Photoshop tutorial: Digital colouring techniques for pencil art

Marguerite Sauvage reveals how to use Photoshop to colour pencil-drawn artwork while still maintaining a handcrafted feel.

Recently, French illustrator Marguerite Sauvage created a series of portraits called Flower Women, which she describes as “fashionable, traditional-looking, very feminine”. Here she takes us through the development of one of them, Sylvie.

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Flower Women was a personal project and Marguerite says she was: “Totally free to experiment and play. I wanted to create not only a portrait but to tell a story. It’s possible to do this with only few details: like the fishes, the aquatic lines on her top or the vegetable of her head.”

Marguerite notes that every artist’s process is personal, but hopes that by showing how she develops her artwork, she can encourage you to try some of her techniques and add to what you do already. She’s also a big exponent of play during the creative process.

“What is important is to keep on letting yourself be surprised by what you do,” Marguerite says, “Little accidents will be the single and unique events that will lead you to find your proper and personal style – and this is so exciting and pleasant that it will strengthen you in your passion.”

Time to complete 

3 to 4 hours


Pencils, paper, Photoshop CS5


First, I drew the linework by hand on A4 office white paper with my 3mm B or 2B pencils. I rarely erase anything to keep the tempo of my drawing up since this can always be fixed digitally later. I also draw at quite a small size because I find  it allows me to draw more accurately and with better proportions.

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I scanned my drawing into Photoshop and adjusted the contrast and brightness to create nice black lines with a pencil look to them. I want to keep the drawn-by-hand aspect to this piece above all.

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I digitally erased the unwanted details and mistakes with a basic white brush on the same layer. I put this layer in Multiply blending mode so I could paint both above and below it.

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I wanted to use only a few colours for this piece. I started with splashes of bright warm colour on her face and shoulders, on a layer under the line work. Then I applied a cooler colour to areas of shadow (on another layer). These combine to give an immediate feeling of a living person. The brushes I used were customised by myself, specially for this piece.

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On a new layer I drew patterns with my graphic tablet, and duplicated and arranged them until I was happy with the composition. I was inspired by the patterns that appear on Japanese kimonos, and used a lot of small variations in line size and shape to ensure it kept the hand-drawn look.

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I added a background with obvious single-colour brush strokes that look like radiations coming from the character. This makes her more vibrant. I chose a colour for the strokes that was close to my original palette. I put this layer at the bottom of the layer stack, so the Japanese-inspired pattern would overlay it gently in light pink when I applied a Screen blending mode to it.

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I decided to add some playful graphic shapes and drew a fish silhouette (as there’s something of the mermaid about the composition). I moved it around the image until I was happy with the composition. I was quite surprised by how good it looked as almost a mask on her face. 

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Having decided to take the risk to keep it like this, I added a smaller fish silhouette to support this second narrative within the composition.


To finalise the illustration, I took a step back to work on the lines and soften her face. I hid all of the other layers and coloured some part of the face and hairs. I duplicated the linework layer, applied a Gaussian blur to the top layer and gave it a blending mode of Multiply.

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I merged the two linework layers and gave the resulting layer a blending mode of Multiply so the colours below would show through.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials

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