6 Techniques to Up Your Colored Pencil Game

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We bet you've seen it: Art that looks like an incredible painting, but was actually done with colored pencils. These seemingly simple tools can create an incredible range of dramatic effects, if you know the right techniques to bring to the table. Ready to try? Go!

6 essential colored pencil drawing techniques

1. Layering colors

Say it with us: Layer, layer, layer. This is the key to getting vibrant colors and realistic shading.

Check out the first persimmon, which uses only one shade each of red and green. Pretty dull, right? But by layering in shades of gray, orange, green, violet and blue, the final result is so much more lifelike. There are tons of ways to layer, but it's mostly about individual style. The best way to get started is just to experiment!

2. Pencil pressure

The pressure is on! On your pencil, that is. And how much makes a huge difference: A lighter pencil pressure results in a lighter color, of course, while a heavier hand gives you a dark, saturated hue.

Lighter pressure is the usual go-to because it makes a better base for layering colors, but the best way to feel it out is to make a pressure scale. Draw swatches of the same color using different pressures and you'll quickly see the difference. Then you can refer to your scale as your work on your piece.

3. Incising paper

Incising or indenting is a technique that allows you to make very thin, white lines within dark values. So cool!

To do it, place a piece of transparent paper (such as tracing paper or waxed paper) over your drawing paper. Use a ballpoint pen or a 2H graphite pencil to draw the incision lines, pushing down hard enough to make an indent on the paper below. Once you've drawn all the lines, remove the sheet of transparent paper and shade over the indented areas. (This comes in especially handy when drawing fine details like animal whiskers, flower filaments and anthers, fur, leaf veins, scratches and more.)

4. Drawing highlights

There are several methods to create the lightest areas in your colored pencil drawings, and they often depend on the types of paper you draw on.

On white paper, simply use the blank paper itself as the highlight. (You can create an outline of your highlight with a light color, so that you remember not to shade there!) On colored paper, you'll need to use pencils to add the highlight. Start with a light colored pencil first (cream, light peach, cloud blue, etc.) and then finish up shading with white. Apply a very heavy pencil pressure to achieve the necessary brightness.  (If the highlights are super tiny or need a punch, try using touch of white crayon, pastel, gouache or even acrylic paint with a 00 brush.)

5. Blending

Blending is certainly not a necessary step, but many artists like the smooth finish. (It's what makes it look more like a painting, too!) Using blending solvents and tools, you can smooth out the pigments and eliminate the lines you made when applying color.

The drawing on the left hasn't been blended at all. You can see the layers of colors, the grain of the paper and the stroke marks. When blended with a solvent, most of that detail goes away, leaving a smooth and seamless piece of art.

6. Rubbings

Sometimes the simplest and most effective way to add texture is with a rubbing. (You probably used this technique as a kid, so you're already an expert!) Here's how to do it: Place your drawing paper over a textured surface like lace, leaves or anything else with bumps and ridges. Rub your colored pencil over both. Of course, rubbings on thicker drawing paper will be less effective than those on a thinner paper, so plan ahead if you want to use this technique.

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