Current Shading Process, Portrait Flow

As I scroll through Amdall Gallery’s main page, I can’t help but notice how my drawings have changed. Not everyone may agree, but I believe there has been an improvement over time. From August 2017 until now, after about seven months of practice, these sketches seem more confident to me. Especially when it comes to color; skin tones seem more realistic than they did early on, and I’m laying down color in thicker/more complete layers. There’s still tons of critiques I have (weak ability to draw straight lines, laziness on backgrounds, unimaginative creation, etc.), but I’m glad to see progress.

I don’t really know if this is interesting to anyone, but I thought I’d make a post on what my shading process has evolved into. I’m sure it will continue to change, but for now it has settled into a decent enough groove. Here’s basically how I approach sketching and adding color to a face using soft-core prismacolor pencils:

  1. First, I sketch a very basic outline. The main goals are to get the right shape without adding any shading, and to avoid marking too thickly.
  2. Next, I put down layers of whatever variant of skin color I need; basically, this layer consists of the peach and/or brownish hues. Even if seems too dark, that’s okay because the next few steps will lighten and blend a bit. I’m not shading here, just trying to get a base layer(s).
  3. Then, it’s time for shadows. I take a lighter gray (20-30% cool or warm gray) and start defining darker shaded areas, to give the face some light. It looks really unnatural at this point, because nothing is blended.
  4. Next, we get to some blending. For skin, I always use white (PC 938) applied heavily, pulling the base peach/brown tones with the gray shadows. For darker things, like hair or clothes, white may not work for blending though.
  5. After blending the white, I usually need to reapply a few more deeper shadows, so I go back to one of my grays.
  6. Then, I come back after the finer details with a sharp graphite pencil.
  7. Lastly, if any areas are especially well-lit and need to be lighter, I’ll lightly erase and area, then re-blend with the white pencil.

Here’s another look at it:

Amdall Shading Demo

I’ve seen artists who are vastly more skilled with exactly these tools (Prismacolor soft core pencils), but my process isn’t too bad for now. I’d say the biggest difference I’ve seen in the experts, aside from them having professional-caliber eyes for color, is that they use a wider variety for shading. For example, where I am using grays to indicate shadows, some of these pros actually use browns, reds, and yellows to shade, and it ends up looking more natural. I’m not there yet, but maybe someday I’ll develop that skill.

Some of the most impressive blending skills I’ve seen are from an artist named Luisina Juliete. As I started working with color, I watched a couple of her progression pieces to learn techniques. I’ve embedded one of her videos here, but you can also check out her website and YouTube page for more examples.

So, how did this one turn out? Even though my main objective with this drawing was to show facial shading progression, I did finish it up. As is often the case, the subjects here are my two sweet girls. It’s not a perfect depiction of them; most of the way there, but a few features are off. The little one’s eyes are a bit wonky, and our oldest’s mouth isn’t quite right. But I think this is the first sketch that has included our big kid’s best friend in the world, good ol’ Mr. Bunny. He goes everywhere with her, and actually started out as a white rabbit…he’s more of a grayish color now.

Here’s the finished product:

By the way…see what I meant from the critiques I have about myself (first paragraph)? That’s supposed to be a shopping cart, and the handle doesn’t even resemble a straight line! I mean, couldn’t I have at least tracked down a ruler or something? And my laziness on backgrounds strikes again.


  • Nice work here, Jon! It does not surprise me how much progress you are making in a short time – you’re pretty productive as an artist and the more practice you get the better your process and the more you learn! Haha, I had to laugh about what you said about that lady with her 12 coloured pencils….I’m NOT surprised that she can achieve awe inspiring results with that kind of limeted palette (mind you, if she was a painter, she’d probably do it with only 6!!!!) πŸ˜‰

    • Hey there Hilda, thank you!

