3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems (and My Solutions)

Every now and again, finding a topic for the Saturday post is a challenge. I have two art pieces in progress, but they’re both connected to an email drawing class, so I can’t use them.

Taking care of kittens, the house, a Facebook page makeover, and a number of other things have eaten up the hours on a daily basis, so there has been no time for other artwork. That means, no tutorials.

And this is the month I need to write an article for COLOR Magazine, so that’s been a top priority this week (one of many, I might add.)

But joy really does come in the morning! As I was writing my article for COLOR Magazine, I discovered the topic for this post! Hooray!

So what is it?

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems (and My Solutions)

Who hasn’t encountered problems, and looked for solutions? Answer? We all have.

Everything comes with a learning curve. Even our beloved colored pencils.

The problems you faced may not be the same as mine, but I’m certain that sooner or later, we’ve all had to find solutions to these three problems.

The trick is finding the right solutions for each problem.

So I’m not only telling your about the biggest problems I faced when I started using colored pencils; I’ll share my solutions.

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems

Problem #1: Filling in Paper Holes

I spent the first 30 or 40 years of my art career oil painting. Horses. Landscapes. Horses in landscapes. An occasional deer or dog and even a cow or two.

From the beginning, I hated being able to see light peeking through a painting if I held the canvas up to the light. That’s one of the reasons I started painting on panels.

So while I was able to get a lot of detail with colored pencils, I was immediately disappointed by the amount of paper that showed through no matter what I did.

Beginner Colored Pencil Problems - Filling Paper Holes

It didn’t matter all that much back then, because I was still primarily an oil painter. But it was an annoyance, to be sure.

And it kept me from doing more colored pencil work than I did.

My Solutions

My first solution was changing paper. I’d been drawing on mat board because it was rigid and I liked the selection of colors. It was also big enough to do larger pieces.

But it’s not always very smooth. The rougher the paper, the more difficult it is to fill in the paper holes.

So I started experimenting with smoother paper. Stonehenge was the first high-quality paper I remember using. I loved the feel of it from the first touch, and filling in paper holes was a lot easier.

Bristol vellum, Bristol regular, and Strathmore Artagain papers have also found a place in my paper drawer, though I use them less frequently these days.

Using a colored paper may not help fill in the paper holes, but it does disguise them.

The portrait below was drawn on gray paper, which served as the middle values, as well as the background. Suddenly, paper showing through the colored pencil was a good thing!

Beginner Colored Pencil Problems - Colored Paper

Problem #2: Blending

Blending oil paints is easy. Colors can be mixed on a palette, or you can put one color directly into another on the canvas.

Not so with colored pencils. They’re a dry medium, so they don’t mix the same way.

I struggled with blending them for a long time before finally learning how to get the results I wanted.

My Solution

The best and easiest-to-use solution I found for this problem is slowing down, and taking the time to add enough layers of color.

As I look back on some of those early pieces, like the dog above, I can see how unfinished they look. Another hour or two and a few more layers would have made a huge difference.

Don’t think that makes much difference? Here’s a drawing that I thought might be finished.

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems - Almost Finished

And here’s the same drawing after an additional day of work and a few more layers. That extra day made a lot of difference.

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems - Finished

No, it’s not easy to go slow. I still get impatient and want to finish a drawing. But if I don’t force myself to slow down, I end up with the same disappointing results that were so common in the early days.

Solvent blending was also a major step forward. Learning how to use painting solvents like turpentine and odorless mineral spirits on colored pencils was a game-changer.

I’ve also since discovered the joys of blending with paper towel and bath tissue.

Both blending methods have helped me get the results I want.

Problem #3: Time

Of all the problems I faced when I started using colored pencils, this one is still the biggest challenge. Let’s face it.

Colored pencils are SLOW!

Yes, you can blend with solvents, and yes, there are watercolor pencils, and both of those solutions speed up the process. But you still have to put the color on the paper, and you’re still using a pencil with a pigment core that isn’t very wide.

With oil painting, I could thin paint and use a big brush to cover a lot of canvas in a hurry.

Not so with colored pencils.

My Solutions

Honest answer? I haven’t yet found the perfect solution, and I doubt there is one!

And sometimes that’s enough to get me thinking about taking out the oils again and dashing something off, just to see if I still can.

But I have found some ways to deal with impatience (and that is what it all comes down to, isn’t it?)

15-minute work sessions have been the biggest help. It’s a lot easier to give a drawing the time it needs if I’m not punishing myself by working for hours at a time.

Working in small areas is also helpful. I can see progress more quickly when I can bring an area to completion, before moving on to the next area.

When I can’t easily work in one small area at a time, I alternate between two larger areas. I might work on the background a while, then switch to the foreground if I’m doing a landscape or portrait.


Of course, those weren’t the only beginner colored pencil problems I faced. There were many others.

And the more I use colored pencils, the more challenges arise. That’s just part of the learning process.

But most of my students struggle with these issues, and they are among the most frequently asked questions from readers.

So I hope my solutions help you solve these problems.

Or at least get you one step closer to finding your own solutions!

Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils Compared to Caran d’ache Luminance Pencils

Let’s see how Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils compared to Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils when used side-by-side. Since both brands are on the expensive side, this is valuable information if you’re considering either one.

Like most artists, I have a long list of items on my To Be Purchased list. Top on that list are colored pencils.

Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils Compared to Caran d'ache Luminance Pencils

Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils are among my most desired colored pencils. I’ve wanted to try these oil-based colored pencils since first learning of them years ago.

Caran d’ache Luminance pencils are also high on my list and my curiosity was first sparked by this video review.

But neither set is inexpensive, so which to choose first?

Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils Compared to Caran d’ache Luminance Pencils

The following review comparing these pencils provides a basis on which to make a decision. The review is provided by Emmy Kalia on YouTube. Emmy’s YouTube channel and her web site feature tutorials in colored pencils and graphite with a special focus on human subjects. Some of her most interesting videos are about drawing hair and skin tones.

Here’s Emmy.

My Thoughts on Emmy’s Comparison

As I mentioned above, this video is very interesting, as well as being informative.

I’m most interested in the ability to draw with an eraser after laying down color with both pencils. I’ve found some ways to lift color with Prismacolor, but it’s nowhere near as easy as Emmy makes it look in this video.

Drawing with a knife—a process known as sgrafitto—is also intriguing. I’ve done a little of this with Prismacolor pencils but have never been very happy with the results. Perhaps I’m just using the wrong pencils!

But what about choosing which pencils to buy first?

My heart was still set on a set of Polychromos after watching this video. I’ve been wanting those for years and finally got a full set in 2017.

But I’m once again drawn by the prospect of being able to draw light over dark and you can’t do that with Polychromos. So Luminace are still on my To Be Purchased list.

If you’ve used either of these pencils, share your thoughts on why you would—or wouldn’t recommend them to another artist.

More Information

Caran d’ache Luminance Pencils web site.

Faber-Castell web site.

Emmy Kalia’s on YouTube Channel

How to Draw Leather with Colored Pencils

Today, I’d like to show you how to draw leather with colored pencils. The project for this tutorial was drawn on gray paper, which gave me a head start on establishing values.

But this method of drawing will work on any color of paper. Yes, even white!

How to Draw Leather with Colored Pencils

How to Draw Leather with Colored Pencils

Pencils: Prismacolor Premier

Paper: Canson Mi-Teintes 98lb pastel paper, Steel Grey. (If you use Mi-Teintes, make sure to use the back, which is much smoother and more suitable for colored pencils.)

Step 1: Add basic colors to begin developing values.

Begin drawing the leather by working on an isolated piece, as I did here, or by layering each color over all parts of the bridle. I tend to work section by section, but either way works.

Ordinarily, it’s best to begin with lighter colors, but since we’re working on a medium gray paper, you can begin with darker values first.

Use a sharp pencils and light pressure to layer Dark Brown over the middle and dark values. Start with the darkest area first, then put a second layer over that area plus the middle values. Work around the two bright highlights at the top and bottom of the leather strap (also known as the headstall.)

Next, layer Mediterranean Blue with light pressure between the lightest area and the darkest value, then layer White over the lightest area at the top of the headstall.

Also layer White over the highlight near the bottom of the strap. To warm up the color, layer Spanish Orange over the browns.

How to Draw Leather - Step 1

Step 2: Layer colors again to create saturation and color depth.

The texture of Canson Mi-Teintes paper helps establish the “feel” of the leather without much effort. The appearance of color on the paper gives the leather a finished appearance after only one round of color. For some kinds of leather, that would be appropriate.

This leather is very smooth, though. Almost polished in appearance. So add a couple more layers of Dark Brown alternating with White in the lighter areas along the side of the head.

Mix Dark Brown and Indigo Blue over the top of the head. Use slightly heavier pressure to create smooth color, but don’t burnish.

At the top of the head, darken the shadow with Indigo Blue, then punch up the reflected light highlight with a little bit of White.

Also layer White over the lower part of the strap and burnish the brightest part of the highlight with White.

How to Draw Leather - Step 2

Step 3: Fine-tune highlights, shadows, and reflected light.

Next, I fine-tuned the headstall by re-enforcing the reflected light with a stroke or two of Cool Grey 20% and adding a form shadow on the back edge of the strap with Indigo Blue.

How to Draw Leather - Step 3

Step 4:

Continue drawing the leather parts of the bridle and reins by using Sienna Brown as the base color, and mixing Dark Brown and Indigo Blue in the shadows and darker areas.

Draw the lighter middle values by mixing Goldenrod and Sienna Brown, then add highlights with a mix of White and Powder Blue.

Use light pressure and circular strokes for the first layers of color in each strap. Add additional layers with medium pressure and the highlights with heavy pressure.

The primary goal is filling in all of the paper holes, so after the colors are established, continue layering with a variety of strokes, gradually increasing pressure with each layer.

Add touches of Black in some of the darker shadows.

How to Draw Leather - Step 4

Step 5: Add detailing.

To give the bridle an extra look of realism, use a light and dark color to add shadows and highlights around the holes in the straps, the stitching in some of the straps, and on and around the restraints holding the ends of the straps. A stroke or two in most of these areas makes a big difference.

How to Draw Leather - Step 5

Step 6: Draw the reins using the same colors and layering process.

Finish the reins in the same way and using the same colors.

How to Draw Leather - Step 6

This illustration shows the finished bridle.

How to Draw Leather - Bridle Finished


Drawing leather doesn’t have to be complicated. If you follow the steps described here, you can draw even the most complex bridle or harness. Take your time, keep your pencils sharp, and work from one strap to the next.

This tutorial is excerpted from the email drawing class, Black Tennessee Walking Horse. The class covers all parts of drawing this horse from transferring the line drawing to making final adjustments. In addition to drawing leather, you’ll learn how to draw metal, ribbons, hair, and eyes.

For the month of August, I’m offering a Back-to-School discount for all students. Save $25 when you enroll in this email drawing class during August. Offer expires August 31.

Want to learn more about the class? Click the button below.

Black Tennessee Walking Horse Email Drawing Class

Fast and Easy Backgrounds for Colored Pencil Drawings

When we talked about background options sometime ago, I intended to talk about fast and easy backgrounds for colored pencil drawings. Then a few reader questions on the topic led me in different direction.

So we talked about how to draw a clear sky, how to draw a bokeh background, and tips for deciding the best background for your next drawing. All good topics, but not much that’s fast or easy.

