How To Paint Loose Curls | Little Brown Artist

Tutorial: How To Paint Loose Curls In 12 Easy Steps!

Artists hate curls. It’s a simple fact.

Ask anyone who has ever painted hair, and they’ll almost always say they prefer to render straight or wavy hair. It’s so much easier, and doesn’t make you want to pull your own hair out!  (See what I did there? Do ya???)

However, not all your subjects or characters will have pin-straight locks. Luscious curls are all the rage these days, and if, like me, you draw actual real-life people, or even humanoid creatures with keratin growing in bunches off their scalp, drawing or painting curls is an absolutely essential skill to have under your belt.

Here’s a super easy tutorial to help you with just that!

How To Paint Loose Curls | Little Brown Artist


Before we begin, I should mention that this technique will work best with media where you can layer opaque light shades over darker ones. For instance, oil or acrylic painting, pastels and charcoal, or best of all, digital painting!



Step 1:

Start with your darkest tone, and draw a vague spring/ half-a-DNA-like shape. Make sure it gets thinner as it goes down, and that it is tilted and rounded, like in the picture below!

How To Paint Loose Curls | Little Brown Artist

Step 2:

Use a lighter tone and mark out your “flat areas”. These should be nearly parallel to each other, and as mentioned above, should get thinner as they go down!

These will be the lightest areas, and will appear to be further towards the viewer.

How To Paint Loose Curls | Little Brown Artist

Step 3:

Now we slowly begin to build dimension. Using a lighter mid-tone colour, paint three patches on each flat area: one in the middle, and one on either edge.

Remember to leave a bit of a gap between these patches. This will signify the shadowy elements close to the edges, which give a round object its rounded…ness!

How To Paint Loose Curls | Little Brown Artist

Step 4:

Here, we darken the shadowy areas we just spoke of, that lie between the highlights. This will further increase the contrast, making the entire curl pop!

(Oh and as a side note, I have been using the Soft Charcoal brush on Corel Painter so far!)


Step 5:

Blend. Simple as that.

I used the Round Oil Pastel brush on cloning mode, as is shown in this lovely tutorial, and it works absolute wonders for me!

For traditional painting, a clean brush with the tiniest amount of paint thinner/water, depending on which type of paints they are, will do the trick. If you’re using a dry medium, make sure to use a clean blending stump. Excessive pigment might add unwanted shadows/colours and just ruin it all.


Step 6:

Now use thinner strokes and very similar colour placement as above, to slightly define the strands of hair.

I used a lighter highlight colour, a darker shadow colour, and a third colour between the two, to make the transition smoother. This will probably make more sense when you look at the picture below!


Step 7:

Blend again, but make sure you’re not over-blending. I like to first blend the highlight into the midtone, and then the shadow into the midtone. In this way, you’re not changing the tones of the highlights and shadows too much, but it still looks quite smoothly blended.


Step 8:

Now repeat Step 6, but with thinner, more defined strokes. I skipped the mid-tone here, just to keep the edges more distinguished!

How To Paint Loose Curls | Little Brown Artist

Step 9:

This step is optional, but I added some not-quite-opaque flat colour where I wanted the highlights and shadows to be most concentrated. This quickly creates immense realism, because in areas with way too much or way too little light, you can’t really tell many details!


Step 10:

Blend again, but this time don’t blend it too smoothly. Leaving some texture in there will allow for a natural (non-photoshopped, so to speak) appearance.


Step 11:

We’re almost there, I promise!

In this step, I used a Smeary Palette Knife brush and switching colours all the time, went over the flat areas to create a more painterly effect and add randomly placed details.

With traditional paints, a similar effect can be achieved using a relatively dry, flat/fan-shaped brush and very little pigment. With dry media, use the rough texture of the pencil/pastel/chalk/whatever you like to your advantage, and randomize the strokes. Also blend some areas more than others, to recreate the whole “natural” look!

How To Paint Loose Curls | Little Brown Artist

Step 12:

This is always my favourite step with anything at all: the gussying up.

Go over the edges and sharpen/soften them as needed. Make sure there aren’t any flat lines at the horizontal edges of the curl. The curves between the “flat areas” will ideally be thinner than the flat areas themselves (because the curves are going away from the viewer, and will thus appear smaller!).

I also added a little tail at the bottom so the curl ends more naturally. Finally, darken any areas that need darkening – and they will, because some of the lighter tones are sure to have accidentally rubbed over them (unless of course, you are a Pagan god of darkness, in which case, please e-mail me…)!

How To Paint Loose Curls | Little Brown Artist

Et voila! There’s your perfect, majestic curl that will make any Youtube beauty guru envious!

How To Paint Loose Curls | Little Brown Artist

Now obviously, this is one isolated curl, and you probably won’t need to take all of these steps when actually painting a head full of curls, but it is important to learn the theory behind why things look the way they do.

It’s the main reason I make these tutorials: to share how I see things, as opposed to what I see!

Finally, you can use this technique in conjunction with every other technique out there, and create something like this:

Final BW

See? It does have a real life application! 🙂

Please feel free to try this out and tag me in what you create! It means the world to me to see these tutorials doing what they should, and helping you guys out. You can show me your brain babies on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Thank you ever so much for reading, and I’ll see you guys on the next one!

S. xx

Want a tutorial on something specific? Leave a comment below, or get in touch with me!



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