How To Draw a Self Portrait

By Milan Art Institute on September 25, 2020
How To Draw a Self Portrait

When people think of drawing a self-portrait, they tend to get overwhelmed and think that it's something that only talented artists can create. 

We are here to show you that anyone can draw a self-portrait with practice and determination! What’s more, regularly drawing self-portraits is a great way to see your progress as an artist.

In this easy-to-follow drawing guide, we will walk you through setting up your workspace. We’ll also talk about some portrait drawing basics, like how to get accurate proportions and how to add intricate details to your work. 

Additionally, we’ll talk about how to shade a portrait drawing so that it really comes alive. Finally, we give you some tips for preserving your drawing.

Setting up your workspace is so important when learning how to draw a self-portrait. Clear off any unnecessary clutter from your work area. 

This gives you a clear mind and makes it easier for you to create. 

Start by grabbing a pencil, eraser, and a mirror. 


Set up a mirror

How you set up your mirror is up to you. There are multiple different angles that you can choose from but some will be more challenging for beginners. 

We recommend positioning your mirror directly in front of you at eye level. This position is the easiest to measure and get accurate proportions. 

Having good lighting is important when learning how to draw a self-portrait

Find a lamp or sit close to a window to get good lighting. Having a shadow cast over your face gives your portrait a more dramatic look.


Use a photograph in place of a mirror

Once you have your mirror and lighting set up, we recommend taking a picture of your position. This makes it much easier to draw since you won't have to keep looking back and forth at a mirror. 

Using a photograph can also help with making a self-portrait more creative and unique by adding filters or adding other elements, like flowers


Keep your drawing surface as vertical as possible

Place your drawing near your eye level and at a comfortable incline for your hand to rest on. 

When you make a self-portrait, use your whole shoulder when you draw, not just your hand and wrist. This gives you so much more freedom with your drawing. 

So many artists sit hunched over their work and only focus on getting their drawing or painting as accurate as possible. 

When you loosen up and use your whole arm, your drawing looks freer. Having good posture when you are drawing or painting will save your back in the long run, too. 

If you want to learn the essentials for a high quality drawing check out or drawing essentials course.


Developing Your Proportions

Now that you have your work area prepared, let's draw! 

Developing the right proportions is an important factor when you're learning how to draw a realistic self-portrait. 

Start with the foundation: Break up the face into sections. This helps you get all of the facial features in the right spots. 

Moving straight into drawing the facial features, makes it much harder to draw yourself realistically.



Draw a circle in the center of the page

Start your drawing with a circle in the center of the page. This gives you a base to build on. 

So many people think faces are the hardest thing to draw, but drawing them is nothing more than a combination of light and dark circles. Once the lights and darks are in place, add a rough line around the face you’re drawing.


Draw a vertical line down the center of the circle

Now that you have your face’s basic shape, draw a line down the center of your rough face sketch. This line will be your guide for keeping all of your facial features centered. 

Having your center line makes it easier to place the eyes, nose, and mouth.


Measure half the diameter of the circle with a ruler

The next guideline will split the face in half. Measure the vertical line that you just created and draw another line horizontally connecting to the left and right side of the face. 

This horizontal line will be where you place your nose. It also aligns with the bottom of your ears. 


Sketch 4 lines to connect the circle to the chin line

Now that we know where to place the nose, we need to add four more vertical guidelines at the ends of where your eyes would be. Connect those lines to the chin. 

We don't want to start sketching any main features yet. Remember that each line is meant to be a place marker for facial features. Since you’re creating a self-portrait in pencil, you’ll erase those lines later.


Re-draw the horizontal line at the halfway point of your current drawing

Your face should have a cross dividing your face into four equal parts. You should also have four other vertical lines marking the ends of your eyes. 

Re-draw another horizontal line on the upper third of the face. This section marks the center of the eyes.


Draw a line at the halfway point between the eye line and the chin line

This next line will be the guideline for the nose’s tip. 

Using the horizontal guideline that we created for the eyes, find the middle point between the eyes and chin. This will be the base of the nose. 

Mark this area with another horizontal line that starts and stops at the medial points of the eyes.


Sketch a horizontal line at the center point between the eye line and the crown

The last feature we will place a guideline for is the eyebrows. 

To find where the eyebrows will be placed, divide and measure the space between the horizontal guideline from the eyes and the forehead. 

Now we have all of our guidelines laid out and we are ready to start adding the main facial features to the sketch.

