Earlier this summer, I drew a portrait of a girl that I liked. It was a good drawing, but I cheated. I basically traced the important parts and carefully overlayed the photo for shading. I never actually showed the drawing to anyone because I felt so guilty. I promised myself I’d never fake a drawing again.

Anyway, after that I took up drawing and started really working to improve. I’ve been drawing on and off for the past couple months, but I didn’t really start drawing every day until this past month.

Normally, I draw from a reference photo. My reference photo drawings turn out much better than just a standard freehand drawing. But when I do a freehand drawing of a woman (A drawing without a reference photo) my drawing looks terrible. The woman doesn’t look very feminine. She doesn’t even look pretty.

Here is my freehand drawing I did yesterday:

Image 1

A drawing of a woman from a reference photo:

enter image description here

In the second image, the woman acually looks pretty. The first woman just looks weird. I’m struggling to figure out the differences between masculine and feminine features to make my female drawings look better.

What can I do to improve? Ive searched all over looking for courses or guides to help myself improve, but there aren’t any that are free. Andrew loomis’ book says that women have larger eyes and lips, but that clearly didn’t turn out very well. Professional opinions and feedback are welcome.

2 Answers 2


I am no professional artist and don't draw any portraits, but I hope to offer you some insights free of prejudice and textbook mantras.

The woman on top doesn't look weird, masculine or ugly, she is just shaded unnaturally.

Light source

Every highlight and shadow depends on where your main source of light is positioned. In the lower drawing the woman is looking into the direction of the light source. In the upper drawing it's not clear where the light is comming from. Maybe to the left? Maybe in the direction of the viewer?


The direct consequence of light is a shadow. In the lower drawing, the jawline casts a shadow onto the neck and the hair casts a shadow onto the jaw. Where both shadows combine it's darker than in other places.

Let's first concentrate on the left side of the upper drawing:

  • Her hair surrounding her forehead casts a shadow on her face but doesn't cast a shadow on her neck.
  • The hair in general looks quite natural with a flow of lighter and darker areas
  • The subtle highlights of her cheekbones and chin look very natural, too
  • The nose casts a shadow to both sides (but I know how f#ing difficult it is to draw a nose).

Now have a look at the right side of the upper drawing:

  • Most highlights indicate that the source of light should be in the upper left corner. The peak of her head should cast a shadow onto the hair on the right side, but there's a highlight instead.
  • Her right eye is brighter than the left one, as if the light shines from the right instead. BUT apart from that, the right eye is a perfect example of how it should look like with light comming from the left. You start with more details (more depth) on the left corner and let it fade into a smoth shadow to the right. Might be unintentional but looks perfect.
  • The cheekbone is again highlighted in a very natural way
  • On the jaw and neck light and shadows are reversed. The hair that is (probably) flowing over these areas is darker than the skin below. The perception of depth is absolutely destroyed and the hair looks flat or misplaced.


I cannot find any major flaw in anatomy in any picture. Maybe the ear on the upper picture is a little bit too high, but it's unmistakably a human ear. The round jaw and plush lips look very feminine and the proportions of the face looks about right. Good work.

  • Thank you so much for the feedback. I need to get new pencils because the ones I currently have don’t get dark enough. The light from my desk was reflecting off of the pencil on the paper. Nov 21, 2018 at 7:46

Stereotypical masculine features include an overall more rigid structure, larger bones (especially jawbone), more distinct jaw and neck muscles.

Stereotypical feminine features include an overall softer structure, higher eyebraws, smaller jawbone.

Of course this is an oversimplification; in reality stereotypical masculine and feminine features are more often than not intermixed (without depriving the person of their masculinity or femininity).

I suspect you may be asking the wrong question here. Perhaps what you need to look at are actually different features, generally speaking (different mouth shapes, nose shapes, face shapes etc) and how these relate to the overall shape. Plastic and constructive anatomy books may be helpful in relation to this.

(I see nothing particularly wrong with the woman on the first drawing. The reason why you may think she looks weird could be because it is a full-face image and these often look somewhat odd by themselves - compare selfies to passport photos, to see what I mean).

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