Step-by-step to combining colored pencil and pastels

The original photo upon which the tutorial is based

Ever wondered how combining colored pencil and pastels will impact your artwork?

This comprehensive guide offers a step-by-step tutorial, inspired by a photo taken in Northern Cyprus. During a spring visit in 2006, I captured a perfect snapshot at the Abbey of Bellapais, just outside Kyrenia, famously home to author Lawrence Durrell in the 1950s.

This mixed media tutorial aims to help you interpret the photograph creatively, and not merely duplicate it. The final drawing will measure 10 x 8 inches. The primary approach involves working the pastel dry, fixing it, and then layering details on top - a tried-and-true method that promises satisfying results.

Prepare your sketch

You will need a sheet of suitable paper. I recommend the grey Winsor & Newton 160gsm 'Tints' pastel paper from an A3 pad, but feel free to use any brand you can easily obtain in your area.

I sketched the archway accurately but included only three figures to keep the focus on the architectural features.

The sketch ready for painting

Basic pastel pencil techniques

When combining colored pencil and pastels, it's important to understand how these mediums differ in the way the pigment is applied and mixed on the paper.

Pastels, like a butterfly landing on a flower, lightly adhere to the paper surface. They are delicate and can easily be brushed off, much like dust on a butterfly's wings. This quality can be both a blessing and a curse - while it allows for easy blending and layering, it also means that your carefully crafted artwork is at risk of being smudged or erased with a single accidental brush of the hand.

A spray fixative, can keep your pastels in place, firmly 'fixing' them to the paper. But beware! This process can slightly darken the colors, stealing away some of their original vibrancy.

Ensuring the final steps in a picture rejuvenate these highlights and areas of maximum contrast after the last fixative spray is the perfect way to ensure your artwork retains its original burst of color and contrast.

Interestingly, the fixative also gives the paper a slightly gritty feel, much like sandpaper.

This might sound like a downside, but it's actually a fantastic preparation for the addition of wax-based colored pencils. Unlike their pastel counterparts, colored pencils attach firmly to the paper due to the wax or oil carrier. This understanding is crucial when combining colored pencil and pastels

Begin with the pastel pencils

The base layers of pastel pencil

At this stage, my primary focus is on the general composition rather than the intricate details.

The arches add a sense of depth and drama to the artwork, guiding the viewer's eye into the scene, so I begin by adding a gentle layer of colour over them.

Underneath these arches, I've applied a generous layer of pure white pastel. A simple step, but it makes all the difference to the end result.

This white base serves as an excellent foundation for the layers of colour that will follow. Not only does it enhance the vibrancy of the upcoming hues, but it also helps maintain a sense of lightness in the overall tone of the work.

Lighter areas on the stone indicate where the sun's rays strike, specifically on the left side. so I also used the white to denote these.

I made a creative choice to leave the figures in the middle as mere sketches. There's something profoundly appealing about the contrast between the raw pencil lines and the painted surroundings. It's as though the figures are poised to step into the rich, vibrant world that awaits them.

Then I introduced a grey tone to depict the floor shadow - a subtle touch, but a significant one. Shadows add depth and perspective, making the scene more realistic and three-dimensional.

Incidentally Carbothello pastel pencils were my go-to choice for this piece. I have a complete set of their old colours, all 72 of them! I could just as well have used another brand from a quality point of view.

Fixing the work and planning the next stage

Adding the shadows

Before progressing any further I spray a light coat of fixative to stop the dust flying around. This provides a more secure surface to work the detail on top of.

Now, let's delve into the nuances a bit more.

On the image above, you'll notice that the edges have been tidied up, shadows have been added to show internal roof arches, and the rays of sunlight on the floor have been closely defined. I've also added more white to the background, particularly in the sky areas, and a touch of pale blue.

Don't be afraid to experiment with your colour selection. In my case, the stone colour is a stronger ochre than in the original photo, and also much lighter. But remember, it's your creation and you can adjust the colours as you go along. The colours and tones don't always need to match your reference - after all, your masterpiece is an interpretation of the photo, not an exact replica.

