Tips to Illustrate Realistic Hairstyles

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

Have you gotten really good at illustrating straight shoulder length hair. To change it up, have you tried different colors for the hair? Be honest, are you tired of coloring the same old straight hair? Then it's time to shake it up and add variation to make your hair illustrations more interesting. Here are a couple of ideas and tips to add variety to your regular hair styling routine.

Wavy Hair

The challenge of wavy hair is the belief that it will take a lot of time to illustrate or color all of the waves and curls. The best way to address that challenge is to break down the hair into sections. Focus on the darkest areas and the lightest areas of the hair, not every single curl. After you have created all the dark and light areas you can add several wispy hairs, this is the detail that will create texture and realism to the hair.

The best thing about wavy or curly hair is that it looks better the messier it is. That means you don't have to be perfect when illustrating or coloring it. No one is going to call you out if you have a curl super high on the head or two curls going in different directions - because that is exactly what it is supposed to do.

Braided Hair

This can be tricky depending on the size of the braids and the style of the braids, but it is not as hard. When you look at photos of braids, take note of where you see the hair tucks under other sections of hair and direction the hair is going. As above, you will illustrate the dark and light areas of the braids before you add the detail lines to each section of the braid to indicate the direction the hair is flowing.

As I am looking around at the different styles of braids it seems that the box braid is the hippest style out there right now. People are adding different colors to their braids and even metallic strands so they sparkle. If you take a walk down internet lane and spend any time searching for current braided hair styles you will be astonished by all of the amazing hairstyles with braided hair. I have never seen so many great ideas that look incredible. I would love to try some of them on my own (real life) hair but - I know all too well that braids take a very long time, but I can illustrate them on paper in a quarter of the time and be just as satisfied with the end result.

Hair Buns

Similar to braided hair, meaning they are sections of hair going in the same direction-- just larger. The fun thing about buns, they can go anywhere (on the top of the head, or lower on the neck, or even cute ones on either side of the head. The details that really brings a hair bun to life are the hair strands that fall on the nape of the neck or the hairs that are too short to make it into the bun that fall gently against the face.

There are so many buns to draw. There are messy buns, top knots, side buns, braided bun, the official ballerina buns (that is really a thing) and so many more. You could illustrate hair buns for days and never make the same one twice.


If you are feeling really adventurous try illustrating dreadlocks. Believe it or not, and as crazy as it sounds. dreadlocks are fairly easy to create. They are really just tubes with various line thicknesses to illustrate the locks of hair. When you look at a reference photo of dreadlocks they look a bit lumpy with dark areas and lighter areas. It is fun to illustrate these locks of hair because you can be a random as you want.

Here is a fun fact about dreads. Did you know that people who want to make their dreads grow faster spend time each day massaging their scalp to stimulate hair growth. Maybe that is why everyone I have ever met with dreads are so relaxed and happy. I am positive that is the only reason. LOL As you can see you do not need to go to beauty school to be able to create all of these hair styles. Breaking it down into sections and following your reference photo will put you on the right track to make some amazing hair styles. There are so many great styles that will make your illustrations extremely interesting. No matter if you are adding in unique colors or simply illustrating a unique cut - adding a fun hairstyle can take your pretty face illustration to the next level.

Join us this month as we practice our coloring of realistic hair/fur techniques.

If, by chance, you are reading this after our adventurous month of hairy exploration, don't worry because you can find the Hair/Fur Practice Technique Pack here!

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