It’s time to share some background options that are not only fast and easy, but fun.

More Fast and Easy Backgrounds for Colored Pencil Drawings

Fast and Easy Backgrounds for Colored Pencil Drawings

Over the course of the last several years, I’ve shared ideas for fast and easy backgrounds here and on EmptyEasel. Ideas you may have thought of already, but some that may be new to you. Things like using pencil shavings or your favorite beverage to color a background.

Read Fast & Easy Background Options for Colored Pencil Drawings on EmptyEasel.

I’ve also written about fast and easy backgrounds using India Ink, and graphite.

But for the most part, those articles were all about backgrounds created with a plan in mind.

Today, I want to share three backgrounds I made with no plan in mind. The fact of the matter is that I was just playing around at the end of the day on a Saturday because I needed a drawing for the week.

Fun, Fast and Easy Backgrounds for Colored Pencil Drawings

So let’s take a look at each of these backgrounds and I’ll tell you how you can make your own.

Each of the following three samples are on Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press watercolor paper. I had three small pieces cut and decided to play around with watercolor pencils, to see what happened.

Watercolor Pencil Scribbles Etc.

I wet the paper throughly, then stroked a wet brush on the pigment core of a couple of pencils and brushed the color onto the paper.

The yellow isn’t very vibrant, but in some areas, it mixed with blue to make an interesting green.

While the paper was still wet, I drew the loops with a dry pencil. Then I dipped a brush in clean water, and spattered color by stroking the brush across a pencil. When the bristles snapped over the pencil, they threw pigment everywhere (and I do mean everywhere. A drop cloth is advisable.)

More Fast and Easy Backgrounds for Colored Pencils - Watercolor Scribbles

After the paper was well dry, I painted the tree with oil paints just to see if I could. That was one of two tests combining oils and colored pencils, and you can read Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil? for more on that.

On to the second experiment.

Watercolor Pencil Spatters

I wetted this paper thoroughly as well, but didn’t do washes. Instead, I spattered two or three different colors as described above. The wetter the brush, the bigger and more random the spatters appeared. As the brush dried, the spatters became more intense in color, smaller, and more uniform in shape.

Some of the color bled together to create washes. If you want washes like this, make sure the paper is as wet as you can make it.

You can also alter the shape of the spatters by changing how and where you hold the pencil and brush. I worked from almost directly over the paper. If you hold the pencil closer to the paper or to one side, the spatters will be more elongated.

More Fast and Easy Backgrounds for Colored Pencils - Watercolor Spatters

Later, I drew the circles and created a spacescape of sorts. The spatter method is ideal for paintings of this type, but you could also use it to create backgrounds for other subjects.

Watercolor Pencil Shavings

The final experiment was a little more daring (to my way of thinking.)

I’ve dissolved chips of watercolor pencil in water to create fluid pigment and it works quite well. It would be another great way to make a fast and easy background for colored pencil.

But this time, I used an X-acto knife to pare shavings directly onto wet paper. That didn’t accomplish much other than partially dissolving some of the smaller pieces of pigment.

When I washed the paper with a wet brush after it had dried, however, it produced a pastel wash of the blended colors. The chips of color remained mostly undissolved, but they also appear to be more or less permanently attached to the paper.

Only time will reveal whether or not that’s true, but they stayed in place while I drew the tree with dry colored pencil.

More Fast and Easy Backgrounds for Colored Pencils - Watercolor Shavings

Useful Tips

If you try any of these suggestions, tape your paper down first. Since I was just playing around and didn’t expect to create great works of art, I didn’t bother taping any of the pieces of paper. They all curled a little, but since they’re 140lb watercolor paper, they all dried pretty flat.

Tipping a piece of paper after you’ve added color and before it dries is a good way to create random blending. The paper needs to be wet enough for color to “run” for best results. I didn’t try that because I’d used up all my pieces of paper, but it is something I may try the next time I want to do something fun.

Finally, if you know what you plan to draw on the paper, it’s probably a good idea to put the drawing on the paper, then mask it before using any of these techniques. As you can see from my samples, the drawing I put over the background didn’t cover anything that was already on the paper unless I put down a lot of color or used heavy pressure.

Still More Fast and Easy Backgrounds for Colored Pencil Drawings

The EmptyEasel article I mentioned earlier isn’t the only one I wrote. A couple of years later, EmptyEasel published a second article. Read all about more fast and easy backgrounds on EmptyEasel.

How the Kittens are Doing After Eight Weeks

Time to let you know how the kittens are doing after eight weeks.

How the Kittens are Doing after Eight Weeks

The Kitten Posse has grown since the last update four weeks ago. There have been some concerns since then, but overall, all the posse members are doing well.

How the Kittens are Doing After Eight Weeks

More Kittens

I don’t know if I ever mentioned it, but the mother cats are three sisters from a  year ago. A neighborhood cat who was quite friendly brought her kittens to the garage for food beginning in very early spring. She had two males and three females.

One of the males disappeared within weeks. The other four took some time to acclimate to human interaction, but most of them did eventually get friendly. Especially after their mother also disappeared. Sammy, Sassy, Sissy, Cloud.

Fast forward to this spring. Cloud had the first litter of kittens the first weekend in May, followed by Sissy the second weekend in May. The first weekend in June, Sassy had her kittens.

We last saw Sassy July 15. Since then,   there’s been not so much as a glimpse of her (a pattern with feral cats, who seem to take great delight in leaving their kittens on our doorstep.)

The three kittens she left were old enough to feed outside so that’s what we did. But they were never very careful around people, and the more we fed them, the friendlier they became.

So friendly that my husband saw one of them following someone down the sidewalk in from of our house. We couldn’t find a second kitten and it turned out she’d followed someone in the opposite direction. Fortunately, a neighbor found her.

