While I’ve titled this as “mistakes” I should start by saying that unless you’re creating work using methods that are not archival, I really don’t think there are mistakes IF you like the results that you’re getting. It’s art, there is no right or wrong way to create. That said, if you are not happy with the results you’re getting, these are the top 5 reasons I often see new artists unhappy with their work.
Not Enough Layers
This is probably the most common thing I see, especially when trying to blend with Odorless Mineral Spirits (OMS). If you do not have enough pigment on your paper from the pencil, the OMS can’t really do it’s job. I generally add 3-5 layers of colored pencil in any given area before I blend with the OMS. If you only add one light layer, then the OMS has nothing to work with.
Pushing Too Hard With The Pencils Too Soon
The paper that we draw on has what is called tooth. This is the nooks and crannies of the paper. If you push too hard with the pencil you flatten the tooth of the paper out. With paper that is too flat, there is nothing for the pencil to grip to so it can’t take additional layers well. This is often called “burnishing”, where you are essentially polishing the pencil on the paper to a slick smooth surface. It’s tempting to do to get rid of the white dots of the paper showing through, but be careful of doing this early in a piece. Now that’s not to say you will never add pressure with the pencil, I generally start to burnish my work on my final layers. If you keep a light hand, getting 20 or so layers of colored pencil should be no problem for you (depending on the paper you use of course). One of the great things about blending with OMS instead of burnishing is that you’re not damaging your paper as you blend! This allows even more layers!
Some pencils, like prismacolor premier are very waxy and you have to be especially careful not to burnish too soon because of it. The wax bloom can make it hard to layer, but this gets far worse if you burnish too soon. The OMS will help remove some of this wax, but it’s best to just start with a light hand in the beginning.
Not Keeping The Pencils Sharp Enough
Remember the tooth of the paper we talked about? If your pencils are not quite sharp enough, they can’t get into those nooks and crannies! If you keep your pencil very sharp this will help avoid having so much of the white paper show which gives you a much smoother, much more even coverage!
Using Paper That Is Not Right For The Results You Want
The paper can matter just as much as the type of pencils you use! If you want a lot of layers, paper that is too smooth, like Bristol Vellum, can prevent you from getting the layers and color saturation you are looking for. Everyone will have their preferences so there is no one right or wrong answer to the type of paper you choose, but if you aren’t getting the results you want, you may want to try a different type. I prefer paper that is heavier weight. The lightest I use is around 90lb. Even with me I don’t have a single paper I always use, it depends on the techniques I plan on using.
Here are a few that I currently use that work well for my techniques:
- Fabriano Artistico Extra White Hot Pressed Watercolor Paper, 140lb
- Stonehenge in fawn or white sold in the large individual sheets (the ones sold in pads are too smooth for my taste)
- Canson Mi-Tientes in various colors. Remember, you will get the most true/vivid colors on white paper, but other colors like black can have some interesting results.
Calling The Work Finished Too Soon, or Rushing The Work
Colored pencil is a very slow medium to work in. You need to be very well aware of this to start with. We don’t have large paint brushes to cover large areas like when painting. We have a tiny tip of a pencil. To top it off we generally want to add many layers. If you’re working on an 11×14″ drawing, it’s not going to be done in a day or two. This will likely take you a week or two instead! SLOW DOWN! Take your time and pay attention to your reference photo. My first few hours of work on any given area will look like a child’s drawing. Does that mean that it’s bad or wrong? No! It’s just not finished yet. Spend longer on your work!!
Watch the direction of your pencil strokes! They matter!! If you’re working that pencil in straight lines going every which direction, it’s not going to look realistic in the end. Those pencil strokes will show. Instead try working your pencil in smaller oval shapes overlapping one oval into the next. This will give you much smoother, more even results!
Starting With A Bad Drawing
It doesn’t matter how awesome your blending and layering skills are if you start with an inaccurate drawing, your end result will not be realistic. Colored pencil is not the most forgiving medium. If you think something looks off in your drawing but assume you can just fix it when you start coloring, you will be in for a sad surprise! That drawing needs to be perfect to set yourself up for success. With how slow colored pencil is to complete, you don’t want to spend 5 or 6 hours and realize that something is totally off. Take whatever time necessary to make sure your initial drawing is EXACTLY how you want it before those colored pencils ever go near the paper!!