The Challenges of Colored Pencils

The Challenges of Colored Pencils

Every artist who has ever picked up a colored pencil with the intent of creating art is familiar with the variety and number of challenges of colored pencils.

But let’s face it. For those of us who are die-hard colored pencil artists, the challenges of using colored pencils are part of their charm!

The Challenges of Colored Pencils

I’ve been making art with colored pencils for over twenty years. They’ve challenged my will, my problem-solving skills, and my discipline more times than I care to admit.

It often seems like every drawing presents a new challenge of some kind.

The Challenges of Colored Pencils

Here, in no particular order, are some of the challenges of colored pencils I’ve discovered (and sometimes overcome.)


Do you know what search engine word is used most often in bringing people to this blog? Blending.

And do you know why? Because it’s so difficult!

Colored pencils blend beautifully by layering one color over another. That’s because they’re translucent. You can see through the various layers no matter how many layers are on the paper. All those colors combine to make new colors and it can be glorious!

But it’s also time-consuming (see the next item.)

So artists are always looking for better, newer, and faster ways to blend. Some are great. Odorless mineral spirits and powder blender, for example.

Some are good only if you’re not making fine art.

But there is now and probably always will be an avid search for the perfect blending method because blending colored pencils is such a challenge for so many!

Especially blending methods that are faster or more thorough than simply layering.


Let’s face it. Using the words “speed” and “colored pencils” together is rather like pairing “speed” and “turtle” in the same sentence. The thought just doesn’t compute.

Colored pencils are a slow medium. There’s no way around it. Even with solvent blending, it can take weeks to complete a large, complex piece. Think about it. You still have to put color on the paper one stroke at a time.

And it’s not like you can make bigger strokes by using a bigger pencil. Colored pencils aren’t like brushes. There isn’t a “wash” pencil, for example. No #20 colored pencil or a half-inch shader pencil.


Colored pencils are all like #000 Liners. Made for fine details. Not broad washes!

If you’re going to use colored pencils, you have to be prepared for s-l-o-w.


The fine artists among us are concerned not only with creating great pieces, but creating pieces that look just as bright and vibrant in twenty years or more as they look the day they’re finished.

That can be a challenge depending on the pencils you buy and the colors you use.

You see, some colors are fading by nature. Pinks and purples are notoriously bad for fading across almost all brands. There are a few brands with light fast pinks and purples, but they’re the more expensive brands.

While some brands of pencils are more reliable, with fewer fading colors, they all have some colors that are less permanent.

Finding ways to work with those colors and minimize potential damage is one challenge facing many colored pencil artists.

Finding ways to work without those colors, is the challenge for many of us.


Framing is another challenge for a lot of colored pencil artists. Because colored pencils are usually used on paper, the artwork needs to be protected. The means a rigid back board to protect the artwork from behind, and glass or something similar to protect it from the front.

You want a spacer between artwork and glass, so that also means at least one mat and sometimes two or even three.

Then there’s the frame.

All of that costs money, especially if you’re framing for an exhibit. The challenge here is finding the right balance between a professional frame and a reasonable cost.


Selling any kind of artwork can be a challenge. Most of the time, it’s not what most people consider “necessary,” so if finances are tight, art is among the first things to go.

Selling colored pencil art can have additional charges if all people think of when they hear “colored pencil” is grade school.

And then there’s the added cost of special framing (see above.)

Selling any kind of art is a challenge, but selling colored pencil art sometimes seems to have its own unique set of challenges.

What About You?

Those are a few of the challenges of colored pencils that have confronted me over the years. Maybe your biggest challenge is on that list.

Or maybe it’s something else altogether? If so, share your biggest challenge in the comments below. Maybe someone else can show you how to overcome it!


  1. Richard Steffens

    It seems like most of my best works have been on 5 x 7’s. I cut larger pieces of Strathmore Colored Pencil paper with the Cricut cutter my daughter-in-law got for me a couple years ago at Christmas. Very handy tool! When I’m sure I’m done with a piece I usually coat it by spraying some Miracal Gloss clear on it. And I usually give customers their choice of buying their own frames or having me do it. I buy 5 packs of 5 x 7 Green Tree Gallery frames at Hobby Lobby that are marked $19.99. But they’re usually 50% off so you get 5 basic black plastic frames for about $2.00 per piece. I used to use hair spray on drawings to keep colors and lines from smudging but the corners always curled up so that’s when I discovered that a clear coat spray enamel by many brands out there works better. I do other sizes too but haven’t found any “bargain” packs on frames in 8 x 10, 11 x 14 or other sizes yet.

    1. Richard,

      Hobby Lobby is a great place to get frames in bulk and save money.

      Thank you for sharing the other tips, too.

      Hair spray is not a good thing to use on art for the reason you cited and others. While it’s always best to use something made for colored pencils, there are some very good final fixatives available that work well with colored pencils.


    2. Richard Steffens

      Actually, just last night while at Walmart, I found 3 packs of 8 x 10 frames for about 5 – 6 dollars. Don’t remember exact price now. Maybe I’ll find 11 x 14’s in packs someday. I did buy a couple budget 11 x 14’s at a little less than $3.00 per frame. Some of my works go out without frames. I donate drawings to a library fundraiser and a church fundraiser each year. And they prefer to get their own ”fancy” frames. Sometimes I hear “through the grapevine” what my drawings sold for and almost wish that money was going into my pocketbook. LOL!

        1. Richard Steffens

          Thanks, Carrie! I really do enjoy helping both of these groups out plus I did some for a suicide prevention group awhile back and then attended their benefit. Met some nice folks who seemed to like my artworks I donated, had a nice lunch and won a raffle on some football tickets I desired. I have a little question for you if you don’t mind. Do you ever draw brick buildings in any of your works? I’m just curious as to how to make the white lines between and around the bricks. I’ve tried several methods, same way with stars on the U.S. flag. It’s hard to blend or smooth out the main colors without spreading into the white areas. Thanks for any helpful hints! I really look up to you and your knowledge of our craft.

          1. Tim Grant

            You might try debossing the cement lines with an empty ball point pen or similar tool prior to applying color. Also, drawing the lines with an acrylic based ink might resist coverage.

  2. Jose A, juatiniano

    Colored pencil is a challenge because is slow and you what to finish as son as possible and that make ancius I mously used for my wife personal postal on mother’s day anniversary or happy birthday.

  3. Blending is definitely my biggest hurdle in terms of blending solution. I would like to find a liquid that I feel comfortable blending with, but with a chemistry degree and a small apartment with a dog, safety is always a concern. I did some research on natural liquids that artists used with oil paints centuries ago. However, lavender spike oil is quite strongly scented. I tried liquid coconut oil, but it never quite dried and was to slick for additional layers. For now, I’ll stick to my derwent colorless blender pencil and occasionally caran d’ache colorless blender pencil.

    1. You might try a sanded drawing surface. I know most artists think sanded art paper and also think,too rough for colored pencil. But colors go onto sanded art paper so easily, and you can dry blend them with a stiff bristle brush. It’s better than solvent, once you get used to the feel of working on sanded paper.

      1. Lizzie Beatty

        Thats so funny you mention that because I recently came across a few people who use that & have it in my Blick Art cart for my next order. Im also still trying to get the hang of suede mat board, which is fun because I can get bright white on top layers without the dust of pastel pencils. Thank you for that advice!

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