Some self-portrait tutorials may not include all of the lines I’ve suggested you draw here. However, the extra structural lines will help you find your way later, particularly if you’re inexperienced at drawing the face


Sketching the Main Features

Now that we have the main features down, it's time to add the details to the face. 

Faces are unique to every person. As such, our brains can always tell if there is something off about an incorrectly-drawn face. 

Follow these next steps to ensure that when you draw yourself, it will be accurate and realistic.


Make small, vertical dashes to split the eye line into 5 equal sections

The first main feature we will start with is the eyes. 

Start by sketching an arch connecting the four vertical lines that represent the length of the eyes. Once you connect all the lines, you should have an almond shape in the center of your head.


Draw the left eye between the 1st and 2nd dashes on the horizontal eye line

Follow the same steps we did for the right eye. Once you have drawn both outlines, they both should look like almonds. 

Now start with your darkest values and shapes. The fold above the eye, below the eye, and the iris are the darkest parts of the eye. 

Next, start putting down the mid-tones of your eye. Mid-tones can generally be the whites of the eyes and the skin surrounding the eye. 

Don't try and render out the eye completely at this point. We still want to keep it loose and free.


Fill in the eyebrows directly above the eyes

Filling in the eyebrows is the next step in the process. Everyone's eyebrows are shaped differently, but they all have an arch that starts slightly larger than the shape of the eye. 

Start by lightly sketching the shape. Then add some dark thin lines within your sketch.


Sketch a vertical line from the inner corner of the left eye to the nose line

At this point, your eyes and eyebrows should have the main features done but no fine details yet. 

Follow the line you made from the medial part of your eyes to the horizontal line that is the second furthest line from your chin. 

This will be the base of your nose. Extend the base of the nose to the medial corner of the eyes, then draw a curve upwards.


Make a vertical line from the middle of each eye down to the lip line

The horizontal line right underneath the nose will be the middle of the lips. Sketch out the lips’ shape by creating three small circles near the upper middle section. 

The formation of the small circles should be two on top and one at the bottom. Follow the curves of these circles to create an accurate upper lip. 

For the lower lip create an arch and connect the two ends. 


Add the hairline in between the 2 separate lines labeled “hair”

Lastly, add a hairline above your eyebrows. Everyone's hairline is different, but generally, you should sketch the hairline in the upper third of the face.


Filling in the Details

This last section of your self-portrait refines all of your loose linework and defines your values. It adds the details to your portrait.


Erase all unnecessary lines from the portrait

Refine all of your loose linework by erasing your guidelines and any mistakes. Smooth out the plane shifts and values on your face to create a soft look. 

Do this by using a kneaded eraser, a smudge tool, or rub the paper with your finger. Once this is complete, the skin tone on your pencil portrait drawing will have more realistic lights and shadows.


Fill in the ears, areas in the eyes, lips, and nose

Knowing how to shade with pencils realistically is an important part of drawing.

You should have dark outlines of where all of the main facial features are located. The easiest way to build values is to start from dark to light. 

Since we already have our dark values the next step would be the mid-tones. Squinting is a great way to find those values without getting distracted by the details. 

Once you have accurately placed the mid-tones, use your eraser to get the highlights. Follow these steps for the nose ears and mouth. 


Shape the jaw and cheeks based upon the angle of the face

From an earlier step, you should already have a light mid-tone over the face in the lighter spots. Now add another layer of refinement by finding and filling in the accurate values of your face. 

This gives your face structure and adds an element of realism to your drawing.


Add shading to your portrait to make it more realistic

Step back and see if there is anything that you can refine or fix. Sometimes, when we sit so close to our artwork for long periods, we get sucked into one section, and the rest of the painting begins to suffer. 

If you don’t need to make any corrections, you’re ready to add the fine details, which is the final step in your drawing.

Use a dark thin pencil and gently glide your pencil in various directions to get the eyelashes. For the brightest highlights on the lips and eye, you have a few options on what you could use. 

White charcoal, acrylic markers, or an eraser all create those super bright reflections. 

For the final layer, add spray varnish to help preserve your drawing and prevent it from smudging. 

This step is optional but recommended to keep your drawing looking good for years to come. 


Final Tips on How to Draw a Portrait of Yourself 

Now that everything is perfect, you can put your beautiful drawing in a frame to make it stand out on a wall.

If you really want to create a dramatic display, paint a focal wall in your favorite room and hang a gallery of your portrait drawings. 

If you are ready to move on from portrait drawing to portrait painting, consider taking our portrait painting class. It gives you a more in-depth look at portrait drawing as well as portrait painting techniques. 

Or check out our free content here.

Milan Art Institute
Milan Art Institute

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