How to Color Skin with Colored Pencils: What You Should Know

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With a set of colored pencils at hand, you can draw just about any object you wish, including human portraits. People make an interesting, albeit challenging drawing project because everyone is uniquely different. Everything from their facial features to bone structure to skin tone is fundamentally different.

While most facial features are easy to nail down, skin tone is an entirely different animal. Ideally, skin tones fall into three broad categories – light, medium, and dark skins – to help the drawing process. Moreover, each skin tone comes with various types of undertones – pink, golden, and olive – all of which give rise to an infinite number of skin shades.

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Since each subject is different, achieving the perfect skin tone while maintaining a natural look can be a tad too challenging for most people. Savvy painters understand that capturing the glowing complexion of a face on a piece of paper is a gradual process. Skilled painters use layering to achieve the subtle coloring and soft shading of a perfect skin tone. Here’s a detailed guide to show you how to color skin with colored pencils.

How to Color Skin with Colored Pencils

Choose the Skin Tone Colors

Naturally, your choice of colors depends on your subject’s skin tone. Are they dark, medium, or light-skinned? Do they have more an olive or golden tint, or more of pink skin undertones? Paying attention to such details help you pick the right shade of coloring pencils.

Pick Rich Color Accents

Less experienced painters are likely to settle for beige, brown, gold, pink, and other colors that match the skin tone of their subject. Such a selection makes a high starting point but won’t result in a jaw-dropping portrait. Skilled experts include eccentric colors such as green, blue, and purple as these hues help them achieve exceptional skin depth on their final products.

Use Colors Systematically

Regardless of what skin color you’re trying to create, the drawing process follows the same rule. The lightest colors serve as the accent, the darkest shades are the shadows, and mid-tones are the fillers.

  1. Shade the Skin Evenly

Color the entire skin surface with your choice of highlight color; keep the coloring layer as even and flat as possible. Go over the weak areas again to eliminate white gaps and create a unified surface.

  1. Add the Basic Tones

Here is where you start contouring your subject’s skin tone. Observe your subject carefully and identify the light and dark parts of their skin complexion. Start shading the areas lightly; try as much as possible to emphasis the dark areas. It’s okay to understate the dark tones as you can always enhance the shading as you go along. Burnt umber and sienna are the perfect flesh colors for this step.

  1. Emphasis the Dark Tones

At this point, you’ve already done a considerable amount of shading and can contrast the drawing against the subject. You need to remember that drawing is all about recording what you see and then comparing the two. Are the tones lighter or darker? How’s the gradation? Texture? Should the colors be warmer or cooler? Continually asking and answering these questions will get you great results. They will help you intensify the dark tones without disregarding the underlying skin tone.

  1. Use an Eraser For the Highlights

An eraser is an incredible way to capture the natural sheen of the human skin. The eraser lifts off some color from the drawing to expose some of the white paper underneath the coloring layer. In essence, you’re subtracting the drawing’s color with the eraser. With enough practice, you can use an eraser with the same dexterity as shading with a pencil. The other alternative is to use a white colored pencil to achieve the skin glow. However, the results won’t be as vibrant as the white pigment is transparent and won’t cover the flesh tones adequately.

  1. Touch Up with Warm Flesh Colors

Since the skin is a living organ with an abundant supply of blood, the movement of the blood alters its appearance to give it different shades and tints. Playing around with warm colors such as red can help you modulate the skin tone and enhance the natural look of your portrait. Careful observation of your test subject should inform your shading density to achieve a refined skin texture.

  1. Intensify the Darkest Tones

By now, you should be highly aware of your subject since each step entails a detailed examination of their face. That should give you a refined understanding of their tonal composition and skin color. Now it’s time to play up the contrast between the darker and lighter tones for a dramatic effect. You can achieve that by intensifying your subject’s deepest tones with dark brown color.

At this point, you need to ensure that the subject has an even skin texture, as it will affect the finish quality of the drawing. That entails smoothing previous layers to give the skin an even texture. This step calls for great patience as you may need to reuse original colors to rectify shading irregularities.

  1. Touch Up Facial Features

The final stage of the drawing process is to touch up the facial features – lips, eyelashes, and eyebrows. A little bit of color and texture in the eyes and lips gives the portrait a life-like appearance.

Shading with Colored Pencils

  1. Hold the pencil sideways. This keeps the largest part of the pencil’s tip in contact with the paper. It also lets you keep the base color layer thin and light when layering. This position enables you to get the desired hue without ugly lines.
  2. Practice blending contrasting colors. Practicing is the only way to master the delicate art of mixing two contrasting colors. Take a red pencil and shade a piece of paper from right to left. Start off with a dark shade and reduce the intensity as you go. Next up, shade from left to right with a green pencil, following the same shading pattern. The key here is to create a seamless blend where they meet in the middle.

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