Carrie L. Lewis, Artist

Helping You Create Art You Can be Proud Of

2 Colored Pencil Questions and 1 Tech Question

Q&A Month continues with 2 colored pencil questions and 1 tech question. Let’s get straight to the questions.

2 Colored Pencil Questions and 1 Tech Question

Making the Transition from Graphite to Colored Pencils

I am a beginner to sketching and creating art. So far I have been practicing sketching with pencils and some charcoal. I can see improvement in my sketches however, I really want to try coloured pencils and thus far, it has been frustrating with little success. Somehow what I have learned in graphite does not transfer to the coloured pencil medium. Any suggestions?

Although both come in pencil form, there aren’t many similarities between drawing with graphite or charcoal and colored pencils. The biggest reason is that they use different types of binders.

Graphite pencils are made by mixing dry graphite with a clay binder that makes it possible to form the graphite into a lead core, then draw or write with it. The clay binder is easily erased and blended.

Colored pencils also contain clay in the binder, but the clay is mixed with wax and, in some cases, oil. The binder allows the pigment to be molded into pencil form, and allows it to be transferred to paper and blended during drawing, just like the binder in graphite pencils.

But graphite doesn’t work well under pencil because the wax binder picks the graphite up and smears it into the color. Remember I said the clay binder can be easily blended or erased? That means it can also be easily picked up by colored pencil.

Graphite cannot be layered over colored pencil because it will not stick to the waxy surface that colored pencils leave on the paper.

So most of the methods you use with graphite are not very helpful with colored pencil.

One Thing That Does Transition from Graphite to Colored Pencil

But one thing that does transfer is knowing how to use values in drawing. A good graphite artist knows all about using value to create from in their drawings, so once you’ve mastered that, you know the most important thing you need to know about making good colored pencil drawings.

Start learning colored pencil by working with just one or two colors. Get a feel for how they layer and blend, and see what you can draw. Once you get comfortable with that, trying drawing an under drawing, then practice glazing color over that. I explain how I use an umber under drawing in this tutorial.

Gradually add more colors to your palette and you’ll become as good with colored pencils as you were with graphite.

How To Get a Shine on Colored Pencil Drawings

Could you please help … me to get a shine to my coloured pencil drawings? I still have a lot to learn so would appreciate your advice. Many thanks

The best way to get a shine on your drawings is by using wax-based pencils and heavy pressure in the final layers. No matter what method of drawing you use, using heavy pressure with a wax-based pencil will create a shine, as well as blending colors together, and filling in paper holes.

The reason is that the heavier pressure you put on your pencil, the more wax binder you also put on the paper. Wax creates a smooth surface that gets very slick, and that will make your drawing look shiny.

You will want to protect the drawing from wax bloom, though, because the more wax on the paper, the more wax bloom you’ll have. Use a good final finish to spray the drawing when it’s finished to help prevent wax bloom.

Can I Get Lessons on Portable Devices?

I love this site, however, I am an older woman and only have the use of the library computers once a week. Is there anyway to copy the lessons to a portable source such as a jump drive so I can view them at home on my computer (I cannot afford internet, that’s why I have to go to the library) Thank you.

An excellent question, and one I hadn’t considered before you asked!

There are several ways to deliver content that do not involve the internet. Lessons and ebooks can easily be made available on CD, flash or jump drives.

Is anyone else interested in being able to get lessons or tutorials on either CD or flash drives? Let me know. The more CDs and flash drives I buy in bulk, and the less expensive they are.

If this is something you want, now’s the time to tell me. Leave a comment below or using the contact form at the bottom of the page to send me an email.

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who asked a question for Q&A Month. The questions have all been good questions. I promise I’ll get to every question, but if you don’t see your question answered this month, let me know. It may have gotten lost in the shuffle.

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Methods

Some time ago, I asked and answered a selection of questions frequently asked by readers and students about colored pencils. Since this is Q&A Month, I’d like to tackle another set of reader questions: questions about colored pencil methods.

Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Methods

1. What Are Your Favorite Colored Pencil Methods?

For most of my drawings, I draw an umber under drawing first, then layer color over that. This is what I call the umber under drawing method, and it allows me to develop details and values without having to make color choices.

Colored Pencil Methods - Umber Under Drawing for a Landscape

The complementary method is similar, but instead of using an earth tone for the under drawing, the under drawing is drawn with the complementary colors of the finishing drawing. An orange under drawing for a blue object, for example.

Colored Pencil Methods - Complementary Under Drawing for a Landscape

I also use a direct method in which I begin with color and simply build color layer by layer. This illustration shows the initial color lay in with the direct method.

Colored Pencil Methods - Direct Drawing Under Drawing for a Landscape

As with choosing pencils, finding the method that works best for you is a matter of experimentation. You may find you like to vary the method from one drawing to the next. It’s just as likely your favorite method will end up being a combination of methods used by other artists.

In other words, there is no Right Way to Draw.

Read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

2. What Are the Best Ways to Blend Colored Pencils?

How you blend depends on whether or not you want to use solvents.

For most of my work, I blend by layering one color over another and letting the colors blend visually. I also burnish (drawing with very heavy pressure) with either a colorless blender (a colored pencil without color) or a light color of pencil.

When I want to use a solvent, I use rubbing alcohol for a light blend, or rubber cement thinner or turpentine for a deeper, more complete blend.