Equally as fortunate, the little cat went to the neighbor when the neighbor spoke to her, and the neighbor returned her to us.

That was a pretty big scare because we live on a main street, where drivers don’t always exercise discretion. So we decided to bring these three inside, too, rather than risk having them get onto the street or get lost.

More Kittens, More News - The Newcomers
The new additions, from top to bottom, Sorrowful, Brummel, and Rebel.

After a day of uncertainty and looking for places to hide, they began to interact with the other kittens. They’d never been afraid of us, so that made things easier.

Now the kittens all eat together, play together, and sleep together during the day. We still have them in separate lodgings during the night, these three in one place, the original five in another, and Pee Wee in her own “suite.” (More about her in a moment.)

But to see them all together, you’d think they’d been born in the house in one, big, happy litter. As I write this, they’ve been in the house about a week.

More News: The Original Five

The original five are doing fabulous other than ordinary health issues. They all have “real” names now. Bob and Bing (formerly Kittens 1 & 3,) Bud and Lou (formerly Kittens 2 & 4,) and Basil (formerly Kitten 5.)

We watch a lot of old movies, and especially enjoy the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby “road” movies, and Abbott and Costello. You can no doubt figure out where four of our names came from.

But what about Basil?

The Bob Hope movie, The Ghost Breakers, opens with a violent thunderstorm in New York City. One of Bob’s lines is, “Basil Rathbone must be throwing a party,” spoken after a particularly bright flash of lightning. I’ve always liked Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, so this unexpected mention was one of my favorite lines from the movie. Basil gives every sign of being a lean and lanky critter. He also has the unique air of one with only one eye, so the name suits him.

By the way, Sorrowful gets her name from the Bob Hope movie, Sorrowful Jones, which includes a racehorse named Dreamy Joe. For a while, I considered naming Bing Dreamy Joe because he has such a dreamy gaze.

The original five kittens napping. From left to right, Lou and Basil (in back,) and Bob, Bing, and Bud.

There are still occasional bouts with the sniffles. Bud seems especially prone to them, but he’s the smallest of the five, and was the smallest when his mother left him at our door.

At the moment, all five are also getting “moussed” for ring worm. That appears to be a never-ending battle, though I know from past experience it isn’t. I can tell you it was a lot easier treating ring worm on dairy cattle than on five squirming kittens!

And Then There’s Pee Wee

Pee Wee came into the house in late June. She’s a sister to Brummel, Rebel, and Sorrowful, and when we took her in, her survival was in doubt.

Her mother, who wasn’t the most friendly of the three mothers, nevertheless kept the kittens around the house. When we discovered Pee Wee had an eye infection, Sassy let me take care of her. For a few days, I tended her outside, and left her with the litter. I could also feed them and they all seemed happy.

When I found Pee Wee with her face in the dirt on Friday, June 29, I called our vet, and explained the situation. He told me what medication to give her and recommended bringing her inside, though he said her chances for survival were 50/50 or less.

How the Kittens are Doing after Eight Weeks - Pee Wee in the Early Days
Pee Wee four days after we brought her in. As sick as she looks here, she’d already started improving.

We had to feed her with a feeding tube for about three days, and she never did learn to suckle a bottle, but she was four weeks old by then, and should have been eating off a plate. We continued treating her eyes twice daily and started her on antibiotic.

After six days of that, Pee Wee started showing an interest in solid food, and once she tasted it, she never looked back.

How the Kittens are Doing after Eight Weeks - Pee Wee 10 days later
Pee Wee ten days later. Much better after starting on solid food and getting friendly with her older cousins.

She weighed 6.7 ounces on June 29. On July 23, she finally topped one pound, weighing in at 17.96 ounces.

I don’t know if it’s genetics or a rough beginning, but she’s the tiniest of the group. Compared to Lou, who’s about four pounds, she’s positively puny. You’d expect her to hang back and be wary.

How the Kittens are Doing after Eight Weeks - Pee Wee and Others
Pee Wee, (lower left,) and Lou (upper left) are the short and long of the story. Lou is the biggest and Pee Wee is the smallest. The other two are Bud (lower right) and Basil. Notice which kitten has custody of the sock!

But not a bit of it. She runs for food among the rest, and pushes in among the rest while eating.

When she plays with them, she yells like she’s being skinned alive, but the moment her opponent lets her up, she’s on all fours, back arched, tail in the air, and threatening severe retaliation.

Usually until she gets bowled over again.

She’s a delight to have around, very affectionate and entertaining.

And her run is priceless! I need to capture it on video and post it.

We do have to be careful moving around, especially in the kitchen, since she’s about the color of our carpet and she has no markings whatsoever. Lighted from above, she all but disappears!


It wasn’t in my summer plans to mother nine kittens, but that’s where I am. While they’re fun and entertaining, they also make for a lot of work. Three extra litter boxes to clean. Meals to dish up, and cats to wade through. Try concentrating on anything while nine hungry mouths are swarming around your ankles!

And living with them is like wading through razor wire. Fortunately, they’re learning what a water bottle means and they usually respect it. Still, I keep triple antibiotic ointment on hand!

Lot’s of it!

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil?

Colored pencils are ideal for mixed media work of all types, but can you use oil paint over colored pencil?

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know I’ve experimented with combining colored pencils and a number of different mediums, including watercolor, India ink, and graphite.

But what about oil paints?  Will that work?

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil

As a former oil painter, I admit the question is intriguing. Think how much more quickly you could finish a piece if you could paint over colored pencil (or use colored pencil over oil paint.) The possibilities seem endless.

And on the surface, it does seem like oil paints and colored pencils should work well together. Especially if your colored pencils are oil-based.

But Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil?

Back in my oil painting days, I tried adding details to oil paintings with colored pencils. I wanted a way to paint things like long hair, stitching in leather, and tiny highlights that was better than oil painting, and didn’t need to dry.

