How to draw a braid

How to draw a braid -- Mervi Emilia

Drawing hair used to be one of those things I really didn't get. It seemed more like magic how some illustrators were able to create such deep, detailed and real looking hair. I was astonished by the textures, lights and shadows, and how someone could possibly do something like that. Of course I thought it would be difficult and take perhaps days and loads of patience. Then I decided to learn it. After finding out how drawing hair can be fun and easy, I haven't looked back. You can see and purchase my drawings at Society6.

This isn't the only way to draw hair, there are no rights or wrongs. I just find this method easy and fast. By fast, I mean it doesn't take more than a couple of hours from a blank paper to a realistic drawing of hair. I have a short patience and I lose my interest quite fast. For example, I like the idea of knitting. I like knitting for a while and getting results with it is fun. Socks are one of my favourite things to knit. At the same time it is unfortunately a pretty daunting process. Lots of repeating the same and the results come in very small increments. I find drawing, especially drawing hair, rather calming and relaxing. Almost meditative. After a little practice I have found out I'm good at it too, so it is in that sense quite satisfying. Today I will show you how I draw a braid.

I took the photos with my iPhone 4S and due to it being late November, it is a low light situation here in Finland. Thus the photos aren't the best of quality. I hope you'll still get the idea.

For drawing I have a simple set of products. The following product links are NOT affilate links, and you can as well use other similar products. These work for me and I do recommend these products for their quality and the results I get with them. I have a set of 12 Faber-Castell pencils, called Castell 9000 Art Set. Their hardness varies from 2H to 8B. Of those I utilise about half for a basic drawing of hair. I like the softer scale of pencils the best, but the harder ones are very useful for drawing too. I also have three Derwent Paper Stumps (sometimes called blending stumps) and a KOH-I-NOOR HARDTMUTH soft eraser in pencil. The paper used here is Daler Rowney A3 Medium Grain Drawing Pad, 160 g/m2 (98 lb.). It's nicely textured paper, which I like using for drawing. The texture of the paper gives character and depth to drawings.

How to draw a braid: Tools -- Mervi Emilia

I use the different hardnesses of pencils in a bit of a "feels like this today" sort of a way. Obviously I use the softer pencils (5B to 8B) for creating darker lines and shadows, the harder pencils (2H to B) for lighter lines, and the hardnesses in between (2B to 4B) in between for everything else. However I never use a specific, set hardness for a specific task, but any of the range, depending on what sort of effect I'm looking for.

To begin with my drawing I sketched the outlines of the head and the braid to the paper. I didn't use a picture as a reference, but I had an idea of what I wanted to draw, a simple and thick dutch braid. I used a hard pencil, hardness of H, and sketched the outlines very lightly. (Oops, the photo is terribly shaky. Sorry.)

How to draw a braid: Outlines -- Mervi Emilia

After sketching the outlines, I filled the area inside with light strands, still using the H pencil. I used this to set the initial flow of the hair, the direction of the strands. These strands worked as a base and sort of guidelines I would follow to create the braid.

How to draw a braid: First strands -- Mervi Emilia

Having drawn the strands, I took the biggest ones of the paper stumps and blended, or as I like to say, smudged it all. This resulted to an almost solid base of visible, light strands and pencil smudge.

How to draw a braid: Blending the first strands -- Mervi Emilia

This time I took a softer pencil, 4B. I sharpened it and continued with drawing the strands, following the basic flow I had set with the H pencil. I filled the braid and the other hairy areas with these softer, darker strands. At this point I didn't use the softest pencils yet, since I was now creating the "second layer". If I'd been drawing lighter hair, I'd have at this point used a slightly harder pencil.

How to draw a braid: Second layer -- Mervi Emilia

Having created this layer of strands I again used the big paper stump to smudge the whole thing. Are you wondering why there's that empty piece of paper hanging about? Ah yes, it is a very high tech tool. It really is just a piece of paper, to protect the drawing from being too smudged and messed up by the side of my hand.

