Coloured pencil techniques

I will introduce a number of coloured pencil techniques throughout the site, some may include terms you are unfamiliar with. This page will give a brief explanation and links to further information and tutorials.

The act of using a pencil for writing is something we have all done in the past. Perhaps you used it first as a precursor to a fountain pen when at school. Then there were colouring books, whether for kids or adults.

However, if you want to take things a step further and create your own artwork rather than filling in outlines drawn by others. there are some skills to learn that will make that simpler. 

Mark Making

The basic step of putting pencil to paper can be tackled in various ways. The marks made by a sharp pencil are very different from one that has been sanded into a flat chisel point, for example. The movement of your hand as you apply the pencil can also create different effects that will help to portray realistic elements in your artwork.

When we include watercolour pencils there are even more options, as they can be used wet or dry.

Coloured pencil techniques can produce marks that describe the surface texture of what you are depicting in your artwork.

Rather than outlining them here, check out the mark making page for more details. 


I mentioned in passing the watercolour pencils above. This might be what came to your mind when you read the heading for this section. But underpainting can be achieved using other mediums. Have you considered solvents, paints or inks in addition to dry coloured pencils? 

Layering techniques

On the layering page we will cover the traditional method of building up colour and depth by applying multiple layers of pencil pigment. 

Protecting, indenting and scratching

Did you know that you can protect the paper surface from being stained by the pencil pigment, by first laying down white or colourless wax?

Indenting is another method of preventing the colour from covering the paper in certain areas of your picture. You can use a fine pointed tool to create a whisker or leaf vein, for example, that you wish to remain white or pale in colour.

A pointed tool or blade can also be put to use after colour is applied. The technique of scraffito entails scratching areas away where you don't want them. This is often used to create the texture of fur on animals, or grass stems in foregrounds. 

Burnishing coloured pencil

Once you have created the colour and value you require on your drawing you can give it a more painterly effect by burnishing. This smooths out the pencil lines to give a polished surface ideal for depicting smooth, shiny objects, such as often found in still life pieces or for animal eyes and noses.

Using paper blending stumps

Sometimes you need to think outside the box and utilize tools and equipment that are normally connected with other art mediums. Paper blending stumps and tortillons, for example, tend to be associated with graphite or charcoal drawing, but can also prove useful for coloured pencil techniques. 

Applying powdered pigment

Just because the coloured pigments come in pencil form doesn't mean they have to be used in that manner. The pencil core can be grated or shaved into a powder that can then be applied to the paper with a soft pad or sponge. This can be ideal for clouds and skies or other large, untextured areas of a design such as the background


One of the often overlooked coloured pencil techniques is that of using your eraser to 'draw' rather than just to correct your work.

Your tool box should ideally include a variety of erasers as they all serve a different purpose. Recommended are the kneaded or putty eraser, Blue or White Tac, a MonoZero, low tac tape, a plastic eraser, and a battery powered version.

Remember that you can use a guard to control the area to be erased.  It is still possible to buy the typists eraser guards  (affiliate link) that were used in the past.  If you want to make your own, look out for thin stiff plastic that can be cut to size.   If the plastic is not too thick, the eraser will remove the colour accurately.

After using these coloured pencil techniques...

it is wise to look over your picture to see if additional colour needs to be added from the original pencils to sharpen up edges and enhance the effects.

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