4 General Colored Pencil Tips

Today, I want to share four general colored pencil tips resulting from reader questions. Topics include tips for drawing water, drawing fur, drawing on colored paper, and a question about color theory.

4 General Colored Pencil Tips

Four General Colored Pencil Tips

1.  What Tips Do You Suggest for Drawing Water?

The best tip I can give for drawing water is to view it like an abstract. Look at the colors, edges, and shapes in the reference, then draw them as best you can.

Water is highly reflective; it picks up colors from the surroundings. So the colors you use to draw water depend entirely on the setting. Draw water in a marina using the colors of boats, bouys, sails, and docks. Draw water in a wooded setting with the colors of trees, rocks, grass, and sky.

There are also sharp edges between colors and values. The sharper the edges, the wetter the water will look.

Finally, observe the shapes that appear in the water. They may not make any sense while you’re drawing them, but if you draw them true to the reference, they will make sense when viewed all together.

4 General Colored Pencil Tips - Drawing Water

Don’t be discouraged if drawing water doesn’t work out the first time. Water is one of the most difficult things to draw accurately. It takes a lot of practice and skill, but you can do it.

Read Tips for Drawing Reflections on Water for more information.

2. What Tips Do You Suggest for Drawing Fur?

With hair and most textures like it (grass, for example), stroke in the direction of hair growth and match your strokes to the type of hair. Short, straight strokes for short, straight hair. Long strokes for long hair.

Don’t worry about drawing every hair, but concentrate on drawing the hair masses that occur naturally.

Mix colors to create color. If you’re drawing black, don’t use just a black pencil. When I draw a black horse, I use everything thing from dark green and dark blue to light violets and other colors.

The same rule of thumb applies to any color of hair. It’s always best to use at least three colors: one light value, one dark value, and one value in between.

4 General Colored Pencil Tips - Drawing Fur

Read Tips for Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil for more suggestions and examples.

3. What Tips Do You Suggest for Drawing on Toned Paper?

The color of the paper directly affects the way colors appear. A color that looks bright on white paper, will look duller on dark paper.

The darker the paper, the darker colors appear. Some of the darker colors will disappear altogether. Dark browns, dark blues, and dark greens will barely make a mark on dark paper.

If you use a medium value paper, you can draw highlights as well as shadows, and that can be a great time saver.

Colored paper sets the mood for the drawing. Yellow paper gives a drawing a bright, sunny feel, and gray paper creates a more subdued mood.

Do a few studies on the color of paper you want to try before starting a piece you hope to finish. Experiment with various color combinations. See what works and what doesn’t work.

4 General Colored Pencil Tips - Drawing Paper

Read Colored Drawing Papers for additional tips and suggestions for making the best use of colored paper.

4. How Does Color Theory Affect My Drawing?

Color theory affects every drawing just like gravity affects all of life. You don’t have to understand it in order for it to work. It just works.

But understanding how color theory works at even the most basic level helps you make better decisions about the colors you choose.

For example, complementary colors create “zing.” Cool colors generally recede into the distance, while warm colors generally move forward.

Adding accents in a warm color emphasizes an object that’s drawn in a setting filled with cool colors and vice versa.

I devoted one month to a discussion of color theory with articles that included the basics of color theory, how color theory affects art (including examples,) and a color theory drawing exercise.

4 General Colored Pencil Tips - Color Wheel

I also recommend a two-part podcast series on color theory for colored pencil by Sharpened Artist. Both episodes are excellent for a brief description of color theory and why it’s important to the artist, no matter the medium.

Listen to Color Theory Part 1, and Listen to Color Theory Part 2.

Tips for Using Sanded Pastel Paper

Lets talk about sanded pastel paper today. You know, that paper that looks and feels like the sandpaper from the local hardware store.

And lets begin with a reader question.

I was interested in the brand of sanded paper you prefer to use. I’ve used Uart 800 before but I find it a little hard to work on. I would appreciate your opinion.

Tips for Using Sanded Pastel Paper

The paper I use most is Uart, but that’s not because it’s better than any other paper out there. It’s because I started wtih Uart. I have also used Fisher 400 and while there isn’t much difference between them if you use 400 grit paper. I prefer the finer grits available through Uart.

How I Got Started Using Sanded Pastel Paper

I got a sample pack from Uart years ago. It contained the four “grits” they had available at the time. If I remember correctly, that was 400, 500, 600, and 800.

I chose to try the 800 grit because I thought it was the closest to regular drawing paper. It isn’t. None of them are like regular drawing paper in the least.

Read how I used sanded pastel paper for this first drawing on EmptyEasel.

My Initial Response to Sanded Pastel Paper

After finishing that first ACEO, I thought sanded pastel paper was interesting, but not something I wanted to use on a regular basis.

Then I received a request for a project on sanded pastel paper. I didn’t want to turn that down, so I looked up those sample sheets and ordered more, then started practicing. The first couple of drawings were satisfactory, but were also definitely learning experiences!

By the third or fourth one, I was beginning to find my stride. You know what? I also realized I liked drawing on sanded pastel papers.

Tips for Using Sanded Pastel Paper

Those “practice drawings” revealed that the right methods, and the right pencils go a long way toward making sanded pastel paper useful and now I almost prefer it to any other type of paper for landscapes.

