Coloured pencil art - The basics

Have you ever commented on what you thought was a photo, only to discover it was actually coloured pencil art? Amazed at what is possible, you are now keen to learn more, hoping that one day you can be the artist surprising someone else? 

Like anything else worthwhile, you understand you need to start with the basics. Consider this page your first step, and before long, you'll be off and running.

Here you will find links to pages throughout the site that contain information about this wonderful art medium, including technical information about coloured pencils, as well as notes and tips about different drawing techniques.

Choosing a good photo reference for coloured pencil art

You may have heard of writer's block, but did you know that artist's block is a thing? If I asked you to draw a house, would you be able to conjure up a mansion and draw every wall and window from the correct perspective? I doubt it. 

Our imaginations are great, but when putting something down on paper, they let us down. We likely end up with a square, a triangle above it to represent a roof, and some smaller squares for windows. For good measure, we might add a few lines for a door and a rectangular shape for a chimney.

To create an accurate rendering of a splendid house, we need to either be standing in front of it, or have a photograph to guide us. Because coloured pencil art takes a long time to complete, most artists go for the photo route. But what makes a good photo reference and where can you find one?

Ideally, you will work from your own photos. This eliminates the risk of running foul of any copyright issues

However, if you live far away from a landscape or architectural work you wish to reproduce, finding a suitable photo reference can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are many online sources where you can find free photos you can use as reference material. With just a little time and effort, you can find the photo to match your project and get started.

Getting the outline on the paper

Once you have chosen your photo, you will need to know how to transfer or sketch the main shapes onto your paper. There are various methods of doing this.  We will start by giving some tips about freehand drawing and explaining the grid method, along with other suggestions.

With your sketch completed, learn four methods of using tracing paper to transfer it to the drawing surface. 

Deciding on your composition

The word composition may sound scary.  However, in its simplest form, it just refers to how and where you arrange the elements of your drawing on the paper. This helps to ensure the you direct the viewer's eye to the main thing you want them to look at, known as the focal point. 

Over the years, artists have discovered various methods of achieving good composition, and although artists often refer to these as rules, I like to think of them as guidelines instead. I suggest you learn them, practice them, and then break them as you see fit. 

We go into detail regarding the composition of landscape drawings and still life pencil drawing, but the principles relate to any kind of subject.

You can also dig deep, and learn about the Golden section or ratio, and how this applies to composition. 

The colour wheel and how to use it

A colour wheel

Beginners often ask, "how do I know what colours to use?" 

The answer is "you don't"!! What you have to do is think about the effect you want to achieve. To some extent the colours themselves are irrelevant. What counts are the emotions they evoke.

However, you will have more success if you learn a little about colour theory, so we will discuss complementary colours and how to use the colour wheel to find analogous colour schemes.

It is tempting to buy the biggest set of coloured pencils you can find, hoping you will have every hue you need. It may surprise you, however, to learn you could get away with just 8-14 different colours! Although I have yet to find anyone that limits themselves to this number, as there is always another coloured pencil brand to try out. 

It isn't just colour that is important to a successful piece of coloured pencil art. You also need to get your values correct.

A drawing containing only mid-toned values won't grab your viewer's attention.

You need deep darks and bright lights to add enough drama to the piece. This page talks about adding contrast, shadows, surface texture and light to your work. I am embarrassed to admit it also includes an example of one of my teenage paintings where I missed this requirement entirely!

This section of the site overlaps with the techniques section, where we look at the layering of coloured pencils to achieve different colours. 

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