20 tips for drawing hair, hands & bodies

Learn to draw better bodies, hair and hands from leading illustrators including Miss Led, Barbara Dziadosz and Michael Parkin.

Hair drawing techniques from Miss Led


I created ‘Nina’ recently using a reference shot of myself at the studio. This was created as part of my Illustration for Fashion video tutorial series released this Autumn. I chose this piece from over 20 images in this series as the natural daylight coming through the window creates a real brightness which compliments the bright clothing, I wanted the illustration as a whole to feel bright and happy but in a soft and subtle way.

I liked that her hair is framed with colour, pattern and line work. You’ll see that will my work I’ve always played with the concept of opposites - here I wanted to play with density against negative space. And using that theme through the way I drew the hair creates the illusion of light against the dark marks made at the neck and on the hair roots.

Miss Led, missled.co.uk

You can see in these various progress shots how I’m slowly working out where to continue adding lines and how I’m choosing where to add more weight and density.  I will add a darker, softer lead pencil mark on the areas such as hairline, around the neck or below the ear. So that I’m acknowledging the depth and shadow.

Miss Led, missled.co.uk


For highlights I either leave the paper clear or create thinner lighter lines that contrast against the more heavy marks. I used a regular cartridge paper for this, and you’ll see the slight texture created from that. For a long time I preferred Xerox as it’s clean and texture free so the lines become even cleaner still.

Miss Led, missled.co.uk

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I use retractable pencils and I imagine that I’m drawing every hair line possible – using a 0.3 lead – starting with a HB and then building up to 0.5 in B and 2B. I have a Pentel retractable eraser also which I use to create highlights.

Miss Led, missled.co.uk


Hair drawing tips from Miss Led

Create an overall shape to begin with, and then start with making your waves. Rather than being heavy with the pencil here just repeat over your lines where you see it darker in the reference with the same lightness and character of line.

The main trick here is to keep your hand anchored. When you are repeating and mirroring your acknowledging wave like lines keep you hand in the same position. Exercising this technique is a really good way to perfect this. Don’t just rely on photography - Observe people’s hair around you. If you want to create better, more realistic hair on paper you need to be a better observer also. 

Miss Led, missled.co.uk


For creating stylised, believable hair – from memory or imagination – make sure you consider the two most important rules: hairline and parting, and light source to direct shadows and light.

Miss Led, missled.co.uk

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Look at how the hair responds to the shoulders and collars and scarves, for example. Also see how the weight of thick or long hair acts differently to soft, bouncy hair.  This will guide your lines.

Start with the figure shape first then respond with a hair shape. When using references look at clearer and crisper lit ones. You can then define the light against dark which helps see most of the hair quality.

Miss Led, missled.co.uk


A strong image is based on clear communication, a direct but sometimes subtle message – and understanding what the image needs to communicate. By making the observer question or think, and respond by bringing something to the work, it can create a relationship with the viewer.

Miss Led, missled.co.uk


Body drawing techniques from Michael Parkin

When it comes to producing a piece of work, for me, the idea is always the most important. I spend as much time as I can, thinking through ideas and sketching small thumbnails. Once I am happy with the idea I will break down the image in to parts and start drawing them up individually - so that I can layer them all at the end.

Michael Parkin, parkinparkin.com

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I find it important to look up or make my own reference to work from when drawing, and I will focus mainly on outline for the first sketch. When I am happy with the shape I then use tracing paper on my own drawing to draw a neater version, which I can scan in to the computer.

In Photoshop, I use the Pen tool to draw around my drawing and make a solid shape - which I can then print and use as a stencil to draw the detailing. 

Michael Parkin, parkinparkin.com


The most important part of drawing the body is making sure that you have good reference - whether that involves searching around online or taking your own photo of a friend or even yourself! Reference material helps to see what is happening where, especially if the body is in an awkward pose.

Michael Parkin, parkinparkin.com


I will work up each element like this and then drop/place them on to the image, building it up slowly. I have a large selection of handmade textures - which I top up as often as possible - and I will usually add these at the end to finish the illustration. 

Michael Parkin, parkinparkin.com

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Hands drawing tips from Michael Parkin

For drawing hands, I would say the same as before - find some reference. I am always surprised at the weird positions hands end up in, and often end up questioning myself when drawing them. It's much easier to produce reference for hands as I have two that I can easily photograph. 

Michael Parkin, parkinparkin.com


Hands drawing techniques from Barbara Dziadosz

Working on a new illustration always starts with research. In case of drawing hands, this is rather easy, as you just have to take a look at your own ones. I try out different positions and when I`m happy with one of them I just go for it.

I use very soft pencils while sketching, so I don't need much pressure while drawing.

Barbara Dziadosz, basiadziadosz.tumblr.com


After the sketch is done I take it to Illustrator I trace the sketch and colour it in. After this I take each layer (similar to a screen print) to Photoshop and add hand-drawn elements.

Barbara Dziadosz, basiadziadosz.tumblr.com

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My style is based on screenprinting. Some years ago I started trying out different printing techniques and fell in love with screenprinting. As I´m impatient and wanted to be independent I started to search something digital but with a touch of hand-drawn elements, that seem to clean and perfect. After a while of experimenting (I didn't know a thing about Illustrator and Photoshop) I ended up with a versatile technique that is fun to work with.

Barbara Dziadosz, basiadziadosz.tumblr.com


Body drawing techniques from Nadar Sharaf

Observe the human body and draw it until you really understand how it behaves beyond frontal, back and side-face poses. Looking at classic sculpture by Giambologna, Canova, Rodin or Bernini helps me a lot. It is also important to have a wooden articulated mannequin at your desk. I truly believe that once you learn to observe you learn to draw.

Nadar Sharaf, nadersharaf.com


Drawing from life or from sourced materials is the same, if and when you understand how human body works. And what’s more, you have to be able to understand those parts that are not seen while drawing, such as muscles or skeleton. 

Nadar Sharaf, nadersharaf.com

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It’s important to have studied something about human anatomy or being a very good observer of the body language instead, to know what each body pose might mean. Using photographs helps a lot, but in the end you have to understand what the body language is about, in order to represent successfully what you want to say. Anatomy teaches you how amazing, rich and complex the tool is, and the body language shows you the possibilities that tool offers.

Nadar Sharaf, nadersharaf.com