What do you see? Create your own iPad portraits with Alice Oehr

For Melbourne illustrator and lover of portraiture Alice Oehr, drawing a portrait is a fun way to explore your artistic side. Through her clever iPad portrait classes, she’s been encouraging kids around the country to observe and interpret their surroundings with little more than a tablet.

In this easy step-by-step guide, she shows us how easy it is to have a go at drawing yourself, whether you’re a big kid or small. Grab a tablet and your creativity and see where you end up!

A portrait is a picture of somebody. It expresses their appearance, their mood or their personality. It does not have to be realistic!

You can create a portrait of somebody in any medium you want: a photo, a painting, a collage, a drawing. This exercise can be completed using an iPad or on paper. When I work on an iPad, I use the Brushes app, or the Procreate app, and I use a stylus or my finger to draw. (JB Hi Fi has a range of stylus pens to choose from.)


The first thing to do is decide who you want to draw. The person you choose to draw is called the “subject”. Is your subject yourself? Is it your mum, your dog, a teacher, a celebrity, a friend or an imaginary person?

Have a think about whether you’ll include your subject’s whole body, or just their head and shoulders. It is a good idea to start with a quick sketch of where everything will go in your picture, then you can add in the details. If you are working on an iPad, you can do this sketch in a light colour like blue or grey, on a separate layer. I like to do my sketch using a pencil brush, or a thin pen brush.

1. Head and Shoulders
A human head is very much like an upside-down egg, but you don’t have to make your head a realistic shape! Everyone is different. I usually create a new layer on my iPad to draw the head and shoulders, on top of the sketch later we did earlier. Add in the neck and shoulders. On the iPad, I like to do an outline with a medium-sized brush with hard edges. I do the outline, then I fill in the colour using the colour bucket.

2. Face
Next, add the nose, the eyes, the mouth, the ears and the eyebrows. You can use these things to change the mood of your subject. Is your subject happy, sad angry, surprised, confused? I create a new layer on top of the face shape layer, and add the features on here. This way, I can easily erase any mistakes without touching the skin, and I can even create many different facial expressions in the same portrait. I draw the outlines, then colour in the details with the different colours I choose.

3. Hair
It’s time to add the hair; is it curly or straight? Long or short? What colour is it? Do they have it in a special hairstyle? When I draw on an iPad, I do this on another layer. For creating hair, I like to try out heaps of different fluffy and scratchy brushes. They create a great texture for hair

4. Clothing and Accessories
On another layer again, try a few different styles out for your subject. I gave one of my people a hat, and the other a necklace, some earrings and glasses. What does their outfit say about their personality? If you are going to draw a full body portrait, you can add in the body now!

5. Extra Touches
Think about what else can go in their picture to help express their personality. Do they have a favourite animal or pet you could add in to the picture with them? Do they love dancing or cooking or sport?

6. Finishing the Background
The last thing to do with your portrait is to think about the background. You could choose a plain colour, a pattern or a place.

I like to do a bright solid colour, and usually I make sure it goes well with the hair colour and the outfit of my subject. I do this on a layer behind all my other drawing layers. You can experiment with different brushes to create patterns like spots or wiggly lines, and try a few backgrounds out until you find one you like.

7. Frame
If you feel like it, you can draw a frame for your portrait to finish it off. You could choose gold, or a colour or a pattern, and make it any shape you like!

For more of Alice’s colourful creations, you can find her on Instagram @aliceoehr or at aliceoehr.com.

Some other fun drawing apps for iOS include Kids Doodle, Kids Coloring Box and dotpict for Android.

For more tips on drawing on your tablet, check out iPad Art Room.