How to Draw Pure Color with Colored Pencils

How to Draw Pure Color with Colored Pencils

Here’s a unique question about a common colored pencil problem: how to draw pure color. In this case, the questioner is publishing in addition to drawing, so pure, vivid color is all the more important.

Here’s what she has to say:

I wrote and illustrated a children’s storybook [with] a self publisher.  I am still not satisfied with the color of the images.  Some of them look “muddy”. 

The self publisher spent a lot of time darkening the images to get the desired color.  She recommended using water color first and then colored pencil over top.

Is there a trick to getting pure, vivid color?

Adrienne Miller

Thank you for your question, Adrienne. As a publisher myself, I’m glad for the opportunity to offer a few suggestions.

How to Draw Pure Color

In most cases, pure color involves two things.

Not mixing colors, and filling in every single paper hole. In most cases, filling in the paper holes is as simple as using a smoother paper and/or layering color until the tooth of the paper is completely filled in.

Let’s talk about both from the perspective of an artist publishing children’s books.

How to Draw Pure Color

Don’t Mix Colors

Ordinarily, I’m all about mixing colors to get exactly the right color for my landscapes and animal drawings. That is the best way to accurately portray horses and other pets, and the landscape in general.

But when it comes to children’s books, bold, bright colors are the standard. Sticking with primary and secondary colors as much as possible is the solution to getting pure color. Other colors are acceptable, but for the purest color, you need to avoid adding any other colors to those main colors.

This row of circles was drawn with the same red pencil. The first circle is one or two layers applied with heavy pressure then left alone. The last circle is burnished so that no paper shows through. Notice how much redder both circles look than the circles in between.

The circles in between each have another color added to them. Even the lighter colors dilute the purity of the red.

Color Saturation

Color saturation is key to vivid color. That’s because when you have fully saturated color, you’ve filled in all the paper holes, so those paper holes aren’t “diluting” the color.

Using watercolor under colored pencil is a good way to under paint colored pencils. Wet media soaks into the paper, filling the paper holes completely. You can then finish with traditional pencils. Use the same colors in watercolor or water soluble pencils and traditional pencils for the best results.

Inktense products are also a good way to create pure, vivid color. They’re available in pencil form, blocks and pans.

But you can also get the same results simply by layering color until you get full color saturation.

A Closing Tip

Whatever drawing or painting method you use, make sure to use white paper. Using smooth paper is also helpful, since it reduces the amount of time and effort needed to fill in the paper’s tooth.

Thank you for the question, Adrienne, and best wishes with your publishing!


    1. Yes. Any time you use water-based media with colored pencil, you have to let the water-based media dry completely before adding more color.

      It’s also a good idea to use a paper designed to work with water-based media. I prefer hot press watercolor paper from Canson (L’Aquarelle 140 lb.) or Stonehenge (Aqua 140 lb.)

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