10 Expert Tips for New Colored Pencil Artists

By Carrie Lewis in Art Tutorials > Drawing Tips

One of the best ways to learn about your chosen medium is to ask questions. Find people who are doing what you want to do—and doing it well—and ask them questions. I recently took that challenge myself.

The question I asked was simple: what one tip would you share with an artist who was thinking about trying colored pencils or who was new to colored pencils?

I asked artists from around the world, who work in a variety of styles with a variety of subjects. . . just browsing their work is a learning experience, not to mention inspirational!

Here are the answers from those who responded. I’ve organized them into three categories, and provided links to their websites wherever available:

1. Materials and supplies

Richard Klekocuik – Launceston, Australia

When exploring coloured pencils for the first time, don’t compromise on quality. Cheap materials WILL NOT give you the true coloured pencil experience.

Try 2 or 3 pencils (of the same colours) from each of the top brands to find out which ones work best for you. Do the same with papers; buy single sheets (A4 size) of different colours, thickness and textures.

I found out through this approach that I preferred coloured papers to white. In fact, I now work almost exclusively on coloured Canson pastel board. I have found that white supports do not suit my style or subject choice.

Whatever you decide, don’t “cut corners” and do things “on the cheap.”

Jay Varma – Bangalore, India

When I first started working with coloured pencils, I bought a set of 120 coloured pencils that I later found didn’t work as I intended it should. [They were] a bit hard and didn’t blend as smoothly as I expected.

My advice would be to experiment with a few types and brands to see which ones you are comfortable with by buying them individually. These days, very high quality pencils with lightfastness standards are available, so you’ll have plenty of choices.

2. Color and value

Arlene Steinberg – Long Island, New York, USA

Values are most important. Even more so than color.

Joe Lotz – Loganville, Georgia, USA

I think for people who are new to colored pencil, understanding the importance of the grays is paramount. The grays can create drama, depth of field, shading, and much more, whether used in a purely grayscale piece or as an under-painting in a full color piece. Most of the successful colored pencil paintings I come across show a great use of the grays.

David Sandell – Kettering, United Kingdom

Don’t try and use every color in the box. Get used to a palette of, say, 3 colours which will give you a range of values, dark to light. Then you can add accents of colors in specific areas with another 1-2 colors for interest.

3. Method and technique

Bleuie Acosta – Quezon City, Philippines

Holding the pencils at different locations will help maintain consistent pressure application.

LIGHT PRESSURE: Hold the pencil near the back and let the weight of the pencil do the work. This is good for the first few layers or when a light touch is required.

MEDIUM PRESSURE: Hold the pencil in the middle. This is useful when building up additional layers and when you need the pigment to cover the paper.

HEAVY PRESSURE: Hold the pencil near the tip. This is useful when adding details and also for burnishing.

Caryn Coville – Greenvale, New York, USA

My advice to artists new to colored pencil would be to sharpen your pencil often and be patient. Colored pencil is a very slow medium.

Barbara Dahlstedt – Buckeye, Arizona, USA

I’ve found that it is important to build layers slowly and burnish near the end of the process. That is the why I use the Grisaille method. I establish the darker values with a color like blue or purple, then lay subsequent colors on top. It really seems to help establish rich saturated color.

John Ursillo – Clinton, Washington, USA

Keep your pencil sharp! Keep your hands off your paper! Sneak up on it!

The first two are obvious. The last less so. “Sneak up on it!” is a catch way of getting [students] to remember that CP takes patience, and lots of it. Apply color slowly, think ahead when layering, reserve the white, etc. All these are made better by patience.

Allison Fagan – Kanata, Canada

Spray the coloured pencil work with fixative. Hold the can about 10″ inches away from the surface, and spray with slow sweeping motion, allowing several minutes between coats to dry.

This will preserve the work and also eliminate any wax bloom—the cloudy haze which will come to the surface of the work when exposed to air (especially noticeable on dark colours and in heavily burnished areas).

Many thanks to all the artists who took time to respond. I hope you’ll find their suggestions as helpful as I have.

I’ll close with a tip of my own—have fun with your pencils! Learn what they’re capable of, then find a book, video, or art teacher whose work you like and take a class. There’s no better way to improve than by enjoying yourself.

Special thanks to all of the artists who took time to respond. Please visit their websites to learn more about them and their art!


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