A Three Step Drawing Method for Colored Pencils

A Three Step Drawing Method for Colored Pencils

As many of you know, I started my art career as an oil painter. I painted portraits in oils for over 40 years before switching to colored pencils. Today, I’d like to share a three step drawing method for colored pencils that I’ve learned from an oil painter.

Sometime ago, I wrote a blog post or two about adapting the Flemish method of oil painting to colored pencils. For those who don’t know, the Flemish Masters built their paintings one layer at a time through seven phases. That’s why their method is also known as the Seven Step Method.

Artists worked in translucent or semi-translucent layers until they glazed color. Then they glazed transparent color over the under painting to “color” it in. The result was rich, luminous color that glowed. That’s why I started learning this method a couple of years before giving oils up.

Colored pencils are perfect for this method because they’re translucent by nature. You don’t need glazing mediums to make them translucent.

But it’s difficult to get through all seven steps with sufficient paper tooth to make the glazes stick. The article I wrote described how I made changes to the classic seven-step method to make it work with colored pencils. Still, the results weren’t totally satisfactory, and I eventually moved on to try other methods.

A Three Step Drawing Method for Colored Pencils

The method I’m learning now involves three clear stages in “painting” with colored pencils. I use the term painting deliberately because what I’m doing now is more like a blend of painting with wet medium and drawing with dry. But I’m not using wet media nor am I blending with solvents. This is all just pencils and paper.

I do need to mention, however, that the paper is sanded art paper. This three-step process works best on sanded art papers because there’s enough tooth for all three phases.

Sanded art paper is also more forgiving. It allows me to layer dry color more like I used to layer oils. Yes, I do dark over light just like I always have, but I can also do light over dark if I need to.

I’m not sure how well this method works with traditional papers like Stonehenge or Bristol. I may have to give that a try at some point. But it works very well on sanded art papers.

So if you’re not interested in using sanded art papers and decide to read no further, I understand. That was my opinion for a long time, too!

A Three Step Drawing Method for Colored Pencils

For the rest of you, let’s talk about this three-step method.

Adapting The Three Step Oil Painting Method to Colored Pencils

Let’s begin with an important disclaimer. I didn’t think this up on my own. I learned it from Andrew Tischler. Andrew creates the most breathtaking New Zealand landscapes, portraits and still lifes with this basic process. His is an oil painter, but his methods can be adapted to colored pencils.

This painting process involves three steps. Blocking in, modeling, and detailing.

The Three Steps

Blocking in is just what it sounds like. You “block in” the composition in blocks of color and shape. Sort of like an abstract. You can add some detail if you like. I suggest shadows and other major details during blocking in.

For my small demo piece (4 x 6,) this is the block-in stage. It doesn’t look like much, does it? I confess that I was pretty discouraged with it at this point. I almost didn’t continue.

You may feel the same way, but don’t stop. The purpose of the blocking in stage is establishing the colors, values, and shapes. That’s all.

The modeling phase involves going back over the entire piece again and building on the blocking in phase. You develop the colors and values more, add more details, and start bringing your painting to life.

A painting can look finished at the end of the modeling phase. If you wanted to stop there, you could, I suppose. But your painting would lack a lot of punch if you did.

A Three Step Drawing Method for Colored Pencils

That punch is added during the detailing phase. In this phase, you go over the composition again and fine tune color, value, and details.

This is also the phase in which you add the “sparkle” to your artwork. For example, if you’re drawing water, you add those bright white highlights, now. You punch up the other highlights and deepen the shadows if necessary.

This phase could take the most or least amount of time, depending on the composition and how realistic you want your artwork to be.

Why Should You Try the Three Step Drawing Method?

I can think of several reasons, including learning something new, experimentation, and the fun of exploration.

Beyond that, this is a great way to create colored pencil works that allows you to work the entire piece step-by-step. Correcting problems as you go is easier when you begin with a basic block in.

This is Just an Introduction

Next week, I’ll walk you through the process with the piece I used for the illustrations in this post. I hope you’ll join me.


  1. June Richmond

    Thank you. This looks like fun and challenging. I enjoy using sanded papers. I’ve been wanting to draw a camping scene but trying to make a campfire look real didn’t seem like I dare try but now I will

    1. June,

      Thank you for reading, and for commenting.

      I’ve never tried anything like this either, and for the same reasons you give. But I’m much encouraged to try other form of illumination like this.

      And next week, I’m publishing a step-by-step of my campfire study. That should help you draw your campfire.

      Thanks again.

  2. Vicky Autry

    Your offerings are amazing. I love your tiny works, and the energy behind them. I never think of them as small until you remind us, and then I am also reminded that I can start small too, and still find time to progress. This method is intriguing, thank you so much for opening so many vistas. Your examples and the great explanations are much appreciated. Bless you forAdoptA Cat, I just got a new Baby. I had forgotten what little ones are like!

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