Basic Composition for Beginners

New readers are always coming to this blog, just like new artists are always finding colored pencils. For those of you who have been drawing for some time, allow me to talk about the basics of composition for beginners.

Even if you’ve been making art for a while, it’s always worth reviewing the basics!

Basic Composition for Beginners

Artists can talk about composition for hours. How it works. Why it works. The rules that make it work. That’s not the purpose of this article.

You don’t have to know everything about composition in order to use it any more than you need to everything about your car to drive it. But you do need to understand at least a few basics.

That IS the purpose of this article. So I’m beginning with a basic definition.

What Is Composition?

When used as an art term, the word “composition” refers to the way a drawing or painting is arranged. It’s the things you chose to put into a drawing (and leave out of the drawing.) It’s the way you arrange those things within your drawing.

And it’s the sizes, colors and values of those things as they compare with one another.

This design very simple design has a composition. I decided what shapes to use, where to put each shape, what color to make it, and what size to make it. I also decided which shapes to put in front and which ones to put in back. All of those decisions are composition decisions.

Basics of Composition with a simple, graphic design.

You might be thinking, “But that’s just a bunch of shapes. What does it have to do with a portrait or a landscape?”

Short answer? Everything!

But lets start with the easiest reason.

Why Size is Important

If you have several objects that are all the same, but you make them different sizes, the largest shape looks closest. The smallest shape looks the most distant, with all the others in between.

Of these three purple triangles, which one looks the closest? The largest one, right?

Change those triangles to trees, and the same principle is true.

No matter how many trees you add, the smallest ones always look the most distant. It doesn’t even matter if they’re different kinds of trees.

I put together three different types of trees at different size and—wa-la—I have a simple landscape!

Basics of Composition - A More Complex Composition

A Couple of Other Principles of Composition

The illustration above also illustrated a couple of other principles of basic composition beginners need to learn.

Overlapping to create depth

When you overlap objects in a drawing, you create the illusion of distance, of space. The object that’s not overlapped by anything else is the object that’s closest. The more an object is overlapped by other objects, the further into the background it is.

In this drawing, the weeds are the closest so they overlap everything else. The sky is the most distant, so everything else overlaps it; even the rainy clouds overlap the sky.

The Basics of Composition for Beginners

Using value and color to show distance

The hills in the drawing above are different values of gray. The lighter the gray, the more distant the hill looks.

But even the closest hill is still lighter than the brown hill just beyond the weeds, so the brown hill appears to be a lot closer than the nearest (darkest) gray hill.

The visual path

One is something called a visual path. The visual path in a drawing or painting is the path a viewer’s eye travels through a picture. Most of the time, you want your viewer to look at the center of interest first. In an animal portrait, that’s most likely going to be the eye.

In a landscape, it’s the main subject. The star of the drawing.

But you want viewers to look at the other things, too. The supporting cast, if you want to think of it that way. That’s what a visual path is.

Let’s look at an actual landscape drawing.

The Basics of Composition for Beginners

The center of interest in this piece is the large group of trees. That’s the star. The other trees, the grassy meadow, and even the sky are all supporting actors. They’re important because they showcase the center of interest. They give it a place to be.

But they’re not as important as the center of interest.

The way they’re positioned in relation to one another leads your eye from the big trees, to the smaller tree at the left, then to the still smaller trees on the right.

The meadow is brightest around the center of interest so it contrasts with the center of interest, drawing attention. Those are all subtle cues.

The dirt path is a more obvious cue. It enters the picture at the bottom, winds it’s way through the drawing, and disappears near the big trees. I deliberately put in a path leading back to the tree to lead a viewer’s eye to the place where I wanted viewers to spend the most time.

Getting Beyond the Basics of Composition for Beginners

What I’ve described in this post are the most basic of the compositional basics; the things new artists should learn first. There’s a lot more to composition than these, though, so I encourage you to continue exploring composition no matter how long you’ve been drawing.

Colored Pencil Basics for Beginners

A few weeks ago, I talked about what you needed to buy if you want to get started drawing with colored pencils. This week, let’s take a look at a few colored pencil basics.

Colored Pencil Basics for Beginners

There’s so much to learn with any art medium that it can quickly get confusing. Confusing isn’t what I want to accomplish, so let’s stick with just a few of the essentials. Papers, pencils, pressure, and more.

