Review of Project 3 – Colour Pencils


When I started this project, colour pencils wasn’t something I was looking forward to. Matter of fact I was apprehensive – past experiences were that they’re a very labour intensive medium requiring a lot of patience and time.

An old design a created using layered colour pencils

Even when I did a search online for colour pencil art I was suprised that practically all results were tightly rendered drawings –meticulously blended and layered to an inch of its life.

I dont mind realism in art and do appreciate that for some people this technique is a very meditative, zen-like thing. The love and care that goes into them is also unquestionable. Sure there were some abstract examples but they were still heavily blended, layered drawings that saturated the entire page with colour. This isn’t a crticism, just an observation. 

It was perplexing because I expected a wider range of styles and techniques in my search results. For instance a search on watercolour art or dip pen & ink art still presented a decent amount of examples that weren’t so traditional in their approach.

Which I feel is a bit of a shame as having spent time playing around with them it became immediate to me that they are a far more versatile and exciting medium than what is shown. 

Using colour pencils as flat bold shapes.

There is a beautiful intensity to the colours and the swiftness in which you can lay down consistent colour is an advantage. Paints and brushes need to be mixed and cleaned repeatedly, and even mediums like markers can start off super-charged bleeding with colour, but will eventually wane and become streaky.

Creating texture and movement by varying the pencil work

I don’t even think it matters greatly in regards to the quality or brand of pencil. All the sets I had, ranging from kids to professional worked well. The only quality concern I had was in some of my Derwent Rexel Cumberland pencils dirt particles in the lead left a scratchy result.

The actual shape or diameter of the pencil itself matters. For some reason, colour pencils are more physically taxing on your hand than graphite, so finding one that feels comfortable to use would be a better investment. Paper, I believe, should be at least proper drawing paper like cartridge, not bank or layout. 

My pencil stash for this project.

Spending the day learning from the works of Paul Klee was fundamental in freeing my mind of how colours can be used. It’s a great warm up exercise for any kind of colour exploration, not just pencil – graphic design, sewing or even ideas for landscape gardening! Definitely beneficial for artist’s block.

Klee inspired colour exploration.

However, the most satisfying results came when I stopped seeing it as a ‘colouring-in’ medium but more as a drawing tool. I started using them with the same headspace as I if were using a graphite pencil or a pen to draw with. For instance if I saw some blue light reflected off a surface I would ‘draw’ it in rather than softly and neatly merge it into its neighbouring colours or colour in a designated space. 


What I like about this technique is that it keeps a lot of the colours clean and pure and allows your eye to optically mix them, a bit like a Seurat or a Pointilist painting. It also allows the paper to come through and what that does is it let’s the drawing breathe. It gives it animation, life, vitality. 

That was another observation I found in a lot of existing colour pencil work. There’s not much of a symbiotic relationship with the paper and the artwork. It’s merely a surface in which to execute your art. If that doesn’t make sense, again I’ll use the example of watercolour art, where the paper can be used as a compositional element.

Mixed media – watercolour base, colour pencil detailing.

When I used them in combination with watercolours they also showed that even used sparingly they can be elegant, subtle and still be the main attraction. 


Towards the end I felt really comfortable using colour pencils and rather enjoyed them. I came up with some pieces that I’m really proud of, surprised at even. They will definitely make more of an appearance in my work from now on. I wish I had more time to play around with them as my happy results have only led to more ideas and thoughts. Well, I’ll definitely wont let them collect dust anymore!

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4 thoughts on “Review of Project 3 – Colour Pencils

  1. Yes, I can so relate to the search of google and being hit with nothing but realism drawing. It just limits the capabilities of pencils, it doesn’t elevate them as a go-to tool for art.
    I’ve often pined for coloured pencil abstract art and it is out there, but geez do you have to search hard to find it.

    Coloured pencils are my favourite medium, and even after all these years, I’m still learning new techniques to try. They consistently please me, and we’ve got many years together yet. I love how you pushed in to test their capabilities for yourself, your findings have been really insightful. Well done on another awesome article xx

    1. Hi Chrissie, Thanks for the comments. I’m so glad you agree with me, sometimes I think I’m being a cynical old fart but yeah I found it frustrating when I tried searching for different pencil techniques only to find the same processes.

  2. Thanks for another insightful post. I found that I really responded to the pencils when I was using some of the grey and beige papers. There was a more interesting interplay than when I used white paper. The one pencil I continue to use(as do a number of other people) is a multicolour pencil. This goes suprisingly well with watercolour.

    1. Hi Leonie, I have to admit I have steered clear of tinted paper, not sure why. I think I dont know how to use it best or the desire to just shade every section in is too strong! Yes, I do like multicolour pencils, only used it a couple of times but they are fun!

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