Coloured pencil techniques

There are various coloured pencil techniques which do not directly involve the application of a coloured pencil to paper. In these the surface (or substrate) on which you are creating the drawing is treated in some way before or after the colour is applied. I am sure that you will have encountered many if you have done other types of artwork, but have introduced as many as possible here to ensure the topic is thoroughly covered.   

The paper surface can be...

  • indented
  • protected
  • scratched

The pigment can be...

  • erased
  • dissolved
  • brushed
  • rubbed
  • heated
  • powdered
  • burnished

So let me introduce you to these coloured pencil techniques and then you can click on the links in each section for more in depth information.

Papers

NOTE: Make sure the paper can take the treatment before starting your project!  

Very thin, hard papers can be difficult to use with some of the methods .The surface of thick, soft papers can tend to lift and tear.  Practice these coloured pencil techniques on a spare sheet first.

Hot pressed watercolour paper has probably the best chance of putting up with serious ill treatment.

For more information on suitable papers for coloured pencil click here

Indented Line

This refers to a method of impressing a line into a relatively soft paper surface before adding colour. 

When you then apply coloured pencil it 'misses' the areas within the groove. The indents can be created on bare paper, or a light coloured base layer can be worked first.  

The line can be applied wither with a sharp pencil point (use a relatively hard brand of coloured pencil for a fine line) or a stylus such as those sold for parchment craft or nail art. Derwent sell a pack of pencil tools that includes two styli. 

This is one of the coloured pencil techniques that can be used for fine lines such as rigging for boats, white hairs or fur, whiskers, and hair. It does need to be planned for in advance.

Samples of indenting with different tools

The samples are worked on Fabriano Artisico 300gm watercolour paper. The left hand sample shows a cream fine pointed polychromos coloured pencil pressed gently into the paper surface and worked over with a darker colour. The wax acts as a resist but the paper is not deeply impressed so the lines are softer.

The second sample shows a medium tipped stylus pressed hard into the paper and then penciled over. The lines are deep and the colour does not go down into them so they are clear and bright. 

The third sample uses a bigger tipped stylus and less pressure creating broader strokes that are not impressed so strongly into the paper and thus the darker layer partly colours the earlier surface and leaves the lines less defined. 

For the fourth sample a layer of cream pencil was first laid on the surface. The fine tipped stylus was then used to indent the word quite deeply. The colour was laid on top and misses the cream coloured lines leaving them crisp and legible. 

Protected

You can use white or light coloured pencil to protect the paper surface when dark colours are to be added very close by and the light area needs to be retained, perhaps as a highlight. 

Some colours stain the paper and therefore do not lift totally with a powered eraser. A white pencil layer in a highlight area will prevent dark colours from attaching firmly to the paper surface. The first layer of pencil will lock onto the bare surface and is generally the thickest layer of pigment. It makes up around 70% of the final colour as later layers will be very much thinner as the paper tooth disappears. 

You can use a clear wax blender pencil to protect the surface. A line drawn with the Lyra Splender pencil or the Derwent Burnisher will put down a protected surface that resists later layers of colour. This can enable a pale line to be included easily in a picture (think lines of mortar in brickwork, or whiskers on a dog). 

Derwent tell me that this also works with later watercolour washes, but experiment with your own aquarelle brands first - not all work equally well.

White pencil and blender used as a resist

In this next sample, a Lyra Splender pencil was used before adding the pink coloured pencil. The pink was layered over the whole rectangle. Only a very light pink tint covers the protected area. 

For the right hand sample, white Derwent Artists pencil was first layered in the smaller rectangular area. Then the purple was heavily applied over the larger rectangle. Where the white pencil was applied more lightly around the edge of the shape a pale lilac tint is left behind but the solid center area remains white. This can give a softer edge to a highlight.

Scratched

Some coloured pencil techniques have fancy names. Scratching the surface is one of these, as it is also known by its Italian word "Scraffito",

The soft surface of a work in coloured pencil lends itself to the surface being manipulated in a number of ways.  Scratching into a thick layer of applied colour with a sharp point can remove a layer of colour and show a fine line for grasses and fur.

NOTE: Be cautious about using too sharp a point or blade on soft or thin paper as otherwise the underlaying surface can be damaged!

Scratched with a blade (Scraffito)

In this sample the darker area consists of layers of two different coloured pencils. First a deep pink and then a dark green. The lines are scratched out with a fine craft blade leaving the pink showing through. 

