How to draw hair for beginners

Have you ever wanted to draw hair but get frustrated because every time you try, it looks like this?
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Or this?
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But you want to draw hair like this:
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Or this?
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How can you go from drawing hair as demonstrated in the first two examples, to drawing as demonstrated by next two? It seems like drawing hair should simple.
It seems like you should be able to just draw a lot of strands of hair, and the end result should look like hair, right?
Maybe you’ve spent hours painstakingly drawing thousands of hairs just to get it right but still can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong or how to improve it. The more hairs you add, the worse it seems to look.  It’s frustrating and it makes you want to throw your hands in the air and say, “I give up. I guess I just don’t have what it takes to draw hair!”
Look at the examples I provided above.  The first two are drawn with individual pencil lines to simulate hair but don’t look realistic in any way. 
The problem is that when we draw hair like this, our brain has already memorized what it believes hair looks like when it tries to translate hair onto paper. When you look at a photograph of curly hair, your brain instantly says, “Oh, that’s just a bunch of squiggly, curly lines.” Right?
So when you try drawing the hair the way that you’re seeing in your mind, you think to yourself, “It doesn’t look like what I’m seeing!
frustrated
And you’re right: It doesn’t!  

You need to trick your brain into NOT RECOGNIZING what you’re looking at. 

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Yes, you read that right. You want your brain to NOT know what it’s looking at.
When your brain has a way to identify the image, it’s already working against you by giving you wrong information on how to translate it onto paper.
I made a blog post about one way that you can accomplish fooling your brain by holding the reference photo upside down.  There are a couple of other ways that you can also do this:

  • Cut a one-inch square out of the center of a piece of paper. Cover your reference picture and only draw what appears in the one-inch square.
  • Make a copy of your reference picture, and cut it into several pieces. Try drawing each piece individually.

These exercises will help you to start seeing the bits and pieces as unrecognizable shapes with varied tonal values, and this will trick your brain into actually copying what it’s SEEING without the conflicting messages of the brain telling you what it needs to look like vs what you are looking at.

Once you learn to see, you can draw anything.  

