Colored pencils are very versatile tools of creativity. I can create a lot of superb images using colored pencils – if I know how to use them right. Even if I only had a few colored pencils, I can have the capacity to create thousands of colors through colored pencil combination techniques. Here’s how to mix colored pencils and create artwork like a pro.
Even though colored pencils are tools of the creative, it takes some technical knowledge to work with them. I had to learn the different parts of the pencils, the various substances used to create some of the parts, and what techniques work best with those substances.
Different Parts of Colored Pencils
There are four major parts of a colored pencil. These parts are the wood casing, the colorant (pigment or dye), binders, and extenders. For the purposes of learning how to mix colored pencils, I only have to be familiar with the colorant, binders, and extenders.
The colorants of a colored pencil are either pigments or dyes. The difference is that pigments are insoluble while dyes are soluble in a solvent (usually water). Because pigments are insoluble, they need a carrier to be suspended in, this is usually water.
The type of colorant used in a colored pencil affects how it draws. Most professional colored pencils use pigments instead of dye. Pigments have a higher resistance to lightfastness than dyes.
Lightfastness describes the rate of fading of a substance when exposed to light.
The rays of light, especially the ultraviolet rays (UV rays) of the sun, break down the color of dyes and pigments. But pigments can better resist this damaging effect. However, some artists can use the lightfastness properties of dyes to create unique artworks. But I prefer pigments because they maintain their vibrancy.
As I mentioned above, pigments require a carrier. Usually, the carrier of pigments is water (e.g., markers). But in the case of colored pencils, the pigments are suspended in binders.
Binders hold the pigment particles and keep them from falling apart from the pencil. There are different types of binders, but they can be categorized as either wax-based or oil-based.
Wax-based binders give excellent coverage. However, they are generally softer than oil-based binders. The softness in wax-based binders has its pros and cons. Pro, it can leave more pigment on paper. Con, it breaks easier and leaves debris on a page if too much pressure is applied to the paper.
Oil-based binders are more durable. They do not break as easily.
Knowing the different types of binders is essential when mixing colored pencils.
How to Mix Colored Pencils Techniques
There are two primary ways to mix and blend colored pencils. There’s layering, smudging, and blending with solvents. The substances used for the pencils affect the outcome of the different methods.
Layering is the only method of mixing and blending colored pencils that do not involve other materials. This method is the easiest to do, at least it is for me.
Mix colored pencil strokes by overlapping lightly applied layers of different colors. It is best to lightly apply the colors at first because it is harder to balance the colors if you applied the first color too heavily.
I suggest colored pencils with either a lower concentration of pigments combined with an oil-based binder for the first layers. This combination results in a hard lead core that does not give a very vibrant color. Of course, as your expertise and skill in controlling the strokes grow, you can use brighter colored pencils.
One tool that can help with layering is a colorless blending pencil. It helps blend the colors without adding more pigments to them.
Smudging requires other tools to help mix colored pencils. The tools can be tissue paper, another piece of paper, cotton swabs, or a tortillon – a common blending stump usually used for charcoal.
The first step of smudging is applying a thick layer of pigment on the paper. Then use the smudging tool of your choice to wipe, or smudge, the pigment lightly. Apply another color of pigment on top of the first layer and smudge again. These steps will result in a blended combination of the two pigments.
In my opinion, smudging is a more complicated technique to master for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that smudging requires control over not just the pencils but also the smudging tools.
Layering only requires mastery over colored pencils.
The next reason is that it can be challenging to get the right amount of pigment on the paper. For smudging to work, there should be enough pigment on the paper. You will need colored pencils with soft cores (wax-based binders) and a high concentration of pigment.
I prefer to use layering because it’s slower and easier to manage. There are other methods of blending colored pencils. These methods involve solvents. But these methods are too advanced. I suggest mastering these basic blending techniques first.
Conclusion: Mixing and Blending Colored Pencils Like a Pro Takes Practice
Using colored pencils is an art form – literally. And with any form of art, it takes a lot of effort to practice to improve and become a pro. The two techniques I discussed here are the easiest. Coupled with the proper technical knowledge of what colored pencils are made of, you can better understand how the tools work.
My two go-to methods on how to mix colored pencils are layering and blending. And by experimenting with different combinations of pigments and binders, I can create well-blended and fantastic drawings.