What Type of Pencil is Best to Draw a Face?

What type of pencil is best to draw a face

If you are attempting to draw a face or portrait, knowing which pencils to use and in which order will mean that you are able to produce the very best drawing.

  • Which are the best pencils to draw a face? An H pencil produces a precise and detailed line with ease, its downfall, however, is that it will create a scratchy looking line.
  • Also, HB pencil is equipped to produce darker strength of line and shade onto the drawing.
  • The 4B pencil is an excellent example of a pencil that will allow you to apply shade and darker values to your drawing quickly.

This article will give a detailed outline of which pencils are best equipped to help you draw a portrait. Individual pencils grades will result in very different effects and qualities of mark and line.

Portrait Drawing Fundamentals Made Simple

Drawing a Face and Where to Start

Usually, when drawing a portrait either of the front, side or from a three-quarters angle, it is best to draw with a light faintly drawn line. This can be achieved quickly with an H pencil.

Establishing the proportions of the face and head with light grade graphite will make the process of developing your portrait into a more recognizable image far easier. For more information on how to begin drawing a portrait read my post, Portrait Drawing Tips for Beginners.

The lighter line a grade H graphite will give will also help you draw the more delicate details.

Drawing Facial Expressions

Once the main proportions of your drawing are in place, you can begin to draw the individual features of the head.

Many beginners will produce portraits which will tend to look slightly robotic. To add a little more expression on to your drawing focus on learning how to draw individual expressions.

All of the individual features such as the eyes, nose, and mouth can be drawn in a multitude of ways. So let’s focus on one particular feature here, the mouth.

Use an H pencil to draw the outline of mouth. This pencil will enable you to draw the shape of the mouth lightly and with a single line. The form of the mouth is essential as it will help you achieve the expressions you are looking for.

To enable you to add more depth to the individual features begin to add shade and tone. Darker value can be achieved with an HB pencil, but it will take longer to get the effect you may need.

Progress onto applying the darker values of shading with softer grades of pencil such as the Grade B graphite. This will be drawn onto areas of shadow such as an open mouth, which is screaming or laughing.

The 4B is ideal for applying darker areas of value on your portrait. This will result in a drawing of greater depth and realism.

What Do Facial Expressions mean?

Having a visual reference point to draw from is extremely important when drawing the face. When teaching the drawing of individual expressions, I would use a reference sheet to help me understand the underlying form of the face.

Drawing the outline of the mouth or the shape of the eyebrows is an excellent way to achieve the expressions you want.

This is best practiced using smaller thumbnail sketching. Both the H and HB pencils are suitable for creating these drawings when developing your understanding of portraiture.

As well as drawing the features individually if you are looking to draw a realistic portrait then you will need to draw expression lines around the features such as the mouth and eye. This an important detail to add if the aim is to draw less robotic looking portraits.

A good idea which I have used when teaching the drawing of different expression is the ask students to label each individual drawing and illustration. This is an excellent way to help people identify the mixed emotions that can be drawn onto the face.

Face and Two Hands

Drawing hands is hard. It’s doubly tricky is combining them with a portrait of the head. Considering all of the different shapes, forms and proportions that go into drawing a hand it does make it one of the more difficult aspects of the human way to draw.

You will certainly need to focus on drawing the underlying proportions with an H pencil. If you are new to the drawing of hands, you may want to read my post, 16 Cool and Useful Drawing Hacks.

The next stage will be to draw the head, to achieve this you will need to be proficient in drawing the head from various angles. Again, the process of sketching will need to be undertaken with an H pencil.

Drawing a Face Mask

This is an exciting and enjoyable subject to draw once you have become competent in drawing portraits.

Before you are able to draw a facemask, you will need to refer to one of the many cultures that use masks as part the there culture.

Drawing a Zip on the Face

Firstly, the focus on which view want to draw. Begin your drawing in the usual manner. Draw an oval outline with a faintly drawn line, draw using an H pencil as this will provide you with all of the benefits discussed earlier.

  • Progress onto establishing the basic proportions, beginning with a centerline drawn lightly with an H pencil.
  • Continue to draw with the H pencil and measure halfway down the center line and draw a faint mark using your pencil.
  • Draw the eye level across the page and subdivide the oval into quarters. For this portrait let’s focus on drawing a three-quarter viewpoint.
  • Measure one-quarter of the way across the eye level and leave a mark. From this location, a line can be drawn which extends from the top of the center of the oval down to the bottom.
  • Next using an H pencil subdivide the bottom of the oval into sections, partition bottom half of the face and mark a point central to the bottom half. This is ere you will draw the mouth.
  • It might be helpful at this stage if you collect or look some images of zips that will help you draw the zip. Another way to help would be to draw from direct observation using an old zipper that you may have in your possession.
  • Top achieve this draw a  center line using an H pencil and begin adding more detail with the individual teeth of the zipper which will be locked together.
  • Progress onto applying shade and tone with an HB pencil, adding and applying darker areas of shadow onto the areas of the zip which are in shadow.

Face But No Eyes

Another idea that can be developed to create an alternative portrait is a portrait without eyes. You can use the same process as above to establish the basic proportions of your portrait with  H pencil.

Once the main features of the face are established, you can use a softer grade pencil to begin to apply shade onto the main features of the face.

Additional Questions

What do the letters on sketching pencils mean?

The different letters on the side of your pencils will indicate the specific grade of graphite core inside the pencils. There is two grade of pencil H and B, with both having numerical scales from 1 to 9. Pencils can range from 9H which is the hardest graphite core to the darkest and softest grade 9B pencil.

What pencils are best for shading?

If you are looking to create high quality drawing in pencil, then you need to use good quality pencils. Read my post on the, Best Pencils For Drawing and Shading.


I hope you have enjoyed reading this post for further information relating to the drawing of portraits and other related topics, please feel free to visit my home page at improvedrawing.com.












Ian Walsh is the creator and author of improvedrawing.com and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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