Carrie L. Lewis, Artist

Helping You Create Art You Can be Proud Of

Unusual Blending Methods for Colored Pencil

This is our final post in on the theme of blending colored pencils. We’ve barely scratched the surface of this topic, but I hope the posts have been helpful. To close the series, I’d like to talk briefly—and perhaps a little light-heartedly—about some unusual blending methods for colored pencil.

Unusual Blending Methods for Colored Pencil

Most of the items on this list can be found in your home without too much difficulty. In fact, you may see some of them every day of the week, but have just never considered them to be art supplies.

So what are they?

Here’s my list.

Unusual Blending Methods for Colored Pencil

Whenever I talk about unusual blending methods, I begin with my two favorite things: Paper towel and bath tissue.

They’re inexpensive, easy to store, and super easy to use. Just fold a piece of either one into a small square and rub a portion of drawing vigorously to smooth color

Granted, using paper towel or bath tissue is not a very bold blending method, but if all you need is a softening of color, this might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Want to learn more? Read 2 Ways to Use Bath Tissue with Colored Pencil

Other Unusual Blending Tools

I keep a bag handy to throw rags into. The rag-bag is a natural outgrowth of oil painting. There are brushes, painting knives, and palettes to clean, after all. Nothing works better for that than paper towel, but that can get expensive. Since I’ve always been on a budget, I started looking for alternatives. Enter, the rag-bag.

So just what goes into my rag-bag?

  • Old socks
  • cast-off clothing
  • Worn dish towels
  • Scraps of fabric
  • Anything that looks at all useful

Unusual Blending Methods for Colored Pencil Rag Bag

Now I can guess what you’re thinking. Just what in the world does this have to do with colored pencil? Just this….

All of these things can be used to dry-blend colored pencil, and it’s very easy to do. Fold a piece of cloth into a small square, then rub the part of your drawing you want to blend. Make sure to hold the drawing firmly and work small areas, or you can bend or tear the paper.

You can also fold the cloth around your finger or fingers if you need to blend a small area. If the socks are intact, you can even slip your hand inside them and use them that way.

You can use heavy pressure and a fairly vigorous motion if you like, but understand that you’re probably not going to get a “really deep” blend with this method. The coarser the cloth, the more blending capability, but even so, all you’ll be able to do is smooth the color.

One Last Option

If you just can’t find the right blending tool, try a scrap of drawing paper. Did you know that Stonehenge paper is a great way to blend colored pencil on Stonehenge paper? Don’t throw those scraps away!

The Best Part About These “Art Tools”

What’s the best part about all of these “art tools?”

They’re completely non-toxic (well, some of them will be non-toxic after they’re laundered!). No fumes, no hazards, no need to use them in well-ventilated areas.

Anyone can use them! No special skills required and no need to worry about allergens.

Clean up is also pretty straight-forward. Throw the fabrics into the washing machine with the next load, and the papers into the trash, and you’re good!

Most of them are inexpensive. You absolutely, positively will not need to add to your art budget to get them.

The plain and simple fact is that most of us throw most of these things away without giving them a second thought. So why not start your own “rag-bag” collection of art tools and give these things a try?

Who knows? These unusual blending methods for colored pencil might be exactly what you’ve been looking for.

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It has come to my attention that some of you have had problems subscribing.

I’m not certain how long the problem has existed, but believe it originated sometime early in February.

I’ve found and resolved the problems.

I think.

To make sure, I need your help.

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Blending Colored Pencil with Painting Solvents

Last week’s cornerstone article was a tutorial showing how I blended colors in a background with rubbing alcohol. In that post, I mentioned that the method also worked for other solvents, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about blending colored pencil with painting solvents.

Blending Colored Pencil with Painting Solvents

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ll know I don’t often blend colored pencils with solvents of any kind. I much prefer the look of a drawing when the blending has been accomplished by layering.

But there are times when blending with a solvent of some kind is the prudent thing to do. Maybe I’m short of time or the effect I want can be accomplished no other way.

