Where to Start with Colored Pencils

Where to Start with Colored Pencils

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..

Thank you

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 said you already do—including photography—indicate you’re already creative.

But you want to know where to start specifically with colored pencils. So let’s take a look at a few ideas.

Where to Start 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.

Where to Start With Colored Pencils 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, how to blend color, 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!)

Look for a coloring book in a subject you like. 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 a 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. You can try some of those methods on coloring book pages if you wish. That’s a great way to transition into doing your own work.

If those methods 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 your 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!

Bonus Tip

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.

Additional Reading

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Getting Started with Colored Pencils

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  1. Pat

    Wow, did you ever hit a spot with me. I had purchased the pencils and use quite a few Strathmore products (they’re also recommended by cardmaking mavens). Like the woman who said she was 70 and started something new. I was 67 when I decided that I would try greeting card making. I taught myself and have picked the brains of many (like you) to come up with beautiful cards. At this point, I have to hire an assistant (other than my cat, Rascal) as I am so busy and so in demand for cards. Thank you for your great tips as this will make me get out those pencils that have been in the box forever.

    1. Pat,

      Thank you! Thank Margaret too for asking the question!

      I have a feline studio assistant, too. Three actually, though one is retired. They’re just about as much help to me as Rascal no doubt is to you!

      Card making is an art form all its own. Congratulations on your success!


  2. Vickie C.

    Margaret, you posed that question so well. “Wannabe” is what I have called myself so often, but I am finally starting to see that I am “an artist”. I could not utter that phrase about myself at first…(how dare I?!). I just turned 65 and it all started with coloring books and Prismacolor pencils. About a year into that and I started feeling like there was just MORE for me. So I searched for colored pencil classes, and started taking them online through Craftsy. I started with a couple of beginner ones and progressed through all they had to offer, not only in colored pencil, but into graphite drawing and pastel pencils, and will soon start watercolor. I am on my 11th class right now and enjoying and learning so much. (Yes, the old memory fails me at times but I have copious notes). I only started the classes 8 months ago, so I’ve been going at it strong. I also learn from Lisa of Lachri’s videos and other artists as well. Carrie, of course, has been an inspiration! She answers questions with great attention to detail. So, you see…you have a life of art waiting in front of you. Just open the door a little further and go for it! Good luck and great achievements to you, Margaret!

  3. Loraine Lyons

    I also am a newbee and started colouring with fine tips 8 months ago after seeing a friend who was just about to start colouring adult colouring books. I bought a book and the pens. After a couple of pictures I got critical and although I loved the vibrancy of the pens I found them scratchy. So on to Pitt pens! Again wonderfully vibrant but just too flat. So I then got some prismacolor pencils and started another picture. I was pleased with the result and went back to my inked pictures putting in shadows over the top! I have read voraciously, followed many YouTube tutorials and bought “in detail” step by step kits ( yet to get started on these). Yesterday I took the plunge and started actually drawing and colouring from a reference photo. I started with a black background-in at the deep end -and, after much research and test samples, I used a posco black ink followed by Tuscan red then indigo blue then prismacolor black. It worked!!! Now onto the tulips! I am so very grateful to you and all the other proper artists who have given such help and inspiration to people like me. Thank you. Loraine

  4. I have found a beginning again for my artist within. I have enjoyed reading your techniques here and willing to buy my very own coliring book.
    What a great introduction with many ideas to choose from. I have been waiting to begin.
    Thank you for the great responses from your readers/artists.
    I have to begin somewhere.

  5. Heather

    What is the best tool to use for my initial sketch? I see lots of people sketch it on and then erase but I don’t like that and feel like I can’t figure out what I want to color where without my lines. Please help!

    1. Heather,

      When I do a landscape, I sketch with colored pencil and I don’t erase the lines. Usually, I use a neutral earth tone, or a green that’s prominent in the landscape I’m drawing. The sketch is very simple and I use it only to place the elements of the composition.

      When I do something more complex like a pet portrait, I make the line drawing on separate paper and refine it through several revisions. When it’s the way I want it, then I transfer it using a light box (window) and colored pencil, or with transfer paper. I don’t erase this line drawing either, since I need it to know what goes where.

      I hope that helps.


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