Let’s begin with paper.

Colored Pencil Basics for Beginners

Colored Papers

If you’re thinking of using a colored paper, choose a color that works well with all parts of your artwork. The color of the paper should ideally provide a base color for the artwork.

For example, for a landscape on a rainy day, light gray or a light gray-green paper is ideal. Gray paper provides an excellent base for a gray sky or misty air with very little work. Gray-green paper provides a good base for the greens in the landscape but might be more problematic for the sky if the sky is light.

For this little landscape, I used light gray paper. All I had to do was add the colors for the sky (white and light gray) and the landscape.

West of Bazaar 5×7 on Gray Mat Board

This is not to say no other paper color would work. I drew a more recent “gray day” landscape on very light tan paper for a slightly different look.

White paper is also a good choice for both landscapes, but would have taken longer to draw.

The color of the paper affects the drawing, so choose a color that adds to the atmosphere or tone you want to set for the drawing.

Hard Lead Pencils

Using a pencil with a harder lead can be helpful for beginning a new drawing. Prismacolor Verithin pencils are much harder than Prismacolor Soft Core pencils. The two red pencils are Prismacolor Soft Core. They’re what people usually think of when they think of Prismacolor pencils.

Prismacolor makes a soft, thick lead pencil (top) and a thinner, harder leader pencil (bottom.) Combine hard and soft leads for best results.

The two pencils on the bottom are also Prismacolor pencils, but they’re Prismacolor Verithin. The leads are thinner and harder because they contain less wax binder.

They hold a point longer, and lay down less color even with heavy pressure. They are subsequently easier to lift or erase if you need to lighten an area or remove color altogether.

Oil-based colored pencils are generally harder than wax-based pencils so they’re also a good choice if you want to lay down a lot of layers, but don’t want to fill up the paper’s tooth too quickly.

Use light pressure in the early stages no matter what type of pencil you use.

Applying Pressure

It takes pressure to put color onto paper. Pressure is usually measured on a 10-point scale, with “0” being no pressure at all and “10” being burnishing pressure. Normal hand-writing pressure is generally considered to be “5” on the 10-point scale.

In most cases, it’s best to begin with light pressure and gradually increase pressure as you add more layers. It’s easier to correct or conceal mistakes drawn with light pressure.

It’s also easier to avoid getting too dark too quickly if you add layers and colors little by little.

Sharp Pencils

It’s important to keep your pencils well sharpened. The surface of most papers is made up of tiny hills and valleys. The difference between the tops of the “hills” and the bottoms of the “valleys” is what is called the paper’s tooth. The rougher a paper, the bigger the difference between the hills and valleys.

The deeper the tooth of the paper, the more layers or pressure it takes to fill in the “valleys.”

The sharper you keep your pencils, the better they reach all of the parts of the paper and the better they cover the paper.

You can also combine sharp pencils with heavier pressures to get good coverage on papers. Just don’t do this too early in the drawing because it flattens the tooth of the paper. That makes it more difficult to add more layers.

Sharp pencils are also ideal for drawing detail.

Blunt Can be Useful, Too

Blunt pencils are not always a bad thing. More paper shows through when you use blunt pencils, so color will appear more grainy.

Glazing color (applying a very think layer of color to tint color already on the paper) is best done with blunt or dull pencils in my experience. That’s because so much of the previous colors show through.

Top to Bottom: Very Blunt, Blunt, Dull. All three points can be useful in colored pencil art.

Using heavier pressure takes care of those paper holes (if you don’t want them.)

This method works best if you don’t plan to use a lot of color layers, since heavy pressure adds more wax binder as well as more color (assuming you’re using wax-based colored pencils.)

Getting Dark Without Getting Too Dark

Values are the most important tool you have to use. It’s more important to get the values right, than to get the color right.

It’s also important NOT to get too dark too early. Every layer of color darkens the shadows and middle tones.

It’s always better to stop short of what you think is the proper darkness. It’s much easier to darken shadows later than it is to lighten them.

Working On Everything At Once

Working the entire drawing at once (as opposed to finishing each area before moving on to the next) allows you to make adjustments throughout the process and keep the composition unified.