Since I began my artistic career as an oil painter, it was natural to try my painting solvents for blending colored pencil work. Do you know what? They really do work!

The Painting Solvents I Use and Why

The two painting solvents I use most often with colored pencil are turpentine and odorless paint thinner. At the moment, I have plenty of turpentine (I used to buy it by the quart when I was painting), so that’s what I use.

I use turpentine because after years of using it with oil painting, I know how it behaves. I know what to expect and am comfortable with it.

It also is capable of producing very richly saturated color if there’s plenty of color on the paper when I blend. Turpentine breaks down the binder so well that colors become almost liquefied and blend together much like paint does.

But you….

Have to have a lot of color on the paper, and…

Can only blend three or four times before blending starts to lose effectiveness. I’ve actually had turpentine lift color if I tried blending one time too many.

It’s also important to let the drawing dry thoroughly before adding more color. I usually let my drawings sit over night.

Odorless mineral spirits are the same as odorless paint thinner. Don’t be fooled, though. Just because a solvent is odorless doesn’t mean its non-toxic. Keep containers closed and sealed when not in use.

In fact, a little painting solvent goes a long way, so consider buying small bottles.

Additional Reading

This is EmptyEasel link article day, so I’ll close with a link to an article I wrote some time ago: How to “Paint” with Colored Pencils and Turpentine.

Blending Colored Pencil with Rubbing Alcohol

All this month, we’re focusing on various techniques for blending colored pencils. This week, the topic is blending colored pencil with rubbing alcohol. The sample drawing is on Stonehenge paper, but the method works with other types of paper, as well.

I also used an old oil painting bristle brush as a blending tool, but other brushes can also be used, as well as cotton swabs, cotton balls, or even folded paper towel.

The following post is an excerpt from the lesson series, Drawing a Horse with a Bokeh Background – Lesson 3.

I’ve also written on this topic for EmptyEasel. Read How to Blend Colored Pencil Drawings with Rubbing Alcohol here.

Preparing to Blend with Rubbing Alcohol

Blending with rubbing alcohol is very easy and straight forward. All you need is household rubbing alcohol. I’m using 91% alcohol, but you can use a weaker solution if that’s what you have.

You’ll need an ordinary paint brush. I use an old oil painting bristle brush that has been worn down, so is quite short and stiff. That type of brush gives me a lot of control, especially when working around edges that won’t be blended.

Blending Colored Pencil with Rubbing Alcohol - The BrushIf you have an old brush you want to use, make sure it’s well-cleaned and contains no residue from previous uses.

If you prefer to buy a new brush, that’s also acceptable. I use a #6 for this drawing, but any similar sized brush will work. A bristle brush is probably also going to work best, but if you’re more comfortable with a softer brush, you can use that, as well.

Pour a small quantity into a small container. A glass container is best. If you have a capped container in which you can store rubbing alcohol permanently, that’s your best option. Label the jar and cap it after each use to keep the rubbing alcohol from evaporating.

If you don’t have a capped, seal-able container, you’ll want to dispose of the rubbing alcohol after you’ve finished with it. Do NOT pour it back into the original container because it will contain some residue of colored pencil.

TIP: Whenever using any solvent to blend colored pencil, make sure to work in a well-ventilated area. I like to work outside when conditions allow. Cover the solvent as soon as you finish with it and allow your drawing to air dry completely before continuing work.

Blending Colored Pencil with Rubbing Alcohol

To blend with rubbing alcohol, dip your brush into the rubbing alcohol, and apply it to a small portion of the drawing. You can either pool it on the paper and allow it to sit a moment before brushing it out, or you can brush it out at once, which is what I usually do.

Blending Colored Pencil with Rubbing Alcohol - Blending

TIP: Don’t scrub the paper or you risk damaging the surface. Stonehenge is quite sturdy and can take a lot of punishment, but it can still be damaged.

