Creating a Sketchy Style with Colored Pencil

Time to talk about drawing styles! Shirley wants to know ways of creating a sketchy style of drawing with colored pencil.

Dear Carrie,

I have sketched all my life for pleasure and am self taught on almost everything I do. I am trying to learn colored pencil but do not like the burnishing, etc.

Because of how much I like sketching and not a photographic look (I admire anyone who does that kind of artwork though), I would like my colored pencil work to look sketchy, as well. I’ve seen that style in magazines, etc. but not sure how to go about getting that result myself.

What kind of paper produces that style and/or any specific kinds of application. My feeling is that just because an apple is shiny doesn’t mean I have to draw it that way. I like realistic but not necessarily photographic.

Shirley

Creating a Sketchy Style with Colored Pencils

Believe it or not, I have dabbled with less realistic art over the years. I don’t often share it on the blog because most of it is just for fun (as the reader pointed out,) or it’s an experiment. A way to learn a new medium.

I’ll share some of those pieces with you now, and tell you what I did to make each drawing.

Hopefully one of more of them will help you in creating a sketchy style all your own.

Creating a Sketchy Style with Colored Pencil

Coarse or Rough Papers

Most papers will produce most styles of artwork. You can use a coarser, toothier paper to get more “painterly” or “sketchy” results.

My first piece on sanded pastel paper, for example, was very sketchy and painterly. So it’s definitely worth a try.

Creating a Sketchy Style by using Sanded Art Papers
I used Uart Sanded Pastel Paper for this landscape, and limited the number of layers I used. The result was a more painterly look. Not quite sketchy, but nowhere near as realistic as I usually prefer.

You can, of course, do the same thing with smoother papers. Lay down color in broad washes and limit yourself to one or two layers (three at the most.) The paper will show through these layers and create a the kind of sketchy style you’re looking for.

Larger Pencils are Also an Option

You might also try using larger pencils.

Prismacolor Art Stix or Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils are ideal when you want to avoid detail. Color selections are limited with both, and only about half the colors in each set are lightfast, but the colors that remain are perfect for laying down large swatches of color, especially flat color.

You can then go over them with regular pencils to add accents.

Or sharpen your regular pencils and draw with the side of the exposed pencil core.

Use the side of a pencil by holding the pencil horizontally and drawing with all of the exposed pigment core, as shown here. Drawing this way allows a lot of paper to show through and produces a sketchier color layer.

In both cases (larger pencils and the side of the pencils) color lays on top of the paper tooth, leaving lots of paper holes showing through on all but the smoothest papers.

One or Two Colors on Colored Paper

I do a lot of life drawing and sketching on colored paper because it gives me a toned base. I can use one color of pencil for quick sketches, like the one shown here.

Creating a Sketchy Style by using One Color on Colored Pencil
This sketch was drawn with just one pencil—a white pencil—on black paper. It looks detailed, but it isn’t really.

I know. Colored pencils are meant to be colorful! I get that.

But if you want to do “sketchy” work, try limiting the number of colors you use.

It doesn’t matter what color paper you use, if you use colors that compliment that paper, or that contrast with it, you can produce a sketchy style quite easily.

You can also do quite finished work with only a few colors, so restrain yourself from layering too much or adding too much detail. A few contrasting values will produce nice drawings without a lot of detail.

I used three colors on black paper for this sketch. Using colors you don’t ordinarily use is also a great way to keep your drawing more sketch-like. I used silver, gold and copper metallic pencils here.

Make the Most of Those Lines

Have you ever seen pen-and-ink drawings? If the artist used only black ink and only pens, then the entire drawing is made up of lines. Long lines. Short lines. Straight and curving lines. Dots and sometimes splatters.

Use your colored pencils the same way. Develop color and value not by filling in every bit of paper, but by layering different colors and varying the type of lines you make.

Limit Color Layers

Here’s a small colored pencil drawing I did several years ago. It’s totally colored pencil with no blending or special techniques.

