

  • Top Lighting: If the light is coming from above, like sunlight or a ceiling lamp, the shadows will be under your nose, lips, chin, and eyelids.
  • Side Lighting: If the light is coming from one side, half of your face will be in shadow, creating a dramatic effect.
  • Front Lighting: If the light is straight ahead, like a camera flash, there won't be many shadows on your face. This can make your face appear flatter, so you'll need to rely more on subtle value changes.

Remember, you want to create the illusion of a three-dimensional face on a flat piece of paper, and understanding your light source is the key to achieving this.

Adding Shadows and Highlights

Once you know your light source, you can begin to add shadows and highlights to your self-portrait. Here's how:

  1. Block in the Shadows: Start by lightly blocking in the main shadow areas. Avoid using a hard line to separate light from shadow; instead, use a soft value change to create a more realistic effect.
  2. Add Mid-tones: Mid-tones are the values between your light and dark areas. They help to create a smooth transition from light to shadow.
  3. Highlight the Highlights: The highlights are the brightest areas where the light hits directly. Be careful not to overdo them, or your skin might look shiny or oily.

Applying light and shadow is a critical step in creating a realistic self-portrait. Take your time, and don't be afraid to adjust as you go. Remember, it's all part of the process of mastering self-portrait drawing techniques.

Practice Drawing Textures

Another crucial aspect of creating a realistic self-portrait is accurately capturing the textures present on the human face. From the smoothness of the forehead to the softness of the lips and the roughness of the stubble, texture can truly bring your self-portrait to life. Let's explore some self-portrait drawing techniques that will help you master the art of drawing textures.

Capturing Skin Texture

When drawing the skin, resist the temptation to over-detail. Realistic skin isn't about drawing every pore; it's more about capturing the subtle shifts in value that suggest texture. Here's how you can achieve it:

  1. Observe Carefully: Look closely at your skin in the reference photo. Notice the areas that appear smooth, like the cheeks, compared to more textured areas, like the nose or chin.
  2. Use Graded Pencils: Switch between different grades of pencils to capture the texture. Harder pencils (like 2H) are great for lighter, smoother areas, while softer pencils (like 6B) work well for darker, textured areas.
  3. Blend Judiciously: Use a blending tool, like a tortillon or a blending stump, to smooth out your pencil strokes, mimicking the look of skin. But remember, over-blending can make skin look too smooth and artificial.

Capturing the texture of skin can seem daunting, but with keen observation and practice, you'll get the hang of it.

Drawing Hair Texture

When it comes to drawing hair, the key is to think of it not as individual strands, but as a collection of shapes and forms. Here are some tips:

  • Look for Shapes: Instead of drawing each strand, look for larger shapes in your hair and shade those in. This creates a more realistic effect.
  • Build up Layers: Start with a lighter base layer, and gradually add darker layers to create depth and volume.
  • Highlight Wisely: Leave some areas unshaded to create highlights, which can make hair look shiny and give it a three-dimensional look.

Mastering the art of drawing textures takes time and practice, but it's a skill that will greatly enhance your self-portrait drawing techniques. So grab your pencil and start practicing!

If you're eager to expand your drawing skills and create a realistic self-portrait, don't miss the workshop 'A Drawing for a Painting' by David Shepherd. This workshop will teach you valuable techniques to perfect your drawing skills and create a stunning self-portrait that captures your essence.