Work over all of the background, including the circles. Use circular strokes within the circles and around their edges to avoid streaking the lighter colors with darker colors.

After you’ve finished blending, damp dry your brush on a piece of paper towel. If no pigment comes off on the paper towel, the brush is ready for the next use.

If pigment does appear on the paper towel, wash the brush with ordinary soap and water, press it dry with paper towel, then lay it horizontally to dry.

You must also allow the paper to dry completely before drawing again.

Tips for Blending with Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol blends are usually not smooth and seamless, especially if you’re blending a larger area, such as with this drawing. This illustration shows in greater detail the streaking that can happen when you blend a darker color over a lighter color. Unless that’s the look you want, it’s best to blend each color separately.

Here’s another detail. In this area, the streaking is simply the result of brushing. The colors are all close enough that they can be blended together without causing problems, but the blending itself can produce this hazy appearance and some streaking.

This is how the entire drawing looked. Not bad, but not ideal, either.

Blending Colored Pencil with Rubbing Alcohol-First Blend

There are easy fixes for this kind of streaking.

First is coloring over the blended background. The advantage to using rubbing alcohol to blend is that you can easily draw over it again with colored pencil, and cover those areas of streaking. Use light pressure and even strokes to smooth out the color.

You can also blend again without adding more color if you wish. I will eventually add more color to the background, but didn’t want to do that until I’d worked on the horse, so I blended the background a second time without adding more color.

This time, I stroked vertically over all of the background. On the top, I started at the top of the paper and stroked to the horse. On the bottom, I started at the horse and stroked to the bottom of the paper.

The end result was much more satisfactory and will be easier to adjust when the time comes. For now, however, I’m considering it finished.

Blending Colored Pencil with Rubbing Alcohol-Second Blend


When I need to do a solvent blend, this is my first choice. I have used turpentine and rubber cement thinner and have had very good results, but I much prefer rubbing alcohol.

This method works with odorless paint thinner, turpentine, or rubber cement thinner. In all cases, make sure to use proper precautions and work in a well-ventilated areas.

Questions You Should ALWAYS Ask Your Favorite Artists

Have you ever looked at the work of another artist and thought, “Man! I wish I could ask them a couple of questions”? I’m sure you have because I have and I’m just not all that unique.

We all see the work of people who are doing what we want to do and some questions come to mind with no effort at all.

How did you get started?

How did you get where you are today?

What are you doing that would help me?

How did you draw that?

I’m sure other questions will come to your mind, too.

The best way to learn is by studying the work of someone who is already successfully doing what you want to do; studying their methods and tools. Asking questions.

So this week, I thought I’d answer a few of those kinds of questions for those of you who are doing what I just suggested (studying methods) but maybe haven’t quite gotten to the point of asking questions.

Questions You Should ALWAYS Ask Your Favorite Artists

How did you get started?

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. The earliest drawing on paper that I still have was drawn when I was 4-1/2 but I know I was drawing before that. Those really early drawings didn’t survive, though, because they were usually drawn in places where they shouldn’t have been. On a wall for example.

I remember my mother tearing open brown grocery bags so I could draw on them with crayons. One drawing in particular that lingers in my memory was a woodland scene. Trees (roots and all). A stream. Deer and other animals. I’ve asked Mom on more than one occasion if she still has that. I wouldn’t be surprised if she did (she saves everything!), but she says not.

I got started as a portrait artist in high school, when a school friend asked me to paint a picture of her horse. She does still have that, along with all the other portraits I painted for her.

How did you get where you are today?

The plain, simple truth is that I started a new painting for every painting I finished. That’s it.

Oh, I set goals and upgraded my tools (better brushes, better oils, better pencils, canvas, and paper), and I read books and studied other artists. But what really got me from that first portrait to the current drawing was just not giving up.

Or rather, picking up art one more time than I gave it up.

Because there were times when I didn’t paint at all. As it turns out, that’s part of the process, too. At least it has been for me.

