7 Colored Pencil Mistakes You May Be Making - Art-n-Fly

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September 22, 2019

Do you use colored pencils? Here are 7 mistakes frequently made by colored pencil artists and how to avoid them! Check out the bottom of this email for a gorgeous tutorial done using ONLY our new set of colored pencils.
  1. Not enough layers

A common mistake when working with colored pencils is not using enough layers. The first problem this causes is poor color saturation- the paper still shows through the drawing at the end. Another issue is that if you want to blend your colored pencils, the solvent (mineral spirits, blender markers, white pencil, etc.) need something to work with, so you’ll need to have several layers of color. The better quality the pencil, the fewer layers you’ll need, as lower-grade pencils do contain more filler and less pigment.
Too few layers is an easy problem to fix; it just requires a little more patience. Assume that your drawing will always take longer than you think and need more layers than you planned.  Relax and take your time! 

One thing that can reduce the number of layers required is to start with a base of alcohol markers and add colored pencil on top.

  1. Using dark colors too soon
Again, patience is a necessity with colored pencils! When starting a new drawing, start with lighter colors and slowly work up to the darker ones. If you do find that your drawing is darker than you’d like or you use the wrong color, you can use an electric eraser with a gentle touch to remove a layer or two. It’s worth noting that with wax-based colored pencil you won’t usually be able to put light colors over dark, but it’s possible to layer light on dark with oil-based pencils.
Another common mistake is using black to create shadows. It’s a good idea to use a darker version of the color you’re drawing the shadows on (such as a darker brown on skin) as this will be a lot less harsh and look more natural. Save black for things that are actually black.
  1. Not having a sharp enough pencil
Paper used for colored pencil work should typically have “tooth”, or texture to it. If pencils are insufficiently sharpened, a blotchy texture can result as the sharper point is better able to get into all the nooks and crannies. Oil-based colored pencils tend to hold their sharp point better but regardless of which type of colored pencil you’re using, you can try turning it as you color to wear it down evenly and reduce the frequency of sharpening so the pencil lasts longer.

  1. Applying too much pressure too soon
Too much pressure in the beginning of your drawings can result in the pencil being worn down more quickly (see point 3!) but it also tends to flatten the “tooth” of the paper (this is called burnishing) and doesn’t allow it anything to grip onto. This will reduce the amount of layers you are able to make and you’ll find that one layer scrapes the one below off instead of being able to blend them. This effect is even more pronounced when using wax-based colored pencils. 

In this image, the blue was laid down too firmly on the left and the green could not be applied on top, but we were able to layer on the right:

A better technique is to start out slowly and save the burnishing for the end of the drawing once you’ve got all the layers you’d like. It’s a much slower technique, but we’re sure you’ll be pleased with the result! If you do accidentally destroy the tooth too soon, you can use a workable fixative to restore it.
  1. Using too-uniform strokes
Creating your strokes all in one direction can result in a streaky texture and gaps in your drawings. Instead of a back-and-forth motion, we recommend you draw in circular motions and work in layers so there’s not a discernable direction of the strokes. 

  1. Not using the right surface
Be careful that the paper you use for colored pencil isn’t too smooth (we recommend one with texture, like this). As we mentioned in the previous points, the “tooth” is your friend! If your paper is too smooth you won’t be able to layer and you’ll give up the ability to add depth and complexity to your work. It can be helpful to carefully consider what you want to draw and whether you want to combine media when choosing paper weight. 

There’s not a one-size-fits-all paper but if you’re not happy with the results you’ve been getting then you may want to try a new type of paper.
  1. Giving up too soon 

Colored pencil drawing requires a lot of patience! It can be tempting to give up, especially if the drawing isn’t looking like you’d planned. The beautiful thing about colored pencil is that it’s forgiving and you can try adding other colors, blending, or even incorporating other media (for example, white gel pen for highlights). 
Keep in mind that all colored pencil projects will go through a phase that you’re probably not going to be very happy with! Push through this stage. You may be just a few strokes away from creating something you love. Because colored pencil is such a slow process it can be tempting to start something new or give up when you’re feeling frustrated, so take breaks! Your masterpiece will be waiting for you to complete after you take a few days off.

Do you have anything to add? Let us know in the comments!

Check out the colored-pencil-ONLY portrait done by David Dias, here!

1 Response

Michael Corry
Michael Corry

August 28, 2020

Good advice especially number 7. If your drawing doesn’t go through a stage of looking really awful you’re probably not using enough layers. It will come right in the end.

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