Colored Pencil Techniques

by Tiffanie L. Gray


Hello! Thank you for all those who have commented in the past. While there are some revisions to this tutorial, such as taking out the broken links, I haven't made that many changes if you read it before. The following is based on my experiences with colored pencil. I've never had formal art education, but I do read widely, talk to other artists and have taken a couple of two day workshops. If anyone has things to add, let me know! More information on workshops and other colored pencil sites can be found at: The Colored Pencil Society of America's homepages. There are many books available on and at


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.


Oh, what 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. There are also Professional Lightfast Colored Pencils if you are worried about the permanency of your work. 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.


1. Transferring your picture

Okay, you've got your pencils sharp and ready to go. (If they aren't, go to the How to Get Started tutorial). Now how do you get the picture on that cool surface you picked out?


Ready? Here we go!

Transfer/carbon paper

Carbon paper takes a light hand, to keep it from grooving the paper or depositing too much graphite, which will then smear when the colored pencil runs over it. To help prevent that, dab the finished lines with a kneaded eraser to take off the excess. Remember that the graphite lines will still most likely show through in any light colored areas. Or if you wanted the lines to show through, then you could spray the transfered lines with a workable fixative. Another thing you can do is to use a very sharp colored pencil (or a Verithin) in the appropriate shade ranges and trace beside the graphite lines and then erase the graphite completely.


The cutout method

The cutout method is one of the methods I use most. Take your sketch and cut out around various pieces, one at a time and trace around them in an appropriate color. Continue doing this until you have cut the original sketch into as many pieces as necessary to get the depth of detail you need. Again use a light hand so as not to groove the paper.


The pomade method

Never tried this. You poke fine holes in the outline of the sketch and then lay the paper on your surface. Then you press a pomade filled with graphite all over the picture. The graphite will filter into the fine holes, leaving a dot-to-dot outline on your paper. Make sure you take off the excess again.



Lightboxes let you trace your finished sketch right on to the new surface. Unfortunately, if you are using matboard or illustration board, you can't see through them. If you don't have a lightbox, you can use a well-lit window, a tv screen set to a "dead" channel, a lamp under a glass table, etc. Use appropriately colored verithins or very sharp colored pencils to do this and use a light hand.



With a projector you must tape or secure your surface to a wall so that the projected picture will appear on the surface. Then either trace with a neutral color like sand or terra cotta, or with a value color for the area. This is a great method to use if you need to enlarge your sketch.


Graph Method

With the graph method, you either draw a graph on the original or use a graph lined acetate cover on the original. Then draw a faint set of lines on your surface, drawing each section of graph to match the section of the original. This is a another great method to use if you need to enlarge your sketch. Just change the size of one set of grids.


2. Various Techniques for putting color on paper

Okay, I've gotten my sketch onto my cool surface, how do I color it?


You can lay in your color with colored pencils the same way you do with pencil or pen and ink. But here's a quick and dirty reminder. Dirty? Oh, yes, look at the side of your hand and arm. If you want to avoid the blue, green, red, etc streaks, lay your hand on a clean piece of paper, as you draw. (or a mahl stick, or an old, unwanted photograph) This will keep your arm from smearing all the colors and from smearing color into an area that you want white.


In all of the examples below, the pictures have been enlarged to show texture.


Broad shading

Using the side of your lead or the side of stick lead, sweep color lightly across the area that you want colored. Smooth, overlapping bands, circles, and diagonals can all be used.

Brush on solvent

Brush on solvent

Water soluable

Water soluable


Dip a paintbrush in water or solvent and then brush across a colored pencil lead, watersoluable or wax, respectively, and then paint onto paper, just like watercolor, acrylic or ink wash.



Draw small, overlapping circles to fill in the forms on your paper. Different colors for different areas



Use small, light circular strokes to smoothly lay down color, keep pencil sharp for best results.



Lay down short strokes in a vertical and then cross with horizontal strokes. Successive layers build up color and smoothness.

Diagonal, horizontal or vertikal line

Diagonal, Horizontal or Vertical line

Make long or short diagonal, horizontal or vertical strokes. Keep all the strokes going in the same direction. Diagonal lines from bottom left to upper right, give the picture an upbeat (Good) look. Lines from upper right to lower left give pictures a dark (Evil) look. (also works in compositions) This may be different in Arabic or Chinese cultures where they read right to left or top to bottom.


