How to Draw Hair

Why am I doing a hair tutorial?  That’s easy – hair is simple to draw, but people struggle with it big time!  Hair is a tricky thing, because the artist tries to emulate exactly what is seen by drawing everything, when sometimes all that is required is a little bit of blank space!

Brace yourself – this is going be a little bit long.  It’s just as important to understand why something doesn’t work as it is to understand why something does work.

Common Mistakes

Most people start off by either trying to draw individual strands of hair or blocks, as seen below.

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I was being a little silly with those, but look at the hair, not the smiley face.  The first image shows the stringy aftermath of trying to draw each individual strand – terrible, spacey, and kind of greasy looking.  The second image is that cartoonish look which can be made to work for cartoons (after a little more development, of course), but it doesn’t work for realism.


Ah, getting closer!  In the image above, take note on how the overall shape of the hair can be seen, but instead of individual strands, the hair was drawn in locks!  That’s what the eye sees when observing a person’s hair – look at the big picture!  Look at the flowing locks!  Let’s pretend for the moment that no one has a buzzcut.


Hey, it’s me!  Well, the me with short hair that was wonderfully thinned out… But it’s still me, and that hair looks soft and touchable!  How did that happen?  Let me show you.

Basic Rules

You can be a rebel if you want, but it’s probably not going to work out for you in this case.  Try these basic rules on for size:

  1. Human head hair flows from one location – the head.  Strands cannot be started partway down and look natural!  Locks, on the other hands, can definitely be weaved and designed from halfway down, but that’s something we’ll look at later.  This is what happens if you try to draw hair with strands that begin at different locations down the body:


Look, dog hair!






2. Hair flows in one direction, but don’t believe anyone who tells you that you should only draw hair in one direction!


Those light spots were done by shading the hair dark to light from both sides.  Allow me to explain.


By using light, quick strokes in one direction, I created this smooth appearance of hair.  Notice that I didn’t outline the lock of hair; this is because outlines make things look flat, and also makes it difficult to add believable flyaways.  You can use a really light outline if you really need one for complex hairstyles, but remember to lift them out with your kneadable eraser before you darken up your drawing.


I turned my paper and did the same method, except in the opposition direction.  I was sure to lighten the pressure on my pencil so that the ends tapered off as they met the ends to the other half of the lock.  Notice that some strands of hair can be seen in the light area – this adds to the realistic appearance of the lock, because there is hair in the highlighted area – you just can’t see all of it because of the light reflection.

Don’t press too hard or stop short, or this will happen:


So close!  But not at all right.

3. Use the highlights to exemplify shape, such as curls.  The highlight always goes on the part of the curl that is outermost from the head/other hair, because that’s the part that will get the most light!  Using darker shades at each end give the illusion of the hair being further back, where it is sheltered from the dark.



  1. Use a light outline if you must.  We’ll use the outline from the last image above in our example, but you can use any outline that matches what you’re trying to draw.  Remember to keep it super light!  I’m going to make mine darker than you should so that the camera can pick it up, but you definitely don’t want any dark, hard lines in your drawing.  I’m going to show you a ton of photos, because I really hate those step-by-step examples that say, “This is how you draw a dog!”  They show the outline, and then in the very next step…. a fully rendered dog!  Thanks for nothing.


2. Use light, quick strokes from one outside edge of your outline toward the middle.  I decided to make my hair a bit darker for the sake of the camera, so my example will be for a brunette.


Notice how I’m not working perfectly within the outline – there’s no need!  Have you ever seen absolutely perfect, contained hair?  I think not.

3. Do the same thing, except from the other side.


Remember to leave that little bit of white space in the center, but have some of your lines cross into that space.

4. Go back to the side that you started on and darken it up.  Add some more layers to darken near the edge of the hair.


I promise – I wasn’t trying to cheat with that shadow on the right.  I’m not a professional photographer!

5. Get out your tortillon!  Remember to use it on its side and not the tip, or else you’ll squash the tip and the tortillon will become useless to you.  Lightly blend the hair in the same direction that you drew it – toward the center.  You blend a little bit over the center – no worries – but don’t do too much, or you’ll lose the effect of the highlight.


It’s difficult to see in the picture, but the lines have been smudged and blended a little bit, which gives this piece of hair a softer look.

6. It’s time to bust out the kneadable eraser!  A couple tips for that…  You’ll want to knead the eraser into a point (by rolling a piece back and forth between your thumb and pointer finger), or squish the eraser into a super thing flat piece.  See examples below.  You will have to re-shape the eraser for every highlight you do, or else the eraser will be too thick or bent to give you the desired effect.

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Remember to pull your highlights in the same direction of your pencil strokes, and avoid making patterns!  Hair is very random, and the eye will pick up quickly on strange looking patterns.


I know, sorry, the highlights are a little tough to see, but trust me, they’re there!

7. Rinse and repeat!  Well, don’t rinse, but repeat the last three steps until you get the shade and effect that you want.  The more layers you put on there, the darker the shade of hair you’ll get!


Remember to add the flyaways for extra realism.  Use your dirty tortillon to very lightly blend out over the flyaways to soften their appearance.


This is not a trick of the camera!  All the layering and blending has created this softened texture.  The flyaways give it a realistic hair appearance.

Now go, grasshoppers, and give this technique a try!  Try it with long, straight hair, try it with curly hair – you’ll figure it out.

Feel free to leave feedback/questions in the comments, or you can contact me directly by using the form in the contact page.

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