How to Draw Children's Portraits

Jjacob/E+/Getty Images

For a portrait artist, drawing a child's face is particularly challenging, but also rewarding. Children's faces, with their bright, large eyes and innocent smiles can warm the hardest heart, and it is immensely satisfying to produce a good portrait of such a beautiful subject. When drawing a person's face, it is important to look at the individual, and not try to fit the face into some ideal set of proportions.

Carefully observing the main forms and placing the features really needs to be done according to the size and shape of each person's head, as despite our basic anatomical similarity, small variations in bone structure characterize the individual. The canon of ideal proportions is useful when trying to become familiar with the head structure, but is otherwise of limited use. This is particularly true when drawing children, as their soft bones and rapid growth dramatically changes their head structure.

A baby's forehead is proportionately larger than an adult's. The halfway point on an adult is just below the eyes; with a baby, you'll find the middle of the eyes is about 3/7ths of the way up the face. The first 7th gives you the lower lip, the next places the nose.

Block in the face using the same approach as an adult's face, making a ball for the head and adding the face plane. Sketch contours across the face plane indicating the position of the features.

At this point, pay careful attention to a long or short nose, the size of the chin, and so on, adjusting the placement of your contours accordingly.

Choice of materials is important when drawing children. In this example, coarse sketching paper has made it difficult to achieve smoothly modeled tones.

Damage to the paper surface makes the eyes appear flat and lifeless, as highlights cannot be lifted out, with the small scale of the drawing making further working difficult. Despite a promising start, I've abandoned the drawing, to try again on some Bristol board, at a slightly larger scale.

When drawing a child's features, remember that often 'less is more'. Don't be tempted to outline every detail. Often leaving the middle of the lower lid white, like a highlight, will help to brighten the eyes. The bottom edge of the lower lip often blends into the skin tone. Key point to remember:

  • Don't use a flash photograph. The flash flattens the gentle curves of a child's face, giving you nothing to model.
  • Beware of small, fuzzy snapshots. You can't draw what you can't see.
  • Avoid harsh outlines. Sketch softly.
  • Use a full range of value and shade skin tones carefully
  • Use a good, smooth paper and range of pencils
  • Reserve whites carefully - especially in the eyes.
  • Try to avoid overworking. Keep your drawing fresh and light.