Colored Pencil Techniques for the Beginner

Beginning any new art technique can be overwhelming, but in this post, I will show you the basics to get you started with colored pencil art. In this article, we will explore pressure, shading, layering colors, and other techniques such as blending and burnishing.

Colored Pencil Basics for the Beginner

But before we begin, lets talk a little bit about the different brands of colored pencils and paper.

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Now, if you are new to colored pencil art, I wouldn’t go out and buy an expensive set of pencils just yet. In fact, the best set of beginner student colored pencils available are Crayola brand. They are inexpensive and their colors are just fine to test whether or not colored pencil art is right for you. So don’t worry if you are using lower quality pencils, these will work just fine to learn the basic colored pencil techniques. If you are looking to use more professional grade colored pencils, I suggest either Prismacolor Premier Soft Core or Derwent Coloursoft.

New students to colored pencil art will find Stonehenge paper a great option. It has a nice even tooth and is affordable, but any paper that has a little bit of tooth will work. I use Strathmore Colored Pencil paper, Canson Watercolor Paper, and Strathmore Sketch Paper. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Now let’s dive into the lesson!

Colored Pencil Techniques for the Beginner

Levels of Pressure

There are 3 basic levels of pressure to use when coloring with your pencils:

  • Light
  • Medium
  • Heavy

When starting your artwork, begin with light pressure. As you color, you can add layers over top of your color to increase the amount of color on your drawing. But be careful, its easy to add layers, and much harder to fix a drawing that used too much pressure.

Colored Pencil Pressure Levels

In the image, I have used 3 different levels of pressure. Using medium and heavy pressure gives a much more intense value of color.

Shading Techniques

Next we will explore different shading techniques. There are several different techniques, but the most common are:

  • Contour
  • Circulation
  • Cross Hatch
  • Stippling

Shading techniques describe the way in which you move your pencil to fill in your colors.

Colored Pencil Shading Techniques

With contour shading, you shade in the direction of your object to give it dimension. In the image, I have shaded in the direction of the curve.

Circulation shading is a fancy word for coloring with little circular motions. This is a great way to shade when you want to blend colors seamlessly. It hides the direction of the shading so you don’t see the lines of the pencil. I find this is the most common way I shade in my colors.

Cross Hatch shading is basically using criss cross motions to fill in an area. It’s a wonderful technique to blend colors together as well.

Stippling is creating tiny dots to shade in areas. I personally don’t use this technique as often, but I do use it for objects in the distance when working on landscapes and also for stars and snow.

Many of these techniques can be used together to create interesting textures and seamless color blending.

Related: How To Create Beautiful and Easy Watercolor Textures

Learning the Basic Techniques of Colored Pencil Art


Now let’s talk layering. Layering helps you achieve the color you need for your drawing. You can use layering to build up a single color value, or you can combine layers of different colors. This is something you learn as you experiment with different colors. You can see in the image how different color layers affect the final color.

Layering with colored pencils helps you achieve different color values

With these basic techniques under your belt, you may want to begin trying some different techniques to achieve interesting textures and effects. One way to do this is with burnishing.

Basic Colored Pencil Techniques for the Beginner


Burnishing is basically applying enough layers to create a smooth texture so that none of the tooth of the paper shows through. When you apply your colors to colored pencil paper, you are basically leaving small amounts of the colored pencil in the ‘valleys’ of the tooth of the paper. As you add layers, you begin to fill up these ‘valley’s with more color. Burnishing gives the drawing a smooth, more ‘painted’ look. There are a few ways you can achieve this.

colored pencil burnishing techniques

  • Colorless blender – A colorless blender pencil is basically a clear colored pencil that contains no pigment and is used just for blending colors. It applies a layer of wax or oil (depending on the brand you use) smoothing out the layer(s) below.
  • White or light colored pencil – If you don’t have a colorless blender you can use a white or light colored pencil. But be careful, white or light colored pencils can change the color when you burnish with it. In the image below you can see how the white and light colored pencils changed the overall color of the layers below it. This is a great way to lighten up colors if you made them too dark.
  • Darker colored pencils – Generally, burnishing is done using lighter or clear pencils, but you can burnish with darker colored pencils as well.

colored pencil burnishing techniques

So there you have it, the essential colored pencil basics that will help you get started in your colored pencil journey.

Do you use these techniques in your colored pencil drawings? Are there other techniques that I forgot to mention that you like to use? Share in the comments below.


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