Posted on Leave a comment

Why Some Colors Don’t Show on Black Paper

Why Some Colors Don't Show on Black Paper

Have you ever wondered why some colors don’t show on black paper? Or why they don’t show up as well as other colors?

The reader who asked today’s question wanted to know the same thing. Here’s what she had to say:

Why is it some coloured pencils don’t show clearly on black paper? I have bought the best quality pencils and different types of black paper but I am at a loss. Can you help?


Why Some Colors Don’t Show on Black Paper

All colored pencils are translucent when layered onto paper. Every color you put on your paper affects the way every other color looks. That’s why you can layer yellow over blue and get green or red over yellow and get orange.

The color of the paper also affects the way the colors look. The colors are the most “clear” on white paper because the white doesn’t change the way the colors look. Layer red on white paper, and you get red.

If you layer red on yellow paper you get orange.

So when you layer colored pencils on black paper, the paper color makes the colors look darker. The same red color you layer on white paper to get a bright red looks dull when you put it on black paper.

Here’s yellow layered on black paper. Not only does the paper make the yellow look dull; it gives it a greenish tint. That’s because black and yellow colored pencils mixed makes green.

Why Some Colors Don't Show on Black Paper

The same applies to any other color of paper you might use, though the results will be less dramatic on lighter colored papers.

Some colors are also more translucent than others. So the color of the paper affects them more. Which colors are more translucent than others varies from brand to brand, so I can’t give you a specific list of colors that don’t show up on black paper.

How to Make Colors Show Up Better

The best way to make colors show on black paper is to begin with an under drawing in a light value color. Most of the time, white works. But white tends to change the appearance of the colors you put over it. Layering red over white, for example, makes pink.

So if you need a bright red on black paper, try yellow or light orange for the under drawing in that area.

I didn’t have a piece of black paper, so I used the darkest gray in my paper stash.

I chose three colors, from top to bottom, Yellow, Orange, Windsor Violet, and Indigo Blue.

The first column shows what each of those colors looks like applied directly to the paper. I started with light pressure and one or two layers on the left of each swatch, and increased pressure and number of layers to the right.

Why Some Colors Don't Show on Black Paper

In the right column, I did an under layer with white at the top of each swatch, and yellow at the bottom of each swatch. I layered those colors the same way I layered the first column.

Next, I layered each of the colors over the under layers with light pressure/few layers on the left end and heavy pressure/more layers on the right.

You can see the difference between the colors applied over an under layer and those applied without an under layer.

You can also see how much difference is made by the color you choose for the under layer.

A couple of the featured artists for CP Magic have provided tutorials using black or dark paper. Helen Carter was the featured artist for June 2020, and her tutorial was an orange octopus on black paper. She used yellow for the under drawing to get the vibrant colors she needed.


Getting vibrant, clear color on black paper is more complex than this. For one thing, the type of paper makes a difference, too.

But I hope I’ve explained at least in part why might have problems getting some colors to show on black paper.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Click here to ask Carrie!

Posted on Leave a comment

How to Transfer Drawings to Sanded Art Papers

How to Transfer Drawings to Sanded Art Papers

Do you know how to transfer drawings to sanded art papers? Is the transfer process any different than transferring drawings to regular papers?

That’s what Teresa wants to know. She sent me this week’s question. Here it is.

Hello ,

What kind of digital projector do you use for art? Or do you even use one?

The reason I ask is because I completed my first colored pencil portrait with Powdered Blender on Uart 400 sanded paper. I could not use graphite tracing paper on it to transfer the line drawing, so I just drew it directly onto the sanded paper with a graphite pencil. HUGE MISTAKE!!! It does not erase! But I finished it anyway hoping the lines would be covered by the colored pencil…they did not, but were a little less noticeable. Lesson learned there.

I loved the sanded paper and want to do more. So I researched on how to transfer my image. Digital projectors were the way to go. But there are SO MANY out there!!! And they are VERY expensive!!! What am I looking for?

Thanks, Teresa

Thank you to Teresa for her questions. Let me tackle her question in two parts.

Art Projectors

I can answer the digital projector question easily. I don’t use a digital projector, and never have.

However, I have heard, read, and listened to enough art lessons, podcasts, and videos to know that many artists who do use projectors use one of the Artograph models. Dick Blick has a great selection of projectors by Artograph and others.

An art supply store is probably going to be your best choice for finding a projector made for art. You don’t have to buy there, but you start your research there, you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for without the hassle of wading through movie projectors and other types of projectors.

Any time you start looking at digital equipment, especially the latest models, you’re going to be looking at expensive equipment. I took a quick look at the digital projectors on Dick Blick and the only one they offer is $550.

Opaque projectors are less expensive, ranging from $60 to $250, but that’s still a lot of money if you don’t have it.

What I’d do is look at those new models and see which one best fits your needs. Then look for the previous versions of that model. Once the latest version is on the market, everything else becomes less expensive. Sometimes, it falls into the range of “downright cheap!”

It’s still good. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It’s just not “the latest” anymore.