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With all that said, let me go into some ways that you can improve your hair drawing skills!
I found a hair photo online (photo credit to neilgeorgeblog.com) to use as an example.
What do you see when you begin trying to draw hair like this?  It seems rather complex, doesn’t it?
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Some of you might be tempted to try drawing it like this:
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And some of you might see the wavy hair and do something like this:
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These are obviously very oversimplified drawings to make the point so that you can see clearly where the problems might be.
With both examples, neither was done by looking at what the picture actually looks like.
Let me show you a better way.
Imagine that the hair is one solid shape – NOT a bunch of hairs- with a range of tones (lights, darks, and medium shades).
Create an outline of the shape.  If you have a difficult time drawing the outline, trace it.
(The image below is 2 inches, but you can do whatever size you like).
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Next, take some time and pay attention to the sections of hair. Define them with lines, and don’t worry about them being perfect. Just get them as close as you can, and like I said before, tracing is ok if you need it!
Sometimes it helps to squint your eyes and look at it that way. Don’t look for the individual hairs. Look for the lines that separate one section from another section.  This might take some practice.
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The next step would be to find all of the places where there are shadows in the picture.  Squint your eyes again, and ask yourself where the shadows are.  Also ask yourself, “How dark is this shadow?”, and use the pressure on your pencil lead accordingly to try to be sure your shadow is as dark as the shadow you see in the photo.   A 4B- 6B pencil is perfect for these darker shadows.
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Next, grab a blending stump or a q-tip, and blend the whole area.  The blending stump will grab the graphite from the shadows and transfer it all around the area for you smoothly.
Notice that I have not been drawing any lines to indicate hair yet, I have only focused on the tones.
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Next, get out a kneaded eraser and again examine your reference picture. Where are the highlights?  Try the squinting technique again and it’s easier to see where the lights and shadows are. Once you’ve decided where the highlights are, tap your kneaded eraser on all those areas to create the lighter tones. You may also darken your shadows if need be.  Do you see how this is already starting to look like hair?
I still have not added the individual hairs, and it already looks like hair.
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At this point, I start adding strands of hair, all around the outside, using a wispy pencil motion so that it looks natural.  Along the top of the head, I create some lines going down around the head (on the right side, the direction of the hair goes toward the right, and on the left it goes toward the left, and in the middle, it goes straight down).
I also get my cap eraser, which has a sharp, straight edge, and use it to draw light hairs in various places. You can see an example of me using this technique in my rose tutorial.
I can do this however long I like and refine from here. But do you see how in this quick drawing, all it took was defining the shape and the tones, and not the hairs, in order for it to look like hair?
Now that I’ve added a few stray hairs, it looks even MORE like hair (image below).
How can you know where to begin these hair strands?
Pay close attention to The reference photo, and you will notice that some of the hairs begin at the top of the head and they go down about halfway is and come out with a slight curl…
…some of them you may not see until about halfway down and they might wisp out towards the bottom.
It all depends on the individual picture, but just be sure to study your reference photo closely to get an idea of where the beginning and the end of each hair might be!
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Now that the basics are there, I could spend a little more time on this and have it looking more detailed, like in this drawing:
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Note: This is a tutorial for people who are truly beginners and want to accomplish something small to begin with so that when they achieve success, they feel a sense of accomplishment and a desire to grow from there. I plan to post intermediate and advanced lessons in the future!
And now that you know HOW it’s done, you can do it too. It will just take some practice!
Here’s another one to practice with. We will use the same technique.
You should practice this over and over again until it’s natural to you.
This image was taken from pexels.com:
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Draw or trace your outline on a piece of paper. Remember, this doesn’t have to be perfect- we are only practicing!
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Next, find all of the darkest spots and shade them in. Notice how I have used medium pressure with my pencil on some parts to create a less intense shadow.  Just lighten the pressure a bit to create medium shadows and increase pressure for darker ones. You can use softer leads like 4B or 6B to create nice, smooth darks without much effort.
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Next, get the blending stump out and smooth it all out…hopefully your blending stump is as dirty as mine, because it makes it much easier.
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Now, you have a smooth head of hair with some tonal variations.
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Next, get your kneaded eraser and tap highlighted areas to create dimension. img_3207-1
It should look something like this:
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Darken your shadows, blend some more, and add a few wispy hairs around, wherever you see them in the reference photo. Don’t be perfectionist about this…just let your pencil freely draw these lines. You want them to flow and look natural.
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Now you can work on adding some more hairs inside the area to create the illusion- make sure that all of your lines are going in the right direction (examine the reference picture over and over to be sure). I used both a mechanical pencil to draw the darker hairs, and a cap eraser to create the lighter hairs (keep in mind that on a larger scale, this will look even more realistic, as the “hairs” created with your pencil will appear smaller- this image is only 2 inches long):
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You can keep adding shadows and highlights and refining from here on out, and it will keep getting better and better.
You can repeat all of the steps above and eventually have a beautiful, well-defined head of hair!

YOU can do this!

I hope that this tutorial has given you a basic understanding of how to draw hair! If you follow the tutorial and feel like you have learned something, and would like to share your results, please do!
If you have any questions, feel free to comment below and I will answer them! And please follow my blog for more tips, tutorials, and more!
Update: 
If you have been helped by this tutorial and would like to show off your work, please feel free to share your drawings and I will post them here! 
Submitted by Danielle P.: 

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5 Comments

  1. Wow! I first saw your pics and thought “No way!” but you make it look so easy! Can’t wait to try this!!

  2. My brain can’t comprehend that the hair, or for that matter your entire drawing of the praying child is not a photo! Amazing! Going to give this hair lesson a shot soon!

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