Draw Faces in 15 Minutes: How to Get Started in Portrait Drawing

Draw Faces in 15 Minutes: How to Get Started in Portrait Drawing

by Jake Spicer


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Yes, you can draw! And Draw Faces in 15 Minutes will show you how to draw people's faces. By the time you finish this book, you'll have all the skills you need to achieve a striking likeness in a drawn portrait, using a proven method from a professional life-drawing teacher.

Artist and life-drawing expert Jake Spicer takes you through a series of carefully crafted tutorials, from how to put together a basic portrait sketch to developing your portraits and then taking your drawings further. From understanding and constructing the head and shaping the hair, to checking the relationships of the features and achieving a lifelike expression, every aspect of the portrait process is examined, along with advice on which materials to use and how to find a model.

Inside you'll find beautifully illustrated, easy-to-follow, step-by-step chapters that make it easy for anyone to draw a face.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250063991
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 05/05/2015
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 232,200
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

JAKE SPICER is a figurative draftsman, painter, and printmaker who lives and works in the UK, where he is the principal teacher of the Brighton and London Life Drawing Sessions. In 2009 Jake was named the Fringe Report Artist of the Year, and his work is exhibited widely across the UK.

Read an Excerpt

Draw Faces In 15 Minutes

Amaze your Friends with your Portrait Skills

By Jake Spicer

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 The Ilex Press Ltd.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-14266-5



Attitudes and Techniques


Drawing is mark-making in response to something observed. The attitude you take to a drawing is as important to the outcome as the techniques you use. Every drawing you make should have an intention; a drawing should be created to communicate something about the subject that interests you and that you want to communicate to a viewer. If you can work out what interests you about the model, you can work out how to be selective in making your drawing. Devote your drawing time to the aspects of the sitter that you want to bring out in the sketch; if it is the tilt of the head that particularly engages you, don't spend half your drawing rendering the eye in detail. When you make marks on the page, don't scribble unwittingly, but make each mark the result of a clear, considered thought. The real skill is learning to make considered marks intuitively.


"Techniques" in drawing, such as those in this book, are really just frameworks on which to hang your observations of the world. They give you a starting point and a process to work through. They should be a gateway into helping you look at the world properly, not a substitute for looking properly. You should always be aware that you are making a new drawing of someone or something unique, and so shouldn't approach that drawing formulaically.


Style is an elusive thing. Given the same medium and subject, we will all draw something different with our own marks and emphasis, yet it can be hard to pin down what makes each of our drawings unique. Look at the drawings of artists you respect and of other people you know who draw. Learn lessons from their work — how they have solved particular problems, what kind of marks they have made, what they are trying to say about their subject — and use their drawings as a key to understanding how to improve your own. Most of all, don't worry about your style — it will develop in time, and you'll often only recognize it retrospectively when looking over past drawings.


Learn to Stare

First look, then draw; too often the beginner rushes to make marks before properly seeing the subject. Before looking, make sure you're comfortable and set up to make looking as easy as possible. When you draw, your eyes should be forever flitting from model to paper, paper to model, keeping the dialog between subject and drawing fresh and immediate without the interruption of an internal critical monolog. It is this internal critic telling you your marks are wrong that can restrict drawing much more than a lack of ability. Do everything you can to remain present in the moment of drawing and to maximize the connection between eye and hand without intellect getting in the way.

Develop an Internal Tutor

When you begin drawing, often you'll find you're accompanied by an internal critic, pointing out your mistakes and making you question your drawing. This can be more restricting than a lack of ability. You need time to look and draw without internal criticism. Instead, try to develop an internal tutor, allowing you to stand back and look objectively at your drawing, picking out its best qualities and what can be improved upon.

Make It Easy for Yourself

Here are a few different setups to help you draw comfortably. You should aim to keep your paper as close to the plane of your face as possible to avoid distortion as you're drawing. It also helps to minimize the distance your eyes needs to travel between model and paper; if you can see both just by moving your eyes without needing to move your head, then that is ideal.


If you're out and about sketching, make sure your paper is propped up so that your view of the paper isn't distorted. Use a drawing board to rest your paper on.


Use the back of a second chair as a support for your drawing board.


Keep the easel upright at forty-five degrees to your body, so you can see model and board at the same time. Avoid playing peek-a-boo with the model.


Once your eyes are open to the world around you, you'll need a visual language to describe what you've seen. The marks you make are your way of communicating with the viewer, and to make your drawings coherent you'll need to keep them concise. If you can describe something in one line, don't go back over it three times; if you can describe a face in 100 lines, don't put down 300. The more selective you are with your mark-making, the more easily your viewer will be able to interpret your marks.

Making Marks

When you draw, you tend to make strokes from different parts of your arm. If you can become more aware of how you make your marks, you'll improve the marks themselves. Although your pencil will be moving around the paper all of the time, if you're right-handed, try drawing from the top left of the paper to avoid smudging your drawing, or from the top right for left-handers.

