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Getting Started with Colored Pencils

Getting Started with Colored Pencils

There are a lot of new colored pencil enthusiasts in this audience. There are probably many others who are interested in colored pencils, but haven’t yet taken the plunge. So I want to talk about getting started with colored pencils.

Let’s begin with the reader question.


What would be a good starting point for doing color pencils? I am not much [with] drawing skill.


Thank you for your question, Steve! I’ve used colored pencils for so long, I often forget what getting started was like!

Getting Started with Colored Pencils

When you first start thinking about using colored pencils, it looks like there’s a lot to learn. And there is.

There are also dozens of tools and accessories on the market, and more are launched every month.

So where do you begin?

The truth is that you can start using colored pencils with only the basics. What are the basics? Pencils and paper (and a sharpener!)

When it comes to getting started with colored pencils, focus on the basic necessities.


You have to buy pencils, but everybody’s budget is different. The number and type of pencils purchased differs from artist to artist.

However, the best thing you can do isbuy the best pencils you can. That’s why I always recommend you buy the best you can afford.

I also suggest you buy a few colors open stock (single pencils instead of sets.) Each pencil will cost more, but you can make a good start with half a dozen artist-grade pencils.

Why artist-grade?

Because artist-grade pencils contain more pigment and perform better than scholastic- grade (grade school quality) and student-grade. You’ll get a better feel for the medium with better materials.

And if you decide colored pencils aren’t for you, then you haven’t spent a lot of money on a full set of pencils.

Another alternative is to buy smaller sets. Most brands and grades of pencils come in 12-color sets and 24-color sets for a fraction of the cost of full sets.

So find the best combination of quality, price, and selection.


Paper is the same way. Skip the fancy or colored papers. Start with a pad of good, white drawing paper, and go small. A 9-inch by 12-inch pad of paper is the largest size I’d suggest. Smaller is better. They’re usually less expensive, and a better fit for sketching, doodling, or just experimenting with your new pencils.

But don’t skimp on quality. As with pencils, starting with good paper is your best option for getting a true feel for the medium.

If you can, try a pad of Bristol and a pad of regular drawing paper like Strathmore or Stonehenge. Bristol is very smooth. Regular drawing papers have a bit more texture and a softer feel. By trying both, you’ll discover which basic type of paper gives you the best results.

Dick Blick offers a wide selection of good drawing pads and they’re customer service is excellent. They also sell pencils in sets and open stock!

I Don’t Have Much Drawing Skill

Steve also mentioned not having much drawing skill. That’s okay! You don’t need drawing skill to experiment with colored pencils. You need pencils and paper!

But there many options available to you if you want to try colored pencils that allow you to begin without having a lot of drawing skill. Here are three ideas.


If you have an adventurous personality, try just playing with your new pencils and paper. Make marks on the paper. Try drawing lines, and shading shapes. Doodle!

You can learn a lot about colored pencils just by shading one color over another, by pushing the pencil against the paper with different pressures, and so on. If you have a question about how a pencil performs under certain conditions, then try it and see!

Believe it or not, you can learn enough about colored pencils through this kind of experimentation to know whether or not colored pencils are a good fit for you.

Adult Coloring Books

If you’re not adventurous by nature, or if you prefer trying your new colored pencils with pictures, designs, and patterns that someone else has drawn, try adult coloring books.

Adult coloring books are available in all subjects from very simple patterns to complex, draw-by-number versions of Classical Masterpieces. Some specify colors. Some allow you to make your own color choices.

The biggest disadvantage to adult coloring books is that most of them are not printed on a good drawing paper. For the most part, the paper is good enough to give you a fairly accurate feel for colored pencils, but that’s all.

However, some books are available on higher grade papers, and they are a good way to learn colored pencils.

Then there are free coloring pages. Simply search for “free coloring pages.” Chose one you like, and then download and print it. You can print designs as often as you like on any paper your printer will print on.


Tutorials usually offer you a line drawing to start with. They also provide a color list, so if you haven’t yet purchased pencils, a tutorial gives you a place to begin!

Beyond that, if you prefer learning a new medium with a specific project, tutorials are the perfect place to begin. When you buy a tutorial, you get a project, step-by-step instructions, and a supply list (usually quite inexpensive.) You also can choose beginner, intermediate, or advanced level projects.

And the best part is that most tutorials are under $20!

A variety of tutorials are available right here, at Colored Pencil Tutorials, including tutorials for beginners. But many artists and companies publish tutorials. Ann Kullberg is one such artist. Dozens of beginner tutorials are available by a number of artists. The collection includes a selection of projects designed for beginners.

Getting Started with Colored Pencils Doesn’t Have to be Difficult

Or expensive.

Start small and with the basic supplies.

If in doubt about what supplies to purchase first, take a look at tutorials, choose a subject, and then see what supplies you need for that project.

You can always buy more colors and tools as you need them.

However you start, just starting is the most important part. After all, you can’t come to enjoy colored pencils as I do if you don’t start!

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

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