Colored pencils looked like the answer, but I didn’t care for the results. The surface of the paint wasn’t smooth enough even in the super smooth areas. I just couldn’t get very fine details.

What’s more, none of the colors I tried would stick to the slick surface of dry oil paint. I couldn’t even make a decent mark!

It would be my guess that oil paint wouldn’t stick to colored pencils very well, either. You might have better results if you’re using oil-based colored pencils, but even then, I wouldn’t guarantee the archival qualities of such a combination.

There is also the problem of the oils in oil paints discoloring the paper you’re drawing on.

And unless you draw on a surface like canvas or gessoed paper, you run the risk of having the oils in oil paints damage or destroy the paper over time.

So I don’t recommend using oil paints and colored pencils together in any way.

If you just want to do something fun and different, then go ahead. But if you’re hoping to make something that will stand the test of time, then it’s probably better not to mix oil paints and colored pencils.

The Best Way to Answer Your Question…

The best way to find out if you can use colored pencils under oil paint is to do a test painting on the paper you want to use. It doesn’t need to be a detailed painting. Just layer colored pencil on the paper, then stroke a little paint over it.

See what happens.

Things you’ll want to check are:

How well did the oil paint dry?

Did it soak through the paper, even through heavy layers of colored pencil?

Does the paint stick to the colored pencil, or does it flake off?

Is the paper (or the colored pencils) discolored in any way?

Did the paint dry lighter or darker than it looked wet?

Did it fade at all in comparison to the colored pencil?

For the best results, be prepared to keep the test painting for up to a year, since some of these issues may take that long to appear.

Two Test Paintings

I did a couple of tests on my own, one on Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper, and another on Canson L’Aquarelle watercolor paper.

Oil Paint under Colored Pencil on Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel Paper

The colored pencil portion of this experimental drawing was put down with heavy pressure. All I wanted was a lot of pigment on the paper. I used Prismacolor because they’re wax-based and would be a good test of how well oil paints stick.

I added oil paint by spattering, and with a brush. Some of the paint is on top of colored pencil, but I also painted over bare paper.

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil - Experimental Painting 1 Front

The paint dried surprisingly quickly, probably due to the absorbent nature of the paper, so that wasn’t the problem I expected.

However, the oil binder in the paint did soak through the paper, even through the colored pencil. The spattered color didn’t soak through as much, but there are a few stains on the back of the paper.

The brushed-on paint, however, did soak through. The staining would be more pronounced had I thinned the paint with a medium or solvent.

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil - Experimental Painting 1 Back

I also wanted to see how well the paint stuck to the colored pencil. Answer? Not at all.

I couldn’t scratch oil paint off the paper, but it came right off the colored pencil. Part of the reason for that is that scratching also removed some of the colored pencil.

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil - Experimental Painting 1 Detail

Will the paint flake off on its own over time? That’s possible.

Oil Paint under Colored Pencil on Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press Watercolor Paper

The next test was on 140lb watercolor paper. Since watercolor paper is made for wet media, it seemed like it should work with oil paint, too.

I spattered and washed watercolor pencil over the paper, then let that  dry and dry brushed the tree. As with the first test, I used paint straight out of the tube, without solvent or painting medium.

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil - Experimental Painting 2 Front

Again, the paint dried more quickly than expected.

Also as before, there was staining on the back, but it was very faint and only where I’d used the most paint. I’m not sure you’ll be able to see it in the illustration below. I had to look very closely to see it in real life.

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil - Experimental Painting 2 Back

The biggest difference between the two papers was that I couldn’t scratch oil paint off the colored pencil or the paper. Not even where the paint was the heaviest. No matter how hard I tried.

Is the paint sticking better to the watercolor pencil or the watercolor paper or both?

I can’t answer that without conducting more tests. Nor can I say whether or not there will be more damage as time passes. The results may very well end up being the same as with the Canson Mi-Teintes, but just take longer to appear.

The Bottom Line

Can you use oil paint over colored pencil? You can, if you exercise care in choosing paper and layering color.

Would I do it on a portrait or exhibit piece? No.

But the decision is yours. As I mentioned above, it’s always worthwhile to experiment on your own, using your own supplies and methods to see what happens.


Ask Carrie a Question

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Today, I want to talk about the things you need to get started with colored pencils. I want to keep it simple, and I want to answer some of your questions if you’ve been considering colored pencils, but have no idea about the best way to begin.

Why Colored Pencils?

Colored pencil art intrigues you. You want to try it.

But the artists you read about and whose work you admire talk about so many different pencils, tools, accessories, and methods, you can’t help but wonder:

What do you really need to get started?

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

I confess. I’m guilty of the same kind of talk.

I also confess that I was once right where you are now. Wanting to try colored pencils but not sure how to start.

Or what to buy or how much of it.

One of my goals with this blog and with every post is to help artists at all levels avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made. That includes clearing up some of the confusion about basic supplies.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

My list is divided into three parts. I have a basic list, an expanded basic list, and an Everything & The Kitchen Sink List. There are so many useful, fun, and cool things on my to-be-purchased list, that this method is the best way I’ve found to prioritize purchases.

This post covers the first two lists because, quite frankly, I could make two or three posts just on the third list, and still not mention everything.

The Basic List contains the minimum amount of things you must have in order to try colored pencil drawing. It is the most simple list, and the least expensive.

In most cases, you can find these items locally. No shipping or handling! If you’ve never tried colored pencils before and you’re not sure how you’ll like them, this is the list for you.

The Expanded Basic List is the Basic List plus a few additional items, as well as different types of the same item (two kinds of paper, for example.)

You may still be able to find many of the materials and supplies locally, but you will also probably have to do more searching. Online shopping will generally produce better prices and less footwork. If you’re serious about getting started with colored pencil—and sticking with it—this is your list.

