Reworking Old Colored Pencil Art

Reworking Old Colored Pencil Art

Today, I’d like to share a post on a topic we artists don’t talk about very much: Reworking old colored pencil art.

I’m not sure why that is. Maybe because we don’t think it’s really possible to do much with an old piece. Or maybe we don’t like admitting we have pieces we’d like to improve upon!

But I’m always urging readers and students to experiment.

“Don’t be afraid to try things, and don’t be afraid to make bad art,” I say.

Well, I recently decided to take my own advice. What’s more, I decided to share my experiment with you. Here’s what I did.

The Original Piece

A couple of years ago, I finished a landscape on Fisher 400 pastel. This is the finished piece, “East of Camp Creek.”

Reworking Old Colored Pencil Art - The original artwork.
East of Camp Creek, Colored Pencil on Fisher 400 Pastel Paper, 2018

I thought I did a great job on the sky and distant hills, but I’ve never liked the rest of the composition. The closer to the foreground, the less I liked it. So I put it aside and moved on. I just didn’t know how to fix it or improve on it, and it seemed smarter to make new art.

After using Brush & Pencil products on a few other pieces, I decided to tinker with this one again. I didn’t think I could ruin it. I already didn’t like it!

Reworking Old Colored Pencil Art

Step 1: Dry Blending

The first thing I did was use a sponge applicator on it, just to see if I could dry blend an old drawing. I could! I blended the tree line and managed to fill in quite a bit of paper holes.

Then I decided to see if I could remove the center trees by blending them out. Those trees were supposed to be the center of interest but never quite lived up to that billing. I couldn’t remove them entirely, but I was able to blur them.

Reworking Old Colored Pencil Art

After that, I went sort of crazy and decided to blend all of the foreground. Tall grass and everything!

I concentrated on the darker values, since the foreground was mostly darker values. I pulled the sponge along the slope of each hill, starting at the bottom and pulling color up the slope.

The results weren’t perfect, but the overall affect was quite satisfactory. If nothing else, I learned that it is possible to continue dry blending colored pencil on sanded art papers for years, so long as you haven’t sprayed them with fixative of any kind.

Reworking Old Colored Pencil Art

Step 2: Removing Color

Next, I used mounting putty to remove color. That worked extremely well. The mounting putty removed all the color except the darkest values, which may have been applied with heavier pressure.

To my surprise (and delight!) I got all the way back to paper in most areas.

Reworking Old Colored Pencil Art

Step 3: Adding Color and Removing More Color

After that, I worked through a series of adding color and removing color to change the contours and create a more satisfactory pattern of light and dark values. Since I liked the distant background, I left that alone. But I reworked everything else from the belt of trees forward.

I simplified the hills and trees, but also brightened the middle ground. I wanted the focus to be on the middle ground, so I brightened that area while leaving the background gray and distant, and darkening the foreground.

Reworking Old Colored Pencil Art

Step 4: Changing the Landscape

From that point on, I layered and blended various shades of green with a light warm gray, cream, and a light yellow. I used the warm gray in the distant hills, cream in the middle hills, and the light yellow in the closest bright hill. Using each of those colors as blending colors helped separate the three tiers of hills and further emphasized the sense of space and distance.

I also reworked the trees on the left, moving them forward in the composition to set them apart from the rest of the trees in the middle ground.

After I had the hills the way I wanted them, I redrew the trees in the center middle ground. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep them there, but it was easier to add them now. If I decide later to remove them, I can use the mounting putty to “cut them down.”

After working over all the hills, I worked on the darker hill in the immediate foreground.

Then I decided it was time to take a long look at the piece. So I set it up across the room and glanced at it as I did computer work. I was very pleased to note that it already looked a lot better than the previous version. Using the three blending colors as I did gave the composition more depth.

Reworking Old Colored Pencil Art

Adding warmer greens and yellows also “cheered” it up quite a bit. Those warmer colors in contrast with the cooler colors in the far distance really accented the space I wanted to convey when I first thought of this composition.

The Final Steps

I continued working on this piece for the next few days. If an idea came to mind, I tried it. Some of them worked. Some of them didn’t.

This slide show documents the remaining steps in the experiment.

The Conclusion of my Experiment Reworking Old Colored Pencil Art

You may think that the experiment failed. It didn’t. At least I don’t consider it a failure. I learned a lot from the days I spent tinkering with this piece. For example, I learned that it’s possible to mix any color of pencil pigment with Touch-Up Texture and paint it onto paper.

I also discovered how very easy it is to remove color almost to the paper when I draw on sanded art paper.

And I learned that it is possible to improve on old drawings, even if this attempt wasn’t successful.

So the experiment was successful, but the artwork didn’t survive. That’s okay with me because I didn’t like the original artwork anyway.

And I do still like the concept. I’m looking forward to applying everything I learned about drawing distance into a new work.

One that will turn out well!


  1. Gail M Jones

    I really liked, and was surprised at how much you could remove and re work on pastel mat. Thank you for sharing this. I always thought of colored pencil as being a “non erasable mostly” art. You showed me that sometimes that isn’t true. Very cool!

    1. Sanded art papers are quite forgiving when it comes to lifting color.

      However, I recently learned it’s even easier to lift color from sanded art papers if you’re using Powder Blender, too.

      And it almost seems as though the coarser the grit, the easier it is to remove color. That doesn’t make much sense, but it does appear to be true.

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