Using White Paint Under Colored Pencils

Using White Paint Under Colored Pencils

Colored pencil artists are always looking for ways to improve their work by looking at how other artists work. In today’s question, a reader asks what white paint can be used under colored pencils after she saw a coloring book artist painting out black lines. Here’s her question.

Hi Carrie,
I saw a completed coloring book picture where the colorist used a white paint to cover the lines in order to create a different outcome. It was brilliant! What kind of white paint will cover lines (or my mistakes) that I can use colored pencils on top of? Thank you

Before I answer this reader’s question, I need to say that the only paint I’ve ever tried under colored pencils is oil paints and watercolor paints. The oil paints didn’t work at all. They were too slick for colored pencil to stick to. They don’t work when applied over colored pencils either without using some special tools and supplies.

Watercolor works great, but it’s transparent, so it doesn’t cover anything. Even if it did, I have only a few colors and none of them are white.

So the answer that follows is based on observation of other artists, and accumulated knowledge of the characteristics of the mediums.

Let’s discuss a few possibilities.

One White Paint That Can be Used Under Colored Pencils

The only opaque white paint I know of that works under colored pencil is gouache.

Gouache is essentially opaque watercolor. You use it the same way you use watercolor, but when it dries, it’s opaque. It will probably cover the lines in a coloring book. Many different companies produce gouache and it comes in the various grades (student, artist, etc.). I purchased this tube of white gouache from Dick Blick. Why M. Graham? They made the oil paints I used to use and they were always top quality.

Since gouache is a form of watercolor and since you can layer colored pencil over watercolor quite easily, you should be able to layer colored pencil over gouache with much the same results.

Remember, I’m new to gouache, so I have no extended personal experience to back up my suggestions. But if I were to try it under colored pencil, I’d use it as thin as possible. If that didn’t cover the area, I’d let it dry and add another layer. My experience with other forms of wet media has been that thin layers work better than one thick layer. Especially if you need the surface to be smooth enough to accept colored pencil once it’s dry.

Also remember that gouache is water-based. That means you cannot use it on top of colored pencil because it wouldn’t be archival. Water-based mediums do not stick to oil- or wax-based mediums very well or for very long.

However, if you’re experimenting or making art for fun (and not for sale), then you can use gouache at any point. That’s also a good way to figure out how well it covers mistakes.

Two Other Options

Brush & Pencil Products

Another option would be Brush & Pencil’s Titanium White and Touch-Up Texture.

Touch-Up Texture is a liquid and Titanium White is straight pigment powder. The same kind of pigment used in white colored pencils. When you mix the two together, you end up with a fluid white you can brush onto a drawing like paint.

The best part is that these products are made for colored pencils so colored pencils stick to them very easily. You can even layer these products and colored pencils more than once if necessary.

When it dries, it accepts colored pencil quite easily.

I’ve used it a couple of times, most notably on the Blazing Sunset piece, shown here. I painted the sun with Titanium White and Touch-Up Texture, then shaded it with yellow after it was dry.

White Paint Under Colored Pencils

This method is completely archival, but it works best on a rigid support.

White India Ink

India Ink is another possibility. I’ve used brown India ink as an under painting medium and it works quite well. All the colors but two are transparent, however. Which two are opaque? Black and white.

So you might be able to do some “cover up” work with white India ink before you start drawing. I used Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink and have been quite happy with it.

The only downside to this is that I don’t believe it can be used over colored pencils.

Whenever you use any form of wet media, use a paper designed for wet media and/or tape your paper to a rigid support before you start. For example, Stonehenge will dry flat if you tape it down first. Whatever type of paper you use, always test it before starting your drawing.

2 Things Not to Try

I wouldn’t use acrylic paint or oil paint. Both dry with tough film surfaces that colored pencil will not stick to. Oil paint is also likely to stain your paper with an oil stain.

Neither are archival when used with colored pencils, either, and unless you mount your paper to a rigid back board, you need to use a rigid support with both mediums. Otherwise, your finished artwork might crack as the paper flexes.

A Final Caution

Whatever paint or other media you try, practice first on scrap paper. Nothing is more irritating than trying a new technique on an important piece of art and ruining the art. Don’t do it!

It’s far better (and far less frustrating) to practice first, and then try any new tool, method, or technique on important artwork.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!


  1. Christi Upton

    Just yesterday I briefly explored using white gel pen on black paper with a colored pencil glaze. Seems to be quite satisfactory and I’m planning my next drawing using this method. Sakura Gelly Roll opaque white. I tried the Souffle with unsatisfactory results.

    1. Christi,

      Thank you for reading and for your comment.

      White gel pens do cover well. The reason I didn’t mention them is that they are not archival. Since I make art for the purpose of exhibits and/or sale, I use only archival materials. So every answer I give comes from that point of view.

      Give your first drawing a bit of time before you more artwork using gel pens. Make sure the ink doesn’t dry and crack or flake off the paper, since that is the primary problem with gel pens. The difficulty is that I don’t know for sure how long it will take for problems to develop.

      Thank you again for your comment!

    1. Valerie,

      Thanks for that information. It’s always helpful to get information from artists who have actually used those methods.

      As I mentioned, I’ve not tried colored pencils over acrylics, but thought based on past experiences with acrylics (admittedly very few and long ago) that acrylics wouldn’t be suitable. It sounds like they may be suitable in some applications.

      Thanks again!

  2. Hey Carrie,
    I definitely agree with not using acrylic under coloured pencil. I used to do this to fill holes in canvas for a smoother texture, however, the paint would often come off in chunks and my colour never stuck well. it actually scared me away from canvas for a long time. One thing I’ve taken to doing lately is using gesso. In thick layers it fills texture very well. on accident I also discovered that a thin layer can obscure lines, leaving only a hint that is easily covered behind. this is great for me when I do a base drawing that I do not want to be evident. I’m not sure how this would work on paper or with high quality gesso, as an I can afford right now is from Walmart. But for hard surfaces it’s my go to!

    1. Rhiannon,

      Gesso is something I had not considered. I don’t think it’s a good fit for paper unless the paper is very heavy, like 300lb hot press watercolor paper or a paper mounted to a rigid support.

      But you are right about gesso filling in the tooth on canvas. I used it quite a bit to prep canvases when I was using oils all the time. Another advantage is that it can be lightly sanded for a smoother surface texture.

      Thank you for that suggestion!

    1. Nancy,

      Thank you for reading this post and for leaving a comment. A watercolor ground would be another option. The gold color could also provide for some very interesting and unexpected results. Let us know what you think of it after you’ve tried it.

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