Following are a few suggestions to consider if you’re thinking about trying this unique drawing surface.

Find the Right Paper

Uart is my preferred sanded paper, but there are others. Fisher 400 is a good paper and comes in sheets, rolls, and in board form. Ampersand pastelbord and Art Spectrum Colourfix sanded papers (and panels) are available in a variety of colors. Canson Mi-Teintes is also now available in a sanded surface. A lot of artists are also using Clairefontaine Patelmat.

Although they are all sanded papers, they’re not all be the same. To find the best fit, try as many as you can afford, or care to try.

Try Different Grits

“Grit” refers to the coarseness of the paper. The lower the number, the coarser the paper. I don’t know about other companies, but Uart has six different grits, ranging from 240 to 800.

I’ve used 400, 500, 600, and 800, and prefer the finer grits, but will also be trying some of the coarser papers. 600 and 800 grit are my favorites.

Try the different grits to find the one that suits your working methods and drawing style best.

Try Different Pencils

So far, I’ve used Prismacolor Soft Core, Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless, and Faber-Castell Polychromos.

Faber-Castell Polychromos work the best (for me.) They blend with a stiff brush with or without solvent. They also produce a powdery residue you can blend with a dry, stiff brush, almost like pastel.

Woodless pencils (I use Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless pencils) are great for laying down a lot of color fast. I haven’t tried dry blending them with a stiff brush, but I don’t think they produce the same amount of powder as the oil-based Polychromos. I’m going to have to do some testing on that to find out for sure.

Woodless colored pencils are ideal for laying down initial color on sanded pastel paper. Not only are they larger than even the largest colored pencil; you can use them like a piece of chalk and draw with the sides.

If you work large, or if there are large expanses of color in your composition, give this a try. The speed with which you can block in colors and shapes is amazing.

Or use your regular pencils like a pastel and draw with the side of the exposed pigment core.

General to Specific

Working on sanded pastel paper is a lot like training a dog (or cat—yes, it is possible.) It’s best to start general and work toward specific.

What do I mean by that? Roughly block in colors, values, and shapes, then develop detail.

Because of the tooth of the paper, you can continue to add details, accents and even highlights late in the drawing process. Even the finest grits take additional color after a dozen or more layers.

You Can Work Light over Dark

It is possible to work light over dark with most colored pencils on sanded pastel paper. It’s not the same as painting light over dark, but you can add lighter or bright highlights if you need to.

It’s still advisable to work around highlights whenever possible, but sanded pastel papers are more forgiving in this area than most traditional drawing papers.


Those are just a few of the things I’ve learned about how drawing with sanded pastel papers differ from drawing on regular papers. The bottom line is that it’s to your benefit to experiment, and that it is worth the effort.

Want to Know More?

I wrote an article on this subject for EmptyEasel. 5 Tips for Drawing on Sanded Pastel Paper with Colored Pencils features additional tips for drawing on sanded pastel paper.

2 Questions About Paper and Pencils

Today I want to answer two questions about paper and pencils. The questions were asked by Linda after she read Which Paper is Best for Colored Pencils? I answered her comment directly, then decided to expand on those answers.

2 Questions About Paper and Pencils

First, I want to thank Linda for taking the time to read that post and to ask her question. I’ve learned over the years that if one student has a question, it’s likely other students do, too, so I’m grateful for everyone who asks questions!

If you have a question, may I encourage you to ask it? It’s easy to do. Just click on the Ask Carrie button at the right or at the bottom of this page, or follow this link. Fill out the form, hit SEND, and that’s it. I will answer you directly, of course, but you may also provide the topic for a more in-depth post!

Now, on to the answer to Linda’s questions!

2 Questions About Paper and Pencils

Is Stonehenge in the pad different from Stonehenge full sheets?

I read somewhere that the Stonehenge pad and Stonehenge single sheets are different. I have been buying the pad, because I have to order from online also and shipping and handling costs become a factor. Are the single sheets of a higher quality opposed to the pad? Does it have more tooth? I also use Saunders Waterford Hot press and Strathmore Bristol Vellum.

Stonehenge full sheets were designed for printmaking, so they’re a soft-ish, absorbent paper. They take a lot of layers, but can also have marks or lines impressed in them quite easily by accident.

The pads have a smoother finish. To me, the surface is a little “harder.” Almost like Bristol.

It seems to me the full sheets have more tooth than the pads. However, the company says the formulation and manufacturing process is exactly the same, so the quality is the same for full sheets and for pads.

Is one better than the other? No. They’re just different. But one will definitely suit certain methods better than the other.

For example, I do a lot of layering and blending by drawing one color over another with light to medium pressure. But, I like deep color and full saturation (no paper color showing through the colored pencil.) For me, the full sheets definitely provide a better surface.

The fact is, that while I used to use Bristol vellum as well, I considered that paper better suited to more direct drawing methods with fewer layers applied with heavier pressure. I drew Afternoon Graze (below) on Bristol Vellum, but if I were to do a similar drawing and wanted a smoother paper, I’d use Stonehenge in the pad.

Questions About Paper and Pencils - Afternoon Graze

If you like Bristol, the Stonehenge pads are probably going to work better for you. They also come in more colors than either Bristol or watercolor paper!