I really prefer staying away from solvents, though. I like the look of colored pencil without solvent blending better in most cases.

3. Is layering the colors from light to dark generally better or does it depend on the look you want to achieve?

For most colored pencils, working from light to dark is the best way. The reason is that most colored pencils are translucent to some extent, so you can’t completely cover up colors with other colors. You can, of course, tint a darker color with a lighter color, but it’s impossible to cover it completely.

That’s also why I work around highlights at the beginning of a drawing instead of drawing over them. The only highlights drawn in this drawing are the reflected lights along the horse’s back.

Colored Pencil Methods - I worked around the highlights.

Caran d’Ache Luminance colors are opaque, however. You can draw with white over darker colors and it shows up pretty much like painting white oil over darker oils shows up.

Many artists begin by drawing the darkest dark areas first, then working around them. There is nothing wrong with that method of working, so long as you remember to preserve the highlights.

4. Can Regular Colored Pencils be Mixed with Wet Media?

Yes. You can combine regular colored pencils with a variety of water media from water soluble colored pencils to watercolor, acrylics, and ink.

The only thing you need to remember is that the water soluble media should be used first. Colored pencils will work very nicely over watercolor, water soluble colored pencils, thin applications of acrylic paint or any other water soluble media. I’ve even used them over ink. I used brown India ink for this project, but any color would work.

Colored Pencil Methods - Ink Under Painting

Read Drawing with Colored Pencil over India Ink on EmptyEasel.

Colored Pencil Methods - Colored Pencil Over Drawing

Read Using Prismacolor Pencils over India Ink on EmptyEasel.

The best way to discover what works for you is to try it. There is no rule that says every piece of art you draw has to succeed or has to be for sale. You can experiment and have fun!

So have fun!

Where to Start with Colored Pencils

Today’s question for Q&A Month appears in my inbox in various forms on a regular basis. In short, the question is this: I don’t know where to start with colored pencils, but I want to learn.

Here’s the latest incarnation.


Hello. My problem is “I am a want to be”. I want to draw, paint and be creative. But it just isn’t in my head to get started. I love [colored] pencil works of others..and painting on rocks..even dotting.

But where do I start? I take good photos..even entered them in fairs…

I am sure you must have hundreds of “want to bes ” out there..

Thank you

Margaret ( age 70yo). lol

Where to Start With Colored Pencils

Margaret, that’s a fantastic question and I’m thrilled you asked it! Too many people reach a certain age and think it’s too late to learn something new. I have news for you and everyone else: It’s never too late!

Some of things you’ve said you already do—including photography—indicate you’re already creative.

But you want to know where to start specifically with colored pencils.

Where to Start With Colored Pencils

The easiest answer is to start where you are. I’m not being flippant, by any means, but I always thought I needed to “be at a certain level” or “needed to know” certain things before I could start something new. That’s simply not true.

Case in point. I taught myself how to oil paint by painting every paint-by-number set I could get my hands on. I got them for Christmas, and bought them myself. Most of them were horses, but I also did a few landscapes, and then tried a paint-by-number on velvet, and an acrylic paint-by-number.

When I’d done every horse painting I could find, I started doing them over, but with changes. I experimented with backgrounds, changing the colors of the horses, and even changing leg positions.

That soon got old. One day when I bemoaned the lack of new sets, my mother said, “Why don’t you draw your own drawing and paint it?”

Talk about a light bulb moment.

Where to Start With Colored Pencils Light Bulb Moment

What That Has to Do With Margaret’s Question

I started learning how to paint by painting something someone else designed.

You can do the same thing with adult coloring books.

The beauty of adult coloring books is that you don’t have to worry about the drawing part for now. You can concentrate on how the pencils feel, and how to blend color, and layer and all the rest. It’s sort of like enjoying the icing without having to eat the cake (if you like icing as much as I do, that’s a big deal! Especially the home-made kind!)

If I were in your shoes, I’d look for a coloring book in a subject I liked. Horses, other animals, or landscapes for me. Keep the designs simple to begin with. Those complex designs are gorgeous to look at after someone else has finished them, but they’re not a good learning tool, if you’re just getting started.

You can find coloring books almost anywhere these days. Wal-Mart is as good a place to start, as is Amazon. The point is to find something you want to color, then practice coloring.

What You Can Learn

After you’ve colored a page or two just for fun, start practicing some of the basic drawing skills.

Create new colors by layering two colors together, one over another.

Practice drawing values by drawing shadows. See how three-dimensional you can make that page look.

If at all possible, try different brands of pencils. Prismacolor is a good place to start, but it’s not the only artist grade colored pencil out there. Try whatever brands catch your eye.

After The Coloring Books

After you’ve done a few pages (or a few books), try drawing something around you. A ball, a box or bowl, an egg or apple. You’ll already have a general idea of how to shade and layer; now’s the time to practice drawing or sketching.

It’s also a good idea to spend time looking at what other artists are doing, particularly those whose work you admire. If they have books or videos, read or watch. Learn how they do things and then try those methods yourself. If they work for you, great! You have a new tool to put into your artist’s toolbox.

If they don’t work for you, no harm done. Try the next thing.

And if they sort of work, adjust them so they do work.

Another Place to Start

You can also begin by drawing things that interest you. That’s what I did once I left the paint-by-number sets behind. I drew horses all the time and learned how to paint them by painting them!

