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How Much Color is Enough to Blend

How Much Color is Enough to Blend

Blending is an all-important part of drawing with colored pencils. Today’s reader wants to know how much color is enough to blend. What a great question!

Hi Carrie,

I had a stroke, 5years ago. Now I find it hard to know [if I have] filled in the tooth enough. [Also] when should I use Zest-It, when should I use the powder blender?

I am like you, a horse fanatic. Plus I have done a lot of cats and dogs. I usually have everything planned before I start a project.

Im so grateful you have opened up this blog; I really enjoy your emails.

Kind Regards,


How Much Color is Enough to Blend


How very kind of you! I’m delighted to have you among my readers!

I’m sorry to hear about your health issues, but your interest in art and drawing is a great motivation.

The amount of color you need before you can successfully blend varies from method to method. So let me answer your question for solvent, and then for powder blender.

What is Enough Color for Blending with Solvent?

When you use odorless mineral spirits or other solvents to blend colored pencils, it is important to have enough color on the paper for the solvent to blend. Solvents break down the binder in the pigment, which allows the pigments to flow together and mix almost like paint. The more color on the paper, the better your results.

If you’re working on cotton paper (Stonehenge, etc.) or any absorbent paper, the paper also soaks up the solvent, making it dry more quickly. If you have just a little color on the paper, the solvent may be absorbed before it can do much blending. Having more color on the surface of an absorbent paper slows down the “soaking up” process and gives you a little more time to blend.

That’s less of a problem on sanded art papers. In fact, I’ve had solvent take quite a while to dry when I used it on sanded art papers (which are non-absorbent.) If the weather is damp or humid, it takes even longer! There’s plenty of time to blend colors on non-absorbent paper.

(It also takes less solvent to blend color when you draw on non-absorbent papers.)

No matter what type of paper you use, you need enough pigment on the paper for the solvent to melt and mix the pigments together.

That usually means three to six layers of smoothly applied color. If you have a naturally light hand, you need more layers. If you have a naturally heavy hand, you can successfully blend with fewer layers.

I use very light pressure to draw, so I have to put down more layers of color before solvent blends successfully.

This is a drawing on Stonehenge paper that I wanted to blend with solvent. I applied several layers of color evenly with light pressure and sharp pencils in this sample. My goal was smooth color, so I used a variety of strokes to create the smoothest color I could draw.

How Much Color is Enough to Blend with solvent.

I blended this area with rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol is good for blending if you don’t need a very deep blend. It doesn’t completely break down the pigment binder, but you can blend with it.

This is what the color looked like after blending with rubbing alcohol.

You could blend with any other solvent, too, including Zest-It. Those solvents would produce more complete blends, so you might need a few more layers of color before blending.

Keep in mind that the milder your solvent (rubbing alcohol is very mild, meaning it doesn’t blend completely, and turpentine is very strong,) the smoother your color layers need to be. Milder solvents will not smooth out bold pencil strokes. A stronger solvent is more likely to smooth out bold pencil strokes, but that’s not guaranteed. Especially if you draw with extremely heavy pressure.

I’m not sure where Zest-It falls on the mild-to-strong scale.

What is Enough Color for Blending with Powder Blender?

I’m just beginning to experiment with Brush & Pencil’s Powder Blender, but I can offer some tips, the first being that it works best on sanded art papers. I used Pastelmat for my sample.

I had heard, seen, and read that you could just scribble color onto the surface, then blend it with powder blender and the strokes would all disappear. So that’s what I did.

First, I applied a small amount of powder blender to the background. Then I literally scribbled Faber-Castell Polychromos Sky Blue over the background with light pressure and bold strokes. It looked like this when I finished.

How Much Color is Enough to Blend with Powder Blender

Not very pretty, is it?

Next, I used the same sable round brush to blend the color that I used to apply the Powder Blender. I did not add more Powder Blender. I simply moved the color around.

When I finished, the background looked like this.

It’s still not very pretty, but you can see how well that little bit of color blended out.

It will take more layering and blending to get the look I want, but I am satisfied that you can successfully blend a small amount of color with Powder Blender. Obviously, the smoother the color layer you draw, the smoother the blend will be.

Three tips on using Powder Blender.

  • It works best on sanded art paper that’s quite heavy or is on a rigid support.
  • Blend with a tapping stroke for the smoothest blends.
  • Isolate layers with ACP Texture Fixative after you’ve finished an area.

So How Much Color is Enough to Blend?