As an artist, you have the liberty to omit elements from your reference. For instance, I'm not quite sure about the right-hand column base in my piece. Even though it's accurate to the reference, it doesn't look right at the moment. I'm considering bringing it down level with the base of the far left-hand column to maintain balance in the composition.

In my current plan, I'm contemplating working the background tree and standing figures in coloured pencil. They'll all require a secure, coloured, pastel base, so there are still decisions to be made as I go along.

Checking my progress

Getting the view through the arches begun

I can't help but feel a wave of anticipation and excitement as I take a step back and appraise my day's work.

The underpainting, it appears, is finally complete - at least until I give it another look tomorrow with fresh eyes. The pillars now stand upright, commanding attention, and the overall image has a convincing appeal that fills me with immense satisfaction.

My next move? I'll be using a colour shaper to even out the pastel over the surface. This will help fill in those tiny dips in the paper surface that currently cast light speckles, adding an interesting but unintended texture to the piece.

I've already treated the paper with a spray of fixative. Tomorrow, I plan on applying a second coat to ensure the pastel is set properly. The paper will then be ready to accept coloured (wax type) pencils on top.

As I survey the work, a few areas of consideration come to mind

  • The stonework, currently lighter and more ochre than the reference, has a certain charm that I'm inclined to maintain.
  • As I add coloured pencil, the lines and details worked on top might render the stone colder in appearance. This is part of the process of combining colored pencil and pastels.
  • The area within the arch, featuring the tree and background, is considerably lighter in the reference. To retain this balance, I'll need to ensure they stay even lighter in the final picture. Although I'm eager to incorporate details into the tree fronds, I must tread carefully so as not to overpower the colour.
  • The standing figures, being in the foreground, can certainly handle more strength in colour and tone. In fact, they're gradually becoming the subject of the picture, a shift that's intriguing to witness.

Combining colored pencil and pastels?

Sketching in the palm tree

Have you ever noticed the layered depth a painting can possess? These are the elements I absolutely adore about combining colored pencils and pastels.

Looking at my work in the light of day, I realize it needs more depth. So, I decide to add another layer of dry pastel pencil. This isn’t merely a touch-up, but a calculated decision to provide a solid base for the highlights.

In the process, I find myself drawn to the tree in the painting. I add some color to it, and the result is astonishing. The tree suddenly springs to life, its colors singing against the backdrop of the underpainting.

But my journey with this painting is far from over. I do a general overhaul of the entire surface using more pastel pencil. And, boy, was it worth it! The result is palpably better, and I am much more satisfied with the painting.

I spray it again, and contemplate finishing it entirely in pastel pencils. But then I would be stepping away from my original plan of combining colored pencil and pastel.

This is the delightful dilemma of an artist - endless possibilities, coupled with the thrill of decision-making. Each choice you make shapes the final masterpiece.

Adding the colored pencil details

combining colored pencil and pastels

I take a firm resolve to stick with what I had in mind when beginning this artwork.

I choose to use the exquisite Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils for my colored pencil work. These pencils are known for their softness and the white is incredibly opaque.

While Derwent Coloursoft or Prismacolor pencils are also a good choice, the color scheme offered by the full set of Luminance pencils is remarkably suitable for this picture, especially with its wide range of earthy stone colors.

I begin with the standing figures, and the coloured pencil layers beautifully over the fixed pastel. I then revisit the floor and highlights before moving on to the background building and hedge. The tree trunk and the almond blossom have also received my attention.

One critical piece of advice for you: it's absolutely essential to get those very light highlights in at the start.

There are still details to add to the building, the almond tree, and the reddish bush in the foreground. I've intentionally left out the other nearby buildings in the background to avoid unnecessary clutter.

My next steps will involve working on the palm tree and the background hillside, followed by the almond tree. I'm still contemplating whether the stonework of the Abbey would look best if worked in fine point pastel pencil - it seems like a promising idea.