How to Transfer Drawings to Sanded Art Papers

I understand Teresa’s sentiments about sanded art papers. They’re fast becoming my favorite drawing surface, too.

But they can be difficult to transfer onto. I’ve tried and failed too. Here’s what I’ve found works for me.

Sketching Directly onto the Paper

To date, all of the artwork I’ve done on Uart sanded art paper has been landscapes. When I do landscapes, I sketch out the basic composition directly on the paper, and then develop it as I work with it. That’s one of the great pleasures of using sanded art papers.

However, I do my sketching with a colored pencil, not graphite. And I usually use a color that blends into the finished drawing or that is a good base color. Since I start many landscapes with an umber under drawing, I usually sketch with the under drawing color.

I’ve used this method on Uart, Fisher 400 (shown above,) and Pastelmat. I have no doubts that it works with any type of sanded art papers.

Transfer Papers

I have also transferred line drawings to sanded art papers with homemade transfer paper, which I make by shading a piece of ordinary printer paper with graphite.

The first time I tried this method of transfer, I used the transfer paper the same way I use it on traditional papers. That is to say, I used normal handwriting pressure or a little lighter and simply traced over the lines on the line drawing.

That did not work very well. The transfer wasn’t very dark or very clear.

So I tried again with medium-heavy to heavy pressure. The transfer worked best if I drew straight lines instead of marking to indicate texture. I had to go over some of it twice, and also had to clean up smudges afterward, but that was easily done with mounting putty.

This is what the transferred drawing looked like. Dark enough to see clearly, but not smudged or dirty, thanks to the mounting putty.

Transfer Drawings to Sanded Art Papers

I last used this method to do a horse portrait on Pastelmat and it worked great. I was able to lighten the transfer lines with mounting putty.

Commercial transfer papers work pretty much the same way, though you have to be careful to get the greaseless type. I prefer making my own transfer paper, or carboning the back of a drawing because it’s inexpensive, easy to do, and easy to clean up after.

Removing Smudges from Sanded Art Paper

Teresa mentioned having no success erasing graphite from sanded art paper. She didn’t share specifics, but my guess is that she used a regular eraser in the normal way. I’ve done that and my results with the eraser were no better than my initial results with transfer paper.

Sanded art paper is so different from traditional drawing papers, that even normal procedures like transferring and erasing must be adjusted to be useful.

The grit of sanded art paper chews up erasers and usually leaves a mess of eraser material and graphite. Color can be lifted quite easily from sanded art papers, but “lifting” is the key.

Don’t try “rubbing out” color. Instead, lift it off the paper. Mounting putty is the best tool because the stickiness grabs hold of graphite (and color) and lifts it up out of the grit without smearing. Just press and lift, press and lift.

And clean the putty frequently to avoid putting color back onto the paper.

How to Transfer Drawings to Sanded Art Papers

Digital projectors, opaque projectors, and other electronic devices are great ways to transfer drawings to sanded art papers.

But before you go to the expense of time in researching or spend money buying a projector, try these two methods of transferring drawings to sanded papers. It may very will be that all you really need is a slight adjustment in the way you use your tools.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Click here to ask Carrie!

Posted on Leave a comment

Drawing Smooth Dark Backgrounds

Drawing Smooth Dark Backgrounds

Drawing smooth dark backgrounds with colored pencils is a time-consuming process, especially if you’re drawing on white paper or a light-colored paper. Today’s question comes from a reader who is trying to draw dark backgrounds. Here’s what she has to say:

Dark or even black backgrounds are tedious to accomplish using lots of glazing and still maintaining a light touch. I use Stonehenge paper which also has a fine tooth. I have also used OMS to blend and force the color into the pockets. Small area are easier but large areas are a challenge. Can you help?

I can, but I have to say first that there is no quick fix on this. The keys are practice and patience.

I know. Not what most of us want to hear!

So let me help a little more than that by suggesting two things you can practice.

Drawing Smooth Dark Backgrounds

Layer Different Colors

Even if you want to draw a black background, it’s helpful to alternate different colors. My favorite color combinations for dark backgrounds are dark blue and dark brown with a layer of black thrown in here and there. Dark blues and dark browns make quite nice dark colors that are neither blue nor brown. The black adds a bit more punch.

What’s more, you can alter the color temperature quite easily by finishing with blue if you want a cool color or brown if you want a warm color.

Greens, purples, and dark reds can also be added (or mixed together) for interesting variations on dark backgrounds.

Here’s an example.

Drawing Smooth Dark Backgrounds

I drew this utility flag on white paper. After the flag was finished, I decided it needed a dark background in order to make the flag really stand out.

Placing complementary colors next to each other also creates visual zing, so I alternated layers of black and dark purple. You can see bits of purple around the edges.

The paper I used for this plein aire drawing had more tooth than I usually use, so I didn’t bother filling in all the tooth. Instead, I focused on the area around the flag, and let the dark colors fade out around the edges.

You can use only one color to make dark backgrounds like this, and layer color until the paper is filled in.

Or you can mix two or more dark colors. I prefer mixing colors because I think it produces a better dark color. Mixing colors also allows me to create variations in the color and shading of the background if I want to. This is especially effective for portraits, where you might want to “frame” the subject with color or value.

