Step-by-Step Procreate Portrait Painting Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Choose the right reference photo
  2. Set up your canvas
  3. Block in basic shapes
  4. Establish the light source
  5. Add in the base colors
  6. Build up the shadows and highlights
  7. Refine and add details
  8. Finalize with textures and effects

Whether you're a seasoned artist or just starting your digital painting journey, creating a detailed portrait in Procreate can be an exciting challenge. This user-friendly app, loved by professionals and beginners alike, offers an array of tools that make it easy to bring your ideas to life. In this guide, we'll take you through a step-by-step process to create a Procreate detailed portrait painting that's sure to impress.

Choose the Right Reference Photo

Before you dive headfirst into your Procreate portrait painting, it's important to choose the right reference photo. But don't worry, it's easier than it sounds!

Quality matters: High-resolution images are your best bet. They allow you to zoom in and capture the finest details, making your Procreate detailed portrait painting more realistic.

Consider the light: Photos with good lighting can make your painting process smoother. They help you understand how light interacts with the face, enhancing the depth and dimension in your artwork.

Expression is key: Choose a photo with a clear, compelling expression. It could be a smile, a thoughtful gaze, or even a look of surprise—anything that adds personality to your portrait.

Angles can help: A straight-on shot is a good starting point for beginners. But don't shy away from experimenting with different angles once you're comfortable. They can add an interesting perspective to your Procreate portrait painting.

Your chosen photo will serve as the foundation for your artwork. Remember, the goal isn't to replicate the photo perfectly, but to use it as a guide as you unlock the potential of Procreate.

Set up your Canvas

Setting up your canvas in Procreate is the next key step in your detailed portrait painting journey. It's like preparing your workspace before a big project — everything needs to be just right.

Choosing the right size: Start with a canvas size that suits your purpose. If you're planning to print your portrait later, a higher resolution would be ideal. For online sharing, a mid-range resolution would suffice. An 8x10 inch canvas at 300 DPI (dots per inch) is a popular choice for many artists.

Selecting the correct color profile: Procreate offers two color profiles - RGB and CMYK. If your portrait is for digital viewing, go with RGB. But if you intend to print your masterpiece, CMYK is the way to go.

Orientation matters: Portrait or landscape, the choice is yours. However, for a portrait painting, a portrait orientation is usually the norm. But don't let that limit you! Feel free to shake things up if you feel creative!

Your canvas is the playground for your imagination. So, take a moment to set it up right! With these considerations in mind, you're now ready to start sketching your Procreate detailed portrait painting.

Block in Basic Shapes

The next step in your Procreate detailed portrait painting journey is to block in basic shapes. Think of it as creating a blueprint for your painting that will guide your brush strokes in the right direction.

Start with a circle: Draw a circle to represent the cranial mass of your subject. Remember, perfection isn't the goal here. It's all about capturing the essence of the shape.

Add a jawline: Extend lines from the circle to form the jaw. The length and angle of these lines will vary depending on your subject's unique features.

Outline the features: Sketch in the eyes, nose, and mouth using simple shapes like ovals and triangles. Don't worry about details at this point. You're just establishing the general location of these features.

Sketch the neck and shoulders: Add in some lines to represent the neck and shoulders. Again, keep it simple.

By breaking down the face into basic shapes, you create a solid foundation for your portrait. This might seem a little intimidating, but remember, every great artist starts with a basic sketch. With practice, you'll soon be blocking in shapes like a pro in your Procreate detailed portrait painting journey.

Establish the Light Source

Now that you've defined the basic shapes, it's time to think about the light. Understanding where the light comes from is a key step to creating a realistic Procreate detailed portrait painting.

Identify the Light Source: Look at your reference photo and identify where the light is coming from. Is it above? To the side? Once you have this figured out, mark it on your sketch.

Shade Accordingly: Now, imagine how this light would hit the face of your subject. The areas of the face that are turned towards the light will be lighter, while those turned away will be darker. Start adding these areas of light and shadow to your sketch.

Consider the Quality of Light: Is the light soft and diffuse, or is it harsh and direct? This will affect how you paint the shadows and highlights in your portrait. Soft light creates soft shadows, while direct light creates sharp, defined shadows.

