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Fantasy Art Tutorials in the FARP Section

Getting started with colored pencil

By :-) Tiffanie L. Gray

This tutorial is written for the beginning to intermediate colored pencil artist, but not the beginning artist. I won't cover color, composition and drawing techniques, except how they relate to colored pencil. So, if you are just starting drawing, read one of the Drawing Tutorials first. (Although if someone begged my prettily enough I might be persuaded to do an article on portraits *grin*)

Oh! How do you answer if someone tells you that colored pencil isn't lightfast? Tell them it's just as lightfast as watercolor and pastel. Sure, there are some colors that are fugitive (ie will fade in direct sunlight), but they have no more fugitive colors than pastels and watercolors. Conte Crayons are a type of colored pencil and they have been around for centuries. Proper care of your artwork will guarantee that it will be around for a long time.

'I want to add some color to my pen and ink/graphite work...what can I do?'

Well, there is always the marker/watercolor/acrylic option, or, much simpler and cheaper...colored pencil! And that will open up whole new avenues of creativity, because if you can use graphite, pen, marker, etc....then you can learn to use colored pencil.

The advantages?


Don't have to wait for them to dry.

You can stop, come back 1 year later and start where you left off.

They don't make big messes on the floor when you drop them.

You don't have to wear a mask to avoid the 'dust' like pastels.

There are a lot of techniques that can lend themselves to many styles of art.


So, what do you need to get started with colored pencil art? I'm glad you asked.

1. A set of artist quality colored pencils:

Using various pencil types (ie the differences)

Quality of Pencils- Okay, a quick note here on artist quality versus student quality colored pencils. Student grade colored pencils (such as Crayola, Rose Art, Prang, etc) are very different from artist quality pencils. They have very little pigment in the wax binder, and so the colors they lay down are very diffuse in comparison. If you try to start doing some of the things I talk about in my techniques, with student grade pencils you will ultimately be disappointed. Like any other art medium, if you want your work to look its best and to last, you need to work with good quality materials. If you aren't sure you want to work with colored pencil? Buy a few open stock or a set of twelve. That will give you a feel for them, before you invest big bucks. And you can decide this way, which one or ones of the brands you like best. Sometimes you can get samples really cheap from the ARTIST Magazine or other such publications.

On with the show!
(This is not an exhaustive list! Only ones I either have used or have heard a lot about.)


Prismacolor Pencils by Sanford-Berol
These are probably the most well known colored pencils. In fact they have fallen prey to the same syndrome as many other products, in that the brand name has become synonymous with the product, such as a Xerox, Kleenex, etc. These pencils are wax bound and have medium leads encased in a wooden case. They have a tendency for the points to break if too much pressure is used while the points are sharp. One of the advantages of Berol is that their Prismacolor, Artstix, Verithins and WaterSoluable pencils all have the same numbers and names for the same colors throughout all their lines. So it makes finding colors easier for various techniques. Berol has just recently come out with a colorless blending pencil. They come in a range of 120 colors.

Polychromos by Faber Castell
These are one of the softest of the medium lead pencils. They don't tend to crumble as much under pressure. They are in the process of making their lines color compatible throughout. They have both dry and water soluable pencils (Albrecht Durer), and offer caseless watersoluable sticks. They also have the original formula for the colorless blender pencil called 'Splendor'. They have a range of about 100 colors.

Caran d'Ache by Pablo
A medium led pencil that comes dry or watersoluable (Supracolor Aquarelle). A very creamy feel to these, they also come in a hard, thin lead. 120 color range, a bit pricey for me.

I don't know the actual name of these pencils. They come in a fairly hard lead and have both dry and watersoluable lines. I don't know the color range available. I have also never gotten to try them.

I don't know the actual name of these pencils, but they are the only brand currently (I think) that are bound in oil instead of wax. They supposedly have a very creamy feel, don't break easily and eliminate that dreaded wax bloom (more on wax bloom later). I don't know the color range available. I have also never gotten to try them.

Stabilo Pencils by Schwan
Stabilo Pencils include, the Aquatico (water soluable), the Softcolor, the Tone, and the Original (which is a thin lead pencil). Their colors are all numbered the same throughout all lines. Available in 60 colors except Tone which only has 47.

Fullcolor Pencils by Bruynzeel
Bruynzeel pencils are out of Holland and are a newcomer to the American artist public (about 2 years now). The have a very light wax binder and develop very little wax bloom. They don't break very easily under pressure (although they have a few colors that break easier than others). They are also one of the more expensive brands. They have a range of about 100 colors.

