A Beginner's Guide To Drawing With Colored Pencils

Colored pencil drawing showing poor techniques

Are you looking for a new hobby? Drawing with colored pencils is a great way to relax and express your creativity.

In this beginner's guide, we will teach you the basics of drawing with colored pencils. We will discuss the different types of pencils, how to blend colors, and the techniques you can use to create beautiful works of art!

Types of Colored Pencils

There are many different types of colored pencils on the market. The type of pencil you choose will depend on your personal preferences and the project you are working on. Some of the most popular types of colored pencils include:

  • Wax-Based Colored Pencils

Artwork using wax-based colored pencils

Wax-based is the more common type of the three colored pencils. The colored pencils that kids use for coloring belong to this category since they contain less wax and have lower prices. Wax-colored pencils are also more forgiving, meaning you can easily erase mistakes.

On the other hand, artist-grade colored pencils or soft colored pencils have more wax, are more expensive, and have vibrant colors. These colored pencils have softer buttery consistency for smoother application and blending.

Wax-based pencils break easily, so be careful when applying pressure on them during application. It is best to store them in a colored pencil holder to keep the colored pencils from accidental breakage.

Another disadvantage of wax-based pencils is the wax bloom. Wax bloom appears as a waxy haze over some colored pencil drawings, resulting from the binder rising to the drawing's surface. To prevent wax bloom, refrain from heavy layering.

But don't despair; it is easy to fix wax blooms. Simply remove the waxy build-up with a cotton swab. Don't use a paper towel or cloth because you won't have enough control over the wax, which might smear and ruin your drawing. You may also remove the wax bloom with a cotton swab dipped in solvent.

  • Metallic Colored Pencils

Artwork using metallic colored pencils

Metallic colored pencils are perfect for drawing stars, planets, and other astronomical bodies. Just like regular colored pencils, you can use them to color small areas or add accents. 

You can also layer them over other colors to create unique effects. To get the best results with metallic colored pencils, use a light touch when applying them to paper. 

  • Oil-Based Colored Pencils

Though oil-based pencils are superior in quality to wax-based pencils, they're more expensive and hard to find. These colored pencils don't use oil as a binder entirely; they also use wax to give their form. But unlike wax-colored pencils, they don't form wax blooms because they contain less wax.

Since the oil holds the pigments better than wax, oil-based colored pencils are resilient to heavy pressure and breakage. But the downside of these pencils is the layering and blending process. For beginners, we don't recommend these artist-grade pencils.

  • Watercolor Pencils


Watercolor pencils are not as common as waxed-based pencils, so some newbie artists aren’t familiar with them. However, they give amazing effects and are very portable for traveling artists.

Instead of wax or oil, watercolor pencils use gum arabic as a binder. Gum arabic is a resin from acacia used as a binder for traditional watercolors. After applying it with water, the resin suspends the pigments within the gum and pushes them into the paper fiber.

The amount of water applied to the watercolors affects the dispersion of the pigments. So when you apply less water, the pigments are more concentrated but washed out when applied with more water.

Other Supplies Needed for Colored Pencil Art

To get started with colored pencil art, you'll need a few supplies in addition to your colored pencils. You should invest in a good-quality sketchbook or drawing paper, sharpener, eraser, and a few different types of fixatives.

  • Paper

Colored pencil paper

Don't overlook the type of paper when drawing with colored pencils. While some artists prefer smooth paper when drawing, it does not hold as much pigment as paper with a slight tooth or texture.

For beginners, opt for the smoother paper since you can skip the blending by layering lightly. Paper with a slight tooth, on the other hand, requires blending with solvents to even out the grainy effect.

  • Eraser

Colored pencil eraser

Not all colored pencils are erasable, but you can put erasers to good use with wax-based colored pencils. Aside from erasing your mistakes, erasers can also give texture and dimension to your colored pencil drawings.

  • Sharpener

Colored pencil sharpener

One of the mistakes to avoid when using colored pencils is allowing the tip to go blunt. You can sharpen your colored pencils with a craft knife or a sandpaper sharpener used for graphite and charcoal pencils. Simply rub the core following its angle to sharpen it.

You can also try specially-designed sharpeners for colored pencils. This manual sharpener has two blades for blunt and pointed sharpening. Do not use an electric sharpener with colored pencils.

  • Solvent

Colored pencil sharpener

Several solvents are available on the market for blending colored pencils, such as Gamsol, odorless mineral spirits (OMS), and turpenoid. 

Turpentine and rubbing alcohol are also alternative solvents that you can use. However, the downside of cheap solvents like rubbing alcohol is the uncertainty of their lightfastness and archival quality.

  • Fixative

Colored pencil drawing permanent fixative

Fixatives protect your colored pencil drawings against smearing, smudging, and wax bloom. If you want to fix your drawing temporarily, you can use workable fixatives. However, if the drawing is perfect to your taste, you can use a permanent fixative.

Remember to check the label and customer reviews to ensure that the fixative you’re considering won’t cause your drawing to discolor or turn brittle after time.

Colored Pencil Drawing Techniques for Beginners

If you're just getting started with colored pencils, there are a few things you should know about the different techniques you can use. Here's a quick rundown of some of the most popular methods:

  • Layering

How to Layer in Colored Pencil by Courtney Herz

Layering is an excellent way to add complexity to your colored pencil drawings. You can use it from the early stages until you're done with a finished drawing, adding different tones until reaching what looks like one color.

Applying proper layers also helps blend the colored pencil naturally, without an additional manual or chemical blending step. Again, practice caution since too many layers results in wax bloom, potentially ruining your drawing unless fixed accordingly.

  • Stippling

Colored Pencil Stippling by Clara Bauman

Stippling is a technique where the artist uses tiny dots instead of strokes to add colors and values to colored pencil drawings. You can create different effects by varying the density of the dots, an excellent way to add detail and texture.

  • Back and Forth

Back and forth is the easiest technique, which involves the artist making a continuous motion of applying colored pencils to the drawing until everything is covered. You can modify the drawing values by adjusting the closeness of the strokes.

  • Hatching

Hatching with Colour Pencils by Koosje Koene

Hatching is a great technique if you're looking to add a bit of dimension to your colored pencil drawings. This technique involves applying parallel lines close to each other rather than simply drawing back and forth, creating dark color areas that add depth and texture.

To hatch, start by drawing a series of closely spaced lines. Then, pick up your pencil and draw another set of lines perpendicular to the first. Hatching takes more patience than the back-and-forth technique, though.

  • Cross-Hatching

Cross-Hatching in Colored Pencil by Felicity Rodriguez

Cross-hatching is one of the most popular colored pencil techniques for creating beautiful works of art. To cross-hatch, apply perpendicular lines to your paper for shading and texture. As you add more lines, the shading becomes more intense. 

You can also create different effects by varying the width of the lines. For instance, thin lines will create a softer effect, while thicker lines will produce more drama.

  • Burnishing

How to Burnish with Color Pencils by Brushes With Bec

Burnishing is a blending technique that produces an instant, shiny surface of blended colors that get deep into the grain. The resulting artwork features depth and luster due to the careful application using colorless blenders or light-colored pencils.

  • Fusing

Fusing is a technique for blending pigments using solvents or a colorless blender to create a new color. Artists use it to form unique hues, giving their artwork a refined look.

  • Roughening

Roughening is a process of texturing drawings by placing rough paper below and rubbing it with something very smooth. The result leaves indentations on top, which you can draw over with a colored pencil for an extra effect.

  • Scoring

Scoring is another technique for adding textures to your colored pencil drawings. Unlike roughening, scoring highlights the objects by tracing a pattern from one paper to another.

  • Scraping

Colored Pencil Technique Using The Scratch Method by Color My World

Scraping is a colored pencil technique that involves removing some of the pigment from a lustrous area to create a scratchy texture. This method is best for adding interest and depth to any colored pencil drawing, such as animal fur, feathers, or hair.

To begin, choose an area to scrape away. Use a sharp knife or blade to remove pigment. Be careful when scraping pigments; don't press the paper too hard. Experiment with different amounts of pressure and scraping until you achieve the desired effect.

  • Rubbing

You can create textures on paper by applying pressure to an object with a colored pencil. Artists often use this technique to add interest and realism to their drawings. You can use any object with texture to create rubbings, but thin paper works best so that the details are not lost.

Simply place your paper over a coin or any object you want, then rub your colored pencil over it until you get the texture on the paper.

  • Scumbling

Colored Pencil Scumbling by Clara Bauman

Scumbling is a method where the artist begins by making circular marks on the paper with a colored pencil. This technique improves the blending process and creates a more even layer of color while creating distinct textures.

Blending Colored Pencils

An artist blending a colored pencil drawing using a solvent

If you're a beginner with colored pencils, you might be wondering how to get the beautiful, smooth blends that you see in professional artwork. Thankfully, it's not as difficult as it may seem!

  • Solvents

Artist-grade solvents like Gamsol are more expensive, but they blend colored pencils to give your drawing a painterly effect. These solvents won't cause discoloration but improve the drawing’s overall quality.

  • Turpenoid

When applied to colored pencil drawings, turpenoid dissolves the pigments, allowing them to bind to the paper and give the artwork a realistic look. It is a more effective alternative to artist-grade solvent as it does an excellent job blending the pigments.

  • Paper Towel

Folding the paper towel and rubbing it against the drawing is a good way to blend your colored pencil. However, stop within 1/8 inch from the outline to avoid blending over the edges and smearing the drawing.

  • Baby Oil

Baby oil spreads the pigments of the colored pencils, covering a larger area in a shorter time. It doesn't leave streaks or cause any change of color. However, its archival quality hasn't been proven.

  • Blending Markers

Blending markers improves the blending and transition of colors. These markers contain alcohol, so they work the same way as a solvent but may leave noticeable streaks on wax-based colored pencils.

Other solvents and household supplies for blending colored pencils are rubbing alcohol, blending stumps, cotton swabs, or colorless blender pencils.

Disadvantages of Using Colored Pencils

Colored pencil doodles

There are a few disadvantages to using colored pencils that you should be aware of. However, understanding them before you start drawing helps keep the frustration at bay.

Grainy Finish

Colored pencil paper has some tooth, allowing the pigment to adhere to the paper, resulting in the grainy finish of the colored pencil drawing. To address this issue, master the process of blending colored pencils to remove any grainy effect. 

You can also try using paper with a smoother surface to prevent graininess. Another possible solution is to use toned paper. We recommend the gray-toned paper for animals and landscapes and tan for portraits.


While blending solves most colored pencil drawing problems, it can also cause issues. Blending with solvents is a great way to achieve a realistic effect on your drawing. However, you can also explore other techniques without using solvents.


Since applying colored pencils is similar to working with regular pencils, you can only color a small portion at a time, especially when adding textures for realistic drawings.

One solution is taking short breaks and pulling out some of your stashed patience. Another is to alternate between large and small areas to break the monotony. Alternatively, you can try watercolor pencils to spread the pigments with water for wider coverage.

Mistakes to Avoid When Drawing With Colored Pencils

Colored pencil drawing of an eye

Colored pencil drawing of an eye - Image by Kirsty Partridge Art

When drawing with colored pencils, there are a few things you want to avoid to produce the best results.

Layering too little or too much

Applying 2-3 layers of colored pencils is best if you want to blend with solvents. Adding too many layers before blending colored pencils with solvents leaves a smudged effect on the paper. On the other hand, too few layers leave nothing for the solvent to work on.

Burnishing too early

Burnishing is a blending technique for colored pencils that gives the drawing a glossy look. Some artists unknowingly do it by pushing the colored pencil into the paper to cover the graininess of the drawing. Once the colored pencil becomes too glossy, you cannot add more layers to it.

Leaving the pencils sloppy

Keep your colored pencils sharp enough, especially when doing small details on your drawings. This will also easily cover the small white spaces in your artwork to give it a more professional look.

Using the wrong paper

Most artists use watercolor paper, colored pencil pads, or Bristol paper for colored pencil drawings. The paper's weight should be at least 90-pound (240 gsm). 

A thick paper allows the solvent to work well into the paper without bleeding to the back. If you use lighter paper, there is a higher chance that your drawing will get wrinkled.

Rushing the work

Be patient when working with colored pencils. For example, an 11x14 artwork may take a week or two to finish. Take time to look at your reference image, and slow down when adding details to get a realistic result.

Applying different strokes

When drawing with colored pencils, be mindful of the strokes and the direction you apply them. Work on small overlapping circles until you fill-up the area you're coloring.

Refusing to weed off a bad drawing

When you see that the colored pencil drawing is not on par with the quality you want, discard it, even when you're halfway through it. 

Starting with a poor drawing is a flawed decision on your end. So instead of spending more time trying to fix some parts, you're better off starting over with a new one.

You may use erasable colored pencils, but they don't have the quality and finish as wax and oil-based colored pencils. However, we recommend these pencils for newbies since they are more forgiving than traditional colored pencils.


We hope this beginner's guide to drawing with colored pencils has been helpful. Remember, there are no set rules for coloring pencil art - have fun and be creative! 

Check out our other tutorials if you have any questions or would like more advice. And most importantly, have a blast with your new artistic medium.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published