How to Draw the Correct Values in Skin | Top Tips

Aug 04, 2023
How to Draw the Correct Values in Skin | Top Tips

When it comes to drawing skin, you need to be careful about getting your values correct. By really concentrating on your values you will find your portraits come out much more realistic.


When drawing fair skin, help yourself by adding in context around. Adding things like backgrounds, hair, clothing etc that will really set you up for being able to get the values in the skin tone correct.

I'm still very new to drawing humans and I've found that we tend to draw fair skin too light, when drawing on a white surface and one of the reasons for this is white is the lightest value so anything that has a darker value is going to look dark. Fair skin is much darker than we think, however if we add the right values first it's incredibly disconcerting as it looks way too dark. What can then happen is we think we've got the values incorrect so we start to compensate and make things lighter which then will result in the area being too light when we bring the rest of the context in.

Use your violet tones to help with shadows, but be careful to get the paler areas in the correct value otherwise your Violet tones will look like bruises. It's all about the values and the percent between the dark and the light. Sometimes it's a very big percent for example black and white there's a huge difference in the values there, but then take black and a value that's just a slight highlight such as a dark blue, you'd need to get the highlight which is actually a dark blue really quite dark to work properly against the black.

One of the biggest errors I see in human portraits is that the skin tones are too light or that they're missing a spectrum of colour, usually blues and violets. Our brain likes to think it understands and knows what fair skin looks like with lots of pinks and peaches, but misses out the important colours that give depth and structure like blues, violets, and greens. I use a range of colours when drawing humans and a range of pencils. The different pencils have different qualities, some are softer so blend in the latter layers really beautifully, some are harder so I find they work best as initial layers. But there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to what order you use your pencils in, just whatever works best for you.

It's also a really good idea to isolate the colours. If you struggle, in picking the right values, I recommend you use a viewfinder over your printout or create a digital viewfinder. They are a really simple and easy tool to help you pick out what colours are actually there. You can create a paper one by cutting a small hole out of a piece of white paper, or you can create a digital one. If you would like help creating one I have a video on how to do it here.


Give these tips a try and take your coloured pencil drawings to the next level! You can also use these tips with other subjects, not just human skin, to help you get your values right.

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