How To Draw Hair Easily – from The Studio
by Matt Abraxas

Lesson in How to Draw or Paint Realistically

You can go straight to the video HERE
Working on an illustration that involved a portrait of a woman, I had the challenge of creating a different hair style than I had on the model.  Typically, I go into this sort of problem with a plan after making a study sketch, but in this case, I just charged into it without a thought.

The result was similar to what I see in a lot of beginner portraits: a head of hair that does not look attached to the head.  In fact, in many portraits, the face will have dimension but the hair remains flat, like a cardboard cutout pasted on the portraits forehead.

No Bueno.

I fixed my illustration and got to thinking about how can this be explained easily.  In my video below, I aim to do just that.  The sketch I make is crude and quick, but hopefully expresses the rather easy steps involved in drawing a believable head of hair.

The main thing with drawing hair is that it is not unlike drawing anything else – the key is to draw what you see and not what you think it’s supposed to look like.

Step 1 – Underlying Global Form.

I don’t remember where this term comes from.  I think I heard it from one of my teachers, Ted Seth Jacobs, and I probably use it more liberally than he does.  By the way, if you would like to learn more about Ted’s methods for “Restructured Realism” and the profound depth with which he ponders art, you can start with his book, Drawing With An Open Mind.

So, the Underlying Global Form – This refers to the general 3-Dimensional shape of anything.  In terms of a head of hair, I want you to focus first on the fact that there is a real solid head beneath that perm.

Whatever the style of hair, it’s important to recognize that the hair is begin defined by the head beneath it.  Even a bizarre fashion-statement hair-do like something along the lines of a Lady Gaga hair sculpture complete with a bacon dress still has a head beneath it.

The Underlying Global Form refers also to the general mass of the hair.  This means that at the onset of drawing hair, you are liberated from thinking about those many little details of individual strands and curls and whatever.

This is also very similar to drawing trees.  It’s easy to attempt to start doodling countless leaves and end up with a squiggly mess.

the key is to draw what you see and not what you think it’s supposed to look like

Beginning the drawing of hair, I start with a rough block-in of the hair’s mass or shape of outline, again without getting into detail.  From here, I look at 3 gradations of tonal value.  This means that I look first at the areas of dark, mid-tone and light.

You can see these areas more clearly if you squint your eyes down.  Squinting obliterates the details and allows you to perceive the Underlying Global Form.  It is an invaluable tool.

Step 2 – Forms Within the Form

Once I have the 3 planes of tonal value established, I begin extracting the varied forms within each plane.  One way to think of this is that first step is a country or nation, and the next step goes into the states or regions.

Within each plane of dark, mid-tone or light, there will be forms that express their own gradations of light and dark, but these smaller forms must still adhere to the value where they are found.  So, a clump of curls found in the dark area of the whole head of hair will have it’s own dark, mid-tone and light, but those 3 gradations will be all together darker than another clump of curls found in the light area.

Consider this like a sculpture that you are chipping away at the form, refining it.  Each stage is a progression of refining.

Step 3 – Establish The Lights and the Details

Once there is a sense of forms within the form, it’s time to get into those cherished little details.  Of course, in the case of a very straight hair, the second step is practically skipped.

In this step, I erase from the light areas a band of light where the hair is reflecting.  And then I can use the sharpened tip of my pencil to finally sketch some of those lovely filaments.  What is wonderful about this is that I don’t actually have to draw much actual hair.

My focus is on shape, and the details of hair strands is only a final addition.

I hope this helps.