Are used to lay down broad swatches of color

Are for clean edges, original sketches, 'lighter' work

Are usable wet or dry, great for that watercolor look!

Are great for laying in your original sketch. And like thin lead pencils tend to do light work well. Also tend to be fairly easily blended. Permanency may be a question.

2. Surfaces

Okay, I have my pencils, now what do I draw on?

Paper, board, mat-board, canvas, etc:
In other words, whatever you would like to use for a background. You can use any acid free surface (water color paper, pastel paper, colored papers, bristol board, illustration board, etc) You can use other backgrounds (wood, fabric, etc) if they have been properly prepared (with sealers, etc). The effects that are achieved can be incredibly varied.

A quick word on Fixatives

Workable fixatives are necessary for certain techniques, such as grisselle. They are applied over the original value map before applying colored pencil. They can also be applied directly on a surface if it is too slick to hold the colored pencil or between layers if you have worn the tooth out on your surface. But make sure it says 'Workable' on the label.

After a picture is done, you can apply either a matte or glossy fixative to further protect your work and to prevent waxbloom if you have a problem with that. Be careful though, because fixative can change the color of some pieces, so its best to test it on a small part first.

Whether before or after, always apply fixative in light coats, several layers as needed.


As you know, the tooth of the paper/surface is what makes the color stick to the paper as small chucks are rubbed off and either stick to the 'hills' or settle in the valleys. What does this mean to you as a colored pencil artist? A lot! It can dramatically change the look of a picture. The heavier the tooth, the more color can be deposited (for more layer of color), the lighter, the quicker the tooth is filled. When your tooth is gone, colors will just slide over the top of each other and won't stick much.

Heavy toothed paper will also give the piece a rough look, smooth tooth will obviously give it a smoother look. So, when you pick out your surface for a picture, put some thought into the foundation. Do I want to have a rougher, more painterly look or a smoother, photograph look? What is the subject? Landscapes or pictures with a more 'masculine' flair will look better on rougher paper, children, women, fine silks, flowers, etc look better on smoother paper. Once you have that in mind, you can violate the rules all you want to make a statement!

Another thing to consider is what techniques you are going to use? Heavy burnishing needs rougher tooth, as does heavy erasing. Are you going to use water? You need to either stretch the paper and/or use watercolor paper. Also remember that the heavier the tooth, the faster it will wear your pencil lead down.


Alright! I put these alphabetically for ease of looking things up. My personal favorites are: Bristol Board, Mat Board, Colored papers, Illustration Board and of course, plain old drawing paper. Make sure your surfaces are either acid free or that you seal them to make them so.



Bristol Board
Comes in several varieties, Vellum finish, Plate finish, Original, etc. Feel the paper. Most Bristol is fairly smooth toothed, but the paper is slightly thicker and so it can take a lot of abuse and is very forgiving. It works fine with solvent techniques and water soluable if you take the right precautions.

Colored papers
Usually have a medium tooth. Canson makes good colored ground papers that are dyed in the pulp, so they aren't as likely to fade. Strathmore makes some nice papers too. Pastel papers have a slightly heavier tooth. The cool thing about colored papers, is that if you chose the right ground, half your work is done for you. The background will also affect the tints of the translucent colored pencils laid over it, 'uniting' the colors, much like putting a colored ground in an oil or water color painting does.

Drawing paper
There are many different brands. All I can say here is: Make sure you look for acid free, if you want the picture to last. Nothing worse than having a great picture and having it all turn yellow in a few years. Now, for practice and sketching? By all means get something cheap (not newsprint, it won't hold up well), so that you don't feel like you are wasting money every time you make a mistake! Also, drawing papers are great for preliminary sketches that you can then transfer to your final working surface.

Hand made paper
Handmade paper comes in many varieties, which include rag, jute, pulp, etc. The textures of handmade paper can lead to some very interesting effects in the picture itself. The oriental papers are really nice too, and often include threads, etc which again can lead to some very interesting effects which can be incorporated in the picture. You can make your own paper too.

Illustration board
Illustration board comes in hot press and cold press and various thicknesses within each of those categories. Hot press has the finer tooth of the two. The great thing about illustration board is that it can take a lot of abuse, ie erasing, solvents, scraping, etc. Its cost can be somewhat prohibitive if you don't look around for a good deal. Several manufacturers make illustration board. It also comes in 30x40 sheets, so you can do really big pictures or cut it up for smaller pictures.

I've never worked on linen paper, but I have seen a colored pencil picture done on it and it looked really nice. Kind of like adding a filter effect to the picture, as the texture of the paper showed through, making the dresses and curtains in the picture look very real. In the faces though, it didn't look quite as nice, but it did give the faces a bit of that 'canvas' look.

