Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Today’s Reader Q&A is a request for information on glazing colored pencils. Since that’s a phrase I use a lot, but really haven’t clearly defined, I thought it was time for an article about glazing colored pencils for beginners.

But first, here’s the original question.

Just starting out in pencil. What or how do you glaze in pencil? Thank you in advance.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Let’s begin with a basic definition of glazing and an example from my oil painting days.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Glazing Defined

The term “glazing” comes from the world of oil painting. It refers to the application of thin, transparent color over whatever color is already on the canvas.

In oil painting, the artist thins the paint with linseed oil, walnut oil, or another painting medium to thin the paint and make it transparent. The thin color is then applied over part of a painting to add color without hiding or covering up the details underneath.

The Old Masters used this method frequently to make adjustments or corrections. The Flemish method of oil painting relies heavily on glazing color over a half-tone under painting.

I used a variation on this method for a few years before putting my oil paints away. The slide show below shows one of those old portraits, beginning with the finished under painting.

As you scroll through the images, you’ll see a progression of glazing until the portrait is finished. The original details are visible through layers of transparent color.

Glazing with Colored Pencils

The same thing happens with colored pencils.

But with colored pencils, you don’t need to add medium because colored pencils are naturally translucent. When you layer one color over another using light pressure, the top color alters the colors underneath without covering the details. That’s why I say that most of my colored pencil work is glazing.

If you use heavier pressure to layer color, you lose a lot of the glazing properties that come naturally with colored pencils. But you can still glaze to adjust or change colors.

When Glazing is Useful

Some artists glaze color in almost every project. I tend to do that because I like starting with an umber under drawing. Once the under drawing is finished, I add colors by glazing layer by layer.

But even if you don’t start with an umber under drawing, glazing can be helpful in the following ways.

Correcting color is one instance when glazing is a valuable tool. If you need to lighten a color slightly, glaze a color of lighter value but similar color over the color already on the paper. A very light warm yellow over a darker warm yellow, for example. Such a glaze lightens the color slightly without changing the color temperature.

You can do the same to darken colors. Glazing a warm medium-value yellow over a lighter warm yellow darkens the yellow already on the paper without changing the color temperature.

Glazing is ideal for changing color. If you need to change a blue area so it’s a little greener, glaze yellow over it, for example.

You can also adjust color temperature by glazing. You have to be bit more careful, because its easy to create muddy color. Especially if you happen to use a complementary color as the glazing color.

Toning down colors by glazing a complimentary color has been helpful to me in drawing realistic landscape greens.

Glazing is also perfect for creating depth of color. I drew the red horse in the illustration below with alternating glazes of red-browns, browns, various shades of oranges and yellows, and even blues. The result was much more satisfactory than doing just a few layers of colors that closely matched the actual color of the horse.

Tips for Successful Glazes

Glazing with colored pencils involves using very light pressure to put color over what is already on the paper. If you have a naturally light hand, then you don’t need special techniques in order to glaze color.

But if you have a naturally heavy hand and you want to glaze, look for ways to apply light, thin layers of color.

Following are two things I do when I need to glaze, and that will help you.

Use the Side of a Well-Sharpened Pencil

I usually use the side of a well-sharpened pencil to glaze when I want to alter or adjust the color in an area.

I hold the pencil nearly horizontal to the paper, and let it “glide” over the paper. It is possible to apply pressure this way, but I rarely do. Instead, I use the weight of the pencil. That produces a nice, broad stroke of broken color as shown here. This is perfect for glazing.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners
Using the side of a pencil as shown here creates “broken” color. The paper or the colors already on the paper show through the glazing color, but the glazing color alters the way they look.

Use a Very Blunt Pencil

For small areas, I like using a blunt pencil such as shown below. The flattened tip works the same as the side of a well-sharpened pencil, but gives me more control.

To use a blunt or very blunt pencil, hold it in a normal position, but with the blunt side on the paper. Then make directional, circular or other strokes to glaze the area.

If you need to clean up or sharpen an edge, turn the pencil until the sharp edge is on the paper.

The pencils on the right and left are blunt. The tips are flat. The pencil in the center is well-sharpened.

In each of these situations, the part of the pencil touching the paper is bigger. That means the pencil doesn’t get very deep into the tooth of the paper. The color stays mostly on top of the tooth, and the color that’s already on the paper shows through. When you look closely at a drawing, you can see that “broken color.”

But when you view the drawing from a normal viewing distance, your eye blends the two colors.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners (in a nutshell)

You can keep glazing simple or get as involved as you wish. After all, some of the Old Masters glazed their paintings extensively and others rarely glazed color.

Whether or not you glaze is a personal choice. Your personal preferences, how you work, and how often you need to make the kinds of adjustments described above all determine how often you need to glaze.

But it can be a very useful skill, so I encourage you to experiment with it, at least a little.

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