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Introducing Colored Pencil

By O. M. Braida –

For many years students have been asking me to put a book together for a Colored Pencil tutorial. It has been an interesting endeavor especially when one considers that Colored Pencil is not the medium of the French Court Period. My thoughts about teaching this subject are to present the workshop from a tools and techniques point of view. As with all my teachings, I am always interested in helping students’ gain full understanding of the medium and the skills necessary to represent any medium with confidence.

For many years, my own work in colored pencil revolved around field and color study. Colored Pencil is perfect in the field and together with color swatches, a simple way to record subject color. In addition to field color studies, color pencil is wonderful for effective color studies that help students understand how to translate a gray scale value study of a composition into color to insure proper color balance – a prelude to the actual watercolor painting.

When applying this medium to a finished, fine art piece (scientific or not), the artist is faced with blending issues. For one thing, you have edges to contend with. In most cases you are working with papers that have some amount of “tooth”. Pencil over paper tooth results in a bumpy surface and ragged edges – even if ever so slight the botanical artist who is so use to crisp edges may find this a bit disconcerting. There are, as with any other medium, tricks to the trade. Blending skills, clean edges, vibrant color, sharp highlights, are all possible to achieve. The only magic wand is “practice.”

Let me at this point broaden the prevailing conception that the medium of colored pencil refers to “color rods” wrapped in wooden sticks. Not only are there many different blends of colored pencils (some with wax, some water based, and some neither), but the “color rods” can be short sticks not encased in wood, or even “crayon” type sticks. In addition, there are colored pencils that are soft and some that are hard. To build color you can gently apply layers, or build with gusto and burnishing, or you can even “melt” the color with blenders and turpentine. The world of colored pencil art takes on a whole new meaning when the artists begin to realize the vast resources of color, paper, and application that can be used.

For Academy students and others who have been developing their drawing skills, the colored pencil medium can become a very exciting genre and a way to broaden your repertoire of not just botanical art, but all kinds of fine art compositions. Some of you may already be familiar with the colored pencil controversy revolving around colored pencils lightfast qualities. You will be pleased to know that the Colored Pencil Society of America ( has been actively pursuing ASTM standards and making great progress. You will want to read more about this here:

Once you tap into the CPSA website, be sure to check out their gallery and view wonderful examples of colored pencil fine art pieces. Below I’ve listed some additional colored pencil books you may want to purchase. Colored Pencil Painting Bible: Techniques for Achieving Luminous Color and Ultra-Realistic Effects by Alyona Nickelsen is a companion study aid for anyone wanting to take the Academy Colored Pencil course.

God bless. OM

4 Responses to “Introducing Colored Pencil”

  1. Superb website and thank you for making this write-up. I’m a each day reader and I assumed you should really know that you’re a highly good writer. 🙂

  2. Lori Frary says:

    Your new website looks wonderful and is very user friendly. I enjoyed the articles as well, Olivia!

  3. Lois Jackson says:

    Hi, Olivia: I love the new website and will become a daily blog reader. On the subject of color pencils; Caran dÁche makes a line called Luminance, which is ASTM tested. I had about given up on color pencils after watching some of my framed originals disappear on the walls even with uv -blocking glass. For those who have lots of unrated color pencils, I recommend making test blocks, covering half of each block with artist tape and leaving them in full sun for a month or so. That will tell you which ones to keep and which ones to get rid of.

    • Dear Lois: Thanks for your input. Yes you are right, Caran D’Ache Luminance are now considered the best for lightfast quality. They are the most expensive so I instruct students to use other brands for all the exercises and if they want to invest in a good quality set, save them for finished artworks. As for the testing blocks you recommend, the Colored Pencil Society of America offers to its members a complete list of information and testing formula. It’s a wonderful organization to join especially if you intend to pursue this genre.