We draw portraits of famous women in Photoshop

What will you create

In the history of mankind there were many amazing women, whom we value to this day for their invaluable contributions to the economy, politics and much more.

And for my part, I want to pay tribute to several great women, so in today’s lesson I will show you how to draw a portrait of three of my most beloved women who in one way or another influenced the course of history.

You will learn simple techniques of drawing on the tablet, which will help you create incredible illustrations in Adobe Photoshop.

Do you like to draw in photoshop? Then, perhaps, you will like these brush sets on graphicriver (for a fee).

1. How to Sketch a Portrait in Photoshop

Step 1

To create this picture, I will use a series of source images that are preserved in historical archives. Most of these images can be found in the Library of Congress, and they are completely free.

Since we depict historical figures, it is very important to find images with which there will be no problems in using and with copyrights. I was lucky and I found three beautiful photos of my favorite black women of art – Frida Kahlo, Ella Fitzgerald and Zora Niel Hurston.

Step 2

Even considering that the main goal is to create a simple portrait, it’s great when a certain concept is formed in your head before creating a picture. Frida Kahlo, my favorite artist, had a unique style of self-portraits, where you can always see bright leaves and plants in the background, and I decided to emphasize her style, paying tribute with the image of leaves for these women.

Since the story of Frida Kahlo is very dear and close to me, I want to make her the main character of the painting, and in the foreground, a little lower, miniatures of Ella and Zora’s figures will appear.

Open Adobe Photoshop. Create a new document sized 850 per 1000 pixels, with resolution 150 pixels per inch (if you want – you can choose a higher resolution, but I just prefer to save space). With the help of a rigid round brush, with pressure to determine the opacity, start sketching each woman individually on a new layer.

Tip: if you are not yet good at drawing people, you can just circle the photos. Any practice is important.

It usually helps me a lot to keep two windows open: one with the source and the second with the pattern. This will help more effectively compare and measure the details to achieve greater similarity.

Step 3

Creating separate sketches of portraits before you combine them into one drawing will help you focus on the similarities to a greater extent. Try not to take on too much, so as not to be distracted; if three portraits are too much for you, make two.

When you finish working on each sketch, create three new groups, name them women, and then put the appropriate layer inside. Then create another group to place all the women’s groups there.

Once this is done, you can safely move on to placing the portraits in the picture with the help of the tool. Free Transform (Ctrl-T) (Free Transform). I chose portraits in a special way – so that, in the overall composition, Ella and Zora seemed to reflect each other, so try not to forget about such details when creating the sketch.

Step 4

Sketch a few leaves in the style of leaves on the portraits of Freda. As an alternative, you can use any item that is usually associated with your favorite women to personify their image. Ella, for example, I will draw with a microphone in my hand.

2. How to Paint Base Layers and Add a Texture

Step 1

Let’s start with the base layers. In each folder under the layer with a sketch, create a new layer. Choose a tool Brush(B) (Brush) and change the setting Hardness (Hardness) at 100%. Using this brush, paint each woman with white. You may need to temporarily change the background to black – this will help to completely paint each portrait.

Now create new layers, and click on them to create clipping masks – these layers will allow us to draw and not be afraid to get out of the edges. This will not only help us save time, but also greatly minimizes possible problems.

Clipping mask is needed so that the drawing does not go beyond the boundaries of the white base layers.

Step 2

With a brush Pastel Dark 20 Pixels (Dark Pastel 20 Pixels) of presets Natural Brushes 2 (Natural Brushes 2) on the layer-clipping masks begin to apply the primary colors. Remember to work on the colors of each portrait on a separate layer, so that you can continue working on them in their individual groups.

3. How to Draw a Background

Step 1

Before we get to the details, let’s paint the background. Change the main color to a dark gray # 3d3d3d and use the tool Paint Bucket (G) (Fill) to fill the background.

Step 2

Select the same brush that we painted earlier and start painting with black on a new layer. Make sure that the pressure function is turned on to determine opacity, and then make a few chaotic strokes. Smears should be large and wide – this will add texture to the background.

Step 3

Choose a tool Gradient (G) (Gradient) and create a light gray radial gradient in the upper left corner of the picture. Although the light source will not be particularly bright, such a slight change in tone will create a good hint of lighting.

Step 4

To complete the work with the background, slightly blur it. Click Filter> Blur> Gaussian (Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur) and change Radius (Radius) by 6 pixels.

The change will be almost imperceptible, but in the process of further work you will notice changes in the depth of the picture as a whole, which fit well into the realistic style of this work.

4. How to Draw Frieda Kahlo

Step 1

Time to take on portraits! I will analyze the process of drawing each woman individually in order to improve the understanding of the details of each portrait. Let’s start with Frida Kahlo.

I chose Freda as the main character of this drawing, not only because she is my favorite artist, but also because she perfectly reflects the power of women in history. Change the layer’s overlay mode to Soft Light (Soft light). Add some texture with a pastel brush, as we did before.

Try to draw the main shadows that you see in the first place, and we will deal with the volume and shape later.

Step 2

Let the texture pass to the leaves and roses. I decided to add flowers, as Freda often wore beautiful floral decorations on her head.

Every detail must be worked out without haste. Before working on the details, try to understand where there are shadows on this part and what they are. This will help you create an excellent base for adding tone in the future.

