Learn to Draw People - Drawing dark skin people




Drawing Dark Skin People

Let's look at some situations that come up when you draw non-European looking people. Up until now most of the models on Learn-to-Draw have been Caucasian. Let's see what happens when we draw other types of people.

When you draw darker skinned people, depending on how your subject is lit, there may be a different skin tone, which means the shadows on the face will be different than you're used to so far from this website. Darker skin will have deeper shadows, which may mean a greater contrast between the darkest shadow and the highlights on the face.

He pities the Fool

Draw head and face contours

Start shading

This drawing pities fools!

Darker skinned woman

Let's look at the 1980s icon Mr. T. I selected him not only because I'm a child of the '80s, but also because he brings some things to mind that we just looked at. I'm thinking hair (or lack of), and beards. Click on him to the right and look at the tones of his skin. Where is the light coming from in this photograph? This is a studio portrait, and there are at least two lights. A quick way to discover how many lights are used in a photograph is to look at the highlight in the eye. That trick won't work here because Mr. T has his head tilted down and he's looking slightly up at the camera - and there are no highlights in his eyes because his eyelids are too low. I can see three highlights on his bald head, and the light on his left (our right) is the least bright. I see that the shadows are slightly heavier on his left (our right) side.

If we were to draw him, let's start the usual way and draw the egg shape to get a rough boundary for where his head will be placed on the page. And since his head is tilted down and he's looking up, his eyeline is not in the center - rather, it's slightly lower. This photograph is also not straight on, so this would be a three quarter drawing (although he's not at a three quarter angle - more like 60/40). So now do some measuring and draw the contours of the face and head. Because his face is tilted down, there are some foreshortening and perspective skews going on here. His ear appears higher than it should be, his chin appears smaller (his hand obscuring some of his chin doesn't help), and his nose appears slightly longer.

With the contours drawn we can begin to shade in the face. I usually start doing shading at the eyes, and work my way out on the face. In the photograph, find the middle tone and start shading with that tone - start with just a very light shade of grey. Try and get the same tone grey throughout the drawing, leaving the highlight areas that you see white. Then in the darkest shadow areas - like under his brow, nose, and mouth darken the shading a bit. Go ahead and color in the eyebrows too. It's at this point that you might want to protect your drawing by taking a clean sheet of paper and resting your drawing hand on it.

Keep laying down shadows darkening them the more you draw. You'll find that the more you shade, the lighter the original tones you put down will appear. Go ahead and darken them up as needed, but keep your subject in mind. Keep referring back to your subject and try and keep the the shaded tones just as dark or light as you see them on your subject. Mr. T isn't super dark, so the drawing shouldn't be super dark either. When drawing darker-skinned people it's easy to make your drawing look too dark, so watch for that. When shading a drawing, I generally work from light to dark. In this drawing I filled in the hair last because it's the darkest part of the drawing. And when I did fill in the hair, the rest of the face looked a little too light. That also happened back in the first three quarter drawing that we did on the previous page. So again, after I filled in Mr. T's hair, I darkened up some of the shadows. I darkened up along the top of the shaved part of this head and his left (our right) cheek. I didn't shade his hand in because we'll cover drawing hands in another portion of this website.

I really enjoy drawing portraits of darker skinned people because I really enjoy the way light is reflected on the darker skin. The contrast of the highlights and shadows is very interesting for me. You can look for and draw contour shapes that the shadows and highlights create because they are much more apparent than on lighter skinned people. And depending on the light and the quality of the light, on very dark skinned people there may be very minimal midtones or no midtones at all - only shadow and highlights. Drawing dark skinned males can be a little more challenging than drawing dark skinned females because, for the most part, females have softer skin and therefore softer skin tones than males. That results in more midtones on a female face and fewer shadows and softer highlights. But the softness of a female's skin depends on the lighting almost as much as the tone of her skin.

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