Drawing Portraits in Pencil

Using different degrees of pencil hardness

For centuries, people have been working with the graphite and clay mixture of pencils in order to create art. Depending on the ratio of the mixture, pencils can be created with different degrees of hardness. More clay gives the pencil lead greater strength, and more graphite leads to a darker abrasion. If you want to learn more about pencils, take a look here. But when do you choose one degree of hardness instead of another? If you want to learn how to use them via a specific example, then you’ve come to the right place.

Florian Erb, also known as lazy.arts, explains how you can use different degrees of hardness to draw a portrait.

Materials needed for a pencil portrait:

Step 1: Chart the proportions

It is best to use a hard pencil to chart the proportions. For this, I use the MONO pencil with the H2 degree of hardness. Guidelines are allowed – mark the proportions of the head using circles and lines.

Tip: The eyes are positioned in the middle of the entire head.

Step 2: Draw the eyes, nose, and mouth

Keep the shapes simple and avoid applying pressure to the paper when drawing. Use triangles, circles, and ellipses to depict the respective parts of the face. At this stage, we are not interested in the details yet. The best way to do this is to use the pencil with the HB degree of hardness. Afterwards, you can erase your guidelines. You don’t need them anymore.

Step 3: Add the details

In this step, you give your proportional drawing a personality. Pay attention to the details here. Are the eyebrows bushier or finely shaped? Are the lips plump or on the thin side? Observe these details carefully as they determine the character of your drawing. Both the HB as well as the B pencil are suitable for this step. With the higher graphite content, you’ll create the initial shadows.

Step 4: The shading

Now that your drawing has expression and personality, you can shade even more using a softer pencil. This gives your drawing more contrast and vibrancy. The pencils with the 4B and 6B degrees of hardness are ideal for this. This part of the drawing is the most fun for me personally.

Step 5: Erase highlights

If you went beyond the lightest parts of your drawing while shading, just use the eraser to uncover them so that the white paper is completely visible again. For example, on the tip of the nose or on the lips. This gives it a special effect. Grab a compass and round off your artwork with a circle as a design element. Make sure that a part of the figure extends beyond the circle. That will make your drawing perfect.

Tip: In a portrait, it’s the eyes that serve as the most expressive element. Thus, make sure they are the darkest part of your whole drawing.

Try it yourself and share your portrait under #tombowinspiration with the Tombow family.

About the author


- Florian Erb

Florian is a creative all-round talent and is particularly interested in art and design. He originally trained as a stage and theater painter and now works as a freelance artist in the areas of mural painting, street art, and illustration. For his large-format projects, he first creates a draft sketch for each client – the MONO pencils from Tombow are ideally suited for this.

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