The more color you put on the paper before blending, the better results you’ll get with blending.

The smoother the layers of color you want to blend, the better results you’ll get with blending.

That’s pretty much true no matter what type of paper you use, what blending method you use, or the pressure with which you draw.

If you’d like tips for layering colors, last week’s Q&A post will help you. It’s a short demo on layering color to create an umber under drawing and then glazing color. I hope you enjoy it.

And I hope my answers have helped you!

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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Layering Colors with Colored Pencils

Layering Colors with Colored Pencils

These week’s Q&A post is a follow up to last week’s question about choosing colors. I decided to share a few basic principles of layering colors with colored pencils through a short demo.

But here is the original question.

How do you choose the pencils/colors that you use when layering color? In what order do you apply them?

You can read the original answer here if you haven’t already read it. Today’s post is a demonstration of the principles I talked about in that post.

Layering Colors with Colored Pencils

There is no absolute way to decide the order in which you layer colors. Much depends on your particular drawing style and how you want each drawing to look. The type of paper you prefer even makes a difference, since you can layer light over dark when you draw on sanded art papers.

I don’t pay much attention to the order in which I layer colors. Instead, I start with the base colors, and then make adjustments as needed by adding other colors.

About the only thing I do regularly is start with an umber under drawing, because I like developing details and values without having to make color decisions. I prefer earth tones because they are an excellent “toning down” color for landscape greens.

Most of the time, I use Prismacolor Light Umber (for cotton papers) and Faber-Castell Polychromos Raw Umber (for sanded art papers.)

I also sometimes use a light warm gray for a blending layer.

One thing I can tell you, however, is that the last color you add will have the most influence on that area. If the last color is blue, the overall color will have a blue tint no matter what else is under it. If you use yellow on the same area, the overall tint will be yellow.

Layering Colors with Colored Pencils

So rather than give you specifics, let me share the general order of progression.

Start with the Shadows

I layer color into the shadows first. Blocking in the shadows first gives me a sense of the “mass” of the subject. The way it takes up space in real life.

I start with light pressure and build color and value layer by layer. As the shadows become darker, I add darker middle values, and then lighter middle values.

Here’s the landscape with only the shadows and darker middle values blocked in.

Layering Colors with Colored Pencils

But I still look for the lightest color I can use for the shadows. I used Prismacolor Light Umber to block in the shapes first, then darkened some of the shadows with Prismacolor Sepia.

You’ll have to find the color or colors that work best for you if you don’t start with a standard under drawing color. The principle is the same. Start with a light or medium-light version of the color you see in the reference photo, and then build darkness layer by layer.

I continue developing the under drawing until it looks the way I want it to look, with a nearly full range of values, and all the details I want to show. Throughout the under drawing, I use the same color or colors, so once the original colors are chosen, there are no further color choices to make until I start glazing color.

So let’s move ahead to glazing.

Choose the Base Colors

When you start glazing, look for the lightest color in each part of the drawing. In this case, I chose a light, yellow-green which I shaded over all of the landscape except the trees. This illustration shows the glazing about half finished.

The trees and scrub brush are darker than the grassy hills. They’re also a bluer shade of green than the grass, so I chose a darker, bluer green as the lightest color.

But I glazed this color over all of the trees, just as I layered the yellow green over the grass. These two colors (medium value blue-green and light value yellow-green) became my base colors for this landscape.

Add Other Colors as Needed

Once the base colors are in place, I chose additional colors based on the colors in the reference photo and the way I wanted the finished work to look.

This drawing, for example, was designed to capture the look and feel of a gray spring day. So I chose subdued, even dull, colors. If I drew the same scene on a bright, spring day, I’d use brighter greens and would replace some of the blue-greens with yellow-greens or even yellow.

Layer, Layer, Layer!

Once the general colors are established, I continued layering them to develop rich color. When the color needed adjustment, I added other colors to the mix.

After that, it’s a matter of layering colors, fine tuning values, and working out details until the drawing looked the way I wanted it to look.

This is the finished landscape, Late Spring in the Flint Hills.

Layering Colors with Colored Pencils

Layering Colors with Colored Pencils

It doesn’t matter what you like to draw most or how you most like drawing. The basic principles for choosing colors and deciding the order in which to layer them should work for you. Even if they don’t, they will give you a place to begin.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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Tips for Choosing Colors

Tips for Choosing Colors

Let’s talk about a few basic tips for choosing colors.

Here’s the reader question that prompts this discussion.

