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Drawing Portraits with Colored Pencils

Drawing Portraits with Colored Pencils main article image
Posted on August 10, 2022 by Lyndsey Drooby

Once you have discovered the knack of portrait drawing, you can add another layer to pencil drawings by adding colored pencils to them. The same techniques of shading and adding shadows or highlights can be applied the same way while you add color. When done in a specific way, a colored pencil drawing can also look like a painting. In fact, some artists call the process of colored pencil portraits “painting” with colored pencils because of the beautiful detail that you can create. 

Let’s get into the how you can create a perfect colored pencil portrait drawing. 

A few words about pencil portraits

Portraits are created through various different forms of art media, but there is a beautiful, meditative way of drawing a portrait with pencil and paper as you go through multiple steps and intense focus on all the details of your subject. When it comes to working in a particular medium, it is important to stay consistent and to stick with one medium (especially with a drawn portrait) because graphite pencils and colored pencils will not necessarily mix. When choosing to draw a portrait using colored pencils, the key would be to stick with colored pencils throughout the entire drawing. There is no need to even start creating lines with a graphite pencil because you will notice issues between the natural materials that make up pencils and colored pencils. The graphite can mix with the wax binders used to make colored pencils and result in grey tones throughout the drawing. It won’t look natural and you’ll see more smudging happening as the regular pencil will blend with the colored pencil. A pencil in a light brown shade can always work when making the first lines of a portrait as you have light-yet-defined lines to start out with. 

Colored pencils work best when they are layered and mixed thanks to the level of wax binders and pigments inside each pencil. The drawing in the end can be as complex and in-depth as a painting.

One of the trickiest things to completing a portrait with colored pencils is creating skin tones, which aren’t made of one pencil, but a layering of multiple colors and mixes of red, yellow, brown and white in tandem with one another. Shades of blue are used to build up shadows or make certain areas darker. What you will discover when creating a portrait in colored pencil are the natural colors you see and how various colors can be layered to make exactly what you see. This is what makes the drawing appear realistic. 

Of course, you will get a much better result working with professional colored pencils, which have a major comparison of softness, durability and lightfastness opposed to other brands with varied quality. Art stores sell pencils in sets or kits and you can also fill up on open stock pencils and buy colors that you need. Open stock helps out so much as you can buy what you need without buying the entire set. It comes in handy when you need specific colors to get the best range in your subject’s skin tone. 

Study color

As mentioned previously, skin tone is made up of other colors. You can always study your own face in the mirror and look at the tones in your own skin, hair color and eye color. If you have brown or green eyes, what other colors do you see that make up the color of your eyes. Green can have tones of yellow or gold. The same goes with hair as well. Brown hair may have black, red or brassy tones. Blonde hair may have some gold, light brown and some creamy white colors building up a highlight. 

Getting started with colored pencil portraits

Using a light colored pencil, like a light brown, begin the outline of the portrait. Take your time on this as this becomes the foundation of the entire portrait. Of course, before diving in, you can always work on those preliminary sketches to capture the shapes needed in the final portrait. You’ll also get the feel of working completely with colored pencils and not a graphite pencil. 

Layering colors 

When it comes to layering colors, shade one area with all the colors you’re working with and layer them one color at a time. You’ll find yourself paying more attention to values and shadows rather than random shading all over. Pay attention to the way light hits different areas of the subject. Look at the way light hits certain areas and notice where you may use the same combination of colors, but use the lighter versions of them or a few drawn lines. 

So once you have the basic outline of the face down, the definition will continue with the shading. Adding those complementary colors starts to build the intensity of the details. Build up around the eyes, noticing the shadows and light areas. As you move away from the eyes, you’ll branch away towards the cheeks and the nose by defining the shapes by building the shadows.

As you maintain the planes of the face with the colors of the face, you can spread out further and head towards the ear. Work on the darker areas with a shade darker than your starting pencil. Build up the layers and finish off by pressing harder with lighter colors. You’ll notice this is the trend throughout the entire portrait by layering darker colors in the shadow areas and finishing off with a lighter color layer. The lighter color layers then spread evenly out into the lighter areas that make up the texture and features of the face. 

So there you have it, the basics of drawing a colored pencil portrait takes some experimentation and practice to learn how to blend colors and see colors beyond one pencil. Give it a try and see how you do!

Here are some great videos that work as wonderful resources:

Coloured Pencil Portrait Tutorial: How to Draw a Face in Coloured Pencil

Drawing Skin with ONLY 5 Colored Pencils

DO’S & DON’TS: How To Draw a Face with Coloured Pencils | Realistic Drawing Tutorial Step by Step

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