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Colored Pencil Techniques

Welcome back everyone! I took a break from posting here so I can study for my finals. Now that it's over, I have a little more time to spend on coloring again. So this week I'm going to focus on using different techniques with colored pencils. When we started coloring as kids, technique wasn't a word in our vocabulary. I had two goals when coloring - stay within the lines and finish the page. That's it. I always wanted more colors than my 12/24/36 pack because who knew you could get new colors just by mixing what you already had?!

But as an adult, I wanted to do better. Adult coloring books generally have better quality paper and many of us can afford to purchase better quality pencils than Crayolas. But just because I have quality supplies doesn't mean I can make better pictures. Artist quality pencils and good paper makes the coloring process faster and easier but what makes a good artist is technique and practice.

So I began to explore Youtube and coloring blogs for tips on how to achieve better effects with colored pencil - whether it is more realistic animals or creating the illusion of depth in an image. What I found is that there are a few simple techniques you can use to make your pictures far better than just filling in the shapes on a page.


This technique is probably something we figured out by the time we were teenagers. You can get different results with the same pencils simply by changing the pressure you put on the paper. A light hand will give a softer look and heavy pressure will produce a more vibrant layer of color.

In the image on the left, you can see this in the green ferns next to the little fish. I put a little bit more pressure at the center and gradually faded out the color towards the edges. Just this one technique can make your images 'pop' off the page! You can use shading to create shadows on the edges or just to make an object more interesting to look at.


Layering is a technique where you build depth using multiple, light layers of different colors. Layering is very important in making your images look realistic, achieving depth and filling pictures with light (stars, fire, lamps etc.) You can increase the pressure in later layers but the first ones should use a very light hand. Experienced artists may use as many as 10-20 layers to get the effect they want and you'll be surprised at some of the colors that go into an object!

One trick to applying light layers is to hold the pencil much higher than usual, say around a quarter of the way up from the point and keeping it at an angle to the paper (top). You can get really light layers like this rather than holding the pencil vertically over the paper and gripping close to the tip (bottom).


Blending isn't really separate from layering, as usually most artists use them together. Blending is when you physically mix or merge multiple layers of colors together. Blending can make new colors or create a gradient effect without sharp edges where two colors meet. You can't blend colors without putting down many layers first, so these 2 techniques go hand in hand.

I used both layering and blending for this jellyfish image. I put down layers of 5 different colors and gradually blended them together to create the soft gradient from light ivory at the top to deep pink at the bottom. Most of my pictures use shading, layering and blending techniques in different places.

You can blend with a white pencil, with the lightest color in your palette (sky blue for an object that has 3-4 different blue shades) or a colorless blender pencil. I prefer a colorless blender - Prismacolor makes one for their pencils and the Caran D'ache full blender is great for Polychromos. You can also try blending mediums like mineral spirits or baby oil (some people like Vaseline as well) but be careful when using them on thinner coloring book paper.


Burnishing is generally the last step to use when coloring an object. After you have put down all the layers you want, you can burnish the surface by applying the last layer with high pressure. I usually burnish with my colorless blender so that I don't waste pigment from my colored pencils. Burnishing gives a sheen to the surface and is a great technique for creating reflective surfaces or the shine on metallic objects.

In the image on the left, I have used shading, layering and burnishing to blend 3 different shades of yellow/orange in the center of the fish. Blending and burnishing will give you better results when there are many layers on the paper. Burnishing destroys the tooth (smooths out the texture from the paper), so you can't add any more color after this step.

Combining these techniques in a picture will make it more interesting to look at than just filling it in with colors. The beauty of these techniques is that you don't have to be an expert to use them. You will get better with practice but even in the beginning, your pictures will look much better than before. Remember one thing when coloring - mistakes don't matter much in the long run. When you finish a picture and step back to look at it, I will guarantee you won't notice! The overall effect is what matters, not whether you got the shading or layering exactly right. Happy coloring everyone!


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