How do you choose the pencils/colors that you use when layering color? In what order do you apply them?

The short answer is that every artist develops a different method of choosing colors based on their artistic personality, their style of drawing, and their preferred working method.

For example, a lot of my work begins with an umber under drawing. I use the same basic earth tones for umber under drawings. The only decision is which earth tone to use.

Other artists work with complementary under drawings, and still others start with the local colors.

However, there are a few basic principles that will help you design your own color selection method. So let’s talk about those basic tips.

Tips for Choosing Colors

The most important thing to remember is that colored pencils are translucent. Every color you put on the paper affects every other color you put on the paper. The first color influences the last color. Even the color of the paper makes a difference.

Some colors are more opaque than others. Some brands are more opaque over all than other brands, but they are all translucent. Unless you layer with very heavy pressure, the layers are translucent.

What that means in general is that it’s usually best to start with the lightest colors, also sometimes called a base layer.

So how do you choose the best colors to begin with?

Identify the Lightest Colors in Your Reference Photo

There are a couple of ways to choose colors. In this example, I used a photo editor to identify the lightest color (the base color) for this horse. I clicked the color picker on the lightest highlights on the face, and the color appears in the box on the left. Most basic photo editors have this capability.

Tips for Choosing Colors

Another method of comparison is to compare your pencils with a printed reference photo as I did below. One disadvantage to this method is that printed colors look different than they may appear on your device.

If you work from a printed reference photo, however, and you want to match the colors in the printed photo, then this is a great way to choose colors.

You can also just eye ball the reference photo and your pencils.

Whatever method you use, identify the base color for each area of your composition.

What is the Color Family?

Once you’ve identified the base color for each area, decide what color family each color is in.

The color families are: red, red-purple, purple, blue-purple, blue, blue-green, green, yellow-green, yellow, yellow-orange, orange, and red-orange. Basically, that’s three primary colors, three secondary colors, and six tertiary colors. You can simplify to primary and secondary colors, but you don’t need to go more complex than the tertiary colors.

For example, is the lightest color yellow, yellow-orange, or yellow-green?

Most brands of colored pencils have colors in each of the families. If you have a couple of different brands, you have more selections within each family.

All other colors from the lightest to the darkest can be selected using the same method.

With this color selection process, you don’t have to search through every color to find the best matches. If the colors in your drawing are all in two or three color families, those are the only color families you need to search through for good matches.

How to Decide the Order of Layering

There is no absolute way to decide the order in which you layer colors. Much depends on your particular drawing style and how you want each drawing to look.

I don’t pay much attention to the order in which I layer colors. Instead, I start with the base colors as described above, and then make adjustments as needed by adding other colors.

One thing I can tell you, however, is that the last color you add has the most influence. If the last color is blue, the overall color will have a blue tint no matter what else is under it. If you use yellow on the same area, the overall tint will be yellow.

These are My Tips for Choosing Colors

No matter what style of art you do or what your favorite subjects, these tips for choosing colors will help you choose the best colors for every drawing.

As I mentioned at the beginning, choosing colors is a highly personal matter. The best advice for learning how to choose colors is to experiment.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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Is it Better to Start with Light Colors?

Is it Better to Start with Light Colors

If you’ve been working with colored pencils for any length of time, you’ve probably heard that it’s best to start with light colors. Today, Anne asks the same thing. Here’s what she has to say.

Hi Carrie

Do you feel it’s better to start with pale colours as with watercolour and work up to the darker ones as you layer, or is it easier to start with darker colours and layer the lighter ones over them?



Thank you for your question, Anne. It’s a good question, and I’m glad you’ve asked it!

Is it Better to Start with Light Colors

You might also be wondering if you always have to begin with light colors. So I’ll begin by answering Anne’s question, and then share a few times when you may not need to start with light colors.

Is it Better to Start with Light Colors

If you’re working on traditional drawing paper, then yes. It’s better to start with light colors and add darker colors over them.

Colored pencils aren’t as transparent as watercolors (which is why watercolorists start with light colors,) but they aren’t opaque either. Every color you put on the paper influences every other color you put on the paper.

No matter how many colors you add.

So if you layer dark colors first, then layer light colors over them, the light colors will not be as bright as they would be on clean, white paper.

Yes, you can tint darker colors with lighter colors, but that’s about all.

Incidentally, the translucent nature of colored pencils is why it’s so easy to end up with muddy color if you put too many different colors one over another.