Heavy application

Heavy application mashes down the tooth of the paper. So when you do them, remember you won't be able to do many layers of color in those areas. Heavy applications should follow the contours of the objects being portrayed, or they will have a flat look to them. This is great for mixing colors.


Light application

Light applications only lay down a small amount of color and so many layers may be built up before the tooth is gone. You are also less likely to score the paper this way. Again, always follow the contours of the object.

Dull single layer

Dull single layer

Sharp many layers

Sharp many layers



small dots

small dots

angled dots

angled dots


Using either a sharp or dull pencil, tap the lead on the surface rapidly to leave a small amount of color in a dot. If you hold the pencil at a bit of an angle it makes a short line. If many different colors are dotted into an area it can cause the eye to mix the colors, without them actually being mixed. Usually gives a "soft" look to the picture.

angled dots

Vertical line

Small short strokes are laid in softly and rapidly, close to each other but not necessarily overlapping. Other colors are laid in between the strokes until all is smoothly filled in.


Okay we are ready to color the picture now!


3. How to make colors (A beginners guide)

Okay, I know how to put the pencil marks on the paper, now what?


Flat tone

The simplest and most common method of putting down color. This puts down an even layer of color in a single tone. The "map" or "comic book" look.


Three color technique

This uses three colors to mix any other color you need. Pick any shade of the three primary colors and use a light hand. Fantastic effects can be achieved.


Large palette

Okay, I love my large palette. I have 100 Bruynzeels and then I added Prismacolors and Polychromos in the shades that Bruynzeel didn't have. All told, I have about 130-140 different colors. Of those, I actually use about 40-50 regularly. With a large palette you can pick the colors that are closest to what you need, rather than trying to make the color with successive layers, which cuts down on wear and tear of the tooth of the paper. You will most likely use many layers, anyway, so that color won't be the same as what came out of the lead.


Complimentary shading

Instead of adding blacks or grays to the shadows, you can make deeper, richer shadows by adding complimentary colors to the shadows instead. If you have a red apple, for example, use dark green and dark purple to make the shadows.


Infused color

This means, after you have laid down your basic colors, you put in strokes of other colors in those areas to add interest and reflected color. For example, on a red apple up may put strokes of yellow, green, purple, pink, blue, etc. Not a lot, just a little for a touch of color.



Pure black does have its place, but it tends to be very "flat" when used alone. A richer black can be achieved by mixing Indigo Blue, Tuscan Red and Dark Green in numerous layers. Then add bits of reflected color into the mix. Even using one or two of these colors under black will give it a richer look. Also experiment with other colors that can make black. For instance, the above is a cool black, for a warm black try, Olive, Dark Purple and Sepia



Neutrals are made when two complimentary colors are mixed. Such as yellow and purple, red and green, blue and orange, etc. These make nice browns and grays, rich and not waxy.



Watersoluable pencils will change color somewhat when wet and again, slightly when dry. The colors are transparent and fill in all the little holes.



Solvents are used to destroy the wax binding the pigments, allowing them to move on the paper until they dry. Different solvents act in different ways. The also can dramatically change the color of the pencil. So test a little before putting all over a picture.


A note on wax bloom

Wax bloom, the bane of cp artists, occurs when the wax binder separates from the pigments of the pencil and rises to the top. It makes a gray, misty coating on your picture. There are several way to combat this.


One is to use a very light hand, it will almost never bloom then.

Two is to spray a finished work with fixative or finish spray.

Three is to wipe off the wax bloom occasionally with a soft cloth. It will stop blooming eventually.

Four is to use watersoluable pencils or solvents, they don't develop wax bloom.

Colored pencil manufactures are working on ways to combat this as well.


4. Examples of Techniques for Blending Color

Okay, I know about making colors and shading and stuff, but how do I do it with colored pencil?



There are several methods of burnishing, which I will go into below. Burnishing destroys the tooth of the paper but it leaves a very well blended, photo-like finish


With a colorless blending pencil

After laying down a few layers of color (or one or varies) use the colorless blending pencil with a heavy hand to push the colors into the valleys. Apply another layer of color, repeat. Eventually, your color will just start floating on the surface. Then you either stop or you scratch some off and go again.


With an eraser

After laying down colors use a vinyl eraser to smear the colors into each other, then add more layers of color.