The sketchy, almost illustrative look is the result of doing only a few layers of color, and limiting color choices. For example, I used one blue in the sky, one or two greens in the trees and grass, and mostly black in the horse.

I also kept the value range fairly narrow. There are lights and darks, but not much contrast. This keeps each element of the drawing from looking three-dimensional. Ordinarily, that’s not a good thing, but if you want a sketchy style, it’s perfect.

Creating a Sketchy Style with Flat Color and Outlining
Use only a few layers of color and keep contrast low (not much difference between light and dark values.) Outlining also produces a more illustration-style drawing.

Outline Parts of the Composition

I outlined the horse and trees in the sample above.

Many other artists who prefer a more illustrative look have also made use of outlining to make their work unique. Rhonda Dicksion and Jan Fagan are two artists who make use of outlining. Some of their work is more realistic without outlining, and some includes outlining. But they also both do very illustrative type of work. Take a look at both and see what ideas you can glean from them.

Lots of Colors, But Keep Them Flat

It’s also possible to create a different kind of sketchy style by using flat color, almost in an abstract pattern.

Richard Klekociuk does the most amazing landscapes by laying colors next to one another. Rather than shading, he chooses light and dark colors to create values and contrast.

I wouldn’t call his style “sketchy” per se, but his basic compositions and color use are a great place to begin.

Also take a look at Dan Miller’s landscape drawings for a different way to use color and create beautiful landscapes without drawing tons of details.

Give Watercolor Pencils a Try

I did this piece entirely with watercolor and used some watercolor methods.

I let wet color run together in the sky and yellow trees in the background. In the yellow field, I added wet color to wet color for a slightly different effect.

The larger trees were added after the paper was dry, and I stippled them (tapped color on with a small brush.) There are light and dark areas in those trees, but not much detail.

Granted, it’s not a colored pencil look, so it may not be what you’re looking for.

Dry Colored Pencil Over Watercolor Pencil

If you let the paper dry thoroughly, you can draw over watercolor pencil washes to add touches of detail. For this small drawing, I washed blues and purples together wet-into-wet. When the paper dried, I added the dark trees in the foreground.

I didn’t draw them with much detail, but was still able to create the appearance of distance by making the closer trees a little bit larger than those in the background.

Special Effects

I did several small pieces in shades of blue just because I liked the color, and because I wanted to try night scenes. The image above is the simplest of this foursome.

I did the sky in this one by sprinkling table salt into the wet color. The salt soaks up the color with the moisture and leaves “stars”. When the paper was dry, I brushed off the grains of salt and this is the result.

With this one, I washed colors wet into wet and let them blend, then put salt on parts of it. My goal (as I recall) was to create the look of a cloudy sky with a break in the clouds and stars in that part of the sky.

Was I successful? It didn’t turn out the way I wanted, but it may be exactly what you’re looking for.

A Few Ideas for Creating a Sketchy Style

If nothing else, Shirley, I hope I’ve given you a place to begin creating a sketchy style of drawing. Try them for yourself, then experiment and see what else you might be discover.

Whatever you do, have fun and keep drawing. Sooner or later your style will come shining through!

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4 Replies to “Creating a Sketchy Style with Colored Pencil”

  1. Wow, this was super helpful. I started making greeting cards several years ago and have been trying more techniques and one of the things I like coloring with is colored pencils and have gotten very good. I like your tips as they perfect my efforts.

  2. This is a very interesting topic! It intrigues me because I am wanting to try a less realistic approach with watercolors and colored pencils as well. I guess I am interested in both realistic and non realistic right now. You mentioned outlining in black and I would also mention outlining in metallics. There are many beautiful oriental style artworks that do outlining in gold. I just bought a lot of metallic watercolors and am starting a picture with them on black paper. I know that is not CP, but it intrigues me. Shirley, Carrie is right. You will find your style and it will be beautiful, just keep experimenting.

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