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