It’s not necessary to work in this fashion, but it can be helpful in establishing the initial layers of color.

One of my problems in my early drawings was avoiding seams. I always worked one section at a time and even when I used the same colors from one section to another, I could often tell where the two sections met—especially if I was working in an area of uniform color, like a grassy field. The best way I found to avoid this was to work over the entire area, one color at a time.

To Turn Your Paper or Not to Turn Your Paper

Turn the drawing if necessary to make it easier to apply color. Orient the drawing in a fashion that is most comfortable for the area you’re working on.  When doing large amounts of grass, for example, turn the drawing upside down so you can stroke toward yourself (which is more natural for most artists than stroking away). This will also reduce hand stress and give you a fresh perspective on the composition.

Reviewing Your Work

It can be productive and helpful to give your artwork a periodic check throughout the process.

Also try viewing it in a way other than normal. Ways to do this are:

  • Viewing it in a mirror
  • Looking at it upside down
  • Viewing it from a distance
  • Setting it aside and looking at it after a couple of days

Imbalances in drawing, values or colors can more easily be seen when you look at your artwork in a way other than the normal.

Photographing or scanning your artwork and viewing it on your computer screen can also reveal problem areas or areas that are not quite complete.

There’s a lot more to creating beautiful colored pencil art, but these colored pencil basics are enough to get you started. Master these and you’re well on your way!

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Today continues a series of articles on colored pencil basics for those who are either new to colored pencils, or want to try them. Today, we’ll talk about the things you need to get started with colored pencils.

Since this is an article on the basics, I want to keep it simple. But I also I want to answer a few common questions asked by people considering colored pencils.

If that’s you, read on!

Why Colored Pencils?

With so many great mediums available, why should you consider colored pencils?

Reasons are a varied as the artists who use them. I dedicated an entire posts to why I like them and you can read it here.

For the sake of this post, I’ll share the most important reasons I prefer colored pencils.

  1. They’re great for creating detail.
  2. They’re clean. No messy cleanup. No migrating paint.
  3. You can take them anywhere!

Those are the three main reasons I started using colored pencils back in the mid 1990s. I needed a medium I portable medium ideal for producing the same, highly detailed portraits I was doing with oils.

Of course there are all the great colors, ease of use, all the ways you can blend with them, and all the great brands available. If you give them a try, I’m sure you’ll find your own reasons to love colored pencils.

What You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Okay. So I’ve convinced you that you are on the right track in considering colored pencils. Now for the big question. Just what must you have to get started?

But the artists you read about and whose work you admire talk about so many different pencils, tools, accessories, and methods, you can’t help but wonder:

I confess. I’m guilty of the same kind of talk. There are just so many really cool things available!

What do you really need to get started?

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

I was once right where you are now. Wanting to try colored pencils but not sure how to start.

Or what to buy or how much of it.

One of my goals with this blog and with every post is to help artists at all levels avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made. That includes clearing up some of the confusion about basic supplies.

Lets begin with three very simple lists.

I have a basic list, an expanded basic list, and an Everything & The Kitchen Sink List. There are so many useful, fun, and cool things on my to-be-purchased list, that this method is the best way I’ve found to prioritize purchases.

This post covers the first two lists because, quite frankly, I could make two or three posts just on the third list, and still not mention everything.

The Basic List contains the minimum amount of supplies necessary to get started with colored pencils. It is the most simple list, and the least expensive.

In most cases, you can find these items locally. No shipping or handling! If you’ve never tried colored pencils before and you’re not sure how you’ll like them, this is the list for you.

The Expanded Basic List is the Basic List plus a few additional items, as well as different types of some of the same items. Two kinds of paper, for example.

You may still be able to find many of the materials and supplies locally, but you will also probably have to do more searching. Online shopping will generally produce better prices and less footwork. If you’re serious about getting started with colored pencil—and sticking with it—this is your list.

If you want to start with the basic list, then add a few items from the other two lists after you’ve used colored pencils for a while, that’s perfect.

One Additional Word of Advice

It’s advisable to buy the best tools you can afford. A few artist quality pencils give you a better feel for the medium than a large set of student grade pencils. The higher quality pencils usually have less filler and a higher ratio of pigment to binder than less expensive pencils. That makes them easier to use and learn with.

You can buy less expensive pencils, if you wish. That’s how I started. But I wasn’t aware of the differences and soon found that cheap wasn’t always less expensive.

NOTE: I realize that not all of my readers are in the United States. If you are not and cannot get some of these supplies, substitute whatever is available where you live.

Now on to the lists!

The Basic List

Paper

I warned you the list was basic!

But paper can be confusing enough on its own, so here are some ideas to get you started.

One 9×12 pad of Rising Stonehenge paper, either white or toned. I recommend white. It’s easier to see what your pencils can do on white paper.

If you can’t get Rising Stonehenge, get a good, basic drawing paper like Strathmore 400 series paper.

Pencils

One 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils. This set has the basic colors (reds, blues, greens, yellows, black, and white) with enough variety to let you experiment, without burdening you with colors you may not use or unnecessary expense.

And not all of those.

NOTE: Roughly half the colors in the Prismacolor line are not lightfast, meaning they will fade over time or if exposed to direct sunlight. I’ve put together a list of the colors that are top-rated for lightfastness. If you can buy pencils individually and if you’re interested in making fine art, take this list with you when you shop.

Other Tools

Sharpener

A pencil sharpener is a must. A simple, hand-held sharpener is all you need to sharpen pencils. Prismacolor makes a very nice one for a few dollars, but you can also get them anywhere school supplies are sold.

A mechanical pencil sharpener gives you better sharpening with Prismacolor pencils, but I have also used hand-held sharpeners with good results.

The Kum sharpeners are a good value. The Kum wedge sharpener is made with two openings, one for standard size pencils, and one for larger pencils. It’s high quality and inexpensive, though you will probably have to buy it on-line.

Eraser

There are a number of good erasers available for colored pencil work, but I recommend getting a good click eraser, such as shown below. They are a pencil-like tool into which you can insert the eraser. They’re great for fine detail erasing as well as general erasing. The Pentel Clic Eraser is the one I use.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils - Click Erasers

Note: All of these items can be purchased locally most of the time. I can buy them all with a single trip to Hobby Lobby. If there’s an art store, office supply store, or university near where you live, you can probably find them all there.

The Expanded Basic List

These are tools you can add to the previous list or, in some cases, replace similar items on the previous list.

Paper

A pad of Bristol. Bristol paper is heavier than Rising Stonehenge. It’s available in two finishes: Vellum and Regular (or smooth). Regular surface is very smooth. The vellum finish is a little softer, but still not as soft as Stonehenge.

I’ve used both Bienfang and Strathmore. Both are good papers, but they’re so smooth, they don’t work well for my drawing methods. They are ideal for learning, though, and are the go-to papers for a lot of colored pencil artists.

You can also add larger pads of paper. Or smaller, whatever is your preference.

For a paper with more tooth, try a pad of Canson Mi-Tientes. They come in pads of assorted colors, earth tone colors, and grays. I’d suggest a pad of assorted colors, which includes white.

Pencils

Replace the 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier pencils with a 36-pencil or 48-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier pencils OR a small set of some other brand, such as Faber-Castell Polychromos, Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor or Caran d’Ache Luminance. Be prepared to pay more for these, but better performance and more lightfast colors are worth the expense.

A colorless blender is also a handy tool to have. A colorless blender is essentially a colored pencil without pigment. It’s made with the same wax binder the colored pencils are and it’s used to blend colors. Use it just like a regular colored pencil to blend without adding additional color.

Get Started with Colored Pencils - Colorless Blender

Other Tools

Sharpener

Get a good, low cost electric sharpener instead of a hand-held sharpener. They’re usually available starting at around $30.

Erasers

One package of mounting putty. Look for Hand-Tak, Poster-Tack, Blu-Tack or similar. Handi-Tak or similar brands. Mounting putty is a soft, moldable substance most commonly used to hang posters. Tear off a piece, shape it however you want, stick it to the back of a poster and press the poster against the wall.

But it’s also very useful in lifting color from a drawing. You can make it whatever shape you need to lift color. It’s also self-cleaning. Work it in your fingers and the color disappears!

