Drawing Hair

Hair is a wild thing, as close as many humans come to nature, perhaps. Da Vinci thought, rightly, that is is like water. It is: ordered chaos. Fashion is a minor thing, compared to this, merely a tiny part of human culture.

Leonardo da Vinci sketch of a head from multiple perspectives


This is not a story about fashion, and it is really only secondarily about hair. I was thinking this blog or book of books, essays and whatever, is too heavy, too intellectual, and it would be nice to do something lighter. So I started thinking about the last eight or so years of drawings and paintings, and how much I have enjoyed doing not only studies of people and animals but studies of hair. I have not done studies of hair as an indication of social class, which is what fancy hair tends to be. Was Leonardo doing that? Yes and no. I think he was mostly interested in the geometry of it, the math in space: the way a rounded head took the geometry of braided lines. The fancyness or fashionable quality of it was secondary, perhaps even non-existant. Though most of his fancy studies of hair are to do with Leda and the Swan painting. Most of his other studies of hair are much more prosaic, even ordinary, or at least pretend Greek. The model dressed up as a Greek  below, is probably Salai, Leonardo’s young man by this time. He adopted him when he was 9 or so. Here he looks maybe 16. The old man is unknown, possibly made up as one of Leonardo’s caricatures, of which he did many.  He liked to juxtapose the old and the young, the ugly and the beautiful.

Image result for leonardo da vinci studies of old and young men

My interest in hair is not part of the fashion world. Fashion is mostly about money and class. I am not interested in either phenomena. My interest in hair is really born of cutting it as my wife’s and kid’s barber. Getting a hair cut was cheap when I was a kid, but now it is not. A girl, even a young girl can easy spend 25 or 50 dollars going to get it cut. A boy or more likely a boy’s parents, can easily spend 25 to get their hair cut.  I often cut my wife’s or kid’s hair. This is partly about saving money, not spending it. We have saved thousands of dollars not getting hair cuts by so called “professionals”.


hair 58 drawing CMA -predisMay 2015



The only painting near me by a student and colleague of Leonardo is this one formerly ascribed to Ambrogio De Predis, called, “Portrait of a Youth as St. Sebastian”,  from the late 1480s also called an “Alleged portrait of Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza”. CMA has recently changed the painter of this work. When I did the copy in 2015 it was said, by the blurb next to the painting, to be the work of Ambrigio De Predis but now it is said to be by another of Leonardo’s students, Marco d’Oggiono. This makes a certain sense, looking at his “Girl with Cherries”, where the hair and coloration is similar. But this is what museums do, try to follow facts, while making things up as they go along.

Predis and his father are also said to have worked on the right and left wings of the Louvre version of the “Virgin of the Rocks”.  While Leonardo’s sfumato technique is used in my drawing in the shadows on the skin of the face. and Leonardo’s curls are used on the curls of the hair, the painting itself not a great form, as the hands in it are too big and are excluded by me. This seems to be characteristic of Oggiono.  Leonardo would have done much better on the face and the proportions of the hands. But it is well done despite the mistakes,  and one feels the presence of Leonardo in the De Predis or d’Oggiono. In either case doing something done by a student of Leonardo  was exciting and made it a learning experience for me. It allowed me to feel Leonardo was a bit my teacher too.

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William Holman Hunt


My drawings involving hair do include among them a few that are accidentally concerned with class and status. I generally do this somewhat ironically as here. This one is a copy of the painting the Cleveland Museum of Art by William Holman Hunt. I was interested in the forbidding character of her hair and form. I ignored the class and status of the woman in the work, who was Hunt’s mother in law. She had ten children, eight of them girls. Two of her children died while married to Hunt. Yet here he is painting a portrait of the Mom of his dead wives soon after they died. What is she doing here? She or Hunt chose the elaborate hair do. It is not wild and free like most Pre-Raphaelite hair, made a ‘stunner’ by elite male standards, willing to be killed off when young, like Elizabeth Siddal. She died of an opium overdose,  having modeled Ophelia for John Everett Millais. In that painting, one of the best of 19th century works, she was made to sit clothed in a bathtub that was not well heated. She got sick.