Use a Light Touch

The reader mentioned working on Stonehenge. Stonehenge is a smooth paper with a velvety touch, so it’s relatively easy to lay down color smoothly.

But it’s also a bit delicate. It’s oh-so easy to scuff the surface if you’re not careful. So use a light touch for as many layers as possible.

This illustration shows three stages in the drawing of a dark background that involved many, many layers. I used several colors starting with a light blue-green and working my way up to Black, dark browns, and other earth tones. This drawing is on mat board so I was able to increase the pressure until I burnished the last couple of layers.

You can burnish on Stonehenge, but don’t burnish until the final layer or two. Otherwise you’ll have difficulty adding all the layers you need.

If you don’t scuff the paper before that.

These Two Things are Key to Drawing Smooth Dark Backgrounds

You can also solvent blend, use other mediums like watercolors, pan pastels, or markers to make dark backgrounds. Just make sure if you do anything that dampens the paper to tape it securely to a rigid surface first. Stonehenge will dry flat, but only if it’s taped down.

Also remember to use moderate amounts of solvent or water unless you’re working on watercolor paper.

Will these samples I’ve described work for you? Absolutely.

Will they be your favorite method for drawing dark backgrounds? That depends on your usual drawing methods.

One thing will always work and that’s to experiment, whether you experiment with these methods or others!

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Click here to ask Carrie!

Posted on Leave a comment

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

Do you struggle with learning how to draw realistic dog hair? The challenge differs depending on the breed of dog, but even with smooth-haired dogs, many of us struggle with drawing hair.

Here’s the reader question to get us started.

My question is, how do I learn to sketch the fur on the body of a dog to look realistic? This is my last attempt from your tutorial on drawing golden retrievers and thank you for that. I am completely new to this. Thanks, Delma 

The tutorial to which Delma referred is from my art blog and is called How to Draw a Golden Retriever. It’s one of several tutorials Peggy Osborne put together as a guest blogger. If you haven’t seen it before and want to draw a Golden Retriever, I encourage you to take a look.

Now let’s see how to help Delma draw realistic dog hair.

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

Delma provided a photo of her drawing, which I include here with her permission.

Delma has done a good job with this so far. The eyes are beautiful and life-like and really draw the attention they should.

But Delma’s portrait isn’t finished, yet.

I cropped the image, then printed it on Bristol Vellum so I could use colored pencils on it. I used Prismacolors, but Delma can do the same thing with her favorite pencils if they aren’t Prismacolor.

Glazing for Color Saturation

The first thing I did was glaze Prismacolor Light Umber over the upper right quarter of the background. I started with circular strokes, followed by alternating layers of horizontal and vertical layers. For each layer, I used a sharp pencil and light pressure.

I didn’t do the entire background to show the difference a few additional layers make, even with light pressure.

Next, I looked at the reference photo in the tutorial and chose the lightest color to glaze over most of the dog’s hair. I layered Goldenrod over all of the dog, but I used different strokes based on the nature of the hair. On the face, where the hair is short, I held the pencil in a normal grip and used short directional strokes.

Where the hair is longer (the chest, back, and ears,) I held the pencil in a more horizontal grip and shaded color with the side of the exposed pigment core. The pencil had quite a long point, so I could make broad strokes following the direction of hair growth.

I glazed Goldenrod over all of the dog except a few places where there are brighter highlights, and over the black areas.

After that, I glazed a slightly darker, redder color (Prismacolor Sienna Brown) over the darker parts of the hair. I used similar strokes with this color that I used with the previous color. Long, directional strokes where the hair is longer, and shorter strokes where the hair is shorter.

I worked around the lightest areas to preserve the lighter, golden tones in those places.

Why Glaze?

The purpose for glazing is to fill the tooth of the paper. Filling the paper’s tooth makes your colors look brighter and livelier because there’s less paper color showing through. Since I’m using Bristol for this tutorial, it only took a few glazes. The rougher the paper, the more layers it will take.

Glazing is also an excellent blending tool. It smooths out textures and too-bold pencil strokes without covering details. Many artists use glazing for blending layers after every few layers of regular color application.

Building Depth in the Hair with Directional Strokes

The next step was adding layers of directional strokes to create the look of hair. I mixed the same three colors (Light Umber, Goldenrod, and Sienna Brown.) I matched the strokes I used to each area.

For example, in the chest, I used long, curving strokes to establish the length and shape of the hair.

In the face, I used shorter strokes because the hair is shorter. It’s also straighter, so I used straighter strokes.

Over the nose, where the hair is very short, I used circular strokes.

Always draw in the direction of hair growth. Most of my work in this step was drawn “from the skin out.” Around the edges, however, I stroked background color opposite the direction of hair growth in order to separate hair groups and get the look I wanted.

This is also a good way to add darker details “under” overlapping lighter colored hair.

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

You can push this method as far as you wish and as far as your paper will allow.

Three Things to Remember About Drawing Realistic Dog Hair

Drawing hair is one of the more difficult subjects portrait artists face, whether they draw human or pet portraits.

