How to make an awesome pencil sketch of any photograph

Picture of How to make an awesome pencil sketch of any photograph
I draw things. A lot of things. But drawing or sketching is not a gift, but rather a skill that can be learned. Try these techniques and be prepared to AMAZE your friends and family at what a good artist you are!

In this instructable, I will be walking you through how to take any photograph and make a kick-ass large-format sketch out of it, suitable for framing, gift giving, or impressing that girl/guy you wanna shag. Cuz lets face it: drawing is sexy, baby, yeah! Grrrr!

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Step 1: Assemble your art supplies

Picture of Assemble your art supplies
To start with, you will need to go to your local art store to get the items that you don't already have. I am going to assume that you are like most people and don't have a single item except maybe a number 2 pencil. Oh, and you will need scissors and scotch tape in a few steps, but I assume that you have that stuff.

Here is a list of what i recommend you get in order to successfully complete this instructable:

Required supplies:

-sketch pencils in different hardnesses: HB, 2B, 4B, 6B (and 8B optional) = $5
-a sketch pad that is 18" by 24" = $10
-1/2" drafting masking tape = $4
-a pad of tracing paper 9" x 12" = $3
-a good wad of kneaded eraser = $2
-a "Tuff Stuff" eraser stick = $2
-dry cleaning eraser pad = $4
-a foxtail (aka drafting duster) = $3
-assorted paper stumps for shading = $2
-prismacolor pencil sharpener = $4
-erasing shield = $1

Total required supplies: $40

Optional supplies, in order of importance:

-small pencil case for pencils and erasers = $2
-larger pencil case for small pencil case, eraser shield, and dry cleaning eraser pad =$3
-sketch pad board 23"x26" = $10
-stand-up easel for displaying your finished work like a pro= $20
-nylon portfolio bag 23" x 31" = $22

Total optional supplies: $57

Total recommended supplies: $97

Step 2: Assemble your computer equipment and software

Picture of Assemble your computer equipment and software
After paper and pencils and erasers and stumps, a computer is a very handy tool to use for the all-important preparation step.

It will not help you draw anything, but it can sure make putting the paper to the pencil easier.

Here are the "must haves":

1) A scanner
2) A simple photo editing software like iPhoto, Photoshop, or any number of image editors
3) A bookmark in your browser pointing to http://www.blockposters.com

Step 3: Select a photograph to copy

Picture of Select a photograph to copy
This is the fun part. You can use basically any photograph you want for a sketch. It can even be a crappy low-res internet picture. Or, you can use a little polaroid shot from decades ago, it is up to you! For the purposes of this instructable, however, I am going to be using a picture that a friend sent me from Iraq.

Step 4: Edit the image into a great-looking black and white photo

Picture of Edit the image into a great-looking black and white photo
Use your simple editing software to first change the photo to black and white, and then play with the brightness and contrast until you get a great-looking black and white image.

This is a very imortant step. As you adjust the image, you may want to increase the contrast a bit more to give it a more "edgy" look. This step is lots of fun, because you get to plan what your final sketch will look like by playing around with the variables. If you are a photoshop guru you can really get something interesting.

Here is what I did with my photograph, by tweaking it in iPhoto:

Step 5: Blockposters.com baby!

Picture of Blockposters.com baby!
I love Blockposters.com!

You upload a photo, tell them how big you want it by specifying how many pieces of paper wide you want it, and then you can instantly download a .pdf file that only needs to be printed and it becomes a tiled poster!

Great for not only making huge murals, but in this case we will use it to print out a 1 to 1 master we will draw our picture from.

Keep in mind the final drawing will be on an 18" by 24" piece of paper, and you may not want it to go all the way up to the edge. If you want a slight border around it, you may need to tweak your master image a little first before you upload it to blockposters.com. Trial and error will be your guide.

For this picture, i am going to tell it that I want it to be 2 pieces of landscape letter paper wide. I think that will make a nice-sized picture. On their website you can see a nice graphic representation of how big your picture will be once it is tiled, and it also tells you your dimensions so they take a lot of the guesswork away.

