Drawing on Wood with Colored Pencils

Are you ready to experiment with your colored pencils? Maybe you’re looking for something other than paper. How about drawing on wood?

Drawing on Wood with Colored Pencils

Yes! I’m serious. Drawing on wood is not a far-fetched idea.

Nor is it a new idea.

Drawing on Wood with Colored Pencils

Birch wood has long been an accepted support for oil paintings and other artistic mediums. Many of the Great Masters used hard woods as a supports for their oil paintings. Why? Because it was readily accessible, reasonably easy to prepare, and lasted a long time.

Since much of their artwork was for clients and on pieces of furniture, it was also the logical choice.

For some, it may also have been the only choice, since painting on wood pre-dates canvas.

Why Drawing on Wood May Be Your Best Choice

Should you consider wood for colored pencil work? Absolutely, and here are seven reasons why.

Wood is Rigid

It’s a solid support that’s impossible to tear or puncture. No framing required!

The fact of the matter is that some wood supports are designed with keyholes in the back so you can hang them without adding a hanging device.

Wood Grain Makes a Great Background Treatment

You know how many times you’ve wished for a better way to do backgrounds? I’ll bet you never considered wood grain.

You should. Some hardwoods have beautiful wood grain. Depending on the type of art you do, and the subjects you draw, you might not be able to find a more natural fit for a background treatment.

It’s Readily Available

Believe it or not, wood is still readily available in a variety of locations. When’s the last time you visited a lumberyard?

Yes, that wood is milled for construction uses, but if you choose carefully, you can still get great wood for drawing on. The best part? It’s already kiln dried, so you can draw on it immediately.

Don’t want to use lumberyard wood? That’s okay. It’s also available as an art supply from many locations, including Dick Blick. Primed and unprimed selections are available. You will pay more, but the panels come in a variety of standard and exotic hardwoods, and in a number of standard sizes.

I’ve even used wood from a tree felled in our front yard. I had to let it air dry for a year, but it was beautiful to draw on.

It’s Inexpensive

You  can, of course, pay a lot of money for exotic woods, but you don’t have to. Maples, oaks, and other hardwoods are readily available at reasonable prices in most locations.

Especially if you buy from a lumberyard outlet.

Its Long-Lasting

Some of the best preserved oil paintings from centuries ago were painted on wood. Wood lasts just as long if you use colored pencils on it.

Just make sure to use the best, most lightfast pencils you have, though.

It Smells Great

At least I think it does. I love the smell of milled wood! Sawdust even smells good.

But the thing I like best about drawing on wood is….

It Stands on Its Own

Seriously. I did one small piece on a quarter-inch thick piece of wood, and it stands up by itself! Art like that is a great novelty item for people who love art, but may not be able to afford a full size drawing or painting.

Besides, those little drawings make great gifts.

Drawing on Wood with Colored Pencils

I hope to do a tutorial on this subject in the future, so stayed tuned.

Drawing on Wood with Colored Pencils Miniature Landscape

In the meantime, I wrote a tutorial on drawing on wood for EmptyEasel, showing you how I drew the miniature landscape shown above. You can read Drawing with Colored Pencils on Wood here.

Are You Curious about Drawing on Wood Yet?

I hope so!

Here are a few recommendations on wood panels to try. They’re all from Dick Blick, but you can find similar products elsewhere.

American Easel Maple Panels

Ampersand Value Series Artist Wood Panels

100% Satisfaction Guaranteed Art Boards Natural Maple Panels

Baltic Birch Panels. I’ve painted on these and they’re absolutely gorgeous for oil painting. One unprimed 16×20 begs constantly to be used for colored pencil work.

Blick Studio Wood Panels

Duho Studios Exotic Hardwood Fine Art Panels. These are quite expensive because the woods are all exotic (have you ever heard of Zebra Wood?) But they’re beautiful!

3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives

In a previous post, I shared my thoughts on drawing papers you can use with colored pencils. Today, let’s look at three drawing paper alternatives.

There are enough paper choices to keep most of us happy forever.

