Updated: Oct 20, 2020
I have been using colored pencils for a few years now. When I started, I didn't know anything about them except what I saw on the internet or some techniques I learned in online classes. Yet, it didn’t take long before I fell in love with the process. Even though colored pencil work is known for being a slow process, I love the pace of building colors layer by layer. It is so relaxing and creative. In my colored pencil practice I have learned a few things the hard way. I want to share some of my experiences to help you not fall into the same pitfalls.
1. Don’t use blunt pencils
I did not realize the power of a sharp pencil until I got a new pencil sharpener one day. When I sharpened my first pencil with it and got a super sharp point I thought, “whoa this could be a weapon”! My amazement didn’t stop there. When I used that sharp pencil on my paper I couldn’t believe how it filled in the gaps so much better—I no longer had to go over the same area repeatedly to cover the paper. From that moment on I vowed to never use a dull pencil again. I look back at my older work and I see how many still have paper showing through or I over worked it because I pressed too hard just to fill in the gaps. There was a simple solution - a sharp pencil. I have also learned that you can keep your pencil sharp as you color by continually turning the pencil a half turn as you color, so you are constantly keeping a nice point on the tip. This is great for my lazy side because I don't have to stop and sharpen my pencil often.
2. Don’t always use black to shade
It is easy to think to darken any color you just put black on it. Although, yes it does darken the color, it also desaturates and dulls the color which leaves it looking flat. By example, if I need to shade a ball, instead of grabbing a black pencil (which would create a darker shade color), the shade on the ball will look livelier if I use the ball’s complement color. Layering the two colors together build a nice dark rich color that is much more interesting to look at. I suggest that you try it. Take a red colored pencil and lay down a nice rectangle of red. Dividing the rectangle into three parts, continue by putting a layer of black pencil over the left third of the red rectangle. Then put a layer of green pencil (which is red’s complement color) over the right third of the rectangle. Now you should see three different colors of red. Just to be fair put one more layer of red over the entire rectangle so that red is the last layer over all of it. Notice what you see of the section with black the section versus the green. Which do you like better? Tell me in the comments below. There are times that black is probably the right color choice in a project, I just want to say that it is not the only way to shade.
3. Don’t use hard pressure
In most of the online classes I have taken the teacher is always talking about what level of pressure they are using with the pencil. I never understood what they were talking about until I started practicing my pencil pressure. The magic of colored pencils for me is layering different colors together to create an interesting color. Using different levels of pressure can change things dramatically. Sometimes even a subtle change can make a big impact. It took me a long time to figure this out. It really dawned on me one day when I had laid down only two colors and I had burnished the paper. I think I realized at that moment what those instructors were trying to tell me about pressure levels, and I guess I finally knew I was using too much pressure. Now I had a problem. I needed additional color in that area but since I pushed so hard I didn’t have any tooth left in the paper so I couldn't shade that area like I wanted. That is when I found the process of practicing pencil pressure. That is when you make five boxes and practice your lightest pressure to your hardest pressure. The first time I did it I still didn't get it. Until I started practicing it over and over. Then one day when I was working on a project and I found that I felt more comfortable in a level 2 pressure. I could layer lots of colors and create the nice blend I like, but it took me making pressure boxes over and over before I understood how to be consistent with my pressure levels. If you need to practice your colored pencil pressures you might want to check out the Practice Booster for marker and pencil strokes.
There are many more things I do not do with my colored pencils anymore, but these are the top three things that I wish I had not done from the start. These lessons helped me to not only understand my pencils better but also help me be better at using the pencils as a tool to help me make better art. Don’t let my mistakes also become your mistakes. Tell me if you have learned anything with your colored pencils in the comments below. Or, if you have stopped doing something with your pencils I want to hear about it. And, lastly, have you found a new trick you love to do with your pencils all the time, of course I want to hear about that too.
What's happening in the Corner . . .
Do you struggle to get dimension in your coloring? Is it flat no matter what you seem to do? Do you create a base layer of color before you color an image. Join us in the Practice Corner for the month of August as we guide you though practicing coloring for depth and dimension.
If you are reading this after August, don’t despair, you can still explore and practice this technique by purchasing the "Coloring for Depth & Dimension" Technique Practice Pack here.
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