6 Portrait Drawing Mistakes You Will Never Make Again

6 Portrait Drawing Mistakes You Will Never Make Again

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Plus Drawing Eyes, Noses, Mouths and Skin

The wise artist approaches the landscape of the face with a good bit of respect. There is so much nuance and subtlety in such a small amount of real estate that you can easily get into “danger” territory and not quite know how you got there.

Here are six common mistakes for drawing the face and how to avoid them from master drawing instructor, Mau-Kun Yim.

30 Years of Drawing

Leaving China for Hong Kong after winning a major painting competition that could have set his career skyrocketing, Mau-Kun Yim instead left his mother country with only the clothes on his back.

He eventually became a lauded teacher of drawing in Hong Kong and his decades of pencil portraits are sure to astound you as they did me. But it isn’t just his work that it is provocative. It is also his teachings.

Here are a few of Mau-Kun Yim’s tips on pencil portraits that you can use right now to avoid some major face drawing mistakes and make significant improvements in your art.

Don’t Undervalue Your Midtones

Use a B pencil to define the boundaries and outline the head. Switch to a 3B or 4B pencil to add value to the dark areas and further refine the middle tone areas. Midtones actually account for a lot of territory of the face, which artists often forget because they are fixated on drawing facial features.

The Nose Plays

A common mistake with drawing the nose is that we sometimes make the nostrils too dark and too defined. The nostrils should be inside the nose in the shadow.

The Eyes Have It

The highlight on an eyeball is very small. If you make it larger than it should be, the eyes look dull and the drawing will lack life. Be sure to keep the highlight in check.

The Matured Look

Aged skin is definitely something you will encounter if you take to portraiture with a passion. People come in all shapes, shades, and ages. With wrinkles, you need to be sure that they do not stand out too much. Their visual presence needs to appear in sync with the rest of a drawing. They also need to correspond to the shape of the plane on which they appear. For example, the forehead or the folds around the mouth. Focus on conveying an impression of these wrinkles, not making every one of them visible or you will overwhelm the overall impression of the face, itself.

Be Choosy

Select details to make great art. Rendering details is not recording every single detail like a camera; it includes addition, subtraction and rearrangement.

If your model’s mouth is notable, make it so. If his or her eyes stand out, spotlight them. Be selective and evaluate the face you are portraying for its most memorable features — let that instinctive reaction be your guide.

Lighten Up On the Darks

Don’t make the dark areas too dark in the early stages. Instead, replace the dark with gray so that it’s easier to modify the dark areas. Once the dark areas are defined, the foundation of the drawing is done.


According to Mau-Kun Yim, “A painter who doesn’t like painting defies the imagination. A painter at work is just like a farmer tilling the field or a blacksmith striking the iron. So it is with me and drawing. You may call me an ‘artisan’ if you like, but I agree with what Rodin once said: ‘If you are an artist then you can’t possibly be anything else.”

If Mau-Kun Yim’s words move you as they do me, take this opportunity to get your copy of his book, Lessons in Masterful Portrait Drawing. Seeing the work up close and having access to the teachings of this amazing artist as he creates pencil portraits that can only be described as beautiful and awe-inspiring is why he created this resource guide — so that you can put yourself directly on the path to do the same.

Want to delve into the anatomy of the head from an artist’s perspective? Enjoy this lesson on just that from acclaimed instructor Dan Thompson.

Watch the video: How to get BETTER at DRAWING! - 6 things you NEED to know. (August 2022).