Brush

A large brush is handy for sweeping away eraser crumbs. You can use your hand, but doing so runs the risk of accidentally marking your drawing. You can also blow the crumbs away, but a brush is easier to use. Look for  a large brush with soft bristles. Drafting brushes are ideal.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils - Drafting Brush & Erasing Shield

Erasing Shield

This is a handy template—usually very thin metal—with a variety of standard shapes cut into it. To use it, lay it over your drawing and erase through one of the openings. The result will be that shape on your drawing.

You can also add color using an erasing shield.

A Note on Solvents

You’ll notice I didn’t mention solvents. That’s because there’s enough to be said about them that they require their own post. You can, of course, use solvents with colored pencils. Many of us do. I do, in limited form.

Solvents are liquid tools that allow you to blend colored pencil. Standard solvents are odorless paint thinner, turpentine, rubber cement thinner, and rubbing alcohol. They can speed the drawing process, but you also need to use them with care.

That’s why I don’t include them on the Basic List or the Expanded Basic List. Better to find out first if you like drawing with colored pencils enough to invest in additional tools.

Are you ready to get started with colored pencils?

Carrie has put together a PDF shopping list that includes each of the two shopping lists mentioned above and a special, Everything & the Kitchen Sink shopping list, plus links to places to shop and other updated content.

Click here to buy Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils shopping lists from the Colored Pencil Tutorials store.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Under and Over Drawings

Last week, I defined some of the basic terms relating to colored pencils and drawing paper. This week, I want to continue that discussion with more basic colored pencil terms, but this time, lets talk about method and technique terms.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Before we go any further, let me assure you there is no “right way” to draw. The methods and techniques I’m about to describe are just a few of those that are available to artists.

Some of the technique terms apply to colored pencils no matter what methods you use. Some of them are applicable only to specific methods or techniques.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Method

Let’s begin with the broader subject of drawing methods. The following definitions are very basic. For more information on any of them, read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

Direct Drawing Method

When you use what I call the direct drawing method, you begin with the same colors you end with. There is no clear difference between the first layers of color and the final layers except perhaps in the vibrancy of the colors, and the level of detail.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Direct Drawing Method

This is the most common drawing method.

It’s also the most intuitive. It’s natural to begin drawing a tree with greens and browns, after all. That’s the way I started drawings (and paintings) when I first started doing art.

Complementary Under Drawing Method

With the complementary under drawing method, you start drawing with colors that are on the opposite side of the color wheel from the final colors. The complementary under drawing for an orange is going to be blue.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Color Wheel

The complementary method is excellent for landscape drawings because the complementary under drawing automatically keeps the greens from getting to bright.

Umber Under Drawing Method

The umber under drawing method begins with an under drawing that’s brown, like those old-fashioned sepia-tone photographs. Values and details are developed in brown no matter what color the subject is.

The shade of brown can vary from subject to subject. You can choose a warm brown such as Prismacolor Light Umber (my preference) or a cooler brown such as Dark Umber or Sepia.

You can also mix browns, using a combination of light and dark browns or warm and cool browns to create more interest and contrast in the under drawing.

But with this method of drawing, the under drawing is always only shades of brown.

Monochromatic Under Drawing Method

One method I haven’t mentioned here, but that I have talked about elsewhere is the monochromatic method. With this method, you create an under drawing in a single color or, sometimes, with a single color family. For example, you might choose to draw an Indigo Blue under drawing.

The reason I’ve not described this method further is that I haven’t used it in years. Why? Because the colors I most often choose for a monochromatic under drawing are either earth tones  or complementary colors.

I tried Indigo Blue once and didn’t care for the result. Most other colors don’t result in the look I want for my work, so this method has fallen out of favor.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Monochromatic Method

But that’s no reason for you not to try it. The fact is, it may suit your choice of subject and your drawing style beautifully!

Combining Methods

There are other methods of drawing, and you can combine elements of these methods in a single drawing. For example, I’ve used an umber under drawing for the trees in a landscape, but drawn everything else using the direct method.

As mentioned previously, there is no right way to draw. Every artist needs to find the method or methods that work best for them.

But understanding the basic differences and characteristics of each method helps you make better decisions.

Technique

Under Drawing/Under Painting

The first layers of color you put on a drawing are called the under drawing or under painting. No matter what method you use, these layers are the foundation of the artwork.

The colors you use for the under drawing are determined by the method you use, as described above.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Under and Over Drawings

This sample shows a complementary under drawing.