By the way, I took a look at Saunders Waterford watercolor paper. It looks interesting! I might have to get a sheet of hot press and give it a try.

Are Certain Pencils Better for Certain Papers?

I have been using Pablo pencils. Recently I bought a set of [Faber-Castell] Polychromos. They seem to be fine on the Stonehenge paper but not so much on my other paper. I have never heard or read anyone saying a certain pencil works better on one paper or another. Have you experienced a difference? Or is this just me getting used to a different pencil?

Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils are the same basic formulation as Caran d’Ache Luminance, except that the pigment cores are harder. They hold a point longer and are better for fine detail. If you’ve ever used Prismacolor Verithin, that’s what Pablos are like. They’re all wax-based pencils, but the ratio of pigment to wax binder is different. In short, the Pablos have less wax.

Faber-Castell pencils are oil-based pencils. They are harder than Prismacolor Soft Core pencils, but not as hard as the Verithin or Pablo pencils. As with the Pablos, the hardness is due to there being less wax in the Polychromos.

But the oil binder also makes a difference. It responds differently to paper than wax binder does. Some artists refer to the feel of oil-based pencils as “scratchy.”

One of two factors may play a role in the difference you’ve noticed between one paper and another: drawing method and type of paper.

Drawing Method

The softer the pencil, the more quickly it puts color on paper. The harder the pencil, the more difficult it is to get the same amount of color on the paper. By that, I mean you’ll have to do more layers or press a little harder with hard pencils than soft ones.

Hard pencils are better for drawing detail. That’s where they really shine.

I use Prismacolor Soft Core and Faber-Castell Polychromos together. I do the first several layers with Prismacolor, then finish with the Polychromos. The two brands work very well together that way.

Type of Paper

Harder pencils layer better on smoother paper. Bristol vellum and a pencil like Prismacolor Verithin are a great match for a lot of things. They don’t leave as much wax on the paper, so the paper doesn’t get that “slick” feel as quickly.

Oil-based pencils and wax-based pencils with a harder pigment core work on a toothy paper like Canson Mi-Teintes, but they may feel scratchy to you. It may also seem like you’re not making much progress until you’re well into the drawing process. That’s because each pencil stroke leaves less pigment on the paper.

I have a drawing in progress on Canson Mi-Teintes that I started with Polychromos back when I first got them. It was going to be my review project.

But l didn’t do more than two or three layers before switching to Prismacolor because it took so many layers to make an impact, even with a solvent blend.

You may be experiencing the same thing in your work. Try working with a softer pencil first, then switching to the harder pencils for detail work.


The fact of the matter is that you can use almost any pencil on almost any drawing paper, but the results will vary. Some pencils will seem to fight with some papers while gliding onto others.

There is also a lot to be said for having to learn how to use a new brand or type of pencil. They do behave differently. I’ve used Prismacolor pencils for years and the Polychromos disappointed me the first time I put them to paper. But they are good pencils once you learn how they behave and feel.

So I recommend you spend time trying similar drawing methods with each pencil on different types of paper. Figure out which pencils work best for what drawing method and on which paper. Yes, it takes time, but you’re far more likely to learn the best way to use those tools with your drawing methods by simply using them.

Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper Review

Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper - Dry Media

Artist’s love new things. New pencils. New equipment. Yes, even new paper. Maybe especially new paper. The latest paper on my list is a watercolor paper from Legion. This is my Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper review.

Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper Review

Legion offers trial samples of all their papers, so if you’re thinking about trying something, this is a great opportunity.  I got free samples of Stonehenge Aqua a few weeks ago.  They’re now 99 cents, but that’s still a great price.

I received three 8.5 x 11 inch sheets of paper: one each of 140lb hot press, 140lb cold press, and 300lb cold press. They were packaged in a clear, resealable envelope from Clear Bags, a company I’ve used for packaging artwork. The packaging is ideal for storage, too, so the paper I haven’t yet used will stay crisp and clean.

The samples arrived in a large, cardboard envelope sent by regular mail, so they arrived undamaged. Crisp and clean and unbent.

Stonehenge Aqua 140 Hot Press Paper Review

General Impressions

If drawing paper can be beautiful, this is. The texture is wonderful. The 140lb hot press looks and feels almost identical to traditional Stonehenge. Since I wasn’t sure what to expect, this was a delightful discovery. (The other two sheets were also lovely. I plan to try one with water soluble media and one with solvent blending.)

The hot press also performs much like traditional Stonehenge for dry mediums. I used colored pencils on it without the use of solvents and had good results. I also tried water soluble colored pencils, with equally good results.

The jury is still out on using solvent blending (I haven’t yet put it to the test,) but I believe Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press paper would also perform with solvent blending.

Read How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 1.

What I Like about Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper

Looks and feels like traditional Stonehenge 90lb paper

In fact, I placed a sheet of Stonehenge paper and Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press paper side by side. Other than the thickness of the Aqua, it was very difficult to tell them apart just by looking at them.

Pencils behave much the same on each, so if you like the way your pencils feel when you draw on regular Stonehenge, chances are you’ll like the way they feel when you draw on Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press.

