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DRY POINT PENCIL TECHNIQUES - 2 - Application of Colour

This page looks in ore detail at the way the final colour is affected by the WAY the pencil line is put down, and also the ORDER in which colours are applied.

Assuming that you are using a cartridge paper surface which is fairly smooth, but has some ‘grip’ on the pencil point, you will be able to put down a smooth, fine, line without too much difficulty.

If you do have any problems it may be due to the dryness or the roughness of the paper - or the degree of sharpness of the pencil (or how it was sharpened).  

A dry paper in a dry atmosphere will take a fine line from a wax pencil better than paper which is not dry in a damp atmosphere.  

A hard ‘leaded’ colour pencil with a sharp point, will put down a better line than a soft leaded pencil with an imperfectly sharpened point.  

Sharpening with a knife can have advantages for choices of different edges on the point, but for sheer consistency, a grinding mechanism sharpener with a spiral cutter has no equal.   

Some CP artists also use a sandpaper block or pad to keep the point fine tuned.  I don’t.

Firstly, consider what your end result is to be once all the layers are down.  

The first colour will influence the final result a great deal.  

The first layer to hit the paper will be the strongest influence – particularly where a series of even shading layers are to be applied.  

This is the layer which has the greatest density as it is going on to white matt paper.  

Later layers are going over wax colour and the pencil will have lesser grip and leave less colour.

Where the image is constructed from a series of hatchings (crossed lines of different colours with white space between lines), the choice and order of colours should be tested first on scrap paper as there can be a great deal of difference in the end result from different layouts and colour orders. The spaces between the lines on a hatched layer will reveal the colour below and the direction of the lines will also have an influence.

SEE ALSO the note on a colour matrix at the foot of this page

Your line can also have the power of giving a feeling of motion to a part of the image.  Evenly applied shading is a static part of the image.  Short stabbing lines have an effect of vigour and this sort of line applied in different directions on the paper has the effect of turmoil and activity.  

Lines which start strongly in a thick dense line which tails off into a thin light line give the feeling of action.  

Gentle flowing lines give an impression of peace.  Converging and diverging lines also have messages to tell.

It is impossible for a brief set of notes like this to give detailed advice on line style – you can only discover the effects yourself with practice.  There is a separate set of notes giving a selection of the marks you can make ( part 4 of this section ), and although the marking methods are named in the notes, they are not official ‘names’- they are merely a means to remember them

As far as the Choice of colour order is concerned, if you are working to achieve light areas of the image, keep to the lightest early colours and where that part of the image needs to be warm, use warm tints and progressively change and darken as necessary.  You will never get a true dense dark over a light first coat.

One of the problems of landscape painting in CP is the need to get evenly coloured skies which remain light in tone.  

Some CP Artists use pastel pencil ( a light coating, well rubbed in) or watercolour, but if you are using pure CP the choices are to put down an even layer of white to protect the surface first and then add your light blue (or whatever) on top, or alternatively make a palette of your colour on a piece of rough paper ( it will enable you to get a good thickness of pigment to use ), then use a piece of white felt to pick up some of the pigment from your palette and then rub it on your paper.  This is ideal for skies as it can be erased for clouds.  You can use this ‘rubbed in’ method with pigment from a palette or by using pigment powder scraped with a sharp knife from a long pencil point ( care not to include any wood - it doesn’t work so well ! )

This ‘rubbed in’ technique is covered in more detail in the Backgrounds section of Techniques

Wax pencil does offer you the opportunity of blending two layers of colour by firmly adding a third with an even shading stroke to blend the lower colours together, or a dedicated blender pencil of clear wax can be used.  

For details of blending and blenders etc, see the page on ‘Working the Surface’ in Techniques

Avoid black in later layers if you can it tends to produce a dead finish.  Reserve black for the early coats in the darkest areas and then change the finish with layers of suitable colour on top.  This will give life to your areas of greatest contrast which you will need, in order to give ‘life’ and sunlight to the picture.  Using a complementary colour ( from the opposite side of the colour wheel ) in the layers will provide a darkening element.  For example, adding red into a set of green layers will immediately darken the effect

If you have - for example - an area of plant leaf to complete with some leaves in part shadow and some in sunlight, a good solution is to test out

1/ a base colour for the mid green of the plant material.

2/ a dark complementary or similar colour to darken the shadow areas ( usually a dark blue/red ), and

3/ a cream or light yellow to adjust the mid tone for areas of sunlight.

First apply your base colour to establish the colour choice.  Then apply the lightening or darkening layer, finally re-apply layers of the mid tone again to return the colour to the original one chosen.