Over Drawing/Over Painting

The over drawing or over painting refers to all the layers of color you put over the under drawing. Some of the methods I use have very distinct beginnings and endings. Others do not.

Layering

Layering is the process of layering one color over another, or adding multiple layers of the same color. You can use light, medium, or heavy pressure to add color. You can also use sharp or blunted pencils, and hold them vertically, horizontally, or somewhere in between.

Glazing

Glazing is the same as layering, except that the layers are thinner, so that the colors that are under the new layer are still clearly visible. The term comes from oil painting, a medium in which you can thin paint so it’s very transparent, almost like laying a piece of colored plastic over a painting to tint the colors.

Most colored pencils are translucent by nature, so almost every layer you put on a drawing is technically a glaze. But when you glaze a color onto a drawing or painting, you use very light pressure, and barely add any color at all. I usually glaze with the side of a pencil held horizontal to the paper.

Pressure

Pressure is the amount of force you put on the paper with the pencil. It’s often measured on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the lightest pressure and ten the heaviest. Burnishing is the heaviest pressure you can use. It’s most used at the end of the process.

When you glaze a color, you’ll most likely be using a pressure of one or two.

Blending

When an artist uses a wet medium such as oils, acrylics or watercolors, they mix two or more colors together to get a new color.

Colored pencils are a dry medium, so they can’t be mixed the same way. Instead, colored pencil artists create new colors by layering one color over another color on the paper. Since colored pencils are not opaque, every color influences every other color in some way.

This is called blending, and there are different ways to do it.

Dry Blending

Layering is one method of blending and it’s the method most artists use because it requires no additional tools or smelly solvents. I drew the sample above with multiple layers of yellow and blue. The green results from alternating layers of each of the other colors.

Other methods of dry blending include rubbing a drawing with paper towel or tissue, or using a colorless blender.

Burnishing is another form of dry blending in which you use very heavy pressure to “grind” layers of color together. You can use either colored pencils or a colorless blender to burnish.

Solvent Blending

Solvent blending is a method of blending in which you use a solvent or paint thinner such as odorless mineral spirits to break down the binder. Once the binder is dissolved, pigments mix and blend more like paint.

Solvent blending is often faster than dry blending or blending by layering, but it also requires some caution, due to fumes. It also requires drying time.

Conclusion

There are, of course, even more basic colored pencil terms to learn, but they can wait for another post.

It may seem confusing now, but once you understand each of these terms and how they apply to colored pencil art, you have a great foundation. Most other art terms—and colored pencil terms—build on these basic terms.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Paper

Let’s talk about basic colored pencil terms today.

A lot of readers are new to this blog, or new to colored pencils, or both. Whichever category you fall into, welcome! Welcome to the blog and welcome to colored pencils!

If you haven’t already, you’re going to hear a lot of terms that make no sense. That’s my bad. I’ve been doing colored pencils so long, I tend to forget what it was like when I first got started!

I also know there are a lot of budding artists out there who already love the medium, but are confused by the jargon.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners
So today, I want to go back to square one and define some of those confusing-but-basic colored pencil terms.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained

To make things less confusing, I’ve arranged terms into four separate categories. We’ll begin with the two most basic: Pencils and Paper!

Basic Pencil Terms

The following terms apply to your colored pencils no matter what brand you prefer or the quality of pencils in your pencil box.

Wax-Based

All colored pencils are made by grinding pigment, then mixing it with a binder. The binder allows the pigment to be formed into the core of the pencil, holds it together while you use the pencil, and allows the pigment to lay down smoothly on the paper.

Wax-based pencils like Prismacolor and Caran d’Ache Luminance utilize a binder that’s mostly wax.

Wax-based pencils generally lay down more smoothly, and are softer. They also tend to break more easily if you press too hard with them.

They’re great for laying down lots of color quickly, but can be more of a challenge in drawing details.

Wax bloom can also be a problem, especially with dark colors.

Wax-based pencils are the most popular and the most widely available.

Oil-Based

Oil-based pencils have a binder that’s mostly oil, often vegetable oil. They do contain some wax, but not usually much. Faber-Castell Polychromos and Rembrandt Lyra are oil-based pencils.

