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Notes on Dreadlocks!

One of my followers asked me for some tips on drawing dreadlocks today. Since I figure dreads have kind of become my “thing” that I do, it couldn’t hurt to put together a little collection of notes and tips about dreadlocks and drawing them.

LOTS of reference images and process info behind the cut!


So the first thing to remember is that, essentially, dreadlocks are just pieces of hair that have matted together into a semi-uniform consistency. Some people make them into more elaborate styles, but the core essential of the dreadlock is this style and process right here:

In this style the hair has been allowed to naturally dread, without any kind of styling or separation. This results in big, matted chunks of hair, with the ends often having a much lighter color than the roots.

Drawing hair like this is a good way to practice the shapes, textures, and penstrokes you’ll be using without the frustration of drawing a lot of individual dreads. 

The short, circular penstrokes I use for a lot of dread stuff (and kinky hair in general) is called scumbling

I’ll also point out early on that kinky hair will lock up much differently than finer hair! I’ll address this more further down the line. Shakira will be helping me. But first, let’s look at how styled dreads work in kinky hair.

One of the more irritating things about drawing dreads or braided styles is that, unlike loose hairstyles that you can describe with layers of flowing lines, dreads have to be defined individually from root to tip to read correctly.

But, we can use a similar technique to drawing loose hair to define more complex dread styles. By defining the shape of the style and the flow of the hair in the early stages of the sketch, it becomes easier to pick out individual locks and make the drawing more detailed. I’ve used this process here to draw a style from a reference image:

Kinky hair tends to lock up faster and neater than finer hair. The roots are often tighter, and the tips blunt, though there may be some unraveling. Using a spiral-style scumbling and darkening it in some places (roots and tips, shadowed area) gives both texture and value to the lineart.

I usually use one unbroken line for each dread. Once you get a rhythm going it goes very quickly!

I used the same technique to make this one look a little more cartoony/stylized. On the top set, I used the same scumbling technique that I used in the last drawing. However, sometimes a character might have lighter hair that doesn’t look so great with that style. In that case, try basket-weaving or cross-hatching to give the dreads form and texture, but not darken them up so much.

I used the same fill color for both sets, but you can see that the top one looks much darker!

Finer hair dreads much differently than kinky hair. Obviously this isn’t the best example of what dreads in white hair look like, but it does show the differences very clearly.

Fine hair will take longer to lock properly, and will be more prone to unraveling. The dreads tend to be looser at the root, and taper more at the tips.

Because of this, people with finer hair tend to put products in their hair to encourage locking. This can cause their dreads to look stiff or even waxy, and bend at odd angles. Like tentacles!

Now of course these are natural dreads, but the same concepts apply to artificial dreads. There are just a few things to remember! Clicking on photographs will take you to the source pages, which often have more photo reference and information.


These are yarn locks, a popular type of style that emulates the style of dreads but is much quicker to create and easier to take down than real dreadlocks. They are made by coiling yarn around parted sections of hair. These have a distinct texture and shape, and are often melted/frayed at the ends to keep from unraveling. Since this is a temporary style, new growth isn’t much of an issue. The parting between the locks is often neat and uniform, and you won’t see new growth/loose hair unless the style is several weeks old or poorly maintained.

These are kanekalon dreads, made by twisting/backcombing artificial kanekalon hair and heat-sealing it once the appropriate shape and texture is achieved. This is an inexpensive, if time-consuming, method, and is often used to achieve colorful styles, not to mention that cybergoth look that the kids love so much.

Dreadlock extensions are also very popular. Even natural looking styles are often supplemented with extensions, to give more length, volume, or a more uniform texture and appearance.

Well that’s about all I have for you guys! If there’s anything else you’d like to know about my style or process, let me know! I love putting together things like this. I hope it was helpful!

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