Colored Pencil: The Only 4 Tips You Really Need

Personally I'm a Prismacolor man, but there are several brands of good quality colored pencils on the market. No matter which one you choose there are only 4 tips you really need to get started:
1) Work Slow The first time I tried Prismacolors (many years ago) I ended up with an awful waxy mess. I wondered how anyone could possibly use these things. The truth is I was building up the layers way too fast and using too much pressure. Build up your colors in slow, even layers and not a whole lot of pressure on the pencil.

2) Keep Your Pencils Sharp, Sharp, Sharp This will help you work in finer and more even layers. Buy an electric pencil sharpener and use it - often. When the sharpener no longer gives you a nice sharp point, buy a new one and give the old one away (it will still be adequate for normal use). As for the pencils, there are colors you will use up quicker than others so I recommend buying a brand that is available open stock.

3) Layer Color Colored pencils are semi-transparent. You can create rich, painterly colors by layering multiple colors. For example, layering Canary Yellow and Olive Green (left) gives a more vibrant color than using Limepeel Green alone (right).

Layering Copenhagen Blue with Crimson Lake gives a rich deep maroon.
4) Work On Colored Paper This suggestion was kindly made by one of my professors after he saw my pitiful first attempt at colored pencil. Working on colored paper cuts your time down. It's quicker to build up darks and you can draw in highlights rather than working around them as you would on white paper. I like Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper (use the smooth side) or mat board that doesn't have a heavy texture.

a second attempt (after my professor straightened me out)
Prismacolors on Burgundy Canson Mi-Tientes, 13" x 18"

So keep these 4 tips in mind - work slow, keep your pencils sharp, layer color and try working on colored paper - who knows, colored pencil might become your medium of choice.

Additional Information:
If colored pencil does become your medium of choice, you might consider joining the Colored Pencil Society of America. You can find out more about the organization at

I was really inspired when the same professor mentioned above loaned me Finishing the Hat by Bill Nelson. I instantly fell for Nelson's illustrations and his masterful use of colored pencil. Although Finishing the Hat is no longer in print, as of this writitng, it is still available used through Amazon at a reasonable price. You can see Bill Nelson's work at Worth a visit!