Cartooning the Portrait

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Experiment and explore your own unique artistic style by turning your portrait into a cartoon in this free lesson!


Experiment and explore your own unique artistic style by turning your portrait into a cartoon!

the inspiration

the inspiration

Pop Art and Comics - Free Lessons, Resources & Videos


Learn to develop your own unique style and voice by exploring different art styles.

Pop Art is a movement that uses popular imagery in mass culture such as advertising, comics, and cultural objects. The movement is a challenge to the idea of what makes fine art. It often utilizes found objects and renderings, such as Andy Warhol's famous Campbell's Soup Cans, 1964.

We're going to be combining traditional cartooning with pop art influences to transform our portrait sketch into our own illustration style.

The impact of comics can be found everywhere in popular culture from graphic novels to film and television. What trends do you notice in illustration styles?


Portrait Cartoon Lesson Materials
  • Sketchbook paper, cardstock or printer paper
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Alcohol markers, coloured markers or pencil crayons (oil pastels, watercolour or acrylic paints will also work with heavier paper)
  • Optional: Ruler, mirror (for a self-portrait)

WHAT to do


Note: We've created some tips for drawing a face that work for us. If you're confident in your own skills, you can skip ahead after you finish your own portrait sketch.

1. Start by finding yourself a photo reference. You could also use a mirror to create a self portrait.

2. Begin by drawing a large circle in your sketchbook closer to the top of your page.

3. Draw a straight line that starts at the top of your page, straight through your circle, and down to the bottom of your page.

4. Mark your circle into four equal quarters with a hatch line.

5. On the third hatch line, draw a horizontal line across your page (this is where we will draw our eyes).

6. Use your thumb and index finger (you could also use a ruler) to measure from the top of your circle to the horizontal line. Take that measurement and move it below your horizontal line. Mark the spot with another hatch line. This will be the bottom of your chin.

7. Draw another line approximately 1/3 of the way between the bottom of your circle and your chin line. This will be your lips.

Drawing a Face - Free Cartoon Lesson

Sketching Features - Free Cartoon Lesson

8. Using your reference photo or mirror, begin to rough in the shape of the features.

TIPS: Eyes tend to be roughly 1/4 the size of the distance across your horizontal line. You can use your thumb and index finger or ruler to get an approximate measure. But remember, this don't mean your eye placement is at 1/4 intervals. Use your model to determine an accurate placement.

Use the top quarter of your circle as the hair line.

Use the bottom hatch line of your circle for the tip of you nose.

Every face is different so pay close attention to your reference. Do they have a heart-shaped face? Oval? More square? Don't be afraid to play around with the shapes you see.

Keep in mind we are turning our sketch into a cartoon so your sketch doesn't need to be perfect or entirely life-like. But use this as an opportunity to practice your portrait skills.

9. Once you are happy with your features, start to add details and create shadows. You can use hatching or blending to create dimension.

NOTE: This doesn't need to be very detailed or overly complex, but I do find it helpful to rough out my shading with pencil before moving into marker later.

Adding Shading and Depth - Free Cartoon Lesson

Add depth to your image with shadows


10. Once you are happy with your sketch, grab a black marker and outline selective features.

What parts of your model stand out the most? What parts of your portrait do you like best? I love drawing hair so I tend to make it a focal piece.

TIPS: Vary your lines and don't create a solid outline. Use a combination of short lines, hatches or dots.

If you are scared to use the marker right away, use a thicker pencil (in the B family if you have sketching pencils) to play around with what you want to outline before committing in marker.

Outlining Your Portrait for Your Cartoon

Abraham Lincoln Caricature - Free Cartoon Lesson

EXPeriment with caricature

Caricature is an illustration style used to show the features of a subject in an exaggerated way by playing with size, colour, pencil or brush strokes, and more.

Local street artists often use this form to quickly sketch tourists and pedestrians. It is also a popular style found in many newspapers and magazines as a form of satire or comedy.

What techniques could you use to help personalize your drawing? How might they change the intention behind your work?

11. Time to colour! I am using alcohol markers because I love the way they blend, but you could also use any coloured markers or pencil crayons. You could also experiment with oil pastels or even watercolour/acrylic paints on heavier paper.

Remember. Add your colours in layers just like painting. Start with your lighter colours and use your darker colours later.

Add the 'Pop' to Your Art: My model reference doesn't have purple hair, but I wanted to emphasize their locks and used it as an opportunity to play with colour.

Don't be afraid to make bold choices! Colour is another way for you to communicate your own unique style.

For Your Background: I coloured in my background with stock-style images like hearts, music notes and flowers. I also added a collage effect with broken text and simple designs like stripes and stars.

What does your background help to say about your subject?

Adding Colour to Your Cartoon - Free Cartoon Lesson

Collage and Art - Creative Hub - Free lessons, resources and videos


  • Try this free cartoon lesson again, but cut out your cartoon portrait. Create a separate background using paper and magazine cutouts that reflect popular culture today. Glue your cartoon portrait on top to complete your Pop Art masterpiece.

  • Repeat this project again, but use a different model.

    How does a different subject affect your artistic choices? What features are you outlining this time? What colours are you using that are different from your previous work? Why did you make those choices?

We'd love to see your cartoon portraits! Leave us a comment below or share them with us on social media.