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Step-by-Step Drawing of Juan Manuel

By Oliver Sin

Materials: “Stabilo” CarbOthello #645 pastel pencil and “General’s” white charcoal pencil on “Canson” Mi-Teintes toned brown drawing paper in 18x12”

Inspiration: Juan Manuel is the greatest muse who I met from my Mexico City workshop in June 2021. Juan is 82 years young and is my greatest inspiration. He has a great face, framed by his extraordinary mane of white hair and big beard. The volume of his white beard is the motivation of this drawing. I drew this head portrait full of respect for this gentleman and what made him great was his empathy for others. I treasure this priceless friendship very much, such a beautiful addition to my life.


I use Stabilo CarbOthello #645 pastel pencil to block in the shapes and planes changes of the head on paper. Use the tip of pencil to sketch, keep the line quality extremely light. I choose Canson Mi-Teintes toned brown pastel drawing paper in 18x12”, and I draw a bit bigger than life-size as I find it is easier for me. I use the smoother side of the toned paper since the textured side produces a checkerboard look that tends to overpower any subtlety in a drawing. I recommend that you experiment with different colors of toned papers. I chose brown toned paper, which is actually a tan color, that blends well with the color of my pastel pencil. I wanted to create a contrast between a soft full beard and a masculine facial feature. This technique works for all kind of portraits so feel free to experiment.

Don’t use single curved line to fit the contour when blocking in. Using shorter straight lines allows you to observe the subject as a whole and examine the relationship between key blocks and define those relationships correctly on paper. Pay attention because he thrusts his head slightly to the right and lifts his chin up slightly. I drew his facial expressions, expressing pride that reflects the attitude suggested by the facial expression. Then draw the mustache and beard shapes, paying attention on the volume of the beard. During this stage of blocking in, pay extra attention to the proportions of different shapes, re-define the height, width, and length of shapes, and re-examine the symmetry and relationships. I recommend students spend at least 40-60 minutes on this stage and don’t move onto the next until all shapes are accurately defined. The gesture of the head can establish the attitude of an entire figure and hint at the person’s emotion. It is critical to visualize and indicate the gesture in the beginning by indicating the features as simple shadow shapes. Once the features are developed, the gesture will be impossible to change.


All objects have light, middle and dark values when exposed to light. Blocking-in builds the structure of the head. Darken the shadow shapes by using Stabilo CarbOthello #645 pastel pencil. By drawing with the side of your pencil, rather than the tip to apply value to the paper, you will automatically create a soft edge. Hold the pencil as you would hold a paintbrush, as though you were painting with dry pigment. If you hold the pencil as if you were writing your name, this angle will produce a hard and tight line, which is undesirable. Use the side rather than the pointed tip of the pencil to block in the shadow areas vertically to produce a soft and loose stroke, which is desirable. Accentuate the subtlety of your strokes by applying your pencil with a soft pressure, as if you are caressing the drawing surface. Don’t apply single marks with your pencil and be sure to keep the edge soft. Look at the shadow as a shape; think only of shape. Don’t go too dark and allow yourself to refine shadow shapes during a longer period of time without over-rendering.

Hatching is a drawing technique in which one draws close parallel lines to build tone and shadow. The appearance of the single hatch will vary according to point and medium. I recommend either hatching vertically or horizontally to create a pleasing look. I rarely use cross-hatching, which is the application of single hatch marks over existing ones, in a different direction, to darken the tone. I believe cross-hatching doesn’t help to show the form of the head.

For this step, I use a Stabilo CarbOthello #645 pastel pencil for hatching. Shade the shadow shapes with middle value then add the major middle value blocks. Ignore details and hatch all the dark areas at one time. Hatch the entire shadow area of the nose, ignore the nostrils at this point. Pay attention to the cast shadow to make sure it is cast on the top, front and bottom planes of the mustache. Don’t make the dark areas too dark at this stage; instead, replace the dark with gray so that it’s easier to modify. Once the dark areas are defined, the foundation of the drawing is done. Don’t darken the light part of the head, leave it alone and let the tone paper be the light part of the head. Since the tone paper serves as the middle value, the paper automatically does a great deal of the work for you. The tone of the paper should be used for the middle values in your drawing and the white pencil should always be reserved for the highlights and the white facial hair. The halftone of the paper surface should not be used for reflected light.

