Carrie L. Lewis, Artist & Teacher

Helping You Create Art You Can be Proud Of

2 Common Colored Pencil Problems (And a Few Solutions)

This week, I’d like to address two common colored pencil problems. Most of us deal with them at some point in our work with colored pencil. My guess is that they are constant struggles for some of us.


But problems need solutions. So I’m going to share some of the things that have helped me overcome these two common problems.

2 Common Colored Pencil Problems

How Can I Finish More Drawings?

This is probably one of the biggest obstacles for colored pencil artists—and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been using colored pencils. The nature of the medium means that it takes a long time to do a drawing. Even small ones. It’s next to impossible to “dash off” a drawing in twenty minutes if you love detail (and a lot of us do—that’s what attracts us to colored pencil!).

clocks-timeWhen I first started drawing with colored pencil, I thought I could do the same types of work I’d been doing with oils. Large portraits full of life and detail.

I quickly learned that if it took twenty hours to finish a portrait in oil, it would take at least 40 to finish the same portrait in colored pencil. It was more likely to take 60 hours or more.

So I scaled back my expectations and reduced the size of my colored pencil work. I started doing more 8×10 or smaller works. I did some miniature work and drew a few ACEOs (art cards, editions, and originals).

So that’s my first tip. Do some small work. You don’t have to do miniature art, but it is a lot easier to finish something that’s 8×10 or smaller. The more works you finish, the more confidence you’ll gain in your ability to finish drawings. As you gain confidence, you’ll be better able to do larger work.

Something else that has worked well for me is having more than one drawing going at the same time. If I get tired of working on one, I switch to the other and work on it for a while. I’ve devised a method for keeping all current drawings in view by mounting them to precut mats and back boards and either displaying them on shelves around the house or hanging them on the wall where I see them. Two are hanging above my head as I write these words.

Keep works in progress to no more than three or four. Any more than that and you risk overwhelming yourself!

I recently wrote an article on this topic for EmptyEasel. If you want more tips for finishing every drawing you start (or most of them), read How to Finish What You Start (The Artists’ Edition).

How Can I Get More Patience?

You need patience for most of life. Raising children. Learning new things. Living life.

You definitely need patience with colored pencils!

So how do you develop patience?

In all seriousness, it takes patience.

I tell you that not to be funny but to encourage you to start small. Don’t expect a huge amount of patience overnight.

pencil-knotWhen I’m learning something new or doing something difficult, I limit the time I spend on that activity. For example, most of you know that I write in addition to doing art. You may also know that I went through a long dry spell in 2014-15. Nothing was happening and I got impatient with that creative silence.

When I started writing again, I no longer had the patience—or maybe endurance would be a better word—to write for long periods.

So I started doing 15-minute timed writings. I tried to do at least one 15-minute timed writing every day in 2016. No, I didn’t succeed every day, but I made more progress one timed writing at a time than if I tried to force myself back into the old schedule.

What does that mean for you?

If you lack the patience to work on a drawing for long periods of time, don’t. Start with shorter segments of time. It might be fifteen minutes or twenty. It might be only five minutes.

Why does this work? It’s a lot easier to start something if you know in advance you have permission to stop after a short while.

If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself working past that time limit on some days. That’s great!

Eventually, you’ll discover you’ve developed the patience you need to work on a drawing longer each day. The bonus is that you’re also likely to discover you have the patience to work on drawings long enough to finish more of them!


What all this comes down to is knowing where you are currently in your artistic journey, and knowing where you want to be. Without a known—and achievable—destination, you have nowhere to go and no reason to start out.

But if you don’t know where you are presently, it’s very difficult to map your journey, even if you do know your destination.

Both of the “problems” I’ve talked about in this post can be overcome. It just takes a little bit of time and effort. Begin by assessing the problem, then identify possible solutions, then implement them.

And if you have to implement one little step at a time, that’s all right. The fact is, that’s perfect. None of us learned to run first when we were toddlers. We learned to toddle first.

What’s true for toddlers is also true for artists.


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1 Comment

  1. Pat

    Wow, this was a great article. Based on allot of what you have written, it gives me the courage to start using my colored pencils. They have been sitting in the box for quite some time. I like what you said about downsizing the piece and will keep that in mind. Also, seems people would be less likely to see your “mistakes” (and I do make those for sure). Thank you for your articles.

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