If you remember the following three tips, you’ll find it much easier to draw realistic hair of any type.

Don’t Draw Every Hair

Don’t draw every single hair. Instead, draw groups of hair. Look for the larger hair groups and draw those groups. You’ll end up with more realistic hair this way.

And less frustration.

Focus on the Edges

You also don’t have to draw hair in every place.

If you draw enough detail along the edges between different colors and different values, the eye will “fill in the rest.” This detail illustrates what I mean. I’m still at an early stage with this piece, but you can see how I’ve used directional strokes to define hair along the edges between highlight and middle value and layered smooth color in most other places.

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

Don’t Stop Too Soon

The final point I’d like to make is based on something Delma mentioned in her question. “I’m completely new at this,” she said.

So whatever she thinks of her art, she’s done a fabulous job with a difficult subject. When I first started with colored pencils, I’d been painting portraits of horses for many years, so I already knew my subject. I just had to learn a new medium.

But I struggled with the same thing that has frustrated Delma. Drawings that didn’t look real enough!

My problem was the same problem Delma has discovered. I stopped before my drawings were finished!

The solution to this problem is easy. When you think you’ve finished a drawing, work on it for another day. You’ll be amazed at the difference. I was!

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

Remember, this project is based on a tutorial by Peggy Osborne. Her method for drawing realistic dog hair is different from mine.

Delma would definitely benefit from going through Peggy’s tutorial again, step-by-step, and drawing over the hair again. Every layer will fill in the paper a little more, and create more detail and depth.

And more realistic looking hair.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Click here to ask Carrie!

Posted on Leave a comment

The Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils

The Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils

What are the best sharpeners for colored pencils? That’s our topic for today’s post. I want to thank Jack, who asked about sharpeners. Specifically, sharpeners for Prismacolor pencils.

Sharpeners are one of the more frequently discussed topics on my art blog, and I get questions about them on a regular basis. With so many people starting to use colored pencils every day, this is a good time to share with you the three types of sharpeners I find work best with Prismacolor pencils.

Why Prismacolor Pencils in Particular

Before we begin, let me explain why so many artists have difficulty sharpening Prismacolor pencils. I won’t go into detail about quality control and all that, because that is not the only issue.

Quality Control

Yes. Quality control is always important. It doesn’t matter whether you’re making colored pencils or beef stew. The better the ingredients and the more attention you pay to the details, the better the end result. Right?

There is room for improvement in both areas when it comes to Prismacolor pencils. Problems with breaking leads, cracked wood casings, and pencils that aren’t straight all contribute to problems sharpening them. Changing sharpeners isn’t likely to help.

The Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils
The cracked wood on the orange pencil is both a result of sharpening, and a problem for sharpening. Either way, you will lose valuable pigment working with a cracked wood casing like this one.

Enough said. If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, take a look at Why Prismacolor Pencils Break So Often, published on my art blog.

Soft Pencils

Prismacolor pencils are also soft. Color application has been described as “buttery,” “creamy,” and “smooth.” Those descriptions require a fairly soft pencil so that color goes onto the paper easily.

And Prismacolor pencils do layer color smoothly! We all know that.

But with smooth pencils comes the tendency to break during sharpening, and to crumble while drawing. Especially if you draw with heavy pressure.

A pencil sharpener will not help you resolve either of those two problems.

But the sharpener you use can reduce the amount of breakage and still give you nice, sharp points.

The Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils

I’ve used a variety of sharpeners over the years, and have had decent success with all of them. My collection of old sharpeners includes electric, battery-operated, mechanical, and hand-held sharpeners, and even a trusty X-acto knife!

These days, I’ve narrowed the selection down to two types of sharpeners.

Old-Fashioned Sharpeners

The best sharpener I’ve ever used is an old-fashioned sharpener like the ones that used to be in school rooms. It’s a crank sharpener designed to be bolted to a wall. The one shown below has different sized holes for different sized pencils.

My husband bought this sharpener when he was in school. It’s an APSCO Premier Standard. It’s easy to use, fairly portable, and easy to clean. What’s more, it’s all metal! No plastic parts.

You can still find them on online auction sites if you’re patient and persistent. You might also find them in estate sales and antique shops, but beware! Prices in those outlets could be high.

This sharpener is great with all of my pencils. Yes, even Prismacolor. I think the reason for that is that the opening for the pencil has a small spring device that holds the pencil. The pencil doesn’t wiggle, turn or twist, so the sharpening blades do not put excessive or unnecessary pressure on the pencil.

That’s just a guess on my part. I’m not an engineer, but that explanation makes sense.

Hand Held Sharpeners

These sharpeners are available in the school and office supply sections of most grocery stores and discount stores. They come in a variety of shapes and styles. Some have containers to catch shavings and some haven’t, but they all have one thing in common. You hold them in your hand.

I currently have two styles. Both of them come with shavings containers and both were very inexpensive. Under $2 each.

But one sharpens pencils to a short point, while the other sharpens a longer point.