Sketch with colored pencils. Shade your sketches. Practice layering color and blending. Quite honestly, the more you draw, the more quickly you’re drawing skills improve.

Those are my tips for getting started, but I’m not the only colored pencil artist with advice to offer. Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art recently released a video on this topic, and has some excellent additional tips.

A Few Additional Tips

So now you have some ideas about where to start with colored pencils. Here are a few additional tips to get you going.

Don’t think you have to have all the tools and every color in the rainbow before you begin. You can actually begin learning colored pencil with a good drawing pad such as the Strathmore 400 Series and a couple of colored pencils.

Buy the best you can afford. Believe it or not, it’s far better to have a few colors of a top-of-the-line pencil than a full set of a student or scholastic grade pencils. The better pencils contain more pigment and perform better than their less expensive counterparts. Those pencils that didn’t cost very much may be so difficult to use that you give up on the medium as a whole, and that would be a shame.

Learn the basics first, beginning with value. Drawing dark darks and light lights is more important than getting color right, so practice shading and layering techniques that help you develop values. You can do this with two or three pencils—or even just one.

Find an artist whose work you admire, whose teaching technique works with your personality, and learn everything they can teach you. You can teach yourself, but you have to make a lot of mistakes on your own. Finding the right teacher is a good way to avoid a lot of those mistakes!

Give yourself permission to draw ugly drawings! Aspire to make great art, but understand it’s going to take time to get there. In the meantime, try different things, draw as much as you can, and have fun with it.

Additional Reading

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Getting Started with Colored Pencils

How to Draw Vibrant Color with Colored Pencil

Learning how to draw vibrant color with colored pencil can be one of the most difficult things for any artist new to colored pencil to learn. Especially for an artist accustomed to painting or using pastels. In today’s post, I share a few reasons why you might be getting pale color, and tips for getting richly saturated color.

How to Draw Vibrant Color with Colored Pencil

I am hoping that this will help me get vibrant results with my colour pencil art. I love them but always seems wishy washy. I am excited about your site and can’t wait to do it.

Thank you for the question!

I could better answer this question after seeing samples of work, since the “wishy-washiness” could be the result of a several factors, including method, paper, and the quality of the pencils you’re using. But I can share a couple of basic suggestions that should help no matter what method you’re using.

How to Draw Vibrant Color with Colored Pencil

Not Enough Layers

One common reason for wishy-washy color is that there are not enough layers of color on the paper. Most artists, particularly those new to colored pencil, stop when their drawing starts to look finished. Unfortunately, they stop too soon. Here’s an example.

This is Afternoon Graze the first time I “finished” it.How to Draw Vibrant Color with Colored Pencil - Wishy Washy Color

And this is what it looked like after a few more layers.How to Draw Vibrant Color with Colored Pencil - Saturated Color

The biggest difference was made on the horses, but the benefit of a few additional layers to the drawing are clear throughout the composition.

So if your colors seem wishy-washy when you finish, it’s possible that you just aren’t finished yet. Try a few more layers and see what happens.

The Wrong Type of Paper

It’s also possible you’re using the wrong paper for your methods. If you like to do lots of layers and are using a smooth paper, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You can get rich saturated colors with a paper like Bristol vellum (the drawing above is on Bristol vellum), but it’s a lot more difficult. Toothier papers like Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Tientes, and Strathmore Artagain are much better for doing lots of layers.

Get a few sheets of different types of paper and try each one. You can either just do test swatches of color, or do a complete drawing.

You can buy paper online, but for something like this, it’s probably better to buy paper in person, where you can see and touch the paper before you buy. This is also a good idea because you can buy a single sheet, and many online art suppliers require a minimum purchase of paper and do not usually allow mixing between brands and types.

What papers do I recommend? The papers I use most often are:

  • Stonehenge
  • Canson Mi-Tientes
  • Strathmore ArtAgain

Canson and ArtAgain are available through Hobby Lobby. Stonehenge may also be available in some locations. Don’t forget that 40% off coupon!

Don’t be afraid to try other kinds of paper, though. Something that works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.

The Wrong Color of Paper

I’m assuming you’re using white paper and getting faded colors, but that may not be true. You may be using a colored paper.

If you are—and especially if you’re drawing on a dark paper—it will be very difficult to get the same vibrant colors that are possible on white paper. Why?

Colored pencils are translucent to some degree. You can see through the layers of color. Every color you put down affects every other color you put down.

The color of the paper also affects the way the colors look. White paper is the least noticeable, but try drawing some on colored paper and you’ll see a difference. Even with lighter colors.

Dark papers seem to absorb the colors you put on them. It doesn’t matter how many layers you put down or how hard you press on the pencil, the color of the paper will make the colors appear somewhat dull in comparison to the way they look on white paper.

It is possible to get bright colors on dark backgrounds, but most of the artists who are doing this are working on white paper and coloring the backgrounds. Cecile Baird is one who works this way. Most of her work—if not all—is drawn on white paper, so when you see one of her colored pencil drawings with a black background, you know she drew those dark darks.

Read How to Choose the Righ Color of Paper for Your Next Drawing.

The Wrong Pencils

Another possible problem is the quality of pencils. Inexpensive pencils do not perform the same as higher quality pencils. They are not as heavily pigmented, and do not layer the same. In many cases, it’s quite simply impossible to get vibrant color with low-quality pencils.