Get Started with Colored Pencils - Colored Pencils 1


One Additional Word of Advice

It’s advisable to buy the best tools you can afford. A few artist quality pencils will give you a better feel for the medium than a large set of student grade pencils. The higher quality pencils usually have less filler and a higher ratio of pigment to binder than less expensive pencils.

You can buy less expensive pencils, if you wish. That’s how I started. But I wasn’t aware of the differences and soon found that cheap wasn’t always less expensive.

NOTE: I realize that not all of my readers are in the United States. If you are not and cannot get some of these supplies, substitute whatever is available where you live.

Now on to the lists!

The Basic List


I warned you the list was basic!

But paper can be confusing enough on its own, so here are some ideas to get you started.

One 9×12 pad of Rising Stonehenge paper, either white or the toned paper. I recommend white. It’s easier to see if what your pencils can do on white paper.

If you can’t get Rising Stonehenge, get a good, basic drawing paper like Strathmore 400 series paper.


One 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils. This set has the basic colors (reds, blues, greens, yellows, black, and white) with enough variety to let you experiment, without burdening you with colors you may not use or unnecessary expense. As I write this, I’m working on a drawing using nothing but the colors in this set.

And not all of those.

Get Started with Colored Pencils - Colored Pencils 2

NOTE: Roughly half the colors in the Prismacolor line are not lightfast, meaning they will fade over time or if exposed to direct sunlight. I’ve put together a list of the colors that are top-rated for lightfastness. If you can buy pencils individually and if you’re interested in making fine art, take this list with you when you shop.

Other Tools


A pencil sharpener is a must. A simple, hand-held sharpener is all you need to sharpen pencils. Prismacolor makes a very nice one for a few dollars, but you can also get them anywhere school supplies are sold.

A mechanical pencil sharpener will give you better sharpening with Prismacolor pencils, but I have also used hand-held sharpeners with good results.

The Kum sharpeners are a good value. The Kum wedge sharpener is made with two openings, one for standard size pencils, and one for larger pencils.


There are a number of good erasers available for colored pencil work, but I recommend getting a good click eraser, such as shown below. They are a pencil-like tool into which you can insert the eraser. They’re great for fine detail erasing as well as general erasing. The Pentel Clic Eraser is the one I use.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils - Click Erasers

Note: All of these items can be purchased locally most of the time. I can buy them all with a single trip to Hobby Lobby. If there’s an art store, office supply store, or university near where you live, you can probably find them all there.

The Expanded Basic List

These are tools you can add to the previous list or, in some cases, replace similar items on the previous list.


A pad of Bristol. Bristol paper is heavier than Rising Stonehenge. It’s available in two finishes: Vellum and Regular (or smooth). Regular surface is very smooth. The vellum finish is a little softer, but still not as soft as Stonehenge.

I’ve used both Bienfang and Strathmore. Both are good papers, but they’re so smooth, they don’t work well for my drawing methods. They are ideal for learning, though, and are the go-to papers for a lot of colored pencil artists.

You can also add larger pads of paper. Or smaller, whatever is your preference.

For a paper with more tooth, try a pad of Canson Mi-Tientes. They come in pads of assorted colors, earth tone colors, and grays. I’d suggest a pad of assorted colors, which includes white.


Replace the 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier pencils with a 36-pencil or 48-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier pencils OR a small set of some other brand, such as Faber-Castell Polychromos, Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor or Caran d’Ache Luminance. Be prepared to pay more for these, but better performance and more lightfast colors are worth the expense.

A colorless blender is also a handy tool to have. A colorless blender is essentially a colored pencil without pigment. It’s made with the same wax binder the colored pencils are and it’s used to blend colors. Use it just like a regular colored pencil to blend without adding additional color.

Get Started with Colored Pencils - Colorless Blender

Other Tools


Get a good, low cost electric sharpener instead of a hand-held sharpener. They’re usually available starting at around $30.


One package of mounting putty. Look for Hand-Tak, Poster-Tack, Blu-Tack or similar. Handi-Tak or similar brands. Mounting putty is a soft, moldable substance most commonly used to hang posters. Tear off a piece, shape it however you want, stick it to the back of a poster and press the poster against the wall.

But it’s also very useful in lifting color from a drawing. You can make it whatever shape you need to lift color. It’s also self-cleaning. Work it in your fingers and the color disappears!

Erasing Shield

This is a handy template—usually very thin metal—with a variety of standard shapes cut into it. To use it, lay it over your drawing and erase through one of the openings. The result will be that shape on your drawing.

You can also add color using an erasing shield.


A large brush is handy for sweeping away eraser crumbs. You can use your hand, but doing so runs the risk of accidentally marking your drawing. You can also blow the crumbs away, but a brush is easier to use. Look for  a large brush with soft bristles. Drafting brushes are ideal.

A Note on Solvents

You’ll notice I didn’t mention solvents. That’s because there’s enough to be said about them that they require their own post. You can, of course, use solvents with colored pencils. Many of us do. I do, in limited form.

Solvents are liquid tools that allow you to blend colored pencil. Standard solvents are odorless paint thinner, turpentine, rubber cement thinner, and rubbing alcohol. They can speed the drawing process, but you also need to use them with care.

Ready to Shop?

I’ve put together a PDF download shopping list that includes all three of my shopping categories. Click here to get my Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils shopping lists..

Questions about Colored Pencil Sharpeners and Erasers

Let’s talk about those necessary accessories that help us get the most out of our pencils: colored pencil sharpeners and erasers.

Questions about Colored Pencil Sharpeners and Erasers

There are lots of sharpeners and erasers on the market. I haven’t used all of them, or even most of them, so the best I can do is tell you the which sharpeners and erasers I’ve used and what I thought of them.