Sharpeners like this are very portable in addition to being inexpensive. I throw one into my field kit or pencil box when I plan on drawing away from the studio.

One tip: If you have problems with breakage with a sharpener like this, hold the pencil stable and turn the sharpener. I’ve been able to sharpen the more stubborn Prismacolor pencils without breaking them by this simple trick.

The Two The Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils

Yes, even Prismacolor.

Remember that these are what work for me. They’ll probably work for you, too, but that’s no guarantee.

Try any sharpener that catches your eye, inexpensive or expensive. Test each one with all of your pencils if you use more than one brand.

Also listen to what other artists say about the sharpeners they use. Hearing what other artists have to say is helpful in finding the right sharpener for you.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Click here to ask Carrie!

Posted on Leave a comment

Colorless Blenders and Wax Bloom

Colorless Blenders and Wax Bloom

We’ve been talking about blending recently, so today’s post is a follow up on some of those discussions. This time we’ll talk about whether or not colorless blenders cause wax bloom. Let’s begin with the reader question.

Do you know if colourless blender pencils cause Waxbloom?

Kind regards, Sabine

A lot of artists new to colored pencils ask about colorless blenders and how best to use them. They’re a handy tool, but they can cause problems.

Colorless Blenders and Wax Bloom

Do Colorless Blenders Cause Wax Bloom?

The short answer to this is yes. Colorless blenders do cause wax bloom and the reasons are simple.

Colored Pencils with No Pigment

Colorless blenders are basically a colored pencil with no pigment. The “lead” is all binding agent, which is a combination of wax, vegetable oil, and other materials. In a colored pencil, these things help hold the pigment together, keep it in the “lead” form, and make it possible to apply color to the paper.

A colorless blender doesn’t apply color, but since it’s 100% binding agent, it helps move color that’s already on the paper. That’s why they’re such a great blending tool.

Several companies that make colored pencils also make colorless blenders. Prismacolor, Lyra, and Utrect are among those that do. The formulation varies company to company, but all colorless blenders work on all types of pencils.

Colorless Blenders and Wax Bloom

That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news.

Because colorless blenders are nothing but the binding agent, you’re putting a lot of the binding agent on the paper. Since all binders for colored pencils include some wax, that means you’re putting wax on the paper.

And wax causes wax bloom.

Colorless Blenders are Burnishing Tools

Equally important is that colorless blenders are burnishing tools. You can blend with them using medium pressure or lighter, but they work best when you burnish.

Burnishing is a method of blending in which you “grind” layers of color together by using heavy pressure. When you burnish, you use a lot of pressure. That puts even more wax on the paper.

Are Colorless Blenders a Big Problem?

That depends on how you use them and your thoughts on wax bloom.

For some, wax bloom is a major irritation and something to be avoided at all costs. Those artists should avoid colorless blenders as much as possible.

For other artists, the benefits of blending with colorless blenders far outweigh the risk of wax bloom. Though the wax bloom may be an inconvenience, it’s not a problem.

So you’ll have to decide whether or not to use colorless blenders in your work.

If you do, know that wax bloom is easy to control. When it occurs with a work-in-progress, lightly wipe your drawing with a piece of paper towel or tissue. If you use tissue, chose a type that does not contain lotion. I fold the paper towel into quarters, then lightly stroke it across the drawing. It removes the wax bloom and I can continue drawing.

Use the same method to remove wax bloom on a finished drawing. Then use a final fixative made for colored pencils or dry media. The tissue paper removes wax bloom that may already have developed.

The fixative keeps it from coming back.

I’ve written a full tutorial on blending without solvents that includes more in-depth information on colorless blenders and wax bloom. If you want to learn more, see Blending Colored Pencils without Solvents here.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Click here to ask Carrie!

Posted on Leave a comment

How to Use PanPastels and Colored Pencils

How to Use PanPastels and Colored Pencils

Have you used PanPastels and colored pencils? If so can you offer any suggestions on type of paper, solvents, techniques? Thanks. Louise


I haven’t used PanPastels with colored pencils, but have seen some wonderful work done with that combination. I’ll begin by sharing some of the basic principles I’ve picked up, then share tips from other artists who have used them.

PanPastels and Colored Pencils

The Basics

The first thing to consider is the paper you use.

Pastels require toothier paper. That’s because they don’t have a binding agent to help them stick to the paper; at least not to the same extent as colored pencils. Artists rub pastels into the tooth of the paper to make them stick. The same is true for PanPastels, so you need to use a pastel paper.

Canson Mi-Teintes is probably the “smoothest” paper I’d try. Most of the artists whose videos I’ve watched are using Pastelmat or something similar.

The second principle I’ve observed is that most artists use PanPastels in much the same way they use water-based media. That is, they do the pastel work first (usually the background,) then do the colored pencil work. One or two artists add the background with PanPastels after doing the subject, but not often. I’m not sure why that is, but it does seem to be a common practice.

And that leads me to the third principle.

Most of the artists I’ve watched combine these two mediums do not layer one over the other. That is, they do the background with PanPastel because the pastels are fast and easily blended. They work around the subject of their piece and save that clean paper for colored pencil.

