Illustrating African American Hair with Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Today, I’m sharing a short video demonstration of one way that Vanessa Brantley-Newton illustrates African American hair.

Vanessa determines the shape of the hair first. Then she fills in the hair color. You can have a lot of variation in both of these, so look at photos of real people for reference.

Once she has a basic shape, Vanessa gives the hair depth by doodling curls on the edges. Trying to control this part doesn’t work as well for her, so she just has fun with it. She also draws on top of the hair in a deeper shade of the color she’s filled in.

To sum it up:

  1. Start with a basic, simple shape.
  2. Fill it in with your chosen color.
  3. Doodle around the edges.
  4. Draw texture on top of the hair in a darker color.

And as Arree said, “Have fun, and be in flow!” If you'd like to learn more about illustration, Arree has a great post about popular art styles in picture book illustration.

If you're interested in more drawing demos with Vanessa, we have one on illustrating skin color, and another on developing a character from a photo. Vanessa also teaches a class on Character Design and offers mentored critique groups to students who would like more in-depth instruction.

Thanks for learning with us!

Blog Contributors

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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