The woman in the above drawing has hair more strict and tamed, more Georgian than Victorian, very no nonsense, though it is nonsensical. It does not fit the face. The face has kindness in it, but the hair does not. It speaks for the wealth of her husband: his status, his class. In it is the cruelty of wealth, 19th century English colonialistic wealth,  Imperial arrogance combined with the kindness of personal loss.

hair 64 drawing-meissonier

This is a small work by Ernst Meissonier, a really great little work, that is mentioned in one of Vincent’s letters. Meissonier was a far right narcissist who painted himself with white hair, and an elaborate long white beard, a sort of Celestial Andy Warhol. He liked to paint his nostalgia for the far distant past, and would even make and dress up dolls in sixteenth century costumes which he made himself to try to get the fashions correct. I like his devotion to reality. Lots of people did. He did 17 century imitations and Napolean on horse back. He was also one of the men who sought to punish Gustave Courbet for something he did not do, tearing down the Vendome column. I don’t like that he did that.

This is one of his more sedate creations, the artist is dressed in Revolutionary fashion. Hair is pulled back and tied with a ribbon. In the front the hair is cut shorter. Leonardo says that this is how a painter should work, well dressed, caring for himself, working easily and well.

It is clear with these various images that hair is often used as a social symbol of class and standing . This is made even more clear by the Egyptian royalty, who wore certain sorts of hair styles, often wigs made of human hair, but sometimes wool or hung down and weighted with metal beads. In China, women’s hair styles announced the status of eligible girls compared to married ones, and men’s styles differed according to their social position. Men wore the Queue, which was an invention of the Manchu who required the long braid down the back to be worn, the front of the hair being cut. Marie Antoinette is said to have build up her hair a number of feet tall by use of a metal frame, hidden inside her hair, like a bird cage. Supposedly she even wore ships, three foot feathers, and a live bird in a bird cage in her hair. There is a painting of her wearing a ship model.

This and many others, in Africa, Native America and elsewhere were mostly fashion statements or required impositions, enforced by powers or the vanity of fame.  None of this interests me much, most of it is merely fashionable power play, the showing off of wealth or status seeking.



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A number of hair studies go beyond mere status images and show great beauty or wonderful workmanship. This does matter to me. For instance, there is this Frederick Sandys, in CMA, which I think is Sandys best painting. It is not a mythical surrrealism, or strange to the point of irrealism, as much of his work is. It shows a real person as well done as can be. I find myself liking Suzanne Rose. She has a certain acceptable vanity, an eccentric, not the show off vanitas of the Durer self-portrait, below, as beautiful as it is. Mostly I drew what I loved in the image, the wrinkles all over her aging face,  or the way the lovely lace is woven into her hair, the clarity of her eyes. It is exacting and wonderful.

So, while there are hair studies I do not like very much there are some that I do and my choices have to do with the motive behind the work, or what I can imagine the artist thought he or she was doing.


I don’t much like the self portrait by Albrect Durer, even though I find it marvelously painted, especially the hair. But one wonders what is the meaning of “beauty” in this context, where the arrogance and mythical quality of his comparing himself to the mythic image of Christ is too much. The image of the Iconic Christ is itself false and fictional. Thus this work is a fiction based on a fiction, vanity made incarnate. He is certainly handsome and he was shown his skill well, which was partly the point, but the allegory is too far flown. It is not believable and like Gauguin’s painting of himself as Jesus, faintly ridiculous. The hair, the beard and the fur collar are gorgeous, but that does not redeem the ignorance and show off quality implied in it.



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I never saw this man’s face, so this is the most anonymous man I have ever drawn.
Having no hair might seem to remove the cultural and symbol laden overtones to which hair is prone. But it hasn’t. Indeed, the “Skinhead” movement appears to have begun in Britain as a leftist movement, but by the 1970’s it had become a right wing and in some cases, in Germany, for instance, it even a Neo-Nazi, racist movement.

