Today’s question for Q&A Month appears in my inbox in various forms on a regular basis. In short, the question is this: I don’t know where to start with colored pencils, but I want to learn.
Here’s the latest incarnation.
Hello. My problem is “I am a want to be”. I want to draw, paint and be creative. But it just isn’t in my head to get started. I love [colored] pencil works of others..and painting on rocks..even dotting.
But where do I start? I take good photos..even entered them in fairs…
I am sure you must have hundreds of “want to bes ” out there..
Margaret ( age 70yo). lol
Margaret, that’s a fantastic question and I’m thrilled you asked it! Too many people reach a certain age and think it’s too late to learn something new. I have news for you and everyone else: It’s never too late!
Some of things you’ve said you already do—including photography—indicate you’re already creative.
But you want to know where to start specifically with colored pencils.
Where to Start With Colored Pencils
The easiest answer is to start where you are. I’m not being flippant, by any means, but I always thought I needed to “be at a certain level” or “needed to know” certain things before I could start something new. That’s simply not true.
Case in point. I taught myself how to oil paint by painting every paint-by-number set I could get my hands on. I got them for Christmas, and bought them myself. Most of them were horses, but I also did a few landscapes, and then tried a paint-by-number on velvet, and an acrylic paint-by-number.
When I’d done every horse painting I could find, I started doing them over, but with changes. I experimented with backgrounds, changing the colors of the horses, and even changing leg positions.
That soon got old. One day when I bemoaned the lack of new sets, my mother said, “Why don’t you draw your own drawing and paint it?”
Talk about a light bulb moment.
What That Has to Do With Margaret’s Question
I started learning how to paint by painting something someone else designed.
You can do the same thing with adult coloring books.
The beauty of adult coloring books is that you don’t have to worry about the drawing part for now. You can concentrate on how the pencils feel, and how to blend color, and layer and all the rest. It’s sort of like enjoying the icing without having to eat the cake (if you like icing as much as I do, that’s a big deal! Especially the home-made kind!)
If I were in your shoes, I’d look for a coloring book in a subject I liked. Horses, other animals, or landscapes for me. Keep the designs simple to begin with. Those complex designs are gorgeous to look at after someone else has finished them, but they’re not a good learning tool, if you’re just getting started.
You can find coloring books almost anywhere these days. Wal-Mart is as good a place to start, as is Amazon. The point is to find something you want to color, then practice coloring.
What You Can Learn
After you’ve colored a page or two just for fun, start practicing some of the basic drawing skills.
Create new colors by layering two colors together, one over another.
Practice drawing values by drawing shadows. See how three-dimensional you can make that page look.
If at all possible, try different brands of pencils. Prismacolor is a good place to start, but it’s not the only artist grade colored pencil out there. Try whatever brands catch your eye.
After The Coloring Books
After you’ve done a few pages (or a few books), try drawing something around you. A ball, a box or bowl, an egg or apple. You’ll already have a general idea of how to shade and layer; now’s the time to practice drawing or sketching.
It’s also a good idea to spend time looking at what other artists are doing, particularly those whose work you admire. If they have books or videos, read or watch. Learn how they do things and then try those methods yourself. If they work for you, great! You have a new tool to put into your artist’s toolbox.
If they don’t work for you, no harm done. Try the next thing.
And if they sort of work, adjust them so they do work.
Another Place to Start
You can also begin by drawing things that interest you. That’s what I did once I left the paint-by-number sets behind. I drew horses all the time and learned how to paint them by painting them!
Sketch with colored pencils. Shade your sketches. Practice layering color and blending. Quite honestly, the more you draw, the more quickly you’re drawing skills improve.
Those are my tips for getting started, but I’m not the only colored pencil artist with advice to offer. Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art recently released a video on this topic, and has some excellent additional tips.
A Few Additional Tips
So now you have some ideas about where to start with colored pencils. Here are a few additional tips to get you going.
Don’t think you have to have all the tools and every color in the rainbow before you begin. You can actually begin learning colored pencil with a good drawing pad such as the Strathmore 400 Series and a couple of colored pencils.
Buy the best you can afford. Believe it or not, it’s far better to have a few colors of a top-of-the-line pencil than a full set of a student or scholastic grade pencils. The better pencils contain more pigment and perform better than their less expensive counterparts. Those pencils that didn’t cost very much may be so difficult to use that you give up on the medium as a whole, and that would be a shame.
Learn the basics first, beginning with value. Drawing dark darks and light lights is more important than getting color right, so practice shading and layering techniques that help you develop values. You can do this with two or three pencils—or even just one.
Find an artist whose work you admire, whose teaching technique works with your personality, and learn everything they can teach you. You can teach yourself, but you have to make a lot of mistakes on your own. Finding the right teacher is a good way to avoid a lot of those mistakes!
Give yourself permission to draw ugly drawings! Aspire to make great art, but understand it’s going to take time to get there. In the meantime, try different things, draw as much as you can, and have fun with it.