I’m not here to lie to you… Drawing hair IS an incredibly long, tedious and complicated task to tackle. None the less, prepare yourself because there’s no getting around it. Hair is an obstacle that absolutely must be conquered…
Well. That is unless you plan on making all your characters bald… In that case I’ll let you off the hook.
When drawing a character’s head, it’s the hair that’ll be the most drawn out and time consuming portion of the entire process.
Truth be told, it’s precisely because of all those incredibly detailed, chaotically organized strands of hair that many budding artists are frightened off before they even take a stab at hairdressing their comic book characters.
Look drawing hair isn’t actually all that hard… But drawing GOOD hair IS, unless you’ve got the right ‘hair drawing technique’ under your belt!
What if I told you I was about to share such a technique with YOU… and that with it you’ll be able to EASILY add in all the detail you want to your masterfully styled heads of hair, slickly shape it any way you like, and just make it look plain damn awesome all at the same time…
The operative word here being ‘easily’.
By adding this nifty little 3 part method into your drawing arsenal, you’re going to have the power to do just that…
Let's begin by defining the hairline.
How to Draw Hairlines
Before we get into the good stuff first thing is first. You’re going to want to define the hairline of your comic book character.
You can think of the hairline as a barrier that outlines the area of turf your hair grows out from (the scalp). The hairline serves as a guide that’ll define what I like to refer to as the ‘Hair Zone’.
The hairline is drawn in halfway between the brow line and the top of the head.
Where you place the hairline can vary slightly due to different hairline types, hair loss and in some cases genders (sometimes women are drawn with a slightly ‘higher hairline').
Now that you know ‘Where’ to draw the hairline, let’s talk about ‘How’ to draw it. This is going to vary from character to character but there are really only three main types of hairlines to keep in mind - the ‘Flat Hairline’, ‘The Widows Peak Hairline’ and ‘The Receding Hairline’.
The Flat Hairline
The Flat Hairline runs ‘straight’ across the forehead, then downward to the ears at either side. It’s the most common type of hairline you’re likely to come across.
The Widows Peak
Like the Flat Hairline, the Widow’s Peak is drawn in right across the forehead, except this time it comes to a distinct, V-like point in the center. This type of hairline is a little rarer, but does tend to suit more dominant, badass characters thanks to its sharp, jagged appearance.
The Receding Hairline
The Receding Hairline ‘recedes’ further back on the head due to an oncoming case of baldness. Yeah… The heads of these unfortunate comic book characters are usually on a one way highway straight down the bowling alley.
Beyond those three types all you are left with is a finally waxed balled head with no hairline at all, which of course is always an option too if you want your comic book character to don that Lex Luther swagger. Let’s face it, bald has and will always be in for the most villainous of villains.
Overview of the 3 Part Formula
Once the hairline’s drawn in, it’s time to jump right into the deep end… and this simple, three part method is going to stop you from sinking…
Here’s an overview of the three part process from start to finish
Sketch in the Hair
Define the Hair
Render the Hair
It’s really that simple. The coolest part is that you can easily use this same method to draw any style, type or cut of hair that you like.
Step 1: Sketch in the Hair
We already know that for some, hair can be messy, random, erratic, and a complicated nightmare to tackle.
Luckily for you it won’t be, because by the end of this tutorial, you’ll have a neat set of tricks up your sleeve that’ll make the entire hair drawing experience a whole lot smoother.
So why is hair such a struggle to draw anyway? The problem lies in the back to front way we tend to go about it. If you didn’t know any better, you might’ve attempted to define each strand of hair first, while at the same time tried shaping it into the desired style.
If you’ve ever gone down that road you probably already know where it leads - to an unnatural looking bird’s nest of tangled wire.
I’m here to tell you that there is a much, much easier, simple and less headachy route available for us to take here.
It’s as simple as flipping that work flow around so that the overall mass of hair is drawn in first, while the smaller details are added in later on.
When it comes to drawing the hair of your comic book characters it’s easy to throw in too much detail…
It depends on your style, but you have to remember that your character IS a comic book character, which means the look you’re really going for here is a simplified representation of real hair.
