3 Common Colored Pencil Mistakes

3 Common Colored Pencil Mistakes

Knowing how to correct common colored pencil mistakes at all stages of the drawing process is vital to successfully completing drawings.

No matter how carefully you plan and render a composition, not every drawing turns out as you expect. Even among those drawings that do turn out well, you’ll sometimes wish there was a way to make changes or improvements.

Last week, I shared three methods for making your subject stand out. Those three methods are also useful for correcting some types of mistakes.

But they won’t help you fix every mistake, so let me continue the discussion with solutions to three of the more common colored pencil mistakes.

NOTE: These solutions also work for other types of mistakes.

3 Common Colored Pencil Mistakes and How to Fix Them

First, I encourage you not to panic when you discover you’ve made a mistake. Colored pencil has the reputation of being an unforgiving medium. It is a lot more difficult to correct mistakes in colored pencil than in oil, for example.

But there’s no reason to panic. Mistakes can be fixed. Sometimes big mistakes, like major changes in design halfway through a drawing.

Or completely changing a background.

So when you discover a mistake or miscue, put down your pencils, sit back, and take a deep breath (or a walk.)

Then try one of these methods to correct the mistake.

Choosing The Wrong Color

As important as selecting the right color is to a successful drawing, it isn’t the most important thing you need to get right. If your values are strong, you can afford to fudge a little bit on color. So making a wrong color choice usually isn’t a disaster.

If you need to change a color after it’s on the paper, however, try removing as much of the wrong color as possible. This will be easier if you applied the color with light strokes. But even if you didn’t, you should be able to lift enough of the color to make a difference. There are several ways to do this, including using masking tape or sticky stuff.

For more specific information, read How to Make a Color Lighter or How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil.

A Stray Mark or Line

Stray marks happen in a number of ways, and under  a number of circumstances. You can drop a pencil on a piece of paper or start a line in the wrong place.

If they happen early in a drawing and if they’re not too dark, you can cover over them with more color.

But if they happen late in the drawing process, they can be more difficult to deal with.

This illustration is a detail from a recent landscape drawing. The brown mark inside the circle is an accident. I don’t now remember how it happened, but I did it with my own hand. Possibly because I got tired or careless and continued working when I should have stopped (the most frustrating kind of mistake!)

3 Common Colored Pencil Mistakes

My first inclination was to remove as much of the mark as possible, then shade more greens over it.

Then I decided to leave it. It isn’t obvious in the drawing, and looks like part of the landscape. So I finished the drawing and left the mark alone.

It isn’t always practical to try removing a stray mark. If it’s small enough, you risk causing more damage by attempting to remove or repair it.

But if you don’t want to leave it, add some of the surrounding colors to the mark by stroking carefully over the mark. You can also lightly shade some of the mark color around the mark to soften the edges. In the example above, I could have layered a little brown around the brown mark to blend it into the greens, then shaded more greens over the area.

Correcting a mistake like this may involve a little more consideration. Take time to study the options  to decide whether it needs to be covered or can be worked into the overall composition.

Poor Color Saturation

One of the biggest mistakes I see with colored pencil art isn’t really a mistake at all. It’s called poor color saturation and it happens when there’s too much paper still showing through a finished drawing. It looks like this.

In the past, I’d have called this drawing finished. The details are all in place. There are good values, and the underlying drawing is accurate.

The color is just a little weak.

For a lot of new colored pencil artists, this is the most frustrating problem they encounter. And they all want to know how to fix this mistake.

But this isn’t a mistake in the truest sense of the word. This is a matter of stopping too soon; before the drawing is actually finished.

Here’s the finished drawing. See the difference? This is the result of four more days of work and many more layers of color.

3 Common Colored Pencil Mistakes

The solution is simple! If you’re frequently dissatisfied with the depth and richness of color on your finished drawings, add a few more layers of color! The extra time and patience will be well rewarded.

Additional Reading on Common Colored Pencil Mistakes

To see how some of these methods work in practice, read How to Correct Mistakes or Rework a Finished Colored Pencil Drawing on EmptyEasel.com. I describe the step-by-step process I used to make changes to a finished landscape in colored pencil.

If you take anything away from this article, I hope it’s this: Mistakes aren’t disastrous. Yes, colored pencil is more difficult to correct than most other mediums.

But there are ways to correct more mistakes than you may think. Don’t panic, and look for outside-the-box solutions, and you can save many drawings.

I know. I’ve done it.


  1. Patricia Wilson

    Wow, what a difference in the “added more color” horse picture. It looks like you could reach out and actually be patting a real horse the coat is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing and all your great input to us beginners.

    1. Dee,

      Most of the larger sets come with white included.

      Most brands that offer open stock pencils have a white pencil available. I don’t know what brand you’re looking for or where you’re looking, but you may need to shop online. DickBlick.com is a great online art store. You might also try Cheap Joe’s or Jerry’s Artarama and check their open stock pencils.

  2. Nicole

    Blending seems to be a big issue in the color pencil community. How to get seemless color so it looks like a photo. I have learned to master this by not using a back and forth motion instead I use a small circular motion with a light pressure so I dont ruin the tooth of the paper. When adding shading I go light to dark because you can always add color, but it is difficult to take it away. Lastly I use mineral spirits to help smooth out transitions. A lighlty damp brush goes a long way and once its dry you can lay down more color.

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