This is an American who I drew in an audience at a concert a few years ago. American skinheads, though they are rarely called that, are usually, if not always anti-government far right republicans. No regulations for them, no helping others— they serve only themselves and their own freedom.They do not care for others and the planet: only they matter.  I am not saying this man is like that, I have no idea.

I once met a man in San Francisco who had cut off all his hair because he thought this was ‘sexy’ and would attract women to him. I asked a woman I then knew who told me this man had asked her to rub his head, which she did not do because she thought it repulsive.  So much for his theory, which at least in this case, ended up being wrong.

Men who shave their heads are as likely to be futurists as political in their motivation. By futurists I mean people who want to appear as technologically savvy,  freedom oriented people who want a society that is computer based, giving them too much and giving the poor and needy nothing. The love of robots is part of what they believe in. I am not a fan of any of that.

But of course that may be merely a mythical construction. Going bald seems to have to do something with reproductive diminishment. Men seem to think that going bald make them seem less threatening and so they might be more rather than less attractive. I do not know if this is accurate. In any case, going bald can be said to be a natural process for many men and a few women. Chemotherapy removes ones hair even in women, as I saw with my cousin Elizabeth, who died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

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This de Hooch is also lovely, partly because it evokes the beautiful tune he is no doubt playing so excellently on the flute, but also because of the hair, which is full and well done, reminding me of the full sleeved male of the couple in love in the Rembrandt late work called, erroneously, I think, the Jewish Bride.

This Rembrandt is also amazing as it shows him as a young painter who has well used his paint to make his hair look like real hair. Not only is the light extremely well done, but the hair looks delicate and substantial at the same time, as real hair does. This too is not about fashion,
Now I can start the main part of this essay, which is about drawing hair, without doing anything about fashion except questioning its relation to power, class and money.


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This is my daughter at the Eureka zoo, where we went every week. She is nearing 3 here. This was a great time with her, indeed, her whole childhood amazed me. It was one of the best times in my life. Most people who do not have kids themselves do not know that a 3 year old is a very sophisticated person. They may not remember that age and how they were, but the adults they spend time with do remember and know they  were really quite a lot of fun and very smart.

I think that the hair of the very young is the most beautiful that hair ever is. In the very old hair becomes thin, grey or white, the life largely gone from it. Of course this frail and wan beauty has its own loveliness. But the lovely hair of the young, they do not even see it for what it is, which is a shame. It was very light in my two kids and wonderful to look at. The intricate curl on the viewers right, next to her neck, was wonderful and typical of that age. It is one of the best memories of my life to think of her and my son’s young golden hair. This is not a race comment, I could care less about that, it is merely a fact, and one that I value very highly.


hair 6 a

So these were done in the fall of 2017. I had done drawings of hair previously, but as my daughter was doing a lot of experimenting with her hair I started studying her hair more systematically.  So my sketchbook starts looking like this. If you see, below, I have taken some of these drawing out of the sketchbook and included them with later drawings or with ones that goes better with the drawing beside it..


hair 1aHats she Made


hair 4a

The actual drawing of all of these involves different distributions of dark and light in each one. She often makes a pony tail.

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The point of this is to show what I was doing. I was showing different ways she did her hair, and how it looked. In the top one I was also showing different sorts of hats she crocheted herself. She wore the hats some days because she got tired of her hair and wanted to cover it up. She was only 13 or 14 during this period and such behavior is pretty common during that age. In the one immediately above she is playing the violin, but one cannot see the instrument, except the bow. She is reading the music. She had made a ‘thing’ for her neck, it was dark, like a ribbon. If I remember she was then playing Telemann or Bach. Probably not Vivaldi, which she did later. She would braid her own hair. As below too.

