Friday, March 14, 2008

Portraits: drawing in coloured pencil

Portrait of Ben
11" x 14", coloured pencil on Saunders Waterford Hot Press

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I did this coloured pencil portrait drawing of Ben in my drawing class last night. Some of you may remember the three pen and ink drawings I did on one large piece of paper about six weeks ago - Three perspectives on Ben - in this post.

I decided to just do the one drawing and see how far I could get it in class. I've never used the Saunders Waterford HP with coloured pencils before in class and it was a revelation. I was using a quarter sheet as opposed to the Saunders Waterford block which I've used in the past. The surface is very soft and my hatching strokes seemed to blur more which greatly helped with the blending. All in all a very satisfactory experience.

I drew in some light pencil 'dots' to work out the proportion on the page and the angles and distances of key features and then started by hatching in values. The relative values of the surface of the face and hair relative to the background was probably the most difficult bit. Getting a nice solid dark in really helps with strengthening the values pattern in the drawing. I enjoyed working with lots of different colours in both the ace and hair - working on the basis that it's the value of the colour which matters not the colour. There's lots of blue and green in this portrait!

Five Tips for Drawing People in Coloured Pencil
  • Place an initial emphasis on drawing shapes and values rather than detail and local hues
  • Use which ever colours are right for the value
  • Mix colours on the paper - it makes the drawing more vibrant and more interesting
  • You cannot see light without dark:
    • a darker background allows me to include the rim lighting on the edge of the facial contour
    • using a battery eraser allows me to lift out without smearing and pulls soft highlights out in the hair area
  • You don't need to draw hairs to draw hair - try and draw the volume and look for places where the values are similar to those found in the clothing or the face - and blur the edges
The long debate about drawing from photos in relation to exhibitions of coloured pencil artwork has helped to make a lot of people using coloured pencils to think more about drawing from life as opposed to drawing from photos. As a result, a number of people in the Coloured Pencil Forum at Wet Canvas have decided they'd like to develop their skills in drawing from life and now (at long last!) there is a support group for people sketching from life using coloured pencils.

To see more drawings from my drawing class visit the 'Drawing a Head' gallery on my website.


  1. Wow...that's great! You've got quite a talent.

    (found your blog via the powerguides, btw.)

  2. Thanks Tracey - what are the powerguides?

  3. Very nice Katherine.

    Thanks for highlighting the thread. It's very tempting...lots of participation already.

  4. This is a very nice piece of art and is a cut above a lot of art that I see. I like the darks behind the head which make the head stand away from the background. The highlights on the head make Ben very real. Keep showing us your talents!

  5. Hi Katherine,
    congratulations to that decent piece of work.

  6. Excellent drawing Katherine. I like the colours and looseness of it.

    And you're quite right about getting values, not just colours in place. That's what makes or breaks your drawing.

  7. Thanks for all the compliments about this piece. I was really quite pleased with it and will certainly be doing more CP in class from life in future


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