I’ve never seen anyone use solvents on PanPastels, but I haven’t watched that many videos. In the videos I have watched, artists simply apply the PanPastels and blend them.

So that’s the limit of my knowledge on PanPastels. Time to ask some experts: Artists who use them!

The Voices of Experience

I posted a question on the Monthly Sharpener, an art forum for colored pencil artists. Several artists answered my questions, and I’ve summarized what I learned.

  • Many artists use PanPastels for backgrounds because they blend so easily and are ideal for blurred or bokeh-style backgrounds. But many of the artists who answered my questions also use them under colored pencils, and one adventurous artist used them over solvent-blended colored pencil when she didn’t like the look of the blend.
  • If you use PanPastels under colored pencils, use the pastels sparingly. You need to leave enough tooth for the colored pencil to stick to.
  • One or two artists mentioned using fixative with PanPastels. Those who use fixative most often use it after finishing their work. Pastels of all types are rubbed into the tooth of the paper to make them stick, so fixative is usually unnecessary. In addition, fixatives sometimes darken the colors of pastels, so test on a sample paper first.

The most interesting information to me was the comparison between PanPastels and Powder Blender. Both blend color smoothly, but PanPastels stick to the paper without the use of fixative. Powder Blender is not permanent without the use of fixative.

In other words, you can get much the same affects with PanPastels as with Powder Blender, but without the additional step of sealing your work.

PanPastels and Colored Pencils

If you’re interested in learning more about PanPastels, check out the company website. The website includes a helpful resources section, where you can watch videos on getting started, basic tips and techniques, and tutorials. Kits to get you started are also available.

The November 2020 issue of CP Magic also includes a tutorial by Cathy Antkes Choyce, in which she combines PanPastels and colored pencils.

Final Thoughts

When I began answering this question, I had no intention of trying PanPastels. After doing a little research and asking questions, I’m rethinking that notion. PanPastels are available open stock and in a variety of sets through Dick Blick and other art suppliers.

For further information, the following artists have published great tutorials (real-time and time lapse) on using PanPastels with colored pencils.

Lisa Ann Watkins of Animal Art by LAW

Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art

Jason Morgan Wildlife Art

These are artists from whose videos I’ve learned a lot on a variety of colored pencil techniques. If you don’t care for the YouTube ads, all three of these artists have Patreon page links on their YouTube channels.

And don’t forget the videos at the PanPastels website.

PS: Thank you to the fine people at PanPastel who provided the images I used for this post!

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Click here to ask Carrie!

Posted on Leave a comment

Powder Blender and Colored Pencils

Powder Blender and Colored Pencils

Let’s talk about using Powder Blender with colored pencils, beginning with the reader question.

How is powder blender used with colored pencils?


Powder Blender and Colored Pencils

What is Powder Blender?

Powder Blender is a dry blending tool developed by Alyona Nickelsen, founder of Brush & Pencil. She needed a way to blend smooth color without using solvent, and Powder Blender is the result.

Powder Blender is a very fine white powder that is non-toxic and archival. It allows artists to blend color without solvents. It works best on rigid, textured surfaces such as sanded art papers, but you can use it on traditional papers after priming them with gritty, acrylic gesso.

The technical information on the Brush & Pencil website indicates that powder blender works best with oil-based colored pencils such as Faber-Castell Polychromos, but I have used it with a mix of pencils, including Prismacolor. Most of my work is with Polychromos, however.

I’ve only recently begun using it, so am still in the learning curve. But I can tell you I’ve had good results with it so far.

The tips that follow are limited to my personal experience.

How to Use Powder Blender

The recommended use is applying a small amount of Powder Blender to the surface of your paper before you start layering color. Apply it with a brush, sponge applicators, or your finger if you wear a cot to protect the paper from skin oils.

Powder Blender is white in the container, but when you spread it onto the paper, it practically disappears.

It doesn’t take much powder blender, so use it sparingly. You may be tempted to use too much because it disappears so quickly. Resist that temptation! I used a bit too much the first time I tried it, and color nearly fell off the paper when I blended it.

Layer color normally after you’ve applied Powder Blender.


The neat thing about using Powder Blender is that you don’t have to be especially fussy in layering color. The illustration below shows my initial color layers, and how blotchy they look. That all blended out.

Blending is as fast and easy as color application. A brush, sponge applicator or your finger make good blending tools (don’t forget that cot!)

I tried this when I did the drawing, Blazing Sunset. This illustration shows unblended color (top) and blended color (bottom.)

After blending, continue layering color and blending until the color looks the way you want it. You don’t need to add more Powder Blender.

Lifting Color

Powder blender allows you to easily lift color to lighten an area or remove mistakes. I tried this, and color lifted more easily with Powder Blender. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo, so I can’t show you the result, but I can say that it’s possible to remove color almost completely if you start the drawing process with Powder Blender.

Color is easiest to remove with mounting putty, but you can rub it off with a clean sponge applicator and lighten it with a soft brush. This makes correcting mistakes very easy.

But it does have one slight disadvantage.

