Colored pencil tutorial - how to use Prismacolor and Derwent pencils to draw a portrait.

Colored Pencil Tutorial

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Colored Pencil on Colored paper Colored Pencil Portrait Colored pencil portrait

My favorite colored pencil technique involves using colored paper. The vast majority of my colored pencil portraits are drawn on Canson colored paper. (Click on these thumbnail images to see the full portrait.) Canson's Mi Teintes colored paper is a good choice, since it is considered lightfast (all except for the black color).

The portrait on the left was drawn on a tan-colored Canson paper. The center portrait was drawn on a pale greenish blue paper. The portrait on the right was drawn on a rich brown colored paper.

When I start a new portrait, I always think carefully about what color of paper best fits the mood of the portrait I want to create, and which color will best compliment the color scheme of the portrait. Choosing the appropriate color of paper for a colored pencil portrait is not something that should be done hastily!

Some portraits allow me to leave the color of the paper peeking through a great deal, even on parts of the face. Other portraits require that I cover most of the face with colored pencil, leaving only the background area untouched.


This is a detail of the portrait on the right. The Canson paper was tan colored, which complimented the color scheme of the portrait very well.

As shown in this illustration, I was able to use the tan color to my advantage when rendering the skin tones of the face and arm. Notice how I left the arm (shown at the bottom half of this illustration) rendered in a loose, sketchy way. I added a few "contour" lines of brown (near the edge of the man's chin) and a few light flesh-colored lines to show the roundness of the arm. These simple strokes were all I used to render the arm, because the tan color of the paper "doubled" as the arm's flesh color too.

I also was able to leave small areas of the face untouched as well—I didn't need to worry about covering every nook and cranny of the face with colored pencil. The nice tan colored paper also "doubled" as a flesh color for the face, just like it did for the arm.

Colored Pencil portrait on brown paperIn this portrait, the brown paper used was dark and a bit overpowering. But I felt it was an appropriate choice, since the portrait I had planned was a moody, low-key piece.

I left the background almost completely alone, allowing the brown paper to show through. I used few brown or dark pencils to render the face - I let the brown color of the paper serve as most of the "dark tones."

I only used a few dark blue and black pencils to get the detail of the eye and pupil, eyebrows, the dark line that separates the lips, and so on.

I enjoyed using a pale blue (almost a white-blue in parts) for some of the highlights of the face. Some "accents" of reddish-orange and pale blue gave the portrait some sharpness, and added contrast.

I didn't try to hide the pencil strokes of the portrait - I thought they were an asset to the overall look.

Some basic things to remember when drawing in colored pencil:

  • Keep your pencils sharp most of the time!
  • Start drawing lightly, and carefully. Don't start laying down dark, rich colors right away.
  • Keep the paper surface clean. Don't let any colored pencil "crumbs" stick to the drawing surface. Carefully brush them away, before they smear or streak on the drawing.
  • Use a kneaded rubber eraser to lighten up or erase areas. Don't use the same eraser that you use for graphite or charcoal, however. Have special kneaded rubber eraser set aside for your colored pencil work.

To read more about colored pencil materials, papers, and colored pencil brands, read the art material section. To see some more examples of my colored pencil portraits, check out my portfolio page.

Some colored pencil and portrait book recommendations:

Colored Pencil book
Colored Pencil for the Serious Beginner
by Bet Borgeson (Get this book at

Bet Borgeson is considered one of the best colored pencil artists around. I really love her sense of color, and her philosophy about art. A wonderful book!

Colored pencil books
Basic Colored Pencil Techniques
by Bet Borgeson (Get this book at

Another excellent colored pencil book by the wonderful Bet Borgeson!

Drawing a Likeness
Drawing a Likeness
by Douglas Graves (Get this book at

An excellent book on drawing portraits. Douglas Graves is a wonderful portrait artist, and he understands how to get a good likness!

Shameless plug!

I've got my own book now, self-published, called Drawing Portraits: Fundamentals. I've tried to put a lot of the information that you see on this site in the book (unfortunately, nothing about colored pencil, since it's a B&W book). Check it out!


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