Draw a Skull Inside a Portrait

Drawing a skull inside a portrait is a terrific exercise to practice your anatomical understanding of a portrait.

This video provides beginning to end, the entire process for building the skull structure into the portrait.

6 min. video

Various techniques are explained, that can be used to build up three dimensional volume with colored pencil layering, blending, creating a diverse range of textures and marks, pencil grip, and more.

Demo by Art Prof Clara Lieu.

Anatomy Resources


Drawings by NeilAnastasia, and Tent

Video Walkthrough

  • Start your portrait with the largest shapes.
  • Add the skull in very early in your portrait drawing.
  • Be willing to make changes to your drawing; don’t let fundamental problems persist as you draw.
  • This exercise is not about accuracy, rather it’s about approximating the location of the skull.
  • Eye sockets are not circles, observe carefully to see the shape.
  • The human skull is an imperfect form, it has bumps and flaws.
  • Look for the spaces in between the teeth.
  • When drawing hair, look for “chunks” of hair rather than individual hairs.
  • Hair can really establish a person’s identity, don’t leave it out!
  • Cut back on shading, otherwise it will be hard to see the skull.
  • Every single tooth is different, don’t go on automatic pilot when drawing them and assume they are all the same.
  • Don’t outline the teeth, rather suggest their shapes.
  • Search for the smaller shadows in the skull, above and below the teeth.
  • The lower eye lid is more important than you think!
  • Search for how the light falls on the portrait.

3D skull model

We recommend using this 3D skull model so you can have a skull reference that is at the same tilt of your portrait.

Reference Photos

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Artists mentioned

Anatomical Landmarks mentioned

  • Eye sockets
  • Cheek bones (zygomatic arch)
  • Chin
  • Jaw bone (mandible)
  • Nasal bone
  • Sternocleidomastoid

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