Mixed media techniques involving coloured pencil

As well as pure coloured pencil pieces, you might like to try mixed media techniques on your next project. 

The word media is the plural of medium, and in this case refers to the type of art material you are using. In this section we will discuss, pastels, watercolour, watercolour pencils, ink, acrylic, water soluble pens, gouache, graphite and collage. Each of these can be used along with coloured pencil to create mixed media artwork. 

If you are thinking of entering a competition run by the main coloured pencil societies then be aware that some insist on pure coloured pencil while others allow mixed media techniques to be included. 

In most cases you use the coloured pencil over the top of the other medium or media when creating your work. 

Learn about using coloured pencil over pastel or pan pastels. There is also a mixed media tutorial featuring a scene from Cyprus that you might like to try. 

Watercolour pencils and coloured pencils

Let’s start by covering a close cousin of coloured pencil, the watercolour pencil. These are often used as a base or underpainting for detail work with the wax or oil type pencils.

Traditional watercolour pans or tubes can be used if you prefer. However, the pencils have the benefit that some manufacturers use the same pigments in their wax and watercolour pencils. This allow you to use the same colours in both wet and dry varieties. Those that come to mind are the Faber Castell Polychromos and Albrect Durer lines, along with the Caran d'Ache Pablo and Supracolour brands.

The drawing above was created with one of my favourite mixed media techniques where Supracolour was used for the initial wash and as dry pencil for the finished work. Left is the initial stage - the wash of watercolour pencil over the original outline drawing. The graphite pencil is erased later. The second image shows the finished picture.

This picture would have been acceptable by the UKCPS (UK Coloured Pencil Society) in open competition as a Pure coloured pencil work until 2010. After that date it became Mixed Media (as water was used as a solvent). 

The new rules established by the UKCPS for the 2013 Open Competition entry accepted the use of water as a solvent, provided that at least 50% of the surface has been completed with dry colour. This is my reading of the rule amendment (January 2013). However, you will need to check the up to date position carefully before entering a UKCPS Society Open Exhibition with a watercolour pencil wash underpainting. 

Rules in other competitive exhibitions may vary a great deal. It is always wise to check carefully with the organisers if the entry form is in any way doubtful. 

Watercolour pencil wash procedure

  1. Pigment is scraped from the pencil tip using a craft knife. 
  2. It is then mixed to a thin wash on a dish palette or on a large white plate. (You are better using two layers of thinner colour than one thicker one.)
  3. Apply to your surface loosely with a brush.

This option is ideal for backgrounds and for establishing the shapes on the paper which can later be refined and corrected with coloured pencil. 

You can erase any graphite pencil lines selectively once the watercolour layer is dry.  This watercolour pencil wash image is used as your guide for the coloured pencil. 

Stretching watercolour paper is wise if you are going to use lots of water for your project. 

Moistened dry pigment procedure

Alternatively you can apply light even shading of colour directly on to the paper with your watercolour pencils. 

AVOID firm lines at all costs as these will bed into the paper and be almost impossible to lift or soften with water later. Your shading needs to be evenly and lightly applied.

Masking Fluid can be used to reserve white areas, but another trick is to use a soft, white, coloured wax pencil (Coloursoft etc) to lay down a protective skin of wax on areas of the paper. This can be erased later, after the wash has been applied, to reveal the white paper surface underneath. You will need to test this out with your own choice of paper.white pencil/watercolour pencil wash, as there are many differences between brands, and some work better than others. 

Traditional Watercolour

Broadly speaking, the process for using washes based on Watercolour pencils is the method to use with traditional pan or tube watercolour.

Ink Mixed Media techniques

Ink comes in three main kinds, permanent, alcohol and water soluble. It can be bought in liquid form (bottled), in pens with a choice of nibs, or soaked into pads for stamping. The latter is more for craft uses rather than fine art. 

Traditional line and wash is created by first drawing the outlines and some shading lines with permanent ink and then washing watercolour, or watercolour pencil, over the top. The ink lines remain where you put them. Translucent coloured pencil can take the part of the watercolour wash.  This is ideal for outdoor sketching, 

You can draw the outlines with graphite, and once you are happy they are correct go over them with ink filled fountain pen. Any unwanted graphite can be erased,  You can then soften some of the lines, where required, with a wet brush, avoiding any highlight areas. You can vary the colours used for the lines to suit or use a single colour. 

An alternative, could be to use a fine point fibre tip pen, such as a Stabilo 88 fineliner BUT do ensure that the ink in whatever pen you use is fully water-soluble if you wish to soften the pen line. The Stabilo is water-based but fairly permanent, so select a mid toned colour. 

In my view, the traditional pen and ink offers much more flexibility. I am told that Parker Quink reacts to the brush and water treatment by splitting into several colours - interesting!

The Welsh cottage scene above is on Fabriano Hot Pressed paper (300gsm) and the ink is Waterman Brown ink. The later colour is Derwent Coloursoft and Procolour wax type pencils. There are five layers of different greens on the sunlit grass. 

Below is another ink and coloured pencil study, of a Yorkshire village, where the brown ink under the coloured pencil makes a useful stone coloured link which holds the picture together. 

