Where to Begin a Colored Pencil Drawing

You’re new to colored pencils, and eager to get started. Your first project is on the drawing paper, your pencils are at the ready, but you’re stumped. You don’t know where to begin a colored pencil drawing.

Where to Begin a Colored Pencil Drawing

I’ve been there and stared at that blank sheet of drawing paper wondering where to start more than once. So afraid of doing the wrong thing, I do nothing at all.

Knowing where (and how) to start gets easier with each drawing, but even with your first drawing, it’s not an insurmountable obstacle.

Where to Begin a Colored Pencil Drawing

You may be looking for One Secret to answer all your colored pencil questions. Let me burst that bubble right now. There is no such secret.

But there is hope.

You see, the beauty of most art forms is that there are as many ways to make art as there are artists. Look for artists whose work you like, then learn how they make their art. Try their methods. If those methods work, great! Use them to make your art.

If those methods don’t work for you, don’t worry. Look at how another artist works and try those methods. Keep trying until you find the method that works best for you.

That’s what I did. When I found things that worked for me, I used them. I discarded the things that didn’t work at all, and when I found things that sort of worked, I adjusted them until they did work for me.

That’s probably what you’ll end up doing, too.

Now let me share a few tips for starting a colored pencil drawing, starting with the most basic. Base layers.

Base Layers

The first color you put on the paper is called the base layer.

A lot of times, the base layer is smooth color and is meant to shade the area you’re working on. Usually, it’s also the lightest value in that area. I usually select a color that’s the same value as or lighter than the brightest highlights if the brightest highlights aren’t white.

I describe a few ways to choose the color for the base layer in Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

Darkest Values

Another good way to begin a colored pencil drawing is by starting with the darkest value first, as I did with this study of a cat’s eye.

Starting with the darkest value first is one good way to begin a colored pencil drawing.

Establishing this value first gives you a point of comparison for all the work to follow.

Look closely at your reference photo to determine the darkest color. It’s not always black!

Then outline the shape, then shade it. I used a variety of strokes in this illustration, starting with small, circular strokes. But I also used other strokes to fill in more of the paper holes.

Lightest Values

Many artists begin with the lightest values. Some lightly outline those values so they don’t accidentally shade color over them. That’s what I often do because I often accidentally shade over highlights. So I draw the highlights as well as the shadows from the beginning, as shown in this line drawing.

I know a line drawing like this is overwhelming to some, but it helps me preserve those all important highlights. Even if I don’t transfer every mark, I do transfer the shadows and highlights, as well as the outside edges.

You can also actually shade the highlight color over the highlight areas. Even if the color is too light to see on paper, it acts as a “resist” so that any color you put over it isn’t quite as dark as shading it over blank paper. The waxier the light color, the more it acts as a resist.

If you use medium pressure or heavier (or work on a softer paper like Stonehenge,) you also impress the marks into the paper. When you color over that area, the marks show up, as shown below. I drew the eyelashes with a very light color, but I also pressed the marks very lightly into the paper.

As I shaded color over that area, the new color did not cover the previous color. The impressed marks also began to show up because the new color didn’t get down into them. As I darken the eye, the eyelashes become more and more obvious.

The illustration above is also a good example of base layers. I selected the lightest color in each area and shade it lightly over the area.

Those are Three Ways to Begin a Colored Pencil Drawing

They aren’t the only ways to start a drawing. In fact, they aren’t the only starting point I use.

But they are the most common and, I believe, the easiest for new artists to learn quickly. Try them out and see which one or which combination works best for you and gives you the results you want.

Oh, one more thing. Have fun

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