Drawing Tutorial: How to Make a Chalk Pastel Portrait

Learn easy chalk pastel drawing techniques to create a vivid self-portrait, and explore the differences between soft, hard, and pencil pastels

Chalk pastels are a versatile medium offering rich colors and textures, which is why multi-disciplinary artist Dominic Bodden (@dominic_bodden) uses them to create vivid portraits. His signature style straddles both the analog and digital worlds, incorporating pastels and collage.

In this tutorial, Dominic shares chalk pastel drawing techniques for self-portraits. There's an array of different pastel materials on offer—including soft, hard, and pencil—which Dominic shows you how to use, and above all, how to experiment and have fun in the process.

Techniques to draw self-portraits with chalk pastels

What you'll need

- Pastel pencils
- Compressed hard pastels
- Soft pastels
- A Mirror (or reference image)
- Pastel paper

1. Create shadows using a soft pastel

Different pastels can be used for different areas of the face. Dominic starts out by picking up the shadows on his face using a soft pastel . He explains that the soft pastel is great for this as you can easily cover a larger area, and the color isn’t too strong or overpowering for these shadow sections.

To get started, look in the mirror (or at your reference image) and notice where the shadows for your nose and eyes fall. Roughly sketch these out, and you'll start to create the basic structure of the face. Dominic uses a drag and scrape technique here to build the shape.

Another tip is to choose the most dominant shape on your face, and start with this first. You’ll find that doing this will lead you to other lines and shapes on the self-portrait.

First, create shadow shapes.
First, create shadow shapes.

2. Add highlights using hard pastels

Next, start picking out and adding the highlights using compressed hard pastels. To identify these areas, look for the shapes you see that are highlighted when you look in the mirror—take note of what the light is doing, and the effects it's creating.

Pro tip: To help define details, Dominic breaks larger pastels into small pieces, so he can hold them in his hand with more control.

Create the highlights of the face.
Create the highlights of the face.

3. Experiment with adding color to create details

Dominic selects colors based on how warm or cool they are for each area of the face. For instance, he uses an orange to add blush to the cheeks, in contrast to the cooler, calmer blues around it.

Dominic avoids using pure black or pure white too, instead choosing to experiment and play with darker and lighter shades.

He also chooses not to draw some facial features in their full detail—lines of color, tone, and shade can be used to highlight an area like the eye, without drawing out the exact details of it.

Add color to create depth and contrast.
Add color to create depth and contrast.

4. Use pastel pencils to add finer details

Using pastel pencils can be a great way of picking up on some of the shapes and details, and making the colors more precise. They can also be used to lightly shade over some of the colors you’d like to tone down too.

Pastel pencils can be used for details.
Pastel pencils can be used for details.

If you've been inspired by this tutorial, learn more about the art of using visual storytelling to create compelling portraits in Dominic's course, Dramatic Portraits with Pastels, Collage, and Photoshop.

More resources to learn new drawing techniques

- If you want to explore more portrait techniques, discover 10 top courses to learn realistic portrait drawing online.

- Practice drawing heads and facial features with 15 free tutorials for drawing the human body.

- Learn how to explore the human face and draw facial features in Gabriela Niko's online portrait sketchbooking course.

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