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.

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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