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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I don’t take that chance the oil takes to long to dray and pencils for me is a unique way of medium.