Do bear in mind that the lighting is changing as I take the photos here, causing some variation in how the whites are displayed in the images above. But the image above is a faithful representation of the original.

More coloured pencil details

Adding colored pencil details

Next, I concentrate on the trees and surrounding aspects of the landscape - the hedge and the sky. These enhancements bring a new level of depth and realism to the scene.

I've always been somewhat hesitant about using soft wax pencils. Their soft touch was a little out of my comfort zone. And guess what? It was a pleasant surprise! The wax pencils not only worked effortlessly over the pastel but also added an exquisite touch of detail that I had not anticipated. This experience just goes to show that sometimes stepping outside of your comfort zone can lead to some amazing discoveries!

As I progress, I realize that I don't want to overcrowd the picture within the arch with too much detail. The real challenge now is how to handle the stonework. The wax pencils are great for detail, but I want to keep the shadowed area of the stone relatively simple. My plan is to continue working with pastel pencils to slightly darken the frame, including the stone and floor. I also aim to add some darker shadows to bring out the arches' form more clearly.

Even after years of painting, I always find something new and exciting in each piece of art. It's a thrilling journey, filled with trials, errors, and unexpected victories. And right now, I'm absolutely enthralled by the transformation of this piece.

I hope my passion for art is infectious and that it encourages you to explore combining colored pencils and pastels.

When is a painting finished?

Ever wonder when an art piece is truly finished? It's a question that plagues artists and enthusiasts alike, and the answer might not be as straightforward as you think.

Usually, it's when it looks complete, but often it's just before the artist overworks it. Yes, there's a fine line between perfection and overdoing it, and walking that line is a constant learning process for every artist.

So, how do I navigate this creative conundrum?

The strategy I adopt is both simple and effective. I prop my creation at the side of my desk, allowing me to look at it for a few days. Here's the tricky part: I resist the urge to touch it up for an entire week. This period gives me a fresh perspective, allowing me to notice aspects that might need enhancement or adjustment.

Reflecting on this piece my objective is to preserve that strip of brilliant sunshine hitting the stonework on the extreme left-hand side. It's a detail that adds depth and liveliness to the piece. But, as I prepare to 'square off' the picture for the mount, I might discover areas, particularly in the corners, that need a little finesse.

Art is a journey of constant learning and exploration. It's about knowing when to hold back and when to dive in. It's about observing, reflecting, and then making the right decision. So, the next time you're wondering if your piece is done, try this method. It might just provide the clarity you're looking for.

Putting the final touches to the picture

I return to my pastel pencils for the final touches to this picture.

It has involved meticulous attention to detail and careful adjustments, particularly to the upper stone arches.

In an exciting play of light and shadow, I've lightened the right-hand side wall to capture the reflected light beaming through the main arch from the outside. This subtle addition of illumination gives the picture a surprising depth and richness that I'm incredibly proud of!

Now, you might notice an interesting quirk in this piece - the archway at the end appears to be out of line. This is not an oversight, but rather a deliberate choice. The rough stone that you see on the right side of the arch is actually part of the original construction, which has been removed in the reconstruction on the left-hand side.

The line of the roof supporting arch falls within this restored wall to the right. While it may be tempting to 'correct' this anomaly for aesthetic purposes, I've chosen to resist this urge.

The result is a unique blend of the old and the new, a tribute to the evolving nature of architecture and the stories buildings can tell over time.

And here it is, my finished labor of love!

This mixed media tutorial combines the richness of colored pencils with the soft, dreamy textures of pastels. The result is a diverse, visually stunning piece that I'm thrilled to share with you all. I hope it inspires you to pick up your pencils and start creating your own masterpieces combining colored pencil and pastels.

Trust me, the journey of creation is every bit as rewarding as the final product!

The finished painting

Bellapais Abbey, Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus

Combining colored pencil and pastels
on Winsor & Newton ‘Tints’ 160 gsm  grey pastel paper

Finished image: 10 inches x 8 inches

Peter Weatherill © 2010

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