Colored Pencil Workshop by Katherine M. Nelson

In this workshop, you will learn all about colored pencils

You'll find tons of brands of colored pencils out there - some are better than others. Here are some good ones...

Take some notes and decide what brand you want to purchase for yourself. Don't forget a colored pencil Prisma magic eraser!

Take Care of Your Pencils!

It's important to take excellent care of your pencils!

Don't you hate it when your pencil tip breaks off?

It happens when you break the color INSIDE the pencil: by dropping the pencil, playing drums on your desk, being clumsy, or not taking good care of your pencils.

Treat your pencil like it is made of glass and your tip will not break off, giving you many uses of beautiful color!

Always use a hand-held pencil sharpener for your colored pencils. Hold the sharpener in your dominant hand and your pencil in the other.

Turn the sharpener not the pencil, as you hold your pencil straight, in a fixed position.

This reduces stress on the pencil’s soft core. If your sharpener has more than one hole, use the larger one, which will give you a wider angle and a stronger point.

Make sure your blade is sharp! A dull blade will “catch” on the soft core as it passes over it, causing the core to break.

To tell if your blade is sharp, look at the shavings. If they’re long, continuous pieces, you have a sharp blade. If your shavings are in lots of short, choppy pieces, your blade is dull and can damage your pencils.

Keeping your Pencils Safe

Store your pencils like little treasures.

Never store your pencils pointed down.

You may want to consider making a storage container out of fabric or a DVD case.

The point here is the point. Keep it pointy! Got the point?

How to Color Like an Artist

You can "lay down" color with your colored pencils by hatching, cross-hatching, or other shading techniques like a back and forth stroke.

Hatching involves drawing a series of parallel lines. These lines all go in the same direction. The lines can be close together, far apart, or any variation in between. The pencil is lifted from the paper after each line and then placed down again to create a new line.

Cross-hatching involves drawing a series of parallel lines (hatching) and then drawing another series of parallel lines going in another direction on top of the first set of lines. This is a great way to create shading in a drawing. You can create some interesting textures through cross-hatching.

The back and forth stroke is the most common of all the coloring techniques. You put your pencil on the paper and draw in a continuous back and forth motion, without lifting your pencil off of the paper. This is a good way to fill different areas of your drawing with a lot of solid color, but can look messy with lines.

The best way to lay down color without lines is making smooth, small ovals that overlap. Use a pencil that is NOT super sharp.

Top Tips to Consider

Consider the Drawing Surface for the texture (tooth) and the tone (color).

The texture (tooth) of the paper plays a vital role in how your marks will behave on the surface. Smoother surfaces, like Bristol paper, produce smoother applications. While a smoother surface will give you a bit more control over the detail in the image, it also may limit the number of layers of color that can be accepted.

Rougher textures, like watercolor paper or Mi-Teintes pastel paper, may limit the details that you are able to produce initially. But, these papers are more adapt to accepting multiple applications of color. After multiple layers have been added, and burnished, details are much easier to achieve.

Starting with a toned surface, rather than white paper, helps us by starting near the middle of the value scale. By starting in the "middle", we can "push" the values lighter and darker, making comparisons and evaluations a little easier.

Pressure Placed on the Pencil

The pressure placed on the pencil can affect the value and the intensity of the color. When layering colors, this plays an important role.

Do not apply everything with the same pressure.

Adjusting the pressure when mixing affects the intensity and the resulting color. Experiment as you work to find the right combinations of pressure to produce the colors and values that you need for your particular application.

Burnish Your Applications

Burnishing is the process of working the material into the tooth of the paper to produce smooth and solid applications of color. This is what transforms a colored pencil drawing into a colored pencil painting. Burnishing naturally happens in a colored pencil drawing when multiple applications are added and a waxy build up occurs.

This process can be expedited using a few techniques. A light pencil can be applied over the area with heavy pressure. White and Cream work best for this approach. Although the application is burnished effectively, this approach does affect the value of the resulting color, making it a bit lighter.

A colorless blender can also be used to produce a burnished application. Colorless blenders are available as a pencil or marker.

Solvents can also be used to burnish applications. Many artists use alcohol or an alternative solvent such as Turpenoid which can be applied over the colored pencil application with a soft brush.

Layer Your Colors

Applying just one color is not enough.

Multiple layers of color are required.

Layering colors produces more depth in the color and leads to a more realistic depiction of the scene.

Layering colors of a different value or hue naturally mixes on the surface and mixed colors are always more natural in their appearance.

Mix Your Colors

As colors are layered, they mix. Mixed colors appear more natural.

Instead of reaching for green, mix your own by layering blue and yellow. You can always go over the application with a manufactured green, but the color should appear more natural as the yellows and blues show through.

Direction of the Strokes

Just as brush strokes in a painting can inform the viewer of the form and texture of the subject, the direction of the marks made with the pencil do the same.

If you're not sure which direction the strokes should be pulled, consider the cross contours of the form of the subject.

Mix Your Own Black

It's hard to find an example of a true black or white.

Not only does mixing a dark blue and a dark brown produce a natural black, but it also allows the artist to control the temperature of the color that is produced.

Want a warmer black? Add more dark brown. Need a cooler black? Add more of the dark blue.

Build Up to a Heavy Application

Build up layered applications to get the look of a solid colored pencil "painting". Although applications may be lightly layered, multiple burnished layers will lead to a "heavy" (and solid) look.

Develop Edges and Details Last

Details and edges can be developed and defined towards the end of the layering process. Details can be added right over light to medium applications.

Highlights should be preserved and planned, since adding them over areas of color is difficult - if not impossible.

Be Patient and Take Your Time

Perhaps the most important tip is to be patient.

Colored pencils require a slow and meticulous approach.

If you take your time, and work through each layer with patience, you're more likely to find success with your colored pencil drawing.

Watch this tutorial, please


Gather the following materials so you can work while you watch:

1 slice of paper, pencil sharpener, & colored pencils - green, blue yellow, brown, white

Draw 3 circles on your paper, each the size of about 2 inches wide. They don't have to be perfect.

Watch & Draw

Make sure your name, date, and period number are on the top right corner of your paper so you get credit for your work.

Turn in your work

If you want a great book on colored pencil techniques, get "Colored Pencil Painting Bible" by Alyona Nickelsen

A huge thank you to the following sources of information:

The Virtual Instructor and Tahneeya from

Created By
Katherine Nelson


Created with images by moritz320 - "colored pencils colorful color" • Supernico26 - "Crayons de couleur" • 422737 - "colour pencils color paint" • vinodvv aka vcube - "Color Pencil sharpener leftouts" • condesign - "pens colored pencils colour pencils" • StockSnap - "pencils colors colours" • david.nikonvscanon - "Colour Pencils-1" • stux - "colored pencils colour pencils star"

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