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Is there a Published Guide for Skin Tones?

Welcome back to Q&A Wednesday. Today’s reader asks about a published guide for skin tones. Here’s the question.

Hi Carrie ,

Is there a published guide to the mix of brands pencils to particular skin tones? For example, which Prismacolor pencil blends would I use to create sallow skins , pink skins, brown skins, etc.?

And which would be good tones to use for highlights and shadow in those same skin tones?

Or Derwent pencils? Or Faber -Castell?

Thank you


Is There a Published Guide for Skin Tones?

Thank you to Karen for asking her question. I know that there are others also wondering about which colors to use to draw different types of skin tones.

Is there a Published Guide for Skin Tones?

I don’t do human portraits very often, and never in colored pencil. So I cannot offer personal advice on this topic. However, I did a little research into the matter, and am happy to share how I looked and what I found.

Where I Looked and My Search Results

The short answer is, yes. There are dozens of published guides for skin tones. My first search (guides for skin tones) produced thousands of links. Most of them were for makeup and hair dressing!

So I narrowed my search to “guides for skin tones for artists.” Again, thousands of results. However, a lot of these were for painters.

A search for colored pencil related skin tone guides resulted in links to videos and supplies, but very few published guides.

And I found nothing listing specific colors for Prismacolor, Faber-Castell or any other brand of colored pencils.

So I next checked Dick Blick (my favorite online art store) for sets of “skin tone” colors. Neither Prismacolor nor Faber-Castell offer such sets.

Why It’s so Difficult to Find Reliable Published Guides

Unfortunately, there is no established color palette in any brand of pencils that works for every skin tone. Nor do I know of a guide listing individual colors for skin tones. There are probably some available, but I couldn’t find them.

The reason is that there are so many varieties of skin tones from very light to very dark that no brand of pencil has every color you’d ever need to draw all of those variations. The fact is that combining all the popular brands wouldn’t even give you all the colors you need without mixing.

I’d have the same problem if I looked for a guide on drawing portraits of chestnut horses. Even if I could find a published guide listing pencil brands and color names, it would only be a starting point. Why? Because there are so many shades of chestnut horses from very pale to very dark. No one color set works for every shade!

And the same is true for human skin tones.

You also need to consider the lighting of your subject. The same person seen in bright sunlight and colored artificial light would require two different sets of color for the skin tones.

Where to Find Help

The best source of information is probably going to be an online course or video. But don’t limit yourself to one video or one artist, especially if you go the YouTube route. No two artists work exactly alike, and it’s unlikely you’ll find one artist who has an answer that will help you all the time. That’s certainly been my experience in researching how to draw various horse colors.

But a lot of the artists who produce how-to art videos list the brands and colors of pencils they use for each tutorial, and that can be a huge help.

Then when you find an artist whose work is similar to what you want to accomplish and whose teaching style is a good fit, join them on Patreon if they have a Patreon channel. For just a few dollars a month, you’ll get more in-depth teaching month by month, without committing to months of study.

If you’re looking for a portrait artist who specializes in colored pencil and portraits, check out John Middick’s Sharpened Artist Academy*. He offers everything from free classes to full up portrait courses that go far beyond a basic tutorial.

You might also consider buying Alyona Nickelson’s book, Colored Pencil Painting Portraits. You can buy an autographed copy (with free samples of some of her other products) here, or buy a print or ebook here. The book covers all aspects of colored pencil portrait work from posing models to color selection. While it may not provide specific lists for any brand of pencils, it will help you grasp how color works, and that will help you.

Your Best Guide for Skin Tones

I hope that helps Karen and everyone else looked for the best colors to use for skin tones. It would be nice if there was a published guide for skin tones, but I don’t know that there is.

The best answer is to study your reference photo, determine the colors that you see in that photo, and then choose pencil colors accordingly. If you have more than one set of colors, use all the colors that apply. Most brands of colored pencils work well together and can be mixed without worry.


After this post published, a reader emailed me to let me know that Ann Kullberg had a skin tone guide available on her website. So I searched for skin tone tools and found the Portrait Skin Tone Value Viewer Replacement. It’s not a guide, per se, but is a value viewer pre-printed with a variety of skin tones from very light to very dark. It’s not exactly what Karen was looking for, but it could be helpful.

In researching another article, I also found some colored pencil sets designed for portrait artists, including one by Derwent.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

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