Rediscovering Colored Pencils

Color pencils sometimes get a bad rep because we think of them as childish. This medium has so much to offer it is often misunderstood.  It is about time we fix that.

Fun fact, the earliest mention of the colored pencil dates back to the Ancient Greeks. The colored pencil as we know it made its debut in the 19th century by Staedtler.  (I knew I liked this guy, they make great pencils.)  I did not realize that many of the big art supply companies have been around since the early 20th century.  Faber-Castell, Caran d’Ache and Derwent were making colored pencils since the 1930’s-’40’s.

by artist, Marco Mazzoni 

There are different types of colored pencils, traditional colored pencils, and water-soluble colored pencils.  They are made from concentrated pigments, wax and binding agents.  Some pencils are softer and blend easily whereas others have a harder core and do not blend well, keeping in mind that different brands have different amounts of pigment and formulas in their pencils. With so many manufacturers out there and such an array of choices, it can be daunting choosing which pencils are right for you.  Isn’t that the fun though, trying new colored pencils until you find what works?  So many art supplies, so little time.

Eye Color Pencil Drawing By Morgan Davidson 7

One of the great things about colored pencils is the layering technique.  Colored pencils were made for this.  Lay down a swatch of one color and take a different color to draw on top of the previous one.  For instance, use a red and then use a yellow.  The intersection of these you’ll see orange.  Likewise, if you use a tonal range of colors you will find that colored pencils offer great depth and dimension.  Colored pencil pigments were meant to be layered they are translucent when one stroke of color is placed on the paper.  When creating shadows, it isn’t always necessary to use black.  Look at the shadow area you’d be surprised that many other colors make up that shadow.

Layer technique and Blending

Burnishing or opaque blending is another technique that is used.  Basically, it is taking a colored pencil and smudging the colors underneath giving the paper a shiny look or rather leaving no white space showing from the paper.  You can use a colorless blender pencil to burnish or a paper blender will also trick.  Blending colors can be achieved by layering colors, using a medium, called Gamsol, to melt the wax in the pencils or water if you are using water-double pencils. To practice using colored pencils, you can try some mini-exercises. For instance, try the swatching your pencils, practice shading and highlighting a cube or sphere.

There are many tutorials, books, instruction out there on how to use and improve your colored pencil skills.  Colored pencils aren’t just for kids, they are for all of us who take this medium to the next level.  Rediscover the colored pencil, you won’t regret it.

Artfully yours,


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