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One of the hurdles the beginner has to overcome, is the need to get a strong, vibrant amount of colour down on the paper without losing definition.

If your paper has any depth of ‘tooth’ there will also the the difficulty of getting an even layer of colour with no little white specks coming through from where the pigment fails to fill the valleys of the paper surface

The traditional approach for CP involves the multi layering of colours.  This is the pure wax CP approach and relies on the fact that successive layers of wax pencil intensifies the colour.  You can use a balanced collection of similar tints ( reds and oranges / greens and yellows/ blues and reds) depending on the final colour result you are aiming for.  The differing colours will complement each other and progressively intensify the result.   As you get more and more pigment down, any white coming through from the grain of the paper will tend to disappear.  

If there are any areas of thin or absent colour in the picture, this can be dealt with by burnishing the surface with  a firm pressure using an appropriate coloured pencil, or using a blending or burnishing pencils which has a transparent core.

The method of strengthening colour through burnishing was touched on in the introduction page to this section, and has some advantages and some disadvantages.  The main advantage is that the lay down of colour follows a logical sequence with the same type of pencil used throughout.  If you wish to exhibit your finished work with one of the main International CP societies as what is termed ‘Pure’ Coloured Pencil, you will need to restrict your pencil choice to either wax type or watercolour coloured pencils USED DRY.  For this, burnishing will be essential as you will not be able to lay down an underpainting

 Some factors need to be observed though.

1/  If you are using only one brand and type of coloured pencil, the softest will prove to be the most  effective.

2/  If you have more than one brand and type available, use the hardest pencils first and reserve the softest until last.

3/  Make sure that you have a good amount of pigment down on the paper before you consider adding the blending layers

4/  Make sure that you get your areas of darkness and shadow defined as early as possible

5/  For areas of pale colour, consider providing a base of white or cream pigment on the paper at an early stage.

This will reduce to take up of colour from later layers

6/  Some papers take colour better than others. Choose your paper carefully and trial it first to see how your pencils respond on               the surface with a build up of colour layers.  See the topic on the results on different papers

For more, see the’Working the Surface’ section on Burnishing, Burnishers and blenders

Another approach is to use a complementary colour underneath to enhance and possibly darken the later layers.  A Complementary colour is one from the opposite side of the colour wheel.      For example,  red is opposite green, so a red underneath a green will make the colour more intense.  A dark red under a green will make the green very much darker.  This is a good route to find really dark colours for your landscape shadows ( an example of this is shown on the previous page dealing with application of colour )

Wax pigment can also be taken into the paper surface by the gentle application of solvents. This will help when the paper has reached the limit for further application of pencil.  Suitable solvents include ‘Zest It’ and Low Odour Thinners sold for oil painting.  A treated surface must be left to dry thoroughly before further CP is applied.  Solvent is helpful as an aid to getting a greater number of layers on to a given surface as the pigment beds down into the paper and is more receptive to further layers.  Zest It is citrus based and absolutely non toxic and non inflammable so is my preferred solvent for pencil.   One problem with low odour thinners, though, is the possibility of residue marking the paper and taking time to dry.  You will need to be cautious over the amount of solvent you use.  Zest It tends to dry quicker and leave little, if any, residue

A Fourth option is to use Aquarelle pencils first and work the design or image out on the paper (a watercolour paper and a stretched surface) with dry pencil colour and put in the basic depth of colour into the darkest areas.

The dry soluble colour can then be washed in with a damp brush.  This offers good control.  I use a low cost nylon watercolour brush as it has enough strength to move the pigment on the paper, lift it where necessary (to be blotted off with kitchen roll) to reduce colour depth, and once the brush tip gets worn down from regular use, the brush can be discarded with a clear conscience.

This technique used to fulfil the requirements of the ‘Pure’ Coloured Pencil artist who required all pigment to come from an accepted CP source. The UKCPS have now changed their rules for the ‘Pure CP’ category in their exhibitions to exclude watercolour pencils used with water as a solvent, though the use of the aquarelles as dry pencils is still allowed.  This does not make a lot of sense, but it is their exhibition and they can set whatever rules they wish !   If you are not exhibiting in a UKCPS exhibition in the Pure CP category, you are at liberty to use whatever combination you wish

Option five is to use traditional pan or tube watercolour or washes of liquid watercolour pencil for the ‘under painting’.  Traditional watercolour produces a work which is strictly speaking ‘mixed media’ but either of these choices can be the combination which produces the strongest colour and combines the best elements of watercolour with the fine detail achievable with CP.  

It is essential to use a good watercolour paper for this and to have it stretched on a board.  Arches and the smooth HP surfaced quality papers are good.  I suggest you try Fabriano 5 if you can get it, as it offers a good combination of features.   

CARE !  Plan your picture carefully and ensure that the watercolour

 is accurately applied as you will find it difficult to correct edges

which are in the wrong place.  

The underpainting completed with these colours is shown below .......


and the final image ( above)

Option Six is to use a monochrome underpainting in either ink or watercolour wash.  Ink could be diluted Indian Ink

(a permanent black) – the dilution being strongest in the darkest areas, and thinnest in the lightest.

The monochrome picture is then overlaid with wax CP and the colour of the top layer will still show , even over the darkest underlayers.   Watercolour will have the same result as Ink and a blend of Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine will produce a good purple grey which works well, though other undercolours could be selected depending on the subject matter.   

Using a coloured monochrome base can give a good uniformity of colour through to the final work

This little scene of the view near Kotor in Montenegro, has a sienna monochrome underpainting which gives the whole picture a warm unified feel

Here we have 6 colours selected for an underpainting.

The powdered pigment has been scraped with a craft knife from the pencil points on to a white plate. This can now be mixed up to make a palette of colours and used just like traditional watercolour with small amounts of mixture thinned out and used on the paper as appropriate

Latest revision of this page October 2014

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