What are you doing that would help me?

Always learning. If you continue learning—whether you learn new mediums or learn new ways of using the same medium—you’ll always advance. Your work will get better. You’ll become more proficient.

Yeah, I know. I never liked hearing that when I was the one asking the questions. I was always looking for quick fix or short cut that would catapult me forward.

But you know what? There are no such quick fixes or short cuts. Not if you really want to improve your art and always enjoy it.

How Did You Draw That?

The answer to that is what this blog is all about. I’ve picked up so many tips, techniques, and tools over the years, that I can’t answer this question in a paragraph or two, even if you asked it about a specific drawing. Just chalk it all up to years and years of drawing, looking for better ways to do things, and striving to make each drawing better than the previous one.

You know what? You’ll find the same is true for you if you draw long enough!

Two Other Questions You ALWAYS Want to Ask Other Artists

I answered two more questions in this week’s EmptyEasel article, Two Questions You ALWAYS Want to Ask Other Artists. What are those questions?

What inspires me?

How do I begin a project?

You can all about that on EmptyEasel.

So did I answer one of your questions? If not, go ahead and ask your question in the comments. That’s one sure way to get an answer!

My Thoughts on Blending with Baby Oil

Some readers have asked for my thoughts on blending with baby oil, a process that’s being talked about all over the web. I’ve never considered blending with baby oil or any similar substance because my primary goal in creating art is making it as archival as possible. Baby oil just didn’t seem to fit within that objective.

But I’m not above experimenting, so I decided to try blending with baby oil on something for fun. That’s what this post is all about.

The demonstration art is the sample of clear, blue sky I drew for last month’s post on that topic. I developed the drawing through multiple layers of blue, and finished by burnishing it.

Here’s the finished drawing.

Blending with Baby Oil - Before the Blending

Blending with Baby Oil: How I Did It

I used ordinary Johnson’s Baby Oil and a cotton swab. I poured a small amount of baby oil into a small container with a wide top, then dipped the swab into the baby oil and rubbed it lightly over the drawing as shown here.

Blending with Baby Oil - Blending with a Cotton Swab

Some color came off on the cotton swab, so I knew it was moving color around. I turned the cotton swab as I worked so that a new part of it was touching the drawing as much as possible.

Blending with Baby Oil - After Blending Detail

I worked over every part of the color patch, working from the light area into the darker areas.

The Results

Here’s the drawing immediately after blending.

Blending with Baby Oil - After Blending

Not much difference.

I’d already burnished the drawing so much that there was nothing left for the baby oil to blend.

Another Experiment

Remember these? These are the color swatches I made for the clear sky demo. As you can see, I took no care in making them. I layered color quickly with medium pressure or more because the purpose was seeing how colors worked together.

Blending with Baby Oil - After Blending

They’re on the same piece of paper as the clear sky demo shown above. When I noticed them there as I was putting things away, I decided to try the baby oil experiment on them.

I used the same process—dipping a cotton swab into baby oil and rubbing the color swatch in the middle with the dampened cotton swab.

Here’s the result.

Blending with Baby Oil - After Blending

Compare the center swatch with the swatch on either side. I blended the center one, but left the other two alone. You—and I—can see the difference blending with baby oil made on those. The colors are blended much better and more smoothly after being blended with baby oil.

Color saturation is also better. No paper holes!

Following Up on the Experiment

I conducted the above experiment four weeks ago. I wanted to give the paper time to “dry” to see what happened. My biggest concern with blending with baby oil is longevity and staining. Did the baby oil stain the paper?

Four weeks isn’t really enough time to adequately answer questions about longevity.

It may not even be enough time to determine the affects of staining on the long term. Some things simply take a long time to appear.

But I saw no evidence of oil stains on either the drawing or the paper around the drawing. Nor did either the paper or the drawing feel different to the touch. I couldn’t tell any difference between the color swatch I blended and those I didn’t when I brushed my fingertips over them.

