7 Cool Colored Pencil Techniques to Teach Your Students

Colored pencils are a fun and versatile media. They’re great for capturing fine detail and give the artist a great degree of control. Sometimes they can be pigeonholed as time-consuming or requiring lots of patience, but it all depends on your approach. With the right techniques, colored pencils can work easily for almost any age level with stunning results.

Read on for seven great colored pencil techniques your students will love.

colored pencils with shavings

1. Burnishing

Build up light layers of color using any type of mark making until all of the paper is covered and the surface appears waxy and smooth.

2. Scraping

Use an X-ACTO knife on a burnished surface to scrape away areas of pigment. This works well for capturing fine details, like individual hairs, or as a means of removing color to re-work a problem area.

3. Directional Lines

Draw lightly in one direction in swift, even strokes. Layer colors to add complexity and depth. This is an excellent technique for any object with a distinct linear quality, like draped fabric, grass, or hair.

4. Scumbling

Move the pencil in circular marks, layering color as you go. This technique is very versatile, working well to create distinct texture or smooth, blended areas.

5. Crosshatching

Lay down a layer of directional lines, then go over the same area with lines in the opposite direction. This is another great technique to create texture.

6. Baby Oil or Rubbing Alcohol

Add a small amount of baby oil or rubbing alcohol to a cotton ball and rub over areas you want to blend. The trick to making this work is to make sure you use just a bit of the blender on the cotton ball. For small areas, try a Q-tip instead.

7. Watercolor Wash

Tape your paper to your work surface to prevent curling. Then, cover big areas with a light watercolor wash. After your paper is totally dry, layer colored pencil over the background color for awesome results in less time.

There are so many different effects you can create. Don’t be afraid to try out other mixed media combinations as well. For example, a white gel pen or white acrylic paint can be a great way to add highlights to finished work. The possibilities really are endless, so make sure to encourage experimentation!

And, if you’re looking to learn about and explore even more innovative drawing techniques, be sure to take a peek at the AOE course Studio: Drawing. You’ll walk away with the inspiration to rethink how you teach drawing. Plus, you’ll get to try out new techniques as you create your own work!

If you’d like to use these techniques in your classroom, feel free to download the handy guide below!

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What colored pencil tips, tricks or techniques do you love? Tell us in the comments!

Melissa Purtee

Melissa teaches at Apex High School in North Carolina and is the author of The Open Art Room. She’s passionate about supporting diversity, student choice, and facilitating authentic expression.

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  • Melissa M Gilbertsen

    Thanks for the handy and timely pdf! Going to try the bb oil for sure. I did it with oil pastels and it was the bomb. I’ll introduce these and see what they think :)

    A related question I have to colored pencils: BRAND? Okay, limited budget be darned! I buy 10 sets of prismacolors because they are just tasty. The way they lay down on even black paper is delish. BUT! The price is hard to stomach so I’ve been researching other quality brands that are comparable. 200 students a day and while I only drag them out for specific projects they get used up pdq. So I bought the Koh-I-Noor woodless colored pencils as the lovely lady at Deep Space Sparkle suggested. No wood = more lead, yea! BUT they are brittle more so than I had thought possible! Arrgh! (How does she manages with k-6 and these?) In desperation I wrapped every pencil in tape so it would hopefully last longer. My middles know these are precious so they are pretty vigilant especially since the color is so vibrant and they care about having good materials. But are there other suggestions? I’ve heard warming them in an oven to keep the lead from breaking works…but nervous to try it. Anyone who has? I’m just trying to find a happy medium (literally) between cost and quality so I can have more quantity! Any ideas would be much appreciated!

    • I use Prisma Scholars – it’s so tough deciding what to buy!

    • Becky Lee

      I baked all my prisma colors before my color pencil projects this year and it worked great. I wrapped them up in batches in aluminum foil and did it during one of my high school classes (they have 70 minute classes). It went pretty quickly, and my students got a kick out of me baking pencils.

      • Melissa Gilbertsen

        Awesome – will give it a try on my prismacolors…not sure what to do about the dang woodless ones 😨! At what degree and how long did you cook them? Thanks!

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