Add Color to a Colored Pencil Drawing with Bath Tissue

Add Color to a Colored Pencil Drawing with Bath Tissue

Want to try something different and, well, a little bit odd? How about drawing with bath tissue?

Add Color to a Colored Pencil Drawing with Bath Tissue

This demonstration is Part 2 of a series on drawing landscapes using methods other than my usual umber under drawing method. I began with a monochrome under drawing as an experiment in creating distance using nothing but pressure, value, and strokes. I further experimented with green as the under drawing color; something I’ve never done before.

Read about the strokes I used to begin drawing distance.

This is the finished under drawing.

Green Landscape 1

The Experiment Continues – Drawing with Bath Tissue

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to try using bath tissue to apply colored pencil on something other than practice sketches on scrap paper. There’s quite a lot of sky in this drawing, so it seemed like the ideal project to try using tissue.

It’s also being drawn on Bristol Vellum. There isn’t much tooth to the paper, so I need to preserve the tooth as much as possible in the early stages. Using tissue is a good way to lay down color without filling up the paper’s tooth.

But tissue is also a great blending tool. If I apply color with it, I’ll also blend the color already on the paper. What to do?

Another technique on my list of things to try is making a drawing in which each phase of work is drawn over a layer of retouch varnish. The process itself arouses my curiosity, but I’ve been more interested in learning whether working over retouch varnish for each phase would affect the visual blending of color.

Since this drawing began as an experiment, why not continue to experiment?

A Little Retouch Varnish

So the first thing I did was give the drawing a couple of coats of retouch varnish. I let the drawing dry for a minimum of one half hour between layers. The second layer was allowed to dry for two hours. One would probably have been sufficient, but I’m naturally cautious.

Before adding color, I wanted to test the surface to make sure the greens were sealed. I used tissue for this, too, and folded a short section of bathroom tissue as shown here.

Drawin with Bath Tissue - Fold a piece of tissue into a small square

TIP: Use a tissue that DOES NOT contain lotion or any similar substance. The lotion may come off on the paper and alter the performance of the colored pencils and the look of the drawing.

I wiped the drawing with the folded tissue using light to medium-light pressure. It was important to use enough pressure to pick up color if the greens weren’t sealed, but I also didn’t want to use so much pressure that I smeared the drawing if the greens weren’t sealed.

The bottom line? If the tissue picked up greens, the colors weren’t sealed and I’d have to apply additional colors the traditional way.

Drawing with Bath Tissue - Wipe the drawing to make sure the color is sealed

Wa-la! A clean tissue. Two light coats of retouch varnish sealed the under drawing.

Drawing with Bath Tissue - Wa-la! A clean tissue!

A Little Color

Step 1: Make a Palette

When you apply color with a tissue, you need to make a palette first. Choose the colors you want to use—in this case Non-photo Blue and True Blue—and layer them onto a piece of paper. Use heavy pressure and multiple layers to make a solid patch of color.

Blue Palette for Colored Pencil

For this drawing, I used a part of the paper beside the drawing because the drawing takes up only about half of the sheet. For larger drawings, use a separate sheet of paper.

TIP: Use a medium weight or heavier paper with a smooth surface to make your palette. The smoother tooth will allow you to pick up more color than using a softer, toothier paper like Stonehenge.

Step 2: Pick up Color with Folded Tissue

When my palette was ready, I folded a piece of tissue. This time, I folded it into a smaller square because I needed a little more thickness and because I have more control with a smaller, thicker square. The tissue is also less likely to leave crumbles on the drawing and you’re less likely to wear through it than if you used a single, unfolded piece.

Folded Tissue for Picking up Color

Next, rub the folded piece of tissue on whatever color you want to add to your drawing. Use heavy pressure and circular strokes to pick up as much color as possible.

Picking up Color with Tissue

It won’t look like you’ve picked up a lot of color with the tissue, but that’s all right. If you’re using tissue, you most likely want soft, thin layers of color on your drawing anyway.

If you don’t get enough color on the paper with the first pass, you can always pick up more color and add another layer.


Step 3: Transfer Color to the Drawing

Wipe the tissue over the part of the drawing where you want to add color. You can use light pressure if you wish, but you’ll get the best results with medium pressure or heavier. The color that transfers from the tissue to the paper will not be very dark or very bold, so heavy pressure won’t hurt the drawing.

Adding Color to a Colored Pencil Drawing with Tissue

Here’s the sky I drew with tissue. This represents two or three layers rubbed onto the paper. I didn’t pick up more color between the layers.

I also used only one of the blues; True Blue because Non-photo blue was too light. When you draw with tissue, you may have to use darker colors than you expect.

A Sky Drawn with Tissue

Notice that I rubbed sky over the top of the large tree. Don’t worry if you have to do that with your drawing. The color is so thin and light that you should be able to cover it with tree colors later on.

Concluding Thoughts

Drawing with bath tissue is almost like painting washes with water color. You can get the same random variations in value (note the lights and darks in the sky). You can also lay down broad tints quickly.

I used tissue after finishing the under drawing with this drawing, but it’s best to lay down layers of color with tissue before you start the under drawing. That way, you won’t need to seal the under drawing with retouch varnish.

By the way, despite the retouch varnish seal, some green did migrate into the sky. I could see it when I was working outside, but it’s not noticeable when viewed inside or on digital images.

I plan next to finish the drawing in more traditional ways—unless I think of another experiment! I’ll share a step-by-step for that in the future.

I’m also hoping to do an entire drawing using retouch varnish between each layer just to see how it works. Let me know if you’d like to see how that experiment turns out.

Have you ever tried drawing with bath tissue? If so, how did your project turn out?


  1. ginger jespersen

    I would like to see a continuation of this process to a finished drawing
    very interesting is difficult to for natural gradation and this may be the ultimate solution!!
    How would you draw clouds in the sky using this technique?

    1. Ginger,

      Thank you for reading and for your comment.

      There are two ways to go about drawing clouds in a sky with this method.

      One is to block out the area where the clouds are and working around them. You could then add color either with tisuse for softness or with pencils if you need bolder color. That would be the best method if the clouds are solid, like thunderheads.

      If the clouds are thin and wispy, I’d try laying down the sky with tissue, then lifting color to draw the clouds. Any of a number of lifting methods would work. Masking tape applied lightly, then carefully lifted. Erasers or sticky stuff stroked across the paper.

      If you have a light touch, an electric eraser works exceptionally well for drawing patterns by removing color. I’m planning a post on that method in the near future.

      If you have a favorite way of removing color, try that as well.

      Color that’s applied with tissue is relatively easy to remove because it’s so thin. You should be able to draw clouds into the surface by lifting color.

      I recently wrote an article for EmptyEasel that shows how to draw with an eraser with graphite. The techniques wouldn’t be exactly the same, but if you take a look at that article, you’ll see what you can do with that method. Here’s the link.

      Thanks again.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *