Colored pencils have been an underestimated artistic medium for a long time; they’ve had the reputation of a tool that is more suitable for kids than for professional artists. But, fortunately, this state of things is changing, and the popularity of colored pencils is steadily rising.
Let’s explore some features of colored pencils and see how they can improve your creative process!
Types of Colored Pencil
There are two primary and most popular types of core for colored pencils: wax-based and oil-based. Both contain varying proportions of pigments, additives, and binding agents. To be precise, oil-based pencil cores will still have some wax in them.
Wax-based pencils are by far the most popular and prevalent type. They are generally cheaper, less durable, easier to erase, and lighter than the oil-based pencils. A so-called wax bloom can appear on the top layer of color, so using a fixative with wax-based pencils can be helpful.
Oil-based pencils are generally more durable because they have a harder core. They also demonstrate some differences in layering colors, but the main techniques are the same as with wax-based pencils.
Oil-based pencils usually are only produced as a premium line of art supplies. However, there can’t be a clear answer on what type of pencil is the best; colored pencils are manufactured by a variety of companies, and each brand is different.
There are also other types of pencils, such as watercolor—their cores are held together with a gum binder, so the color can be activated by water. You can use these pencils in a dry technique (like ordinary colored pencils) or apply water to get the watercolor effect.
For this tutorial’s artwork, you can use any pencils you have; our task is just to explore some all-purpose techniques.
What You Will Need
You’ll need the following equipment to complete this tutorial project:
- two sheets of drawing paper
- a graphite pencil (I recommend using a B or an HB type)
- an eraser
- a sharpener
- a colorless blender
Pencils of different colors:
- light grey
- medium grey
- bright blue
- dark blue
- rosy pink
- dark red (vinous)
1. How to Draw Poppies With a Graphite Pencil
Before we proceed to the coloring part, let’s design our floral composition. With a graphite pencil, I outline three rounded shapes of the flowers.
I add the cores of the side flowers. We don’t need to add a core to the central poppy because it will have a different foreshortening.
I draw the petals of the right flower.
Poppies usually have four to six petals, but there can be exceptions. Let yourself be creative!
I add petals to the remaining flowers.
I draw the rough shapes of three leaves.
I add a round shape of the bud and three smaller leaves.
I change the tips of the petals, making them curvy.
I refine the cores of the flowers, marking the central points of the pistils and adding the directional lines that are going from the center to the sides.
I mark the center of the bud and add the tear-shaped details.
I refine the contours of the leaves, adding the teeth.
I like to be prepared for the coloring stage, so I create a value sketch, marking the darkest areas of the drawing. The image below is an example.
This step isn’t obligatory, but if you wish, feel free to add some tones with your graphite pencil.
2. How to Use Your Colored Pencils
Let’s have a look at the colored pencil techniques! There are different approaches to mark making; the first one is creating directional lines.
As you can see in the image below, the hatches of these samples are visually discernible.
Another option is drawing small circles. The main advantage of this approach is a smooth, soft application as a result.
Try to vary the angle and pressure while drawing. You can use thinner or thicker lines and experiment with lighter or heavier application.
Create a gradient of color, starting with heavy pressure and decreasing it towards the end of the sample.
I’ve made a wide stroke, using the green pencil, and then added an overlapping stroke with the blue pencil. Now we have a third color in the center of the sample.
This technique is called layering; you can achieve new hues or shades this way.
The sequence of layering colors is also important. I create the left sample, starting with the blue color, and then add some green strokes on top.
The right sample has the same colors but in the opposite order. As you may notice, the resulting colors don’t look the same.
It’s time to try a technique called burnishing, and we’ll use a colorless blender.
Burnishing is a blending method in which a colorless blender or a light-colored pencil is applied to an already layered drawing. It produces a shiny surface and makes an artwork look like a painting.
Please note that burnishing usually becomes the last step; the best option is to apply it to the completed set of color layers.
I draw green and blue shapes with almost no gap between them. Then I apply strokes just on top of the color layer with the colorless blender, focusing on the barely visible border between the colors.
I create a similar sample, using the green and blue pencils. Then I apply a layer of white color on top. It softens the border between the colors and lightens the sample just a bit.
I create another colorful sample and cover it with the cream color.
The result is close to the previous image, but now the hues become imperceptibly warmer.
3. How to Apply Colored Pencil Techniques to a Drawing
I create a clean copy drawing, using a window. I recommend outlining only the main contours, using a light grey colored pencil (instead of an ordinary graphite pencil).
The lighter the contour lines are, the cleaner your artwork will be in the end.
With the lilac pencil, I add a layer of color to the left flower. I apply a heavier pressure to the areas that I consider the darkest in my graphite sketch.
I start working on the central poppy, using the dark red color.
I complete the base layer of the dark red color. The lighter areas of the flower get fewer pencil strokes and remain just partly covered with the color pigment.
I add the violet color to the poppy on the right side, accenting the center of the flower.
I cover the leaves and the bud with the green color.
I add the rosy pink color to the left poppy, making it more three-dimensional and varied in coloring.
I work on the right flower. With the dark blue color, I outline the contours, darken the core with the stamens, and accentuate the pattern of the petals.
I add the bright blue color to the core shadows, and then create a drop shadow.
The artwork still lacks the darker tones, so I increase the contrast with an inclusion of the medium grey color.
I apply very light strokes, working on the petals and the drop shadow; this allows me to create a smooth texture.
With the brown pencil, I increase the contrast even more by adding the darker nuances to the core shadows.
I pay particular attention to the cores of the flowers and the bud, adding tiny details.
I blend the colors of the left flower, using the colorless blender. The transition between the lilac, rosy pink and the darker tones becomes very smooth.
I burnish all the green elements of the artwork, using the colorless blender, just as we did in the previous step.
I also make the drop shadow more blurry, blending the grey and blue colors.
Let’s apply burnishing to the central poppy, this time with the cream color. I blend the colors carefully; no untouched paper should show up here.
As a finishing touch, I burnish the right poppy, using the white pencil. The artwork looks nice and solid—it resembles a painting, indeed.
Your Drawing Is Complete
Congratulations! You’ve created a beautiful artwork; I hope you enjoyed both the process and the result.
I wish you much success in exploring the possibilities of colored pencils!