In other words, blending with baby appeared to do no more significant damage to the paper or the drawing than blending with rubbing alcohol would have.

My Thoughts on Blending with Baby Oil

Blending with baby oil is a good way to develop saturation of color quickly. It’s non-toxic and it does seem to blend colors well.

It can be a bit tricky to use. Too much baby oil and you end up with a muddy mess. Too little, and the results are poor.

But it is easy to use and ideal for craft uses or for adult coloring books. In fact, most of the videos available on the topic are by crafters (and for crafters.)

It works best if you don’t have a lot of color on the paper, so if you layer a lot or burnish, you don’t need baby oil.

And what about me? Has my mind been changed?

No. I won’t be using baby oil for my artwork. I much prefer the time-tested method of careful, patient layering and developing a drawing bit by bit.

But that’s just me. I’m a classic-ist.

Changing Course in Life as an Artist

Life rarely proceeds without interruption from beginning to end. For the vast majority of us, there comes a time when we have to change course in life. Changing course in life as an artist is almost as certain, in fact, as death and taxes.

I’ve been an oil painter for most of my artistic life. I’ve also been painting portraits of horses and other animals most of that time. Had you asked me just three years ago what I’d be doing the rest of my life, I would have told you I’d be painting oil portraits of horses.

Point of fact, whenever I asked when I’d retire from painting portraits, my usual response was “when I fall face first in my palette!”

In other words, until I drew my last breath.

Changing Course in Life as an Artist Brushes

How times change.

Changing Course in Life as an Artist

It’s been a long couple of years creatively. I’ve written about the challenges of creative silence on EmptyEasel and here, so won’t go into all of that again. But I can say that it was one of the signals that my artistic course in life was about to change. After all, it’s somewhat difficult to stay on course with anything when everything shuts down.

As it turns out, though, creative stillness was a good thing. The slowing—nee, ceasing—of forward momentum on a path that was no longer the right path.

I’d come to see creative stillness as more of a blessing than curse long before it was over. Now, I see that it was no curse at all. Merely a redirection.

Changing Course in Life as an Artist

I was also troubled by a lack of joy in the creative process—what others often refer to as passion. There simply was none. Everything I did was a labor and most of the time, there was little or no love involved. I painted because I had to. People had paid me for portraits, so I painted them.

But in all honesty, it was simply easier not to paint at all.

It’s more difficult to see the loss of joy in the creative process as a blessing because I still wrestle with it, sometimes on a daily basis.

But I’m surprised by glimmers of joy more and more often with every step along this new path. So it, too, has been good for me in the long run.

5 Signs It’s Time to Change Course in Life

This week’s article on EmptyEasel digs deeper into how this change of course happened with me, including five signs you should look for if you suspect you may be facing a course correction. Read 5 Signs It’s Time to Change Course in Life on EmptyEasel.

And if you find yourself mired in any of these things or anything similar, I encourage you to be patient and be encouraged. Not so long ago, I thought my life as an artist was over. I know today that wasn’t a accurate assessment of the situation, thank the LORD.

Maybe you’re simply not aware of the larger picture yet, and what’s really happening is that you’re being positioned for changing course in your life as an artist.

A Beginners Guide to Burnishing

…you’re going to think me stupid when I ask how you burnish as I find all the videos online confusing when you are so clear. Hope you do not mind my question.
Kind regards

Thank you for the question, Joy. Let me assure you that the only “stupid question” is the one you don’t ask! I spent too many years trying to figure out how to do things myself to think any question is stupid!

Now, to answer your question.

A Beginners Guide to Burnishing

What Is Burnishing?

Burnishing is drawing with very heavy pressure. When you burnish, you push the pencil against the paper as hard as you can.

The purpose is to put so much pressure on the color layers already on the paper that you “grind” them together and also grind them into the tooth of the paper. That blends them and fills in the tooth of the paper so there are no paper holes remaining (or very few). The resulting color is brighter and richer.

