Drawing children in colour

Audrey9b cropped

To capture the subtle tones and hues of a child’s complexion, I find I need a lot more than just brown, red, white and black.  This time I tried working on a transparent gesso ground designed for pastel (Matisse), painted over a pale green mat board. I began by transferring the main outlines of the whole composition.

As soon as I started adding the pale pink pastel I felt the ground was too coarse, so I sanded it with a fine sandpaper.

I’m using three photos to help me get the right tonal balance and something like the correct hues: the grayscale version is the same size as my drawing, and i use this to refer to most often.  The colour version of this image will help with the colours of the toys and background, but the skin tone is a bit yellow.  The other photo gives better tonal contrast and also reminds me that this baby has a real English Rose complexion. So what am I using for the tones? A combination of cobalt blue, crimson and pale brown.  Cobalt blue and crimson are cool colours, while the pale brown helps to make the transition to the warm pinks in the highlights.

You can see here how I keep blending the pastels to create a smooth finish, alternately adding shadows and highlights.  I use black very sparingly, as a way to darken areas such as nostrils and the pupil of the eye.

These clever tools that one of my students found at the Reject Shop are just as good as the expensive pastel blenders that are sold in the art shops. The dark side can be used to blend the dark colours and the light side is used to blend the light colours.

I use a paler blue for some parts of the shadows, and to lighten the blue irises. Now that I’m adding finer detail I switch to pastel pencils.


At this point it’s becoming harder to layer colours over the top without disturbing the colours underneath, so I spray the work with the caseine fixative. It darkens the image slightly, so I now have to add more lighter pastel colours, but I am very nearly finished.


Still a lot more to do! But the rest will be easy – at last I have obtained a likeness which will hopefully please her parents. I may paint the plastic toys with acrylic, to contrast with the soft textures of the face. I’ll keep the background behind the baby’s head as simple as possible.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.