2. A high-resolution reference photo is best for any realistic pencil portrait. The photo below is a good example.

Although the true likeness was achieved later, a grid helped the artist copy the photo accurately. A 1cm. digital grid was placed over the photo and printed. Then a grid was drawn faintly on the paper using the same number of squares. Next, the portrait was tranferred bit by bit onto the paper and the pencil grid removed with a "putty rubber" or Bluetack (often more effective) leaving the paper completely clean.

(See 2cm. Grid on Pet Portrait)


Primary Rendering – Hair


3. Finally the artist touched up to produce the preliminary line drawing.

While a grid helps with accuracy, a "good eye" is definitely still needed, as the tiniest errors stand out in portraiture.

Left, you can see the first rendering of the hair in the portrait, which the artist has blended with a cotton bud.


Primary Blended Pencil Layer

4. The artist carried on adding details to the portrait using both 2B and 9B pencil, smoothing and then highlighting with the putty rubber to achieve maximum tonal range.

With a close-up pencil portrait, the artist can include lots of detailed drawing.

Of course such fine details are inessential for skilled drawing or an accurate portrait, but their reproduction is an enjoyable challenge for the realist artist.

Final Drawing – Hair

5. To achieve the smoothness of the skin, the artist criss-crossed light strokes of a blunt pencil and then blended, firstly with tissue. Further pencil layers were smoothed with cotton buds. Again the rubber took off the soft pencil to highlight and was moulded into a fine point for minute areas.

This blending and highlighting process is central to realistic pencil portrait drawing.

Creating the Pencil Portrait

Realistic Portrait in Pencil Using Photo Reference; Notes on Portrait Composition and Sketching by UK Pencil Portrait Artist.








Drawing Eyes in Pencil

(Quick Notes)



1. Eyes are central to a portrait, so it’s worth spending time on them.

2. The artist must consider the eye as a sphere with shadows on it. A soft pencil is best for these subtle touches.

3. In most portraits the whites will not appear pure white.

4. A putty rubber can help the artist lighten areas of the whites and iris.

5. As with all pencil drawing, a wide tonal range is essential.

6. Sketching eyes from life is the best way for an artist to gain a feel for their structure.



Life Sketch











About Portrait Sketching


A portrait sketch retains an air of spontaneity. Visible pencil lines show how the artist has worked, and are part of the appeal. The artist almost "feels" his way around the subject, without hiding the process.

Pencil sketching is best practised from life, but portraits may also be worked from photos. An artist may use any reasonable paper and medium to soft pencil.

If an artist intends selling sketched portraits, the facial likeness is important. If pencil sketching is for fun or practice, then likeness is secondary to overall interpretation of form and light. The portrait below is a pencil sketch of mine from 1996. It portrays the pose well (there is a sense of weight) and I like the minimalistic approach to the hands:


Portrait Sketch from Life


This closeup from a more recent portrait demonstrates the loose technique:


Pencil Sketch – Eye


The following pencil portrait by my father shows the real beauty of this art form.

Note the various straight pencil lines on the face and hair and contrast them with the delicate treatment of the mouth: these are the impulsive subjective responses of the artist (here a true master) to his subject.


pencil sketch

Pencil Portrait – Joan c. 1960











Other Portrait Tutorials


Coloured Pencil Portrait


Cow Portraits, Various Media


Pet Portraits, Various Media



A pencil portrait makes a beautiful gift!

Contact the Artist to commission a portrait in pencil or coloured pencil or to ask questions about pencil portraiture.

The artist works from your pet, family or wedding photos. Please see the commissions links for pencil portrait pricing and FAQs.

The artist always responds to questions about pencil portrait drawing, although regular correspondance cannot be entered into.


Pet Portraits; Family, Wedding & Children’s Pencil Portraits; Realism, Sketches, Nudes, Figurative Art

by UK Pencil Pet and Family Portrait Artist.




This Artist Uses

artists pencils





Secondary Pencil Layers Before Blending

Initial Pencil Lines on Hand

6. A light grey background in this pencil portrait gives a slight effect of depth. The arms (cut off in the photo) were improvised into the portrait by the artist to achieve the best 8×10" composition.

The artist would like to thank the baby’s parents for allowing their pencil portrait to be featured!

Completed Pencil Portrait






The Art of Smudging


In realistic portrait drawing, smudging soft pencil can give great subtlety. Used with the putty rubber, tones can be accurately placed and manipulated. To help gain the soft expression in the close-up below, the artist used a cotton bud almost like a paintbrush, loading it with pencil (from darker areas) and then applying directly to the paper.


From A3 Portrait



Realistic Pencil Portrait in Progress

1. For a realistic pencil portrait, a smooth Bristol paper helps the artist with detailing and allows the pencil to blend. Soft pencils are best for varying tone and can be removed at the touch of a rubber. Here, the artist used a Derwent 9B pencil, plus a 2B pencil for details. The wide pencil pictured below is useful for dark areas and sketching; it can also add amazing dimension to dark hair.




Portrait Composition


For the best photo-to-portrait, the artist looks for a good composition amongst the images available (usually cropping is needed).

A good portrait composition appears balanced and unified, as opposed to fragmented or "bitty". A classic composition for all kinds of pictures is the triangle, noticable in these pencil portraits:

Note the repeating parallels in the following pencil portrait.

Vertically: the chains and pole; the trees; the legs / bodies; the dress’s folds; the hair and shadow left of veil. Horizontally: the horizon / fence; the joined arms; the shadows and bottom of dress.

These features benefit the composition by tying the images together within the format:




The photo reference for the following wedding portrait was also excellently composed. The artist simply cropped and then moved the flowers further left for a little more cohesion:


More unusually, the pet portrait below takes the form of a cross. The brain subconsciously recognises this symmetry and finds it pleasing.
dog portrait

Pencil Portrait A5

In the example below, the photo was not as ideal. The artist improved on its composition by adding some background light and a tree to help frame the figures.

These changes also add to the atmosphere of the finished portrait:


8×10" Portrait