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Tips for Shading With Colored Pencils

One look at my bedspread would be enough to tell you that I love colors – all of the colors, at the same time. In fact, my whole room is pretty colorful. Throughout college I took notes with different colored gel pens, and at work I post my daily fun fact on my whiteboard in a different color every day. It should be no surprise to anyone that I also love drawing with colored pencils. Shading with colored pencils presents a challenge because of their waxy consistency. Colored pencil resists smudging with one’s thumb, my preferred method of shading with standard pencils. Fortunately, there are some tips for shading with colored pencils that will have you shading like a pro in no time!


1. Hold the pencil sideways so the greatest area of the tip is in contact with the paper.

This position allows you the control to lay down a very light base of color which you can then layer on top of until you have achieved the desired hue. It also allows for smooth color and minimizes unsightly lines.

2. Practice by shading two contrasting colors into one another.

For example, take your red pencil and your green pencil. Starting with the red pencil, shade from left to right, dark to light. Next, take your green pencil and shade from right to left, dark to light. Work on blending them as seamlessly as possible where they meet in the middle.

3. Master the art of burnishing.

Use a very light or colorless blender or a paper stump tool to smooth out colors and minimize the appearance of pencil strokes. This will work better than your thumb, as well as giving you more control.

4. When creating highlights and shadows, avoid the temptation to use black and white.

Sticking to black and white for all of your shadow and highlight needs can leave a picture looking flat. Dark blues, purples, and indigo make for a richer shadow, while very pale golds and yellows make for warmer highlights.

5. Blot, don’t rub, with your eraser.

Rubbing colored pencil will do more harm than good, grinding colors into the page rather than removing them. For more control and a cleaner page, press a kneaded eraser like this one on the area and then carefully peel it off, the same way you did with Silly Putty and the Sunday comics as a kid.

Additional Resources:

If you’re like me, you could probably use some more visual explanations. I recommend…

This tutorial on DeviantArt
This detailed video on YouTube
This article with great example pictures, and
This Pinterest board with even more resources to explore

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