Burnishing is one of the basic blending methods for colored pencil drawings.

What Tools Do You Need?

Colorless Blenders

The most commonly used tool for burnishing is something called a colorless blender. A colorless blender is basically a colored pencil without color. It’s made just like a regular colored pencil, but it’s just the wax binder (or oil-based binder for oil-based colored pencils.)

Prismacolor colorless blenders are shown below and will work with any wax-based colored pencil. Other brands with colorless blenders are Blick Studio and Lyra (oil-based.) Check your favorite brand to see if they make a colorless blender specifically for that brand. Otherwise, any of the other blenders are likely to work.

Beginners Guide to Burnishing 01

You use colorless blenders just like you use a regular, pigmented colored pencil, but you press very hard on the paper. The material in the colorless blender helps move the color around on the paper, filling in the tooth of the paper and blending the colors without adding any additional color.

Regular Colored Pencils

You can also use a colored pencil for burnishing.

If you use a lighter color to burnish darker colors, the lighter color will make the other colors lighter and tint them with whatever color you use. If you burnish dark blues or greens with a light yellow, for example, you’ll blend the dark colors together, but will also give them a yellow tint.

The same thing happens if you burnish light colors with a darker color, though the result is usually much more dramatic. The resulting color is usually quite a bit darker.

You can, of course, blend with the same color you’ve already used or with one of the colors you’ve used if you’ve layered more than one color. This won’t change the final color as much. If you burnish red with red, the color won’t change at all other than to appear brighter.

When to Burnish

For the best results, burnish after you’ve already put several layers of color on the paper, and when you’re nearly finished with your drawing. You can add more color after you’ve burnished, but it will be increasingly difficult. Why?

Because when you use very heavy pressure, you not only add color, you press down the tooth of the paper. That makes the paper smoother. The smoother the paper, the harder it is to add more color.

It’s also more difficult to remove color that’s been burnished. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to remove burnished color without risking damage to the paper or the drawing.

If you burnish before you have enough color on the paper, you press down the tooth of the paper—making it smoother and more difficult to draw on—without doing much blending.

So save burnishing until near the end of the drawing process.

An Example of Burnishing

In the following illustration, I’ve drawn six boxes with a medium value red, Scarlet Lake.

I didn’t do anything with the first box. It’s just red.

The second box is burnished with a colorless blender.

The third box is burnished with yellow and the fourth box is burnished with a blue that’s a darker value than the shade of red I used. The fifth box is burnished with white and the final box is burnished with the same red.

Beginners Guide to Burnishing 02

You can see how the color with which you chose to burnish can change the appearance of the colors you’re blending.

It’s a good idea to test new methods before using them on a drawing. Make a test strip like the one above to see what happens when you burnish with different colors.

Also try layering two or more colors, then burnishing them with a colorless blender, a lighter color, a darker color, white, and one of the original colors. The results will give you a good idea what to expect on a drawing.

How Burnishing Looks in Practice

Here’s a sample from one of my current drawings.  There are several layers of color on the paper at this point. Color is already fairly saturated—there isn’t much paper showing through the background.

Beginners Guide to Burnishing 03

I burnished a small part of the background (see red arrow.) You can tell exactly where I burnished and where I stopped. The color is darker and more saturated after burnishing than before.

Beginners Guide to Burnishing 04

I burnished with a cream colored pencil, so it was not only blended but tinted, as well. I could just as easily have used a colorless blender to blend the colors without changing them, or used different colors to burnish different areas and create subtle gradations of color.


And that’s my beginners guide to burnishing. It’s a very useful tool if used at the right time, especially if you prefer not to blend with solvents. Try it and let us know how it worked for you.

More Fast & Easy Backgrounds for Colored Pencil Drawings

All last month, we talked about background options for colored pencil drawings. I had intended to include tips on fast and easy backgrounds, but was led in a different direction by your questions. So we talked about how to draw a clear sky, how to draw a bokeh background, and tips for deciding the best background for your next drawing. All good topics, but not much that’s fast or easy.

