Art Blog

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 and employ 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.

Indenting paper

Indenting is a technique of making very thin, white lines within dark values. The process would be impossible to do with erasers or masking fluid. Animal whiskers, flower’s filaments and anthers, fur, leaf veins, scratches and other fine details are good examples of elements you might want to indent.

how to indent drawing paper

How to indent a drawing

Place a piece of transparent paper (tracing paper or wax paper) over your drawing where you want to indent the drawing. Take a ballpoint pen or a 2H graphite pencil and draw over cat’s whiskers, flower’s filaments, grass blades, house siding or any other areas that you want to indent and texturize. Then, lift the sheet of wax paper and begin shading over the indented area in your drawing. If you place enough color, you’ll soon reveal the strokes you previously applied.

indenting of flower

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.

highlights in drawingDrawing 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. If you outline the lights with a graphite pencil instead, this line intensifies shaded over it with light colors, flattening 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. 

materials to make highlights

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.

Learn Colored Pencil Essentials

colored pencil techniques

Improve all of your colored pencil drawings! Learn easy, empowering techniques for color mixing, application and more in this expert-taught online video class.Enroll Now »

Rubbings

In the image below, you see some examples of the textures done as rubbings over sea shells, a cheese grater, a textured box, filigree earrings, a frame, and even a sushi roller. 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. Note that rubbings done over thicker drawing paper will be less effective than a thinner paper.

Rubbings in Colored Pencil

Combining mediums

Many artists use watercolor pencils to under-paint large areas such as backgrounds. Use a brush to apply a small amount of water over the watercolor pencils to dissolve and blend the pigment. Once the paper is dry, colored pencils can be layered over it.

watercolor pencils blending

Some artists combine the Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens and colored pencils to under-paint large areas or to create details. Pitt pens come in a wide variety of colors and nibs: extra super-fine, super-fine, fine, medium, etc.

Learn Colored Pencil Essentials

colored pencil techniques

Improve all of your colored pencil drawings! Learn easy, empowering techniques for color mixing, application and more in this expert-taught online video class.Enroll Now »

22 Comments

Thea Beck

Sign me up!

Reply
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?

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
andrewwales

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

Reply
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

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
Katie

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

Reply
Veronica Winters

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

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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

Reply
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.

Reply
CatheeB

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

Reply
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.

Reply
cynthia ck kennedy

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

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply