A monochrome portrait in charcoal and pastel

Sandra 6GSSandra 6GScontrast

When you draw a portrait from a photo it’s important to work from a good quality print. I like to work with two exposures: one that gives plenty of detail, and one that emphasises the tonal contrast. You may find that different printers give different amounts of detail. You can also work straight from the computer screen, but life is much easier if you can trace the basic shape from your photo onto your paper. My model is standing at a window, but I increased the contrast even with the picture on the left, as this helps to give a greater sense of 3 dimensions as well as mood.

Sandra 1

The first stage is to trace the most important details onto your pastel paper. I am using Canford Gunmetal Grey, an inexpensive lightweight paper that’s good for both charcoal and pastel. To transfer the line, I use good old fashioned carbon paper, but if you don’t have any of that, rub a piece of baking paper with graphite (use a soft pencil or graphite powder) and use that instead.


My tools, left to right: soft and hard black charcoal pencils; willow charcoal and compressed charcoal, foam pads large and small; white charcoal pencil, white conte crayon, small foam pad for white media, black pastel powder.

I start the drawing by putting the tones in roughly with a foam pad dipped in the pastel powder.

IMG_2846 IMG_2847

I use the willow charcoal to put in more precise details.

I then use the white conte crayon to add white highlights. For fine detail I use the white charcoal pencil. I start to use compressed charcoal for the hair, as this is the darkest part of the picture, and I also start to use black charcoal pencils to define the features.

It’s important to keep adding tone as you start defining the features.

Sandra 2

At this stage I have sprayed the drawing with a non toxic spray, called SpectraFix.  I have added fine lines with charcoal pencil, but also added more highlights with the white charcoal pencil. The image looks much better when I increase the contrast in the photograph!

Here you can see how I darken the tone with rough strokes of compressed charcoal, then smooth them with the foam spreader. Now that I have sprayed the drawing, I can add tone without smudging what’s underneath.

Sandra final wcontrast

The final drawing is sprayed again to protect it. I could add much more detail if I chose to, but I like to keep the drawing looking fresh, as if the model was about to get up and walk away.

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