How do I draw a good portrait

Pencil portraits - drawing with simple means

Pencils, erasers and paper - that is all that Instagramer Adil Arslan needs for his special hobby. The high school graduate is passionate about drawing pencil portraits. For us at horst höll papeterie, Adil opens his drawing folder, lets us take a look at his bag of tricks and reveals what beginners should pay particular attention to.

Adil, how did you get started drawing pencil portraits?
Even as a very small child, I loved painting and drawing. When I was 13, a friend asked me if I would draw a portrait of her - it felt really weird at first because I had never done it before. I then drew it in pencil, which I had there anyway because of school. With the portrait I noticed that I just really enjoy doing it.

Why did you stick with pencil drawings?
When you try something new, you always start “small”. Because I had pencils anyway, I got into the habit of drawing with them. Little by little I bought pens of different strengths, which totally improved the pictures. Luckily, pencils are quite inexpensive, even from high-quality brands such as Staedtler - painting the same portraits in color would be a lot more expensive.

A self-portrait by the young pencil artist Adil Arslan.

What are the special challenges when drawing with pencil, what do you have to pay attention to?
It is really difficult to find the right shade of gray, and you have to be careful not to blur the picture with your hand (which often happens), or to break the paper with too hard pencils or when erasing.

What is the best way to proceed with pencil portraits? Are there certain work steps that should be followed?
I actually got used to a little routine: First I make a rough sketch on scratch paper. Then I draw - very brightly and only very lightly, for example with the HB pencil - a sketch on the right paper. Then I draw all the shapes and lines. Finally there is shading. In every step I start with my eyes, nose and mouth.

Step by step to the detailed motif.

How important is the eraser when drawing?
Somebody once said to me: "You're an artist, you don't need an eraser". As if you were only using it to correct mistakes. But that's bullshit. Erasing doesn't mean wanting to have the spot completely white again. You can use it to easily incorporate lighter strands into dark hair and create a bit of structure. With a good eraser you can achieve many effects that you can hardly do without, so it is a must for me when drawing. Even if I ruined a few pictures at the beginning with bad erasers.

What do you particularly like to draw?
People who mean something to me. For example musicians whose music influenced me or my mother on her birthday. My absolute favorite pictures are those of Kontra K, Kollegah and the Rocky-Tiger picture - they make me really proud. Commissions, on the other hand, are often less fun for me, I can't choose the motifs, and in the end I can't keep the picture anyway.

Adil Arslan's favorite pictures

What is particularly difficult to draw and why?
Drawing white hair is definitely tricky. You just have to think completely differently. For example, you usually draw the individual hairs on eyebrows - but what do you do when they are white? Then the places around the hair need to be drawn.

What tips would you give beginners?
Make it easy! Find a template and get started - that's how I started. I can only recommend everyone to first make a lot of quick sketches of faces - lines for eyes, nose, mouth to indicate their place - and thus get to know the proportions. And then it's time to compare: place the original next to the sketch and see where there are differences. Search for, find and improve errors. This is true not only for beginners and not only for drawing, but actually for everything in life.

Practice makes perfect: 2014 and today

What materials do you work with?
I don't need a lot for my portraits: pencils in strengths from 8B to 2H, a soft eraser, a white gel pen for the highlights and good paper. I only use branded products such as those from Staedtler. The very cheap products are of no quality. I also prefer to invest a few euros more with paper so that it doesn't tear apart when I erase it.

What do you think makes a good pencil?
The lead must not break off after each sharpening and it should be comfortable to use the pencil for several hours.

How often and when do you draw?
When I don't have any assignments, I really only draw when I feel like it. Most of the time, it starts late in the evening and goes until late at night. And when I draw, then actually always with music, it’s just more fun.

Adil Arslan's "Tools": pencils of various thicknesses and erasers

What does your environment say about your hobby?
Almost everyone in my environment supports me and I am very happy about that. Regardless of whether you advertise my Instagram account or just tell me personally "Hey Adil, I think that's really awesome". Serious feedback is a really good thing, and unconditional compliments are totally motivating.

Adil Arslan has graduated from high school this year and will start studying civil engineering at RWTH Aachen in autumn. The eighteen-year-old draws detailed pencil portraits in his spare time. Preferably from his idols, the musicians Kontra K or Kollegah, but also from his mom or friends. In the past five years, Adil has become a real drawing professional. Today he accepts commissioned work and presents his work as @artdil on Instagram.

If you feel like getting started with pencil drawing: In our shop in Cologne we have a large range of different pencils and erasers as well as various high-quality papers to go with them. We will be happy to advise you and put together an individual starter package for you. And then it's called "just do it", based on Adil Arslan! We at horst höll stationery wish you a lot of fun with portraits.
Adil Arslan pencil artist and instagramer