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Get Your Sketch On

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Another fantastic guest post… let’s talk about how to communicate with something other than words! To be able to illicit a response with a sketch, a doodle or a picture, my friend, Todd is able to do all of this and he shares his expertise with you! Get out your paper and pencil and “Get Your Sketch On”

Just a few years ago it was all about the stick figures for me. Trust me; it wasn’t that special.

Today is portraits and other things. How do you get there?




Life mimics this in all areas. People say “I could never draw that” or “I could take such great pictures.”

They’ll tell you making anything is not going to happen. There’s excuses a plenty. I can’t help you with those, but I can help you improve your drawing skills.

8579994192 da0069f231 n Get Your Sketch On

Egg heads work!

Take a look at the drawing above. Note it’s not a realistic portrait.

Our brain fills in many things. With a sketch,  just the the faintest outline works.

Drawing a head is about those minimal features.

Start with the outline of the face and jaw line. Think a skinny egg shape. Taper it at the bottom.

People don’t have eggs shaped heads in real life, but it works well in drawings

That’s the shape I started with above. Finish the face by drawing in two eyes at the same level and a mouth halfway between that and the chin.


Hair is a mop! I’ve seen many people focus on getting the hair right. Don’t get lost there. Hair is again about perception, not detail.

In the image above, clearly the woman wouldn’t have wide clumps of hair.


What works best, and most appealing to the eyes, is curves, cue of depth. Again, simple works as well as 10 hours drawing the hair.


Eyes aren’t balls!

 I’ve spent many hours trying to get the eyes right; it’s very frustrating.

Two tips:

- they just need to be even

- they don’t have to be perfectly round

Real eyes are anything but circles. (Go with circles if you like though.)

Each person has unique eyes.

For our work, let’s assume eyes have eye lids and eye brows.

Note: above the utter lack of detail

 Trick for eyes – if the top half is curved, the bottom is less so. If the bottom half is curved, the top is smoother.

I opted to emphasize the eye lashes over the brow. This made choosing the curve easy; it’s where we want the viewer to focus.

Combine that with line thickness and a bit of detail and our brains fill in the rest.


Wherever the most detail or thickness is, that will be where our eyes draw the most information from.


People aren’t pink!

 Here’s the tip on colors. You may be surprised to hear this but Caucasian folks aren’t pink skinned. No person is one color.

 The face above appears mostly pink. A flat color of pink though,  gives no depth or texture to the face.

 Here’s the quick and dirty way to help this.

- put in the primary skin tone – pink, brown, yellow – do so with a light touch

- darken the brush color – touch up the places the cave in on the face or would be in shadow.

- shadow tip – place them mostly on on side of the face

- lighten the brush color (lighter than the original) – touch up the face where it would curve out

- the opposite side of the nose from where you put the dark lines and shadows.

- eyelids if closed

- streaks in the hair.

 Balancing light and dark gives the eyes another cue on depth and recognition as a face.


Fact – in any situation it’s likely a person of any skin color may have part of their face nearly white or hidden entirely by shadow.

 Our brain handles that just fine. Don’t be afraid to put half the face in a darker shade along the shadow line.


My mouth is open!

Another tough thing to draw is the mouth, or the mouth and lips.

Big cheat – lips are biggest in the center of the face and taper dramatically at the ends. The bottom goes deeper than the top goes up.

Drawing the mouth closed is about three lines

- Draw the top of the mouth with the line curving up to the middle from both sides – note the curve in this image. Instead of arcing over, it’s a curve. Think of holding water in a cup instead of an umbrella. We want the lips to have the open curve.

- The bottom mimics that. Think of the mouth of a vase. It’s wider and tapers in but the curves are topside. We want them to tent or umbrella up at the bottom.

Instead of coming to a point though, just draw from the sides in to a gentle curve at the bottom.

8465973573 af35303961 n Get Your Sketch On

If the lips had been closed the lower half would be closer up to the upper lip. The open area of black and teeth would be replaced with a simple line. I’ve found that curving the lips towards the point of the chin really helps the perspective. Practice this one a bit till the lips don’t look like a blob.


My nose is a ski ramp!

Noses suck to draw. It took me a long time to realize people, me included, tend to overdraw the noses.

Best tip – noses aren’t hard lines unless needed. You want to give folks the outline of the nose, even one line on one side of it works.


In the drawing above the nose is framed by two primary lines. The bottom line exists only to give a place for the nostrils. The visual cues for a nose are the shadows and change in shade.  In this drawing it works with thicker and thinner lines. Thicker lines tell us what is facing us while thinner lines are further away. On the first drawing, the lines are just to give an outline and a nostril. The real sense of depth comes from the variations in light and dark. Notice how the side of the nose facing us is a lighter shade, almost white. On the away side, the color is darker than both the nose and the rest of the face. Ski ramps, they curve up at the end. The bridge of the human nose typically curves upward at the end. This may start right away from the top or just the tip. Draw your lines to take advantage of this common feature. (Okay, if you’re drawing a clown nose, just draw a circle and use light and dark areas to give it a 3D feel.)

-Pick the top of your nose and put a point.

-Pick the center at the bottom of your nose. Put a point or dot here.

-Draw a curved line, slightly curved near the top and increasing towards the lower point.


Notice the gentle slope in the second drawing.


Yes, some noses in the world don’t go down as much or turn up at the end. They all slope down though.

One final drawing to illustrate the nose.

8446580306 53b673b510 n Get Your Sketch On

Notice even with a straighter angle away from the face at first, the nose slops down, ending in a slight curve before the end.

If you can’t get a side view of the nose, a slight curving line, think umbrella shape, above where the end would be gives a visual clue about the tip of the nose.



I can draw a face!

This isn’t the end all and be all of drawing faces, let alone drawing. Hopefully though you’ve got a few quick tips to making a recognizable face. I challenge you to break out your pen, paper, or tablet and sketch me some faces.

Please use me as a reference – photos of me and my mug ->   ToddBioPic 152x250 Get Your Sketch On

Post them in the comments below or shoot me a line on Twitter (@tojosan).


Todd Jordan is a modern day renaissance man. Programmer, analyst, blogger, and digital artist, Todd has been creating things for years.  See some of his work, here

His art and photography has been sold at auction, used for brochures, and sold as art prints.

He recommends starting your creative work today!

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  1. Todd is an illustrating mofo and I just LOVE his work! Thanks for the awesome post. :)

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