Layering: How to master it as a coloured pencil artist

color pencils
Photo by Boris Maric on

I have been using coloured pencils as my go-to medium of choice for a few years now. In the beginning I found the layering process the most difficult to master. But with lots of practice I think that I have it nailed.

It doesn’t matter what skill you want to master, the same thing applies:


And that is what I did. I followed other coloured pencil artists and learned from them. Now I am able to share what I have learnt with you guys so that you can master layering too.

Here is what I have learnt

  1. Don’t use too much pressure in the beginning.
    1. This was a major problem for me when I first started out. I was pressing too hard with my coloured pencils. Doing this made it difficult to add more layers on top because I was flattening the tooth of the paper.
    2. You need to hold your pencil almost flat to the paper and near the top of the barrel, and go gently.
    3. You can press harder later when you get to the blending stage. Also, doing this reduces the dreaded wrist ache.
  2. Go from light to dark.
    1. It makes so much sense to start with the lightest colour first and build up the layers ending with the darkest. It also helps to eliminate the possibility of getting darker pigment onto the lightest parts of your drawing.
      1. Although, I always shade in the darkest of the dark parts of the drawing first, at the very beginning and then start the lighter layers. I learnt this technique from a tutorial by Kirsty Partridge. I find that blocking out the dark parts first helps me to see the shape of the drawing and also adds more depth later on.
    2. When you get used to using the lightest of layers you will start to notice a change in the feel of the pigment on the paper. At first you will be able to feel the tooth of the paper, almost like a scratchy feel. But as you build up more layers, it will feel smoother and you will know when it is time to blend or burnish.
  3. Keep your pencils sharp.
    1. By keeping your pencils super sharp you are able to control the pigment better, especially in the beginning stages when holding the pencil flatter to the paper.
    2. I have tried so many pencil sharpeners in the past but the ones that stand out the most and give me the best results (almost no lead breakages) have been the Derwent Superpoint and the Derwent Pastel. I use the Superpoint for all my pencils but the pastel comes in handy for those pencils that have gotten too small.
  4. Study your reference image closely.
    1. It may look, at first glance, to be of one colour but I assure you it is not.
      1. For example: If you are drawing a strawberry. You will see that it is not just one shade of red but different shades and hues of said red. SEE IMAGE BELOW As you can see from the image of the strawberry, there are light red tones (almost pinks), mid tones and dark tones that match the image colours. Finding these colours helps to give your drawing more depth when blending out and a realistic look.
  1. Hold your pencil right.
    1. As I have said previously, when adding those important first layers you don’t want to be adding too much pressure.
    2. Holding your pencil further up the barrel will help in preventing you from being too heavy handed in the beginning. You just can’t get this sort of loose control if you are holding the pencil too close to the nib. You will hold it further down the barrel when you are ready to blend or burnish.
  2. Using lots of light layers will eventually start filling in all of the tooth of the paper (no white bits showing through). This results in a more saturated look. Think of it as the colour gently whispering across the texture of the paper.
  3. Know your strokes.
    1. Using small circular strokes is the best technique to use when building up layers so as not to create noticeable edges and stop-start lines (unless that is the effect you want to achieve). You can use other strokes too like back and forth strokes or flicks, depending on the drawing and the effect you want. For example, when drawing fur, hair, grass etc.
  4. Get the paper right.
    1. Always choose the right paper for your drawing methods. See: All about paper for the coloured pencil artist
    2. Trust me this makes a huge difference in how your art will look.
      1. Think of it this way: The more tooth means more layers, which equals better saturation.
      2. And ideally: The paper should be heavy enough to take many layers of colours. Smooth enough to get some details in, but have enough tooth to be able to get a good amount of depth from the layers.
  5. Colour choice.
    1. Don’t always assume that using black will darken and create depth and shadows. Use a colour on the opposite side of the colour wheel for the darkest areas.
    2. For example: if you are using reds to shade in the strawberry that we mentioned earlier, then opt for a dark green as the shaded area of the drawing and layer the lighter reds over it. This will give it depth and realism. Try it out it really does make a difference.
Colour wheel example

I hope that these tips have helped you with your layering attempts. If you would like more hints and tips then come and join us at:


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