Art Blog

7 Colored Pencil Drawing Techniques You Can Master In No Time

There’s so much you can do with colored pencils — why limit yourself to simple coloring? Instead, practice these colored pencil drawing techniques.

Colored pencil drawing of a tulip

With a little trial and error, you’ll master them in no time. Soon enough, you’ll be adding texture, light and a whole lot of beauty to your artwork.

7 colored pencil drawing techniques to try

1. Layering colors

The key to achieving both vibrant colors and realistic shading is thoughtfully layering colors to create the right form.

Colored pencil persimmons drawn with different levels of layering

For example, the persimmon on the left uses only one shade each of red and green. You can tell that it looks quite flat and dull. But by layering in shades of gray, orange, green, violet and blue, the final result on the right is much more lifelike.

There are many approaches to layering colors, but the best way to get started is just to experiment!

2. Pencil pressure

A light touch or a heavy pressure on your pencil can make a big difference! A lighter pencil pressure results in a lighter color, of course, while a heavier hand gives you a dark, saturated hue.

Colored Pencil Pressure Scale

Most colored pencil artists prefer to use a lighter pressure because it creates a better base for layering colors. If you use too heavy a pressure, it will be impossible to lay any additional colors over the deep hue. Plus, lighter pencil strokes tend to be easier to erase or correct.

The best way to get a feel for pencil pressure is by creating a pressure scale. Draw swatches of the same color using different pressures and you’ll quickly see the difference.

3. Mark making

Just like creating art with any other medium, the way you make marks on the paper can totally change the final result of your drawing.

In colored pencil drawing, the four mark making techniques you see below are most common. From left to right:

Mark making techniques for colored pencil

Smooth fill

If you need to quickly fill a large area with smooth color, this is the technique you’re looking for! Quickly make pencil strokes toward you, making parallel lines or long, thin loops. Use a light touch — you’re coloring carefully, not scribbling!

Smooth scrumble

When you want to fill a space without an obvious “line” texture, a smooth scrumble will be your best bet. This technique can also be combined with the smooth fill when layering colors. Simply draw in small circular motions, moving in a random pattern.

Rough scrumble

It’s all about texture with this colored pencil marking! Use a motion similar to the smooth scrumble, but be sure to vary your pencil pressure, line size and spacing. Leaving small white gap will create the textured look.

Eyelash stroke

Bring detail to your drawings with this stroke. It’s not quite like hatching — it’s more delicate and should be a thick-to-thin line

4. Incising paper

Incising or indenting is a technique that allows you to make very thin, white lines within dark values. The process would be impossible to do with erasers or masking fluid.

Pencil leaf drawing on tracing paper over drawing paper Colored pencil leaf using incision technique

To incise your drawing, place a piece of transparent paper (such as tracing paper or waxed paper) over your drawing paper. Use a ballpoint pen or a 2H graphite pencil to draw the incision lines. Once you’ve drawn all the lines, remove the sheet of transparent paper. Begin shading over the indented area in your drawing. If you place enough color, you’ll soon reveal the strokes you previously applied.

This colored pencil technique comes in handy when drawing fine details like animal whiskers, flower filaments and anthers, fur, leaf veins, scratches and other fine details.

5. Drawing highlights

There are several methods to create the lightest areas in your colored pencil drawings, and they often depend on the types of paper you draw on.

Colored pencil pear drawing

Drawing highlights on white paper

If you draw on white paper, simply reserve space for the highlights, leaving the paper’s original white tone. Don’t color over the white paper with your white colored pencil — the highlights would lose their brilliance.

Instead, outline the lightest areas with a very light colored pencil like cream or light peach (whatever works best with your drawing) so you don’t shade over the white areas by accident. But don’t use a graphite pencil — graphite lines look more intense when you shade over them with light color, which flattens out the space.

Drawing highlights on toned paper

If you draw on toned paper, you can use the white colored pencil to shade the highlights. However, because white is a cool color and often times the highlights are warm and have their own color, shade with a light colored pencil first (cream, light peach, cloud blue, etc.) and then finish up shading with white. Apply a very heavy pencil pressure to achieve the necessary brightness. 

Highlighting tools

If the highlights are super tiny or need a punch, try using touch of white crayon, pastel, gouache or even acrylic paint with a 00 brush. Water dilutes all three mediums, and a quick brush clean-up is a must for acrylic paint because it dries instantly. A white Faber-Castell Pitt artist pen can also work great for some drawings.

A few artists use an art X-Acto knife to put just a few tiny highlights. Beware: This technique requires practice and is usually done at the very end.

6. Blending

The blending technique can make a colored pencil drawing look more like a painting. Blending solvents and tools smooth the pigments, almost eliminating the strokes you made when applying color.

Colored pencil flowers raw and blended

The drawing on the left hasn’t been blended at all. You can see the layers of colors, the grain of the paper and the stroke marks. When blended with a solvent, most of that detail goes away, leaving a smooth and seamless piece of art.

Blending is certainly not a necessary step, but many artists like the smooth finish.

7. Rubbings

Sometimes the simplest and most effective way to draw a colored pencil texture is with a rubbing. You probably used this technique as a kid, but that doesn’t mean its a juvenile approach to texture.

To achieve this look, place your drawing paper over a textured surface like lace, leaves or anything else with bumps and ridges. Rub your colored pencil over the paper and textured surface.