Works very well with dry media

As already mentioned, drawing on this paper was a delight. Both wax-based and oil-based pencils colored well, with even color down and excellent blending.

My test with wax-based pencils produced solid color faster, but that’s not unexpected. Wax-based pencils are usually softer than oil-based pencils, so they lay down color more easily on almost any kind of paper.

But the oil-based pencils also layered well.

In the following illustration, the large flower was drawn with a combination of Faber-Castell Polychromos (oil-based) and Prismacolor Premier (wax-based.)

Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper - Dry Media

The smaller flower was drawn only with Prismacolor.

The large flower is finished; the small one is not.

Those two dark shapes are areas where I layered and burnished. Color saturation is so rich and deep, you’d have to use a magnifying glass to find places where the paper shows through after burnishing.

Works very well with wet media

Since Stonehenge Aqua is a watercolor paper, I had to try it with water soluble colored pencils. I used Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle pencils. Not the best water soluble colored pencils available, but useful.

But as you can see here, the results are still good. I applied color dry, then activated it with a damp brush and finished it with dry color. Would the results have been better with an artist grade water soluble pencil? Probably, but I was still quite pleased.

Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper - Wet Media

This is just a couple of layers of color drawn on dry, then activated with water. I drew one layer on the inner portion of the bottom petals, then pulled wet color into the outer portions.

The shadow represents two or three layers of color activated with water, then drawn over again with dry pencils.

Both sides of this paper are excellent for drawing. It’s also heavy enough that if you mess up one side of the paper, you should be able to start over on the back.

At least for dry drawing. You can use water to activate water soluble colored pencil when you draw on the back, but if you do more than one stroke with a wet brush, you will lift color. That can make for some interesting results, but it also makes for a good deal of frustration! Stay tuned for a tutorial on that drawing.

What I Don’t Like About Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper

At present, I have nothing negative to say about the paper. I wasn’t happy my first drawing, but that had more to do with color choices and my first time drawing a flower, as I mentioned at the end of the tutorial on drawing complex flowers.

The paper performed to expectation.

I did prefer working on it dry, but that reflects more experience with dry media than with wet. I’m currently working on a small landscape using water soluble colored pencils, and it’s coming along quite well.

The only other thing I have to complain about is that I used up most of the sheet for my experiments!

My Recommendation

Should you try Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press paper? Yes. It’s almost always worth your time to try new papers.

It’s my opinion that if you like regular Stonehenge, you’ll like this paper. Not only will it be able to do everything regular Stonehenge can do; it will allow you to do much more.

If all you do is buy the sample set, it will be well worth your time and money.

How to Choose the Right Surface for Your Next Drawing

How to Choose the Right Surface Texture - Colored Pencil on Rough Paper

Last week, I shared tips for choosing the right color of paper for your next drawing project. Color is important, but it’s not the only thing you should consider. It’s just as important to know how to choose the right surface.

The paper you draw on should help you achieve your personal goals for the drawing. Choosing a smooth paper when paper with a medium or even rough surface would be better probably won’t ruin the drawing, but it may make it more difficult to finish.

So this week, I want to share some ideas for knowing what surface is best for your next subject—whatever that subject may be.

Why It’s Important to Choose the Right Surface

Papers come not only in different colors, but different surface textures. The surface texture of a drawing paper depends on how it’s made and what it’s made for. The roughness or smoothness of paper is called its “tooth”. The rougher the paper, the more tooth it has.

I wrote about the basics of drawing paper tooth in a previous post, but the illustration below will give you an idea of the three main types of surface texture and how colored pencil responds to each.

Each type of paper—rough, medium, and smooth—is made for a specific medium and sometimes for a specific purpose. Illustration boards are very smooth because they’re designed for illustrating mediums such as markers and inks.

Watercolor papers can be either smooth or rough, but are generally much rougher than drawing papers.

Most drawing papers are somewhere between illustration board and watercolor paper.

You can use any of the papers for any of the mediums, but your choices will affect the amount of time and effort it takes to complete a drawing and the way the finished drawing looks.

How to Choose the Right Surface: When Rough is Better

Rough drawing papers are good for layering. The toothier a paper, the more layers of color it takes without buckling or scuffing. A “toothy” paper is perfect if you like to use solvent blending.

However, it is more difficult to fill in the tooth of a rough paper because the pigment core doesn’t reach down into all the “hills and valleys” of the tooth. Unless you use heavy pressure or solvent blending, you’re more likely to end up with specks of paper color showing through the drawing. These “paper holes” may not bother you. If so, they can lend quite an artsy, painterly look to your colored pencil drawing.

If that’s your goal, a rougher paper is probably the best choice.

This drawing is colored pencil on sanded art paper. Sanded art paper not the same as even rough drawing paper (read about the differences here), but you can see how the colored pencil looked on rough paper. I could have filled all the paper holes, but it would have taken a lot of time and effort.

How to Choose the Right Surface Texture - Colored Pencil on Rough Paper

Use Rough Paper If:

  • You like to use solvent to blend colors
  • Want to do a lot of layering and/or use heavy pressure most of the time
  • Prefer a more painterly look for your drawings

How to Choose the Right Surface: When Smooth is Better

Smooth papers still have tooth, but they have much less tooth than rough papers. The little “hills and valleys” are shallower, and are therefore easier to fill in. That’s good if you don’t like paper holes showing in your finished drawing.

