4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Methods

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Methods

Some time ago, I asked and answered a selection of questions frequently asked by readers and students about colored pencils. Since this is Q&A Month, I’d like to tackle another set of reader questions: questions about colored pencil methods.

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Methods

1. What Are Your Favorite Colored Pencil Methods?

For most of my drawings, I draw an umber under drawing first, then layer color over that. This is what I call the umber under drawing method, and it allows me to develop details and values without having to make color choices.

The complementary method is similar, but instead of using an earth tone for the under drawing, the under drawing is drawn with the complementary colors of the finishing drawing. An orange under drawing for a blue object, for example.

This sample shows a finished complementary under drawing for a landscape. Everything but the sky has been drawn with different reds or oranges.

Colored Pencil Methods - Complementary Under Drawing

I also use a direct method in which I begin with color and simply build color layer by layer. This illustration shows the initial color lay in with the direct method.

As with choosing pencils, finding the method that works best for you is a matter of experimentation. You may find you like to vary the method from one drawing to the next. It’s just as likely your favorite method will end up being a combination of methods used by other artists.

In other words, there is no “right way to draw”.

Read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

2. What Are the Best Ways to Blend Colored Pencils?

How you blend depends on whether or not you want to use solvents.

For most of my work, I blend by layering one color over another and letting the colors blend visually. I also burnish (drawing with very heavy pressure) with either a colorless blender (a colored pencil without color) or a light color of pencil.

When I want to use a solvent, I use rubbing alcohol for a light blend, or odorless mineral spirits for a deeper, more complete blend. This illustration shows how blending with rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab affects color. Keep in mind that as the paper dries, the color will get lighter.

Colored Pencil Methods - Blending with Rubbing Alcohol

I really prefer staying away from solvents, though. I like the look of colored pencil without solvent blending better in most cases.

3. Is layering the colors from light to dark generally better or does it depend on the look you want to achieve?

For most colored pencils, working from light to dark is the best way. The reason is that most colored pencils are translucent to some extent, so you can’t completely cover up colors with other colors. You can, of course, tint a darker color with a lighter color, but it’s impossible to cover it completely.

That’s also why I work around highlights at the beginning of a drawing instead of drawing over them. The only highlights drawn in this drawing are the reflected lights along the horse’s back. All the others are the color of the paper, which is Artagain Beachsand Ivory.

Caran d’Ache Luminance colors are opaque, however. You can draw with white over darker colors and it shows up pretty much like painting white oil over darker oils shows up.

Many artists begin by drawing the darkest dark areas first, then working around them. There is nothing wrong with that method of working, so long as you remember to preserve the highlights.

One Important Difference

I used traditional drawing paper (Strathmore Artagain) for the drawing above. If you choose to use a textured paper like UART Premium Pastel Paper, Lux Archival, or Clairefontaine Pastelmat, you can add light colors over dark colors and they will show up.

It’s also possible to nearly cover darker colors with lighter colors.

What’s the difference?

Sanded (textured) papers allow you to add so many layers that you can cover any color with any other color. They also “grab” a lot more pigment with every pencil stroke than a traditional drawing paper. The result is more opaque color.

4. Can You Mix Regular Colored Pencils with Wet Media?

Yes. You can combine regular colored pencils with a variety of water media from water-soluble colored pencils to watercolor, acrylics, and ink.

The only thing you need to remember is that the water-soluble media must be used first. Colored pencils work very nicely over watercolor, water-soluble colored pencils, thin applications of acrylic paint or any other water soluble media. I’ve even used them over ink. I used brown India ink for this project, but any color would work.

Colored Pencil Methods - Ink Under Painting

Read Drawing with Colored Pencil over India Ink on EmptyEasel.

Colored Pencil Methods - Colored Pencil Over Drawing

Read Using Prismacolor Pencils over India Ink on EmptyEasel.

Do You Have Questions About Colored Pencil Methods?

The best way to discover what works for you is to try it. I’ve learned a lot of things that don’t work, as well as some methods that do work just by experimenting.

There is no rule that says every piece of art you draw has to succeed or has to be for sale. You can experiment and have fun!

So have fun!

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  1. Bob Hallman

    I am retired and 89 and have just started the color pencil idea and enjoy every min. messing with the color books. My wife is a water color artist and I have been off and on a mosaic craft type. The color activity has helped in the advanced age stress that we all deal with. I am going to move into more of your suggestions as time moves on and I am slow to start a new thing. I have had conversations with a number of artist because of my Wife’s contacts and find the color pencil is not part of their conversation. I think they are missing the boat on this great skill. Thanks for your information.

    1. Bob,

      Thank you for reading this article, and for taking the time to respond.

      Welcome to colored pencils, too. I hope you enjoy them!

      Colored pencils are a relatively new medium. Some of us have been using them for decades, but they didn’t really start gaining popularity until adult coloring books entered the market. A lot of people found them in connection with adult coloring books, and then moved on to making their own artwork.

      Whether you do that or not, I’m glad to have you as a reader!

    1. Thank you for reading this post and for leaving a comment.

      Thank you also for the question.

      Scumbling is a painting technique in which oil paint is applied lightly over dry paint with a dry brush (no painting medium added to thin the paint.) Scumbling also works with acrylics and watercolors and most other wet media.

      Scumbling is used to apply a layer of color to blend the previous layers. That works because paint used without painting mediums (oils) or water added (acrylics, watercolors, etc.) doesn’t go onto the canvas or paper as smoothly. It hits only the top of the surface texture. That results in what is known as broken color, and broken color allows the previous colors to show through.

      Since colored pencils are a dry medium, you can’t really scumble with them.

      However, I’ve found that if you sharpen a pencil to a long, sharp point and hold it so it’s nearly horizontal, you can apply color with very light pressure and get a similar result. The more textured the paper is, the more you get a “scumbling” look. The color hits only the very top of the paper’s tooth, so previous colors show through.

      I hope that helps.

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