• Kirsty Partridge

How to Paint Portraits with Watercolors and Colored Pencils

Creating a portrait with just watercolors or colored pencils alone can be tricky but, in this blog, I’m going to go through how to paint a portrait using both. I also decided to mix a realistic style with a more expressive style into the portrait so get ready for a lot of fun and, of course, good art tips. The real-time tutorial for this painting is available here.


When I’m doing a portrait, I always like to start by painting the skin (after the sketch outline is done of course). I mix my color and use some of it to make a new, lighter version by adding water to leave me with two colors. For skin I mainly use red, yellow ochre and brown but today I also added purple and dark blue for a nice undertone.


I start painting by applying the lightest of my two colors all over the skin. Whilst it is still wet, I go in with the darker color and add in any shade I can see in my reference. It is really important that it is still wet as I’m using the wet-on-wet technique, which allows the darker color to bleed out and not leave any harsh edges.


Next I add purple and grey to my mix and use this for some of the darker shadows such as around the eyes and nose. Let the painting dry, as it is best to work in layers. Then go in with a clean, wet brush and pre-wet the whole skin area so you can add more skin tones and colors.



I like to start off light and then get darker with every layer I apply on top, which stops me from getting the painting too dark and covering up highlights that are visible in the reference. Make sure your neck is a darker value than the face as this is a common mistake that beginners make. Also add shadows to the side of the face, the mouth and the chin – like you see in the reference and how you would expect in real life.


When painting skin, it’s not necessarily about using lots of different colors, it’s about using the wet-on-wet technique and building up in layers to keep everything nice and smooth. If you don’t like this technique it’s ok but make sure you are using a clean, wet brush to blend out the edges.


As well as the normal pink skin colors and shadows, it’s important to add other hues and colors you can see in your reference, for example I needed to add a green and yellow glaze. This really helps with that realistic style. Always make sure to re-wet the paper after a layer has dried so the colors can bleed out and give you that smooth skin.


Wait for your last layer to dry before moving onto the details. I like to use a brown and black mix to start bringing the eyebrows, eyes and nostrils to life and then a nice, pinky-red for the lips. Leave a darker line in the middle where the lips meet to show some shadow.

If you think your skin needs to be darker (like I did) then you can go back in and add some more shadows to your piece.


If not then you can begin the hair, which I decided to do in a loose, expressive style for a bit of fun. I tried to keep everything messy and added a blonde tone to all of the hair by mixing yellow ochre, brown (tiny bit) and water. Then I layered darker browns on top of this to get in the basic shadows.


To make it loose and expressive I’m adding in some splatters and drops of water to give a cauliflower effect. It’s still important to get your shadows in the right places and to add individual strokes (it shows the flow and texture of the hair).




Now for the colored pencil step which I think brings everything together. I begin with a white pencil over any area I think needs to look a bit lighter but oppositely add shadow to any area I think needs to look darker. The colored pencils are also great (and a lot easier than watercolors) for adding freckles; use an orange dot and then a brown one on top.


Any detail or definition you need to add, use the colored pencils! For example, eyelashes and individual eyebrow hairs look amazing after colored pencils have done their magic.





If you have some trouble with the portrait looking grainy from your pencil shadings, then use a light color (I like to use beige) in the opposite directions to your original pencil shading. This will smooth everything out. Remember to be gentle and apply only a little pressure.



My final touches include a black pencil for those shadows I adore and a white gel pen for details in the hair and even brighter highlights.






And here is the finished portrait, I hope you like it;


If you want to learn more about drawing or painting portraits, then try my online courses!


To see these techniques in action, check out the video below.



Feel Proud of Your Next Drawing in 10 Easy Steps!

©2020 by Kirsty Partridge Art