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How to draw a face – hair – cornrows & dreadlocks

May 21, 2011

by Nolan Clark

One of our students is busy drawing the face of a little boy. The boy’s hair is plaited into cornrows. Val asks how to draw these cornrows correctly.

Here is the photo that Val is working from :

Carriacou Boy by Val

Carriacou Boy by Val

Drawing cornrows and dreadlocks must be one of the parts of drawing faces and portraits that people avoid like the plague because they simply don’t know how. Yet drawing cornrows and dreadlocks is really not that difficult. There are three steps that we need to follow when drawing cornrows.

Before we can start to draw the little boy’s hair we need to know what it looks like from up close.

Cornrows Closeup

Cornrows Closeup

As you can see the cornrows are nothing more than a series a plaits that form a pattern on the head. When hair is plaited we get three distinct areas that we need to draw. The first is the exposed scalp.

Step 1 - Scalp

Step 1 - Scalp

Because the head is round we need to continue the shading of the skin in these areas. We will then get highlighted and shadowed areas corresponding to the same tones we have used in the face.

Converging Strands of Hair

Converging Strands of Hair

Then there are the areas between the exposed scalp and the cornrow. In this areas the hair is pulled towards the plait and lies flat against the scalp. Looking closely we see that the individual strands of hair converge where they meet the plait. We then get a series of these converging areas of hair strands we need to show in our drawing if the hair is going to look realistic on the face. It is very important to draw these strands of hair in the correct directions to not only show the gathering / converging effect, but also the shape of the head – remember that these hairs lay flat against the head. That means these lines will follow the shape of the head.

Cornrows - Highlight & Shadows

Cornrows - Highlight & Shadows

Lastly we have the plait itself. Drawing the plait is a series of shadings from light to dark, almost like a multitude of tiny mountains. The peaks catch the sun, the valleys are in shadow.

As the plait itself now forms a height off the head, we often find that each plait (as a whole) casts it’s own shadow the the head because of this height.

Now lets take a look at our original photo and see if we can recognise these three areas :

Three steps to drawing cornrows

Three steps to drawing cornrows

Clearly visible, so we will need to draw them in. Luckily for us though the photo has been taken at a distance, so we will only need to suggest these details on our face as opposed the drawing them in strand for strand.

Drawing in the cornrow outlines

Drawing in the cornrow outlines

I have drawn in the outlines where the scalp is exposed as well as the outlines of the cornrows using a 2H pencil. This means I end up with a maze of lines and will have to be very careful to not get confused when drawing. I do this by pointing at the area of the hair on the reference photo that I am currently drawing with my left hand and then drawing the same area with my right hand. Moving both along as I progress.

Scalp completed

Scalp completed

Drawing from bottom to top (scalp, strands then cornrows) as usual. I start by shading in the areas of exposed scalp using the 2H pencil. Here we have to ensure the scalp colour / shade starts off exactly the same as the corresponding forehead colour / shade. It would then change as the head rounds to wards the back. Sometimes you have to look very carefully  to see the correct shade between the darker surrounding hair. In this drawing the sun is coming from our left so the scalp is lighter on the left of the face and darker on the right hand side of the face. With the scalp shaded in it becomes easier to see what goes where.

Step 2 - Strands of hair

Step 2 - Strands of hair

Next up are the pulled strands of hair. Staying with the 2H pencil. I use a short flicking motion from the root to the tip of the hair. Remember that the individual strands of hair converge as they meet the cornrow so do the same with your flicks. By doing this you will already start to get a feel for the edges of the plaits. I started by drawing my flicks in lightly to get a feel for them and to get myself into a rhythm. As I have many cornrows to go, I like to get myself into a rhythm. Things go quicker then.

Step 3 - Shade the plats

Step 3 - Shade the plats

Now we can suggest the cornrow itself. For this I am using a 2B pencil. Starting at the shadow side I scribble in the shadows of the plaits curling them up and over the plait. This creates the height of the cornrow. I do the same on the opposite side side of the cornrow, only here I don’t make the shadow as wide. This then creates effect of the cornrow casting a shadow, adding to the effect of height off the face. I am also careful to ensure that I leave some highlight areas on the tops of the cornrow.

I then darkened the pulled strands of hair to match the hair colour using my 2B pencil. Now that I have one, it’s a case of rinse and repeat for the rest.

A zoom of the completed cornrows

A zoom of the completed cornrows

Look out for the directions of the pulled hair, cast shadows as well as the up and over strokes – these will give you the sense of direction as the cornrow contours the face.

So as you can see there is a distinct process we need to follow to draw the cornrows correctly, but the process itself is really not that difficult.

If you have an area of a drawing or painting you are battling with, post it on our forum and let’s see if we can take a look at it for you.

PS – If you enjoyed this  tutorial on how to draw a face, please Like, Share, Tweet it etc below. Clicking any of the Like type buttons on the page will not send you away from this page.

PPS – You can find more tutorials like this on our Online Art Classes page as well as on the forum.
For more indepth lessons, please take a look at our online art courses.

Cya next time
Nolan Clark

My completed drawing of the face

The completed drawing of the face

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Drawing a Lion

July 22, 2010


by Dennis Clark

What materials are used in this drawing?

What paper is used? Medium thickness smooth cartridge paper
What pencils were used? Graphite, 2H, B, 3B, and 6B
What eraser was used? Soft White Plastic


This was a quick sketch, as it were, to keep myself busy during a gap in a pencil Portrait Seminar I conducted recently. While the students were concentrating on the project and keeping themselves busy I made good use of the intervals of spare time. Below is the photograph I worked from :


Transfering to Paper


I used the grid method to enlarge the lion to the correct size. I always do my drawing on a separate paper the same size as the final drawing. I then transfer the drawing onto the final paper. This way I don’t have to erase any construction or grid lines afterwards.



I always draw and/or paint the eyes first before I really do anything else on the subject. Even if the eyes need a touch-up later I MUST be satisfied that the eyes show the character and mood of the subject. It is of no use if the subject is beautifully rendered and the eyes are “dead” . If I cannot get the eyes to look the way I want it to be I will scrap the drawing and begin a new one.

Initial Shapes


I suggest you start with the eyes and then progress to the nose area and then the mouth area. This is the most important area of the drawing. These must match up and dove-tail into each other and form a unit . These must depict the proportions and character of the subject. It must be a recognisable semblance. Spend as much time as necessary in this area before moving on.


Next start to define some of the other distinctive shapes like the ears.


Some basic shading is added to give moulding to the face, don ‘ t overdo it at this stage. The mane is also started to give shape to the face.

TIP: Leave the very darks until the very last.

Lower Mane


Because this area will be very dark, notice the rough shading in before completing this area.

Upper Mane


Define the mane with fast flowing strokes. Be careful and do not cover up the areas that indicate the highlights of the hairs.

Forehead & Nose


The eye area with extra shading applied. Notice the sensitive light shading and the directions of the strokes to indicate the slopes and different planes of the face surface.



The two dots indicate the max length I want the whiskers to be. With a very sharp craft knife cut a very thin slit (opening) at a slight curve. This thin slit is placed over the areas where I want the whiskers to be. We call this an erasing shield.


Now carefully and gently, with an eraser, erase along the length of the slit enough to clean a strip on the drawing. Don’ t erase across the slit. If you do you will tear the erasing shield. In order to give this white stripe volume on the drawing, carefully, with a sharp pencil, underline the white strip to give it a shadow line. With this same shield you can even erase out shorter whiskers.

Completing the Drawing

Next shade in the body of the lion to complete this drawing.


I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.

Don’t forget to post a pic of your lion on the FORUM, we love to see how your art is improving.

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