Colored pencil technique lesson - how to use Prismacolor and Derwent colored pencils to draw a face.

Colored Pencil Tutorial

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Detailed colored pencil portrait
Colored pencil portrait on Bristol Board.
colored pencil portrait
Colored pencil portrait on drawing paper
colored pencil portrait
Colored pencil portrait on blue Canson paper.



Drawing with colored pencils is dramatically different than drawing with graphite pencils, in several ways. In this tutorial, I will introduce and discuss some general concepts, tips, and techniques you'll need to learn in order to work well with colored pencils.

  • Layering and crosshatching of colored pencil strokes, as a way to "blend" the colors together.
  • Building up color gradually with gentle pencil strokes, and not laying down dark, bold tones right away.
  • Keeping a very sharp colored pencil tip at most times.
  • Keeping your pencil strokes neat and clean, not sloppy and messy.
  • Remembering that colored pencil can be erased to an extent, but it's pretty difficult to completely erase a dark colored pencil stroke.
  • Keeping the paper surface clean, and not letting any stray crumbs of colored pencil stay on your drawing.
Colored pencil portrait

In the first part of this tutorial, I will explain how to draw a detailed drawing of a face on white paper. In this example, I drew on acid-free Canson drawing paper—though vellum finish Bristol Board is also a great choice.

Prismacolors and Derwent colored pencils were used to create this portrait, using a refined "crosshatch" technique.

The portrait was completed in a few hours (one evening). The model is from my imagination (no photo reference or model used).

(Click on the thumbnail image to see larger version.)

This tutorial deals with the rendering techniques of colored pencil. To read more about Prismacolor pencils, and what colors or brands of colored pencils to get, please read my art materials page on pencils.

To get started on your colored pencil portrait, you need to find a way to get your basic portrait drawing outline onto the paper. Colored pencil is not like regular graphite—it does not erase easily. Therefore, it is not a good idea to use it to work on your drawing and proportions, since a certain amount of erasures usually are needed during this process. (And, you don't want to do your sketch in graphite, and then lay the colored pencil over the graphite. Graphite pencil and colored pencil don't work so well together.)


Since I used no photo reference for this particular portrait, I just quickly sketched out the simple outline of the face right onto the paper, using a flesh-colored Prismacolor. I didn't need to do a lot of erasures, since the face was made up from my imagination. However, if I were using a photo reference or was drawing from a live model, I probably would have done a preliminary sketch on tracing paper, or lightweight sketch paper. Then, I'd transfer the preliminary sketch to my drawing paper or Bristol Board. (No, I would not trace a photograph. Never will I suggest such a thing in any of these tutorials!)

A favorite method I use to transfer the preliminary drawing to my paper is to cover the other side of the tracing paper with flesh-colored Prismacolor pencil. This makes it kind of like "carbon paper," but with Prismacolors as the "carbon"! Then, I carefully transfer the image onto my white Bristol board, by tracing over the outlined sketch, onto my paper. The Prismacolor "carbon paper" transfers a flesh-colored Prismacolor line onto my drawing paper. Just what I am aiming for!

Two main things to remember with colored pencil is layering, and starting out with light tones. Also, have a sharp pencil tip at all times. Invest in an electric pencil sharpener (not an extravagance when using a lot of colored pencils) or get a very good manual pencil sharpener.

Lightly and carefully, start laying down the general tones of the portrait. Start with light tones first. Do not get messy, or make large, loose strokes. Keep your pencil sharp, and let the tip glide over the surface of the paper. Do not dig down and lay a dark, rich tone yet. It's too soon for that.

When you have drawn and rendered the majority of the face's lighter and more subtle tones, start to lay down the darker, richer and more saturated areas of the portrait (for instance, dark hair, red lips, bright colored or dark colored clothing, darkest shadows of the face, etc.). To get these colors sufficiently rich and saturated, gradually begin to bear down harder with your colored pencils, making stronger and darker pencil strokes. These strong lines are the most difficult to erase, which is why you should wait until you are almost finished with the portrait to put them in.

Detail of cheekHere's a close-up of the cheek on the left side (right where the hair starts). There is a definite layering of pencil strokes. You can see a light flesh tone, and darker flesh tone over it, a touch of pink, and a few touches of purple. All this blends together to give the appearance of a contoured cheek.

Each set of pencil strokes goes in a different direction. They overlap and crisscross.

As you can see from this detail, there are still small "white spots" (areas that the colored pencil didn't reach). These spots are not a big problem as long as they are small and uniform. But when you find some "white spots" that bother you, fill them in carefully with a very sharp colored pencil. You don't have to press down hard, just feather your pencil strokes over the problem area, until the spots lessen or disappear.

An important secret to getting clean detail with colored pencil is to keep the tip sharp. When working on an important detailed area, and keep your pencil at a vertical position (straight up). You will be able to "fill in" the trouble spots better, and you will have more control over your pencil strokes.

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| Portrait Painting Color Tutorial | Main Color Page | Color in Portraits Real-World Examples | Color Palette Recommendations |

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