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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? Ask Carrie!

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