When you think of portrait drawing, you might think of formal studies where you draw the head in a measured way, maybe drawing copies of a Greco-Roman statue. This is important, and you should do it for anatomy practice, but it’s also helpful to do casual sketches where you simplify things and see what kind of lines you enjoy making!

Today we’ll be studying Cathrin Gressieker’s 30-minute class so that we can learn her style of sketching portraits for fun. All you will need are some crayons, pastels, or coloured pencils, along with some water for blending.

Let’s start with a portrait in black coloured pencil, with some water gradients in the end.

Black Portrait

Step 1: Outline

Cathrin has a piece of advice at the beginning of this project that applies to all art styles: Start drawing the head with the hair and the hairline, because the top of the head takes up more space proportionally than you think it does.

This art style is spontaneous, relaxed, and fun, so don’t worry about precision and don’t worry if the lines are scribbly. The scribbly lines are there on purpose to make it whimsical.

Step 2: Drawing the Face

This isn’t a measured and carefully proportioned study drawing, but we will keep in mind an approximation of correct proportions. For a childlike portrait, we’re going to put the eyes somewhat in the centre of the head, and then draw the other features around them.

Add light lines to indicate the closed upper eyelids, and if you want to you can draw some whimsical round cheeks. Experiment with hard and soft pencil pressure, and also notice the different effects you get depending on how sharp or how dull the pencil is.

When you’re happy with how the face looks, you can enhance the scene with a few little flowers or perhaps butterflies or whatever you like, then we can shade!

Step 3: Shading with Water

Now, the effectiveness of this step will depend somewhat on how soluble your pencil is, but you should be able to get at least some shadow effects with water, so let’s try!

Wet a brush like you would for watercolour, and paint over the pencil lines where you want shadows to go. The pigment should lift slightly and spread to the wet parts of the page. It might take some effort and scrubbing, so be patient and be careful with the paper.

For the second portrait, let’s use a pretty colour! I chose a nice lilac purple.

Purple Portrait

Step 1: Basic Shapes

Once again here, we’re going to start drawing at the crown of the head, so that we know we have enough room to draw the hairline and make sure everything is proportionate. Then, shape the rest of the head.

Step 2: Finishing

Since the colour we’re using on this portrait is a bit lighter than the previous one, we’re going to skip the water shading and bring the image to a finish with just the pencil. Once again, the eyes go approximately at the centre of the face.

Since this face is a bit narrower than the previous one, the girl in this portrait looks older. Add rosy cheeks, a flower or two if you want, and you’re done!

For this last one, we’re going to use both colours from before and see how the colour and value contrast changes the visual effect.

Black and Purple Portrait

Step 1: Using Black

Here, we’re going to follow the same steps as before for drawing the face and hair, but this time we’re going to hold back a little bit because some things will be added in purple later. Be purposeful about what you use the dark pencil for.

Which lines need to be darker or wider? Which parts of the drawing need to stand out more? The main facial features and the hair look good in black because the facial features are the focal point and the hair frames the face.

Step 2: Using Purple

By using purple on the eyelids and cheeks, we establish a sense of the character’s skin tone even though it’s a super abstract portrait. Also, by using it on the hair and flowers, we get some atmosphere in the picture and a springtime mood.

These fun portraits are a great way to explore different art styles while practising under a time crunch! This style of illustration is great too, as it’s almost reminiscent of top-level illustrators like Lauren Child.

If you’d like to dive deeper into Cathrin Gressieker’s art techniques, tune in to her 90-minute class! Also, feel free to subscribe to our email newsletter for exclusive updates! Have a great time drawing!

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.


  • Shifu said:

    This was lovely and fun to do…just what I needed on a rainy afternoon when I want to draw but don’t know where to start! Thank you for this.

    August 07, 2022

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