Pastel Techniques | How to Paint a Portrait

Making Faces

Pastel Portraits with Bev Lee

To read more about Bev Lee and her portraits see the December 2008 issue of The Pastel Journal.


Reference Photo | Pastel Techniques

Reference Photo of Anna

Capturing a likeness involves a good drawing, accurate color values and smart color choices. In this demo, Bev Lee will walk you through her process of painting pastel portraits step by step. Her pastel techniques help explain many different aspects in painting portraits from painting lips to painting eyebrows to painting hair.

When you paint a flower or an onion, no one is going to question whether that flower or onion looks like the one that was in front of you when you were painting. This definitely is not the case with portrait painting, however. When learning how to paint a portrait, the first thing to remember is that a good portrait needs to resemble the subject. Ideally, it also should capture the subject’s personality and character. This sounds like a tall order, and it is—but it’s not impossible. To hone your portrait techniques, begin by taking things one step at a time. In this way, you’ll avoid becoming overwhelmed and feeling like you want to give up.

It’s helpful to break the face down into parts, learning to see each feature as a set of abstract shapes with distinct values and colors. Consider how the edges of those shapes change, depending on the light and shadow, and study how values help to create the illusion of form and depth on a two-dimensional surface.


How to Map a Face | Pastel Techniques

Step 1: Mapping the Face

Step 1: Map the Face

Rather than doing a precise drawing, I used a technique I call “mapping” to mark the placement for the important elements of the face. Using these marks, I worked my way out from the eye, observing and drawing shapes and values as I went. With dark blue-violet, I lightly marked the shadow area on Anna’s left cheek and added the shape next to her nose and beside her left eye. I blocked in the dark on her ear. Then, using the same blue-violet, I blocked in the shape of the dark part of the hair, marking areas of directional changes.






Painting Eyebrows in Pastel Portraits | Pastel Techniques

Step 2: Eyebrows

Step 2: Eyebrows

Using a mid-value warm brown, I drew the eyebrows. I painted the area under her right brow with warm pink and the arid from the brow to the edge of the face with light burnt umber. I painted the area under her left brow with warm pink layered with light raw  umber and the area to the right of this with warm pink. I used a dark reddish brown to define the upper eyelids. To make the separation between the upper lids and the top of the eyes, I used a mid-value blue-violet, glazed with warm pink. I blocked in the irises with black-green, defining their shape with light blue-gray. I painted the areas under the eyes with a mid-value blue-violet.





Painting Hair and Painting Noses in Pastel Portraits | Pastel Techniques

Step 3: Hair and Nose

Step 3: Hair and Nose

Using the darkest red-violet, I painted the dark areas of the hair, then layered over it with dark burnt umber. I painted the darkest area of the bangs on Anna’s right with a mid-value red-violet layered with warm brown, then painted the mid-value areas with a mid-value warm brown and dark yellow ochre. I used light burnt sienna for the light area and painted the dark area of the remaining bangs with darkest red-violet, layered with dark reddish brown. I made the separations in the hair with a mid-value warm brown (Keep in mind that you don’t need to paint every strand or section, just enough to suggest the idea).

Next, I added warm red and gold ochre to the warm areas. When I’m painting noses, I use a mid-value dark blue-violet and mid-value red violet to establish the near side. I painted her nostrils with dark reddish brown, then warm red. I painted the near side with warm
red as well, then laid down strokes of warm pink next to this. I painted over the shadow on the cheek and the inner ear with dark reddish brown and added warm pink to the tip of the ear. I then added warm red to the mouth.


Painting Foreheads for Pastel Portraits | Pastel Techniques

Step 4: Forehead

Step 4: Forehead

I painted the forehead area under the bangs using a mid-value blue-violet glazed with warm brown and warm pink. On the edge of the forehead, I used dark gold ochre and warm brown. I used mid-value gold ochre to blend with the side of the shadow under the bangs. For the area between the strands of hair on the forehead, I used a combination of gold ochre, warm pink and mid-value burnt umber. I added warm red to the corners of the eyes and warm pinks under Anna’s right eye and next to the near side of her nose.







Painting the Near Side of the Face in Pastel Portraits | Pastel Techniques

Step 5: The Near Side of the Face

Step 5: The Near Side of the Face

I used light warm brown to carefully draw the strands of hair that cross over and curl up the near side of the head. I painted the ear with dark reddish brown and red-violet in the  inner ear. I used warm red and warm pink for the lighter areas. For the inner edge of the
ear, I used light red-violet. I painted the shadow on the cheek with warm red and red-violet. And I added strokes of mid-value blue-violet and warm red to the
area above her left eye.