Are There Exceptions?


If you use sanded art papers, then you can layer light over dark and the lighter colors will show up. Those colors may not be as bright as they would be when layered over white paper, but they will show up.

This landscape is drawn on sanded pastel paper. I added the lightest green highlights to the main trees after shading all the other greens. Even in the darkest areas, those green accents remained bright.

I was also able to add sky holes in some places after the trees had been nearly finished.

Some products also allow you to add lighter colors over dark and maintain the brightness of the light colors. Brush & Pencil’s Touch-Up Texture is one. Paint a little Touch-Up Texture over a part of your artwork, let it dry, and you can add more color. Even light color.

If you need to cover a larger area, the Advanced Colored Pencil Texture Fixative (also by Brush & Pencil) accomplishes the same things.

And if you use an umber under drawing (drawing the first layers with earth tones and then glaze color,) you have a little more flexibility.

But you still need to preserve the brightest highlights.

The Bottom Line

Most of the time and on most papers, you should always try to start with the lightest colors and work into the darker colors.

At the very least, start with light pressure and gradually develop dark values by increasing pressure as your drawing progresses.

Thank you again to Anne for asking her question!

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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Removing Waxy Buildup from Colored Pencil Art

Removing Waxy Buildup

For artists who like using wax-based colored pencils (pencils that use mostly wax as a binding agent,) wax can build up over the course of a drawing. Removing waxy buildup from colored pencil art is a major concern.

That is certainly true for the artist who asked today’s question.

Is there any way to remove the waxy buildup you get during your layering of colors? I put down three layers of colors, and burnish them together, but [add more] additional layers over my blended and burnished layers as I’m working on a project.

I use a 400 or medium paper, so I should have enough tooth. I layer lightly with very little pressure. It’s not unlikely for me to have 10, 15 layers,

I use Prisma, Lyra, Prang and Ticonderoga mostly. I could change to Faber-Castell or some other oil-based pencils, but they cost so much.

Thank you, and love following you. [I’ve] learned a lot.

Removing Waxy Buildup from Colored Pencil Art

I want to thank this reader for asking this question. Waxy buildup is a problem I’ve had to deal with over the years myself.

But in studying the question, I realized there are two answers to this question. So I’d like to talk about ways to avoid waxy buildup first, and then suggest a few ways to deal with it.

Preventing Waxy Buildup

There really isn’t anyway to remove waxy buildup once it occurs. I’ll explain why later. So your best option is to prevent it. The two best ways to prevent waxy buildup is with the tools you use and the way you draw.

The Tools You Use

The Type of Pencils

Colored pencils that use a binding agent that’s mostly wax are a delight to use. They usually lay down color smoothly and quickly. Most of you are probably thinking “Prismacolor” as you read these words and you would be right. But there are other top-grade pencils that are considered wax-based. Caran d’Ache Luminance for example, as well as some of the Derwent lines. The fact is that most colored pencils contain more wax than oil in the binding agents because wax is less expensive than oils.

But there is a downside.

Whenever you use any colored pencil, you put binding agent on the paper as well as color. There’s simply no way to avoid that because the color is held together by the binding agent. The binding agent is what makes the color usable and useful. Trying to put down color without also putting down binding agent is like trying to eat a pancake without eating the egg in the pancake.

So the pencils you use either add to waxy buildup or help you avoid it. Switching to oil-based pencils such as Lyra Rembrandt or using drier pencils like Caran d’Ache Pablos leave less wax on your drawing, for example.

The Quality of Pencils

Using inexpensive pencils also can add to waxy buildup problems. Why? Because they contain a higher percentage of binding agent to color than higher quality pencils. You can get good results with scholastic or student grade pencils, but you’ll end up with more waxy buildup for the same amount of color with those pencils. Prang and Crayola are examples of a scholastic grade pencil.

Tossing all those scholastic pencils and replacing them with better pencils isn’t necessary. Whenever you need to buy a replacement color, replace that inexpensive pencil with a similar color of better quality.

You don’t have to go all the way to the top of the line, either. Derwent has some very good mid-grade pencils that might work for you and wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. The Derwent Coloursoft line is a good example, and they are about the same price as Prismacolors.

Blick Studio Artist’s Colored Pencils are another line of pencils that combine artist quality pencils with a good price.

The Type of Paper

Paper doesn’t have that much to do with waxy buildup. Wax builds up pretty much the same way on every type of paper.

