Explore How to Create Skin Tones With Colored Pencils

Creating human skin tones with colored pencils can be one of the most intimidating subjects to tackle. Skin, and its variety of colors, can present particular challenges. This post will offer advice to make you more comfortable the next time you are drawing a face or body creating skin tones with colored pencils.

Read on for tips for creating skin tones with colored pencils.

Skin tone spheres in colored pencils

Layering and blending

Before we talk about colors and skin, I have two important tips for you that I think will help you work better with colored pencils no matter the subject. The two important concepts to remember in order to paint vibrant images with pencils are layering and blending. Combining these methods of applying colored pencils will prevent your artwork from looking flat or one-dimensional.

It is best to work up a painting with multiple layers of soft pencil strokes. Apply all your colors (highlights, midtones, shadows) in four to six layers of soft shading. Once you are close to the look you are aiming for, apply one last layer of colored pencil, but this time press hard on it to seal the colors and blend all of the layers underneath together. This is the secret to creating a smooth look.

Pencil strokes

There’s something to be said for strokes and their role in blending colors. When you apply your first soft layers, you want to use a combination of different directional strokes (overlapping diagonal, horizontal and vertical strokes on top of each other). Around layers three through six, you can start painting in a circular motion to conceal any harsh lines in previous layers.

General tones

Tones for color

Above are some of the colors that come in handy most when coloring skin with pencils. This particular brand is Faber-Castell Polychromos, which blend excellently. While these are the tools I use,  don’t feel like you can’t get started painting skin with more accessible and inexpensive tools and colored pencils.

Skin tone colored pencils

The colors you select depend a great deal on the skin tone of the person you are drawing. Not only do you have to consider whether they are light-, medium- or dark-skinned, but you also should pay close attention to their skin’s undertone. Some have more pink undertones while others might haven an olive tint. Paying close attention to these details will help you narrow down the colors you will need.

Advanced color accents

Advanced accents for skin tone

If you are more advanced and have experience layering and blending colors, you might like to include some “unconventional” colors like blues, purples and greens to give the skin some depth. If you haven’t done this before, you can skip this until you feel more comfortable using these colors on skin.

Applying colors

No matter the skin tone you are seeking, this guideline for your set of colors should help you select the pencils you will need. The lightest colors you use will be your highlights, the colors you use for the darkest areas will be your shadows and the colors you apply in between these two will be your midtones. You can also include some accent colors if you are going with the advanced selection.

People tend to use a highlight color on one side, a shadow on the other and blend these two colors in the middle. There’s nothing wrong with that technique, but I suggest using a saturated color instead in the middle to give the painting more vibrancy. Follow the example below to understand this method better.

colored pencil steps

Step 1:

When painting skin, it is very important to be mindful of the light source and its influence on the surface of the skin. Begin with one of your highlight colors. Create a base by coloring the whole surface of the skin except for the lightest section right where the light hits the body.

Step 2:

With your midtone colors, paint the in-between section, adding some saturation. We are using some pinks for a pink undertone skin in this case.

Step 3:

Use a dark shadow color to paint the darkest areas. Grab one of the midtones you used on step two and layer this color over the section where the midtones meet the darkest area and blend the colors together. Color in circular motions to avoid any lines and streaks.

colored pencil steps continued

Step 4:

Using another highlight color, this time a light yellow, paint around the lightest area where the light reaches the body.

Step 5:

Grab your highlight and midtone colors and keep layering them over what you have already colored. Increase the pressure you use to paint with the pencils and mix everything together by coloring in circular motion.

Share tips, start a discussion or ask one of our experts or other students a question.

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13 Responses to “Explore How to Create Skin Tones With Colored Pencils”

  1. Vern

    I am fully committed to colored pencil portraiture. I don’t use the same pencils but I feel knowledgeable enough to replicate your color pallet. I am amazed at the weird responses in this string. We are not doing painting by numbers after all! Many of my subjects are English & even cream is too dark for their faces. I really appreciate the tips you imparted above & I feel ready to implement them. Thanks

  2. Rachel Bake

    Hi I enjoyed your blog post. I have published a blog post about creating different skin tones too on my website and I'd love if you can take a look? Thanks. https://allisterarts.com/2022/11/17/how-to-accurately-create-and-understand-a-skin-tone-palette/

  3. Michele

    And poly chromos colors are Ivory, Cinnamon, Dark Flesh, Light Yellow Ochre, and Brown Ochre.

  4. Michele

    Here is good skin tone tutorial w color names snd numbers added:) https://youtu.be/Vy7B7q7WAGg

  5. Jenn

    It’s been just over a year Antonella - could we please get the names of the colors used, please? I mean, I have to agree with all the feelings of frustration above me. Sigh. I am in such need of a skin tutorial that makes easy sense. Thank you for trying

  6. Mullet

    This is the same as every other tutorial available online. Please, share the colours. Give active lessons in that. This gave me nothing.

  7. Someone on Earth

    I think the colours are red, yellow and brown but kind of light. I am not sure but I am guessing by the look of it. But the person who made the tutorial should have still put the name of the colours.

  8. Someone on Earth

    I think the colours are red, yellow and brown but kind of light. I am not sure but I am guessing by the look of it. But the person who made the tutorial should have still put the name of the colours.

  9. Maureen Refior

    Why would you do this "tutorial" with expensive pencils and not list the colors? Not only can't people who own a set of Polys follow it, people who can't afford them can't even try to match the colors to give it a try. Can you please edit to include the color names?

  10. zedo msee

    you didnt list the number of pencils and types