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Hair: From Sketching to Painting

Hair: From Sketching to Painting main article image
Posted on March 31, 2021 by Giada Buccarella

Blond, curly, straight, colored, long, short…. Today our new painting tutorial is about hair!

We will analyze the various phases of the initial sketch process and the various coloring and shading phases, in a few but simple steps, to obtain a pleasant and delicate result at the same time!

If you want to find out how, all you need to do is read below!

Let’s Start!

First of all, when we want to practice, and study the drawing and coloring process, it is very useful to look for reference images. Although it may seem repetitive, the reference images are very important in the study process, because they provide a guide for us, and because they allow us to develop what is neurologically defined as Neuro Path. What is a Neuro Path? A neuro path is what our brain “builds” when faced with new information: our brain is designed to solve, develop, and incorporate new information, after which it also needs to memorize it. To memorize any type of information, our brain generates what neurologists call a “neuro path” or a kind of mnemonic “code” that allows us to acquire new knowledge and reproduce it again in the future. It’s pretty much when you learn to ride a bicycle. Once you have learned how to do it, you can remember how to do it in the future as well.
This is one of the main reasons why the most experienced designers are able to draw anything without necessarily having it in front of their eyes: their brains have managed to learn more neuro pathways through study and exercise. So the advice we can give you is to look for photos that are as clear as possible and that you think are good for you right now, especially if you are a beginner. 

This will for now be our reference image (via Pinterest).


As always, create a clean  sketch  from your photo. There is no need to draw the face too because we are focusing on the hair for today, so our model will not have a face. You can also create the sketch by tracing the photo, tracing is not the same as cheating even if many think so, and tracing the sketch from the photo also helps a lot in the development of your neuro path.


Here is our sketch: clear lines, not too strong, and clean. Let’s see now how to switch to coloring.

Hair Coloring – Basics

For the coloring we choose a color that is not too dark, in this tutorial we will create a light brown color, but it must still be said that the color can be changed at a later time, if desired. (Editor’s note: I personally think it is much more useful to create brown hair immediately, because changes in other shades are much easier). In this tutorial, coloring is done with only three colors (base, shadows, highlights). So, choose your flat color and fill your area in its entirety.


Now, create a new layer above the base color layer, using a clipping mask and set it to SCREEN; with a lighter shade than the initial one, we will create shiny areas.


It is important to note that the highlights always follow the direction of the locks in a consistent manner:


When you do this, draw on the area imagining you are “combing” a doll, just in the same way you would use a hairbrush. The process isn’t really that different.
Once this step is complete, flatten the two layers.

Now it’s time to create depth with the use of shadow areas, then using a darker color. Let’s create a new clipping mask, set to MULTIPLY. Here we are going to color our shadow areas. The darkest areas are those where the individual strands overlap, but also where the hair is at the root:


Now, we can add some stronger highlights to create a glossy effect, but this step is optional. We can do this with a new layer set to ADD. We advise not to overdo it with the light points; they are just zones of brightness positioned in a few points, for the sole purpose of creating a shimmer sensation:


Obviously in each step we remind you to use a smudge tool, be sure to have a look at our previous article about that!

This type of procedure remains the same, although it can change the type of hair we want to represent. Let’s see another example with another type of hair, as in the reference photo below. First, let’s try to understand the arrangement and volume of the hair, we can also create a sketch similar to the one shown below, which can provide us with a guide on how to prepare our outline:


As already explained, the procedure remains the same, let’s fill our area with a base color:


Note that in this case, the hair is not done with the use of a textured hair brush, but a simple round brush already present on Procreate.
To create these little braids I  used a darker color to define the locks:


Finally, I used a lighter shade to create light areas and define the texture of the braid:

Also, today we offer you some exercises to keep in training with the creation of your hair: let’s see some of them!

The Classic Braid


Curls and Waves


As always please feel free to share your thoughts and experience with us about your painting techniques!

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Chantel Kruger

August 28, 2022

Awesome tutorial

Mae Philli

August 23, 2022

Great tutorial, I'm a newbie. I was wondering what software would you recommend for a newbie. Thanks

TheGGShop's profile picture

February 17, 2023


Procreate on iPad or Clip Studio Paint on MAC/PC

Splash Art

March 10, 2022

That was so useful article.

TheGGShop's profile picture

March 10, 2022


you are very welcome!

Love this article Giada, very informative! Love how you break it up as well :) Makes it so easy to follow along!

TheGGShop's profile picture

March 31, 2021


Thank you so much!!

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