Questions about Colored Pencil Sharpeners and Erasers

Let’s begin with sharpeners.

Colored Pencil Sharpeners

Reader Question:

What is your favorite sharpener for colored pencils?

Carrie’s Answer:

Of all the sharpeners I’ve used, I’m not sure I have a favorite. All of them have worked well for some applications, and haven’t worked at all for others. I haven’t found a sharpener that works great for everything.

Hand-Held Sharpeners

The first sharpeners I ever used were hand-held sharpeners. You know the kind. They’re a dollar or less at your favorite super store or grocery store, they come in bright colors, and are made of plastic.

Sometimes they come with a container to hold shavings; sometimes they don’t.

Questions about Colored Pencil Sharpeners and Erasers - Hand-held Sharpener

My first sharpeners didn’t have a container for shavings, so I had to carry one. Usually a small, empty wide-mouth jar. The sharpeners were usually small enough to fit into the wide-mouth jar.

Back then, they worked extremely well. Prismacolor pencils were still made with a solid wood casing that could withstand sharpening without breaking or cracking. I never once considered a different sharpener, especially since I was doing a lot of work out of the studio. Usually at horse shows.

The bonus was that if I happened lose or break a sharpener, it was no big deal. I just went and bought another!

Mechanical Sharpeners

I currently use an old-fashioned crank sharpener by Apsco. The kind that used to be in every classroom in every public school. I like this sharpener because it’s solid, is designed to take pencils of different sizes, and it sharpens like a dream.

It’s easy to clean, too. Just turn the shaving container a quarter turn, slide it off the blades, and empty it.

To keep the blades sharp and functioning properly, I sharpen lead pencils once in a while to remove wax and other colored pencil debris.

Electric Sharpeners

A few years ago, I had a battery operated, which made it ideal for working away from the studio. I used that Stanley Bostitch Model BPS10 everywhere.  It fit into the laptop carrier I used to tote art supplies, and it was quiet enough to use almost anywhere I wanted to draw.

It used four AA batteries and had a good-sized, easy-to-empty shavings tray.

Amazingly, it is still available for only $10.99 directly from Bostitch.

I also used a Panasonic Auto-Stop KP-310. The power cord was long enough to also make this compact sharpener good for drawing away from home if I was going to be in a place with access to electricity.

It sharpened extremely well, and had an auto-stop function, so it didn’t sharpen pencils beyond an ideal point.

But perhaps the best thing about this sharpener was the suction cup feet on the bottom. They kept the sharpener from moving backward when I used it. No need to steady the sharpener with one hand.

This sharpener is no longer available new, but I did find several listings at Amazon and eBay.  If you’re looking for a good, reliable, and inexpensive electric sharpener, this is a good place to begin.

Colored Pencil Erasers

Reader Question:

What is the best eraser for colored pencils?

Carrie’s Answer:

There isn’t a good eraser for colored pencils. Colored pencils are either wax-based or oil-based, so most “normal erasers” tend to smear the color around rather than remove it.

Some companies make colored pencils that can be erased, but these are not recommended for fine art use, or for any art you want to last. However, if you use them for sketching, you can use almost any standard eraser on them.

Here are some erasers I’ve tried…. for better or worse.

Click Erasers

What I refer to as click erasers are similar to mechanical pencils. The eraser is a long, round “tube” and fits into a plastic, pencil-like holder. The eraser is “advanced” by clicking a mechanism at the top of the barrel, hence my name for them.

Here are my click erasers.

Questions about Colored Pencil Sharpeners and Erasers - Click Erasers

The lighter blue one is a Pentel Clic Eraser ZE22. The darker pencil is a very old Faber-Castell Jet Eraser.

Refills come in various hardnesses. It’s helpful to have more than one eraser, each with a different hardness of eraser refill.

These erasers are stiff enough to sharpen with a blade if you want to make a very fine point. You can also shape them with an emery board or sand paper.

Kneaded Eraser

Kneaded erasers are pliable, which means you can shape them into various forms, roll them into points, or tear off pieces for small work.

Questions about Colored Pencil Sharpeners and Erasers - Kneaded Eraser

I’ve used kneaded erasers, but they’re better suited to graphite than colored pencil.  They work wonders for graphite, but aren’t very effective for colored pencils.

Electric Erasers

My husband has a couple of old electric erasers that work extremely well with my colored pencils. He worked on one drawing that I thought was hopeless and was able to remove enough color to allow me to finish the drawing.

I’ve used them once or twice myself, but confess that I’m not comfortable with them. There’s just too much risk of scuffing the paper. They could be extremely useful with enough practice, but I work with such a light drawing hand that I see no reason to spend the time to get proficient with an electric eraser.

If you’re more daring with electric tools, you might try an electric eraser, though. A lot of colored pencil artists swear by them.

My Favorite Erasing Tools Aren’t Erasers

When I really want to remove color, I don’t reach for an eraser.

Instead, I use mounting putty (shown below,) or transparent tape.

Mounting putty is a lot like a kneaded eraser, but it’s sticky enough to remove wax- or oil-based colored pencils. You can’t lift all of the color, but you’ll be able to remove enough to work over it.

The real beauty of mounting putty is that you can shape it, clean it by kneading it, and reuse it for a long time.

Transparent tape is very good at lifting color, and it’s very easy to use. Just tear off a piece, press it lightly to the color you want to lighten, and lift carefully.

The only real disadvantages to using tape to erase is that you can tear the paper if you’re not careful, and it can leave the paper feeling a little bit slick. My suggestion is to use it as a last resort, and use it sparingly.

Questions about Colored Pencil Sharpeners and Erasers - Tape

For tips on using mounting putty and tape, read 2 Neat Tricks for Erasing or “Lifting” Color from Colored Pencil Drawings on EmptyEasel.