Short, sharp marks drawn from the thumb and forefinger:

Longer, curved marks drawn from the wrist:

Long, sweeping marks drawn from the elbow:


Although lines do exist in the visual world they often represent an idea that we impose rather than something that we can actually see. A line is a good way of translating and simplifying complex visual information by "standing in" to represent a boundary of some kind.

Drawing a Line

A line can be beautiful — a single, virtuous mark that tells a flowing tale about the contours of the subject. It can be straight and solid, smooth and curving; it can zigzag to and fro on the page. The beginner will often spend too long staring at the line as they draw, making little feathery marks. Be confident in drawing a line: work out where it will start and stop, and then with your eye on your model and glancing down to the page occasionally, pull the line through the drawing in a continuous mark that describes the boundary that you see. If you're not happy with where the line lies, rub it out lightly and redraw it again with confidence.

A hesitant beginner's line:

A line made with the tip of a sharp pencil, and lines made with the side of a blunt pencil:

Weight of Line

Experiment with the weight you can put behind your pencil, and see how this affects the line. A heavy line can be good for suggesting areas of shadow, while a light line can be used for brighter parts of the figure. Variety of line weight in a drawing will keep it dynamic.


What is Tone?

Sometimes line doesn't provide enough information about the subject, and you'll want to represent the visual world as you actually see it, through graduations of light and dark. That is where tone can become part of your drawing vocabulary. Think of tone as the grayscale you'd get if you turned your model black and white. It is not the same as color, although colors have tone; yellows, for example, are often tonally lighter than blues. To understand the tone of a color, think about how it might look if it was photocopied in black and white.

Why Is Tone Helpful in a Drawing?

Although the outline of the face can describe the overall shape of the subject, there are more shapes within the outline that are sculpted by the light that falls on them. We see all things by the reflection of light; shadow is created by the interruption of light by a form. It is through shadows and highlights that we see the world and so truly understand the form of the face. A purely linear drawing can appear flat; by drawing selective shadows into the subject you can add depth to a linear study.

Tonal Range

Everything you see has a tonal value, and the materials you are using will set the tonal range possible in your drawing. The darkest dark you'll be able to achieve, representing the pencil pressed hard against the page, is at one end of the scale. The lightest light is the white of the paper and sits at the other end. Different pencils will give different tonal ranges, so a 9B will allow you to achieve a very dark tone, while a 4H will give a narrower tonal range, but will allow you more subtlety when trying to achieve the light tones. Experiment with your materials to work out the ranges of your pencils.

Tonal gradients made with the side of a pencil:

Tonal gradients showing the different tonal ranges of 4H, HB, and 6B pencils:

If you're aiming for realistic representation, then don't be heavy-handed with your tone; save the darkest mark your pencil can make for the darkest shadow you can see and the white of your paper for the very brightest highlight. Everything thing else will be a mid-tone. It's a common mistake to make drawings too high-contrast. Start to look for the highlights you get within shadows and vice versa, or, to get an overall impression of tone, unfocus your eyes a little.

Tonal Vocabulary

Before you go shading your drawings, it is a good idea to develop some tonal mark-making. Lines that are packed closely together on the page can be used to represent tone, as can smooth "shaded" graduations of light to dark. Consistent mark-making when drawing tone will stop your shadows being mistaken as texture. Scribbly lines moving in different directions are hard to control, awkward to put down, and difficult for the viewer to read as tone. Here are some examples of tonal mark-making to try out:

Swift, parallel marks are quick to draw and give consistent tone. Explore crosshatching: crisscross the lines to make diamonds rather than making grids as it is more sympathetic to curved surfaces like skin.

Don't be afraid to go over the edges of a line; it is better to retain energy in the marks than to keep them within the boundaries. The tone can always be cleaned up with an eraser later.


When you draw shadow, you are really drawing the effects of light on your subject; sometimes you'll need to draw light back in after darkening an area. This is where your eraser can become a tool for drawing.



To enhance the illusions of light, you'll want to strengthen the contrasts at the boundaries. Where a dark surface meets a light surface, make the dark edge darker and the light edge lighter. Explore how you can use your eraser as a tool to draw light, and cut your eraser at an angle to get a sharp edge. Note: if you're working on white paper, chalk won't make a dark area lighter; at best, it will bring it back to the paper color, but it will often just mix with the dark medium to make gray. White media works much better on colored or off-white paper.


Use tone in the background to push highlighted areas forward. Look at your subject and background to work out which is lighter and add tone to bring out the contrast. Background tone doesn't need to be constant but can change to serve the subject.