Papers that have less tooth are also ideal for drawing detail.

However, the lack of tooth also makes it more difficult to layer color effectively. You can still layer, but you’ll find it gets difficult to make color “stick” after just a few layers of color.

Solvent blending might help, but the smoother the paper, the more likely you are to damage the drawing if you use too much solvent. If the paper you use also is heavily sized (to keep it from absorbing moisture), the more likely it becomes that you could remove the drawing altogether, even with a solvent as mild as rubbing alcohol.

The drawing below is on Bristol paper with a vellum finish. Bristol vellum is a popular drawing paper because it’s very smooth that’s perfect for drawing detail.

However, it doesn’t take very many layers, and layering is key to my drawing method. I was able to complete the umber under drawing, but have had difficulty glazing color over that. Will the drawing ever be finished? I hope so, but I will have to compensate for the loss of tooth before going any further.

How to Choose the Right Surface Texture - Unfinished Drawing on Smooth Paper

Or I could start over with a toothier paper!

Use Smooth Paper If:

  • You don’t usually use many layers
  • You usually apply color heavily from the start
  • Highly detailed drawings are your goal

How to Choose the Right Surface: When Medium Tooth is Better

If your preferred drawing method falls somewhere between those two extremes, then paper with a medium tooth is probably your best bet.

Medium tooth paper has enough tooth to take a lot of layering (like rough paper), but also allows you to draw a high degree of detail (like smooth paper.) There is more paper tooth to fill in than you’d have with smooth papers, but it doesn’t take as much effort or pressure.

These types of papers can also often stand up to limited use of solvents, and may also be capable of accepting judicious use of water media such as water soluble colored pencils or watercolor.

All of those reasons are why my favorite drawing papers are medium tooth papers. The drawing below is on Strathmore Artagain paper.

How to Choose the Right Surface Texture - Medium Tooth Paper

Use Medium Tooth Paper If:

  • Your usual method involves a lot of layers
  • You draw a lot of detail
  • You begin with very light pressure and increase pressure to heavy pressure at the end of the drawing


Two factors play an important role in knowing how to choose the right surface texture. Your method and your artistic vision.

If your method of drawing involves lots of layers, you may want to avoid smoother papers, even if you enjoy drawing detail. Find a paper with enough tooth to take lots of layers, but still smooth enough to draw detail.

If, on the other hand, you apply color in only a few layers, smooth paper is probably best for you.

And if you really want to lay down lots of color fast, and aren’t concerned about details, give rough paper a try (especially those made for pastels.)

Finally, for those of us who like experimenting, try different kinds of papers with different subjects or for different effects. There is no rule that you have to draw the same way—or on the same paper—all the time!

Additional Reading

Drawing Paper Basics: Surface Texture

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Papers

Which Paper is Best for Colored Pencils

How to Choose the Right Color of Paper for Your Next Drawing

One of the first decisions every colored pencil artist has to make when starting a new project is also one of the most basic: What is the right color of paper for my next subject? Do I know how to choose the right color of paper for every subject?

If you always draw on white paper, the decision is an easy one. Just reach for the next sheet of paper.

But what if you don’t always draw on white or you want to try a different color? The color of paper you choose can either help your drawing or hinder it.

So how do you choose the best color?

How to Choose the Right Color of Paper for Your Next Drawing

Why You Should Consider Drawing on Colored Paper

There are many reasons to choose colored paper; too many to list here. One of the best reasons–at least to my way of thinking–is time. Drawing on colored paper is a great way to reduce drawing time.

Another reason to use colored paper instead of white is that the color of the paper can act as the background for vignette style art or as the foundation color for other types of drawings.

Other drawings might require a color that adds zing to the composition or helps establish a mood. Colored paper is perfect.

If you decide to draw your next subject on something other than white paper, how do you choose the right color of paper?

How to Choose the Right Color of Paper for Colored Pencil

I’ve already mentioned a couple of factors that will help you decide.

  • Providing background color
  • Providing foundation color
  • Adding atmosphere

Lets take a look at each one of these specifically.

Choose the Right Color of Paper for Background or Foundation

The first two are pretty straight forward. You need a background for every drawing and you need to establish a foundation for your drawing. There are only two ways to accomplish those two things: Draw your own or let the paper do it.

Take this drawing of a black Tennessee Walking Horse, for example.

How to Choose the Right Color of Paper Black Tennessee Walking Horse

I choose a light gray Canson Mi Tientes paper first and foremost because the horse was black. The gray paper provided an ideal background for this vignette-style portrait.

But it also provided a foundation for the drawing itself. All I had to draw were the values that were darker than the paper, and those that were lighter. Most of the highlights are bare paper. See the red arrows below.

How to Choose the Right Color of Paper Black Tennessee Walking Horse

The gray paper also provided a foundation color for the horse’s bridle. Again, all I had to do was draw the lights and darks.

Not everything was a shade of gray, though. The blue accent pieces on the bridle and the browns of the eye were made a little bit more lively by the gray paper.