Step 3

Finally, again select a stiff round brush with opacity adjustment by pressing to work on the face. Lower the hardness of the brush to make its skin softer and get rid of the previously created texture in some places.

The main secret of success in drawing a portrait of three characters is patience. Until we stop our work on Frida, and to refresh our perceptions, we will work on something else.

4. How to Draw Ella Fitzgerald

Step 1

Jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald is known for her perfect voice and sad care. I liked her music very much when I was a teenager, and therefore she will always have a special place in my heart.

I must say that of all three portraits this will be the most difficult because of Ella’s extravagant outfit and microphone. Change the layer overlay layer mode to Overlay (Overlap). On new layers, clipping masks, start adding shadows.

Step 2

Most of the time in working on the portrait of Ella will go to her black dress, and when you finish this drawing, you will fall in love with Ella for such a choice of attire. Since the dress is very dark, you can put off work on the face and first layer over layer of dark gray and black tones of the dress.

To do this, use a hard round brush, as before.

Step 3

As in the case of Frida, we will stop working on the portrait of Ella after this step in order to distribute our time in the best possible way. So take the opportunity to add as many details as possible to her microphone. Work through the folds of the skin as well as possible. Also do not forget about the white embroidered details – there are so many of them that you will want to get rid of them as soon as possible!

Apply texture to her headgear. Select the pastel brush again for this purpose. The texture practically means realism, so that a stroke here and a stroke there will add life to your drawing.

6. How to Draw Zorah Niel Hurston

Step 1

Let’s go to Zora. Zora is one of the great writers of Harlem Renaissance. Since she is an African-American woman writer, you can find amazing stories about African-American folklore in her work.

As in the case of Ella, here we will need to not skimp with black color.

Her stylish hat casts a deep shadow on her face, especially on the area around her eyes. Using the same pastel brush, add the texture to her blouse and at the same time build the structure of the shadows on her face.

Step 2

And here you will again need to switch to another portrait in order not to spend too much time working on one, and not enough time working on others, and also this will help your gaze not to “blush”. Continue to pick up the tone on your hat and work out the details of your face with a stiff round brush. 100% stiffness at this stage will allow you to create clear lines on the hat, face and hair.

7. How to Complete the Drawing

Step 1

As you just saw, the process of drawing in Photoshop will not always be the same step by step. Here I adjust the lighting a bit, comparing the characters to each other and depending on how they influence each other. Now that they have all been worked out relatively well, we can begin to make the final touches.

Time to clear the drawing a bit! To do this, you will need both a round hard brush and a round hard brush, the opacity of which is adjusted by pressing. Begin to clean the pattern from the edges. If you use soft brushes, the drawing will look blurry, so it is important to make hard, straight lines, especially when it comes to faces. If you think that you are stuck, then you should immediately switch to a tougher brush. There is something in the neater lines that makes you feel again on the right track.

Below is a comparison of Ella at the beginning and at the end, so that you can see the progress. Notice that the neater lines helped me highlight her jaw, microphone and face.

Step 2

Continue to work on the rest of the portraits in the same spirit. Next, go to the portrait of Frida. Use a stiff round brush to clean up her face, blouse and roses. Earlier, by the way, I decided to make the lighting the same as on the original photo.

In spite of the fact that now it has become more difficult to figure it out in a drawing, such coverage of her portrait compliments other women. Now, for all of them, the light falls on the left side – and you should always think about such questions.

Step 3

Again, do the same with the portrait of Zora. Pay close attention to details and create sharp edges. Add a slight sheen to her face, as if to pull her out of the shadow that her hat casts.

You have the opportunity to learn from one of my mistakes. Earlier, I forgot to sketch the rest of my blouse, for the most part because it is difficult to see it in the source image. In the future, this created a small problem, since I did not understand at all how its proportions and her body looked at all.

Try to solve similar problems by searching for several more source images on the Internet. In the end, I coped with her body. The details of the blouse seemed to be almost the same as in the original, and Zora now became similar to herself.

Step 4

Continue to adjust your drawing. It may be necessary to change parts over and over until they look good. Look carefully at your source images to extract as much information as possible about changes in tone.

I also painted a pair of flat figures to make portraits. Initially I was not going to do this, but they help balance everything in the figure. To achieve excellent results, you always need to experiment!

Do not forget to draw the leaves! Start with two dark gray lines, and then add a light gray in the center. This is a simple process that will create a 3D effect.

Step 5

Finish drawing with small changes in shades. I want to achieve a Hollywood effect by adding sepia tones that will not be too catchy. Start by adding a new adjustment layer. Color Lookup (Color search) with settings as in the screenshot below. Then lower Opacity (opacity) layer up to 45%.

Then create a new adjustment layer. Gradient Map (Gradient map). Apply a dark gradient from black # 111111 to dark brown # 2d2a27. Lower the opacity of this layer to 57% percent.

And last but not least, add a new adjustment layer. Brightness and Contrast (Brightness / Contrast). Increase intensity with the following settings:

Well that’s all! The final result can be seen below.


Believe my experience, if you always wanted to try drawing in Photoshop, it is best to start with an illustration in black and white. This illustration will help you to master the light and shadow, before moving on to a complex portrait in color.

Take a look at photos or create cool projects like this — and you will definitely improve your drawing skills in different colors.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! Do not forget to show your closest women how much you love them!

Like this post? Please share to your friends: