Do’s and Don’ts: How to Draw with Colored Pencil
Colored pencil can be a tricky medium to use so this blog should help you out if you are a beginner or just looking to improve your drawings. For this demonstration I am going to be using a cupcake illustration, one drawn badly and one drawn well (hopefully!). Follow along with the real-time tutorial for the cupcake drawing here.
Something I should mention is your sketch outline, make sure it’s not too dark else it will show through your color, especially in lighter areas. I like to use a kneaded eraser to lighten the outline a bit before I begin.
Let’s dive straight in with the first don’t; don’t use messy, heavily pressured shading. You want to keep your first layers really light and I would recommend circular motions for even shading.
With my cherry above I’ve been very inconsistent with my pressure, so it is hard to apply layers on top and not get harsh streaks coming through. To stop this, I like to hold my pencil a bit further back, allowing me to keep my shading light as not much pressure can be applied.
The next don’t involves transitions between colors; make sure they are not harsh and abrupt. Instead you want to again ease off the pressure when transitioning between colors so that you are easing from one color to the next.
Outlining is a common mistake that beginners make. I think the common misconception is that outlines make your drawing stand out and look more realistic. However, it really does have the opposite effect. Harsh edges and outlines make the drawing look flatter, which goes against the realism of the piece.
With the do drawing you’ll see that I’m being a lot lighter with my pencils. I start off with shadows first and ease off the pressure where I want the shadow to fade away into a mid-tone or highlight, but never applying harsh pressure. These softer transitions really do look more natural compared to outlines.
Extra tip: don’t apply your shadows (dark or light) everywhere however, as you want to leave some areas white to preserve highlights. A good contrast means a good range of values in your drawing, from highlights to mid-tones to shadows. Shading white pencil over these highlights and the edges of the pink can help soften this transition.
Don’t limit the number of colors you are using. You can use more than one or two, it will really make your drawing that much more lifelike and vibrant. Just using two brown colors doesn’t look very vibrant in the cupcake here.
When I added another color though, it looked miles better. This also works well when drawing skin for portraits, especially to get that healthy glow. A few extra colors makes all the difference!
Extra tip: if you’re unsure about your values matching the ones in your reference, take black and white photos of both and compare that way.
A lot of people when they’re starting to use color pencils use black to darken up a color or create shadows. Don’t do this! Go for a darker version of the color you were using for a more realistic look, or even browns and dark blue/dark purple.
Another ‘do’ is blending out your pencils. This gets rid of any graininess. Use a cotton bud or paint brush dipped in solvent (any solvent is fine, could even be nail polish remover) to blend and fuse your colored pencil pigment together. It will look much more vibrant afterwards! Even better, it makes it so much easier to add layers on top!
A little tip for you guys is to always keep your pencils sharp. Sounds simple right but it’s easy to forget! Keeping them sharp makes it easier to layer and your drawing looks a lot less grainy. When using a blunt blue pencil, it made my bow grainy and it couldn’t get into all the dips and creases of the paper. Lots more white showed through as a result. Sharpen every few minutes to re-point your pencil, just one turn will probably do.
I like to build up my drawings in layers, to really hammer home that 3-D effect. I like to go in and make sure that every detail is crisp, detailed and clear. This is where applying little pressure and blending really comes in handy to allow me to do this. Even if I did this to the ‘don’t’ drawing I would find it difficult as the hard pressure really burnishes that pencil into the paper, not really allowing layers to be added on top.
Keep tweaking, adding highlights and comparing to your reference to make sure everything is looking good!
To learn more about drawing with colored pencils why don't you try my online courses?
To see these do's and don'ts in action then check out the video below.