You may be able to do a lot of layers with them, but the percentage of pigment to binder is usually lower with inexpensive pencils than with better pencils, so you’re putting more wax binder than pigment on the paper. That makes the colors look wishy-washy.

If the pencils you’re using are either “scholastic” or “student,” you could benefit from better pencils. Buy a few higher quality pencils and try them to see which ones will work best with your paper and methods.

Read What Are the Best Colored Pencils for Fine Art.

Wax Bloom

Finally, your problem may be wax bloom. If the drawing looks okay for a day or two, then begins to “fade”, that’s because of wax bloom.

Wax bloom happens when the wax binder rises to the surface of the pigment layers. It’s a natural process and won’t hurt the drawing, but you need to control it or prevent it to keep the drawing looking vibrant.

The best way to prevent wax bloom is to use oil-based colored pencils, or wax-based colored pencils that aren’t quite as waxy. Prismacolor pencils are well-known for their smoothness, but they are that way because of the type of wax they contain. That wax makes them prone to wax bloom. Try a different type of wax-based pencil or an oil-based pencil and see what happens.

Also use light pressure and several layers to build color. That will reduce the wax bloom.

You can also spray your drawings with a final fixative to prevent wax bloom. Just make sure to use one designed for colored pencil work. If your drawing is already showing wax bloom, use a clean paper towel to lightly wipe the drawing. That will remove the bloom, and you can then apply the final fixative. Make sure to follow the instructions carefully.

Read So You Want to Varnish Colored Pencil Art. What Should You Use.

For more answers to frequently asked colored pencil questions, read My Answers to 3 Very Common Colored Pencil Questions on EmptyEasel.

How to Draw Carpet with Colored Pencil

I have learned so much from you in my learning of art work with colored pencils over the past few months, and I thank you for that. I’ve been searching for something lately and not really finding good answers. I need to figure out how to draw/color carpet with colored pencil for a portrait of a cat lying on carpet.

Thanks again, Carrie. I, and many other beginning artists, are benefiting greatly from your tutorials.


Thank you for your very kind words, Vickie. Thank you also for such a great question. The best way to answer your question is to show you how I’d draw carpet.

But first, a few guidelines that apply to almost every kind of colored pencil drawing.

Colored Pencil Guidelines

Use light pressure as long as possible. Using heavy pressure not only fills the tooth of the paper more quickly; it also presses it down. Both make it more difficult to add layers. In most cases, it’s better to work with light to medium pressure until the very end.

Don’t worry about getting everything exact. For those of us who love detail, it’s a constant struggle to avoid fixating on the details. I know I want everything perfect, but that’s a sure road to frustration. Instead, focus on capturing the character of the background. Color is a primary factor, but so is value. You can also add a few accents that hint at the details without emphasizing them.

Keep the background in the background. This is important. The background must stay in the background, or the drawing becomes too busy. Ways to do this are softening edges, muting colors, and minimizing details. It will matter less in a drawing such as this, where the background is limited to the pattern, color, and texture of the carpet, but it is still important.

Go slow. Every part of the drawing deserves your best work. It’s counter productive to rush through the background, because it is the background. Yes, it needs to be less important than the subject, but that doesn’t mean you skimp on time or effort. The subject and the background should work together. They should look like parts of the same drawing, rather than having a well drawn subject with a slapped together background. I did that in my younger days and it wasn’t helpful!

Let the paper work for you. There are times when the texture of the paper you’re using can help you draw your subject. I discovered that using light pressure with Stonehenge paper allows the texture of the paper to assist in creating the look of carpet. I hadn’t expected that.

Now you have a few basic guidelines for drawing this sort of background. Lets get to the tutorial.

How to Draw Carpet

Here’s a detail of the reference photo Vickie supplied. As you can see, it’s mostly blue, but there are different blues as well as a few bits of oranges and reds.

How to Draw Carpet - Reference Photo

Vickie is working on tan suede mat board. I’m doing the following tutorial on Fawn Stonehenge. The steps will work with any good drawing paper, though the results will vary depending on the tooth and color of paper you draw on.

By the way, I’m using Prismacolor pencils, but am using only colors with the best lightfast rating, so you don’t have to worry about fading if you use the same colors.

Step 1: Establish the Basic Color

Chose a good, middle value color for the carpet you’re drawing. With this dark blue carpet, I chose Mediterranean Blue, which I layered over the carpet with circular strokes and light pressure.

In this illustration, I drew horizontal strips across the sample, then worked my way back across the sample. The area on the left shows a couple of layers, while the area on the right shows one layer.

I also worked in columns, as shown in the lower left corner.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 1

Do three or four layers, and stagger the layers so you don’t cover the entire area with any one layer. The resulting variation in values will begin establishing the look of a fabric. You can follow the pattern of light and dark in your reference photo, or let the layers overlap in a totally random manner.

The following illustration shows my sample after two or three additional layers.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 1b

TIP: If you want to create the look of carpet without adding additional colors, you can work entirely with one or two colors, and continue layering until you have the color saturation you want. You could even do it with just one color, but I strongly recommend against that, since using a single color could result in a flat looking area of color.

Step 2: Add a Second Color to Create Color Depth

Layer a second shade of the blue to the carpet. Use the same layering method. I chose Indigo Blue, which I applied with light pressure in a random pattern. I didn’t want to totally cover up the Mediterranean Blue, but did want darker variations in the carpet.

