Portraiture and facial features in graphite pencils by Antonio Finelli

It’s safe to say that no two faces are the same. Whether walking the streets of Rome, shopping or in the airport, I will glance up at hundreds, if not thousands of faces, not one the same as the last.

The unique individuality of facial features is beautiful, the slight bend of a nose right down to the deepest wrinkle or crow’s feet. I’ve always created faces of the elderly; they’re wisdom and history ingrained into their skin. It truly fascinates me.

Eyes carry so much emotion and this is where I wanted to put Graphic pencils to the test. The mixture of shades, reflections and depth really put the new-look Graphic range rigorously through its paces.


I began with a HB pencil, drawing the basic outline of the eye shape, including the prominent wrinkles, fold lines and ageing. Drawing this simple outline allows you to then separate shades onto sections of the face.

This sketch only has to be quick and lines don’t have to be straight. Lines can overlap and wind around the surface of the skin.


After drawing this opening sketch, I began drawing in chiaroscuro; an effect of contrasted light and shade across the piece. This is achieved by alternating across the range of Graphic Pencils.

Where the light hit the eye on the left hand side, I left the paper clear at this stage. This allows me the ability to layer later on and create the correct curvature and shape for the reflection of light. Any reflection of ‘pure-light’ will also be brighter than any section of the image.

This reflection is in stark contrast to the pupil of the eye, where the darkest point of the eye will sit. We will need to add detailing to this later, so a 2B is the darkest pencil I used at this stage.

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I’ve begun then to add further detailing with pencil strokes away from the pupil with a HB, beginning with dark strokes and filling the gaps with lighter shades of 3H. The light shades allow the pupil to stand out. Minute specks or blemishes to the cornea (the coloured part of the eye) you can add in a darker shade, with dabs of the point of your pencil in darker shades.

By keeping the pencil sharp, I can add minute details to a delicate piece.

I’ve used a 3H here to add items in front of the subject to the reflection of the eye. This hyper-realism gives a sense of place and time whilst adding depth to the eye.

It is important to remember the shape of the eye as the curvature will alter the shape of items in front of your portrait, skewing them slightly.


You’ll notice throughout my work that my putty rubber is a vital tool. Using it allows me to have control over texture and remove the movement of my pencil. As the eye is a wet texture, I need to great a smooth-look. I create this by dabbing the putty on top of my pencil strokes, dragging it gently away from the eye lid, whilst being slightly heavier where the white of the eye meets the cornea.

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With the eye complete, I moved towards the upper-eyelid. As my subject has aged, her eyes have begun to sink. As such, defined areas of light and shade required a selection of different pencils.

Following the lines of my templated wrinkles, I alternated harder 2H and HB pencils with softer 2B and 3B pencils to respectively create the lighter marks and more accentuated, deep rooted facial lines.

The space underneath where the eyebrow has begun to fold over the eyelid requires dark marks that can either be dotted or created with pressure.

Unlike the surface of the eye, the skin around the eye is quite rough and with outward strokes following the defined lines of the face add a texture to the face.

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At this point you’ll notice the light source become to come clear, using light pencils for these section allows a subtlety but give the option to layer on top later for finer details or darker finishes.

I’ve used a sharp 4B pencil to add eyelashes and eyebrows. The sharpness of the pencil allows you to accentuate the delicacy of the individual hairs on the face and the contrasting shades between the paler face.


At the end of the piece I emphasized the darkest lines and shadows using a 7B whilst stressing the lighter shades by gently deleting those grey areas using a kneaded eraser.

With faces and, in particular with skin, it’s important to remember that the direction in which you drag the pencil will create a differing shape to the face shifting the emotion of the subject.


Antonio’s work can be found at http://www.antoniofinelliarte.it/ and is available across social media at facebook.com/antonio.finelli.arte or twitter.com/antonio_finelli