So to get that comic book look, we’ll need to depict the hair as ‘chunks’ of light and shadow rather than individual strands.
Let’s begin sketching in the hair.
There are three key elements to focus on here:
Shape, Flow and Movement
Before you summon your inner hair style guru, you’ll want to decide where to 'part' the hair. Usually it’ll be straight down the middle, or, on either side of the head. This ‘part’ is where the hair will be drawn out from.
Shape, Flow and Movement
Drawing out the overall SHAPE, FLOW and MOVEMENT of the hair is the first order of business.
This is where your focus MUST be to begin with so try not to concern yourself with intricate details just yet.
As you sketch in the hair, start from the top of the head then work your way around and down, sculpting it into the desired style.
Keep it light, loose and SIMPLE.
To give your character’s hair that ‘natural’ look keep your lines relaxed and avoid drawing them in completely straight or rigid.
Whether you’re referencing from life or you’ve already got a style in mind, break up the hair into giant clumps, as if you were grabbing a hand full of it and pulling it in the direction you’d like it to go.
The idea is to draw the larger areas first, then work in the smaller details later on.
By keeping it simple, mistakes are able to be easily fixed and changes effortlessly made. Think of this stage as the basic structure that everything else will be built on top of. Once the overall shape and style is sketched in, you should be left with a solid base to build upon.
Hair Styling and Appearance
The next challenge is actually coming up with a hair style to draw. There is no right or wrong here; you can go for the tamest, most boring hair style in the world or the craziest, out there hair-do imaginable.
It really comes down to the kind of character you are drawing.
A character’s hair style can give us all sorts of clues as to where, who, what and even when they’re from.
A futuristic Sci-Fi hair style will likely be in stark contrast to that of a medieval Knight. The well-trimmed cut of a high up business man will be completely different to that of homeless wanderer.
Some hair styles might even be confined to a particular gender, genre, race, era or culture. The style you choose can also be used to describe a character’s personality.
For example, giving a male character long hair might communicate a feminine, cool, calm and collected personality. While a shorter hair style may communicate a well organised, sharp, straight to the point attitude.
If you’ve already got a fairly solid idea about the style and look you want to go for, it shouldn’t take long to initially sketch up before taking it to the next level.
Certain aspects of the environment such as weather and wind, the movements and position of your character will affect the hair’s motion.
If you want your hair to look realistic, make sure you also keep these elements in mind.
Maybe you haven’t decided on a final hair-do for your character and you’re looking for some interesting ideas to get the ‘creative ball rolling’.
Jump onto the internet and do an image search for last year’s men and women’s hair styles.
This will not only spawn all sorts of potential ideas, but it’ll also serve as an excellent source of reference material to work from. Hair references can come in especially handy if you’re working on a character from a particular time era, or culture.
In fact I have my own gigantic library of reference images sourced from books, holiday snapshots and the internet which cover as many different cultures, races and eras as possible.
For example the hair styles of medieval Europe probably differed greatly from modern day Japan.
Working with references can also teach you a lot about how hair sits on the head, how it’s cut and layered, or how it tends to flow together naturally to form a particular shape or style.
Although the ideal situation is to never have to ‘rely’ on references they are still incredibly valuable when it comes to spawning new ideas and in studying and learning about the way it really looks.
Step 2: Define the Hair
Okay great! Your character's hair should now have a fresh, stylish new look (even if it is only a rough sketch at this point). Now let’s polish it up.
In this step, I’m going to introduce you to the concept of ‘Ribbons’.
So what are these glorious Ribbons and how are they going to save your characters from a bad case of spaghetti-head?
Hair Ribbons are simplified chunks, or strips of hair, that are layered on top of the head to direct the overall shape and style of your character’s hair-do.
In fact in the first step, you already used the Ribbon technique by taking large chunks of hair and styling them into a basic formation.
The Ribbon Technique
Fig: 1 - This is an example of a single, Large Ribbon. You’ve probably already constructed your base sketch using these giant clumps of hair to sculpt its general shape. The next step is to begin dividing those Large Ribbons off into Medium Ribbons to further refine the hair style and increase detail.