But you will be able to add more layers to a toothier paper than to a smoother paper. So if you like the paper you’re using, I wouldn’t change that. It’s better to work with drawing methods and pencils than with paper.

If, however, you are considering trying a different paper, I recommend Canson Mi-Teintes as a good choice. It’s one of my go-to papers. It’s designed for pastels, though, so has a pretty obvious texture on the front. The back is better for colored pencils, but you can draw on both sides.

The Way You Draw

The way you draw also can add to waxy buildup or help you avoid it.

This reader uses light pressure to layer color and that’s good. Drawing with light pressure reduces the amount binding agent on the paper.

But the reader also indicates he or she burnishes regularly. Burnishing is a method of blending in which you use extremely heavy pressure to blend layers of color together. When you burnish with a color, you add color to the paper as well as blend previous layers together. If you burnish with a colorless blender, then all you’re adding to the paper is the waxy binding agent.

Especially if you use the Prismacolor Colorless Blender, shown below.

Prismacolor Colorless Blenders are a colored pencil without color. They’re just the wax binder, so when you burnish with one, you leave a lot of wax on the paper. The wax helps blend colors.

Lyra makes a colorless blender. Their’s is called the Splender Colorless Blender, and it’s made with less wax in the binding agent. You can still blend wax-based colored pencils with the Splender Colorless Blender, but it leaves less wax on the paper.

There’s nothing wrong with burnishing. It’s a popular and often-used blending method. But it does leave a lot of binding agent on your drawing and that does contribute to waxy buildup. I usually recommend burnishing only a couple of times during the drawing process, and saving it until near the end.

So how do you avoid putting too much wax on your artwork?

  • Use light or medium pressure for as many layers as you can.
  • Don’t burnish until toward the end of your drawing process
  • Use the best pencils you can afford.
  • Use oil-based pencils as much as possible

Removing Waxy Buildup from Colored Pencil Art

Unfortunately, once wax is on your paper, it’s impossible to remove it all. And as we just discussed, using colored pencils without leaving wax on the paper is impossible. The wax is what makes the colored pencils work.

But there are ways to reduce the effects of waxy buildup on colored pencil drawings. Even those you may have burnished.

Blend with a Solvent

You don’t have to do all of your blending with a solvent, but solvent blending is one way to deal with waxy buildup.

Solvent works by breaking down the binding agent and liquefying the colors. The liquefied colors can then be moved around before they dry.

But a side affect of solvent blending is that the binding agent is neutralized to some extent. It’s not completely removed, but it is reduced. That means less wax on the paper. Replacing burnishing with a solvent blend is one way of removing waxy buildup during the drawing process.

Solvent isn’t for everyone, though. All solvents produce fumes that can be toxic, and some artists have allergic reactions to any kind of solvent. So if you can’t use solvents, or prefer not to use solvents, there is another way to deal with waxy buildup.

The Paper Towel Method

I like blending with paper towel. It’s easy to do and fast. Just fold a piece of paper towel into a small square, and rub the part of the drawing I want to blend. It’s not as deep a blend as burnishing or blending with solvent, but it’s safe and easy, and that makes it one of my favorite methods of blending without solvent.

It’s also a good way to deal with wax bloom.

Wax bloom is a direct result of too much wax on the paper. The wax rises to the surface and “fogs over” the drawing. It happens on all colors, but is especially noticeable on dark colors. That makes wax bloom a sign of waxy buildup.

Removing this type of waxy buildup is easy. Simply wipe the surface of the drawing very lightly with a piece of paper towel, a tissue (without lotion), or a soft, clean cloth. The wax bloom will return however and you probably won’t ever be able to totally eliminate it. Wipe off wax bloom every time it appears while you’re drawing.

After you’ve finished your drawing, remove the wax bloom one more time, then lightly coat your artwork with fixative. The fixative keeps the wax binder in place, and that means little or no wax bloom.

For the best results, use a fixative designed for colored pencils. Brush & Pencil’s Final Fixative is fully archival and is made specifically for colored pencil art.

Removing Waxy Buildup is Possible

But you’ll never be able to remove all of it.

Your best course of action is to use tools and methods that create less buildup, and then manage waxy buildup when it occurs.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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Is there a Published Guide for Skin Tones?

Welcome back to Q&A Wednesday. Today’s reader asks about a published guide for skin tones. Here’s the question.

Hi Carrie ,

Is there a published guide to the mix of brands pencils to particular skin tones? For example, which Prismacolor pencil blends would I use to create sallow skins , pink skins, brown skins, etc.?