A more widely ink based picture which relies on the ink wash to provide an out of focus background is this scene of an old city gate in Germany.

These mixed media techniques offer an ideal approach for landscape sketching, but I do recommend hot pressed watercolour paper rather than cartridge paper as the watercolour paper gives you more ability to correct, blend and lift the ink lines if necessary. 


Gouache is a water based paint similar in many ways to watercolour, but with a high level of body colour in the mixture which gives it a chalky opaque look. When dry it has much the same surface as fixed pastel. 

Designer Gouache was developed for illustrators to use for advertising artwork which would be used once for producing litho plates and then destroyed. 

Designer Gouache colours are often not very lightfast, but they do work as a base for coloured pencil. BEWARE that layers of dark colours over light, and light over dark, can result in bleeding of colour from one layer through to another if the earlier layer is still damp. 

Gouache is not as stable a surface as Acrylic and water in a later layer can seep down to lower levels if several layers of paint are used. 

Acrylic mixed media techniques

Normal acrylic paint has a gloss finish which is too polished a surface for pencils to get a grip and leave a satisfactory mark. However, there are brands specifically made to have a matte finish, which can be assumed to provide enough tooth for pencil use.  It is also possible to mix the shiny acrylic paints with a matte medium, which will produce a matte surface when dry. 

Talking of drying, acrylic paint does this at a fast pace! Unless you are careful your brushes will turn into a solid hard stick with no flexibility! Keep them moist at all times. Likewise the paint in tops of the tubes will dry up if you don't take care. 

I find matte white acrylic paint makes an excellent base for working mixed media techniques on black paper with coloured pencil, especially for images depicting glass. 

Apart from black paper, I find the best surface to use is a heavyweight hot pressed watercolour paper. A paper pad sold for acrylics is available but its texture makes it unsuitable for coloured pencil work. In a similar vein, canvas or canvas boards will be too rough for our purposes. 

A relative newcomer to the art scene is Acrylic Gouache. Jacksons Art in the UK offer a brand called Turner, manufactured in Japan, and available in 250 colours! It is said to be suitable as a base for a whole variety of media and will take over metal as well as glass and other difficult surfaces. 

Peter has tried another brand, Procolour, manufactured in Canada and sold through Linda Wain in the UK. He has found it to work well on paper and prepared board. This paint is in semi liquid form and is sold in re-sealable bottles which has tops that keep clean. The acrylic paint itself can be thinned down substantially to lay down very thin washes, very similar to watercolour but absolutely permanent once dry. It 'takes' over virtually any non absorbent hard surface (including glass and most plastics). The colours are lightfast. 

To show the effect of coloured pencil over this medium, Peter carried out a small test using the remnants of colour left on the palette at the end of a painting session. 

The surface chosen to work on is a plastic material made for artwork. It is manufactured at the Lana Mill in France and sold as Lana Vanguard. It has a polished, very smooth surface and would not normally take coloured pencil.

The first image shows the base painting in acrylic.. It is a close up sketch of a riverside with grasses and reflections.

The second image shows the shiny, polished surface of the Lana Vanguard. It also shows up the matte surface of the painted image.

The third image shows the effect of adding detail with Coloured pencil. Note how the white has taken and shows up the effect of ripples.

Light pencil has been applied into the waterline and both lights and darks have been set into the grassed area. The semi opaque white also allows some of the underlaid colour to show through in the water area.

The pencil would not have produced an acceptable mark if applied direct the the plain vanguard surface.

There may be few occasions when you will want to try some mixed media techniques and apply coloured pencil over glass or hard plastic, but with a matte surfaced acrylic underpainting, the option becomes possible.  There may also be times when you have an acrylic that requires delicate line additions and CP may assist.

We also tested tube based acrylic gouache paint sold under the 'Jo Sonja' brand, which may be more familiar to readers in the USA and Australia by Chroma, and sold worldwide. 

Colourfix Primer

On the same subject, there is an acrylic based product that provides an excellent base for coloured pencil as well as pastel and pastel pencil. This is Colourfix Primer, which is manufactured in Australia by Art Spectrum. The 250ml tubs come in a range of colours but the white provides an excellent base for coloured pencil work. It produces a hard sanded finish which looks and acts in a very similar way to the sanded paper and card surfaces you can buy. 

The primer can be brushed on to a base of mount board or card and sanded down to a very smooth finish if required. 

One advantage of using the white primer is the fact that I can be tinted with ordinary acrylic, or even watercolour pigment, and thus provide a pre-coloured base suitable for many mixed media techniques.

Graphite mixed media techniques

Using a hard graphite pencil will prove more successful than a soft one under coloured pencil as the soft graphite will tend to smudge and smear as coloured pencil is applied on the top.  The very fine line shading and hatching from a hard graphite pencil can contrast well with soft colour shading from coloured pencil.

Bear in mind that Derwent manufacture Graphitint which is a useful variant on graphite that includes a water soluble colour pigment..

The original formula had a large number of low lightfast colours, but the modern variety of Graphitint is more durable. 

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