Step-by-Step Colored Pencil Portraits

Written by alyssa ideboen
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Step-by-Step Colored Pencil Portraits
Learn how to draw portraits with coloured pencil. (Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

For those who have a proclivity for drawing, sketching portraits with coloured pencils gives artists another way to express themselves within this media. Creating a successful composition out of coloured pencils is a process, but artists can break down that process into manageable steps to achieve quality compositions. Hone the structure and realism of your compositions by regularly drawing portraits and facial features with graphite pencils. Practice with coloured pencils to create different shading and layering techniques.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Easel
  • Tracing paper
  • Model or portrait photographs
  • Graphite pencil
  • Set of coloured pencils
  • Ballpoint pen
  • Acid-free drawing paper
  • Eraser
  • Fixative

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  1. 1

    Set up an easel with a large sheet of tracing paper. Position a live model near natural light or set up several photographs of a person next to your easel for reference. Make sure both you and the model are in a comfortable position, as the work can take a few hours.

  2. 2

    Create a contour drawing. With a graphite pencil, sketch the outline of your portrait. Do not shade any of the areas. Outline the facial structure, hair, eyes, mouth, nose, cheekbones and any other defining facial characteristics.

  3. 3

    Trace over your drawing with coloured pencil. Choose a colour that is a shade or two darker than the colour of your paper. Draw directly over the graphite with the coloured pencil, but again, do not shade or fill in any areas.

  4. 4

    Transfer your drawing. Lay the tracing paper, pencil-side down over acid-free drawing paper. With a ballpoint pen, lightly trace over your drawing. This method transfers the coloured pencil onto the paper.

  5. 5

    Begin filling in your portrait with colour. Start with the lightest shades and fill in the highlights where the light shines the brightest. Make small strokes, hatching parallel lines closely together or criss-crossing the lines for a cross-hatched look. Keep areas completely white where the light shines the brightest.

  6. 6

    Shade in mid-tones. Add more layers of colour with small, deliberate strokes. Sharpen your pencils often to lay the best colour. Use darker colours to fill in shaded areas and lighter colours to bring out lighter skin tones. Layer the colour lightly and erase as you go to avoid mistakes.

  7. 7

    Finish the drawing. Step back and look at your portrait. Deepen shadows with blues and purples and brighten skin and hair with peaches and browns. Make sure all colours are blended to produce a realistic portrait.

Tips and warnings

  • Spray your finished drawing with a fixative to help the portrait retain colour.
  • Work carefully when transferring your drawing from the tracing paper to the drawing paper. Tracing paper tears easily and can cause mistakes in your final composition.

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