Establishing your light source isn't just about adding shadows and highlights. It's about creating depth and dimension in your Procreate detailed portrait painting. Remember, it's the contrast between light and dark that gives a flat sketch life and volume. So, take your time with this step. It's a big one!

Add in the Base Colors

Now that you’ve established your light source, it’s time to bring some color into your Procreate detailed portrait painting. Adding in the base colors can be a lot of fun, but it's also a step that requires some strategy.

Choose Your Main Color: Start by selecting a base color for the skin. This doesn't have to be perfect right off the bat—think of it as the middle ground between the darkest and lightest parts of the skin. A good tip is to pick a color from your reference photo.

Paint in Large Areas: With your base color selected, start painting in the large areas of the face. Don’t worry about the details yet, just focus on covering the canvas with your base color.

Add in Secondary Colors: Look closely at your reference photo. You'll notice that skin isn’t just one color. There are often areas of red, blue, or yellow. Now's the time to add these in. Use a soft brush and lightly paint in these secondary colors. The key here is subtlety.

As you're adding in your base colors, keep in mind that this is just the start. The real depth and detail of your Procreate detailed portrait painting will come later as you add in the shadows, highlights, and finer details. For now, just enjoy laying the groundwork with these base colors.

Build up the Shadows and Highlights

With the base colors in place, your Procreate detailed portrait painting now needs depth and dimension. This is where shadows and highlights come into play. Shadows and highlights aren't just about making your painting look real—they also tell a story about the light in your scene.

Shadows: Look at your reference photo and observe where the shadows fall. Usually, these will be the areas furthest away from the light source. Using a darker version of your base color, start painting in these areas. Remember, shadows are not just grey or black, they carry the color of the object they're on. So, don't just darken your base color—also desaturate it a bit for a more realistic effect.

Highlights: Now, turn your attention to the light. The highlights will be on the areas that are closest to the light source. Using a lighter and slightly desaturated version of your base color, start painting in these areas. Just as with shadows, highlights are not just white—they carry the color of the object they're on.

Building up the shadows and highlights is a game of back and forth. You'll likely find yourself adjusting shadows as you paint in highlights, and vice versa. This is all part of the process. The end goal is to create a sense of depth and three-dimensionality in your Procreate detailed portrait painting.

Refine and Add Details

Now that you have successfully built up the shadows and highlights, it's time to give your Procreate detailed portrait painting its unique characteristics. This is the stage where you refine the features and start adding intricate details.

Refining Features: Take a look at your reference photo. Pay close attention to the details in the eyes, nose, mouth, and other facial features. Start refining these areas with precision. As you work, constantly zoom in and out to check your progress.

Adding Details: Details can make or break a portrait. The tiny freckles, subtle wrinkles, individual hair strands, texture of the skin— all these elements contribute to bringing your portrait to life. For details, switch to a finer brush and start adding these elements. Remember, subtlety is key. You want the details to be visible, but not overpowering.

Refining features and adding details requires a lot of patience and attention to detail. Don't rush this step. Take your time to get it right. And remember, practice makes perfect. The more you work on your Procreate detailed portrait painting skills, the better you'll get at capturing those tiny, defining details.

Finalize with Textures and Effects

Once you've refined and added all the details to your Procreate detailed portrait painting, it's time to put the final touches. This stage involves adding textures and implementing effects that will enhance your artwork and give it a realistic finish.

Adding Textures: Textures give your portrait a realistic feel. For instance, you can add a grainy texture to the skin or a glossy finish to the eyes. Procreate offers an array of brushes that can mimic these textures. Try to experiment with different brushes to see which one fits your style best.

Implementing Effects: Procreate offers numerous effects to enhance your painting. For instance, you can use the Gaussian Blur for a soft-focus background, or the Noise effect for a grainy texture. Remember, less is more when it comes to effects. You don't want to overdo it and distract from the portrait itself.

Finalizing your Procreate detailed portrait painting with textures and effects is the cherry on top of your hard work. It's like adding the right seasoning to a well-cooked meal — it enhances the flavor without overpowering it. So, go ahead and experiment, but remember to keep it balanced.

If you enjoyed this step-by-step Procreate portrait painting guide and want to learn more about the drawing aspect of creating portraits, check out the workshop 'A Drawing for a Painting' by David Shepherd. In this workshop, you'll gain valuable insights and techniques for creating the perfect foundation for your portrait paintings, enhancing your overall creative process.