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  • Writer's pictureKevin Roeckl

Nadia portrait in progress 10

Do you want to know how I get the colors so accurate doing human skin?

To get accurate skin tones I have to know exactly what colors I’m seeing in the reference photo. So I take “samples” from the reference photo in Photoshop.


This is a photo of Nadia’s handler, Julianna.

I’ve sampled her face in 25 places. The color swatches (little squares) are exactly on top of the areas where I sampled them.

Reference photo for portrait of a Doberman, modified with Photoshop

Then I put the swatches of those colors on the paper color I’m working on. (The squares outside her face, on the grey background.) I do that so I can see what the actual color is….rather than “it’s a face, so it must be ‘this‘ color“. Grey is neutral - it has no color, it’s composed of black and white. Seeing a color on grey, there are no adjoining colors to fool our eye into thinking it’s lighter or darker, or redder or duller — than the color it’s next to.

Reference photo for portrait of a Doberman, modified with Photoshop

Seeing them on grey gives me a very good idea of what colors are actually in Julianna’s face.


Then I pull out the pencil colors closest to those shades.

Prismacolor pencils in skin tones for a portrait

I’m pulling out more pencil colors as I work, as they’re needed....

Close-up of Junior Handler in a portrait of a Doberman, in progress in Kevin's studio with colored pencils

Then I just copy the colors I see in the reference photo — using those side-swatches to tell me what colors they “really” are — and putting them in the right places according to my sketch-lines of Julianna’s face.


This is today’s work, Julianna’s forehead including eyebrows. Her hair and ears were done yesterday. 16 colors were used to do Juliana’s forehead and eyebrows.

Close-up of Junior Handler in a portrait of Top Twenty Doberman, in progress

I would have liked to do more, but my yard-worker was here and I had to attend to what I needed her to do. Eyes in a portrait are so important and take so much concentration, I don’t like to start on them unless I know I will have an uninterrupted workday to work on them start to finish, no matter how long it takes.


Phone photos don’t capture the subtle colors. This pic is a high-quality scan made from the actual artwork.

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