Pencil drawings from your photos

Pencil portrait example
Child pencil portrait
Child portrait in pencil

Commission a portrait in graphite pencil on heavyweight archival cartridge paper.

I think the secret to a good pencil portrait is a very light touch. I try to keep the shading on the face as delicate as possible, hatching lightly to preserve the impression of the natural luminosity of the skin. This is particularly important for drawing children’s portraits, in order to convey their very smooth and clear complexions. When drawing faces, I try to avoid rubbing the pencil into the paper too much as I think this can produce a rather dulled effect. A hatch technique with minimal smoothing by contrast allows the brightness of the paper to shine through the pencil. I like to concentrate most of the detail around the face, hair and neck, becoming more sketchy around the upper arms and chest so as not to draw the focus away from the character of the subject, If you’re interested to learn more about my drawing technique you can take a look at this article.

Framed pencil portrait
Framed pencil portrait

I draw onto Daler-Rowney Heavyweight Cartridge Paper which is an off-white, very smooth, acid-free paper. It is quite thick (220gsm) which makes it more durable and less likely to crease.  Acid-free paper is important to avoid your portrait yellowing with age. I like to use Faber-Castell pencils of several grades within the same drawing, ranging from a typical HB down to very soft and dark.

When the portrait is finished and ready to send out I clean the paper around the image with a putty eraser and then spray it with a fixative spray to stop any of the graphite from rubbing and creating finger marks. Finally I’ll place it in a cellophane sleeve so that you can handle it safely until you’re ready to put it in its frame. Pencil portraits are sandwiched between custom-cut MDF sheets for shipping so they can’t be bent or creased.

commissioning a pencil portrait

choosing a size

RulerOn the prices page you’ll find a full cost list for different sized portraits, and you can always request a quote for a custom size if you already have a frame in mind. The smallest available size for pencil drawings is 10″ x 12″ (similar to A4 size but a little less rectangular)  – I find that any smaller than this and the detail becomes too fiddly. However you could also have a square portrait of a similar sort of size. Square formats are particularly nice for head-and-shoulders portraits of either people (particularly children) or animals.

I have a couple of rules of thumb when advising about appropriate sizes, the first of which being that the younger the child, the smaller the portrait ought to be! In general I’d say that an 10″ x 12″ is quite big enough for a single subject, head-and-shoulders pencil portrait – remember also that if you frame your drawing with a mount then this will add some size to your frame all the way round (see the framing page on why framing with a mount is advisable) However if you prefer a larger size or maybe have a big wall to fill then you can of course have a larger size. Generally though I would advise that you don’t want a person’s head to be drawn too much larger than it actually is in reality.

For a full-body portrait then 14″ x 16″ size or larger will probably be necessary, and certainly if you want two subjects within one drawing then you’ll need a larger size too – at least 14″ x 16″ (similar to A3 size) for two subjects, and at least 16″ x 23″ (similar to A2 size) for three subjects.

the pose

Depending on which photo you choose for your portrait the look and feel can be quite different. I’m always happy to advise if you’re having difficulty in deciding, but there’s really no ‘right answer’ as to what sort of pose will make the best portrait! For instance you may prefer to go for a smiling photo with the subject looking straight ahead, or you might prefer a three-quarter view looking away and a little more contemplative. You might prefer quite a formal look, or you might choose a picture where you’ve captured the subject in a more relaxed manner. It really depends which photo best represents the subject to you – my advice would be to try taking a variety and then see which one grabs you. It may be useful to look through the drawing gallery where there are many different examples and see which style of portrait you prefer.

what sort of photos I need

CameraThis is covered in some depth on the commissioning information page so please take a moment to read it through and see examples of the kind of close-up photos that I’ll need. Pictures taken on phone cameras (even iPhones) are normally not suitable so if you don’t have any taken on a digital camera then I’m probably going to ask you to do a little photoshoot and take some new ones. The best photos are taken in natural light (daylight) especially outdoors and need to be close-up – remember that the photo is standing in for the subject actually sitting in front of me and I need to see lots of detail. Again, my commissioning info page gives lots of tips on how to take a suitable snap. I’m also happy to have a chat to you about the type of reference you need so feel free to get in touch.

Ideal photo for a pet portrait
Ideal photo for a portrait

For further information on how to commission a pencil portrait please have a look through this information page which will tell you more about the process and how I work. There’s also an FAQ page for any other questions you may have and of course you are welcome to get in touch any time.

Framed pencil portrait

framing and looking after your pencil portrait

I supply portraits unframed, however I am always happy to offer advice on what kind of frame will suit your portrait. Additionally,  I’ve written a  guide to framing a drawing which has lots of tips on how to frame and look after a pencil portrait to in order to conserve it correctly. I usually recommend taking your portrait to a local framer who will have good experience of which colours and styles will suit your portrait and the sort of décor that you have in your home.

Giclee prints of your painting

ordering an extra print of your pencil portrait

If you’d like one or more copies of your portrait, I can supply high-quality giclée prints that look just the same as your original pencil drawing. The prints are created onto high-quality heavyweight archival paper using fade-resistant ink. Read more information  and see prices on the giclée prints page. The picture shows an original pencil drawing on the left, and a giclée print copy on the right.


See some animal portraits in pencil here. If you have both a child and a pet then a portrait of both of them together can be really charming!

Pet portraits in pencil

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