Oil-based pencils are harder and sometimes more brittle feeling than wax-based pencils. That makes them great for detailed work. Smooth layers of color are possible, but aren’t usually as easy to achieve. They hold a point much longer, too.

Wax bloom is not usually a problem with oil-based pencils, even if you tend to use heavier pressure when drawing.

Wax Bloom

When you draw, you leave color on the paper, but you also leave binder. The harder you press on the paper with the pencil, the more color and binder you leave on the paper.

Wax binder eventually rises to the surface of the color layers, giving them a foggy, misty, or gray appearance. This is normal with all colors, though it’s more obvious on darker colors.

The cloudy right half of this sample is wax bloom. The left side shows the natural color after the wax bloom has been removed.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Wax Bloom

Wax bloom is easily removed by wiping a drawing with clean tissue and light pressure. It can be prevented by sealing a finished drawing with final finish; preferably one designed for colored pencil work such as Brush & Pencil’s Final Fixative.

Framing under glass will not prevent wax bloom.

Grades of Pencils

Colored pencils are manufactured in three grades: Scholar, Student, and Artist. Scholar-grade pencils the least expensive and poorest quality. Artist-grade pencils are the highest quality, so are usually more expensive.

Artist grade pencils have a higher ratio of pigment to binder, so they produce better color and results with less effort. They’re often more fade resistant.

Scholar grade pencils have more binder and less filler, so the color they produce may be weak or pale.

You can make great art with any grade of pencils, but will generally get the best results with higher quality pencils.

Lightfastness

A pencil is lightfast if it doesn’t fade over time.

If a color fades over time, it’s also referred to as fugitive. The color “runs away and hides” if exposed to light. Sometimes it may disappear altogether, and sometimes very quickly.

Pencils are rated differently in the US than in Europe and other parts of the world, but all brands are tested in some form, and many companies provide color charts that include lightfast ratings.

Watercolor Pencils/Water Soluble Pencils

These are watercolors in pencil form. Many artists consider them to be colored pencils, others don’t. Since many colored pencil manufacturers also produce watercolor pencils, I tend to think of them as colored pencils that just happen to dissolve in water.

Instead of a wax- or oil-based binder, they use a binder that dissolves in water. You can draw with them dry and mix them with other colored pencils.

You can also draw with them dry, then wet blend them with water, or paint with them by dampening the pigment with water and using a brush.

Paper

The following terms apply to drawing papers of all types.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Paper

Support

The surface you draw on. For colored pencils, that’s usually paper, but colored pencils can also be used on wood, pastel papers, mylar and other similar films, and mat board, just to name a few.

Some paper manufacturing companies also produces papers mounted to a rigid support. The drawing surface is still paper, but the support itself is rigid. Many sanded art papers are available as sheets and boards, for example.

Tooth

Tooth refers to the surface texture of papers. The toothier a paper is, the more texture it has. Sand paper has more tooth than inkjet paper.

Tooth is important to the colored pencil artist because of the way colored pencil lays down on different types of paper. In most cases and for most methods of drawing with colored pencils, smoother papers are better.

However, there sanded art papers are one notable exception. The grittiness of sanded art papers would seem to make them unsuitable for colored pencils, but many artists actually prefer them to traditional drawing papers.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Tooth

Weight

The weight of the paper refers to the thickness. A 98lb paper is thinner than a 140lb paper. Paper is measured this way because the “weight” is what a standard ream of a particular paper weighs. A ream is 500 sheets, so a ream of 98lb paper weighs 98 pounds.

The actual process is quite complicated, since the weights assigned to papers are assigned based on the standard size for each type of paper, and the type of paper (bond paper, card stock, etc.)

All you really need to keep in mind is that the higher the pound weight, the thicker the paper is most likely to be.

This is important because you don’t want to use a drawing paper that’s too thin (light weight.)

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Paper Weights

Most pads of drawing paper include clear labeling on the weight of the paper (see above.) Most full sheets are also labeled, though the information may be more difficult to locate.

Conclusion

Those are our basic colored pencil terms defined for today. There are a lot more terms relating to both pencils and papers, so if you encounter a term you don’t understand, send me an email and ask about it.

Next week, we’ll talk about some basic colored pencil terms concerning drawing methods and techniques.