There is no ‘magic’ solution, only practice and keeping a record ( if you have a poor memory) of what you are doing.

I often keep a record down the margin of the paper of the colours I use and the combinations  - so that I can repeat the combinations accurately elsewhere in the picture.


I have used a matrix with Coloured Pencils for several years - for deciding which brand to use on black paper ( Working on coloured paper )  Through to a simple form of matrix for colour matching.

This is a good option to test how the actual colours in your box of pencils will layer and blend optically.

The technique is also taught by USA tutor Susan Rubin on her botanical CP course which has been highly recommended by one of her past students

For more information on Susan Rubin’s work, see her web site at   http://susanrubinstudio.com/  where there is some marvellous botanical work in coloured pencil.

This is my own version of the colour matrix which shows you the basics on how to set about constructing one.

Colours in wax type pencils are transparent and also some are more opaque and contain body colour to produce a paler result.  

These opaque colours do not layer as well as the more transparent ones, and the matrix will alert you to to ones to choose and those to avoid.

You will see from the illustration below, that I have laid out a grid of squares on cartridge paper.  I have then selected colours and completed rows and columns with even colour.   I have worked the columns first and then the rows across.

The actual order does not matter a great deal -  What does matter is that you can easily see which colours were applied over others so that the layer order can be accurately repeated.

Using Faber-Castell Polychromos

On Daler Rowney HP 300GSM watercolour paper

Firm layers applied here in each sample show that adding the red has a much more dramatic darkening effect than just adding a dark green to the mixture.  The final layer of green brings back the overall appearance to green from a brownish tint

Latest revision October 2014

SEE ALSO the section on WORKING THE SURFACE for more detailed notes on managing the medium

For APPLICATION OF COLOUR from a Coloured Pencil Source using POWDERED PIGMENT,

                 See an item in ‘Backgrounds’  and also a further  item in ‘Working the Surface’

In the top left segment ,

I have used five blue pencils from the Caran d’Ache Pablo box and shaded first a layer of colour downwards in each column, and followed this by a shading ( in reverse order ) of the same colours across the grid.

I have named the rows and columns with the colour number to record what I have done.

This enables me to see the slight differences that result from applying two layers of similar colours in different orders.

If you wished to test up to four layers of colour, you could take layer 3 from the bottom of the grid and layer 4 from the right hand side, covering just half of each square

Possibly easier to see - as two colours are involved - is the bottom right hand segment of the matrix above, which mixes blues and yellows.

The scan dos not pick up the slight differences in the ‘yellow on yellow’ mixtures as yellow is not a strongly saturated colour - as distinct from blue, which is.

Remember that if you mix a highly saturated colour with a colour which has low saturation, the highly saturated one will quickly overpower the other.

You can see this in the way that the yellow makes little impact on the blue, ( above in columns 1 to 3 ) but the blue makes a major difference to the yellow

The original exercise copy also shows that yellow 021 has a fair amount of white which obscures the lower layer.  This doesn’t matter where we use it as the base colour ( in row 5 )  While Yellow 010 is far more transparent and gives a much more effective set of greens when applied over blue in the third row down.

I have stopped the shading of blue 170 in row five to show you how I have set about the original task, but you can easily see that the best green so far is the layering of the blue 170 over the yellow 010 in that the last complete box to be filled.   

It is also worth noting that the lower matrix shows up the lightening effect of using a lighter colour underneath.  Applying  yellow 240 over blue 370 produces a darker green on the first row of the lower matrix than using the same blue over the same yellow in the fourth row down ( both boxes highlighted ).

I discuss this further on the page of notes for colour matching.

A good rule to follow when mixing or layering colours ( it applies to all media ), is to look for the amount of secondary colours in the colours you have selected to mix.  To get a good green from yellow and blue, or a good purple from red and blue, look for the amount of the desired colour in the colours you are intending to mix.  For instance you will get a brighter green if you mix a greenish yellow with a greenish blue.  A brighter purple if you mix a bluish red with a reddish blue.   

If you go the other way and mix the less favoured choices -  mix a reddish blue with an orange yellow, for instance, your resulting green will be quite dull and possibly also dark, as there is little actual green in the original pigments.  This is the way to approach colour mixing. If you want bright colours, look for the amount of your end colour in the mixing elements. To get dark shadowed colours, incorporate the less favoured colours in your mixture and the complementary colours will darken the result.

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You may be interested in a set of printable notes in PDF format



Note :  these notes are an older version of the notes on this page