OCAD Studio: Quick Portrait Sketching


This is a great method for making quick sketches from fleeting subjects. If you’re on a train or in a cafe and you want to quickly sketch the faces of people around you in a few minutes ( and discreetly) this stripped back approach will make it possible.



  • Sketchbook
  • Pencil
  • Kneadable eraser


Key Points


Keep it small

Keeping your sketch small will make it manageable, as when you’re drawing in pencil, it takes time to lay down a tone (particular darker tones). So with a big drawing, it will take a lot longer to lay everything in. You’re only looking to capture an impression of your subject, not reach a photographic level of detail.


Look for shapes not features

Look for shadow shapes rather than specific features. This will make the drawing more accurate and interesting. If you focus on the features there is a risk that you will lose the character of the face as we have a tendency to revert to generic versions of nose, eyes and mouths if we think too much about them. Just look for large masses of shadow and their relationship to one another. This is how I always recommend you approach representational drawing and painting so it’s no different if you’re working quickly (if anything it’s more crucial that you simplify the image into shapes).


Keep it loose

Don’t get hung up on details, use quick and  loose pencil marks, don’t fret over getting really even tones. A loose approach will give a nice fresh look to your drawings.


Don’t blend too much

Use large tonal planes in the lighter areas rather than shading with gradients. Adding complex shading will take too long and won’t add much to the overall effect of the piece.


Choose a Point of Focus

You can give the impression of higher level of finish by selecting a specific part of drawing to render more. Usually in a portrait this will be the eyes, nose and mouth. Once everything is loosely in place and you’re happy with the proportions you can return to the nose, eyes and mouth with a sharpened pencil and refine those features a bit. This will make the viewer focus their attention on that part of the drawing and it won’t matter if the rest of the piece is very loose.


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