How to Choose the Right Color of Paper Black Tennessee Walking Horse Detail

Could I have drawn the same horse on white paper? Absolutely, but I would have had to shade the background first if I wanted a gray tone or would have had to go with a white background. The resulting drawing would have had a different look, too.

What other colors would have worked for this drawing?

Black comes immediately to mind, and would probably have produced a stunning image, especially with the bright blues and browns already mentioned.

A light or medium shade of blue might also have been a good choice.

In the long run, though, I believe using any color but gray would have increased the time it took to draw the drawing.

TIP: Any time you draw a subject that’s predominantly a single color, look for a color of paper that supports the main colors.

Choose the Right Color of Paper for Atmosphere

Atmosphere is harder to pin down because it’s a more subjective method. It depends largely on two factors: What you as the artist see in your subject and what you want to depict.

Confused yet?

Here’s a photo of an evening sky that I’ve wanted to paint or draw since I first saw the sky in real life. It’s pretty dramatic and begging to be drawn.

How to Choose the Right Color Paper, Sky Scape

When I first took this photo, my gut reaction was to draw the sky on black paper. That seemed like the logical choice for two reasons:

  1. The silhouetted foreground is tailor-made for black paper.
  2. The blues in the sky are dark, almost purple blues, especially in the upper corners. Layering blue colored pencil over black paper is one way to capture this look

The brightness of the sun shining through the clouds could also be emphasized by putting the drawing on black paper.

How does atmosphere fit into those considerations? The day is winding down. The sun has almost set and in a very short time, it will be dark.

I want to depict the brightness of the image, but also suggest the coming darkness. Black paper is a logical choice for enhancing the sense of the darkness of night loitering behind the brightness of the sunset.

Were I to put this drawing on a light, bright yellow, it would look and feel totally different. In fact, I’d guess that it would look more like a sunrise than a sunset.

What other colors might be good choices for drawing this sunset?

I love earth tones, so I’d consider a dark brown paper if one was available. For a softer look, dark blue or a very dark gray would also be possibilities.

Of course, I could also use white paper and perhaps still get the “look” I wanted, but it would take more time and effort because I’d have to draw the darks.


These are only three factors to consider when it comes to choosing the right color of paper for your next drawing. In the end, what will matter most is what you want to do, and how adventurous you might be feeling. After all, who knows what you’d end up with if choose a totally off the wall color?

Want to Read More About Paper?

Check out these articles on paper.

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Papers

Drawing on Colored Papers to Reduce Drawing Time

My Favorite Drawing Papers

My Favorite Drawing Papers

What are your favorite drawing papers?

An excellent question!

I’ve talked a lot about the pencils I use and how I use them, but haven’t spent much time talking about my favorite drawing papers. I’ve been remiss, so thank you for asking!

My Favorite Drawing Papers

My Favorite Drawing Papers

My favorite papers are Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, and Strathmore Artagain Drawing Paper.


With Stonehenge, I usually use white. It does come in light colors (tan, light blue, etc.) and I do sometimes use those for special projects. This portrait was one of the first I drew on Stonehenge paper.

Favorite Drawing Papers - Portrait on White Stonehenge Paper

I’ve also occasionally used black, and although black papers aren’t usually my first choices, there is definitely a place for black Stonehenge.

Fawn is another color that works very well for my favorite subjects (horses and landscapes.) I’ve also used Pearl Gray and Natural.

Stonehenge is a 90lb paper designed for printmaking. It’s soft to the touch, but also tough enough to take multiple layers, and some solvent blending.

One neat thing about Stonehenge: If you get it damp, it will wrinkle or buckle, but if you let it dry lying flat, it dries out and the buckling disappears.

TIP: I’m able to get Stonehenge paper manufactured under the Rising brand from a local store. There is a difference between Rising Stonehenge paper and current Stonehenge paper. I don’t know what it is, but if you can find Rising Stonehenge anywhere, buy it and give it a try.

There is a difference between the surface quality of Stonehenge in the sheets and Stonehenge in the pad. The padded variety feels more like Bristol than a printmaking paper. If you’re new to Stonehenge, get it in the sheet first. That will give you the best sense of what the paper is like.

The pads are also quality paper, but it won’t take as many layers.

See the selection of Stonehenge papers at Dick Blick.

Canson Mi-Teintes

Canson Mi Teintes is a pastel paper, so the front of it is quite rough. It can be used for colored pencil. Matter-of-fact, I accidentally used the front for the tutorial showing how to draw a foggy morning. I almost started over when I discovered my error, then changed my mind. I’m glad I did! The pastel texture was ideal for drawing fog.

But the smoother backside is better for colored pencil overall. The difference is visible, so make sure which side you’re using when you begin drawing.

I tried Canson Mi-Teintes many years ago, but didn’t know about the two sides, and apparently used the pastel side. Result? I didn’t like it. The paper was also a bit flimsy, and didn’t stand up under my method of drawing.

The light-weight version I first tried has been replaced by a 98lb paper that stands up to multiple layers, heavy pressure, burnishing, and solvent blending.

Recently, I saw an excellent demonstration on using turpentine with colored pencil and the artist was using Canson Mi-Teintes. Her work turned out so well, I just had to try it again. So I pulled out a scrap of that old paper and what do you know? I liked it! Here’s the drawing.

