Portrait painting with Oil Pastels


Looking to experiment with new painting mediums for portrait painting? If you have not tried using oil pastels for portrait painting yet, then here is your chance!

In this art project, the artist has used a photograph as a reference. But you can draw the portrait with a person actually sitting across you, if that’s what works best for you to paint.


Here is our guide that will teach you how to draw portraits in pastels:

What you need:
Pastel paper
Camlin Oil Pastels

Step 1: Sketching the portrait

The first rule to drawing portraits is getting the proportions of your subject right. Knowing the basic techniques of drawing is a skill that will help you in all types of art projects. But if your drawing skills are not as good as you’d like, don’t worry! You can still draw a portrait using the grid method.

To use this method, you have to draw a grid over your reference photo. Once the grid is done, simply focus on getting the elements inside each square right. You will notice how much this little hack can make portrait sketching simpler for you! You can use this method while you practice working on your basic drawing skills side-by-side.

In order to provide more visual interest, the artist decided to crop the original photo and place the subject off centre. This creates a focus on the features and expressions of the subject, giving the portrait a more dramatic quality.

Pro tip: Avoid using a graphite pencil to draw the sketch for a portrait painting with oil pastels. Oil pastels can’t cover the imprint of a graphite pencil like it can cover the impression of a charcoal or pastel coloured pencil.

Once you have the basic structure of the portrait ready, start sketching the shadows. The portrait must look recognizably alike your subject at this point. If it does not, then take the time to make adjustments as the remainder of your painting depends on your structure drawn with a pencil. Your pencil sketch is like the architecture of a house – you get this right, then you can focus on getting pro at painting the portrait.


Step 2: Colouring the portrait

Begin colouring with softer shades that resemble the skin tone of the subject. In this painting, colours like light cream and pink have been used. Use shades like earthy reds to paint the darker areas of the face like the area under the nose, a tiny place on the cheek where the subject’s fingers touch their face or any other areas that are in the shadows.

The irises can be painted using shades of pale greens. If you don’t have the shade of pale green, you can mix grey and white with dark green to get the shade of your desire.


Using a clean finger and blend the pastels gently.


Pay careful attention to the way you colour the hand to add details like shadows and light as they are the two factors that are key in making the hand look as natural as the picture.


Once you are happy with the way the hand is drawn, you can move on to colouring the spectacles. Begin with colouring the outer edges of the glasses. Colour the outer edges with black and the inner edges with white – this gives a certain depth to the spectacles that looks realistic.


To show the dark circles around the eyes and dimples, use touches of reds and browns. Define the face structure with these colours and sculpt the face. You can use white as the base for the colour of the lips.


Finish the spectacles with the black colour as shown in the image below.


Next, work on getting the chin, lips and forehead right. Use shades of pink, cream, brown and reds to do so. Paint with bold strokes to give each section a deeper hue. You can use blues to the lips for a realistic effect, as the effect the artist has achieved, shown in the image below.


Now that colouring the face of your subject is done, focus on their hair and shoulders. Paint strong lines for the hair bit with colours like ombre, white and yellow ochre. For the shoulders, make sure to use only the colour of the shirt your subject is wearing.


Your portrait is almost ready. Once you are done with the hair and shoulders, add details like borders of defining features of your subject. For example, for the subject by this artist, the defining features would be the nose and the spectacles. Accentuate these with blacks and whites as per your liking but be careful that you do not smudge outside the subject of your focus.

Often times, painting portraits can be a daunting task. But as you can see, portrait painting is simply about focus, precision, practice and probably the most important bit of all – patience. In time, you will get better at it.

Did you like these tips on how to paint a portrait in pastels? Do let us know in the comments section below!

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