The red square was made from many layers of just one coloured pencil. The fine cross hatched lines give a more subtle effect, somewhat resembling a mesh of woven threads. This could be used to imitate texture in clothing.

Polished

I use this term to cover the use of a small pad to apply a fine layer of colour to the paper. This is useful if you are looking to apply a very delicate tint to the white paper surface ( as with a gentle blue sky ) and wish to avoid any line appearing from a pencil point.  

Clouds created with coloured pencilColour applied to surface with a felt pad

First lay down an area of dense colour on a scrap of fairly rough surfaced watercolour paper.  The rough surface will enable the most coloured pencil to be laid down quickly.  Take a small pad of white felt (or soft felt like paper) and rub it on your coloured pencil ‘palette’ to lift some pigment.  

Apply to the paper surface of the artwork and rub in gently.  For skies, keep the motion circular to avoid forming any clear lines.  It may take a few layers to achieve your aim, but the result will be far better than trying to get to the same stage with a pencil point (however flat).  See below for more information on the use of pads and stumps to produce smooth colour.

This is one of the coloured pencil techniques shown more fully in the section on backgrounds. The white clouds here have been erased from the layer of gentle colour left by the pad.

Dissolved

Another of the popular coloured pencil techniques is that of using a solvent to soften, blend and lift the dry wax/oil colour and move it around on the paper. 

As far as correction techniques are concerned, this will reduce the amount of colour on the paper, but will not remove it entirely. 

A number of solvents can be used, but many are either dangerous to health or inflammable. 

The safest is Zest It! Pencil Blend which is citrus based and non inflammable. This can leave a temporary stain in the paper but the solvent quickly dries out and the paper surface can be re-worked.  

The effect is very similar to using watercolour pencils with water, but the solvent works with both wax based and oil based coloured pencils, so is a valuable resource.

I include on the page linked below the use of blending pens - sold for use by the crafting fraternity - and also the use of mineral oil (baby oil) which - with care - can be used to make the coloured pencil pigment more mobile.

NOTE: The whole area of solvents and their use is covered in more detail on the solvents page. 

Solvent used to lift and blend colour pencil pigmentSolvent used to lift out and blend coloured pencil

Using the indenting sample from above I have use a paintbrush and Zest It! to lift out some of the pigment in the far right rectangle by scrubbing. Solvent will not completely lift colour, but it will enable an area with a heavy application to be re-worked. 

I used a soft brush dipped in solvent over the green, to reduce the white specks of paper under the pigment. 

On the red sample I just worked along the edge with the brush to show how the colour can be intensified by the use of solvent.

Erased

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

Kneaded erasers can be softened in the hand and moulded into shape to gently lift off pigment by dabbing. After use they can be stretched and kneaded to clean them. Great for lightening a graphite drawing before working over with coloured pencils.

WhiteTac is also useful for gently lifting a layer of colour without rubbing the surface,. As it is stickier than a kneaded eraser it lifts off more pigment.    

Plastic Erasers are also useful for cleaning off larger areas.  Be careful though as they can smear layers of colour at the edges of the area cleaned.   You can see this in the sample shown.

The MonoZero is a very thin vinyl eraser that is inside a pen-like plastic case. They can be extended like a mechanical pencil and are extremely useful for intricate erasing and creating thin lines.

Powered erasers are now sold for very little cost, and are excellent for lifting and cleaning in small areas and lifting out small highlights.  In the sample you can see how easy it is to remove an exact area cleanly. I see that the SAA currently sell a battery eraser for as little as £3 80 so that even after you have bought batteries, you are still in pocket under £5.

Low tac tape can also be used to selectively lift coloured pencil pigment when the tape is laid over the surface and a harder pencil used to press down on to the area to be lifted.

Remember that you can use a guard to control the area to be erased.  It is still possible to buy the typists eraser guards that used to be used when typists used typewriters.  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.

Brushed

A stiff bristle brush is useful for achieving a smoother effect for skies and other subjects in pale colours.  A stiff brush can be used to blend in layers of powdered pigment and  bed it into the paper surface ( see  backgrounds ).   A brush can also be used to blend and merge layers of colour. 

Torchons, pads and stumps

You have probably seen the paper sticks that often appear in boxes of assorted coloured pencil and graphite pencil accessories and on the accessory shelves of art suppliers.

These are more often also used for working pastel where they have a long and honourable tradition. They can also be used for coloured pencil techniques even though the newer wax type blenders and burnishers may have taken over many of the original uses these days.