Favorite Drawing Papers - Drawing on Gray Canson Mi-Tientes

I’ve since purchased four sheets of heavier weight Mi-Teintes in five colors and a 9×12 inch pad of assorted colors, and have used both.

There’s a wider range of colors with this paper, including quite a few light colors, dark colors, and even some bright colors! You can see Canson Mi Tientes at Dick Blick.

I described my work on the drawing above and you can read all about that here.

Strathmore Artagain Drawing Paper

A paper I use on a more limited basis is Strathmore Artagain Drawing Paper. The unique thing about this paper is that it’s made from 30% post consumer material. It’s a 60lb paper with visible fibers that make it ideal for vignette style drawings. The surface is quite a bit “harder” than either Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Teintes, so colored pencil behaves a little differently on it. It can handle a lot of layers, but doesn’t stand up to moisture as well.

It’s ideal for quick sketching, though. I used it almost exclusively one year when I was doing and selling on-site quick draws at local horse shows.

Flannel White is the lightest color available. I’ve used it and Beachsand Ivory most often, but have also used Moonstone upon occasion. This drawing is on Beachsand Ivory.

Favorite Drawing Papers - Drawing on Beachsand Ivory Artagain

This paper is available in more colors than Stonehenge. It’s also more widely available than Stonehenge.

See the selection of Strathmore Artagain at Dick Blick.

Papers I Want to Try

Stonehenge Aqua comes in sheets or blocks and is designed specifically for use with watercolors. It comes in three variations: 140lb cold press, 300lb cold press, and 140lb hot press.

I have a sample of each and look forward to giving them a try as soon as other obligations are out of the way. One thing I can tell you without putting pencil to paper is that they’re beautiful papers.

Fisher 400 ArtPaper is another paper on my to-be-tried list. I’ve used UArt Sanded Pastel Paper a couple of times and like that quite a bit, though it can be difficult to render detail on it. While I like UArt, I’ve heard such good things about Fisher 400 that I want to compare the two.


And those are my favorite current papers and possible future favorites. If you’re looking for paper, these are good papers to try.

Several of them are also available as panels, so if you prefer to frame your drawings without glass, you can still use these papers. How neat is that?

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Papers

When students begin a new class or start new lessons, one of the questions they usually ask is about colored pencil papers. Which brands are best? What are the differences? Which papers do I use most often?

Some of those questions have been answered elsewhere on this blog. For example, if you’re interested in knowing a few paper basics, check out Drawing Paper Basics: Surface Texture. I’ll link to other paper articles at the end of this article.

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Papers

The purpose of this post is to answer four questions that are more specific in nature. If you have a question that is unanswered here, I invite you to ask it. Chances are good that you’re not the only one with the same question.

Frequently Asked Questions about Colored Pencil Papers

1. Are there any specific brands of paper that work well with colored pencils?

Papers are even more numerous than pencils!

Look for artist quality, archival papers. These are papers that are manufactured to be as permanent as possible.

Beyond that, there are different types of surfaces from very rough (sanded pastel paper) to very smooth (hot pressed papers and boards).

The smoother the paper, the easier it is to draw a lot of detail. However, you usually can’t put a lot of layers onto the paper.

The rougher the paper, the more layers of color you can add, but it can be very difficult to draw detail.

My preferred papers are Stonehenge, Bristol (vellum surface), Strathmore ArtAgain paper, and archival mat board. I’ve also drawn on sanded pastel paper and wood.

2. Do You Ever Use Colored or Toned Papers?

Yes, I do, but not as often as I used to.

Drawing on colored papers is a great way to reduce drawing time. It’s especially helpful if you need to finish something quickly.

But drawing on colored paper requires some adjustment in method, especially if you’re drawing on darker papers. Colors tend to “fade” into darker paper and the darker the paper, the more difficult it is to get bright, vibrant color.

However, you can get lovely, subtle values by working on darker paper, as you can see in this drawing.

Drawing on Dark Colored Pencil Papers

3. What Papers Do You Use?

My two favorite papers are Stonehenge and Strathmore Artagain.

With Stonehenge, I usually use white. It does come in light colors (tan, light blue, etc.) and I do sometimes use those for special projects. I’ve also occasionally used black. See it at Dick Blick.

Artagain papers do not come in white, but I still use the lightest colors available. Flannel White (which is the lightest color, but not true white) and Beachsand Ivory. It is available in more colors than Stonehenge, so if I’m looking for something Stonehenge doesn’t offer, my preference is Artagain. It’s also more widely available than Stonehenge. See it at Dick Blick.

On My Wish List

I’m going to be trying Canson Mi Tientes. That’s a paper made for pastel use so the front of it is quite rough, but the back is smooth and is reported to be very good for colored pencil. There’s a wider range of colors with this paper, including quite a few light colors. You can see Canson Mi Tientes at Dick Blick here.

All three types of paper are available in flat sheets and in pads. If you’re thinking about trying any of them (or any other paper, for that matter), I recommend buying drawing pads first. You can usually get pads of assorted colors, so you get a variety of colors at a good value.

4. Do You Ever Draw On Anything Except Colored Pencil Paper?

Some of my favorite drawing surfaces are not paper, strictly speaking. Mat board, for example. I use archival quality mat board frequently, though not as often as I used to.

