SEND Artist demonstration: how to draw a portrait

How can you play with random lines to make a portrait? Watch artist Curtis Holder as he creates a portrait and follow the decisions he makes along the way. In this video, he shows how to get started and plan a portrait, and explains how he uses his pencils and focusses on the details. He also has some tips on how to handle tricky parts, like drawing hands, and what to do if there are parts of your portrait you are not sure about.


  • I’m Curtis Holder. I’m an artist and I’m going to show you how I turn some random scribbles and marks into a portrait.

    You’ll probably need some paper, pencils, a sharpener, maybe a rubber and most importantly, a sitter. A sitter could be anyone. It could be your friend, a family member, someone at school, maybe a teacher. It could even be yourself.

    In most of my portraits, I use lots of random lines and I very rarely rub anything out. You can see lots of lines in this portrait by Frank Auerbach. Some thick, some thin, some straight, some curved. I include every mark because I think every mark is important.

    So let’s meet our sitter. The lighting’s pretty brilliant. Try and find something to look at, because while we’re talking, you might move around a bit. You might focus on different things. But if I say, ‘oh, go to your spot’, then you’ll know exactly what you were looking at and your body will just automatically fall into that, okay.

    So, what I’m going to do is I'm going to use my pencil to measure the length of Harry’s face, to figure out where everything is going to sit on this drawing.

    I think I’ve got your hand in the wrong place, but that’s okay. I used to be really worried about whether I was making the right marks, in the right place. But then I realised it doesn’t really matter because sometimes the magic happens in the mistakes.

    And now I’m going to go in closer and really start to focus on Harry’s face. And you can see that I’m going to change the way I use my pencil now because I’m focusing on more detailed marks.

    I’ve gone to holding my pencil quite near the end. And as you can see, I’m making lots of marks but I’m not rubbing anything out because I think sometimes when you do that, you can miss some really interesting details.

    Now, I think it's always best when drawing hands, which is quite difficult sometimes, to forget they’re hands and just look at the shape everything is making. And usually when you forget what it is you’re drawing and you're just looking, it turns out way better than if you were thinking, I’ve got to draw a hand.

    I love your hat, it’s great because it’s got a little bit of colour in it.

    I’ve finished the drawing of Harry and I’m not quite sure about it. There are things about this I like and things about this I don’t like so much. But what you can do, if they allow you, you can take a photograph of that person and then maybe work on the drawing that you’ve been doing.

    Or you could start a new drawing and see how that develops. It doesn’t matter what I end up with, I always learn something new from every drawing that I make.

Learning objectives

  1. Explore the creative practices and techniques used by a portrait artist.
  1. Create a portrait of a sitter.
  1. Build confidence in drawing.

You will need

  • Paper
  • Pencils and/or charcoal
  • Rubber
  • Pencil sharpener
  • A person to sit for you