And which would be good tones to use for highlights and shadow in those same skin tones?

Or Derwent pencils? Or Faber -Castell?

Thank you


Is There a Published Guide for Skin Tones?

Thank you to Karen for asking her question. I know that there are others also wondering about which colors to use to draw different types of skin tones.

Is there a Published Guide for Skin Tones?

I don’t do human portraits very often, and never in colored pencil. So I cannot offer personal advice on this topic. However, I did a little research into the matter, and am happy to share how I looked and what I found.

Where I Looked and My Search Results

The short answer is, yes. There are dozens of published guides for skin tones. My first search (guides for skin tones) produced thousands of links. Most of them were for makeup and hair dressing!

So I narrowed my search to “guides for skin tones for artists.” Again, thousands of results. However, a lot of these were for painters.

A search for colored pencil related skin tone guides resulted in links to videos and supplies, but very few published guides.

And I found nothing listing specific colors for Prismacolor, Faber-Castell or any other brand of colored pencils.

So I next checked Dick Blick (my favorite online art store) for sets of “skin tone” colors. Neither Prismacolor nor Faber-Castell offer such sets.

Why It’s so Difficult to Find Reliable Published Guides

Unfortunately, there is no established color palette in any brand of pencils that works for every skin tone. Nor do I know of a guide listing individual colors for skin tones. There are probably some available, but I couldn’t find them.

The reason is that there are so many varieties of skin tones from very light to very dark that no brand of pencil has every color you’d ever need to draw all of those variations. The fact is that combining all the popular brands wouldn’t even give you all the colors you need without mixing.

I’d have the same problem if I looked for a guide on drawing portraits of chestnut horses. Even if I could find a published guide listing pencil brands and color names, it would only be a starting point. Why? Because there are so many shades of chestnut horses from very pale to very dark. No one color set works for every shade!

And the same is true for human skin tones.

You also need to consider the lighting of your subject. The same person seen in bright sunlight and colored artificial light would require two different sets of color for the skin tones.

Where to Find Help

The best source of information is probably going to be an online course or video. But don’t limit yourself to one video or one artist, especially if you go the YouTube route. No two artists work exactly alike, and it’s unlikely you’ll find one artist who has an answer that will help you all the time. That’s certainly been my experience in researching how to draw various horse colors.

But a lot of the artists who produce how-to art videos list the brands and colors of pencils they use for each tutorial, and that can be a huge help.

Then when you find an artist whose work is similar to what you want to accomplish and whose teaching style is a good fit, join them on Patreon if they have a Patreon channel. For just a few dollars a month, you’ll get more in-depth teaching month by month, without committing to months of study.

If you’re looking for a portrait artist who specializes in colored pencil and portraits, check out John Middick’s Sharpened Artist Academy*. He offers everything from free classes to full up portrait courses that go far beyond a basic tutorial.

You might also consider buying Alyona Nickelson’s book, Colored Pencil Painting Portraits. You can buy an autographed copy (with free samples of some of her other products) here, or buy a print or ebook here. The book covers all aspects of colored pencil portrait work from posing models to color selection. While it may not provide specific lists for any brand of pencils, it will help you grasp how color works, and that will help you.

Your Best Guide for Skin Tones

I hope that helps Karen and everyone else looked for the best colors to use for skin tones. It would be nice if there was a published guide for skin tones, but I don’t know that there is.

The best answer is to study your reference photo, determine the colors that you see in that photo, and then choose pencil colors accordingly. If you have more than one set of colors, use all the colors that apply. Most brands of colored pencils work well together and can be mixed without worry.


After this post published, a reader emailed me to let me know that Ann Kullberg had a skin tone guide available on her website. So I searched for skin tone tools and found the Portrait Skin Tone Value Viewer Replacement. It’s not a guide, per se, but is a value viewer pre-printed with a variety of skin tones from very light to very dark. It’s not exactly what Karen was looking for, but it could be helpful.

In researching another article, I also found some colored pencil sets designed for portrait artists, including one by Derwent.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

* Contains an affiliate link

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How to Draw Foliage with Colored Pencils

Let’s take a look at how to draw foliage today.

The topic comes in response to a reader asking how to draw the leaves on a tree.

How to Draw Foliage with Colored Pencils

How to Draw Foliage

The first thing I want to mention is that unless you’re drawing one or two leaves as a study or part of a still life, it’s best not to draw leaves on a tree. Instead, draw the shape of the tree. Drawing individual leaves on a tree is a fast track to frustration and discouragement. Don’t do it!