When you are satisfied with the layout, you instantly get a PDF file you can download with the image sliced up.

Now print that bad boy out and you are just about ready to get to drawing!

Step 6: Chop and Tape

First make sure the picture looks good size-wise on your sketch pad, including some margin room.

Next cut out the image and remove the white border so you are left with 4 or 6 borderless pages.

Next tape these together so it all lines up. Use scotch tape and tape to either the front or the back.

A great thing about the PDF from Blockposters.com is that the margins on the pages printed from the PDF insure that the whole image gets printed on your printer. Simply remove the border from all of your pages and tape them together and you are good to go!

Step 7: Prepare to trace

Picture of Prepare to trace
Find a window in your house that gets a good amount of sunlight through it.

Tape your taped up poster to the window using your drafting masking tape. Put it at about eye level, at a comfortable height so your arm doesn't get tired. It doesn't have to be level. Just slap that puppy up there. What it does have to be, though, is FLAT. Make sure it is taped as flat as possible to the window, otherwise your cover sheet will float over parts of it, and when you press it down as you trace the master can shift.

Next, tear out a single sheet of your large sketch pad paper and tape it over your poster, lining it up just perfectly so the image is exactly where you want it on your paper. Take some time on this step, because as soon as it is taped over the master, you have just set the layout for all eternity of this drawing. Choose a layout that is pleasing to the eye and centered on the sheet. I like having lots of excess white space around my drawing, so if I decide to frame it I don't have to cut the matte up to the image, there is some breathing room of space. And when you tape your paper over the poster, make sure it is taped down flat, too.

If you don't have a picture window, or a window large enough to tape your paper to, fret not! Many art supply stores sell little "light boxes" that give you a surface to work on. If you go this route, you will want to tape your master paper directly to the back of the piece of sketch paper. If you don't tape it it will be impossible to line up accurately and your finished sketch may look like dog doo doo, unless you are artistically gifted to begin with. You can also use a television or computer monitor that is displaying all white to trace your image. In this case, you will want to tape your poster to the back of your sketch paper so you can move it around as one unit over the light source to make sure you get the entire image traced.

Now would also be a good time to go get your ipod or boombox or something and start cranking the tunes. You are about to make your masterpiece!

Step 8: Trace

Picture of Trace
Tracing is an artform all unto itself.

There are several rules that you should follow at this point to ensure you get the most traced lines possible.

1) Sketch as lightly as possible. The truth is, no matter how lightly you sketch, as soon as that paper leaves the window and goes to your working surface, the lines will look about 3 times as dark as you thought you drew them. Experience will correct this.

2) Sketch any "meaningful" landmarks or contour you can see in your original. This includes outlines, major value changes, or anywhere you can see a clearly defined border between a lighter or a darker area. You ever see a topographical map? That is what your drawing should look like once it comes off the window. With a very detailed road map sketched out, filling in the details is about as difficult as doing a coloring book.

3) Don't take the paper down off the window until you are done tracing. Trust me on this. Once that paper comes down, if you see a detailed area you forgot to trace, you will never be able to "line it back up" on the master. Once it is down, it is down. You will have to run with it.

Step 9: Prepare your work area and prepare your source materials.

As far as work area goes, I like a nice adjustable drafting lamp clamped to the table I am drawing at. Or I like to go to a picnic table with my sketch board in my neighborhood park. Take your pick. Make your work area comfortable and convenient.

Try to do your entire drawing in one sitting. In order to do this, gather everything you think you may need for the next several hours and place it within arms reach.

I like to have the following at my side when I am sketching:

- Cooler with soda and ice
- My cell phone
- My ipod and stereo
- Trash can
- all my art supplies
- some food or snacks for brain energy, you'll need it

As far as source material goes, here is what I suggest you gather:

- The photograph master you originally chose
- A second b&w PDF poster that has been cut and taped with all the tape on the back side, and no gaps between the seems, so you have a clear full-scale master to refer to as you draw.

If you have a video camera, it is also a cool thing to set it up as you draw so you can end up with a cool video of you drawing whatever it is you are drawing. Edit it in your editing program and speed it up and whoever you give your drawing to will be fascinated to see the work you spent on it.