Until this week.

More Fast & Easy Backgrounds for Colored Pencil Drawings

But in this week’s article for EmptyEasel,  I shared ideas for fast and easy backgrounds. Ideas that you may have thought of already, but some that may be new to you. Things like using pencil shavings or your favorite beverage to color a background. Curious? Read all about more fast and easy backgrounds on EmptyEasel.

The article was a follow up on an article from a couple years back. That list included really simple things like using colored papers or mat board, lightly tinting paper with colored pencil, and using other media with better covering power than pencils (watercolor, ink, etc). Things I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog, but ideas that should never be far from your mind. If you’d like a refresher, read Fast & Easy Background Options for Colored Pencil Drawings here on EmptyEasel.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil

I’m wanting to do a bokeh/blurred background in colored pencil for an image I’m working on…. Do you happen to have a tutorial on bokeh-like backgrounds in colored pencil?

For the sake of this tutorial, I’m using the word “bokeh” as being different from a simple blurred background. I’ll also be focusing on drawing circles. This method will work no matter what shape you choose for your background.

If you would like to see how to draw a blurred background, check out the palomino filly demo.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil

This is my reference photo. It’s a composition of a couple of images and is the result of combining the horse with several potential backgrounds using Photoshop 7. The horse is one I photographed. The background came from photographer, pezibear.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil - Reference

I choose it because it was the most straight forward. Like many of you reading this post, this is my first attempt at drawing a bokeh-style background, so I wanted to keep things simple!

You also don’t have to browse bokeh photographs very long to discover the bokeh pattern can easily overwhelm your subject if you’re not careful!

I used Prismacolor pencils and Stonehenge paper in the Fawn color. Fawn, because it provided a natural color foundation for the background and the horse.

The drawing is 8×10, not that big, but I quickly discovered drawing a bokeh background is no hasty matter, so I’ll be focusing on the left side of the background for this demonstration.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil

Step 1: Prepare the Line Drawing

Develop a line drawing from the reference photo and transfer it to the drawing surface, in this case, Stonehenge Fawn.

Because this composition features light-colored objects against a dark background and flyaway hairs, I outlined the horse and most of the circles. You don’t have to do this if your transferred line drawing is crisp and clear (mine wasn’t) or if you don’t generally work over lighter areas (I sometimes do.)

If you do outline, match the color you use to the objects you’re outlining. I used dark brown for the horse and dark green for the upper circles. For the circles in the yellowish area (not shown), I used goldenrod.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil 01

Step 2: Color Selection

For this drawing, I selected two additional greens, and three additional yellows. Those choices were made by physically comparing pencils to the printed reference photo. The background was pretty basic. Dark green as the base with shades of olive green and dark brown.

The bokeh circles are not all the same color or value, though, so that’s why I chose additional yellows and greens. I ended up with dark green, dark brown, and goldenrod from the first step. Additional colors are olive green, limepeel, cream, sand, and jasmine.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil - Background Colors

Step 3: First Round of Color

Color layering began with the circles for the same reason I outlined them: preserving shape, placement, and value. Color placement is illustrated below. You’ll notice that I didn’t layer the same color over all of the circles.

Nor did I do the same number of layers. Part of the reason for that was so you could see the progression in work, but the circles are also different colors and values. No two of them are exactly the same color or value.

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The background is dark green, with more layers and better saturation on the left side and fewer layers on toward the right. I worked around each circle to begin, then hatched and cross-hatched additional layers to get a smoother color field.

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I continued layering dark green across the background.

At this stage, my main concern was getting down the first color and covering all of the background except the circles. I can’t do much with them until rest of the background is finished, so from this point, it’s a matter of building color layer by layer.

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Step 4: Second Round of Color

Next, a layer of olive green over the top half. I extended the green a little further down on the right side of the drawing. I’m still using light pressure and a very sharp pencil, but I’m varying strokes in any way necessary to get good coverage.