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Loose braided





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She was gotten to like them less, but I still like these more formal braids. They create a certain charm and look like one is attending to oneself.

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Of course an ordinary pony tail is also fine.


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I was intrigued by the hair with the geometric design on the sweater.


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I have always liked this picture of her. She is about 11 or 12 here.



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I like this drawing very much. She is nearly thirteen. (2017) The hair is both heavy and light weight. That is how real hair is- drawing it involves distributing the darks and lights on a curved head. The perspective is good on the glasses, and the face in general, as well as the violin. The likeness is good, the violin is well done with dark and lights just right. One doesn’t even miss the shoulder rest, though it is dimly indicated, as I wished to emphasize the hair more.


hair 13 a

I think this one at the top and the one down from it are the best, both done from life,


hair 13 c

hair 13 d

This is the page of my sketchbook that the two drawings above are taken from. She has an individual lesson once a week with her teacher, who is a great violinist. The way I do these drawings might seem odd. I work on them in her class as she plays in different positions with her teacher. She is always changing what she is doing, and so there are different poses. I work on each pose for the time that she assumes it and stop and work on another when she is doing that one. In the last few months there were three average poses she got into as she worked with her teacher, so I did those.


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There is one that I did from a photo maybe six months ago (2019)

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She went though a period of wearing these hair bands, with the lovely designs of them.


My spouse and daughter were sitting together one night when the Eel River flooded and we had to stay in a hotel. This is a detail of that painting. My wife’s hair is damp, but she seems happy.


What follows is some pictures done of my son, mostly in the same environment as of my daughter above. They tend to be quite competitive with each other. This can be problematic at times, but it appears to be usually the case between children. When I was a kid I generally stayed out of the fray, with a few exceptions.  But there was stress because of our differences, and competition for the attention of parents. Part of it, of course, is due to their being brother and sister. They think they are far different than they actually are. I think they are far more similar than they probably are. Between the two is the reality of it.

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I like the hair and the Violin in this one. I remember doing a lot of work on the face, but it remains somewhat inaccurate, despite all the hard work.

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This one is more accurate. We were at a coffee shop and he was doing his math or English.


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The reality of human hair is probably evolutionary. How this is so is argued over in biology. The argument goes that hair serves to protect the brain. The other argument is that hair keeps the head warm when it is cold and protects the head from UV sunlight.

Again it is hard to see how the latter is the case given that many men start going bald in their 30’s.   It is said that they begin going bald as they stop being reproductive, but men rarely stop being reproductive in their 30’s, so I am not sure this argument holds up.

Babies are often bald too. Often the mothers have the insight to cover up their young heads.

Peter Frost maintain in a 2015 paper, “Evolution of Long Hair in Humans” that

“Also begging to be explained is another aspect of human head hair: its length and silkiness began as infant traits. There seems in fact to be a pattern of visible infant traits being “borrowed” by adult women under the pressure of sexual selection. Such traits attract the interest of adults while stimulating feelings of nurturance and
protection. This is a useful behavioral response not only for infants but also for adult women when competing for attention from prospective mates.”

There may be some truth to this. as indeed, human hair does grow longer outside of Africa. The long length of human hair does seem to increase with women. Women have stronger hair than men, apparently. Hence their growing it longer. I don’t know that this is true though. Much more than any other animal, hair changes or length does seem to be motivated by sexual selection pressures.  But this does not mean that wearing a ship or a bird cage in ones hair is favored by evolution. That was an attempt to get fame and notoriety on the part of Marie Antionette. The hair of Elvis or Warhol is similar.  That is clearly a cultural thing, meant to make a notable person as a fashionable signature seen as instantly recognizable, not an evolutionary matter. Warhol was willing to kill himself for fame, dye his hair white and belong like a fanatic to the Suicidal Marketplace.  By this I mean the market system that put billionaires above us all and in slowly destroying all that matters on earth. Their suicidal tendencies are adopted by many people because people in general cannot yet protest loudly enough the bogus ‘leadership’ of their leaders, who merely lead them to the death of all that matters.


