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How to Draw Realistic Hair: Quick Tutorial

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It seems we’ve gotten ourselves in a bit of a hairy situation! We’ve embraced the buzz of Movember and created this tutorial on how to draw hair in detail. (If you possess almighty beard growing capabilities, you need to read this review and it’s never too late to join the movement on the Movember Foundation website.)

Drawing hair is probably one of my favourite things to sketch because you can be completely creative with it. You can invent a whole spectrum of new characters by changing them up with a radical hairstyle. Drawing hair is also great for practicing your brushstrokes if you are new to digital sketching; not forgetting to mention it feels extremely therapeutic to draw repeated wispy details. With a bit of study and practice you will be drawing luscious locks that look just like the real thing. Here is How to Draw Hair in Detail by Ashley Bachar.

The way you render the strands of hair makes a significant difference on the overall texture you are trying to emulate.

Locating the Hairline & Framing the Face

Before we get started we need to figure out what hairstyle we want to draw on our character. The easiest way to start is by locating the hairline and determining how the hair is going to fall over and frame the face. There are as many hairline types as there are people, but here are a few general examples to get you started on drawing different frames.
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Outlines of various hairstyles you might want to consider to frame your characters face.
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Here is a more volumetric version with texture and shadow.
And of course let’s not forget good old beards and moustaches!
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Some Movember beard-spiration!

How to Draw Hair Textures: Straight, Wavy, Curly

Not all hair is the same, which means you will need to alter your technique when you are drawing hair textures. With all the crazy hair types out there you want to be able to accurately portray each unique texture using the right strokes. Hair types generally fall into the three categories: straight hair, wavy hair, and curly. textures

  • Straight hair: Straight hair is the easiest texture to achieve. Simply draw straight lines down or in the direction of hair flow if the hair is tied up.
  • Wavy hair: Similar to straight hair but slightly alter your lines into long “S” shapes to give that natural beachy wave effect.
  • Curly hair: Drawing curly hair is kind of like drawing wavy hair except the “S” shapes are much shorter and more condensed.

The way you render the strands of hair makes a significant difference on the overall texture you are trying to emulate. If you want to draw short hair, draw short choppy strokes. On the flip side, if you want to draw long hair make longer strokes. It might sound a little straightforward, but believe me it makes a big difference. You can also reduce the pen pressure in order to get thin tapering lines that capture the soft wispiness of individual hair strands.

From Bald to Beautiful in 4 Steps

Start with a bald head. Once you’ve done this, our friend will be in need of a snazzy new hairdo. hair-screenshot-1

You can rough out the character’s hairline in a temporary layer. The blue coloured area represents the scalp which determines the edge of the hairline and where all the hair grows from. This is helpful when framing the face with hair and will help you as a guideline in determining where your characters hair is rooted.
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Next, draw the overall volume of the hair and then break it up into pieces. Hair sits above the head so the overall mass will extend around the scalp. Big hair don’t care! There is no right or wrong way to draw hair as they come in different volumes and thicknesses. It all depends on how you want your character to look. hair-screenshot-2

To create this messy bun (above), I drew four sections. In each section the hair is doing something different:

  1. The top layer is much larger to show looseness in the bun.
  2. It is followed by a layer beneath showing hair that is pulled much tighter on the sides of the head.
  3. The bottom chunk is hair that is falling loosely at the bottom that is being pulled down as well by gravity.
  4. The last section is the bun outline showing hair that folds and wraps into itself.

One tip to to consider when trying to achieve a look with hair that is tightly pulled back or wet is that it will appear flatter. You can draw the hair much closer to the scalp to create this effect. I am going for a slightly volumized look in my drawing, but you can also consider these other options for more straight hair (below).

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A quick study of hair direction.

Pay close attention to how you want the hair to be chunked together and how the hair will fall over the head. These arrows show the direction in which the hair is being pulled into a bun. Think about the direction you want the hair to go in and what parts will overlap each other. Start to define more pieces of hair.hair-screenshot-3

I added in thin lines underneath the outer layers to show dimension in the hair in order to show volume and create depth and overlap. I also added thin lines around the outer masses to show that the hair has dimension to it.hair-screenshot-4

Start to fill in the mass with more detailed lines to give the volumes more texture so that they don’t look like solid chunks.hair-screenshot-5

Using Colour to Your Advantage

Hair is made up of thousands of strands layered on top of one another. To save you the pain of drawing each individual strand, understanding shadows, midtones, and highlights will help you achieve realistic texture without all the extra time. I start by filling in the overall mass with a fancy midtone colour of my choice as a base colour. I then go in with a darker shade and add shadows around the sides of the mass following the direction of hair flow. For the final shine factor, add in thin highlights in areas that you want to pop forward.

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Another method you can try for practice, is rendering the hair completely in black and white and then overlaying the colour after so that you can easily translate visually without getting mixed up in your colour palette.
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Our character has a somewhat complicated hairdo, but yours can be as simple as you like.