FAQ - Colored Pencil Terms & Techniques

Colored Pencil Supplies

What colored pencils do you use?
Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

What paper do you use?
Almost exclusively, I use white Stonehenge. It's inexpensive, clean, durable, and has just the right amount of tooth for my technique.  Stonehenge is included in many of our Project Kits as well as in our Draw what you SEE Drawing Course.

What pencil sharpener do you use?
I used to recommend the Panasonic sharpener, but they are no longer available.  I currently recommend the Xacto School Pro. I don't like battery or hand-held sharpeners - almost all of them chew up the pencil, and they're too slow.

Why do my colored pencils break so often?
It's not your pencils...it's your sharpener!!  My Prismacolor pencils virtually never break.  If your pencils are breaking, switch to a new sharpener.  Even a brand new sharpener can break your pencils if it's a lousy sharpener.

What is "sticky stuff"?
"Sticky stuff" is my term for reusable adhesive. There are nearly a dozen brands. You find it in a hanging bubble pack in the adhesive or school supply section of stores like OfficeMax. It's blue, yellow or white. Mounting putty will work too.  It's much tackier than kneaded erasers, so it's perfect for lifting colored pencil pigment off of paper.

What is a Value Viewer?
It's a simple but invaluable too to help gauge values and colors. Punch a hole in a small white piece of paper, (a business card works perfectly) place it over your photo reference and then over your drawing to compare values & isolate colors. I love my value viewer. It's how I determine color and value & I use mine constantly!

Colored Pencil Terms

What is scumbling or the "brillo pad" technique?
With a very sharp point, and extremely light pressure, I move the pencil point in a circular (sometimes elliptical) motion, slightly overlapping as I move along. This technique allows maximum control of the pencil, and creates the smoothest finish, but is oh, so slow.  The advantage is that you can get extremely subtle blending of color. I use the "brillo pad" method for the face and hair on all my portraits.

What is impressed line?
you create an impressed line by using a thin instrument (like a stylus) to indent the paper surface. When you then cover the area with pencil, the impression (indentation) made with the sharp object will not fill and will show up as white. Use this technique for little wisps of hair around the face that are lit by sunlight, cat whiskers, and white hair in darker colored beards/mustaches.

What is burnishing?
Burnishing is a fancy word for using a great deal of pressure when bearing down with a colored pencil so that the paper tooth is no longer visible. When you burnish, you basically just smooth the paper surface.

What is wax bloom?
After applying wax-based colored pencil to paper, wax can rise to the surface of your painting, creating a soft, hazy film, called "wax bloom". You can especially see this in darker, burnished areas. The remedy? Lightly wipe across the surface of your drawing with a tissue, then spray with 2 light coats of a workable matte fixative
, like Kyrlon.

Colored Pencil Techniques

Basic Color Building

Identify a hue by placing your Value Viewer over your photo reference, then asking yourself these four questions:

What primary or secondary color do you see? ( red? )
Where on the color wheel is it? is it a red on the warm side? (orangish) or the cool side (purplish)?
What is the intensity of the red? is it bright (high intensity - no gray) or dull (low intensity - lots of gray)?
What is the value? is it a light red (when compared to the white of the value viewer) or a dark red?

With the hue identified, you can choose colors that fit the answers to the above questions.  Then, begin with the lightest value color you see, applying lightly. Add layers by value, starting with the lightest and gradually increasing to darker values.

Building a light grayish-greenish blue like this might go like this:

10% French Grey
Cloud Blue (pale blue)
20% French Grey
Light Cerulean Blue (pale, grayish blue)
Celadon Green (pale, grayish green)
Light Cerulean Blue again