Step-by-Step Portrait Demo: Paul Leveille

Drawing the human head correctly takes practice, but I never consider it work. To me, people are the most fascinating subjects to study and to draw. There’s no chance for boredom since there are millions of different faces in this world. Even the same person takes on many looks with various expressions, clothing and lighting.

What You’ll Need:

  • Canson charcoal paper
  • 2B pencil
  • Kneaded eraser

Pencil Portrait Demo in 5 Steps

1. Light Sketch:
For this pencil portrait, I chose a sheet of Canson charcoal paper with a distinct texture. I want that texture to be part of the drawing.

With a 2B pencil, I sketch the head in lightly, starting with a mark for the top of the head and one for the chin. I draw in the feature guidelines to help locate the positions of the eyes, nose, lips and ears. A series of quick strokes helps to loosely define the beret.

2. Applying an Even Tone:
I continue to refine my drawing. At this point, I erase the feature guidelines and use the flat side of my pencil to apply an overall middle value tone over the face. By squinting, I eliminate most detail and can isolate the large dark shapes of the hat and under the chin. Using the flat side of my pencil, I lightly sketch them in.

With the side of my pencil, I can apply an even tone over my drawing quickly. This method also brings out the grain of the paper.

3. Correct Coloring and Overall Shape:

I’m still not ready to commit myself to details. I slowly build up the big dark areas and halftones. Once again, squinting helps me define the overall shape of the smile without being distracted by individual teeth.

4. Adding Light:
I slowly work around the head, trying to correct shapes. I define the mouth area a little more. Next, with a kneaded erase, I pull out the light areas on the forehead, cheeks and nose.

By dabbing a kneaded eraser on the halftone areas, I can pull off enough pencil to leave a lighter area.

5. Detailing:
In the final stages of the drawing, I increase the darks and the halftones. Most of these larger areas are done with the flat edge of my pencil in order to retain the grainy texture of the paper. I define the eyes, nose and mouth area. With a pointed kneaded eraser, I pull out the highlights in the eyes and on the lower lids and lower lip.

Paul Leveille paints portraits of nationally and internationally distinguished clients and also conducts portrait painting workshops and portrait demonstrations around the country. The artist lives in western Massachusetts. See his website at
This article is excerpted from his book, Drawing Expressive Portraits, (1966) by Paul Leveille, used with permission from North Light Books, an imprint of F+W Media Inc. Visit your local bookseller, call 800/258-0929 or visit to obtain a copy.


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