Fig: 2 - The same Large Ribbon except this time it’s been broken off into two Medium Ribbons (effectively creating three new Ribbons). Notice though how the Medium Ribbons still abide to the direction that the Large Ribbon is travelling in. Acting as the governing parent, this Large Ribbon determines the flow and direction of all other Ribbons that split away from it.
Fig: 3 - Finally, detail is further increased by breaking off the Medium Ribbons into even Smaller Ribbons. Again, they align with the same flow, movement and direction as their parent Ribbons.
Hair Ribbons can be divided up as much or as little as you like, depending on the level of detail. Be sure though never to go so far as to divide them up into individual strands of hair – Remember these are comic book characters. An overload of detail will kill the look we’re trying to achieve here.
You’ve probably gathered by now that the basic work flow for drawing anything is to break it down into its simplest possible form, and work your way up from there. Drawing hair is no different. Not only is the Ribbon Technique an easier solution, but it‘ll also ultimately produce better results.
As you divide the Ribbons, use Line Weights to give the contour lines a polished finish. Boring Line’s that don’t vary in width tend to take the life out of your art work.
Step 3: Render the Hair
Once the hair Ribbons have been divided up a couple times, the next step is to give them a final render pass. The Rendering stage is the final frontier in this three part process and its job is to really bring out the form and fullness of the hair by accentuating the layers using dark to light gradients.
Fig: 1 - Begin by rendering out the hair one area at a time, focusing on the underlying layers first. As a general rule, these rendering lines should be drawn out from ‘underneath’ each layer to create a smooth gradient that lifts up the Hair Ribbons above it.
Fig: 2 - Repeat this process, going from Ribbon to Ribbon. This will create more and more volume for the hair. Areas where Ribbons merge and interweave with one another will benefit most from these gradients.
Fig: 3 - Rendering helps to describe form but its other primary purpose is to indicate a light source so keep this light source in mind as you work. Higher layers will cast shadows onto lower layers and as the Ribbons curve away from the light into shadow rendering increases. To put it simply, in most cases rendering lines will appear at the base and tip of a Hair Ribbon unless the light source is coming directly from above or below the form.
So now that the hair has been split up into smaller chunks, let’s throw in a dash of depth using the rendering technique described above.
You can see how through using this rendering technique an immense amount of additional detail is added to the contour line drawing, along with a substantial increase of volume and depth.
Wow... That's a LOT of information! But now that all 3 steps have been covered in depth let's take a moment to do a quick recap on what we've learned.
Sketch: Sketch in the hair, focusing on shape, flow and movement. Remember, less is more in the beginning, so keep it simple.
Define: Increase detail by splitting up the larger chunks of hair into smaller locks, then define it with Weighted Contour Lines.
Render: Render out the hair to add volume, depth and high level detail.
That's all there is to it folks!
Once you’ve gone through these 3 stages you’ll know exactly how to draw luscious looking hair for all your comic book characters. AND the really cool part is that now you can take this method and use it to draw up every other hair style you think of. So go ahead and give it a try!
There is a lot of valuable content in this tutorial but at the end of the day it all comes down to these 3 steps. If you learn it and if you practice it, drawing hair will become an enjoyable pastime instead of a dreaded necessity.
Drawing hair will become a breeze for you... But I’m only here to serve as the guide by your side, you’ll still have to walk the path. To get better at anything you need to practice it. Remember that repetition is the mother of all SKILL.
If you've enjoyed the ride so far, be sure to stay tuned because there is a lot more to come! This is actually ONLY the introduction to a series of hair drawing tutorials. Up next we've got ‘How to Draw Male Hairstyles’, then ‘How to Draw Female Hairstyles’ so be sure not to miss out on them by signing up below.
What did you think of this tutorial? If you've got some ideas of your own on how the quality of these tutorials can be improved be sure to e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org . I'd love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed this Free how to draw comics tutorial.
Until next time, keep drawing!
Tutorial by Clayton Barton