Drawing Portraits From Life

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In this portrait drawing course, learn how to draw lifelike portraits of your friends and loved ones with confidence—any time and any where. Get individual feedback on your portrait drawing progress with artist Joy Thomas, author of The Art of Portrait Drawing. With practical portrait drawing tips, instruction and advice, she’ll teach you how to draw a portrait step by step and demonstrate portrait drawing lessons that will give you the skills necessary for drawing portraits from photos and making real progress toward creating masterful, expressive art.

Course includes downloads of course textbook and video.

Course registration comes with a download of Watercolor Quick and Easy with Joyce Faulknor: Flowers!

Start Date:

April 17, 2012



Course Materials:

Workshop Length:

4 weeks


Joy Thomas (bio)

View Course Schedule


What You’ll Learn

  • How to hone your observational skills and break complicated structures down into simple shapes and patterns of light and shadow
  • Proven pencil portrait drawing techniques to help you capture the likeness and essence of your subject
  • Powerful, yet fun, exercises and portrait drawing tips to help you draw in a more intuitive way
  • Exercises that help you confidently draw and sketch from life—wherever and whenever you like

Who should take this workshop:

  • Beginning artists who want to learn how to draw a portrait from life
  • Artists who want to create more expressive portraits
  • Anyone who want to learn how to draw portraits of people


  • 2B and 6B graphite pencils
  • Eraser pencil
  • Kneaded eraser
  • Sandpaper pad
  • Bond paper
  • Ivory Canson paper
  • Timer
  • Squirrel mop brush
  • Matte spray fixative
  • Genuine chamois cloth
  • Sketchbook


Course Syllabus:

Lesson 1: The 5-Minute Head Study

  • 5 basic steps to drawing the head quickly and accurately
  • Seeing the face in terms of shapes and patterns of light and shadow
  • Techniques for sketching from life with confidence

Homework assignment:

Using a friend as your model, and the audio from the DVD as prompts, complete a series of 5 different 5-minute head studies, following the specific steps outlined in this week’s viewing assignment. Vary the poses of your model so that you may draw the head in a variety of angles. Remember to keep each head drawing about the size of your palm and use one page for the entire collection of 5 or so head studies.

Complete several rounds of 5-minute head studies during the week then submit two pages of studies for review. Include a photo of your model(s). It would also be best to submit a photograph of you while working with the posed model, similar to the shots in The Art of Portrait Drawing on pages 20 and 105–106.

Lightly spray your work with fixative before scanning or photographing it.

Lesson 2: Extended head study

  • Measuring from life
  • Correcting mistakes
  • Suggesting detail

Homework assignment:
Engage someone to model then complete an extended head study, following the specific steps and time allotments outlined in the viewing assignment as a beginning. Then redraw following the same steps. This time, allow yourself several more minutes per stage. Base the extended head study on your favorite 5-minute head study from the previous session.

Spray your work with fixative before scanning or photographing it.

Lesson 3: Contour and Gesture Drawing

  • Capturing movement
  • Drawing the entire figure
  • Working quickly to capture the gesture of a subject

Homework assignment:
Go to a park, shopping mall, coffee shop, airport, library or similar location to observe and draw people in action. Fill a few sketchbook pages with little gesture drawings. Do drawings of entire figures as well as some head studies. Complete many such studies then select a couple of full pages to submit for feedback. On each page; record the date and location of the session along with the time spent drawing.

Lightly spray your work with fixative before scanning or photographing it.

Lesson 4: Using a Grid

  • Measuring
  • Placement and anatomy

Homework assignment:
Using the demonstration Charcoal Study of Warren (pages 60–63) as a guide, complete a charcoal study of a friend or family member, using the grid on pages 60–61 to determine proportions and to apprehend a likeness. In addition to submitting the portrait drawing, submit a picture of you working with the posed subject.

Note: Any visible grid or grid lines should be created using soft vine charcoal for ease of removal.

Remove grid lines then lightly spray your work with fixative before scanning or photographing it.

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