Ann Kullberg is without question one of the best colored pencil portraitists working in America today. Three things struck me immediately about her portraits: elegant composition, a strong sense of light and beautiful skin tones. I've seen another portrait-drawing book in which many skin tones looked like plastic, flat, lifeless and even unnatural. In brilliant contrast, Kullberg's are lifelike, warm, rich and natural.
Part of Kullberg's secret lies in the layering process, which she explains along with several other techniques, including impressed line and burnishing. The other key difference with her method is the selection of colors into skin tone groups (yellows, oranges, pinks and browns) and value groups (lights to darks). The technique of applying the tones and colors to create convincing skin tones is explained in careful detail, with examples including models of various nationalities.
Facial features, with problems specific to each, are covered in step-by-step demonstrations, along with some useful tips. The art of drawing hair - dealing with highlights, waves and curls - is well covered indeed, and I feel is a highlight of the book.
Kullberg's wonderful sense of composition is evident throughout the book. Her advice on the issue is practical, and the many illustrations are a lesson in themselves on the design of a good picture. The whole process of composing and drawing a picture is followed from start to finish. In addition, the book concludes with some thoughts on working on commissions.
'Colored Pencil Portraits' isn't completely comprehensive - portraits of older people would have been useful, and I'd like to see more on tricky problems like a man's five o'clock shadow or an aged person's wrinkles; though perhaps there is wisdom in doing a few things well, rather than trying to include the kitchen sink. The main focus is on pencil application and color selection, and the application of these to various aspects of portrait drawing. It is this focus which makes 'Colored Pencil Portraits' essential reading for anyone interested in colored pencil portraiture.
Beginners should be inspired rather than daunted by the accomplished drawings in the illustrations, as the detailed explanations and stage-by-stage approach help the reader realize that 'I can do it too'. Ann Kullberg's informal style is a pleasure to read, and by following the exercises carefully, even a raw beginner should be able to apply the techniques to their own drawing, using photographs as a reference; more advanced artists will enjoy exploring this new avenue of creative possibilities. While the book is highly focused on the colored pencil portrait, the wealth of information it contains will also be of interest to graphite pencil artists and portrait painters, as many principles can be applied to other mediums.