How I Create a Portrait with Colored Pencil & Acrylic

How I Create a Portrait with Colored Pencil & Acrylic main article image
Posted on January 11, 2022 by Jennifer Carroll
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Portraiture was the first art I ever saw modeled in front of me. I grew up in the home of an artist and the smell of turpentine always hung in the air of my mother’s art studio. Over time and by watching her create, I learned the art for myself. I call it the “Art of People” and if you love people, as I do there’s no greater joy than producing a work of art that features a particular loved one. I have done portraits of my kids throughout the years and now that they’re grown, I love to look at the wall of portraits I’ve created in the hallway near my home office. No worries – I have created copies so that they too can enjoy their younger, more cuddly selves.

In recent years it has dawned on me that while I love the art of people and portraiture, it is a lot of pressure to accept commissions and complete a portrait that I can obviously only sell once. My mother told me that if you can draw people, you can draw anything. These last few years I’ve decided to test out her theory and I took my camera to a few local cow pastures and goat pens to capture images that I would draw. Portraiture, for me, has always started with capturing my own photographs of people. I have often refused a commission when this wasn’t an option. It’s just part of the creative process that I enjoy.

This is how my “Portraits from the Pasture” series came to be, and I’ll walk you through the process from start to finish.

Portrait process

As I mentioned, the first step is to capture a photograph worthy of a portrait. This in itself is a very satisfying and complete project. It involves driving to a farm or pasture at a time of day where we are sure to have good lighting. We are invited to these photoshoots quite often as so many of my customers are farmers. After I take the dozens of photographs I need to capture the one that will make the cut. The real process begins.

If you start with great photos, the process goes a lot faster, and your finished portrait will be much better because you’ll have all the material you need to work with. I edit my photos in photoshop, so they have the right amount of contrast and the lighting that I’m looking for. I always draw on a piece of matte board that is 16”x20” so I want my image to cover that area with enough border to accommodate a matte and frame. Sometimes just a frame, it depends on how big I want the finished original to be.

Once I have my inspiration photo ready for the portrait process, I have it printed a few times on a ledger-size paper (11”x17”) at Office Depot. I like their online service because I can order and pick it up the same day.

Now the real fun begins! I use Prisma Color pencils because I love the vibrancy and when you know which colors you need, you can buy them individually. I also use acrylic markers and I’ll tell you more about that as we go.

The first thing I do is draw a very rough sketch of my subject. I just need to know where things go, and this helps me keep the right perspective as the drawing progresses. Some people use carbon paper, a projector, or the graph method to complete this step, but my mother made me freehand things, so that’s what I do. I use a colored pencil to do this so that I can blend these lines into the portrait when I need to.

I decide which pencils I’m going to need for the portrait and put them in my caddy that follows me from room to room as I work on a project. Animals are different than people or, so I am told. They don’t have skin tones, they have fur, so I am using different hues than I did when people were all I drew.

I start filling the color around the edges of my drawing and I use the colors I see in my photograph. There are so many colors in nature that you don’t see until you make a concerted effort to. There are blue and purple tones that may not be obvious at first glance, and I don’t want to miss them because it’s hard to go back with colored pencil. I put down all the colors that I see and I’m careful to leave the negative spaces alone until I’m ready to deal with them. I’m also making sure that the strokes go in the direction of the contours. The feed bucket is round so I keep my pencil strokes on the curve that I see.

Acrylic markers are my new favorite thing and I’ve been experimenting with them to create mixed media pieces. I like them because I can use black to make the deepest tones and create the depth that adds to the realism I’m hoping to achieve. I use the lighter colors to add highlights and to put back any negative spaces I may have accidentally covered. If I need to add texture to a drawing, I get a small-tipped brush and use chalk paint. Waverly paint from Walmart is my go-to. Most chalk paints are simply acrylic paint with additives such as calcium carbonate or baking soda. You could even make your own, but I tend to use it sparingly and I don’t mind buying it when I need it.

The baby goat I am working on in this post has yet to be finished.

I generally spend at least a month working on each completed piece. The old truck pictured contains the chalk paint method I described. If you look closely, you can actually see the texture that was created.

If you’re an artist and want to add more realism and depth to your creations think about mixing your mediums. It will give you a whole new range of colors. You will have the option of creating texture and the deepest tones will contrast with the beautiful highlights to create even more realism in your finished product.

I hope you were able to get something from this post and I would absolutely love to see what you’re creating with your colored pencils and acrylic marker. Until next time- happy crafting.

Please follow me here to see my latest creations!

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How I Create a Portrait with Colored Pencil & Acrylic

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