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There are numerous artistic styles, but realism is one of the best ways for an artist to convey a message. Throughout history, artists have created realistic pictures of landscapes, animals, and people by commission and for their own reasons, and the tradition continues today. Here in this drawing tutorial, you’ll learn how to incorporate realism into your own artistic style.

Choose Materials and Subject Matter

Decide what you’d like to draw and which materials you wish to use. If you’re taking drawing classes with pencils, be sure they’re sharp, and use paper that holds graphite well. While blunt and chisel-point pencils are good for some techniques, in realism drawing for students, it’s best to use pencils with sharp points.

The Layout

To begin a realistic drawing, you’ll need to start with a good layout. Choose a pencil that’s not too hard, such as an HB, to create the outline. Using a pencil that’s too hard may create dents on the paper, even after lines are erased. Press lightly when sketching the layout, so you can draw over lines or erase them if necessary.

It’s important to take your time when creating a layout; there’s no need to rush. For instance, when drawing a realistic portrait, a good starting point is to draw the eyes and create the face’s outline. The eyes are an important part of a portrait, as they allow you to create a close likeness of the subject.


Along with a free drawing lesson, you can use guidelines, grids, and forms to get your proportions right and keep them that way. If you are using a photo as a reference, the grid method yields very accurate work because it helps you concentrate on one part of the project at a time.


The idea of shading is to color or darken your drawing with blocks or lines of graphite or colored pencil. The easiest way to shade evenly is to rework the same area multiple times. Randomly choosing where the pencil tip lands, using different motions, and changing direction may make your drawing look more even and less mechanical.

Smudging is another effective technique to even shading, as it smooths pencil marks and creates a range of shades. Somewhat surprisingly, your eraser can be used as a shading tool; it not only removes mistakes, but it can lighten dark areas and create highlights.


After creating a general outline, you’ll spend time working on the details. Using the example above, working on the eyes is a good next step. Find the eyes’ darkest parts and shade them in. Once that’s done, go on to the next darkest value, and try to develop depth with lighter tones. When these areas are shaded in, blend things together and use an eraser to create highlights.

When you’ve created the iris and the pupil, the next thing to do is to shade in the whites of the eyes. The name is a bit misleading, as that part of the subject’s eye isn’t completely white and must be shaded. Lightly outline the darker parts of the eye and leave highlighted areas empty. From there, use a smudge stick to blend shadows with highlighted areas.

Keep shading around the subject’s eyelids, gradually adding in eyelashes. Start with darker areas, blending them into lighter ones, just as before. After the eyelids are shaded in, begin working on the eyebrows, drawing in important details first and then blending everything together to create depth and visual interest.

The Mouth

When it is time to draw the mouth, double-check that the outline you first drew still works with the newly completed eyes. If all looks good, start shading just above the top lip. Once shading has started in dark areas, use a smudge stick to blend the area above the subject’s upper lip. Following that, add in shadowed areas at the bottom of the top lip, gradually shading with less pencil pressure to create definition.

Next, move on to the gums (if the subject is smiling and showing his or her teeth). Because teeth are almost white, the gums should be substantially darker. Shade the gums in colors darker than the teeth, but a bit lighter than the lips. Move on to the subject’s teeth, starting in the back. Work on teeth individually, lightly shading one at a time. Many artists believe that teeth are completely white; however, they do have shadows and highlights on them. It’s important to pay attention to the shading, using a hard pencil to create lighter tones. In moving to the teeth at the front of the subject’s mouth, make them gradually lighter.

Once all teeth are shaded, it’s time to shade in the bottom lip. Again, start with dark tones, blending them in with highlights. Bottom lips are a tricky point for many artists, simply because they contain numerous values. Use a smudge stick or an eraser when creating lighter tones and adding highlights.


To create realistic hair, begin at the top of the subject’s head, on the left or right side, depending on whether you’re right- or left-handed. This keeps you from smudging the drawing as you work. Begin with the dark areas around highlights, making them gradually lighter as you get near highlighted areas. Be sure to draw the hair in the direction in which it flows.

Here, there’s no real need to use a smudge stick for blending, as imperfections and lines serve to create depth and texture. However, you can use an eraser to brighten up highlights if you partially shade over them. Dark values should flow seamlessly into midtones and highlights; you can accomplish this by decreasing pencil pressure as you work. Progress carefully and slowly in this area, as drawing a subject’s hair is often just as difficult as drawing his or her facial features.

Tip: Keep Outlines Light

As a drawing is completed in detail, with significant attention given to subtle variances in form and shape, your natural inclination may be to darken in outlines, especially if you’re a new artist. However, it’s important not to give in to temptation. Real objects don’t have black lines around the edges. In realistic art, edges should be defined by changes in color or tone. When producing cartoons, line drawings, and other graphic images, and other easy drawings for beginners, it’s acceptable to do a dark outline. However, in realistic drawing for students, dark outlines are inadvisable.

Tip: Include a Range of Tones

When it’s time to apply tone to a realistic drawing, as with other things, it starts with looking at the object. Note where dark and light areas are, and mimic what you see. IN almost every case, your drawing should have a complete range of tones, from black, to various shades of gray, to white.

Some budding artists, having taken online drawing classes on how to smoothly blend tones from light to dark, develop the bad habit of shading every surface in the same way. Tone should not be invented, and it should not be applied via guesswork.

Tip: Add and Leave Out Details as Needed

One area where many art students become frustrated when learning how to draw is in the depiction of complicated subjects. When drawing a landscape, it is not necessary to include every stick, leaf, and blade of grass. When drawing portraits, you don’t have to add in every stray hair. Artists are nearly always in the position to decide what’s included in their pieces.

If decisions are based on what’s aesthetically appropriate for the project, rather than wishing to omit things that are too difficult to draw, there is no harm in omitting details from drawings. In fact, compositions are often more visually pleasing and less cluttered because of these omissions. There are several ways to approach this. Sometimes, all details are recorded with stunning accuracy, but in other cases, certain parts of a subject are fully rendered, while other parts trail away.

Tip: Ensure That Clothing and Skin are Distinct

Have you ever drawn or seen a realistic portrait where the clothing was one-dimensional and looked as if it fused with the subject’s skin? This problem is commonly seen around the neck where a shirt collar would rest. It’s not just unattractive, it can ruin the entire look of a piece. While the remainder of the drawing may look realistic, this faux pas looks amateurish. Thankfully, the problem is easily resolved by leaving a bit of space between the two design elements.

In Closing

Knowing your artistic styles and processes will help you create beautiful realistic pieces. When learning how to draw, remember to take time and focus on the most important details. Practice is a great way to improve your skills; carrying a sketchbook and reviewing more drawing tutorials online can help you get that practice in. For instance, you can do quick sketches of people you see on the street to sharpen your layout skills. If you take public transport, you may be able to include more realism. The more you work on your drawings, the more confident you’ll be, and that confidence will shine through in your realistic artwork.