Yesterday happened to be the birthday of beautiful actress Myrna Loy, so she was a natural choice for my next portrait sketch. I have been asked many times for “drawing tutorials” so I did my best to break this one down step-by-step. I consider this my “sketch” style because when I do these types of drawings they are quick, small, and entirely freehand with no special measuring or grids to help with exact proportions. These are great practice for drawing by eye only, focusing on basic light and shadows to create dimension, different styles of pencil strokes to express texture and form. Minus the time I took to stop and scan this drawing periodically, Myrna probably took about an hour to finish.
I start any drawing by finding a reference photo that I want to use. That doesn’t take long– the right one usually jumps out at me from Google images. I look for head position, expression, and lighting in the photo that catch my eye and will be easy to capture. This is the photo of Myrna I fell in love with:
The first step of the drawing is to lay out the basic outlines. Start with a dull or fairly dull pencil to avoid scratching the paper. Ignore all the details from the photo, and look at the subject as a collection of shapes. Start with the largest ones: the hair/head, and then the shoulders/torso underneath. This is the guide for everything that will follow, so the proportions need to be similar but don’t worry about being neat or exact. Keep the pencil strokes very light– most of the lines here will need to be erased at some point, especially through the face. After the big shapes are sketched out, I throw in some really messy guides for the smaller shapes inside the larger ones– in this case the hairline, jaw, shoulder, etc. I also like to get an idea of the angles in the face, so I usually define a centerline, rough placement for eyes, nose and mouth, and the angle from outside corner of the eye to the corner of the mouth. This will really help with placing the facial features later on.
After the basic outlines are ready, it’s time to start defining. The more accurate your overall proportions are from the beginning, the easier this step will be. Work off those rough, ugly lines to carve out more accurate outlines of hair, face, and torso. Constant comparison with the reference photo is the key! Begin filling in the features, using the facial guidelines to help get them in the right place. During this stage, continue to keep pencil strokes light and easy to erase. Start blocking in the largest and darkest shadows.
And continue to keep defining lines and features! This is a continuous process for most of the drawing, so it’s difficult to break down into specific steps– just keep working away. When you’re confident enough with certain lines, begin to darken them. Keep darkening the blackest areas, and now you will be able to create a contrast with mid-tone shadows to keep adding form and dimension. Continue to adjust facial features– they are the most important and will definitely take the most work to get right. Your eraser will be your best friend here! Sometimes the smallest adjustment of a curve or shape of a shadow can make all the difference.
I focused on the face first until I was happy with the progress, then moved on to start adding more detail through the hair. Hair can be intimidating, but it is much easier than it seems. Look at the reference photo, at the direction of the different sections of hair. Here Myrna has the side part, the majority of her hair swept off to one side, the rest going the opposite way ending in curls. Her hair is messy, which makes perfect pencil strokes even less important. Start with defining where the darkest shadows are, then use quick strokes to represent the direction of each section, filling in mid-tones, avoiding the brightest highlights. You can also erase the highlight areas if need be. A dull pencil tends to work much better at this stage.
All that should be left now is to get the dark areas as dark as they need to be, and add some finer details. Here I switched from a 5B pencil to an 8B to work on the blacks. This makes a huge difference in achieving depth and dimension through the contrast with the mid-tones and whites. For the lightest areas I just let the white of the paper remain. Here is where a sharp pencil is finally important! It can create crisp lines where needed and render little details like eyelashes. Keep going until you’re happy…
I thought I was finished here but decided to add some brighter highlights with a white gel pen, which is an invaluable tool, my favorite finishing touch. I cleaned up the bright line down the nose, the whites of the eyes, added the sparkle in the eyes, etc. until I was satisfied. Here is the finished portrait!
**Prints of this Myrna Loy portrait are available now at https://www.etsy.com/listing/198577287/myrna-loy-portrait-drawing-print?ref=shop_home_active_1.**
Hopefully this helped those of you who have been waiting for tips and a tutorial! I’ll be doing more of these along the way, and if you have any specific questions please let me know. I’m always happy to answer! xoxo