Of course, rubbings on thicker drawing paper will be less effective than those on a thinner paper, so plan ahead if you want to use this technique.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2015 and was updated in March 2018.

22 Comments

Thea Beck

Sign me up!

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Marilyn

I saw a still life colored pencil painting in which I was told the artist used a technique where she used alcohol(?) to basically melt the pencil marks done on a rough gritty paper. It left the color smooth, almost like water color or acrylic. Do you have instruction for this technique?

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Jennifer Morrison

It was probably odorless mineral spirits. Gamsol is the one I use. You can paint it over several layers of colored pencil and it disolves the pencil into the tooth of the paper. There are many artists who use this technique.

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DarlinAmi

I’ve done this before. Had a color pencil mermaid on paper that was too rough. Using a. Lending stick was just removing the color pencil and was not getting into the groves. I took a tiny shot glass of rubbing alcohol and a pile of cotton swab. Start very light and be careful as it can over blend your colors. But this turned out wonderful and did give the look of watercolor when done.

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andrewwales

With Prismacolor pencils, you can also use baby oil as a solvent. Try it!

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Natalie

Really informative and very helpful drawing techniques for those who love drawing but not sure how to create those areas which prove difficult but, with your help and excellent steps of what to do and what to use they will soon be able to achieve these hard to get areas of “white” eventually. Thanks for sharing.

Natalie

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Veronica Winters

Not sure what the question is, Natalie, but you are welcome. you can contact me via my website if you have a specific question about colored pencils.

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Josh

She didn’t have a question, she was just complimenting the article. Her sentence structure is just odd, she’s really just saying that this is helpful for people who don’t know how to do these things.

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Lyssa

Her sentence structure wasn’t odd, and there was obviously no question. It was just a comment complimenting the course. A very detailed, polite comment.

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Christopher

The previous poster wasn’t calling the original commenter impolite or trying to question her motives. He was simply trying to explain the things that were being said and the intent behind them. Just a simple explanation that was not meant to offend.

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Jake Rye-Ann Hamon

Are you kitten me?!?!?!

Gabriel Harper

Great tips here, although personally I loathe indenting it’s a solid technique if it works with your style!

It’s hard for me to keep blank spots clean through the course of an entire piece. If you want bright highlighted regions, try masking off these areas with masking tape until the final steps.

An X-Acto is an amazing tool as well – I use it not only for tiny highlights (scraping) but also general cleanup and shaping while laying down colors. It’s really easy to ruin your paper though. Use an extremely light touch, and avoid scraping until you have put down a few layers.

Highlighting on top of pencil is tough, but with some aggressive layering and burnishing a good old white pencil will go a ways. For bright whites I’ll use a UniBall Signo Pigment Ink pen (UM-153) or a Zig oil-based white paint pen – either spotting directly with the pen as a final step, or dabbing out a small puddle and applying with a white or colorless blender pencil. A small brush or single bristle can be used for detail as well. It’s sometimes possible to slowly mix in a bit of white pigment ink with a white pencil and work up a highlight, but the paper quickly gets worn out.

Just a few thoughts! Thanks for the article.

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Katie

I just got some colored pencils, but I can’t push very hard and they don’t color

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Veronica Winters

Hey, what’s the brand? The low-quality colored pencils don’t work as well as the professional grade pencils.

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Krishna

Hi Veronica, nice article with some great tips. thanks! I didn’t know of it earlier. I do my drawings with Staedtler colored pencils. Which brand would you recommend for colored pencils drawings?
Thanks to Gabriel too for sharing few more insights into this art form. It is difficult to find all such tool here in India but I will surely try to find few of them and use it in my drawings.

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Veronica Winters

Hi Krishna,
I use professional colored pencils. the least expensive are prismacolor premier. Luminance is the best but it’s $4 a piece! Prismacolors have varied light-fastness rating. some of them fade pretty quickly. if it’s not important to you as you learn, I’ll go with them. But if you aim to sell your art as a pro artist, I’d pick pencils based on their lightfastness ratings. I have my own blog (you can google my name) and search there for CP articles). Pablos are also good, but again not all of them are lightfast.

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Ely

My daughter just came across your wonderful website. We are wondering if you can show us and other how to use the techniques where we use first colored pencils to make an outline, fill it with dry water color pencils, using a small damp brush over it. And after is dry using pen and ink. We came across it while looking through some art website, but it was never shown, how to go about creating an illustration. Not even a small animal or other.
So,, can you help the helpless artists learn the right way this technique, we are very grateful. thanks

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Denise Pavel

These are great ideas. I really appreciate you sharing them, as I am new to the colored pencil scene. I have the 150-count box of Prismacolor pencils, though, so this newly gained info should keep me busy! I wanted to recommend
color blender markers for blending. Now that I’ve started using one, l won’t go without one.

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CatheeB

Denise, I am interested in this marker. Don’t know that I have heard of one of these. Who makes them? Thanks.

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K.elle.h.

Prismacolor makes these blender markers. It works well but oderless mineral spirits are much more effective and it only takes a little bit. I recommend gamsol or mona lisa oms. Use with a soft paintbrush and have a few layers of colored pencil on the paper for better results. The marker does offer a little more control in really tiny spaces but I just use a tiny paintbrush.

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cynthia ck kennedy

Great Tips!!! Just learning the world of colored pencils. Very clear advice-Thanks!

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