Creating engaging portraits is one of the most fundamental skills that aspiring artists must have in order to thrive as digital artists. A well-executed portrait will always hold its own against any other style, even those done by professional professionals!

Interior or landscape? Human or animal? Abstract or representational? These are all important questions that determine the genre of your painting.

But what if I told you that none of these things matter? That it’s totally fine to create an abstract portrait or a representational one using only shapes and lines?

That’s exactly what we’re going to do here! In this article, you’ll learn how to draw beautiful, conceptually driven portraits using very little detail. And don’t worry, there are no rules saying that every part of the face needs to be drawn. We’ll go into more depth about that later though.

If you want to take your artistic game to the next level then you should give this tutorial a try. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to hone their drawing skills but doesn’t know where to start. Or maybe you just can’t seem to get that one facial feature right and you’d like some help. Either way, keep reading!

Step 1: Sketching The Head

Start off by creating a basic head shape.

Outline your theme

digital portrait illustration tutorial

As mentioned before, the first thing to do is to choose an interesting theme for your portrait. What kind of person will you depict? Will it be romantic, dramatic, or funny?

You can use this information to establish setting, mood, and narrative. For example, if the artist is creating a still life painting of fruits and vegetables, then they are establishing a peaceful scene.

They are also telling us that there are foods that make you happy! Or maybe their painter knows someone who loves carrots so they include those in their diet.

Alternatively, if the artwork depicts people with heavy makeup and flashy clothes, then we know we are being told that this person does not care about themselves. A lot of artists use this as a way to create a story – how self-absorbed people look good and therefore, they too need to feel beautiful.

These two examples show how artistic style comes from personal experiences and things that appeal to the creator.

Start a sketch

digital portrait illustration tutorial

The first thing you will need to do is start a new drawing or painting project! This can be anything from creating an illustration, doing digital portrait art, designing a logo, or even making a quick comic strip!

You can either use photoshop or another graphics software as your medium, something such as illustrator, paint, pen tool, etc. No matter what style of artwork you are trying to create, everyone uses this basic tool for production.

There are many ways to begin a creative process in these programs so whatever mood you are in, there’t way you can go wrong!

To make beautiful portraits, start by picking a face that you like and want to experiment with. Then, using the photo-editing software, draw around the face shape and proportionally determine where to place the features.

The next step would be to add some background elements, such as trees or buildings. Add shadows and light to give the scene depth and dimension.

Finish a sketch

digital portrait illustration tutorial

Once you have your model looking their best, it is time to create some scenery!

You can now either choose to draw more details or begin creating props. Both are great ways to hone your skills!

For instance, let’s look at the example above again. You could easily design an outdoor setting with plants and trees, but that would be very tedious to do. Or you could instead focus only on drawing the human figure.

Either way, don’t get too focused on one area. Keep moving around and exploring new things! There will always be something for you to explore and learn.

And remember, keep it simple! Too many textures and shapes can get confusing so try to stick to just basic forms and materials.

Mix and match elements

digital portrait illustration tutorial

When it comes to portraits, there are many ways to go about it. Some people stick with natural looking pictures, but we think that is boring!

There are so many different styles of portrait illustrations out there, you can mix and match them for your own style. For example, in this article we will be doing a digital self-portrait using mixed media.

But before we get into all of that, let’s take a look at some basic proportions.

Learn about different textures

digital portrait illustration tutorial

Texture is an important part of visual design. Different textures give your portrait pictures or illustrations a special appeal. There are many texture types to choose from, such as solid colors, patterns, wrinkled materials, and so forth.

Colorful textures add depth to images by acting as additional layers of material. A well-known example of this is dry sand under water; the water covers most of the surface area, but some parts are left with sandy particles. That effect gives the image more dimension and makes it seem bigger.

Patterns work in similar ways – they create height through their repeated structure. A popular pattern used in digital art is pixelation, where very fine lines become noticeable when scaled up.

The easiest way to use textures in artistic projects is to find free ones online and then edit them slightly or re-create new ones yourself. Software like Photoshop allows you to easily apply textures to other areas in your picture.

Use shadows correctly

digital portrait illustration tutorial

As we have seen, one of the most important things to do when illustrating is use shadows effectively. But what are shadows?

A shadow is an effect where light rays are bent or broken as they bounce off an object. This happens because some parts of the object reflect more light than others. For example, if there was very little light coming in from the left side of your picture, then it would leave the edge of an object dark. The same thing applies here; if there is not much direct light coming in from the nose area, then it will be darker there.

By adding soft shadows to your illustration, you can create depth and emphasis.

Use highlights correctly

digital portrait illustration tutorial

One of the most important things to do when illustrating a portrait is creating strong eye lines. These can be done by using shapes or lines, but either way, you should know what types of strengths they offer your image.

The main strength of an eye line is directing attention towards something. For example, if your picture features someone with their hands up, then one strong eye line could be used to focus on their hand. Or, for our digital portrait illustration tutorial, we will use it to direct people’s eyes towards the nose!

By drawing a parallel line between the top edge of the face and the bottom tip of the nose, this creates a sense of balance to the picture. This also gives us another element to work with – the nose! By adding textures and patterns to the nose area, some designers add depth to the skin.

Another option would be to create a triangle shape at the outside corner of the eye, which again adds balance and direction. If doing so, make sure to smooth out any sharp edges that may arise.

Color correctly

digital portrait illustration tutorial

Choosing your color palette is an integral part of creating great portraits using digital tools. There are many ways to choose colors for your portrait, but one of the most important things to do is determine if the colors in the picture match or clash with each other.

Clashing colors will look ugly together, while matching colors will create a pleasant harmony. The easiest way to identify whether your colors clash or not is by comparing them next to each other!

By doing this, you can quickly see whether they work well side-by-side or not. If they don’t look good together, then try mixing some shades off of one another to see what works. You may also need to interchange some components (for example, switch red and green) to find the perfect balance.

General rules about color schemes apply here – bold, strong colors usually win! When choosing colors that go well together, consider shades you have already used before and see how they relate to each other. For instance, if your skin tone is very light, use darker colors like brown, tan, or burgundy to achieve a more natural looking portrait.

Color theories exist that talk about why certain pairs of colors look good together, so research these to learn more about designing with colors.


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