Sunday Mailbag

March 8th, 2009 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I have a lot of trouble with facial hair AND head hair! I seem to freeze up when someone sits with 5 o’clock shadow beard or shaved head. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

A: That question is difficult to answer because, like so many “how do I draw this…” inquiries, the answer is so dependent on the style of drawing. Someone with a more illustrative, involved style of drawing could not use the same techniques as someone who does a very cartoony style, or one that does a more graphic style. Therefore when answering such questions I invariably describe how I would do it, based on my style of drawing. You will have to take what you can from it and figure out your own solution. Many of the principals will apply to any style, though.

Drawing 5 o’clock shadow/beard stubble/beards on men (or on some ladies… now THAT is always fun) is not very difficult. It can be time consuming, especially the “3 day growth” kind of scruffy look, but the basics are constant and there a a few “don’ts” to avoid.

First off, you need to define what is the ‘beard area”. There are differences between men, but in general facial hair grows in the same places on all men:


With that in mind, you can just imagine the slow growth of a man’s beard from the first hints of 5 o’clock shadow to stubble to a multiple day growth to the beginning of a real beard. The trick is to make sure you shape the hair to reinforce the structure of the face underneath. Nothing flattens out a drawing more than facial hair that destroys the forms beneath it:



Let’s do this in stages, starting with 5 o’clock shadow.

5 O’Clock Shadow-

Of course men’s facial hair grows constantly and by the end of the day (given they shaved in the morning) many men have noticeable growth on their faces. This is especially true of dark haired men with light skin.

The thing about 5 o’clock shadow is that is really doesn’t register to the eye as hair.

When teaching live caricature I talk a lot about “distance specific” drawing. That simply means that although we know that things like eyelashes are made up of tiny little hairs, to the casual observer from a comfortable distance we don’t really SEE the hairs. What we see are shapes of dark values broken up by a few lashes that are visible. Likewise with beard stubble, it needs to be a day or more growth before the eye really recognizes the whiskers. 5 o’clock shadow is really just a color or value to the casual observer.

In black and white, this can be accomplished in a few ways. If you are drawing in a more cartoony style, a few crosshatched lines can pull it off:


If you are working with some kind of value technique (maybe lead pencil/graphite with a blending stomp) you can just add a darker tone in the beard area:


Finally, if you are working in color the 5 o’clock shadow is represented well as a blueish or greenish darker value over the skin tone:



Remember to keep the darkest values on the edges of the features, with the lighter areas away from those edges. That will help develop the structure of the lower face.


Once the hair on the face becomes more noticeable, you have to bite the bullet and draw them as hairs. However, to try and draw all the hairs would not only take forever it would ruin much the “distance specific” effectiveness of the drawing. It’s like drawing pores on the skin.. we know they are there but we don’t really see them.

The trick is to “suggest” the presence of the hair, but not to draw every whisker. You stick with the same concept as with the shadow, keeping the darker values to the edges of the features and leaving the center areas more clear. You also begin to break the edges of the face contours with some short hair texture:


Don’t forget to shape the hair. Facial hairs grown in various directions, so don’t draw them all in the same direction. Use that to help with the shaping.

Multiple Day’s Growth-

Same basic concept only longer hairs, and more of them:


Short Beards-

Ditto. The hair keeps filling the “beard area” until they become so close together they essentially obscure the skin entirely. Then they are beards, not whiskers.

Here’s a former sketch o’the week that has a lot of facial hair drawn in. Sometimes you just end up spending time on it to make it look convincing:

Thanks to Billy Melago for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Excellent post – VERY helpful Tom. Thanks mate.

  2. Monty says:

    Great tutorial, as usual, Tom. Thank you!

  3. juan says:

    helo, my name is juan i am buenos aires,
    argentina. Congratulations for you as you draw, you are
    a great artist.
    you always wanted to see me go wrong
    cartoons, and read your tutorial but
    but do not leave me, I might send for
    mail, some more precise instructions please.
    thank you.

  4. jimbodraw says:


    This was a great refreshser for me. Thanks for sharing that. Also, AWESOME Hugh Laurie – I never saw that one!

  5. Rob Maystead says:

    I find myself checking your blog daily because you are so thorough. This explanation of facial hair rendering is a fine example of how detail orientated – and frankly, how addictive your blog has become. Where do you find the time?

    Thank you for sharing!

  6. francesco says:

    as always…

  7. great tutorial, facial hair is always a tricky thing to tackle.

    i have a question concerning this. i recently did a caricature of Colin Farrell, his 5 o’clock shadow is somewhere in between the blue tone and your version of stubble. i used just dots over a gray tone to represent it, because that’s what it looks like to me. you say that it’s a no, but is there a place for it? to me it definitely represents an in between length.

  8. etidal abed says:

    hi ilev yuoy work i wishe if you help me to be good like you
    am from saudi arbie i well be hape if you ansar me

  9. Meredith says:

    Great tutorial. I love the very specific subjects like this…”how to draw stubble,” “how to draw hands,” etc. Just the kind of thing I need, and much less intimidating than learning to draw everything at once!

  10. Billy says:

    Thank You soooooo much Tom! AND…… HOUSE is like, my favorite show!!! Double Jackpot Sunday!!! You ROCK!

  11. Paul says:

    Ryan Ottley does great stubble.

    He draws the Image comic Invincible.

    Love this blog Tom! I check it every day.

  12. […] Have you ever tried to draw someone with five o’clock shadow? Here’s a good discussion of technique by a very recognizable artist. […]

  13. Chad Frye says:

    Hey Tom – fell behind on my blog reading. Just read this post of yours. What a great little tutorial. Really enjoyed reading it. And that sketch of Hugh is really TERRIFIC! I missed it the first time around. Really neat to see how you handled that face full of frown lines and disdain.

  14. […] Facial Hair ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ another great tutorial from Tom […]


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