How to draw a braid: Blending the second layer -- Mervi Emilia

It was starting to look pretty good now, but there were no lights there, only shadows. Kind of solid and dull.

How to draw a braid: Blended and solid -- Mervi Emilia

To create the highlights I used an eraser pencil. You can also use a regular eraser, just cut a sharp edge to it for more detailed erasing. The eraser pencil is a great tool for me, since I can sharpen it with a pencil sharpener and it can be used for very small and defined details. I use the eraser pencil in a similar way as a regular pencil, "drawing" the highlights with it.

How to draw a braid: Erasing highlights -- Mervi Emilia

I get usually very generous with creating the highlights at this round. You may have noticed that in this illustration I always started the filling and highlighting from the braid. I did this, because the braid was the main thing. I had to keep sharpening the eraser, because it gets dull very fast in my use.

How to draw a braid: More highlights -- Mervi Emilia

I highlighted all the hair, continuing to follow the flow of the strands. Now the braid was very stripy and it didn't have that much depth. Too much light. There was eraser dust all over the place.

How to draw a braid: Highlighted and stripy -- Mervi Emilia

At this point I again used one of the paper stumps to slightly soften the edges between the highlights and darker areas, after which I begun to add the depth. I used a softer pencil, I believe it was a 6B. I made sure it was sharp and kept sharpening it during the process. I added dark strands and deepened the edges and the parts where the sections of hair intertwine. For a lighter hair I would have added a little less darkness, yet still using a soft pencil. (Oh, my shaky hands! That photo is horribly out of focus!)

How to draw a braid: First shadows and edges -- Mervi Emilia

Around here I noticed that my right ring finger was getting hurty, and I put a bandage where I rest the pencil while drawing (or writing). It worked as a little pillow. Finger pillow! Is that a thing?

How to draw a braid: Hurty finger -- Mervi Emilia

I kept adding the darkness and depth, using the paper stumps to soften the edges, and erasing the highlights. It started to look pretty good, don't you think?

How to draw a braid: More shadows -- Mervi Emilia

Towards the end I used the softer pencils, 7B and 8B. They are great for creating dark shadows and depth. Being very soft they get dull quite fast. So I had to keep sharpening them to keep the strands sharp as well. I added and subtracted, highs and shadows, strands and edges. I also used the paper stumps to soften the shadows.

How to draw a braid: Highs and shadows -- Mervi Emilia

At some point my woolly socks photobombed the almost done drawing.

How to draw a braid: The picture and my woolly socks -- Mervi Emilia

I also used a harder HB pencil to create light strands over the highlighted parts and added more little details.

How to draw a braid: Details -- Mervi Emilia

I also signed the ends of the braid as a little artist detail. Personal branding and whatnot. In the end, after drawing, I also used the regular eraser to clear the surroundings of the braid. Even though I used the piece of paper to reduce the smudging caused by my hand, there was lots of pencil smudge everywhere. And my fingerprints.

How to draw a braid: Detail of the ends -- Mervi Emilia

My goal was to draw a very soft looking dutch braid. Lots of hair, uneven braiding, shadows, lights, texture and depth. I wish my hair was this thick.

How to draw a braid: Detail of the top -- Mervi Emilia

I wanted to create lots of details, and a sense of separate strands and layers. Not only there are shadows towards the edges and intertwining, but also all over the braid, making it look very full and layered.

How to draw a braid: Detail of the middle -- Mervi Emilia

Done! By adding and subtracting, and creating all these layers I ended up with drawing of a braid, which to me looks pretty realistic. What do you think?

How to draw a braid: Done! -- Mervi Emilia

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Mervi Eskelinen

Hello, I'm Mervi!

An artist, nerd and business sorcerer, dedicated to make world more beautiful and strange with art, illustrations and logos + to help you figure your sustainable business out.

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