Drawing Smooth Color

Drawing Smooth Color

Drawing smooth color by layering is your best option when you’re using colored pencils. But what’s the best way to accomplish that?

Rice submitted today’s question and wants suggestions on this topic. Here’s the question.

I am new to colored pencils. One challenge I have is getting a “clumpy” application of color rather than a smooth, even one. It seems no matter if [I] use a needle sharp pencil or a light touch, it still persists. It’s more of an issue with darker colors it seems. Is this just my inexperience showing? And is there a way to fix an area after the fact?

Drawing smooth color is something a lot of artists struggle with, and it’s not an issue that goes away. It’s so very easy to get careless, tired, or lazy and end up with uneven color. I’ve been drawing for years and still sometimes end up with uneven color.

Drawing Smooth Color with Colored Pencils

Sharp Pencils

Rice mentioned using sharp pencils and they are important. Why? Because the sharper the pencil is, the more it gets down into the tooth of the paper. The more the pencil gets into the tooth of the paper, the more paper is covered and the fewer “paper holes” show through the layer of color.

The sharpness of your pencil determines how the color looks when applied to paper.

But Rice is using sharp pencils and is still having problems getting smooth, even layers of color.

Careful Layering

The best way to get smooth color with colored pencils is by careful layering. It doesn’t matter what you’re drawing, or what pencils or paper you use. Draw each layer so carefully that the color needs little or no blending.

I mentioned above that I sometimes still get rough color. That’s because I draw until I get careless, tired, or lazy. When that happens, then I stop paying attention to the strokes I’m making and before I know it, I’ve got spotty, clumpy and uneven color.

So how to do you avoid this?

I’ve stopped pushing myself to work for an hour to two at a time. Short work sessions are now the norm. Writing tutorials and blog posts helps because I draw a step, then describe it and either photograph or scan the artwork. That gives me a break from drawing, and that helps me avoid getting careless or lazy.

But you don’t have to write tutorials or scan your work step-by-step to keep work sessions short. Set a timer when you begin drawing. When it goes off, lay down that pencil and take a break.

Different Strokes

Hatching is laying down lines side-by-side. Crosshatching is doing more than one layer of hatching strokes, but making the lines of each layer go in a different direction. The first layer is horizontal, the second layer is vertical, and so on.

Circular strokes are just what they sound like. Touch your pencil to paper, then start making tiny circles. You can work back and forth across an area, or work in a circular pattern. The reason so many artists recommend this stroke is that there is no beginning or end to the stroke.

Pay attention to the type of stroke you’re making, and use different strokes to get different “looks”.

Glazing happens when you use the side of your pencil to lay down a broader stroke. You can either hatch and crosshatch (as I did with the green sample,) or use a circular stroke.

You get the best coverage when you combine the type and direction of strokes from one layer to the next.

Light Pressure

For the smoothest color, use light pressure through several layers. Each layer you add fills in the tooth of the paper more, creating steadily smoother color. Except for the darkest parts of the samples above, I used light pressure, but lots of layers.

What About the Paper or Pencils You Use?

I used Bristol Vellum paper for the illustrations for this post. I used light pressure, multiple layers, and different strokes.

And I still ended up with splotchy color in a few places. Some of it seemed to be flaws in the paper, while other problems seemed more likely to be the fault of the pencils.

I don’t know what type of pencils and paper Rice uses, but I wonder if the problem might be with the paper or pencils. The combination of paper and pencils might also result in uneven color. Some types of pencils simply work better on certain types of paper.

I tried my experiments on other types of paper and the results were much better. No splotchy color. No rough patches.

So if you end up with rough color no matter what strokes or layering methods you use, try different paper-and-pencil combinations.

Other Ways of Drawing Smooth Color

There are other options for getting smooth color, of course. Dry blending, solvent blending, and using mixed media are all good ways to draw smooth color, and I’ve used them all when needed.

But in my opinion, the absolute best way to produce smooth, even color is by paying attention to how you put color on the paper in the first place.

After all, the better you get at layering and controlling pressure, the smoother the results will be and the less you’ll need those other tools.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!


  1. Gail Jones

    Getting smooth color and completely filling in the tooth of the paper, by layering and burnishing, can be a challenge. I am signed up for a Jellybean class to see how one artist gets smooth color with CP by using a reptile heating mat. Should be fun to see her technique and much cheaper than the Icaris board. (I think that is the right name.)

    1. Gail,

      Thank you for that comment. I’ve heard other artists talk about using a reptile heating mat instead of an Icarus board. I’ve tried neither. In fact, the closest I’ve gotten to anything like that is drawing with pencils that had been lying in the sun for a while. That was almost like drawing with lipstick! (Which I’ve also never done, by the way.)

    1. Gail,

      They didn’t work very well. I didn’t like the thick layer of color at all, and they cooled down much too quickly to get much done.

      Now that I think about it, though, working with preheated pencils might be a good way to get color on the paper if you plan to blend with solvent.


  2. Patricia E Wilson

    Good article. Wanted to let your questioner know that when I started using colored pencils I felt that one application should do it and I was also using a “hard” hand in applying the color. When I started using light handed strokes like you suggested and making layers then I found that it worked much better. Also, when I use dark cardstock I usually will put down a layer of white pencil first. I’m not sure if my application is the artist’s way or not and most times use circular strokes as usually am coloring flowers. This is what seems to work for me.

    1. Patricia,

      Thank you for your comment. You make a good point about layering, especially for those who might also be painters. It is possible to get smooth color with one heavy application, but blending and subtle gradations are more difficult that way. Layering definitely works better!

      A base layer of white on dark paper is a good idea. You might want to consider using yellow under reds, however, depending on the brand of pencil you use. Red applied over a white base layer sometimes turns out pinkish or pale. Using yellow for the base layers in those areas can result in more vibrant reds.

      Be aware of the color of paper you’re using, though. Yellow applied over a dark blue paper might produce green. If you then put red over that, you’ll get a muted red, or maybe even a brown!

      Thank you again for your comment.

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