Learn Colored Pencil Techniques

Rows of colored pencils and colored lines
Rows of colored pencils and colored lines. Image by Catherine MacBride / Getty Images

This lesson introduces some basic colored pencil strokes which will be useful in your drawing. It is a good idea to spend some time exploring the colored pencil medium with small pieces before attempting a major drawing.

For this lesson, you will need some good quality drawing paper, and a few sharp colored pencils, including a colorless blender if you have one.

Basic Side-to-Side Shading with Colored Pencil

colored pencil basic shading
Colored Pencil Basic Shading. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

The most fundamental colored pencil stroke is one you know already: simple side-to-side shading. Practice keeping the marks straight, letting the fingers adjust the direction of the pencil or pivoting from the elbow. Many beginners accidentally curve their lines, pivoting the hand from the wrist, so that the surface they are shading looks rounded rather than flat.

Practice adjusting the amount of pressure that you apply to the pencil as you shade to precisely control the amount of color you lay down.

Side Shading and Tip Shading

Shading with the side and the tip of the pencil.
Shading with the side and the tip of the pencil. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Side shading or tip shading? Is there a right way to shade with colored pencil? I don't think so: it depends on the effect you want. Let's take a quick look at the difference between side shading and tip shading with colored pencil.

On the left is an area of side-shaded pencil, and on the right is some tip-shaded colored pencil. The paper grain in the side-shaded area is much more obvious, appearing coarser and more open. The tonal range is also more limited. When shading with the tip of a sharp pencil, you can achieve a much richer, denser layer of color. The grain appears​ finer and the pencil tip is able to get right into the paper grain, and you can create a broader tonal range.

This doesn't mean that shading with the side of the pencil is wrong - it can be a useful technique for sketching when you want soft, grainy and even-toned shading.

Colored Pencil Hatching

simple colored pencil hatching
simple colored pencil hatching. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Hatching with colored pencil allows you to rapidly apply color and create texture and direction. Hatching is often used in one direction, but can also follow the contours of the surface to help create the sense of form and volume.

For best results, keep your pencil sharp. Rapid, regular, evenly spaced lines are drawn, leaving a little white paper or underlying color showing. Close-up like this they look pretty irregular, but when you use hatching in a drawing, the slight variations don't look so dramatic. It does take some practice to get them even though! It's a good idea to practice on some spare paper first, so you get your hand moving the right way before applying pencil to your work.

Hatching can be done so that the lines begin and end very precisely, or you can vary the lineweight, lifting the pencil to create a graded effect.

Colored Pencil Crosshatching

colored pencil crosshatching
Colored pencil crosshatching. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Crosshatching is basically two layers of hatching drawn at right-angles. This is a very useful technique in colored pencil drawing. You can use crosshatching to create a darker area within a layer of hatching, or to create a visual blending effect of two different colors.

You can also create interesting textured effects by adding the second layer at just a slight angle, or by layering sections in at random angles. Again, these examples are zoomed in so that you can see the lines and effects clearly.

As always, practice makes perfect with crosshatching. Experiment with lineweight (how hard you press the pencil), spacing, sharpness and color. See how it looks when you use just a couple of layers, compared to multiple layers. Experiment with using the light or dark tones first. By trying things out on spare paper (a failed drawing on good paper is ideal for this), you'll have the confidence to use these more interesting techniques in your final work.

Colored Pencil Scumbling

colored pencil scumbling or brillo pad technique
Colored Pencil Scumbling. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Scumbling in colored pencil means something rather different to the dry-brush painting technique. Colored pencil scumbling is a method of shading using tiny circles, sometimes called the 'Brillo pad' technique, due to the texture of that brand of steel-wire scourer. The texture created depends on the size and pressure used to draw the circles - you can create a very smooth finish or a rough and energetic surface. Scumbling can be used to layer a single color or with alternating different colors.

You can also use a more 'concave' scumble technique to create textures. Using a sort of figure-eight or 'daisy' shaped scribble and spidery lines, rather than a round circle, creating random dark patches and a more organic looking surface.

Directional Mark Making

directional mark making
Directional mark making. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Directional marks are lines which follow a contour, or the direction of hair or grass or other surfaces. These can be densely overlaid to form a rich textural effect. Directional marks can be short and broken or quite continuous and flowing depending on the texture you are aiming for. Often directional mark making is used quite subtly, overlaid with even shading and blended, to create a suggested direction without being dominant.