Matboard is one of my favorites to work with. It comes in various tooth, colors and sizes. You can use the front or back side. Its a lot cheaper than illustration board, and it comes in acid free if you look. You can get some really cool effects using the colored side especially if it has a pattern to it. Just remember to spray it with workable fixative if it is very smooth or your pencil won't stick. Another thing I like is that many frame shops will either give you or sell you the scraps they have left after framing, so its pretty inexpensive and then you don't feel guilty for playing with it.

Museum board
Museum board is much like illustration board, except it tends to be a lot thinner and it has a very soft surface. If you have a very light hand with the pencils, it can be a wonderful surface. But if you do a lot of erasing, or if you press hard it grooves like crazy and shreds the surface. Also fairly expensive, but it is a completely archival.

Other papers
Tracing paper can be really cool to work on, again the surface isn't very forgiving. But you can get some really luminescent effects. I haven't tried velour paper, it's normally for pastel. Embossed papers can yield some really nice effects. Other than that, play around, see what you like!

Pastel paper
Pastel paper is one of the commonest colored papers used with colored pencil. They usually have a heavy tooth and light tooth side. I recommend the light toothed side for most colored pencil pieces, but you may find the heavier tooth works better for your composition.

Rag paper is made from various percentages of cotton rag, hence the name. I have never worked with it before, but it is very archival.

Sandpaper comes in many grades. I don't think it would be very archival over time, but you can get some cool effects with it.

Real vellum is made from calf skin. I have never had the chance to work with it either. It is a favorite of inkers, and would seem to have a nice tooth for cp.

Watercolor paper
Watercolor paper comes in sheets and blocks. They are great if you want to use watersoluable colored pencils. They also work well with solvents. But most tend to have a heavy tooth, so you will have to look around till you find a surface you like. They also come in hot and cold press. If you are going to use a lot of water in the picture, then it is best that you stretch it or use a block, so that it doesn't wrinkle when it dries.

You thought that was it? Oh, no, we have not come to the end of surfaces for colored pencil. Colored pencil is an intrepid explorer, and will dare to go where no other medium treads.....

Other materials: Disclaimer - I have never personally tried the following, but I have seen others use them to very nice effect.

  • Canvas: Tradition stretched canvases can be used with colored pencil to great effect. The ground must be prepared just as for preparing to paint in oil/acrylic. A very smooth gesso background will make a fine-tooth background for the pencils. Too rough a gesso background, though will wear out the pencils and could break the leads if you aren't careful. I have never tried this personally, but have seen it done.
  • Clayboard: Clayboard is a masonite board that has been coated with a fine white clay. It is then covered with black ink or left white. It is a very nice background for colored pencil. You can also scratch the board and then color in the lines with colored pencil, or do a colored pencil piece and then scratch in the fine highlights and details.
  • Masonite: Masonite (a type of pressed wood) should be prepared with a gesso ground or heavy coats of fixative to seal the board before use, because of the acidity of the board.
  • Fabric: Cotton, linen, polyester, etc can be stretched, sealed and then drawn on. The patterns of the material can then be incorporated into the picture.
  • Plexiglass/Mylar: These also need a workable fixative sprayed on them so that the pencil has something to grab onto. You can color on both sides to make the colors deeper or to blend colors optically. Layers could be colored on and then sandwiched together to make a nearly 3 dimensional picture.
  • Stone: Rocks can also be mined for a surface to color on. Spray with fixative and then go to it! Flat surfaces usually work best, but feel free to experiment.
  • Wood: Wood must first be sanded and then sealed either with gesso or workable fixative to keep the ph balance. Then the natural beauty of the wood can be incorporated into the picture. Maggie Toole, a colored pencil artist does almost all of her colored pencil pieces on wood, utterly gorgeous.

Okay, I think you've gotten the idea of what you can draw on with colored pencil! On we go.


3. A pencil sharpener:

Electric, hand, battery operated, a knife, sand paper, whatever you can find to sharpen the pencils.

Differences in sharp and dull leads

Why do I need to worry about sharpening the pencil, anyway?

Remember the tooth? A flat or dull pencil lead will skip over the valleys in the paper and only leave color on the hills. This lets a lot of the paper beneath show through giving it a very translucent look. A very sharp pencil will drop down into the valley, as well, giving a more opaque effect. A sharp pencil won't wear down the tooth as fast either and that will let you use more layers. If your picture starts looking 'holey' then you need to sharpen it. You can slow down sharpening times by turning the pencil slightly in your fingers after every few strokes.

