Colored Pencil Portrait Techniques

Written by leslie rose
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Colored Pencil Portrait Techniques
Not all coloured pencil sets will have realistic flesh tones -- but you can improvise by choosing unrealistic colours for the flesh tone instead. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Portraits are among the most difficult subjects to draw because, as humans, we tend to be very critical of our own image and the image of those in our species. Attempting to draw a portrait with coloured pencils requires special care because coloured pencils can have limitations that other mediums do not. Blending can be difficult with coloured pencils, and not all coloured pencil sets include realistic flesh tones.

Structure Layout

Draw the structure and layout of the portrait with a regular pencil before starting with coloured pencils. Coloured pencils are difficult to erase and portraits are complex. If you choose to skip this step, and move straight to drawing the portrait with coloured pencils, you are likely to make mistakes that are you are unable to correct down the road. Draw the structure of your portrait very lightly with a hard lead pencil like 4H or 5H. This way the structure will easily be covered up by the marks from coloured pencils later.

Colour Palette

Just like a painted portrait, you need to choose a palette of colours in order to give your drawn portrait a cohesive design. Select approximately 10 to 12 related pencils of related colours, and try to use only these colours for your portrait. If you do not have any coloured pencils that would make a realistic flesh tone for your portrait, choose unrealistic colours as your flesh tones, such as greens, blues and reds. Choose colours that convey a mood or a sense of the personality of the person you are drawing. Cool colours may be used to indicate peace or depression, while bright warm colours may be indicative of cheer or even mania.

Colour Application

Coloured pencils may be used in many different ways to cover a surface with colour. While your first impulse may be to simply colour in the portrait the way one would use a set of crayons, coloured pencils may be sharpened to create fine lines and designs that would be difficult to replicate with crayons. Build up the colour on the paper with hash marks, as you would with a pen and ink set. By overlapping different colours in a series of hash marks on the page, you can create a network of complex colour combinations that work together to give your drawing depth and visual interest.

Shadows and Highlights

Avoid using black as a colour for generating shadows in your portrait, even if the figure has very dark skin. Black tends to make coloured images look muddy and gloomy. Instead, consider using a colour like dark blue, dark green or dark brown. For highlights on the figure, you may choose to apply colour to those highlight areas very lightly. Alternatively, you may choose a light colour -- such as yellow, or pale pink -- to represent highlights in your portrait. When applying highlights and shadows to the figure, be careful to blend the affected areas with surrounding areas of colour. Use the hash-mark technique to overlap these different areas on the drawing.

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