With a lighter color

Lay down a layer of color, then a heavy layer of a lighter color, then a layer of darker color, then lighter, etc until desired color is achieved.

With a Stump or tortillion

Lay down a layer of color, then rub stump over it, then another layer of color, etc.


With Thin lead pencil

Lay down a layer of color, then use a similarly or other thin lead pencil and rub over previous color, add another layer of the first, etc...


With white

This is the most common method. Lay down first color, lay down a layer of white over it, lay down next color, lay down white, etc. This builds up white layer between, which can give it an acrylic paint look.


Colorless marker

Lay down two colors next to each other or with the optical blending technique. Go over the results with a colorless marker until it melts the wax, blending the two colors together.



Lay down either your horizontal or vertical strokes in one color, lay down the contrasted strokes in a second color, continue layering until desired color is achieved.



Heating the paper and/or the tips of colored pencils with a hairdryer and then applying to paper, softens the wax, so that heavier layers can be laid down without undue pressure. When the colors are on the paper, rubbing with a finger generates more heat so that they blend together.


Layered blending



blue bottom

blue bottom

red bottom

red bottom


Lay down a light layer of your first color. Add light layer of various colors to certain areas until the color you are looking for is achieved.


Optical blending

Lay down a set of strokes, leaving a little space between or beside. Take a second color and lay it down in the cracks or next to the first, with a few strokes overlapping the first color. Your eye will blend the two colors to make a new color. (If you stand far enough away from it)



Lay down one color, then lay a second color down over it with some kind of hatching technique. Then take a razorblade or stiff plastic card and scrape across the colored patch. It will remove portions of the top color, allowing the bottom color and the paper to show through.


Tissues and stumps

Includes fingers, tortillions, and stumps. Rub the areas you want to blend in a circular motions until the colors mix or move into the "holes".



single layer

single layer

multiple layers

multiple layers


Always use solvents in a well ventilated room.

Solvents such as Bestine, Mineral Spirits and Turpenoid can all be used to break up the wax binder. After applying colors to the paper, swipe, rub or dab the solvent across the colors, this will mix them. Don't layer too many colors or you will make mud. Bestine (rubber cement thinner) seals the pigment to the paper and lets you apply subsequent layers with out smearing the underlayer. Mineral Spirits and Turpenoid tend to melt all the layers beneath it. Apply solvents with Q-tips, cotton balls, makeup sponges or with paintbrushes, for various techniques. You can also dip an old toothbrush in solvent and run it across a colored pencil to splatter color on the paper.



Lay down two or more colors in any technique, then spritz or brush with water. You can also dip the pencil directly into a small amount of water and draw on wet or dry paper, mixing the colors just like watercolor. You can also dip an old toothbrush in water and run it across a watersoluable pencil to splatter color on the paper.


5. Wild techniques (or fun with pencils)

I did all that, what else can I do?


Using a Colored Ground

Using a colored ground can really help to unify a picture and/or can complete much of the background for you. Pick a color that you want to show up throughout the whole picture or that is complimentary to the major tones. Such as a warm gray or beige for flesh tones, or a cool blue for underwater.



Liquid friskett is your friend if you are working with solvents or watersoluable pencils. Put down the friskett in the area that you want to remain white (or color later). When it is dry, apply color and then water or solvent. When dry remove friskett....Viola! You can also make mask with masking tape, just like in airbrushing and then apply color, solvent and remove to leave shapes.


Graphite over Colored Pencil

As well as using graphite under colored pencil. You can also use graphite over colored pencil, to add texture and interest.



First draw a picture in pencil or ink or Indigo Blue or Burnt Umber. Then apply workable fixative. When that is dry, lightly fill in colors, blending as necessary. The Value map that has already been laid in by the under painting, does most of the shading work for you.


Hand coloring photos

You can hand tint black and white photos. Use either workable fixative or a special solvent to take off the slick protective cover. Then color lightly and spray fixative back over the finished product. Another way to hand-tint photographs is to scan them into your computer and then print them out, either on watercolor paper or other papers (experiment). Then lightly spray the paper with workable fixative. When dry, the ink won't run if you use watercolor pencils water and you can color away. (Just like Grisselle, above)


Impressed line

There are two ways to use impressed line. One is to use a fine tipped, blunt object (like a ball-point pen that has run out of ink) and pressing down, make grooves in various areas, as needed. (Great for putting your name in if the background is going to be dark). When you color over the grooves, (use a fairly dull pencil) it will leave the groove white. Later, other color can be added to the grooves if desired. The second way is to use a sharp colored pencil to make the groove, which will then leave the original color in the groove when the rest is colored.