Drawing is like sculpting a piece of marble; don’t delve into details too early. Pay attention to the distance of negative shapes between shadow shapes on your drawing, adjusting the size of shapes as needed. Do not commit too soon. Keep all edges soft so that you can continually correct until a likeness of the model is achieved. You may use the kneaded eraser to erase any mistakes, and don’t worry about charcoal smears on your paper from dragging your fingertips. Developing flexibility is more important than creating a clean, pristine drawing. With practice you will be able to avoid smearing and your drawings will look just the way you want them to. Just be careful not to smear black into white pigment. Increase variation of hatching line qualities. A much softer pressure will make the edges less defined while a harder pressure will make hardened defined edges. Before adding the details to your drawing, step back about ten feet from it to better determine what is needed. If you add detail up close, you risk overworking it. Use accuracy and further define the nose and eye as the eyes have often been referred to as the “windows to the soul” since they convey so much emotion and personality. For that reason, I find them to be the most important aspect of a good portrait. By doing so, I can capture the spirit of the person right away, and I will always know early on if I have missed the personality of the subject in my work. Once I have achieved a likeness, I harden the edges of all cast-shadows. For example, there are hard edges on the cast shadow of the nose and soft edges on the form shadow of the nose; don’t make it all the same. I re-defined the shadows by hardening the cast-shadow edges on the top and side planes of the nose.

[Stage 3]

I use General’s charcoal pencil in “White” to add highlights to the light side of the form. For example I applied highlights on the top plane of the nose and forehead, leaving the paper as halftone. I recommend keeping the highlights to a minimum on the face. Remember the paper appears as a halftone value between the light and shadow. If you blend the white and sanguine together, not only will you destroy the middle value of the paper, but you will create a pink color in its place.

[Stage 4]

All objects have light, middle and dark values when exposed to light. I apply white pencil on the light part of facial hair and let the tone of paper serve as shadow. Do not draw the mustache on the face or that is how it will appear, drawn on. The mustache is a mass of front, bottom, top, and side planes of different values. Think of it as a larger upper lip that wraps around the doughnut shape, producing larger shadow shapes. I use scribbling lines to show the form of the facial hair. I spend more time to draw the facial hair with scribbling lines in white pencil to create the focal point. We may reach greater truth by simplification and even by subordinating minor truth. Detail may be minor truth but without real significance. Each hair in an eyebrow is detail and minor truth but carries little significance. Each blade of grass is detail, but we may be more interested in the whole hillside and the effect of sunlight on it.

Pay attention to the volume of the beard shape. Train your eyes to see that hair has no definable edge, like smoke. Following the form of the head, the beard mass has four planes; a front, bottom and two sides. Treat hair as a mass of light and shadow. Render the beard as a three-dimensional mass of light and shadow. Follow the light and shadow on the head if the planes are not really visible. For example, if the cheek falls into shadow, so will the beard, assuming they are the same angle. If the front plane of the head is in light and the side plane in shadow, the beard will follow. If the bottom plane of the nose is in shadow, so will be the bottom plane of the beard. Remember though, white can be used to describe light and toned paper to describe shadow. I would not recommend applying pastel pencils on the white beard.


When you work on details, you may sometimes be overly meticulous and forego broad strokes. Sometimes I purposely sabotage some of the finished areas slightly as I worry the drawing is too identical to the subject and therefore will lose the aesthetic value, the interesting part of a drawing. Observe your drawing squinting, feel the rhythms in the details and then translate them to a variation of strokes to bring the work to life. Reinforce the shadow areas, making some a little bit darker and some a little bit lighter. Examine the drawing as a whole, determining whether anything is missing and whether there are unnecessary details. A drawing will never be exactly like the subject, and it doesn’t need to be. It is a drawing, after all. Examine everything with a critical eye.

Drawing of Juan Manuel, pastel pencil and charcoal pencil on toned brown drawing paper, 18 x 12"

Oliver is an alumnus from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA, with a BFA in Illustration. Right after he graduated in 1996, he started his art career as a computer game concept artist at LucasArts. From 2001 until now, he has returned to his own school to be an art professor for the School of Fine Arts and 2D Animation, so he has over 20 years of professional teaching experience. Oliver has been so drawn to art even as a little boy, he once recalled that he has started drawing at the age of 3. Somehow, portraiture just seems to be his favorite form of expression which he constantly practices, not only as an art professor but as a favorite hobby as well.

Since 2011, Oliver has been lucky enough to come across a few distinguished contemporary artists as his mentors: ZhaoMing Wu, Henry Yan, and Chung-Wei Chien. Their tireless guidance has urged him to put greater efforts into capturing fleeting human expressions and paying more attention to precise composition in figurative portraits. His first art book, “Drawing the Head for Artists” is published by the Rockport publisher in 2019, and the Spanish version of his book was also released in June 2021. Two of his portraits were commissioned and featured on the cover of the Time Magazine as part of their "100 Women of the Year" project, March 2020 issue. Vine charcoal portrait of his dad has won the First Place Drawing and People's Choice Awards of the International Portrait Society's portrait competition out of 2600 international entries on May 8, 2021. Samples of art can be reviewed at:


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