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How to color hair – step by step, Part I

I was asked to do a tutorial on how to color fur – and unfortunately I can’t do this, because I have no idea how to color fur (in an easy and not too time-consuming way) and I’m looking for a guide on that myself.. 🙂 I usually avoid coloring pages that have an animal with fur in it. But I think I can do human hair in a nice way – so I decided to show you this. I will do several hair colors in the future, but let’s start with blond!

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I colored this little girl’s hair in Coloriage Wild by Emmanuelle Colin. The drawings are in greyscale, which makes it very easy if you’re a beginner in coloring faces or/and hair. I think that coloring greyscale illustrations is in general a quite easy thing to do, because it shows you where to put your shades and your highlights (you don’t have to figure that out by yourself) and it’s very forgiving. But don’t worry if you don’t have any greyscale stuff to start with – you can use this step by step guide for every illustration that features hair. It might just be a bit harder to make your first attempt a non-greyscale one, but I’ll be sharing some general tips, so you’ll get this done! And always keep in mind that practice is everything, so don’t throw in the towel if it isn’t fabulous after the first try.

Those are the colors we will use for her hair:

Polychromos Burnt Ochre (187)
Prismacolor Premier Goldenrod (1034)
Prismacolor Premier Jasmine (1012)
Polychromos Cream (102)

I like to combine different brands of pencils in this book, because the paper is quite rough and therefore kills the very soft Prismas. I have to sharpen them very often and this doesn’t happen with the Polychromos.

As I always do, I start with the darkest color and work my way up to the lightest. So we look closely at our drawing and have a look on where the darkest parts of the hair should be. This is usually in areas where one strand of hair overlaps another, where strands narrow a bit, or where some other things overlap the hair (maybe the person is wearing a headpiece or has flowers on her head or there’s something very close to the person that shadows parts of the person, etc…).

Here you can see what I mean. There’s this leaf shadowing her hair a bit, then the snail on top of her head, and then there are those “waves” where strands of hair lay over one another. Those are the areas we start with. And as I said: it’s much easier to spot those areas when the illustration is in greyscale.

On the other hand: those “waves” I was talking about always have a part where they are a bit more bulky. This is where the highlights are, where light shines on the hair. Don’t touch those areas, leave them white. You’ll see why.

When coloring hair, always make sure that your pencil is sharpened very well. Hair is something that needs structure, because it consists of very small pieces that make it look whole in the end. You cannot do this structure with dull pencils. This is also one of the occasions where it doesn’t help to move your pencil in little circles, because this also kills each and every structure. This is of course the best way to fill a bigger space with a smooth, non-edgy layer of color, but this is not what we’re doing here. Move your pencil in single streaks and always lift it off the paper after each streak. Make sure that you don’t rub it back and forth – we need kind of an “open end”. This “open end” is where we will blend in our next color.

Once you’ve done all the dark parts, we can go on to our second color, which is Goldenrod from the Prisma range.

Don’t fully go over the Burnt Ochre, leave a little space from the top and maybe start in the middle of it. Carefully blend the lighter color into the darker one, using only light pressure and the same kind of streaks you just did with the first color. Also leave an “open end”.

Our next color is Jasmine, also from the Prisma range. It’s a somewhat darker yellow that’s not too yellow, but a bit more muted, so it’s perfect for blond hair or for coloring gold. I always use it for that.

Again, we do the same as we did with the other colors so far. Little streaks, bringing the color further to our highlights, leaving an open end – allowing us to blend in the next color. Make sure that you still leave white space for the highlights, we will need them now.

The next step is already shown in the third picture above. On the right side (from your POV), I already finished every step to show you the difference. Left side ends with Jasmine so far, on the right side I already brought in our lightest color, Cream. This is how you do the highlights and you can see how different it looks. It’s smooth and structured at the same time, it has shades and light spots as well.

If you want to, you can leave even more white space than I did with the Cream. This would make the highlights harder, but this depends on what kind of effect you want to achieve in the end. My version is a bit more smooth, but you can do it more edgy as well, just as you need it. You could even leave out the Cream completely and blend the Jasmine in to the white of your paper (or soften this transition with a white pencil).

For finishing the hair, I repeated the steps shown above once. I again took my Burnt Ochre, darkening the shadows, went on to the Goldenrod and the Jasmine and finished with the Cream. It’s not very much hair here, so two layers of color should be enough. In Hanna Karlzon’s illustrations, there’s usually a LOT more hair than here (which is why I chose this little girl for a tutorial 🙂 ) – and you will need several more layers for it. It’s important that you do each layer in the same way – not moving your pencil in circles, but making those open-ended streaks. It doesn’t help if you streak the first two layers and circle the next two – because this will kill all your work.

And that’s basically how I did it! You see, it’s really not difficult. It just needs a bit of practice and if you have the possibility, I’d recommend starting with greyscale if you’ve never done hair before. If you don’t want to order a whole book in greyscale, you maybe fancy having a look at Mariola Budek’s Etsy shop. It’s somewhat darker than my page here, but that’s not so important. I’ve actually never tried one of her illustrations, but they are fabulous and I’m eager to do so!

If you’re using this tutorial for your work, I would be happy if you credit me, either with this blog or with my Instagram @roxellence. I would love to see it! If you have any questions, feel free to ask!


  1. […] your shades and your highlights and are perfectly suitable to learn how to do it right. In my last hair tutorial I talked a bit about shadows and highlights in general, and what I told you there is also important […]

  2. Tonja Tonja 13/10/2019

    I love this blonde color combination and can’t wait to try it! I just colored blonde hair tonight and wish I would have found this first. Next time I will definitely use this and link to you on my Instagram post. Thanks for sharing!

    • roxellence roxellence 13/10/2019

      Thanks for your kind words! I’m looking forward to seeing your result! <3

  3. […] this tutorial, it will be helpful if you have a look at Part 1 of my hair series, because I’ve explained many basic, general things there. I’m still repeating myself […]

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