When drawing from reference photos, and the hair is photographed, the definition of the hair is muddled. No lighting on the hair. Almost like a silhouette.


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I lightened the image up to see if I could get some more detail, as suggested, there is significant improvement of being able to see the braids on the right side of the photograph, as well as the hair line on the right side.

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What techniques could be used to portray the semblance of the image? Hatching might be a good option, or using charcoal to replicate the dark hues. I've tried a lot of techniques such as these, but not overall happy without the out come. I've come across photographs like this over the years, and still not sure how to get around replicating it, without it looking flat, and lifeless.

Work in progress (beginning steps):

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Work in progress (after lighting and hatching):

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2 Answers 2


As fixer1234 mentioned, in your photo reference, all the hair falls in the darkest area of the spectrum of light values. It actually won't matter once your drawing is complete: once all the light values are on a similar scale, just filling the silhouette of the hair with the darkest value you've used elsewhere in your drawing will create an effect similar to that in the photograph - the flat character won't stand out anymore since we humans are accustomed to images having a limited value range. A famous (and quite rare) art historical example of this, is Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring:

Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665

See how the nose bridge just disappears into the cheek? Yet, it's not conspicuous at all (this is actually one of the reasons the artist David Hockney convincingly reasoned Vermeer used a camera obscura to paint most of his works. But that's a different story altogether :).

If you do want to draw it, you first have to understand the structure of the hair. For this, you can easily find reference material online. Here is an image that shows at least a little of how her braids are structured:

FKA Twigs cropped still

Hatching is a viable option, if you follow the direction of the hair as it curves around the volume of the braids. As the light source in your image is on the right, you can add slightly lighter patches on the right sides of the 'lobes', by hatching with less pressure, by leaving small gaps as you hatch so the paper shines through, or by using an (kneadable) eraser.

  • 3
    LOL. I tried to enhance the hair to see the detail and there was nothing there but noise. I was trying to figure out how you did it and then noticed it's a different picture.
    – fixer1234
    Dec 7, 2019 at 23:14

Are you trying to reproduce the "silhouette", or improve on it so hair detail is visible? The detail is all from reflected light. Hair is a shiny, textured surface. Whatever detail you see is from light being reflected from the tiny portions of the surface that reflect more of it in your direction.

In a photo, if there is good lighting and sufficient resolution, you can make out the texture of the individual hairs as fine bands of lighter and darker, maybe with some bright highlights, where a lot of light gets reflected toward you from a collection of spots. With less resolution and poorer lighting, you can make out larger features, like the braids. With poor lighting and resolution, you're left with not much more than the silhouette and faint hints of larger features.

The human eye has very limited ability to differentiate small differences in brightness in dark colors and shadows. So you can't see much detail in poorly illuminated dark hair. The hair is all essentially the same color. Whatever detail you see is from differences in brightness due to the amount of light reflecting differently from different areas of the hair's texture.

Hair is basically round, so a tiny sliver of the tiny surface of each hair will reflect more light in your direction. With a larger feature like braids, many strands of hair are held together in the same direction, and juxtaposed with other collections of hair in a different orientation. So the reflections are aggregated in a way that makes the pattern more visible than individual hairs in a uniform layer.

If you want to draw poorly illuminated dark hair realistically, showing a lot of detail will look unnatural. If the drawing is intended to represent the hair in "normal" lighting, use varying darknesses, realizing that in reality, there isn't much actual difference in brightness. To represent well-illuminated hair, combine that with some highlights (tiny reflections of white). Leave tiny slivers of the paper showing through, or add a few very thin, short lines of white. Visualize where the light is supposed to be coming from to create that reflection, and make the highlight locations consistent with that.

  • I get what you are saying, like shadows on eyes are very similar to hair, in the fact that you can't really see any detail depending on lighting. When there isn't detail you kind of just draw what you are seeing. I've been feeling kind of stuck. Because I would like to do the 'silhouette' appearance, but it kind of looks too flat. The alternative would be to draw what it would look like with 'normal' lighting.
    – Lyssagal
    Dec 7, 2019 at 19:41

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