Facial hair can be a challenge at first, as it offers up a variety of edges and textures that we don't see too often, even in the hair of the head. It covers the lower half of the face, which can a help disguise some complex forms around the mouth, but we still need to recognise that beards conform to the structure of the face underneath.
Patience is big asset when drawing facial hair. It doesn't take a lot of time, but a common issue I see is rushed 'scribbled' marks that don't do any work to describe texture or form. In all drawing - it is helpful to slow down a bit as you make marks and think about what they are describing.
(Main image: Jean-Baptiste Greuze – 'Figure of a Beard Man (or 'A Greek Philosopher')')
Features of Facial Hair
Facial hair is located on the bottom half of the face, and wraps the jaw down to the neck. The growth pattern varies from person to person, but typically hair grows on the cheeks, chin, upper lip, and below the jaw, down to the neck. There are also a lot of different styles that remove hair from the full beard.
When short, this hair wraps around the jaw and simply follows the direction of forms underneath. As hair grows longer, it develops its own shape due to the direction it naturally grows in, and for even longer beards, gravity. Remember than it is still sitting on top of the jaw though!
Hair growth is directional, and beards are no exception. When drawing hair, we cannot draw every single strand of hair, but we can see the direction it is growing in and use this to influence your mark making. There is also a variety to the length of hair in the beards, with hair around the mouth tending to be shorter – different styles may also affect this.
Beard hair comes in a variety of different types, just like the rest of the hair on the head, though it tends to be coarser, and may not necessarily match other hair on the head in texture or colour.
The hair can vary in how dense it is, and how straight or curly it can get. Very curly hair will look denser the longer it gets, as it loops back on itself.
Much of the visual information that describes the texture of the beard can be found around the contours of the beard. This is useful for describing the texture of the hair, as well as how soft and diffuse hair is compared to the skin.
At the skin-beard boundary, there tends to be a transition of texture, which creates a soft edge tonally. The hair around these areas tends to be finer as well.
The edges the beard makes with its surroundings are made of thicker hair, but this is still a soft transition – how soft depends on how dense the hair is, its texture and and how it is cut. This is also where you will most likely see loose strands of hair, which are handy for describing texture.
The edges around the beard depend on how it is cut, but it is important to remember that hair Is soft – there will be very few hard edges here!
Putting it Together: Drawing Facial Hair in Different Media
There are lots of approaches to drawing facial hair, as the texture opens up a lot of opportunities for us to experiment with media. So far, the examples I have shown have all been in pencil, a medium that can use tone and line to indicate transitions of hair density and texture. These examples show a wider application of media for drawing beards:
When working in ink, we are limited to lines. This means we need to be efficient with our marks; this drawing by Guido Reni uses minimal broken lines to describe the beard by its outline. Broken lines are useful here as they're able to indicate texture – we can see the wavy style of hair – and softness. A solid line would look too heavy.
This portrait by Jean Clouet shows the contrast of diffuse beard hair to the texture of the rest of the hair. Note that there are no defined edges here; he has created soft areas of tone which are accented with small pencil marks to indicate the transition of hair to skin, and the curly hair around the edge of the beard.
Similarly, Anders Zorn has created an almost 'edgeless' transition of the beard with the surroundings in this etching, using line density to emulate tone. Whilst the lines look chaotic, they still follow a clear overall direction. The line length also changes with the length of the hair, helping to convey the texture and flow of the beard.
This portrait by John Singer Sargent shows an interesting way of working with a white beard. Here the beard is given a light midtone, with the whiteness of the paper serving as highlights. Much of the texture of the beard is conveyed with the impressionistic zig-zag of dense charcoal around the contour. This is done back building on the shape of the background, rather than forcing an outline around the beard.
Over to You
There are lots of different ways to handle beards in our drawings, so this is a good time to experiment with how we make marks and use our media. It is easy to get limited in the marks we make and the materials we use, so I want to encourage some experimentation in this respect. One effective way to expand the vocabulary of marks you make it is to copy another artist's work. It need not be in the same media – you could create a drawing from a painting. Working across media like this is an effective way of getting new marks out of your tools.
Therefore, this week's challenge is to find a drawing or painting of a bearded sitter, and create a copy, preferably in a different media. Pay close attention to the tonal boundaries and how soft or hard they are. Look at the marks the artist has used – how can you reinterpret them in the new medium?