Using Colored Pencils on Wood

Using Colored Pencils on Wood

I’ve written a lot about the many drawing surfaces available to colored pencil artists. Today, I’d like to talk about using colored pencils on wood.

But this time, the discussion arises from a question asked by an artist using colored pencils in an unusual mixed-media method. Here’s the question.

Any advice about using Prisma colors on wood? I’m a pyrographer and I find coloured pencils really enhance my work. Also would like to know how to use silver, gold and bronze pencils. They never seem as brilliant as they should.

Using Colored Pencils on Wood

Artists have been drawing and painting on wood for centuries. You can still buy premium hardwood panels for painting on. I’ve used them myself for various projects. Not often, mind you, but enough to know I like the surface.

About Using Prismacolors on Wood

Some time ago, I drew a miniature panoramic landscape on a small piece of wood. I wasn’t keeping art journals back then, so I don’t remember exactly what I did. But I believe I used the pencils the same way on wood that I used them on paper.

Using Colored Pencils on Wood
Landscape on Wood, Colored Pencils on Wood, 1.5″ tall, 4″ wide, and 3/8″ thick.

I didn’t sand the wood first, but I did use the smoothest side. For most drawings, I start with light pressure and gradually increase the pressure as needed.

When I drew on this piece of wood, however, light pressure didn’t make much difference. As the drawing progressed, I gradually reached the point of using heavy pressure. That was the only way to get color down into the grain in some areas.

Since the wood had a bit of grain, I used different strokes to get the coverage I wanted.

For example, in areas where I wanted smooth color, I stroked with the grain, then across it. In other areas, I added just enough color to get the look I wanted, and in some areas, I left the wood bare. The overall result was very pleasing.

Since I drew the landscape on wood at least five years ago and probably much longer, I no doubt used Prismacolor pencils. They were the only pencils I had back then.

Tips for Using Colored Pencils on Wood

Archival Wood

Wood is just like paper. Some types are more long-lasting than others.

In most cases, you want to draw on hard woods or birches. Dick Blick offers a nice selection of wood panels in a variety of woods and surface treatments. My preference is untreated birch or maple, but you might have better results with primed or gessoed wood.

Unless you’re looking for a more painterly look for your work, you will probably want to get sanded wood or do a bit of light sanding before you layer color.

My guess is that any wood that’s suitable for wood burning is also suitable for colored pencils. But do a few small tests on scrap pieces first.

Drawing Techniques

For the most part, whatever layering techniques you use on drawing paper should work on wood. Be aware that heavier than usual pressure is necessary to put color onto the wood, but you should still begin with the lightest pressure possible.

Also know that you may not be able to use as many layers, especially if the surface is very smooth. You may be more successful using a few layers applied with medium pressure or heavier. This is another instance in which you’ll have to test the color application on each type of wood you use.

I wrote a tutorial for EmptyEasel in which I describe step-by-step how I drew a landscape on a small piece of wood. The article includes tips on layering and blending with rubbing alcohol.

About Metallic Pencils

Use metallic colors the same way you’d use any other colors, but consider layering a white or other light color first, then adding the metallic color over that. Metallic colors do behave a little bit differently than regular colors, so you might have to experiment to find the best under drawing colors for each of the metallic colors you want to use.

I’ve already written a couple of good posts on using metallic colored pencils. For more information, you can read Using Metallic Colored Pencils, Metallic Colored Pencils: My Thoughts, and Metallic Colored Pencils on Black Paper.

Got a question? Ask Carrie!

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