Using Colored Pencil over Charcoal

Using Colored Pencil over Charcoal

Today’s Question: What is the best technique to add a light reddish tint, with colored pencil, to a charcoal drawing?

Colored Pencil over Charcoal

Sometime ago, I addressed a similar topic in writing about using colored pencils over graphite. In a lot of ways, the tips I suggested for layering colored pencils over graphite also apply to charcoal.

So I’m going to break this post into two parts. The first part includes tips for using charcoal under colored pencils. The second part describes two experiments in which I combined charcoal and colored pencils.

Part 1: Tips for Charcoal and Graphite under Colored Pencil

Use Charcoal First

This tip also applies to all forms of dry, non-waxy media and wet media when combined with colored pencils. The reason is simple.

All pencils contain a binder to hold the pigment together. The binding agent in colored pencils is a mix of oil, wax, and other ingredients. Charcoal pencils leave out the oil and wax.

Colored pencils with their oil-and-wax binder, will stick to charcoal.

Charcoal is not as likely to stick to colored pencils.

If you’re using charcoal sticks or dry pigment, you have no binding agent at all, but the same principle applies.

(The same is true of most wet media. Colored pencils work very well over watercolor, watercolor pencils, and inks, but those wet media may not stick to colored pencils.)

Do Everything You Want to do with Charcoal

It’s important to do all the work you want to do with charcoal before you add any colored pencil. The reader who asked the question above is adding color to finished charcoal drawings. That’s an acceptable method.

But don’t plan on alternating layers of charcoal and colored pencil if you want your artwork to last.

Seal Charcoal Before Adding Colored Pencil

Colored pencil picks up any kind of dry medium like charcoal if you don’t seal the charcoal first.

The easiest way to prepare a charcoal drawing for colored pencil work is to seal it with a couple of layers of workable fixative. You may have to try more than one brand to find one that works best for your uses.

Part 2: My Experiments

One quick disclaimer before I go any further. The only charcoal I have are two inexpensive charcoal pencils, one hard and one medium. High quality charcoal tools would have provided more accurate results, but since time was important, I used what I had in stock.

Charcoal and Colored Pencil on Bristol

This sample is a sketch on Bristol. I did not think to scan the charcoal under drawing, but you can see what it looked like in the most distant hills. I did not add color to them.

To begin, I used the medium charcoal pencil to sketch and shade a very simple landscape. I thought the Bristol paper would allow for quick and smooth shading, but I was wrong. A bit toothier paper would have been preferable.

After that, I layered greens over the charcoal without fixing it. I don’t know if you can see it or not, but the first layers of color did pick up charcoal.

I also discovered that it was difficult to get the color to stick to some of the heavier applications of charcoal.

I didn’t know if my difficulties were because of the paper or not, so I did another mixed media sketch on Stonehenge Fawn paper. This time, I did scan the steps!

Colored Pencil and Charcoal on Stonehenge

The first step was drawing and shading another simple landscape with my medium hard charcoal pencil. I used the side of the pencil to draw and quickly discovered the charcoal went onto the paper and blended more smoothly on the Stonehenge. Stonehenge has a softer surface and velvety feel, and I believe that made the difference.

Using Colored Pencil over Charcoal

After this scan, I sealed the charcoal with ACP Textured Fixative from Brush & Pencil. I applied a couple of light coats of fixative and let the drawing dry completely after each coat.

After the drawing had dried for at least twenty minutes, I started layering color over the under drawing. I deliberately chose a light color to see if it picked up charcoal.

The light blue (Prismacolor Powder Blue) did not pick up charcoal when I layered it over the charcoal. But when I tried smoothing the color with a cotton swab, the swab did pick up color and charcoal despite sealing the drawing.

So I didn’t blend the Yellow Ochre or Dark Brown on the foreground slope. Instead, I used the sides of the pencils with light or medium-light pressure to add color.

Using Colored Pencil over Charcoal

So What do I think?

I like the look of charcoal and colored pencil combined on Stonehenge paper. The charcoal under drawing added a slightly different look to the finished sketch.

On Bristol, I was not at all satisfied either with the drawing process or the final result.

So if you’re primarily a charcoal artist, you might want to consider adding a bit of color to your finished drawings on your favorite papers.

And if you’re a colored pencil artist, but are looking for a little more depth for your drawings, a charcoal under drawing might be exactly what you’re looking for.

In either situation, just remember to do test samples first!

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