If you’re into portrait drawing or -painting you know you need to study the human head. I’ve scoured the internet looking for the best portrait drawing book for artists and this is what I’ve found:
The best portrait drawing book for artists is a book called Anatomy of Facial Expression by Uldis Zarins. This book is better than any other portrait anatomy books because it not only shows the underlying anatomy (muscles and bone) but also shows the distribution of fat and muscles of different expressions.
Anatomy of Facial Expressions is an excellent book to lift your portrait skills up to a higher level. But to become a great portrait artist in the first place I recommend an additional book.
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How can I learn to draw portraits?
I’ve been drawing portraits for a few years now and this is what I’ve found:
You learn how to draw portraits by following a step-by-step method designed by Andrew Loomis. This method allows you to draw heads and facial features from any angle. After that, you’ll learn how to draw different expressions by studying facial anatomy.
There are many methods to learn how to draw a head, but my favorite (and one of the most popular methods) is the Andrew Loomis method which Loomis explains in his book called Drawing the Head and Hands.
Loomis’ book is great because it learns you how to draw the head from scratch: you always start with a circle and later you’ll divide it into sections, halves, and thirds. It’s very easy.
I always recommend buying a book over just watching the method in a video. Videos showing the method should be seen as an additional recourse rather than the main resource.
Here you can check out a sped-up video of how I draw a portrait using the Andrew Loomis Method.
Loomis also has a book focusing on body anatomy called: Figure Drawing for All Its worth. I explained how I use this method in this article.
Another option is that you buy the bundle: Drawing the Head and Hands + Figure Drawing for All Its Worth (Box Set), which is cheaper than buying them separately.
Neutral emotion vs expressive emotion in portraits
Most people draw from reference pictures with Pinterest models. The problem is that these models always have a neutral face.
Expressive faces are where it’s at in my opinion. They’re much harder to draw but so much more satisfying to see when you pull them off.
Also, in my experience, portraits that have a strong facial expressions do way better than portraits that are neutral, engagement-wise on social media. Which is good for business :)
Why Anatomy of Facial expression is better than other portrait books
Like the name suggests the book Anatomy of Facial Expression is a book that focuses on facial expressions. Most portrait books focus only on where the features of the face lie and not so much on what happens to them when a certain expression is made.
Not only does Anatomy of Facial Expression focus on what happens to the muscles in the face, but it also shows you fat distribution. I couldn’t find any other book that shows this.
It only seems logical that an anatomy book focuses on fat distribution as well, as fat sits on top of muscles and not the other way around.
Anatomy of Facial Expressions book is the best portrait drawing book because:
- It shows how different expressions affect the muscles and fat compartments of the face
- Most portrait drawing books only show neutral faces
- The book uses detailed realistic 3D models instead of actual humans, so even people with weak stomachs can handle these images
- If you learn anatomy through the internet you are bound to see real-life dead people (believe me)
- It shows how fat distributes the face at each expression
- This is important because fat sits right underneath the skin on top of muscles which is a huge factor in how we draw certain expressions (like cheeks!)
- The book shows the expressions from multiple angles
- They show how different gender, ages, and ethnicities affect the facial anatomy
- Artists who work and attend established studios and schools like Marvel, Ubisoft, and Gnomon use and recommend this book
- The book comes in hardcover, paperback, and PDF
I promise you won’t regret it.
How long does it take to learn to draw portraits?
Everyone is different but:
It takes about a month to learn how to draw portraits according to my opinion. If you were to draw an hour a day for thirty days straight you should know how to draw portraits. After an hour or 15, you can start diving into studying facial expressions.
Something important to remember is that even though you learned everything you should know, a perfect portrait isn’t always the outcome.
Sometimes you draw a beautiful accurate portrait, and the next time you draw a portrait it doesn’t look right at all… This is normal and happens to me all the time.
It’s important to see the big picture. Are you making progress in the long run? That’s all that matters!
What skills do you need to draw a portrait?
The most important skills you need to draw a portrait are:
- Observation skills
- This is the most important skill as you need to learn from reference
- Being patient
- Making portraits is very time-consuming. If you rush things you’ll make mistakes
- Be consistent in practicing
- Getting great at making portraits takes time so you should practice often and consistently
- Be able to invest a lot of time
- Portraits range from 1,5 hours to 50+ hours depending on size and level of detail. You need to be dedicated to a portrait in order to finish it and invest lots of time
But like with any skill, you can learn all of these.
Is portrait drawing difficult?
Portrait drawing can be difficult if you don’t use a method. If you do use a method drawing a portrait can be done quickly and easily, depending on the amount of detail you’re going for. Using a method like the Andrew Loomis method makes things a lot easier.
The most important thing is to get the proportions right and then focus on details in the last stage.
If you got the proportions right you simply need to fill everything in. This is how I usually work:
- Lay down the basic proportionsusing the Loomis method
- Start with a circle, followed by sectioning everything to create guidelines
- Adjust the proportions to my referenceand use anatomy for facial expressions if my subject is expressive
- I look at my reference and adjust the proportions to what makes my subject my subject (E.G. the ears are bigger than average so I’ll adjust the guidelines to be bigger)
- I add extra guidelines that make sense to me in order for me to place the expressive features
- Place my features
- Now I draw the features using the guidelines
- Start hatching/shading
- I start fleshing out the forms by using a hatching or shading technique
- Look at my portrait and fix anything that needs to be fixed
- I study what I’ve done so far and compare it to my reference. Then I’ll adjust anything until I feel it looks right
How much should a portrait drawing cost?
Did you know that portraits are one of the top things to sell when it comes to art? This is because people who commission portraits often do this for emotional reasons. They are willing to spend money on something that is of emotional value to them.
Portraits should cost a minimum wage in your country, in addition to your level of skill times the number of hours you spend on a portrait. Lastly, you add the cost of materials. However, there is no set price for how you should price your portraits but this is what seems reasonable.
If your art is unique and popular you can always increase the price. But if you’re a beginner you should stay with the following formula:
Pricing portraits formula:
(Minimum wage + your level of art skills) x the number of hours it takes from start to finish + costs of materials
Let’s say the minimum wage in your country is $10. You spend about 6 years learning art which I think adds $20 per hour on top of the minimum wage (this is very subjective and it’s up to you) which comes down to a total of $30 per hour. Let’s say a portrait takes you 10 hours which is: 10 hours times $30 = $300 dollars. Now you need to add the cost of materials (this includes shipping and packaging) which is, let’s say, 25 dollars: $300 + $25 = $325
Art = work and you should never let someone tell you your prices are too high.
Frequently asked questions about portrait drawing
Here are the most asked questions about portrait drawing books answered short and sweet!
Which portrait drawing book is best for beginners?
What is drawing portraits called?
Drawing portraits is called a portraitist.
How do I start learning to draw faces?
Start learning how to draw faces by buying books on how to draw portraits and watching videos of people using that technique. These books often come with exercises.
I hope this article helped you understand how to start your journey in becoming a portrait artist. Feel free to sign up for my art letter if you want to receive monthly updates on which articles are new on my blog :)