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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

Regards,

Karen
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.

Update

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.

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.

Value

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.