How to Use Coloured Pencil–a free online course


There are so many art mediums to chose from and if you are like me, finding which medium fits your style, time constraints, and pocketbook.    Personally, I started with embroidery and cross stitch and then moved into acrylic painting, scrapbooking, altered books, mixed media, polymer clay, and on and on.  Sound familiar?   You may recall that I recently took a coloured pencil class with Bev Fish.  It was during her afternoon session that a light bulb went off.  Why not become a pencil crayon artist–I love the time spent colouring, and it is challenging enough to keep my interest.   I’m ready to explore new ways to use a coloured pencil, and am ready to push myself to the next level.   After reading my mini series, you may feel the same way.

Inspiration for a coloured pencil mini series came from Smita of Kreativity and Me, who lives in India.  Smita wrote to me explaining that she would like to see tutorials using only the bare essentials because supplies are so difficult to come by and shipping is double what Canadians and Americans encur. My coloured pencil series is designed to be informative and inspirational, particularly for those of you who are living in secluded areas or foreign countries.

While today’s post is not a photo step-by-step tutorial, it is an introduction to the step-by-step tutorials that are to come over the next month. Think of this as a free on-line course as it will offer the exact information that I would include if I were to charge a fee.   Sharing makes me happy :)  For the enthusiastic artists, there will be homework.  Please link me to your homework or send me an e-mail to  I am available for questions and to critique your work if you care to do so.

Basic supplies will be listed so you can prepare yourself for what is to come in my other installments.  If you haven’t subscribed to my blog, this may be the time to do so–you won’t want to miss what is to come.

Be Fussy:

Choose coloured pencils that are well centered.  Look at the bottom of the pencil crayon to see if it is centered.  Being well centered means less breakage.

Use the best pencil sharpener you can.  Even a $2 sharpener can be the right one, if you chose what works well with your pencils.  The piece that houses your pencil tip should be metal–not plastic.  A good electric pencil sharpener works well too.

If Gamsol is not available, use a colourless blender pencil. A blender pencil contains wax and fillers, but no pigment.  The pencil helps to smoothen out pencil lines. Not all images require the use of the blender pencil.

Use a high quality white eraser to rub out pencil lines and areas around the images.  Pink erasers will smudge.

Use a kneaded eraser to help lift colour off an area.  You can also lift off regular pencil lines if the line is too dark.

Choose paper that makes you happy with the final result.  I purchase Staples 110 pound cardstock in a large package and have my local printer cut the paper in quarters for me.  Not only is it convinient for me to have smaller pieces of cardstock on hand, it saves on my papercutter blade. Bev Fish introduced me to a finer paper from an art store.  Check with your local art store and ask for paper that works well with coloured pencil.

Pencil extenders are a must with expensive pencil crayons; they allow you to use the pencil crayon up without wastage.  See your local art shop.

Fixative helps to break down the excess wax that can make your image look foggy.  “Wax bloom” can occur up to 7 days later.  Although it can sometimes be wiped away, the hazy appearance will return.  When using fixative, spray outdoors in a well ventilated area and spray two to three light coats rather than one heavy coat.  Colour will become more vibrant after using fixative, so keep that in mind when colouring your image.

When not to be fussy:

Much to my amazement, Bev Fish came to class with buckets of coloured pencils that were not Prismacolor.  And she was the teacher!  Through Bev’s experience, she learned that children’s pencil crayons will work, depending upon the results that she wants to achieve.  Overall, Prismacolor is the number one choice for most coloured pencil artists.

Tips to Get You Started:

  • Keep pencils sharp.  This allows the pencil to bury itself into the pits and grooves of the paper
  • If your pencil lead breaks, use regular glue to hold the broken piece in place.  It is a shame to waste a good piece of coloured pencil
  • Avoid using regular photocopy paper or newsprint; it will not hold up to multi-layering
  • Take a coloured pencil class.  Learning from a professional is money well spent

This week’s homework

Learn to create shadows.  This will help to recede certain areas and bring other areas forward which will create a 3-D effect.

Stamp a small image out twice, side by side as my photo shows.  On one side lightly colour your image, and then go over certain areas once again with a heavier hand as shown in the photo above.  Keep one image unblended as seen on the left hand side and blend as seen in the right hand side.  I want to see what makes you tick, and helps me to understand if you have grasped the concept of where shadows fall.  I learned this technique over 20 years ago, and had a great deal of difficulty, but once I grasped the idea, I ran with it.

You will notice the blond hair has dark brown coloured in the shadow area, rather than a heavier handed yellow colour.  This is because yellow is such a pale colour, a darker colour was required to achieve the effect I was looking for.  You may do this if you run into the same issue, but please be careful not to overuse a second color because this lesson is to learn how to create shadows.

How do I know where a shadow is cast? Imagine the sun shining down on these two sisters, above.  There are areas of the dress that naturally fall leaving deeper areas in the folds.  Deep set areas have shadows.  Images that fall behind the main image are blocked from the sun, so those areas have shadow.  For example, the areas around the hand, the decorative flower on the front of the pink dress, the sister that stands a little behind the other.  Get the idea?

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me.  You can leave a message right on this post or e-mail me at Because I do have a full time job outside the house, I may not see your message immediately, but I do check my messages before and after work.

I hope you enjoyed the first of many posts to come on the coloured pencil.

I am grateful to the following:  Bev Fish of Fishtale Studio and Colored Pencil for the Serious Beginner by Bet Borgeson

Posted on : Nov 10 2009
Posted under Free On-Line Classes with Beth, Tutorials |

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