Creating Textures (Frottage)

If your paper is thin enough, you can do your own embossing and in doing so create cool textures in your art. For example, You could put your paper on a brick wall and use a medium tone to color over the paper in the areas that you want the surface to show. Then fill in crevices and cracks with lighter and darker tones to complete the area. Explore different surfaces..kind of like using filters in Photoshop! There are also textured papers, like matboard.


Mixed media

Colored pencil is compatible with many other media, like ink, watercolor, acrylic, airbrush and pencil. Also you can use colored pencil over colored pencil. What do I mean? You can put down a layer of color, use water over it. Let it dry, do an area in color and use solvent on it. Then use dry colored pencil over the whole area to put in details. You can also use any water color techniques you know, such as using salt, sponging, etc. with water soluable pencils.


Scratch Board2 (using Stabilotone)

I covered clayboard, a type of scratchboard, under the surfaces section. But you can also add scratchboard-like effects to regular pictures. First lay down heavy applications of colors in random patterns, you could even touch them with a bit of Bestine to "set" the colors. Then put down a heavy layer of another color(s). Stabilotones are particularly suited for this. Then scratch off parts of the top layer to reveal the colored layers underneath.


Working in Monotint

Using a colored ground can help you quickly achieve great effects. Pick out the ground color to be your mid tone. Then choose a color darker and a color lighter, black and white. Draw only in these colors. Beautiful "old time" pictures result.


Working on Black

Working on Black, takes a special section, but it is not difficult if you remember a few things. The black will dull all your colors, so if you want clear colors, lay down your value pattern in white first. Certain colors will show up brilliantly on black, so always make sure you check your colors on a scrap of paper first, and then they can be laid directly on the black.


6. Putting it all together

A step by step picture (please excuse my lousy scanner)


1. Transfer picture to ground.

Here is stage one: I used Strathmore 500 Bristol Illustration board. 100% cottnon rag. I transfered my picture using the graphite method. Then erased the graphite as I went over it in similar colors. Then I laid in the background colors, two shades of green. Then I used liquid friskett to dover the areas that I didn't want to get colored. (because solvent smears). I also put in the hair streaks in friskett, because I want to leave major portions of the hair white. You can see where the friskett peeled up a little on the firebird's tail. I'll show you how to fix little mistakes like that if you don't catch them. Lastly, I used a cotton pad (or ball) to smear solvent on the picture. I used round strokes and lifted and twisted the cotton to make the background uneven, like foliage seen at a distance.

2. Put base colors in, use solvents as necessary

After adding blue and grey washes to hair with solvent and an ArtStix, and finishing blending the background, I removed the friskett. I put a light layer of peach for skin tone, using a water soluable pencil with an underlayer of white wax cp where I wanted highlights. I then wet the peach with water and spread it evenly. I did the same for the shirt, using 2 shades of blue. I used an electric eraser to clean up the edges where the solvent had managed to creep under the friskett.

3. Develop colors, highlights and shadows

Here I've finished the background solvent blending and started adding in the lightest colors first. I've nearly finished the eyes and the head of the firebird. I've put in some reflected colors in his hair. (There is actually much more color and shading in his hair, but its not showing up in the scan). I've added in some greys in the shadows, and some heavy white in highlights. Also began putting in complementary colors in the shadows.

4. Blend, add more colors, subtract color as necessary

I added another layer of greens and twisted them, to make more foliage. I darkened the colors, added the rest of the flesh tones, and more complementary colors to the shadows. Developed the hair more, including removing some of the yellow from his hair and finished the eyes. I will use an electric eraser to clean up the places where the solvent has creeped into the hair. I worked on punching up the contrasts.

5. Finishing touches.

I cleaned up his hair line. Used the electric eraser to make white spots, for the sparks, and then filled them in with color. I added more blue to the bird and to his hair. I added in the branches and leaves. And did the final burnishing with a stump. I wish you could see the original, as it is much smoother and the colors more subtle. I also used the electric eraser to make the hair come down over his right ear more and moved his left nostril down just a touch.

There you go! Any questions? P.S. there are many books available on Colored Pencils at


6 months ago
Art / Colouring

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