Painting Lips in Pastel Portraits | Pastel Techniques

Step 6: Lips

Step 6: Lips

I started with warm red when painting her lips. I used dark red-violet for the darker area on Anna’s upper left side, a lighter warm pink for the lighter areas, and a dark reddish brown for the separation. I painted the mid-line above the lips with mid-value blue-violet and warm pink. I painted the skin above the far side of the mouth with light burnt sienna. I applied warm pink to the lower lip on the near side and added blue-violet to the cool areas around the mouth and the area on Anna’s lower left side.







Painting the Far Side of the Face in Pastel Portraits | Pastel Techniques

Step 7: Far Side of the Face

Step 7: Far Side of the Face

To establish the far side of the face, I added warm pink on the far side of the nose and
mouth. I painted strokes of light burnt umber from the warm pink area toward the outside of the face. I painted strokes of warm pink above the near side of the mouth. I added  strokes of warm red to Anna’s left cheek. Next to the warm red, I painted strokes of warm
pink. I applied light burnt sienna to the area from the near side of the nose to the warm pink area. Then I painted warm pink on the lower right side of the chin.







Blending Pastel Colors Together in Portraits | Pastel Techniques

Step 8: Blend Colors Together

Step 8: Blend Colors Together

Using hard pastels in mid- and light values of burnt umber, I started to lightly blend the
areas of light color. Then I used a hard pastel in a mid-value brown to gently blend the areas of darker color together. I brought down the dark shape of the hair on Anna’s left using the darkest red-violet. To draw the shapes of the hair on the far side of the face, I used warm brown. Using a dark reddish brown, I marked the near side of the neck and the placement of the shoulders and edge of the dress.







Painting the Jaw and Neck in Pastel Portraits | Pastel Techniques

Step 9: Jaw and Neck

Step 9: Jaw and the Neck

In this area, I painted a line of dark reddish brown along the edge of the dress. I then drew the creases in the neck on Anna’s right with dark blue-violet and went over this with reddish brown, slowly blending the lower crease toward the edge of the dress and the upper one toward the chin. I added strokes of warm red and pink on the far side of the neck, and painted the center of the neck with warm pink. I applied strokes of blue-violet
under the lower left jaw. I added warm brown on the lower left side of the neck and painted a line of warm red next to the dark line on the neck.






Adding Color Values to Hair | Pastel Techniques

Step 10: Define the Hair

Step 10: Define the Hair

To finish defining the hair on the far side, I used dark umber and mid-value warm brown to mark the dark shape. I used light warm brown and light raw umber to go over the lighter strands and added dark yellow ochre to the inner edge of the strands. Using warm  brown, I drew the shape of the curled section of hair on Anna’s left. Using warm red and
warm pink, I blended from the edge of the dress on Anna’s right toward the crease. I used warm pink and mid-value burnt umber to blend the areas of color on the center of the neck. I used mid-value red-violet and warm brown to blend the areas on the near side of
the neck. I painted the shadow shapes on the dress with mid-value blue.





Step 11: Finishing Touches

To further define the side of the hair, I used the lightest burnt sienna and the lightest blue-gray in the background. I also used this to make negative shapes between the strands on the far side. Using the burnt sienna and blue-gray and a bit of light raw umber, I worked color into the hair on the near side. I finished the longest strand on Anna’s left by painting dark reddish brown into the darks, followed by warm brown painted into the reddish brown. I finished the details with light warm brown and light raw umber.

I left the details of the eyes for the end. To finish them, I used a mid-value blue around the pupils on the lower edge of the irises, then added a bit of blue-gray to this. For the lighter area of Anna’s right eye, I used a bit of light raw umber and warm pink. For the highlight, I used the lightest blue-gray. I used the mid-value blue-violet to reestablish the cool area under the near jaw. I used light blue-greens and blues for the dress, adding highlights with
lightest blue and lightest pinks.

To add a bit of sparkle and interest, I added the primary-colored dots for the decoration on her dress.

Reference Photo | Pastel Technqiues

Reference Photo of Anna

Finished Pastel Portrait | Pastel Techniques

Anna (pastel, 18x14) by Bev Lee















Bev Lee is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America and a member of the  Pastel Society of Colorado. This demonstration was excerpted from her new book, “Painting Children: Secrets to Capturing Childhood Moments,” released in December 2008 from North Light Books (

Learn more about drawing people using the block-in method in this article by Robert T. Barrett.

Enjoy galleries of pastel portraits by Hungarian artist Victor Ambrus and American artist Ellen Eagle.



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