This illustration shows two or three layers of Indigo Blue. Again, I overlapped layers so that some areas are darker than others.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 2

Step 3: Darken the Values

Next, I darkened the overall values with two layers of Black. The first layer was applied over all of the blue with light pressure and circular strokes. The second layer was applied only in the darker areas, and mostly at the bottom.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 3

Step 4: Add a Complement

To keep the blues from looking too flat or vibrant, I layered Henna over all of the area twice. I used light pressure and circular strokes for both layers.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 4

Step 5: Repeat

If the carpet were a solid, slate gray or blue-gray color, this would be a sufficient treatment for background purposes.

But the carpet in the reference is quite a bit darker, so I’ve added more layers of Indigo Blue, Black, and Mediterranean Blue to darken the overall color.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 5

I also drew a cast shadow in the upper right corner, and began establishing the diagonal pattern in the carpet’s weave.

TIP: The carpet in the reference photo shows the weave on the diagonal. If that works all right with the coverall composition, it’s okay to draw the weave on the diagonal. I couldn’t help feeling my sample looked a little off balance with the diagonal detailing. I kept wanting to make it horizontal, but my sample is taken out of context. Do whatever works best with your composition and subject.

SUGGESTION: Save the next two steps until after the drawing is completely finished, then do only as much of each step as you need.

Step 6: Add a Few Details

Finally, add a few details to suggest the surface color and texture. I used Powder Blue, Mineral Orange, and Beige to burnish small circular spots over the blue of the carpet.

You don’t need a lot of these. Cluster them in a random pattern near the cat. As you move away from the cat, reduce the number of accents, and also make their edges softer and more blurry.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 6

Step 7: Add Highlights

This step is optional. If you like the way the carpet looks after step 6, you’re good. If you don’t then consider adding a few overall highlights. Chose a color that’s lighter than the main colors to burnish a few highlights. You can also use a colorless blender if you have one. This will blend the areas you burnish without changing the color.

If you chose to burnish highlights, wait until the drawing is completely finished. It’s quite possible you’ll discover you don’t need to do Step 4 after the rest of the drawing is finished.

DEFINITION: Burnishing is pressing very hard on the paper with your pencil, to “grind” colors together. It works best after you’ve applied all the other colors, usually late in the drawing, or just before you finish an area. Burnishing does press down the paper tooth, and also lays down a lot of wax, so it can be difficult to add more color over an area you’ve burnished.

I went ahead and burnished my sample just so you could see the difference. On the left, I used a colorless blender, the center is unburnished, and on the right, I used Powder Blue. In both cases, I used circular strokes drawn either on the diagonal or horizontally and large enough so that not every inch of the sample was covered.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 7

I’m not sure which option I like best. It really depends on the overall drawing.


And that’s how I’d draw carpet.

If you’ve ever drawn carpet, how what method did you use?

Is Tracing Cheating?

I love getting questions from readers (what blogger doesn’t?) The readers who ask questions also love getting answers. It’s long been my practice to answer each question as I receive it, personally and directly.

But some of the questions are so good, I know other readers are wondering the same thing. Those types of questions deserve a public answer.

Hi Carrie
When drawing a portrait in coloured pencil, be it animal or human, do you start with a tracing or freestyle? What is commonly preferred?

That’s a great question, Jo!

The short answer to the question is “yes.”

Most of the time, I begin portraits by creating a detailed line drawing using the grid method for drawing, a method I’ve used for almost as long as I can remember. For simpler compositions and most landscapes, I freehand a line drawing without using a grid.

And sometimes I start by making a tracing directly from the reference photo.

So, as I said, the answer is yes.

But the question leads naturally into another question that is almost always guaranteed to generate vigorous debate.

Is Tracing Cheating

I used to believe tracing was cheating. I truly did. Since I was charging good money for portraits of horses, I felt duty-bound (not to mention honor bound) to make every pencil and brush mark with my own hand, unguided by anything but what I could see in a reference photo. Somehow, I’d be cheating clients if I drew the line drawing by tracing.

Interestingly enough, I had no qualms about tracing my line drawing onto the canvas or drawing paper. Somehow, that didn’t seem like the same thing. Maybe it was because I was tracing my own work.

So Is Tracing Cheating?

I no longer think of tracing as cheating, and here are a few reasons why.

Tracing Isn’t Easy

Most people think that making a drawing by tracing is easy. A snap. A trained monkey could do it, because it involves no skill whatsoever.


I confess that I used to think this way. But I’ve traced enough different things enough times to know that if I hurry through the process or am careless, the traced line drawing is no better than a carelessly drawn freehand drawing.

Hand control and pencil control are no less important when tracing a drawing as when drawing with the grid method. Either way, I need to be able to get the pencil to do exactly what I want it to do.

Sometimes, I think it takes more skill to accurately follow a pattern than to draw freehand (maybe that’s why I never picked up the sewing habit.)

Tracing is Not a Silver Bullet

Tracing your subject to create a line drawing doesn’t guarantee a successful piece of art. You still have to layer and glaze color, you still have to know enough about color theory to know which colors to use, and you still need to know how to shade in order to make that line drawing look realistic. In other words, you still need to know how to draw.

Tracing is a Good Way to Improve Drawing Skills

Tracing something repeatedly—horses or cats for example—is a good way to teach yourself to draw so long as you’re using good photographs. Photos that don’t have a lot of distortion in them. Especially if you’re learning how to draw a new subject, you can benefit by tracing the subject several times, then drawing it freehand.

I’ve always been an equine portrait artist. Horse people paid me for portraits of their horses.

But horse portraits don’t always mean just horses are in the portrait. Sometimes tack is involved, and sometimes mechanical equipment is also involved.

For this oil portrait, I drew everything by hand using the grid method. Everything. But the racing bike never satisfied me, and I had special problems getting the wheels right. So after several attempts to get the curves right freehand, I made a couple of tracings of that part of the reference photo.

Is Tracing Cheating - Learning to Draw Something New

You can see the wheels still aren’t as rounded and balanced as they should be in the finished painting, but tracing them a few times did improve my ability to draw the curves with a brush when it came time to paint them.

Tracing is a Good Way to Get Accurate Drawings

If you’re doing portrait work in which the subject you draw must look like the subject you’re drawing, tracing can be a life-saver.

Take this line drawing, for example. I can draw a horse in almost any imaginable position or posture, but technical drawing of any kind is a major struggle. So I drew the horse in both views, the bridles and equipment on the head study, and the landscape elements. Then I traced the racing bike and the driver to make sure they were accurate.

I’d learned my lesson from the oil portrait, you see!

hbIs Tracing Cheating - Line Drawing

So what I recommend now is to trace something a couple of times to get a feel for the shapes, then try drawing it freehand.

If that doesn’t work, there’s nothing wrong with tracing that part of the composition as part of the line drawing.

Tracing a Reference Photo Simplifies It

Let’s face it. Sometimes, a reference photo shows too many things.

Or maybe the edges get lost because colors or values are too similar.

You can clean up the composition by making a careful tracing first. You can, of course, use that tracing as your final line drawing, or you can use it as a reference from which to make a line drawing.

Even if you chose to create your line drawing directly from the reference photo, a carefully drawn tracing can be a good benchmark against which to compare your final drawing. I have used tracings in this way on quite a few more complex compositions.

Tracing is a Time Saver

I spent two or three weeks on each of the line drawings for the portraits above. Tracing the original line drawing could have saved a considerable amount of time on both, not to mention personal frustration, and having to rush things at the end of the process to meet deadlines.

So is tracing cheating?

Not in my book. At least no longer.

But I also understand that it’s as much a personal preference as anything. If tracing violates your conscience, don’t do it.

Otherwise, make use of it just as you would any other tool in your artists’ toolbox.

What Are the Best Colored Pencils for Fine Art?

i want to learn the techniques used in color pencil art and want to know what are the best colored pencils for fine art

This post begins Q&A month, and I couldn’t think of a better question to begin with, so thank you for asking!

It doesn’t matter what style you work in, what method you use, or what level of artist you are, you want the best tools available. That begins with colored pencils.

But there are a lot of different types and brands of colored pencils out there. How do you decide which one (or ones) are the best for fine art?

What Are the Best Colored Pencils for Fine Art

There is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer for this question, since much depends on the methods you use and the type of art you want to draw.

Much also depends on where in the world you are. Different brands are available in different parts of the world. What’s easy to find here in the US may not be available at all in Europe or Down Under.

But we can begin the discussion with a few basics that apply across the board.

Basic Tips for Choosing Colored Pencils

Buy open stock. Sets are great for getting started if you already know what type of pencil you want to use. Before that, get three or four pencils from a variety of manufacturers. Test them. See which you like best, then consider buying a set.

Buy the best pencils you can afford. It’s far better to buy a few high-quality pencils and learn to use them well, than to buy a lot of pencils that are lower in quality. It’s much easier to make an informed decision about the medium when you test it at its best.

Read Do I Need a Full Set of Colored Pencils.

Sample different brands. Draw your favorite subjects on your favorite papers with a number of different kinds of pencils to get a true feel for which pencils are best suited to you. (Another great reason to buy a few pencils in open stock.)

When looking for recommendations from other artists, look for artists who are producing the type of art you want to draw. Study their methods and the tools they use. If they offer product reviews, watch or read those. The honest opinions of people who have used or are using a pencil you want to try is always a good place to start.

And that brings me to the point of this post.

The Best Colored Pencils for Fine Art

This article is not meant to be an in-depth review of every brand of pencil on the market. There are just too many pencils to make that possible in a single post.

So I’m going to briefly review the pencils that work well for my methods and the papers I use. Your experiences may be different, but I hope this list gives you a place to begin your search for the best colored pencils for your art.

The list is arranged alphabetically, rather than in order of preference.

Faber-Castell Polychromos

Faber-Castell Polychromos are an excellent pencil for most methods of drawing. They sharpen well, lay down color very nicely, and produce exquisite detail. Artists who use them include Lisa Clough and Wendy Layne.

Polychromos pencils are oil-based with a harder pigment core than most wax-based pencils, so they handle differently. In my admittedly limited experience, I can feel more resistance between pencil and paper. But I can do more coloring with them than with Prismacolor, even on rougher papers like Canson Mi-Teintes.

The two brands work well together, though I suggest putting down Prismacolor pencils for the initial layers, then coming back with Polychromos for detail work.

The initial cost is higher per pencil for Polychromos than Prismacolor, but you get higher quality, more lightfast colors, and pencils that go further than the softer Prismacolor pencils.

The range of earth tones is also a treat for an artist like me, who prefers drawing horses and landscapes.

Get a free Polychromos Color Chart Download.

Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils

Koh-I-Nor makes a solid colored pencil. I have a set of the Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless oil-based pencils that I like quite well. The biggest problem with them is that they are available in only twenty-four colors.

Using them is a pleasure. They lay down color well and are ideal for color sketches, plein air drawing, and covering lots of paper quickly. I used them quite a bit for the Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge a few months back.

I have yet to use them for a more “finished” piece, but have no doubts they will perform just as well.

The best thing about them is that they have no wood casing. It’s 100% pigment, with a lacquer finish to keep your fingers clean.

They are also well-rated for lightfastness. Only four of the twenty-four colors are rated good or satisfactory, with the remaining twenty colors rated excellent or very good.

Get a free Koh-I-Nor Progresso Color Chart Download.

Prismacolor Premier & Verithin

I still use Prismacolor Premier and Verithin pencils for the bulk of my work, because they’re what I have.

Both pencils are wax-based. Prismacolor Premier (aka Soft Core), is a softer pencil with a thicker pigment core. You can lay down rich color more easily with these than with the Verithin pencils, but you will also find yourself sharpening more often, and filling up paper tooth more quickly.

The Verithin pencils have a smaller pigment core that holds a point much longer and is ideal for first color layers and drawing details. It’s not impossible to get deep, rich color with them, but it is quite a bit more difficult. Thirty-six colors are available.

Both lay down color very well, and you can get a high degree of detail on a variety of papers, but quality issues makes buying them a risk most of the time. Purchase open stock in person, and check each pencil for centered pigment cores, and straightness.

Read Four Ways to Know You’re Buying High Quality Colored Pencils on EmptyEasel.

Artists who use Prismacolor include myself, Morgan Davidson, and Cecile Baird.

A Few Words of Caution

When I first began using colored pencils, Prismacolor pencils were state-of-the-art. But the company has changed hands several times and is no longer an industry standard, in my opinion.

I do still recommend Prismacolor pencils, but with caveats. If you get a good batch of pencils, they are a delight to use. Otherwise, be prepared for the inconveniences of broken pigment cores, split wood casings, and possible grit. My experiences have been mostly positive, but I do still have a large number of older Prismas in my collection.

Prismacolor pencils are not all lightfast, so if you’re concerned about producing artwork that will last a long time without fading, you need to be selective in the colors you buy. I no longer use colors rated III, IV, or  V. That’s roughly half the colors in a full set, so it’s best to buy open stock and buy only colors rated I or II.

Crafters can be comfortable using all the colors without worry.

For all you fine artists, chose colors with discretion, or advise art buyers to use conservation glazing.

Get a free Prismacolor Color Chart download.

Colored Pencils On My Wish List

The next few pencils are not pencils with which I have personal experience, but they are pencils I want to try. The reasons vary from simple curiosity to favorable reviews from artists whose work I admire and whose opinions I respect.

Again, the list is in alphabetical order, not necessarily the order in which I rate each brand.

Blick Studio Artist’s Colored Pencils intrigue me because they are a high quality product at a good price (under $1 each open stock.) Dick Blick negotiated an agreement with the makers of Utrecht Premium Colored Pencils to produce the pencil under the Blick Studio brand for sale in the US. Utrecht Premium Colored Pencils in a Dick Blick wrapper. What’s not to like?

Caran d’Ache Luminance wax-based colored pencils. Very expensive, but also opaque, so you can draw light over dark.

Caran d’Ache Pablo Pencils are to Luminance what Verithin pencils are to Prismacolor Soft Core. I like the combination of hard and soft with Prsimacolor products, so why not with Caran d’Ache.

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor Oil-Based Colored Pencils are on my Wish List for the very simple reason that I once had a Lyra Rembrandt Splendor Blender and lovedit.


There you have it. My recommendations as to the best colored pencils for fine art. As I said, it’s nowhere near an exhaustive list, but hopefully it gives you a place to begin your own search for the ideal colored pencil.

Before you buy any pencil, do a little research. Look for honest and open reviews either on the product pages where you normally buy art supplies, or video reviews.

Then make your selections based on that information.

Want to know what I’d buy if I were just starting out? Dream Colored Pencil Shopping List.




How to Get the Most Out of Every Colored Pencil

Colored pencils are expensive. Whether your art budget is large or small, it’s important to know how to get the most out of every colored pencil you buy.

But it doesn’t really matter how much you spend for colored pencils: You still want to get every bit of color out of them that you can. Right?

How to Get the Most Out of Every Colored Pencil

Following are a few tips I’ve found useful.

Or at least interesting.

How to Get the Most Out of Every Colored Pencil

Turn the Pencil While You Draw

As you use the pencil, turn it in your fingers. The simple act of rotating the pencil every few strokes keeps the pencil from developing a flat edge. You don’t have to sharpen your pencil quite as often and that keeps valuable pigment out of your sharpener and puts it on your paper.

It may take a little bit of concentration to learn this habit if it doesn’t come naturally, but you can get to the point at which you’re turning the pencil every few strokes. That’s what happened to me. It’s now become such an ingrained habit that I don’t remember a time when I drew without turning the pencil.

Use the Side of the Pencil

Most of us tend to hold a colored pencil the same way we hold a writing tool. That’s called “normal writing position,” and it’s the pencil grip that’s most comfortable.

Most of the time, it’s also the most productive grip.

