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Charcoal Portraits - How to Draw Hair


Drawing the hair with charcoal and chalk.

Drawing the hair with charcoal and chalk.

There is no particular formula for drawing hair; it is simply a matter of observation. Our technique requires a close study of the effects of line, tone and texture on the form of the hair. You also need some understanding of the characteristic qualities of charcoal and chalk and what it capable of as an artistic medium. You can find out more about this on our page: Charcoal Portraits - Materials and Techniques.

Please follow our steps below to explore the process and techniques used to build up our charcoal and chalk drawing of the hair.

Charcoal Portraits:
How to draw hair - Step 1


Step 1 - Sketch the Outline of the Head

Sketch the outline of the head

  • Using a charcoal pencil, we start our drawing of the hair with an outline of the head.

You can find out more about drawing the basic proportions of a head and the position of its features at the following pages on our site:

  1. Proportions of a Head
  2. The key measurements to make when drawing a portrait.


Charcoal Portraits:
How to draw hair - Step 2


Step 2 - Sketch the Hair Lightly in Line

Sketch the hair lightly in line

  • Next we lightly sketch the hair in lines that follow its shape and volume.
  • It is helpful to spray these lines with some fixative to so that they are not easily erased when we work over them in later stages of the drawing.


Charcoal Portraits:
How to draw hair - Step 3


Step 3 - Establish the Basic Tones in and Around the Hair

Establish the basic tones

  • At this point we lightly shade any dark tones in and around the hair with a soft stick of charcoal.
  • We then smudge these with a tortillon, tissue or finger to establish a flat unified tone upon which we can build up our drawing.


Charcoal Portraits:
How to draw hair - Step 4


Step 4 - Strengthen, Balance and Blend Tones

Strengthen, balance and blend tones

  • Now we need to re-establish any of the line drawing that we lost in the previous stage and reinforce the cut and style of the hair with stronger lines.

  • We also start to balance and blend the tones of the hairline with the complexion of the forehead.

  • You need a subtle transition of tones between the hair and the forehead, otherwise the hairline will look unnatural.


Charcoal Portraits:
How to draw hair - Step 5


Step 5 - Intensify the Detail of the Hair

Intensify the detail of the hair

  • At this stage we intensify the detail of the hair with layers of rhythmic lines that follow the direction of its growth and style.

  • We build up this detail using a sharp charcoal pencil. It is important to draw the hair with as much speed and confidence as possible in order to reflect its natural bounce and vitality.
  • We also darken the deepest areas of tone with a soft charcoal stick and gently merge the texture of hairline with the forehead.


Charcoal Portraits:
How to draw hair - Step 6


Step 6 - Apply the Light Tones of the Hair with an Eraser

Apply the lght tones of the hair with an eraser

  • Once we have built up the detail of the hair to a satisfactory density, we are ready to apply the light tones that will accentuate its form.

  • If you cut an eraser to form a sharp edge, you have the ideal tool for drawing streaks of light in an area of dark charcoal. It is the perfect technique for picking out the individual strands of hair and building up a realistic texture.


Charcoal Portraits:
How to draw hair - Step 7


Step 7 - Add the Final Highlights with White Chalk

Add the final highlights with white chalk

  • Finally, we use a stick of white chalk that has been sharpened to a fine point to add our highlights to the hair and surrounding skin. This enhances the tone, texture and form of the hair, raising the realism in our drawing to its highest pitch.

Charcoal Portraits Summary:
How to draw hair


Charcoal Portraits - Drawing the Hair Step by Step


  • In our illustration above you can see how our charcoal and chalk drawing is built up in a series of layers that gradually refine the line, tone and texture of the image to create a convincing representation of the hair.



A tortillon

A tortillon is a blending stump for merging areas of shading