• Kirsty Partridge

How to Draw a Coloured Pencil Portrait in Just 5 Steps!

Portraits can be one of the most overwhelming subject matters to draw, especially in coloured pencil. In this blog, I break down the drawing process and demonstrate how to draw a full portrait in just 5 steps! For lots of real-time coloured pencil tutorials click here!

When drawing portraits in coloured pencil I try to pick colours that are suitable for highlights, midtones and the shadows. That way I can be sure that I can achieve a large range of values in my portraits. For this baby portrait I picked white and light peach for the highlights. For the midtones and to add a bit of vibrancy to the piece I opted for Henna and Peach. Finally, for the shadows I am using Light Umber and Dark Brown.

You do not need loads of different colours to create a realistic looking portrait, that is a common misconception. I am using Prismacolor coloured pencils for this portrait, I like the way the soft leads layer and blend together. The full list of materials I used are listed at the bottom of this blog.

A few tips before we start drawing the portrait:

1) Always keep your pencils sharp- this will help you achieve smoother shading.

2) Shade using the side of the pencil and hold the pencil further back. This helps keep even pressure on the pencil and therefore results in even shading.

3) Layer your pencils using circular motions. This is especially effective for drawing skin.

4) Avoid using heavy pressure on your first layers of coloured pencils. Only burnish (blend with a lot of pressure) when you are doing your final layer of shading. Portrait drawing is all about working in multiple layers.

Now let’s start the portrait!

Step 1 - The ‘Underpainting’

You may be used to creating an underpainting when you are painting with oils, but you probably haven’t considered this technique for your coloured pencil drawings. Start with your darkest coloured pencil and use that to establish your values throughout the portrait. Remember to follow the tips I mentioned earlier when applying your pencils to the paper. You should already have an accurate sketch down on your paper to help guide you.

Establishing values in your drawing early on using your darkest pencil will help set your portrait up to have a great contrast when it’s finished! Vary the pressure you apply to the pencil depending on how light or dark each area is, this will help you establish all of the values, even though you are only using one pencil. I used my dark brown pencil for this step.

Step 2- Layering midtones

Now it is time to shade in the mid-tone values that you can see in your reference, I used Light umber for this step. Layering is key when working on portraits in coloured pencil. It helps to breathe life into the portrait! I will layer this pencil everywhere except for the highlighted areas. We need to preserve the lightest areas, so that our drawing doesn’t look flat.

Step 3- Add Vibrancy to the portrait

Next, I add some vibrancy to the portrait with the Henna and Peach colours. The Henna helps to add a rosy glow to areas like the cheeks and any parts of the portrait that has a bit of a red undertone to the skin.

I am layering the peach over the top of the areas where I added the light umber (the mid-tone areas.) I am still preserving the lightest parts of the portrait, as I will use the Light Peach in these places.

Step 4- Blending the pencils

At this point, your drawing may look a bit grainy. I start to burnish out the layers of coloured pencil. I use Light peach to build up some shading on the lightest areas, before burnishing those sections out with the white pencil. For the darker areas, you can pick whichever colour is most suitable. I used the peach to burnish the midtones and the light peach to transition between midtones and the highlights.

Step 5- Add final details

Finish off your portrait by adding in all the little details. Make sure your pencils are sharp when drawing in details like the eyelashes or eyebrow hairs. Tip- you can use an x-acto knife to add detail and texture to your coloured pencil drawings. Give it a try!

And that’s it!

Looking to master drawing with coloured pencils? Click here to check out my coloured pencil courses.

Watch the video to check out these techniques in action:


Prismacolor Portrait Set: https://geni.us/PrismacolorPortraitSet

Strathmore Bristol 300s Smooth Paper: https://geni.us/bristolsmooth

X-acto Knife

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©2020 by Kirsty Partridge Art