So, once everything is assembled and you are calm and relaxed, it is time to start sketching. FINALLY! Just let me say that because you have spent all this time doing all this prep work, the final sketch will be fun, quick, and satisfying because your results will not only impress those around you, but you will probably amaze yourself as well.

Ready to start sketching? So am I, lets do it!

Step 10: Sketch!

Remember back to the intro of this instructable, and I told you that sketching is a skill that can be learned? Well, here is where I will teach you the secrets to sketching.

Your first step is to look at your source picture closely, and look at your contour-map looking trace in front of you. Where are they similar? Where are they different? Where are the lightest areas and where are the darkest?

With a keen eye for detail, and the following steps, you should be able to make a really great sketch your first time out.

So now I present to you my recipe for success at the sketch pad:

1) Take your dry cleaning eraser pad, and lightly and gently "scrub" your whole paper until you can just BARELY see your trace marks. This is a great place to start because it cleans up your paper and tones down all the contour lines. Make the areas with the most delicate features (eyes, nose, mouth) the lightest, so you can JUST BARELY see the trace lines. Areas of major darkness don't have to be lightened so much. Also, my technique for this step is to squeeze my dry cleaning pad (like I am milking a cow) a few inches above the surface of my sketch pad so little eraser particles fall out onto the paper. Once I have peppered the whole surface, then I lightly start the "scrub." When you are finished lighting up your trace lines, take your foxtail and brush all the debris into your trash bin or onto the floor.

2) Start sketching by lightly filling in the darkest areas first. If you are sketching a portrait of someone, start with the pupils of the eyes, taking care to NOT darken the highlighted portions where a white circle or crescent appears. Nailing down the exact location of this little patch of white is the trick to making your drawing's eyes look right.

3) Don't try to draw the item in your picture, instead simply try to make dark areas dark and light areas light. Don't draw what you "think" is there, draw what you "see" is there.

4) Never brush off eraser shavings or dry erase particles with your hand. ALWAYS use your foxtail.

5) Build up the dark areas slowly. I like to build up my drawing in layers.

6) Those pencil stubs for shading are your secret weapon. Use them to make nice blends form light to lighter areas.

7) For the most part, work from the full-size black and white poster. Try to duplicate it with your pencils and erasers.

8) Only draw for 50 minutes at a time. Take 10 minute breaks every hour while you draw, otherwise you WILL make mistakes and you will have to use your eraser more.

9) Using your eraser is a good thing, it shows that you can see a mistake and you are going to try it again. But also keep in mind that every time you erase something you are basically negating time you spent sketching. Eraser more, and you are wasting more of your precious time. Try to really look at what you are trying to duplicate before you put the pencil to the paper in the first place. If you don't know exactly what you are trying to draw with your pencil, the chances of you making an accurate representation of what you are looking at is very slim.

10) Learn to look at the negative space. Instead of concentrating on where the cheek or hair is, try to draw where it ISN'T. In other words, looking at the shape of the pure white areas will often illuminate better placement for features. If you drew a mouth or a nose, for instance, and it looks messed up, try to look at the actual shape of the highlights that have no darkness to them and sketch their outlines.

11) Work in spirals outward from the dark regions, paying close attention to where other features are in relation to the dark areas. If a clockface was superimposed on the dark area, where on the clock face is the next feature you want to draw? At 2 o'clock? 3 o' clock? How far away?

12) Keep your pencils sharp and work in short, light strokes, slowly building up the are to the desired level of darkness.

13) As you complete areas, take your tracing paper and your drafting tape and tape the paper over those areas so you don't rub your palm in them and mess them up. Constantly cover up what you have already done and close in on what you have left to draw.

14) If your sketch "just doesn't look right," DON'T trash the whole thing and start over. Instead, scan that puppy in to photoshop and super impose it over the original. Set one of their transparencies to 50% and look closely to see where it doesn't match. You may have made a few mistakes, but you probably got some areas perfect. Erase the wrong areas and keep the good areas.