Electric sharpeners versus hand sharpeners

There are those who say that electric or battery sharpeners will damage the leads of colored pencils. I have never had a problem with this. Some of the advantages? Your wrist doesn't get as tired and you don't have to empty it as often with an electric sharpener. Disadvantages? Its noisy, with a battery-operated model you have to replace the batteries often. They can become clogged with wax buildup. If you sharpen regular pencils (Graphite pencils) in the sharpener occasionally, then the graphite lubricates the sharpener and you won't have that problems. Hand sharpeners sometimes come with two openings, this can allow you to sharpen the pencil to a fine, long point or a short, fat point, both of which can be useful. I have carpal tunnel syndrome, so I use the electric sharpener, unless I am somewhere where I can't plug it in.


A knife or razor can be used which will expose more lead (useful if you are using watersoluable pencils) or if you want to use the side to lay down broad swatches of color. The lead has a tendency to break more easily in this state though and so a light hand is recommended.


A block or sheet of fine sandpaper can be used to obtain various shapes in the lead, such as a fine point or a broad, flat point. You can also use the sandpaper to break down the pigment in watersoluable pencils so that you can then paint with them (more on that later).

Well, that's all you have to have to get started in colored pencil. Now there are of course, lots of things that then can be added.


4. Erasers:

I made a boo-boo, now what?

Erasers can be used to take up color, or as a drawing tool to blend, lighten, etc.

Electric eraser
An electric eraser is one of the coolest cp toys I ever got. They come in various sizes and prices. You can get imbibed, vinyl or in erasers for them. They come battery operated or electric. They can take most colored pencils right back down to the white. (or really close). Also, if you use a little solvent first, it will take nearly any color back down to the white!

Eraser Shields
They are thin metal rectangles with various sized and shaped holes cut into them. Useful, if you only want to erase a small area. Highlights, etc.

Can be used to scrape up unwanted color, or too many layers. Or can be used to draw out fine strands, like in hair or grass.

Imbibed eraser
Made for erasing drafting ink (usually comes in a yellow plastic block or cylinder). It does a fantastic job of taking colored pencil up.

Kneaded Eraser
Used for graphite and charcoal drawing. On colored pencil it does good for lightening or picking up stray crumbs before they smear the paper.

Pink Pearl Eraser
For general blending or getting some color back off the paper. I don't find them to work very well with colored pencil, except for blending.

If too much solvent is applied it will begin to remove the pigment from the paper. You can take advantage of this by wiping an area with numerous, clean, solvent laden cottonballs/Q-tips, cloths..

Masking or clear tape is good for removing color, especially in small areas. Stretch a small amount between your fingers or over an erasing shield. Then place over area to be worked on. Use any pen, pencil, etc to press down on the areas that you want to remove the color from. Lift the tape and color comes with it. It may take several tries to get most of the color off if the layers are heavy. Friskett film works in the same way. Be careful not to let too much of the tape stick to the picture because you could pull more off than you want.

Has many names. Its a putty-like substance that you stick posters up on walls with. It works like a kneaded eraser or tape does in the above example. But is very reusable.

Vinyl eraser
The white vinyl eraser is great to use with erasable colored pencils and works fairly well with watersoluable pencils. It can be used to blend with and if you have a tough surface, to can often get down nearly to the white with it.



(More on these in the Techniques Tutorial)
Bestine and odorless mineral spirits of different varieties can be used as solvents with colored pencil. The solvents melt the wax and allow the pigment to spread, giving a water-color or airbrush effect. This is great for backgrounds and underpaintings. There are special marker-type colorless solvents, they are okay for small areas, but you are likely to get streak (like a marker) if used in larger areas. Don't use alcohol or lemon juice and remember that a little solvent goes a long way!

6. Blenders:

Many things can be used to blend the colors. Tissues, stumps and tortillions, a finger, cotton swabs, etc.. (or a touch of Bestine) You can also use a white colored pencil or a slightly lighter color. There is also a colorless colored pencil called a 'Splendor' by Faber Castell, (Prismacolor has just come out with their version of the same thing) that can be used to achieve similar effects. Don't forget having something to dust off the 'crumblies' so as not to smear them with your hand. Also, wiping the tip on a soft cloth after sharpening, helps cut down on stray particles as well.



Well, there you have it! I hope you enjoyed the tutorial and that it has encouraged you to dig out those colored pencils in the back of your closet and play around with them. I also hope it encourages you to read the colored pencil techniques tutorial, it comes with plenty of examples.

