4 Tips for Colored Pencil Artists

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Recent years have seen colored pencils taken up by an increasing number of artists, and work created with colored pencil sits in elite private collections and museums. Whether you’re a seasoned colored pencil artist or someone looking to dip their toe into these waters for the first time, Drawing magazine and Artist’s Network have what you need to get the most out of your colored pencil drawings.

To start you off on the right path, we want to share four tips offered by the artists featured in Colored Pencil Essentials 3, covering subjects such as layering colors, drawing water and how to light a colored pencil still life. And for more insightful tips on colored pencils, be sure to check out the other downloads in this series: Colored Pencil Essentials and Colored Pencil Essentials 2.

1. Dress in Layers

An advantage of colored pencils is that the col­ors are premixed and consistent; the accompanying disadvantage is that it can be difficult to find a pencil of the exact color you need. Other colors are achieved through layering, placing one color over another until the result comes as close as possible to the de­sired color and value.

The challenge, then, is to know the effect that layering particular colors will produce. To get to that point it helps to know some broad principles of color layering.

  • Layering complementary colors dark­ens both colors and reduces their in­tensity.
  • Pressing harder intensifies a hue but does not darken it.
  • You can darken a color by layering its next-darkest neighbor over it, for instance, purple over red. Use dark brown or dark blue before black, and avoid leaving black as the top layer of any color.
  • To lighten a color, layer over it with a lighter hue of the same color before resorting to white.
  • To intensify a color, blend it using a tortillon or stump.
  • Burnishing any color with white will make it lighter, shinier, cooler and hazier.

–Sherry Camhy

2. Brushes for Blending

My method of blending with the brush (using no solvents) dramatically brightens and intensifies the colors. I recommend practicing this technique on something small and working up to larger pieces. This method does require a rather heavy application of colored pencil pigment. If there isn’t enough pigment for the brush to move around, nothing much will happen. When a con­siderable amount has been applied, the brush is able to pick up just enough to fill in the tooth of the paper.

–Linda Lucas Hardy

3. Drawing Water

In order to draw water, I look at all the components going into the composition, I look at the water, and I look for some kind of pattern to develop. Once I’ve placed the composition with graphite pencil, it becomes easier to “tag” water and apply the color that I see. And water is colorless, so you have to interpret it. Sometimes it’s based on nothing more than mood.

–Erwin P. Lewandowksi

Crevice Stream IV (by Erwin P. Lewandowski, colored pencil, 25x14)

Crevice Stream IV (by Erwin P. Lewandowski, colored pencil, 25×14)

4. Lighten the Mood

When using artificial lighting, you need your light to come from the side, even if it’s backlighting. You can’t shoot right into the light bulb. Another trick is to get very close to that lighting, even if your shot then isn’t perfectly focused. That’s OK—it’s just a reference.

–Cecile Baird


BONUS Tip: How to Draw Feathers

Check out this quick demonstration from Mark Menendez to discover how to draw feathers in under five minutes using colored pencils.

If you want more colored pencil instruction from Mark, check out his video Colored Pencil Techniques: Color, Value, Form, streaming on ArtistsNetwork.tv. In this video workshop, Mark walks you through five demonstrations on how to get great results from your colored pencils, including how to draw a tropical bird, establish the colors of white in a still life, tips on how light and shadow creates the form, how to paint water lilies and more!

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2 thoughts on “4 Tips for Colored Pencil Artists

  1. colorgaia

    Thanks for the great tips!

    Can you expand more on this specific technique for blending with brushes and no solvents?

    Our website goes into more detail about blending with solvents (http://colorgaia.com/you-dip-your-colored-pencils-in-what/), but many of our readers do not like the mess and extra work that goes along with using them. I know there are techniques for using the powdery extra pencil pigment to fill the tooth of the paper more completely – is this similar to the technique you are describing? Thanks again!

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