How to Create Skin Tones in Prismacolor Pencil

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Colored  pencils are sold individually or in box sets.
Colored pencils are sold individually or in box sets. (Image: colored pencil ends image by sonya etchison from Fotolia.com)

Skin tones can be rendered by incorporating highlights, mid-tones and shadows with a base flesh tone color. Lee Hammond’s book “Lee Hammond's Big Book of Drawing” recommends an assortment of pencil colors that can be used to effectively make up these natural skin tones. This selection of peach, beige and brown hues, offered by Prismacolor, was developed especially for coloring flesh. Prismacolor pencils are popular because they are inexpensive but can lay down a rich deposit of color. The manufacturer sells individual colored pencils and box sets featuring commonly used flesh tones.

Things You'll Need

  • Beige PC 977 pencil
  • Burnt Ochre PC 943 pencil
  • Sienna Brown PC 945 pencil
  • Light Peach PC 927 pencil
  • Tortillion
  • Bristol vellum

Select the colored pencils, choosing four complementary colors. In natural lighting the skin has many tones, not just one, and introducing other colors can help to give the skin a more natural appearance. First, choose a base color, such as Prismacolor’s Beige pencil, as the foundation on which all the other colors will be built. The other necessary colors would be one for the highlights (Light Peach), mid-tone (Burnt Ochre) and shadows (Sienna Brown). These colored pencils can be further enhanced by drawing on a textured Bristol vellum, because the friction can help extract more of the waxlike pigment from the colored pencil.

Fill in the drawn object with the Beige base color, using the “smooth stroke” technique featured in the book “Drawing and Painting People: The Essential Guide.” This stroke is achieved using a pencil with a very sharp point and softly coloring the face using thin lines that are close together. Lay down the base color before melding the strokes together with a Torillion blending tool so that they are seamless.

Apply the mid-tones and shadows to the drawing, using the two darker pencil colors. Burnt Ochre is a medium brown color that can be used to give the skin tone definition. This color can be applied, using the same smooth stroke, in places like the temples and under the eyes and cheekbone area, to help give definition to a drawn face. For darker creases and shadows, the Sienna Brown Prismacolor can be sketched using a denser, heavier stroke. This deep hue can help accentuate shadows under the neck, or orifices such as the nostrils and ears. Add the Burnt Ochre and Sienna Brown strokes a little at a time on the page, blending them with the Torillion along the way. It is easier to add more pigment to a drawing than to take it away.

Introduce highlights to the skin tone by adding the Light Peach color to areas where light would naturally hit the object. If you're drawing a face, this can be the middle of the forehead, the top of the cheekbones, the tip of the nose or the bow of the lip. Use the smooth stroke, blending the lighter color into the Beige base-tone with the blending tool. Highlighting the skin can be the finishing touch, helping to giving the flesh of the face a natural appearance.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use these same colors in different combinations, techniques and intensities to create non-Caucasian skin tones. Native American skin might require Sienna Brown as the base color to bring out the darker, more reddish hues, with Burnt Ochre used for highlights. You can also try other colors. For instance, black skin might feature heavy uses of Chestnut PC 1081 or Chocolate PC 1082.

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References

  • “The Way of All Flesh Tones: A History of Color Motion Picture Processes, 1895-1929”; Robert Allen Nowotny; 1983.
  • “Pen and Pencil Drawing Techniques”; Harry Borgman; 2002.
  • “Drawing and Painting People: The Essential Guide”; Jeffrey Blocksidge, Mary Burzlaff; 2007.
  • “Lee Hammond's Big Book of Drawing”; Lee Hammond; 2004.
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