“So what do I do?”

I’m glad you asked!

Two Simple Principles

There two simple principles to consider when it comes to drawing trees.

First, rather than looking at leaves, consider the overall shape of the tree. Don’t draw individual leaves; draw the shapes that make up the tree.

Second, focus on the values within that shape.


Everything in the world can be broken down into one or more of three basic shapes. Circles, squares, and triangles. Circles can be squeezed into ovals, and squares can be stretched into rectangles or twisted into other four-sided shapes. Triangles are pretty much always triangles, but they can take a number of different configurations.

So the first thing to do is look at the overall shape of the tree you want to draw.

The trunks are usually some form of rectangle, with smaller rectangles as branches. The canopy of the tree (the leafy part) is usually some type of circle or oval at it’s most basic, but it can also be broken down a collections of shapes.

In this illustration, I’ve very roughly sketched the shapes of a few of the trees. You can include more detail if you wish, but the idea is to keep the first step simple. All you need is the basic shape of the tree and its size and position relative to the other trees in the composition.

NOTE: I don’t usually do detailed line drawings of landscapes. Instead, I’d sketch these shapes directly onto my drawing, then develop details as I work. The reason is that my landscape art usually takes on a life of its own as I work out values and add color. Landscapes are also not portraits, so they don’t need to be exact.


The thing that makes a shape (circle, square or triangle) into form (something that takes up space) is values. Light areas and dark areas.

These light and dark areas reveal how light falls on the shape. The parts of the shape facing the light are getting direct light. The parts of the shape facing away from the light are getting very little light. In between is a variety of lighter or darker values known as middle values.

Values are just as important with trees as with anything else you might want to draw.

What makes trees look so complex is that they have so many different, smaller shapes within the larger shape. At first glance, they can look too complicated to draw, but use the same principle of values with each of the smaller shapes as with a larger shape and you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to make trees look real.

How I Draw Foliage

I draw foliage pretty much the same way I draw anything else. I begin by establishing the shadows within the shape.

Then I continue layering color until the darks are as dark as they need to be to make the lighter values stand out. If I started with an umber under drawing, I do a lot of this work before adding any color. If I start with the local colors, I use light pressure and sometimes lighter shades of the colors I want on the finished drawing.

As I layer, I also develop detail. With each layer, I add a little more detail, breaking the larger shapes down into smaller and smaller shapes.

The only individual leaves I actually draw are around the edges of the main tree and I usually add them with blunt pencils, firm pressure, and stippling (tapping) or random (scribbling) strokes. That’s usually enough to make the tree look like a tree.

Don’t stress too much over drawing every leaf unless you’re goal is hyper-realism.

Then you really do need to draw every leaf!

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Carrie answers a reader question every Wednesday. Click here to ask your question.

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Colored Pencil Resources for You

A lot of visitors to Colored Pencil Tutorials are looking for things not available through this store. Online workshops, video courses, and more in-depth teaching. To help fill that gap (and provide what you want,) I recently published the Colored Pencil Resources page.

Colored Pencil Resources Page

Colored Pencil Resources for You

What is the Colored Pencil Resources page?

Basically, it’s a list of opportunities provided by other artists. Artists whose free videos I’ve watched, enjoyed, and learned from. Artists with online video courses, webinar-style workshops, and other teaching currently beyond my capability.

While my focus is publishing downloadable content, I know that a lot of you want additional content in other formats. A lot of you prefer teaching in other formats. That’s okay.

It’s also why I decided to assemble a list of resources to help you find exactly the right teacher teaching exactly what you want to learn in the way that helps you best.

So if you can’t find the colored pencil resource you’re looking for in the store, check out the Colored Pencil Resources page.

You Can Help Other Artists Too!

How? By sharing your favorite colored pencil teachers with other readers.

When you find an artist presenting instruction that has helped you and they’re not already on my resource page, contact me and share the information. Who knows? Your favorite artist may end up on our resource page, and everyone will win!

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How to Use a Colored Pencil Tutorial

We all enjoy a good tutorial, don’t we? But do you know how to use a colored pencil tutorial to get the most from it? If you’re serious about learning colored pencils, this post is written for you.

How to Use a Colored Pencil Tutorial

So now you’ve chosen a tutorial. Let’s talk about how to use that tutorial.

Read it first.