15) When you are finished, sign your work! You made it, you are now an artist and you get to sign it any way that you want. I like to sign my work with my Chinese name, too, underneath my regular name.

And BTW, I will be putting pictures up on this instructable of my Iraq picture, I just haven't gotten to sketch it yet.

Step 11: When you are finished

Picture of When you are finished
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Admire your work! Good job dude or dudette. Place it on your easel and keep it on display for everyone to see. If you need to protect it, tape some tracing paper over the front of it. Just don't leave masking tape taped to the front of your sketch for more than a few days, or else it could rip and ruin your sketch when you go to remove it.

Also, some people like to spray their drawings with an aerosol called "fixative." I would highly DISCOURAGE doing this. That stuff is more for blueprints and stuff and mechanical drawings. I have seen people ruin their sketches by coating them with too much of that stuff. Very sad. Stay away. Art stores do sell special paper like wax paper that can be bought in large sheets to cover finished sketches. That is a good way to go.

If you ever need to send a sketch, I recommend using FedEx. They have free triangular tubes that work great for mailing.

Sketching is not as hard as most people think, and if you think of the computer as just another sketching tool, you can really make sketching fun and rewarding by doing your preparation thoroughly.

If you use my instructable to make some cool art, please do me a big favor and scan it in and email it to me. I would love to hear from you.

Email me at joe@bigredvideo.com

Here is a sketch that I did for a client a few weeks ago, just so you can get an idea of how I work:

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DimaB29 days ago
1. get tablet
2. put screen brightness to 100%
3. put tablet beneath paper
4. ???
5. profit!
photoskills1 month ago
Thanks so much for this so helful! I really wanted to do a sketch of grav3yardgirl in one of her recent vids!
sazad alam1 month ago
Please give me suggestions
meghna211 year ago

i wanted to learn to sketch not trace

bcox17 meghna212 months ago
this is one i did of my daughter i (traced) the basic features very lightly then just shaded everything and built it up entirely by looking at the photo and sketching accordingly then blended smooth with blend stump and a little tough with a white pencil here and there
bcox17 meghna212 months ago
ive been a professional tattoo artist for over 16 years now the only way your gonna learn to draw without tracing and trust me when i say this is, practice practice practice. Practice drawing things that you would normally never draw practice drawing things that you never think anyone else would have you draw practice drawing the most random things you can see at that exact moment in the room things like a jar of Vaseline a roll of toilet paper a light bulb I drew a dremel tool with a roll of duct tape and Swiss Army knife one time you could get those random things they're going to develop your prospective and dimensions and the way you see shadows lights and darks and that's the only way you can ever train your hand to be coordinated enough with your imagination to exicute a one of a kind piece that only you could visualize beforehand. Now after 16 years as a professional artist and over 20 years as an artist in general it might finally starting to be able to just imagine an image and bring it to life even now a lot of times just out of sheer laziness I have to Google reference images and while I'm looking at the image on my phone draw my own interpretation of it on the paper but they only came from countless hours in years the practice mostly of times when I really didn't feel all that artistic I admit it does come a lot easier for some people there is a such thing as a natural I wasn't blessed as much as those people are most of mine skill set now came from just being lazy and trying to avoid all the preparation time it takes to completed some images. sorry if i sound discouraging i don't mean to be i love to see anyone inspired enough to sacrifice that much time and be determined enough to master any art form for no other reason or motivation than their passion for it cause we all know very few artists ever get rich in their line of work. or famous till well after their deaths.
Muhammad Asad2 months ago
Muhammad Asad2 months ago
Muhammad Asad made it!2 months ago

Hey Guyz.... What about This Sketch??? Sketching is my Passion... like my page


Muhammad Asad made it!2 months ago

i made it....!

mabbasj3 months ago

Just for learning purpose as a beginner , Computer/Laptop screen/LEDs could display a picture in any order you want and tracing can also be done by putting paper on the display screen. I know it sounds bit childish but in case someone don't have that Light-Window or wanted to do it in evening or may printer get stuck ...