My kids are not seeking fame, and are not ‘fashionable’. They are real kids with real hair.


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His hair was long and thick here, much like his grandma’s on the mothers side. It had grown long, and the darks and lights were varied and curved.


hair 23drawing kids on zoo carosel
My son on a carousel

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This is recent, a month or two ago, (2019), he is ten now and starting to act like an older young man, and his hair is thick, though at his request I thinned it as much as I reasonably could. He likes this one the best.



Picking Dandelions, 2014

I love this painting. I have written about it elsewhere. His hair at two was blonde.
I enjoy my best work as if I did not even do it. After trying more than once I finally
got something of the silkiness of it, here. There is nothing as finely innocent and
beautiful like the hair of a young child. He seemed in a sea of grasses and flowers
that I let grow out back. I painted the figure in this from a photo, as there is no way
to get a young child to pose this way. But the all the grasses and flowers were done
from life.

What life there is in a field! Children are more or less helpless at this age
and one does everything for them, but here he is exploring on his own, loving the
flowers, the warm air, existing. I always get excited when I look at this one, it is full
of life. I feel I did not even paint it, it painted itself.




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My daughter and son’s teacher playing in a group class with them at the university.

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My kids and their teacher



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My mom



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My mom in 1947






This is a very quickly down Sumi ink painting done in the last 5 years of myself near the ocean in California. There is a mistake on the neck and left side of my jaw.  Otherwise I particularly like the hair. The weather near the ocean was very moist and that made my hair very curly.


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My spouse when she let her hair grow naturally white.



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My daughter and her teacher with two others playing Telemann as a group,






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My daughter’s teacher. The braid reminds me of what my daughter often wore.




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An anonymous guy at the Akron baseball ball park, with a nice beard. It did not strike me as an aggressive beard.


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The hair of African Americans is basically the same as “white” people,  who are never really ‘white”, just as “black” people are never “black”– we are all shades of lighter or darker brownish, often with orangeish or ochreish tinge. The exaggeration of words like white and black is part of what causes racism. Hair is a variable distributions of darks and lights, just tighter curls in some cases. This is a done from a model is life class.

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This one was done after William Sydney Mount’s “The Power of Music” at CMA.



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I liked this models hair, drawn in a life class.


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ingres 4a

My version on left, Ingres on the right.


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My daughter drawing a Fox Squirrel exhibit. She was maybe 10 here.


Otzi aOtzi,
5000 years ago.


This is one of various drawings have done with my son or daughter watching to show them how to draw. In the old days many artists might have drawn or painted what they imaged as the first persons, Adam and Eve.  We know now that that is a myth and one of thousands of similar creation stories through out the world.  I wrote a creation story myself when I was 20 or 21. It scarcely matters now.

I much prefer looking at this rendition of Otzi, the 5000 year old man found in the ice of the Italian alps. A lot of science went into what he might have looked like. I include his head hair, chest hair and beard in it too. It is based on a photographic model, but I changed it slightly. I added, for instance, his less than perfect teeth. His hair seems combed or at least put into a pony tail. I’ve studied this subject quite a lot and with study there usually follows a drawing of one kind or another.

hair 62 drawing koalaA Koala (not a Bear) marsupial, sleeping.

Humans are animals, who generally are too conceited to think they are animals.  We are like the Moose I saw in a creek n the Bear-tooth mountains, who stood in the creek and hair dropped in large clumps from its sides as it was bathing.

However the truth is that no animal on earth is as bad as humans can be. Human hair is an outgrowth of animal hair. Most of what humans are comes from and exists thanks to animals and ultimately, plants. Humans rarely say thank you. I say thank you to them here, and below. Hair is organized chaos, like water, and is an amazing part of nature, not at all a part of the conceited and small world of human fashion, the small world of money making. 




Squirrel Tail in Sunlight a

Squirrel Tail in Sunlight