Sanded pastel papers are also good for colored pencil drawing, though they tend to gobble up pencil.

I’ve even drawn on wood a time or two and found it an excellent support.

If you’re interesting in drawing on something other than paper, give it a try. You just won’t know whether it’s suitable for colored pencil—or your drawing style—until you do. Start small and play with color. See what happens. Let us know how it turns out!

Additional Reading

If you’re interested in reading more about drawing papers, check out these articles.

Drawing Paper Basics: Surface Texture

Which Paper is Best for Colored Pencils?

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Traditional Drawing Paper

Drawing Paper Basics: Surface Texture

Drawing paper basics is our subject today. The topic was suggested by a reader, who wanted to know my thoughts about working on smooth paper.

This reader isn’t the only one with questions about paper, so since that’s such an important topic, I thought it time to talk about surface texture in general.

Drawing Paper Basics Surface Texture

Before I go any further, let me say that I used to be a big fan of smooth papers. I loved papers like Rising Stonehenge, Bristol vellum, and many of the Strathmore artist papers. Generally, the smoother a paper, the better I liked it.

But over the years, I started experimenting with different papers, and have changed my mind. More on that in a moment.

I thought I’d piggyback on the reader question to tell you about the differences in the papers and my thoughts on each of them.

Drawing Paper Basics – Surface Texture

Smooth Papers

Smooth papers are papers that have very little tooth. Some of them may appear to have little or no tooth at all. Popular brands are Rising Stonehenge, and Strathmore 400 series.

They’re ideal for fine detail and ease of color application. If you like to create colored pencil drawings that have no paper showing through the finished drawing, smooth papers will probably help you the most. Many of them are available in colors.

Most come in pads, rolls, or sheets, and are easy to find in most art supply stores or online. If you like buying paper in pads, make sure to compare it to the full sheet versions of the same type of paper.

Bristol board is also a smooth surface drawing support. It comes in a vellum surface or regular surface. The regular surface has a bit more tooth than the vellum, but both are very versatile. I used Bristol paper with a regular (smooth) surface for this drawing.

Among these, I’ve had the best success with Bristol paper or boards, Rising Stonehenge, and a recycled art paper colored Strathmore Artagain. Artagain is made from 30% recycled material mixed with fiber, so no matter what color you buy, there is a pattern in the paper. It’s quite sturdy, but is very smooth. It takes the least amount of layers of the papers I use most often, but it’s great for use with multiple layers of color applied with very light pressure.

Medium Papers

Medium tooth papers are drawing papers that are neither smooth nor rough. Most were developed for other types of dry medium such as charcoal and pastel. Strathmore 500 series paper is one such paper. Others are Canson Mi-Teintes and Daler-Rowney Murano Textured Fine Art Papers.

These papers have enough tooth to grab and hold onto color quickly and easily. They also can take a lot of layering and most of them can stand a good deal of rough handling and medium to heavy pressure color application.

But they’re still smooth enough to allow you to create high levels of detail if that’s what you want to do.

I use medium tooth papers more often than I used to. The paper I’ve used most is Canson Mi-Teintes. It’s a nice, sturdy paper (98 lb), so it takes color very well. This portrait is on Steel Grey Canson Mi-Teintes.

Rough Papers

Many rough, or coarse grained, papers (also known as textured papers) are available are suitable for colored pencil work. Popular brands are Ampersand Pastelbord, Art Spectrum Colourfix Coated Pastel PaperCanson Mi-Teintes Touch Sanded Papers and Boards, and UArt Sanded Pastel Paper. I used UArt sanded pastel paper for this landscape.

You can lay down tons of color and get very painterly drawings quite easily. These papers are hard on pencils—they eat them for lunch!—but if you love the looser look, they’re well worth trying.

BONUS! Mount the paper on a rigid support, and frame your colored pencil drawings without glass, just like an oil painting. Some of the papers listed above come in a panel form.

Many of them also come in colors and some in various “grits” or levels of coarseness.

So What Do I Think of Smooth Papers?

As I mentioned earlier, my opinions have changed. I used to use smooth papers all the time.

Then I tried Canson Mi-Teintes and liked that so much, I started using it more. Mostly because of the wide range of colors, but also because it was much sturdier than Stonehenge. And more forgiving.

Then along came Uart. I tried that but didn’t like it at first. I didn’t see how it was possible to get the kind of detail I liked drawing.

In 2020, I finally bought a pad of Clairefontaine Pastelmat. Despite thinking it was impossible to get detail, I found it to be very useful. It stands up to a lot of layers and it is possible to draw detail.

Drawing Paper Basics - Detailed landscape on Pastelmat

As I write this post, I have three portraits in progress on Pastelmat. One paid, and two practice. I won’t deny there is a learning curve that sometimes seems quite steep.

But I can also see that intricate detail is not only possible on this type of paper; it’s easier in some ways.

And it’s definitely a lot of fun to be able to add light values over dark values and have them show up!

Those are the Basics of Drawing Paper

I’ve barely skimmed the surface on this complex and broad subject, but hopefully you have enough information on drawing paper basics to make your own decisions.

And that’s what you’ll have to do, because there is no one-size-fits-all paper that works for every artist all the time.