Realistic pencil portrait process

realistic pencil portrait process
Mock-up Lady Hawk. Realistic portrait process

Hi friends! It´ has  been a while since the last time I did a realistic pencil portrait, and the chance came again as I am doing a course, so I thought it could be nice to share my process so you can see a bit deeper how I face these type of artworks.

First, I select the reference picture. Bear in mind that it is very important that it should have the best possible quality, because if not, it is going to be really hard to reproduce it later using your pencil and probably you will end up ‘inventing’ parts.

For this project, this is my reference picture. I found it in internet.

Michelle Pfeiffer en Lady Hawk

From this moment, I print this image so I can have it next to me, so I make sure I can see all details. Normally I print a white and black copy and another one in color. As the portrait will be made with pencil it is really useful to see the grey scale of the photography .

The next step is to create a previous sketch so you can fit your drawing in the paper.

To do this sketch, it is recommendable to use a pencil that doesn’t mark too much, so you can easily erase it if you need to redraw a part of it. I normally use a 2HB (and a mechanical pencil as its strokes are thinner than the pencil ones).

When we are happy with our sketch, we continue filling it and the magic comes. I explain the steps I have followed.

realistic pencil portrait process


I always begin with the left eye, marking a bit the general strokes, without putting a lot of pressure on the pencil (I am still with my 2HB o HB) and I move to the other eye to do exactly the same. I get down to the nose and again, mark softly the general strokes of the edges. We do the same with the mouth.

When this part is done, I define the oval of the face and only now I start adding some shadows, just to make sure where the lights and the shadows are going to be placed.


Now that these elements have been set, I start adding small details, always paying attention to my reference picture. The path is the same: eyes, nose, mouth, oval face.  Here I begin marking a bit more those areas that are going to be darker (i.e. eyelashes, eyelids, nostrils or the edges of the nose).

I continue shading slowly with the pencil, obtaining different gradients of grey according to the pressure you put in the pencil. The truth is that it is not necessary to have a big amount of pencils with different numbers. Just with a couple of them you can get lots of various shades.

What it is really important to have (at least for me!), is the smudge. I cannot work without it. It really helps me to get volumes and to soft the drawing. In the face, use the smudge carefully, otherwise you will get a stain and it is not recomendable to use the erase very much on portraits. You can get stains on the paper (I use a malleable rubber).

*I use: pencils KOH-I-NOOR HARDTMUTH  and the smudge DERWENT.

STEPS 4,5,6

Here you have to be very patience, because the strokes we are going to create are tiny and it will take a long time to finish our drawing. Normally, when I have all the face done, I take a softer pencil (darker) and I mark a bit more those darker details, so I get a nice contrast with the rest of the drawing.

Remember that the detail grade can be extreme (hyperrealistic technique), but I normally don’t get to that point.


When I am happy enough with my face, I move forward to the next elements. In this case, there is no hair, just a hood. As I want a bigger contrast, for this piece of clothe I have used softer pencils (from 4B to7B), marking the folds of the hood.


After creating my portrait, I scan the illustration to present it properly online. The scanner reduces a bit tone and saturation, so in the next and final step I improve this part.


This shows the result after correcting the levels digitally. Now I am really satisfied with my drawing and the work done 🙂

At this point I can present my illustration to the whole world. What do you think?

I will be very happy to read your comments!

Thanks for reading this!

Mock-up Lady Hawk

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