      I am continually amazed by the skill level of some of the folks I’ve come across since I kick-started my sketching again. Luisina Juliete to me is like MacGyver with her dozen pencil arsenal. And I include you and Bluebeard (who also commented above) as some of those expert-level talents. It’s really great interacting with you all, partially because I get to encounter so much fascinating art through your sites. But, also because so many pros are willing to give advice and feedback. It’s very cool! Quite an unexpected bonus

      • Jon, it’s what I really love about the blogging community, The giving and taking of advice and feedback! You’re right, it IS really cool and it’s very lovely of you to say I am an expert – It makes me feel that I must have actually learned SOMETHING in my journey of self taught art. I am always glad to share whatever I learn to anyone who will listen and it is very awesome to think that some of it is useful to others such as your good self. I also really love how we can all individually tailor our art learning to exactly what we want to know, using the internet…wow, how did we ever manage without it!! πŸ™‚

      • That’s a good point – how DID artists easily share feedback, tips, and form little communities (like WordPress, various forums, etc) before the internet? I mean, I guess they probably interacted at art shows or some sort of club? But this is so convenient, and we can touch base with people from different states and countries without a second thought. It must have been orders of magnitude harder getting your stuff out into the world

  • Reading this reminds me of me when I look back parts of drawings that didn’t go well. I think I said something like “Simply spending two minutes with a compass would have saved hours of corrective work to fix the two-point perspective, but I was lazy and free-handed it”.

    Looking back realizing what could have made something easier or work better is an important part of improving. It can feel harsh but that feedback loop is valuable. You’ve definitely improved. Your contour was always expressive and strong, but your rendering in color now which is a whole different beast. Colored pencils are not easy or simple tools. They require subtlety and predictive blending. I’m not good at either so I stick to watercolor in traditional drawings XD.

    One thing I noticed, and I’m not sure what you’re using to blend, is that in the video she uses a rolled blending stick. Those are very good for high tooth papers and larger drawings. If you’re on a non-heavy stock paper, a light synthetic or watercolor brush can actually be better for blending without damaging the papers tooth (a definite worry for layered shading like you’ve been developing).

    Anyway I’m super excited to see how you develop and where you take it. Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks man! It’s funny, I literally have a ruler sitting right next to my art supplies. All I would need to do is bend down and grab it, and I could whip up a million straight lines. But do I ever? Naahhhhh

      I know exactly what you mean by predictive blending. Sometimes it’s really hard to figure out what’s going to happen when I try to combine to different colors to achieve a shade. And I’ve even got this huge selection of over a hundred pencils. I’m really amazed by people like the woman who’s video I linked; she made that brilliant artwork with only 12 pencils! Mind-blowing to me.

      I’m actually not sure about roll blending sticks, I don’t think I’ve ever used one. I’ve got a couple of these colorless soft core pencils, which I read somewhere were good for blending dark colors. Maybe I should check the rolled sticks out too, because my paper is medium surface. I don’t want to damage anything

      • Right? I don’t know. Maybe it’s that sometimes the ruler takes the fun or character out of the line. Sometimes smooth and quickly drawn lines end up carrying more weight. But there are definitely times where I just need to use drafting tools and I don’t.

        But yeah, I’m not sure entirely what you mean about soft core pencils, but even simple blending stumps:

        Like those can really smooth out pencil shading. She’s using one of those (except unrolled which you can do to prolong the lifespan or create different blending surfaces) after mixing a lot of colors to create a very complex complexion in the face, which isn’t an easy thing to do. It is definitely easy to go overboard with blending stumps, and I used to use them like a crutch to avoid texture work (they can drown out fine details by making things too smooth).

        The other main downside, like I mentioned before is they can tear the tooth out of paper. Using a heavy stock will make that irrelevant, but that kind of paper is like x5 as expensive (like eight bucks for a 12 page notebook of really good watercolor or heavy stock). It’s definitely worth upgrading if you wanna get really into layer shading, though. Also stick to untextured heavy stock if possible for colored pencils and powdery mediums (charcoal/graphite/pastel/colored pencils/etc).

        But yeah, another thing about colored pencils is that you can mix the colors and they will combine to make different shades. Not as efficiently as like acryllic or oil paints, but they can if you blend them.

        Anyway, end rant. I get really into talking about how to create effects and combining different stuff lol. Hopefully some of that is helpful/constructive XD


      • Eight bucks for a 12 page notebook?! Whew…that’s a little higher than I’m used to. Do you find that there’s a big difference in terms of how art turns out with that heavy stock? Versus medium weight, less expensive stuff (like a Strathmore pad)

        As always, your detailed feedback is very welcome! I love hearing from skillful artists on how they do things. I’m very much a novice, so one of my favorite things about WordPress has been hearing from what I consider to be pros.

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