Observational Measuring

When people talk about measuring in drawing, they don't mean using a ruler. Observational measuring is about learning to estimate proportions by eye and translating them across to your drawings. Your ability to measure between points and judge the shapes of things you see will improve with experience. The ideal isn't to always use tools and shortcuts to help you but to train your eye so that eventually you will be able to measure without thinking about it. Sometimes you might need a few tricks to help you out, so here are some techniques to try.

Measuring with a Pencil

When a distance in the subject is difficult to estimate, you might find it helpful to use your pencil to measure. Hold your pencil at arm's length, close one eye (to flatten what you see), and put the top of the pencil against one side of the thing you want to measure. Slide your thumb along to the other side. You then have a distance "measured out" that you can translate across to other parts of the subject, allowing you to compare one length to another. This all makes you look super arty, but don't get carried away; it is best to use this approach for checking tricky proportions rather for all your measuring.

Verticals, Horizontals, and Diagonals

Many problems can be solved in drawings by checking vertical and horizontal relationships. Hold your pencil in the same ways as described for measuring (a plumb line can also be used), and line it up with one part of your drawing. By keeping the pencil level and running your eye along it you can check which other parts of the subject should be directly below or above your fixed point. If it doesn't line up in the same way in your drawing, then you know something has gone awry. You can also hold the pencil at an angle to check diagonals in the body and quickly translate them across to your drawing.


A viewfinder can also help you check horizontals and verticals. It blocks out confusing information around your subject and can help you compose a drawing. To make one, just cut a window the shape of your paper in a piece of cardboard, and then hold it up between your eye and the subject to isolate your model.

The Technique

In this section I've broken the drawing process down into three broad stages with a fourth stage of "understanding" that runs parallel to them all. It is a classical approach to drawing, working from the inside features of the face and spiraling out. Erasing is encouraged between stages — not to erase what you've done, but to push your marks back to make way for the next layer.

A Beginner's Approach

The first stage, establishing the shape, can be the most difficult for beginners as it relies on a certain level of understanding and draftsmanship. Although it is the ideal way to start, you might find it easier to skip straight to the second stage, construction. As you advance as a draftsman, revisit these early instructions to see if you can gain a better appreciation of them with experience.

Start Simple

Try drawing something simple first to avoid getting bogged down in the detail of the face. A solid natural form like a skull, or a piece of fruit, would be ideal; I've used an apple as an example.



This drawing establishes the basic shapes of the subject on the page, as well as roughly setting the scale and size of the drawing. It will give you a starting point, a chance to exercise your observation skills and compose the drawing so that it fits on the page.


First look at your subject for five to ten seconds. Let your pencil hover over your paper. See how your subject sits in its surroundings, think about it, and try to really see it. Look for the edges of the shape, the lights, darks, textures, and shadows.


After a few moments of looking, jot out some intuitive marks that feel around the form of the subject. Feel your way around the subject loosely and quickly with your eyes, and sketch the form on the page as you look. Work fast, aiming for five to ten seconds of drawing.


All the while that you draw, you want to have some idea of the nature of the thing you are drawing. Drawing reinforces this understanding; the more you draw something, the better you understand it and the better you'll draw it next time. The cross section of the apple can help your understand its shape, and the line of the table can help you understand its position. Knowing the direction of light will help you understand the shadow it casts.



At this stage, you are looking to correct and firm up the shapes established in the first drawing. Before getting carried away with details, look for simple geometric shapes in your subject. Identify a few key features to use as landmarks and build in some simple lines to map out the relationships between those points. Base these lines on what you really see rather than what you expect to see, and draw them in intuitively.


Lightly erase the establishing drawing, leaving some of it showing through.


Jot in the limits of the shape and its relationship to the background


Draw in any important shapes underpinning the subject and identify any important landmarks.



This final stage is still an editing stage, where the previous drawing is refined further. Elaborating on the drawing can mean many things. You may want to keep the drawing simple and linear, and so spend your time strengthening the outline of the shape and key features. Or you may want to delve into tone, mapping the shadows on the subject and background. I'll touch on both here, but there are many ends in the drawing that can be pursued.


Excerpted from Draw Faces In 15 Minutes by Jake Spicer. Copyright © 2015 The Ilex Press Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


A Face in 15 Minutes

The Model

Your Materials


Attitudes and Techniques





Observational Measuring

The Technique


Stage 1: Establishing the Head

Stage 2: Constructing the Head

Stage 3: Elaborating on the Head

Shaping the Hair

Checking Relationships

Putting It All Together

Understanding the Head and Shoulders

Understanding the Angles of the Head


Developing the Portrait

Eyes and Nose

Nose to Mouth


The Chin and Jaw

The Jaw and Neck

The Ears

The Hair

Facial Hair





Male and Female Characteristics

Blemishes and Freckles

Racial Differences


Problem Solving

Hair Styles Reference

Head Angles Reference

References: Exploring Drawing


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