You can move color around or remove it until you seal the layers, but you don’t have to seal color between every layer. You can even finish an entire drawing without sealing it. But you must seal it afterward or the color will never be permanent.

Fortunately, there’s a tool for that, too.

Sealing Color

ACP Textured Fixative is designed for works-in-progress. It seals the color layers beneath it so they become permanent. You can use solvents over it and the solvents do not soak into the sealed layers. Fresh color layered over Textured Fixative can be lifted without disturbing the color under the Textured Fixative.

Textured fixative also restores surface texture, so any new color you apply over it is almost like drawing on a fresh sheet of paper. This allows you to layer indefinitely, seal layers as needed, and create luminous color and subtle detail layer by layer.

Powder Blender and Paper

Powder Blender works best on non-absorbent surfaces like sanded art papers. I’ve used it on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Uart, and Lux Archival, all of which are sanded surfaces.

I’ve read that you can use this product on traditional papers primed with acrylic gesso, but I haven’t yet tested that. I’m not sure I will either because of the work involved. However, applying two or three thin layers of acrylic gesso may be the way to go if you want to use Powder Blender, but don’t want to use sanded art papers.

My Observations on Powder Blender and Colored Pencils

Powder Blender is a very versatile tool. You can start a drawing first with Powder Blender, or use it only when you need to. It makes correcting mistakes or lifting color for any other reason extremely easy, and it allows you to blend seamlessly between values and colors or both.

It certainly speeds up the layering and blending process, especially for larger areas. I plan to use it for some larger pieces as time allows.

It’s the closest thing to painting with colored pencils that I’ve found yet. Once I get proficient with it, I will be able to create art using the Seven Step method used by the Old Flemish oil painters!

If you don’t like blending with solvent or cannot use solvents for health reasons, Powder Blender may be helpful.

For more specific information, get Alyona’s book, Colored Pencil Painting Portraits. It describes other ways to use Powder Blender with colored pencils.

The Blazing Sunset Tutorial describes in detail how I used Powder Blender and ACP Textured Fixative for a complete landscape on Lux Archival paper. Read more about that here.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Click here to ask Carrie!

Posted on Leave a comment

Gamsol and Smooth Paper

Gamsol and Smooth Paper

Solvents are useful tools for colored pencil artists, because they work with most pencils on most papers. But today’s question comes from a reader who asks a very specific question about Gamsol and smooth paper.

Can you use Gamsol O.M.S. to blend colored pencils on Strathmore smooth paper with no tooth?

I have tried the Finese Blender Pen, but It just removes the color from the paper. I’ve tried rubbing alcohol and it just muddies the colors. I have tried baby oil and it blends, but the colors loose a lot of their vibrancy. The only thing I haven’t tried yet is odorless mineral spirits.

Am I having these Issues blending because I am using paper with no tooth?

Most artists deal with blending issues at one time or another. I’ve been using colored pencils since the mid-1990s and still sometimes have difficulty getting the look I want. So take heart! Problems are part of the process!

Gamsol and Smooth Paper

Gamsol can be used on most surfaces from Bristol to sanded art paper. It works to varying degrees on different types of paper. For example, as a rule, I don’t use solvents on Bristol because it doesn’t often handle moisture well.

However, I don’t recall having used Strathmore smooth paper, so I can’t offer advice from personal experience on this paper.

Since I’m unfamiliar with the paper, I did a little research. If I looked at the right paper (Strathmore 400 Series Smooth,) it’s only 80 pounds in weight. That’s not very heavy.

You may be able to do a little bit solvent blending on paper this light-weight, but I don’t recommend it. The paper may buckle or soak through altogether. Paper tears are also a possibility.

Solvents and Smooth Papers in General

The reader mentioned other blending methods that failed for one reason or another, so let’s talk about those.

The Finesse Colored Pencil Blender is made specifically for waxy colored pencils like Prismacolor. Since all colored pencils contain some amount of wax in the binding agent, it’s possible this tool works with every pencil. But since it’s specifically designed for waxy pencils, it’s also possible the problems this reader experienced are because of the pencils, not the paper or the blender.

At one time, rubbing alcohol was my favorite blending solvent. It was easily available, inexpensive, and perfect for light blending or softening of colors. Muddy colors were never a problem, but I also never blended different color families together. Any solvent is capable of creating muddied color if you blend too many colors together, or if you mix complementary colors.

I did one test blend with baby oil (shown below.) The reader is right. It blends very well. My test involved Bristol, a very smooth almost slick paper, and the baby oil blended it smoothly.

But I don’t use baby oil because it’s not archival. It also can stain more absorbent papers. A major problem with art you want to exhibit or sell.

In Closing

Whenever you use solvent on any smooth, light-weight paper, proceed carefully. Dip your brush in solvent, then blot it on paper towel before touching the paper. In most cases, you don’t need a lot of solvent to blend colored pencil, so use the least amount possible.

Make sure the paper is taped to a rigid backing of some kind before you use solvent on it. The additional support of a rigid backboard may help you.

Let the paper dry completely after you’ve used solvent.

It’s always better to try solvent on a test piece of the same paper first. If that works out, then try it on your drawing.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Click here to ask Carrie!