Try holding the pencil in a more horizontal position. This allows you to use more of the exposed pigment core. If you turn the pencil in your fingers as you draw, you can also keep the pencil sharp.

I use this grip when laying down color in larger areas. Quite often, I sharpen my pencil to draw or shade small shapes, then move to a larger area to shade with a more horizontal grip. When the pencil develops a sharper point, I go back to smaller areas.

How to Get the Most Out of Every Colored Pencil - Pencil Grip

This doesn’t totally eliminate sharpening your pencil, but it does allow you to sharpen less frequently.

It’s also a good way to give the muscles in your hands and fingers a little break.

One caution: When you draw with the side of the pencil, you get less pigment into the tooth of the paper. This is good if you’re trying to preserve the tooth of the paper, but it also produces a color layer that shows a lot of paper through the color. It’s ideal for drawing distance, or atmospheric effects such as fog.

It’s not so great for saturated color or high detail.

Don’t Sharpen to a Long Point

Different sharpeners sharpen pencils to different degrees. Some sharpeners produce an exposed pigment core that’s long and tapered.

Other sharpeners produce shorter points.

The yellow pencil in this photo was sharpened with my old-fashioned mechanical sharpener. I love the sharpener, but it does create too long a point for most Prismacolor pencils.

If you’re using a brand of pencil known to be brittle or breakable (such as Prismacolor), avoid sharpeners that sharpen pencils to a long, tapered point. The points are more likely to break off. Those broken tips are lost to you and resharpening the pencil results in further waste of the pigment core.

The purple pencil shows the point that Prismacolor pencils come with. It’s a bit blunt for most drawing, but it does illustrate a point that will produce less breakage during drawing.

How to Get the Most Out of Every Colored Pencil - Sharpening

Test different types of sharpeners to find the one or two that work best for you.

Sand Paper 0r Emery Boards

Use a sanding pad, sand paper, or an emery board to restore the point between sharpenings. You can sand a pencil to a very fine point without further sharpening by simply stroking it on a sanded surface. Turn the pencil as you stroke to get a sharp point.

How to Get the Most Out of Every Colored Pencil - Sanding

You can also create a sharp, angled edge with this method.

Save Pigment Shavings

Of course, you can always save the pigment shavings, then soften them with solvent for a paint-like color that can be “painted” onto the paper.

How to Get the Most Out of Every Colored Pencil - Pencil Shavings

This might also be one solution for broken Prismacolor pencils (if that’s what you use.)

I don’t recommend this for large areas, since it is time consuming, and you can get pretty much the same results by drawing in the traditional way, then blending with solvent.

But it can make for interesting and unusual touches of color if you like to experiment.

Additional Reading

I explain a few more ways to get the most out of every colored pencil in How to Get the Most Possible Use Out of Every Colored Pencil on EmptyEasel.

How do you get the most out of your colored pencils?

Color Theory Drawing Exercise

We’ve spent the month talking about color theory and how it affects your art. We have an extra (fifth) Saturday in this month, so I thought I’d share a color theory drawing exercise…. just for fun.

Well, and for learning, too.

Color Theory Drawing Exercise

So are you ready to get started with your color theory drawing exercise?

What You Need

An adult coloring page (or book if you have one). If you need a page, search the internet for free adult coloring pages, and you’ll have thousands of choices. Don’t want to spend all day searching? The site I found and from which I downloaded a couple of pages is It’s a fairly easy site to navigate and features several collections based on subject and difficulty.

Pixabay is also a great place to get printable and free coloring pages, though their selection is much more limited.

Your favorite colored pencils. Any brand will do, though the better the quality, the more likely you’ll get good results.

That’s it!

How It Works

Choose the adult coloring page you want to use. It can be as simple or complex as you like, but should ideally be on the simple side, with enough shapes for blending colors, but not so many that it takes days to fill in.

Choose the colors you want to use. My suggestion is to start with the primaries—red, yellow, and blue, but you can also do analogous colors, warm colors, or cool colors. To get the most from the exercise, use no more than a dozen colors. Don’t worry! You can do the exercise as many times as you like and with as many color combinations as you can think of.

Color your page and see what happens.

For Best Results

  • Use only one color for some shapes
  • Layer two colors over some shapes
  • Layer three or more colors over some shapes
  • Fill in some areas with layers applied with light pressure and other areas with a single layer applied heavily

This isn’t “serious art”, so don’t worry how things turn out. You’ll learn faster by experimenting than by playing it safe, so be bold. Try things with this exercise that you’d never do while creating a piece of fine art.

Need a Little Inspiration?

Here’s my finished color theory drawing exercise. The page is from and is one of the leaf coloring pages.

Color Theory Drawing Exercise Sample

I included complementary color combinations, a couple of different analogous color combinations, cool colors, warm colors, and a few complementary color pairings.

Some of the leaves were shaded with one or two burnished layers, and others with multiple layers applied with lighter pressure.

I even included some leaves that show varying value ranges.

So start there, and see what else you can come up with.

The Theory Behind Creating Complementary Underpaintings in Colored Pencil

Ever wonder why complementary under paintings work?

Do you want to know how to incorporate them into your colored pencil work?

The Theory Behind Creating Complementary Underpaintings in Colored Pencil on is Part 2 in an ongoing series featuring the use of complementary colors in creating vibrant and life-like colored pencil artwork.

Click here to read The Theory Behind Creating Complementary Underpaintings in Colored Pencil.

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