PA Heather Jolliffe uses Derwent's new Pastel Pencils for this pastel portrait demonstration

Pastel pencils are a brilliant medium to start drawing with, as they are quick to apply, can easily be lifted out, and allow pictures to be created flexibly over a short time scale.

Surface colour and texture?

Pastel works most effectively on pastel paper, which has more tooth to it for the medium to grip onto. There is normally a more grainy textured side (front) and a smooth side (back); though I like to use the grainy side, I sometimes use the smooth side for certain subjects. This is available in so many colours and tones, and having even a small variety in stock means you can select one which suits a subject matter; either by being subtly similar or vibrantly contrasting in colour or tone. Both approaches work well, so it's good to experiment.

To remove pastel medium from the drawing surface use a clean putty rubber (keep turning the rubber round to expose clean rubber), blu-tak, or doughy bread; these all have a similar consistency. Try to apply a press on - lift off technique, rather than a rubbing technique, which can just smudge rather than remove.

 To fix or not to fix?

The real bone of contention is fixing a pastel drawing. This is where even regular pastel users divide! Do you use an aerosol spray fixative, a water mister to fix, or leave the drawing just as it is? All are valid, though if you are enjoying pastel work and plan to produce highly finished works, I would advise purchasing a good quality drawing or pastel fixative. I also recommend getting used to applying an even fine spray of fixative, possibly in short fixings throughout the drawing process, rather than one main fixing at the end.

In considering a portrait, there are a few things to bear in mind.

Working smaller than life is a difficult task; the accuracy of lines and angles becomes much more acute, and less easily achieved. Though it may feel safer to work smaller, this is a false security. Ideally, work a portrait as near to life size as you can; this allows for more freedom to create the marks and capture a likeness.

There are no magic measurements to apply, but there are some basic facial dimensions, which can be applied to help get things started. Remember, these are generalisations, and will need to be checked against the actual sitter:

Eye level is roughly halfway up a head, and there is normally about an eye's width between the eyes, if the person is looking straight at you.

The top of the ear is about level with the eye or eyebrow, while the lobe is about level with the mouth.

Instead of outlining the whole mouth, which can look unreal, like the red plastic lips in a Christmas cracker, focus on the mid-lip line; this is very individual and if you capture the subtle nuances of this line, you will be well on the way to a likeness. In normal lighting situations, the upper lip catches any shadow, while the lower lip has the highlights.

If the head is turned to one side, or you are viewing the head from a higher or lower angle, this will change how you see the features. The important thing is to trust what your eyes tell you, not be influenced by what your brain knows.

As a starting portrait, it can be good to keep the colour element simple and use just two colours, as I have done here in this male portrait (below). I used Raw Umber to draw in the whole portrait, then added some Chocolate on to the background areas, against the facial features and back edge of the head; this provides more contrast to the highlight areas on the face and, as a consequence, greater depth.

Pastel pencils:


Where accurate product matches are not possible we have selected the closest match

Young Man

I lay in light lines to provide a basic drawing of the head shape and features, and being pastel, decide it would be best to work from the facial features outwards, to avoid smudging them.

With any portrait, I like to capture the eyes first; once these are correct, the rest of the drawing can follow, and you have achieved one crucial part of the likeness.

If you leave this part until the end of the drawing, too much pressure can build. With the basic shape established, a layer of Flesh, Terracotta and White is used to create a base for the flesh areas and the 'white' of the eyes.

Then I establish the eyes, starting with lightly applied lines in Chocolate for the upper and lower lid lines, and Ultramarine on the iris shape. To create a relaxed eye, the round of the iris should disappear into the upper and / or lower lid; if you draw a fully round iris, you will create a startled look!

 The nostril shadows, which are again very specific shapes, are drawn with Chocolate, reinforced with a touch of Black, and the mouth with Crimson, and shadowed with a mix of Prussian Blue and Chocolate on the upper lip.

Pastel Tip:
I tend to 'blend' by adding layers, not by the physical process of blending which you could achieve with a blending tool like a tortillon or your finger tip. The blended technique produces a totally different finished look to the layered technique which I employ, but this is a totally subjective preference. Pastel novices should try both to see which they prefer.

Blocking in the hair colour, using Chocolate and Black again, helps to frame the face, separating it from the background paper colour, and gives contrast to the smoothly applied flesh colours. 

Pastel Tip:
Pastel sticks are very useful for quickly blocking in initial areas, or for broader, simplified mark making; pastel pencils can then be worked over this base layer, to add detail or specific shaping within a drawing. If desired, it is possible to work larger drawings with pastel pencils as opposed to pastel sticks; it just takes more sharpening! A good quality pencil sharpener is a must here, to avoid any fragmenting of the wooden barrel, which cheaper or older blades can do.

  Establishing the shoulders gives the head a supporting context and the bright blues provide further contrast to the more subtle flesh colours, while the shadow sections reinforce the sense of light and shade on the head.

 Directional marks are applied onto the hair, to bring out individual locks, adding more Black on the right where the main shadow is.

Finishing touches included re-touching the eye colours, darkening the upper lid a bit more, adding highlights on the nose, cheekbones and throat, and giving the flesh an overall flush of lightly applied Crimson, with a bit extra on the lips.

As with Derwent's recently launched new softer textured Watercolour pencil range, these new pastel pencils have a smoother, softer consistency on application, making them easier to blend, and seem easier to sharpen, which can be a pastel pencil nightmare! The colours are improved, providing an enhanced performance with real vibrancy; two of my favourite colours which I have used in this portrait, Violet and Ultramarine, are wonderful to draw with, especially Violet layered gently into previous colours, for shadows.

Heather runs her own classes and is available to give workshops and demonstrations. Contact her at: [email protected]

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