Posted on Leave a comment

The Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

The Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

The reader who asked today’s question wants to know about the best surfaces for colored pencils.

I am fairly new to colored pencil work and I … would greatly appreciate some guidance as to the best papers or surfaces to use for colored pencil work.

Thank you for your consideration to this request.

Sincerely, Marie

Thank you for your question, Marie. You’re not the only new artist who has asked about the best paper for colored pencils.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you one paper that works best for every artist, every style of drawing, and every method of drawing. There are just too many variables.

There are so many different drawing methods and styles the paper that works for me may not work for you. The best paper for you is the paper that gives you the results you want, and fits your budget.

So I’m going to address it from two points of view: Craft art and fine art. I’ll also offer general suggestions on what to look for and a few things to avoid.

The Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

Craft Art

Craft art includes adult coloring books, greeting cards, art trading cards, stamping, and so on. Short-term art that doesn’t need to be archival to be useful or marketable. I also include art you make for your own enjoyment in this category.

Adult coloring books are usually printed on inexpensive drawing paper so you have no choice in the paper unless you print the pages yourself. Coloring books printed on better paper are available, but the improved quality costs more.

The best surfaces for colored pencils may not be what adult coloring books are printed on.
Unless you get individual pages you can download and print, you’re limited to whatever paper the publisher chose for their adult coloring books. Check the information about a book you want to buy, and see if it tells what type of paper the book is printed on. If you like that paper, you may be able to purchase it from an art supply store.

Blank greeting card stock comes in a variety of qualities. Canson and Strathmore are two well-known paper companies that also sell artist-quality blank card stock. Other companies sell less expensive card stock, so you can pick and choose and try different papers until you find one that works well for you.

Strathmore makes a line of drawing papers ranging from newsprint, which isn’t archival, to high-quality drawing paper. Many other paper manufacturers also make different grades of paper.

Beyond that, any pad of good drawing paper will allow you to do what you need or want to do as far as craft art. I don’t do craft art, so recommend you try a few different papers and see what you like best. Buy small pads for the best buys and least expense.

Fine Art

Fine art includes portraits and other types of commission art, exhibit art, and art you want to sell. Artwork in this category needs to last a long time without fading or otherwise deteriorating, so you need the most archival paper you can afford.

Look for papers that are high-quality. Usually that means non-acidic.

You should also opt for papers made from cotton fibers, since those fibers are the strongest and longest lasting. Avoid papers made from cellulose fibers.

I prefer papers that are sturdy. 98lb paper is about the lightest I’ll use for fine art applications. Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes are both 98-pound papers and are sturdy enough to stand up under solvents and watercolor pencils in moderate amounts.

Stonehenge, Canson, Strathmore and others all make papers that are sturdy and archival. Some of them also come in a variety of colors so you don’t have to always work on white.

Portrait of a Blue Roan, Colored Pencil. I painted this portrait with colored pencils on Clairefontaine Pastelmat. Pastelmat is a sturdy, highly textured paper that works with with dry colored pencils, dry blending, and solvent blending.

What to Look for in Drawing Surfaces for Colored Pencils

Surface Texture

The first thing most of us think of when we consider drawing paper is the surface texture. Most drawing papers are quite smooth. Stonehenge has a velvety feel if you buy full sheets. Canson Mi-Teintes is more textured. But there are also sanded art papers that might fit your drawing style and preferences better than regular drawing papers.

For example, I’ve used Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes for years, but my most recent work has been on sanded art paper of one type or another and I’m moving away from previous favorites.


The weight of a paper refers to its thickness. A 98lb paper is thinner than a 120lb paper.

Thicker papers can usually handle more abuse. They take more layers of color, and can often be more easily erased. So if you do a lot of layering, look for papers that are sturdy enough to stand up under lots of layers.

Heavier papers are also helpful if you draw with a naturally heavy hand, or if you like to use heavy pressure with just a few layers of color.

Ability to Handle Dampness

Some papers buckle or tear when they get wet. If you want to use solvents to blend, stay away from these types of paper.

Most good drawing papers stand up well if you use small amounts of solvent to blend. I know Stonehenge can be wetted a little and will dry flat if it’s taped to a rigid support before you start drawing.

Other papers don’t perform well with even small amounts of solvent.

Drawing Surfaces to Avoid

Avoid drawing surfaces that are too thin. Newsprint is good for sketching, but not suitable for long-term colored pencil work. It yellows with age and often gets brittle.

If you want to do fine art as defined above, avoid papers made with cellulose fibers. Yes, cellulose-based papers are less expensive, but they not as archival as cotton fiber-based paper. These papers are great for craft art.

How to Find the Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

You have essentially two options for finding the best surfaces for your colored pencil work.

The first is to ask other artists who are doing work similar to what you want to do. Most of them will be happy to help you, and some will already have produced articles or videos talking about their favorite papers.

The second option (and the best in my opinion) is to try as many papers as you can afford. It won’t take long to discover which paper gives you the best results. For more tips on this subject, read Getting Started with Colored Pencils.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Click here to ask Carrie!