MohammodA4 months ago
chinthadap made it!4 months ago

its nice

akochas5 months ago
AnamtaZara5 months ago
somesh.viswa8 months ago

i've drawn dis pic n i want to learn shading....in a way to make it more realistic.....can u help me.....???


thats actually really good, ive been drawing for 4 years now and ive learnt that to make a really great realism drawing or whatever you have to have at least 3 pencils, i normally use a 8B, 4B and H to get the different gradient of colour. Anoother thing i would say is you need a bigger difference in darkness, so lets suppose the features of the face have to be a lot darker ... eg: shadows on ears and shadows around the nose, trust me you will see a great improvement once you darken the shadows a bit more , another thing i would say is never let any "paper" (blank spaces without coloring) of course it really depends on the pic ur basing from. However im pretty sure you will always find places you could draw in ... hope this helped

VikasT18 months ago
prajwal.ghale made it!9 months ago

I made it!!

gazishajib9 months ago
Erchan11 months ago

This video is unavailable. would you upload again when u are available please?

This would be a great way to make someone a nice gift

@thesparine Great post..!!

@meghna21 Found another video tutorial that also explains the same thing in bit more detail, I think it might help you. - http://www.jerrysartarama.com/art-lessons/Artists/Carol-Ann-Sherman/Carol-Ann-Sherman-How-to-Begin-Sketching-a-Portrait.html

golfiscool1 year ago

Great instructable on how to sketch! You use a lot of the same materials that I use. Nice job.


Erchan1 year ago

Time, time, time... Also need experiences.

IDEA: Use photoshop actions. Make it in 1 minute. If you want naturel look print %60 - 70 opacity. Then sketch it yourself and make %100.

alky19572 years ago
Yup, it says "This video does not exist"
98894 years ago
This is great and all, and interesting techniques. But ... this isn't sketching. It's TRACING. It doesn't matter if you're going to lightly erase all of the lines after you trace it. It's still tracing. A real sketch is looking at a reference photo and using your own skill to sketch out the picture, NOT drawing your pencil over lines that are already there for you and claiming that you "sketched" it. That doesn't make art; it makes a lame copy. You didn't make it. You just copied a photo.
WAHOAH! Hey dude, the Instructable is called how to make an awesome pencil sketch out of any photograph. What were you expecting? Personally I thought it was going to end up being some sort of cheap computer trick, and I was pleasantly surprised. Some people, myself included, have absolutely no artistic skill but enjoy doing things like this, working with the hands et cetera. You don't have to follow the 'ible yourself, so don't be rude to someone when they go to all the effort to make a useful Instructable. Also, um, what's up with your inactivity? Did you create your 'ibles account simply to slag off at this guy? Low blow, man.
I don't disagree with what you are saying, and I won't try and speak for 9889, but the reason I agree with the statement (hence the +1), is due to the fact this member wrote in the opening statement of this ible that "drawing or sketching is not a gift, but rather a skill that can be learned".

I take offense to that being an artist and someone who has created, sold and gifted many pencil portraits and drawings.

There is no "art to tracing". Thats my opinion, and no one needs to agree with it if they don't want to.

Clearly someone who has no artistic ability can benefit and perhaps learn something from the efforts of this author, I personally feel however, that some of the statements made were unnecessary.
Obviously, you can have a natural ability or gift for something, such as art or music, but that's not to say that these things can't be learned as well. Obviously, tracing is way easier than drawing something freehand. Obviously, you have every right to take offense to someone disregarding your hard work. But I was not disagreeing with 9889's point, I was disagreeing with the way he said it. People do not need to be so abrasive. I completely agree with you, tracing is not sketching. But it's the next best thing.
I agree that 9889 could have made the same point in a slightly nicer way. I don't know this member, and have no reason to stick up for him or her.

I think a lot of people just don't like when this tracing method is used and passed off as original free-hand work, suggesting theres no talent needed to create art (as the author said). At the end of the day, a child can learn to trace. So in a way its like changing the lyrics to a song and calling it original.