But paper isn’t the only thing you can draw on.

3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives

3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives

Lets look at the three drawing paper alternatives I’m most familiar with. They aren’t the only alternatives anymore, but they are easy to find and easy to use.

Mat Board

That’s right. The same material you use to frame your colored pencil drawings can also be drawn on. I drew Portrait of Blizzard Babe, shown here, on gray mat board with a medium texture. The tooth is visible in the upper, left corner.

Colored Pencil Portrait of Blizzard Babe
Portrait of Blizzard Babe
Colored Pencil on Gray Mat Board

That’s one of the things I like about mat board.

Unlike paper, there’s a wide variety of textures available from rough and almost “pebbly” to egg shell smooth.

If you want something truly unique, you can also use suede mat board. Gemma Gylling has been using suede board for years and creates the most phenomenal pet and wildlife artwork.

Mat board comes in a wide variety of colors, so if you like experimenting with colored supports, give mat board a try. I chose a gray mat board for Portrait of Blizzard Babe because the gray provided an excellent basic color for this wonderful light gray filly and because it reduced the amount of time necessary to produce the portrait.

Mat board comes in full sheets and can be purchased online or at any reputable framer. While you can draw on any type of mat board, use archival or museum quality mat board for your best work. Lesser quality mat board often contains acids that can leach into artwork and cause discoloration.

Sanded Papers

Pastel artists have been using sanded papers and supports for years, but what about colored pencil?

Here’s a small work I did on UArt Sanded Pastel paper. Spring in Colored Pencil is my first drawing on sanded art paper. Since then, I’ve also used Fisher 400 Pastel Paper and Pastelmat.

Spring in CP
Spring in Colored Pencil
Colored Pencil on UArt Sanded Paper

Most sanded papers are heavier by nature than standard drawing papers, but many are also available as rigid supports. UArt has a line of sanded pastel panels and Ampersand Art Supply has flat panels and cradled panels in a variety of depths. They even have toned panels!

Most sanded drawing surfaces are archival, but not all the substrates are, so shop wisely when you shop for sanded drawing papers.

The biggest advantage for many colored pencil artists is that works can be framed without glass.


That’s right. Basic wood!

When it comes to wood, however, make sure to stick with the types of wood proven by decades of use as oil painting supports. Birches and hardwoods have been popular among oil painters for a long time and they’re also wonderful with colored pencils.

Colored Pencil on Wood
Colored Pencil on Wood

One of the neatest things about wood is that you can find it almost everywhere. Literally. Several years ago, we cut down an old Maple in our front yard. It had been dying for a couple of years, thanks to carpenter ants. After the tree was removed, I collected a few pieces with the intention of drawing on them after they’d cured for a year or two.

But I got a few small pieces from another source and have made a drawing or two on those. The small landscape shown above was drawn on a piece of wood six or seven inches long and roughly two inches tall.

Wood can be drawn on with just a little sanding—which is what I did—or with the more involved preparation of planing and varnishing or painting. You can leave it fairly textured or sand it smooth.

And that little landscape drawing? The piece of wood was thick enough that it stood up on its own! No framing or hanging necessary. It was just right for display on a shelf or a desk.

Two Recommendations when Trying Drawing Paper Alternatives

When trying a new surface, it’s best to experiment a little before you start a major work. The more exotic the surface, the more necessary the experimentation.

The drawings on sanded pastel paper and wood shown above are both very small. The sanded pastel paper is actually an ACEO (3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches). Each piece was large enough to give me a good idea of how color went onto the surface, but not so large that it took days to finish it. I think each of those drawings took no more than an hour and probably a lot less.

Also, whenever you try a new support, it’s a good idea to do a piece you can keep around for a while. Especially with untested supports. You want to get some idea of how permanent the artwork will be on each support and the only way to determine that is to keep a small drawing you can examine. I can’t think of very much that would be worse than selling a lot of drawings on an unproven support and having customers return them when the artwork failed to last.

Beyond that, I encourage you to try supports and have fun.