Some of the areas are darker than others by design. For example, I want the area around the horse’s ears to end up lighter than the rest, so I barely touched it with olive green.

The smallest circle in the upper right hand corner was also glazed with olive green so it’s darker value than the two nearby circles.

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Next is a layer of limepeel.

I layered limepeel over the left side of the upper background, and over the lower right. The upper right corner is more brown, so I didn’t add limepeel in that area.

I also layered limepeel over the small circle in the upper left, the larger circle behind the mane and the next to the rump, and the two smaller ones near the ears.

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Step 5: Happy Surprises

You’ll also notice that the way I’m layering color is beginning to suggest new circles in other places, especially in front of the horse’s face. For now, I’m working around those to see how they work with the composition. If they don’t work, I’ll fill them in; if they do work, I’ll emphasize them a little more.

The next step was to darken the values in the areas that are darker, namely the upper corners. I alternated layers of dark brown and indigo blue in both corners and down the right side to create the deep rich green shown in the reference photo. The image below shows two rounds of those colors. Getting close but not quite there.

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I followed up with another layer of olive green. This time I covered every part of the upper background except the three brightest circles behind the horse’s head. The next step is developing those circles more completely, so I laid the foundation for that by shading them with a layer or two of olive green applied with medium pressure and/or the side of the pencil.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil 09I followed that up with a layer of goldenrod throughout the upper background and a little bit more into the lower background.

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One thing of note is that I shaded a couple of layers of goldenrod in the larger shape adjacent to the horse’s rump. I also shaded goldenrod into some of the other circles to start pushing them into the background.

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Step 6: Developing the Bokeh Effect

I began working on the circles with the larger circle above the horse’s rump. I used sharp pencils to layer color with small, circular strokes and medium pressure beginning with cream over all the of the shape except the right side, followed by limepeel, which I blended in the background.

The lighter area on the right end of this shape was drawn with Jasmine and slightly heavier pressure.

To further emphasize that shape, I layered limepeel, sepia, and marine green into the surrounding background.

Going in Circles

Now the focus shifts to individual circles. In the illustration below, I added a thin, wide layer of sienna brown around the edge of the largest circle and worked over the edge of the circle. I then layered marine green over the sienna brown, then burnished the lightest part of the circle with Jasmine, and the darker part with cream.

Next, I began alternating marine green and sepia in the background around that large circle. I used sharp pencils and heavy pressure. Some areas I did nearly burnish, but not all of them.

I also added a circle in the lower left by burnishing a partial circle with cream.

The combination to three overlapping circles near the piece of the mane curving upward were drawn as follows.

  • Limepeel only in the larger, outside circle, color applied with medium to medium-heavy pressure.
  • Limepeel and cream in the middle circle (visible as only a crescent), color applied with medium to medium-heavy pressure.
  • Small circle, color applied with heavy pressure.

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Circle Template

For each of these circles, I either used my circle template or drew the circles freehand because they don’t need to be perfect.

I also worked the background and circles in each area at the same time so that no hard edges developed.

One thing I had to be careful of was making each circle solid. A glance at the reference photo shows that some of them are a solid color, but others are not.

There’s still a lot of work to do on this. I’ve spent over five hours over the past week working the drawing and even the most finished part is not completely finished.

A Few Closing Thoughts

I used no solvents. The same results can be achieved—more quickly—by using a solvent to blend colors after every few layers. Solvents I would suggest are rubbing alcohol for light blending, turpentine or odorless mineral spirits for more complete blending.

I kept the bokeh-effect simple, but the method described will work equally well for more complex designs.

If you’re using this style of drawing as a backdrop for another subject keep the design simple. Get it too fancy, and it will compete with the real subject of the drawing.

The most important thing you can do with this type of background is be patient. Take your time choosing and applying colors. Follow the colors in your reference as closely as possible, and concentrate on reproducing what you see in the reference.

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