When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

We’ve all heard we should keep our pencils sharp for the best results. Most of the time, that’s true, but the reader who asked today’s question wants to know about using the side of a colored pencil. Here’s the question.

Is it more effective to use the side of the pencil and avoid the tip except for making defining lines?

Most of the time, smooth color is vital to smooth color layers and smooth blends. Sharp pencils are usually necessary for both. So it’s understandable that most artists recommend keeping pencils sharp all the time.

But that’s not to say there’s never a time to use the side of a pencil.

Following are a few examples of using the side of the pencil instead of the tip.

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

Covering Large Areas with Color

Let’s say you need to shade an area that’s fairly large and in which no sharp detail is needed. A distant hill, maybe. Or an under drawing layer. Using the side of your pencil makes perfect sense in those situations.

You can draw smooth color with the side of a pencil, but the color skims across the tooth of the paper without filling the tooth. The resulting color layer will appear lighter in value because more of the paper shows through. This is ideal for showing distance in a landscape, or for drawing mist or fog.

I used the side of a pencil to draw the distant trees in this landscape. The broken color (paper showing through the color layer) helped create to look of far off trees.

When you glaze, you put down just enough color to tint whatever color is already on the paper. With oil painting, you do that by adding painting medium to thin the paint and make it more transparent.

Colored pencils are already translucent, so you don’t need to add anything to them to use them for glazing.

Instead, you glaze by using light pressure and doing no more than one or two layers. The sides of pencils are perfect for this because they create a smoother color layer and cover more area without visible pencil strokes.

You can cover more area by using the side of a sharp pencil rather than a dull pencil, as shown in the previous illustration.

The resulting color layer is broken. That means that paper holes show through the glazing layer, as shown below. The rougher the paper, the more paper shows through glazed color.

Whatever color is already on the paper, also shows through, and that’s what makes glazing so effective. You can tint previous color layers without completely covering them up.

Too Much Detail

Have you ever realized after finishing an area that you’ve drawn too much detail? Have you ever wished there was a way to reduce the amount of detail without removing color?

Try lightly shading that area with the side of a pencil. You’ll be able to add color without adding detail. That color layer helps “veil” the previous layers. The details still show through, but they’ll be less obvious.

I often use a light gray for such work, but you can use any color. Use a darker color if you need to darken the area; use a lighter color to lighten it slightly.

One Other Reason to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

Over the years, readers have asked how to learn to use lighter pressure when they draw.

The best tool I’ve found for a naturally heavy hand is changing the way you hold the pencil.

Here are two samples of how I hold pencils.

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

On the left is a nearly vertical grip. I use this when drawing tight detail, or when I need to be very precise. It’s also a good way to work on small areas.

When you hold a pencil this way, you’re using only the point of the pencil. You have a lot of control and can put a lot of pressure on the pencil.

On the right is a nearly horizontal grip. With this grip, you’re drawing with all or most of the exposed pigment core, not just the tip. This is perfect for glazing thin layers of color, as I explained above.

But you know what else it’s good for? Decreasing pressure! That’s because you hold the pencil more toward the unsharpened end. That makes it a little more difficult to put a lot of pressure on the pencil as you draw.

(My illustration isn’t perfect because I used a short pencil to show the horizontal grip. No matter the length of the pencil, hold it near the end.)

If you want to draw with very light pressure but have a naturally heavy hand, try holding the pencil near the end of the pencil and drawing with the side of the pencil.


In most cases and with most papers, it is smart to use the tip of a well-sharpened pencil.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when using the side of the pencil is more helpful. I’ve shared a few of the times I’m likely to use the side of the pencil.

Experiment with your next drawing and see when the side of your pencil produces better results than the tip.

Got a question? Ask Carrie!

Want to read more posts like this? Sign up for Carrie’s free weekly newsletter and be among the first to know when she publishes new articles.


    1. Mike,

      It depends on the type of paper you’re using and the size of the area you’re working with.

      I mix brands of pencils in most of my work. The two brands I use the most are Prismacolor (the lightfast colors only) and Faber-Castell Polychromos. But I also have a full set of Caran d’Ache Pablo and Derwent Drawing Colored Pencils. They all work well together as needed.

      If you’re using PPastelmat or most other sanded papers, you can use a product by Brush & Pencil called Powder Blender. Powder Blender is a dry blending agent that lets you blend color very easily over small or large areas.

      Apply a small amount to your paper, then add color and you can blend with a sponge applicator, brush or paper stump. You will be able to smooth color out very quickly and easily.

      The downside to Powder Blender is that it must be sealed with ACP Textured Fixative to make the color permanent. I haven’t been completely satisfied with that process, but it might work for you.

      Another way to cover an area fairly quickly is to lay down the color, then smooth it out with a paper stump. This works very well on sanded papers.

      If you’re using traditional paper, the best tool you have is patience and tenacity. You can blend with a paper stump on traditional drawing paper, but it’s not as effective as on sanded art paper. Powder Blender is not recommended for traditional paper, either.

      You could try woodless pencils. Woodless pencils look like chalk or oil pastels, but they’re really the same pigment that’s in regular colored pencils. There is no wood casing, so the whole thing is pigment. I have used them before to cover large areas, but the color isn’t as smooth as with a pencil unless you sharpen them to a very fine point. That can be done, but it defeats the purpose of a woodless pencil!

      If you want to work on watercolor paper (Stonehenge Aqua is perfect!), you can lay down base layers with watercolor pencils or with watercolor, then add layers of colored pencil over the top.

      Those are the best suggestions I can offer without more specific information about how you’re working and the paper you’re using. But I hope I’ve given you some ideas.

      Thank you for your question and best wishes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *