Painting Portraits with Sanguine Conte Pencil

I learned something new this week!

Not sure why I never heard of it before.

It’s an Old Masters technique using Conte pencils or Chalks with the colors Sanguine (red), White and Black. No other colors. Pretty cool!  This week I was inspired by the drawings of Susan Lyon using this method.  I decided to give it a try and was delighted with my results.  Now I want to share what I learned with you.


The surface I used is new to me.  It Rives BFK print making paper in cream color. I used  a Sanguine Conte pencil and a Conte pencil #31 for some extra dark areas. This is all you need plus a paper towel for blending and a kneaded eraser for lifting lights. That’s all!!

The subject I chose was my granddaughter. I had taken the photo a few years ago intending to paint it in watercolor, but never got around to it.  This turned out to be perfect for this experiment. So I began.

First, I converted the photo to a value only graphic so I could compare my drawing as I went along. Values are more important than color and I took several photos of my work along the way to be sure I was on track. Here is my original photo and the graphic of the values:







Original Photo                                                                                   Value Graphic

The graphic image helped me to see the values more clearly. You can convert any image to a graphic like this with photo shop (that’s what I used) or a free phone app. With this in mind I began.

Here’s my first progress shot and graphic of my values:







As you can see, I am off to a good start but there are not enough dark values ,so added more as I went along. Here’s my next progress photo:







Things are looking better and the values are looking balanced. At this point I added the Conte #31 to darken the values more, in the hair particularly. Next step:









I am very happy with the drawing at this point and the hardest part is deciding where to end it! I decide not to add many more details. I am happy with the results and hope you will give this a try.









Conte Sanguine and #31 include in photo.                                              Finished Portrait!

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About Kay Witt

Kay creates hand drawn pastel paintings of animals capturing their spirit and personality. Her lifelike paintings seem so real they could speak. Her favorite subjects are horses and wolves. She has loved and admired horses since childhood. She has had a varied career as an illustrator and graphic artist. She has designed illustrations for book covers, logos, and Christmas cards. She has also painted wall murals for businesses and private homes as well as set backgrounds. Kay currently teaches pastel workshops and gives art lessons in her home studio in Strasburg, VA. All skill levels are invited to attend. A list of available workshops can be found on her website, on the Workshop page. She is a member of the Pastel Society of America, the Pastel Society of Virginia, the Artisan Trail of Shenandoah Valley and the Valley Educational Center for the Creative Arts. See for more information.