3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems

Whenever you begin something new, you should expect to have problems. That’s part of the learning process. Every person experiences beginner colored pencil problems. Everyone.

Even me.

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems

Who hasn’t encountered problems, and looked for solutions? Answer? We all have.

Everything comes with a learning curve. Even our beloved colored pencils.

The problems you faced may not be the same as mine, but I’m certain that sooner or later, we’ve all needed solutions to these three problems.

The trick is finding the right solutions for each problem.

So I’m not only telling your about the biggest problems I faced when I started using colored pencils; I’ll share my solutions.

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems

Problem #1: Filling in Paper Holes

I spent the first 30 or 40 years of my art career oil painting. Horses. Landscapes. Horses in landscapes. An occasional deer or dog and even a cow or two.

I’ve always hated being able to see light peeking through a painting if I held the canvas up to the light. That’s one of the reasons I started painting on panels.

So while I was able to get a lot of detail with colored pencils, I was immediately disappointed by the amount of paper showing through no matter what I did.

Filling in color so the paper didn't show was my biggest problem with colored pencils.

It didn’t matter all that much back then, because I was still primarily an oil painter. But it was still an annoyance, to be sure.

And it kept me from doing more colored pencil work than I did.

My Solutions

My first solution was changing paper. I’d been drawing on mat board because it was rigid and I liked the selection of colors. It was also big enough to do larger pieces.

But it’s not always very smooth. The rougher the paper, the more difficult it is to fill in the paper holes.

So I started experimenting with smoother paper. Stonehenge was the first high-quality paper I remember using. I loved the feel of it from the first touch, and filling in paper holes was a lot easier.

Bristol vellum, Bristol regular, and Strathmore Artagain papers have also found a place in my paper drawer, though I use them less frequently these days.

Using a colored paper may not help fill in the paper holes, but it does disguise them.

The portrait below was drawn on gray paper, which served as the middle values, as well as the background. Suddenly, paper showing through the colored pencil was a good thing!

Choose a color that provides a good middle value. Medium gray for black and dark gray subjects, for example. Light gray for white and gray subjects. Medium value earth tone colors work with most subjects, especially animals.

Problem #2: Blending

Blending oil paints is easy. Colors can be mixed on a palette, or you can put one color directly into another on the canvas and blend while you paint.

Not so with colored pencils. They’re a dry medium, so they don’t mix the same way.

I struggled with blending them for a long time before finally learning how to get the results I wanted.

My Solution

The best and easiest-to-use solution I found for this problem is slowing down, and taking the time to add enough layers of color.

As I look back on some of those early pieces, like the dog above, I see how unfinished they look. Another hour or two and a few more layers would have made a huge difference.

Don’t think that makes much difference? Here’s a drawing that I thought might be finished.

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems - Almost Finished

And here’s the same drawing after an additional day of work and a few more layers. That extra day made a lot of difference.

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems - Finished

No, it’s not easy to go slow. I still get impatient and want to finish a drawing. But if I don’t force myself to slow down, I end up with the same disappointing results that were so common in the early days.

Solvent blending was also a major step forward. Learning how to use painting solvents like turpentine and odorless mineral spirits on colored pencils was a game-changer.

I’ve also since discovered the joys of blending with paper towel and bath tissue.

Although every method of blending produces different results, all of them together help me get the results I want.

Problem #3: Time

Of all the problems I faced when I started using colored pencils, this one is still the biggest challenge. Let’s face it.

Colored pencils are SLOW!

Yes, you can blend with solvents, and yes, there are watercolor pencils, and both of those solutions speed up the process. But you still have to put the color on the paper using a pencil with a pigment core measured in millimetres.

With oil painting, I could thin paint and use a big brush to cover a lot of canvas in a hurry.

Not so with colored pencils.

My Solutions

Honest answer? I haven’t yet found the perfect solution, and I doubt there is one!

And sometimes that’s enough to get me thinking about taking out the oils again and dashing something off, just to see if I still can.

But I’ve found ways to deal with impatience. (and that is what it all comes down to, isn’t it?)

15-minute work sessions have been the biggest help. It’s a lot easier to give a drawing the time it needs if I’m not punishing myself by working for hours at a time.

Working in small areas within a drawing is also helpful. Progress is more obvious as each area is completed before moving on to the next area.

When I can’t easily work in one small area at a time, I alternate between two larger areas. I might work on the background a while, then switch to the foreground if I’m doing a landscape or portrait.

Beginner Colored Pencil Problems: The Bottom Line

Of course, I faced other problems as a beginner colored pencil artist. Many others.

And the more I use colored pencils, the more challenges arise. That’s also part of the learning process.

But all beginners struggle with these issues. That’s why they are among the most frequently asked reader questions.

I hope my solutions help you solve these problems.

Or at least get you one step closer to finding your own solutions!


  1. Dawn

    Hi Carrie,
    Love to read tips and tricks and knowing there are more people struggling with the same issues when it comes down to cp drawing.
    I am doing a lot of experimenting at the moment and I am learning from my own mistakes. I am making a portrait of my grandson and I am using only prismacolor French Greys I saw some portraits made by Linda Lucas Hardy in French Grey and I loved it. So I tried out on different paper and I found the paper I like best. The portrait is nearly finished and I quite like the result.
    When I am drawing I forget about time completely and the hours pass without me noticing.
    Warm greetings and thanks for your post,

  2. William Roberts

    Thanks Miss Carrie. I alternate between landscapes, animals, portraits and fantasy/horror. Rushing is a problem for the first two. Your solutions are feasible but I can’t seem to control myself. Maybe dropping them will strengthen my technique. Slowing down is forgotten everytime I restart. What do you think?

    1. I can appreciate your problem, William. I still, after all these years, sometimes catch myself rushing through something. Especially toward the end, when I really want to work on something else. Something new.

      Discipline and persistence are the two things you need. The discipline to slow down every time you catch yourself rushing, and the persistence to keep slowing down, even when it doesn’t seem to do any good.

      You might also try thinking of each layer of color on each part of the drawing as a work of art all by itself, instead of as just part of the process.

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