As long as people are truthful with how they created something there shouldn't be anything wrong with it.
Ok, I'm still in on this :)
Consider the classical western european music tradition: by that I mean music written by a composer using symbols on paper, played by people trained in the discipline of a performing on musical instruments. The original idea for the "music" can only be accredited to the composer, all others involved in a musical performance are merely reproducing, using what they have been taught by others as their guides. Why would someone pay a lot of money to "see" a conductor leading a performance of a Beethoven symphony? Mr. Beethoven isn't going to show up to defend his idea, so is the conductor no less the artist for that? Is he reselling something that is not his? It's a pretty twisted take on this thread, but an interesting discussion to some of us! (BTW, yes, I am a former pro musician, lost my hearing, and I hate fakers.) Still, this instructable is no more than an intro to sketching, using tools and exercises, just like beginning violin lessons!
Do you denounce photography as "art", since you merely point and shoot? What about the Camera Obscura? Camera Lucida? Can't this method be seen as an aid to the drawer? For certain some people have differing abilities, but to disqualify someone who reveals a technique that may help someone enjoy drawing photo-realistic sketches can't be that bad. Purism is boring. Art for art's sake. Live and let live.
Tracing is not Art, its merely copying.
And No, I don't "denounce photography as art".

I don't agree with the author of this ible who says that "drawing is not a gift but something that can be learned".

We all have the right to an opinion. No one said you had to agree with mine.
What about throwing paint on a canvas and rolling around in it? What about making a video of cars driving down a country road and projecting it on a painting? What about piling rocks on a beach? Anything you can use to express yourself is art. In the comment below I'm agreeing with stringstretcher.
I respect your opinion, but it doesn't change mine.

TRACING IS NOT ART. - It's no better than plagiarism.
*grits teeth and resists the urge to throw a small animal* Okay, I'll go for a compromise. What if there's a deliberate shift in the layout of the photo, or if the photo is taken by the tracer? Or if the photo is taken by the tracer and then tracing is deliberately used as a statement, a message put across about perhaps the very thing you're complaining about? Then is it art? Then is it enough of a personal expression for you to accept that for some people, maybe, it is in fact ART???
I'm not trying to tell anyone how they should think nor how they should view art. So let's be clear on that first.

In this case specifically, if anyone uses a "tracing technique", they should come clean about it and not try and pretend they did it without copying. Plain and simple.

To address your broader argument on the basis of artistic merits, I have to ask you what you think of all those people who copy the works of accomplished artists and sell the work for profit. Certainly the buyer feels defrauded when they learn they paid for a forgery. With your argument, the final product is still art. Right?

So let me also ask you, what does that say about the pure expression of Art, when its been taken to the lowest form and is merely copied? Whether its for financial gain, or for this authors chances of landing a shag? (Read what he wrote in his intro).
From my understanding, what we're discussing here is a photograph being traced. No-one in their right mind is going to pay for a tracing thinking it's a legit PHOTO. When would they learn they paid for a forgery, two days after purchase? I don't think so.
Secondly, my mother did an art crime paper just last year, returning to University after a while. I think that copying the works of accomplished artists is downright despicable. But still I say, the focus here is on a photograph, presumably that the tracer has taken, and which IS NOT the work of an accomplished artist.

Your entire argument here is of some lowdown creep stealing a well-known artist's work and using it for financial or social gain. However, this is virtually impossible using the techniques outlined in this Instructable. As you can plainly see, this Instructable is for the tracing of a PHOTOGRAPH, NOT a drawing that has already been made.

If your focus is on making a drawing like this and passing it off as an original sketch, still I disagree with you when you say it is copying. Even after the tracing process, there is still a lot of work to be done, and there is skill and personal flair involved in finishing the drawing. Many artists used and still use reference images for sketches and paintings. This is virtually the same thing.

In conclusion, forgery is NOT the issue here. The issue is on whether or not the tracing of a photograph is or is not your original work. I still insist that it is, and although the final product may or may not be too accurate for the tracer's skill, the indisputable fact remains that the person in question has made something of their own, taking whichever details they desire from a photograph and attempting to imitate them. I therefore finish with my final statement:

Tracing an existing photo and attempting to imitate its details can be, and is often, original work and art.
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