Book recommendations
   Exploring Colored Pencil
Angelo's newest book excels in every way possible: instructive, beautiful, and enjoyable to read. Angelo is an excellent teacher. Example: each section has 3 sets of exercises, one for each level of artist (beginner, intermediate, and advanced). All exercises are open-ended and offer as many opportunities for learning as you are willing to pursue. I also have two of her videos ("Realistic Colored Pencil Textures" and "Drawing Your Loved Ones: Pets") which are excellent as well. I'm ordering her older book (Colored Pencil Basics) today!
[More info!]

   "Colored Pencils for All : A Comprehensive Guide to Drawing in Colour " by Michael Warr.
A Comprehensive Guide to Drawing in Colour
[More info!]

In association with Amazon.com

FARP Article Guestbook

14 Dec 201245 Anon.
Delightful!!! You have a great voice in your writing! And, I am giggling because you knew that my pencil crayons would be stuffed away in the back of my closet! Haha! Thank you for the tutorial, it was great. I’ll be back 2 Regards,
Cara! 2

:-) Tiffanie L. Gray replies: "Thank you! I’m glad you are re-energized and ready to give colored pencils another go! Happy Penciling!"
9 Feb 201345 Cage
I saw that you comment about electric pencil sharpener! Using regular sharpener for color pencils isn’t recommended. Here is http://www.electric-pencil-sharpeners.comMissing [/URL]![/URL] site that people who need info can find it. I need to say, I just adore people who have gift for drawing! I really do.
2 May 201345 Anon.
Hi I work with prismacolor pencils. Is there anything I can do or use to get rid of the gloss? or do you know any kind or brand that won’t leave the gloss? Thank you , Claudia

:-) Tiffanie L. Gray replies: "Wax bloom occurs when too many layers of pencil are built up, or when there is too much pressure, it causes the wax to migrate to the top. You can just get a soft tissue and wipe it off. Over time it will stop blooming. But if you aren’t careful, you can smear the picture.

To stop wax bloom, you can try to layer with a very sharp pencil and not much pressure, building up layers very slowly, which usually works. Or you can get some fixative, either matte or gloss and spray your finished work. If you do that, you must slowly build up 2-3 layer of fixative, very lightly, or it will change the color of some of your pencil work. Hold the spray at least a couple of feet away and let the fixative drift down onto the picture.

Good luck!"
15 Jun 201345 Anon.
Namastey, thnxs for the infrmtion abt pencil colors. I’ve just switchd to sketching so I’ll surely give it a try.Missing:[/i]
15 Jun 201345 Della
Nice infrmtn abt pencil colors
15 Jun 201345 Daisy R
Hi, I’m new to pencil colors. I’m thinkin abt buyin a pencil color set bt only 2 brands are available here, faber castell and crayola. Can u pls suggest me which one is better..?

:-) Tiffanie L. Gray replies: "Faber Castell, definately"
6 Aug 201345 Amiria
awesome info. Thank you

:-) Tiffanie L. Gray replies: "You’re welcome!"
8 Dec 201345 Anon.
This is not a tutorial; it is an article about supplies. It cannot be a tutorial because you haven’t shown a single technique. Furthermore, the information presented here is inaccurate. "Rembrandts" are the only pencils that are oil-based, you think? Do you mean LYRA Rembrandt Polycolors? Well, you think wrong--many of the other pencils you mentioned are oil-based as well, including Polychromos and Pablos. If you realized you didn’t know what you were talking about, couldn’t you be bothered to do a quick Google search and find out before you wrote this article and misinformed people?

As far as I can see from material like this, your site serves no purpose. What a waste of time.

:-) Tiffanie L. Gray replies: "Yes, part one a tutorial on what supplies you can use with colored pencil art. You are correct as to the name of LYRA Rembrandt Polycolors. This tutorial was written some years ago, and manufacturers have come and gone, and pencil formulations have changed, so maybe I need to do an update. I’m sorry that you didn’t find it useful, and that you didn’t want to use your real name. You might try the other tutorial which does show colored pencil techniques, which is its name, by the way.
Have a good day!"
4 Jan 201445 Teri
Love this article and i love the way you handle rude comments so gracefully2

:-) Tiffanie L. Gray replies: "Thank you very much. I appreciated your comment."
17 May 201445 Wildflowers
I have Faber Castell Polychromos... Anything to worry about when working with them? Grainy work? Smudge tendency? Fragile?

:-) Tiffanie L. Gray replies: "I like them. I find though that they don’t blend as easily for me, they are "drier", so they work best with a sharp edge and light hand to build up layers, rather than the heavy blending you tend to do with Prismacolors, which are waxier. They don’t seem to break any easier or smudge any easier. Put a paper under your hand if you find yourself smudging. Good luck and enjoy the journey!"
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