Pastel Pencils for Portraits

The ultimate selection for skintones

Carole Massey demonstrates Derwent’s new Skintones pastel pencil set

Imagine the artistic version of ‘Desert Island Discs’. If you could choose your 12 favourite pastel pencils for portrait painting, which ones would you select? This is what Derwent invited me to do to create their new ‘Skintones’ set. Making a choice from their full range of 72 beautiful colours was a tough task. After much deliberation, I chose a warm and a cool yellow, red and blue, four earth colours and black and white, enabling me to mix a huge spectrum of colours from this key selection. As with other painting media, it is usually better to work with a limited palette of colours.

Derwent Pastel pencils are an ideal medium for portraiture as they are soft and blendable yet can also be sharpened to a point for more detailed areas. They can be used with pastel sticks or blocks and a kneadable eraser is useful to lighten areas or to clean the background. I prefer to work on the smoother side of tinted pastel paper, but any paper that has a “tooth” is suitable, as well as sand textured pastel paper or board.

The Derwent Skintones set
Vanilla, Process Yellow, Cadmium Red, Crimson, Ultramarine, Kingfisher Blue, Yellow Ochre, Terracotta, Burnt Carmine, Chocolate, Carbon Black, Titanium White.

Tip: For painting blond hair use yellows, Yellow Ochre and browns; smudge a darker neutral colour (e.g. Ultramarine, Kingfisher Blue and Burnt Carmine) to create a contrasting background.

Mixing colours for skin tones

Here are three examples of colour mixing for a variety of skin tones

1. Pale skin: White, Vanilla, Yellow Ochre, Crimson and Ultramarine for the shading

2. Mid-tone skin: White, Process Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Terracotta, and Kingfisher Blue for the shading
3. Dark skin: Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red, Burnt Carmine, Chocolate and Ultramarine for the shading

Greens can be mixed by blending one or several yellows and blues together

1. Vanilla, Process Yellow, Kingfisher Blue plus Ultramarine and Crimson for the shading

2. White, Process Yellow, Yellow Ochre, plus Ultramarine and Carbon Black for the shading

Tips for using pastel pencils

  • Sharpen pencils with a knife, then hone to a fine point on a sandpaper block.
  • Blend small areas with a paper stump or a rubber shaper.
  • Draw fine details with the tip of the pencil; for broader areas apply with the side of the pencil.
  • White is more effective added directly to the paper, not over other colours.
  • To prevent smudging what you have done, cover it with a sheet of paper.

Lois - the step by step skin tones tutorial

Preparatory drawing

I made several pencil sketches of Lois in graphite on cartridge paper from photos I had taken. Happy with one of them, I traced over it then transferred the image onto the smoother side of the pastel paper using Tracedown paper.

Stage 1 Drawing

Make the outline drawing with Terracotta. Using Titanium White, draw the highlights in the eyes, nose, mouth, and hair; add broader strokes for the lightest areas on the face.

Stage 2 Skin tones

Create the main skin tone colour using Terracotta, Vanilla, and White. Add Yellow Ochre and Cadmium Red or Crimson to give warmth to the cheeks, chin etc.

Stage 3

Painting the features

Eyes: Use Chocolate or Burnt Carmine to define the lids and creases, Crimson in the tear ducts, and Ultramarine and Lemon Yellow for the irises. Do not draw the eyelashes yet.

Nose: Add Terracotta, Burnt Carmine, and Vanilla or White to create the highlights and shadows of this prominent feature. Carefully draw in the dark recessions of the nostrils.

Mouth: Use Crimson for the lips, adding White to the lighter lower lip. Use Burnt Carmine to draw the line dividing the upper and lower lips and to draw the contour lines in the lower lip to emphasise its rounded shape. Use Chocolate for those dark corners and Burnt Carmine for the shadow created by surrounding muscles.

Stage 4 The hair

Draw the flowing lines of the wavy hair in Chocolate and Burnt Carmine, avoiding any existing white highlights; use the side of the pencil to colour in broad areas (see picture). Work over all the hair before concentrating on specific areas.

Stage 5 Final stages

Gradually darken the hair, whilst allowing the colour of the paper to show through in places. As well as the darks, introduce touches of other colours used elsewhere on the face, like Ultramarine, Terracotta or Red. Redefine the eyes and add the eyelashes. Paint in the clothing and necklace.

Stage 6 Finishing the painting

To finish, step back and assess the whole painting. Accentuate highlights and shadows to increase the tonal contrast, adding life and sparkle. For example, add shading around the hairline and neck with Burnt Carmine and Chocolate, even black, if necessary; redefine the eyes, add shadow across the eyeball and more blush to the cheeks with Cadmium Red or Crimson if needed. Re-apply White to the highlights in the eyes, mouth and hair and darken shadows where required. Now you have to decide when to stop before you overwork it!

Further examples of step by step portrait tutorials by Carole and tips on using pastel pencils can be seen on the Derwent website pages


Pastel Pencils for Portraits

The ultimate selection for skintones

Carole Massey demonstrates Derwent’s new Skintones pastel pencil set

Imagine the artistic version of ‘Desert Island Discs’. If you could choose your 12 favourite pastel pencils for portrait painting, which ones would you select? This is what Derwent invited me to do to create their new ‘Skintones’ set. Making a choice from their full range of 72 beautiful colours was a tough task. After much deliberation, I chose a warm and a cool yellow, red and blue, four earth colours and black and white, enabling me to mix a huge spectrum of colours from this key selection. As with other painting media, it is usually better to work with a limited palette of colours.

Derwent Pastel pencils are an ideal medium for portraiture as they are soft and blendable yet can also be sharpened to a point for more detailed areas. They can be used with pastel sticks or blocks and a kneadable eraser is useful to lighten areas or to clean the background. I prefer to work on the smoother side of tinted pastel paper, but any paper that has a “tooth” is suitable, as well as sand textured pastel paper or board.

The Derwent Skintones set
Vanilla, Process Yellow, Cadmium Red, Crimson, Ultramarine, Kingfisher Blue, Yellow Ochre, Terracotta, Burnt Carmine, Chocolate, Carbon Black, Titanium White.

Tip: For painting blond hair use yellows, Yellow Ochre and browns; smudge a darker neutral colour (e.g. Ultramarine, Kingfisher Blue and Burnt Carmine) to create a contrasting background.

Mixing colours for skin tones

Here are three examples of colour mixing for a variety of skin tones

1. Pale skin: White, Vanilla, Yellow Ochre, Crimson and Ultramarine for the shading

2. Mid-tone skin: White, Process Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Terracotta, and Kingfisher Blue for the shading
3. Dark skin: Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red, Burnt Carmine, Chocolate and Ultramarine for the shading

Greens can be mixed by blending one or several yellows and blues together

1. Vanilla, Process Yellow, Kingfisher Blue plus Ultramarine and Crimson for the shading

2. White, Process Yellow, Yellow Ochre, plus Ultramarine and Carbon Black for the shading

Tips for using pastel pencils

  • Sharpen pencils with a knife, then hone to a fine point on a sandpaper block.
  • Blend small areas with a paper stump or a rubber shaper.
  • Draw fine details with the tip of the pencil; for broader areas apply with the side of the pencil.
  • White is more effective added directly to the paper, not over other colours.
  • To prevent smudging what you have done, cover it with a sheet of paper.
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