I will refer to these paper tools as ‘stumps’ for ease in writing, but note there are a number of sizes and varieties of these accessories and depending on who is writing about them, the name could well vary.

Stumps help you pick up and transfer colour on to the paper surface.  They tend to work best when the paper surface is smooth and for this reason you may see that they are used by portrait artists working on surfaces like Bristol Board which are very smooth.  In this way they can produce very delicate changes in tint for flesh tones.

An alternative to using a manufactured stump is to make up a small pad of lotion free toilet paper (i.e. very soft white dry tissue) and fold this into a tight pad with a compact rounded corner side for working with.  

Colour from a soft wax pencil like Prismacolor, Luminance, or Coloursoft will be better than the harder pencil media. 

The colour should be applied first to a palette of paper from which light layers of tinting can be picked up and applied to the picture.  Elsewhere on the site I discuss the use of a white felt pad for this purpose, but the paper pad or stump will produce a much softer effect ..... though with probably more work involved. 

Because the stump picks up pigment, it is best not to work on a light area after a dark one using the same stump, or it will muddy your colours.

Remember that because you have used a soft application by means of a pad, the colour will be easier to lift with an eraser - there will have been no damage to the paper surface and no indented colour from the point of the pencil.

Use a stump carefully with the point of the paper tube laid to its side so that it also doesn’t indent the working surface.

Use a knife and a sandpaper pad to keep the stump point fresh and smooth - don’t be tempted to sharpen it in a pencil sharpener as it will leave a rough surface to the stump which you need to avoid.

When working a landscape picture I am often using too rough a paper for the stumps to work well. In this case I will tend to go for a felt pad which picks up more colour and with which you can apply more pressure to bed the media into the surface.

Delicate portrait work will demand more smooth finishes and in this case the paper stumps will be the better choice.

Torchons are useful to put down controlled and small amounts of solvent in areas of a picture.  I have also used a small piece of polished bone with a fine point to ‘work’ the pigment and push it into the grain of the paper. This relies upon there being enough pigment to move so there should be several layers of colour on the surface before it is attempted.

Controlled heating

One of the coloured pencil techniques you may not have tried is controlled heating of the surface to melt the wax. 

As you may realise, the layers of wax laid down on paper of other suitable surfaces will soften with heat.  

This is something that has been taken up by American artist Ester Roi who developed and sells a heated ( ‘Icarus’) pad to work on.  The pad has a warmer and cooler side and whilst quite expensive to buy, has been shown to produce some vibrant artworks.

NOTE: The fact that wax melts at low temperatures means that great care is required when using heat on artworks that are complete or virtually so.  

The use of a craft heat gun ( a type of mini hairdryer ) is often quoted by those working card crafts, as an excellent way to blend and enhance colour from wax type pencils.

The warmed pigment can be manipulated with a torchon, a brush with short bristles (as used for stencils ) or a similar tool.

Using powdered pigment

This is one of the more involved colour pencil techniques but well worth trying. 

Because a pencil naturally produces a line, over the years coloured pencil artists have tried many different methods to try to produce a smooth even "wash" of colour. 

Skies often give problems because of the need to produce a light even coating of colour of the paper. In the Polishing section above I introduced the use of a "palette" of pigment on scrap paper, which is then picked up with a felt pad. This is an extension of that technique.

The coloured pencil core is scraped off the point with a knife This powered pigment is collected into a container in which it can be both stored and used from. A brush or pad made from soft material can then gently push it into the paper.

Examples of these coloured pencil techniques can be found on the page about creating backgrounds on the site.

There are a number of advantages in these methods.  

A fine, controlled layer of colour can be applied to the surface and pigment erased back to a clear edge.  Frisket film can be used to protect an edge or a prepared shape (see the Goat example on the backgrounds page ).  Colours can be mixed in the container and then applied to give a new tone or hue.

Stocks of stub pencils that might otherwise rot in a drawer unused can be converted into usable material and the powder stored.  I suggest small sealable pots like the old 35mm film containers.

A number of suggestions have been offered for generating the powder.  

I prefer the scraped knife method, but people have suggested grinding the pencil using a small wire tea strainer.

If you are in the USA using the sheets of Scotch Brand drywall lining sander ( below right ) which are inexpensive and come in different grades (120 grit is suggested if you want to try this ).  This material has an open grid mesh appearance.  I  have looked for it in B & Q in the UK but they claim not to know what I am asking for.

Thanks to Virginia Carroll for the  Drywall sander suggestion.

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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