There you have it. My favorite colored pencil sharpeners and erasers.

As I said before, these aren’t the only sharpeners and erasers available, but they are the ones with which I have experience. They may be ideal for you, but if not, I at least hope I’ve given you a good place to begin looking!

Colors to Use for a Monochrome Under Drawing

Today’s reader question is about method; in particular, the monochrome under drawing method.

I want to try a monochrome under drawing for colored pencil. What colors can I use?

The short answer is that you can use any color you want. That’s one of the great things about being an artist!

What Colors Can You Use for a Monochrome Under Drawing

Neither art nor life is as easy as that, though.

While it is true you can use any color you want for a monochrome under drawing, not all colors are good choices. The color you choose will greatly affect the look of the finished drawing, so you need choose carefully. Believe it or not, it is possible to ruin a drawing in the under drawing phase.

I know.

I’ve done it!

Tips For Using a Monochrome Under Drawing

Two main guidelines you should pay special attention to are:

don’t use very light colors

don’t use very dark colors

Colors that are too light in value won’t do you much good.

Light colors might seem like a natural choice, but they aren’t. If you choose a color that’s too light, it’ll have little or no impact on the final color.

I chose colors opposite the color wheel from a deep chestnut for this under drawing. Apple Green for the horse and Grass Green for the tack. I soon learned they were too light to make an impact on the final drawing.

Monochromatic Under Drawing - Color Too Light

So be wary of using lighter colors. They simply may not be bold enough to make much difference to the finished drawing.

But don’t go too dark, either!

You can get away with dark colors more easily than light colors, but you also run the risk of getting the under drawing so dark, color glazes will be ineffective.

I chose a dark blue for this drawing because the horse was a darker brown and because the horse was back lighted.

This under drawing looks great, doesn’t it? I should have left it this way. Every color I added made the drawing darker and darker until there wasn’t much room to add the necessary details. The finished drawing was too dark and vague for my liking, and just didn’t turn out to expectation.

Monochromatic Under Drawing - Color Too Dark

If you are able to apply color with very light pressure—whisper soft pressure—then dark colors can produce excellent under drawings.

But if you’re a bit heavy-handed or just aren’t confident in your ability to produce light pressure, you’re better off steering clear of dark colors.

Oh, there is one other thing you need to be careful to do.

Colors you might want to stay away from if you’re doing a monochrome under drawing.

As you may know, complementary colors appear opposite one another on the color wheel. Yellow and purple are complementary colors. So are red and green.

Monochromatic Under Drawing - Color Wheel

Technically speaking, a monochrome under drawing can also be a complementary under drawing. Complementary under drawings are great for drawing almost anything.

But I generally keep the two drawing methods separate. I use the complementary method often enough that if I really want to use a single color for an under drawing, I steer clear of complementary colors.

The same holds true for earth tones, since I use earth tones for the umber under drawing method.

Does that mean you can’t use complementary colors or earth tones for your monochrome under drawing?

Absolutely not! I’m just telling you why I don’t use complementary colors or earth tones when I use a monochrome under drawing.

If you’ve never used a single-color under drawing before, the color wheel is your treasure box! Use whatever color you want!

In fact, try them all.

A fun and easy drawing exercise to get started.

Pick six to twelve colors at random out of your pencil collection. Shade each color with medium pressure (or several layers of light pressure) on a piece of paper. To keep things simple, make each swatch as even in color and value as you can.

Then choose a different color, and layer that over each of the color swatches. You want to see how the under drawing colors affect the surface color and this is a fast and easy way to do that.

If you want a bit more in-depth test, make each color swatch range in value from as light as you can make it to as dark as you can make it. Then do the same with the color you layer over the under drawing colors.

I’m guessing it won’t take you long to discover which colors work for an under drawing and which aren’t suitable.


As I stated at the beginning, you can use pretty much any color you want to draw a monochrome under drawing.

Some colors will hinder you more than help you, though, so take time to experiment before you start the drawing. You’ll be glad you did.

If you have a question, leave a comment below.

Want to know if the monochromatic drawing method is the best method for you? Read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

New Colored Pencil Email Drawing Classes

Are you looking for a unique and fun way to learn colored pencils?

Does your ideal class include personal attention from an established colored pencil artist?

Do you want a short class? Something you can do in a month?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, my new one-month colored pencil email drawing classes are for you.

One-Month Colored Pencil Email Drawing Classes

For the last year, you’ve had the option to improve your skills by taking an email drawing class.  But for a lot of you, the length of the class (about nine weeks) and the cost are prohibitive.

Some of you asked for another way to get lessons. Something short-term and less expensive.

In response, I’m planning a series of short classes titled “I’ve Always Wanted to Draw….” Each class focuses on a different topic, and will last no more than 30 days. Most classes cover subjects (like clouds, kittens, or landscapes,) some cover different drawing methods, and some focus on using different pencils or papers.

What the I’ve Always Wanted to Draw Classes Include

These classes include many of the perks of the longer-term classes.

Complete lessons

Full-color illustrations

Feedback from me

Lots of tips

The opportunity to vote on future class projects

What Makes These Classes Unique from My Other Email Drawing Classes

Each class will be offered only once. Once a particular topic is covered in a particular way, it will not be revisited.

Limited in length. The longest class will last only five weeks. Most will be four weeks or less.

Low cost. Only $20 per class.

No limit on the number of students who can join class. That’s why the tuition is so low.

After the conclusion of each class, I’ll compile lessons into an ebook, which students receive for free. Ebooks will be added to my growing collection of art books and will be available for general sale.

When Does All this Start?

I hope to have the first class ready to go by August 1. The tentative subject is drawing clouds, but other details are yet to be determined.

But I’m always looking for new topics, and am open for suggestions. What would you like to draw?

See the tentative class schedule for 2018.