Before you set up the paper or get out the pencils, sit back and read the tutorial front to back.

Yes, it takes time and I know you’d rather be drawing, but you do want to learn, don’t you? The best way to soak up new knowledge is by repetition. Reading a tutorial first and then doing it is one form of repetition.

It’s also a good way to make sure you understand exactly what the instructor is describing. Sometimes, the early steps don’t make much sense. Take the time to read the tutorial before starting it, and the logic behind the early steps makes more sense.

Follow the instructions.

This seems so obvious I shouldn’t need to say it, right? But I do need to say it because I know I’m not the only one who tends to take shortcuts. Especially if I think my way is better, faster, or easier.

Again, you’re taking the tutorial to learn something, so do what the instructor tells you to do, when and how they do it. If that method doesn’t work for you, you can change it later.

Or drop it altogether. That’s perfectly okay, too. But how are you going to know if you don’t do the tutorial the way it was written?

Do it over.

Once you’ve finished the tutorial, remember that you don’t have to be done with it. You can follow the same steps to do your own subject.

After that, you can do it yet again, but this time adapt the method to your own personal style.

The Bottom Line

Knowing how to use a colored pencil tutorial for maximum benefit is important if you want to do more than just have a pleasant experience. Choose wisely, follow the tutorial faithfully, and you’ll reap the benefits.

Shop for tutorials.

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How to Choose a Colored Pencil Tutorial

We all enjoy a good tutorial, don’t we? But do you know how to use a tutorial? If you’re serious about learning colored pencils, let me share a few tips to help you choose a colored pencil tutorial.

Let’s get started.

How to Choose the Right Tutorial

Most colored pencil students choose tutorials based on one of two things.

One, the tutorial is by a favorite artist or, two, they like the project.

There’s nothing wrong with either of those two things, but if you really want to improve your skills or gain new skills, you need to consider a few other things, too.

What do you want to learn?

If drawing water is something you want to get better at (and who doesn’t?), then choosing a pet portrait tutorial probably isn’t going to help you very much. It may be fun, and you may learn something, but you won’t have advanced your goal.

Instead of looking for any tutorial with a fun or attractive project, look for a tutorial that features water. Any kind of water. Drawing water in a glass will help you even if you really want to draw water in a landscape.

If you can’t find any tutorials with water, then look for a tutorial with a different kind of reflective surface. All reflections behave pretty much the same no matter where you find them, so a tutorial with a classic car or lots of glass, may be a good substitute for a tutorial with water.

What’s your artistic style?

I once worked on an art deco tutorial that was interesting and enjoyable, but didn’t really improve my existing skills or teach me new skills. Why? Because art deco isn’t a style I want to learn. My preferred style is realism, so while an art deco tutorial provided experience, it didn’t help me draw more realistically.

If you want to learn the art deco style, then look for art deco tutorials. If you want to develop detail drawing skills, look for tutorials that focus on drawing crisp detail.

What about paper, different mediums, or other things?

The same holds true for trying different papers, different pencils, different tools, or similar things.

If you want to learn mixed media with colored pencils, look for mixed media tutorials.

And if you want to learn a new support, that’s what you should look for. Matching the type of tutorial to what you want to learn helps you advance much more quickly and could be a lot less frustrating!

Unless you just want a fun project.

Look for a Challenge

Every now and again, it’s a good idea to deliberately push yourself. Challenge is a key to avoiding stagnation. That was, in essence, the theme of the post I recently wrote about getting bored with my favorite subject. I’d forgotten to challenge myself within that subject and eventually got tired of it.

Don’t do that! Periodically look for a tutorial that really stretches you.

Maybe it’s more advanced than you think you’re capable of doing. Maybe the composition is more complex than anything you’ve ever done before, or maybe it’s a totally different subject. Don’t automatically exclude a tutorial because of those things.

Or maybe it’s a more detailed study of a single subject.

How to Choose a Colored Pencil Tutorial - Hay Bale Study tutorial

The best way to learn anything is to push yourself. The more often you do, the more quickly you’ll improve.

Just be aware of challenging yourself to the point of giving up. No good will ever come of that!

So How do YOU Choose a Colored Pencil Tutorial?

There is no right or wrong way to choose your next colored pencil tutorial, but if you have a specific goal in mind, remember that goal when you shop for tutorials.

Yes, any tutorial can be fun and informative, but choosing the best tutorials for what you want to learn or accomplish can help you accomplish more. And accomplish it more quickly.

Shop for tutorials.