How to “Paint” with Colored Pencils

If you want to make a transition from drawing realistically with graphite pencils to drawing realistically with colored pencils, then it is natural to want to maintain the “realistic” aspect of your work.

That said, it can be a challenge to make drawings look real with colored pencils.

Yes, it is true that they add color to your work. However, colored pencils, as versatile as they can be, are still a far cry from being able to mimic an exact representation of the vast array of colors portrayed in real life or in a photograph.

Even so, there is a lot you can do with colored pencils to get a look that is at least closer to a “realistic” look. For example, have you ever thought about “painting” with colored pencils?

Burnishing…the Art of Painting with Pencils

You may be thinking, “It’s impossible to paint using colored pencils!”

The reason I bring up painting is because out of all the art mediums, paint is the one most closely associated with the most realistic works of art.

Now since the focus of this lesson is on the medium of colored pencils, wouldn’t it be cool if we could achieve an effect similar to painting with our colored pencils?

It is quite possible to achieve such an effect using the technique of burnishing.

Burnishing is a special process that allows you to create colored pencil drawings that resemble paintings. When you burnish, you are actually layering colored pencils in order to make a solid area of pigment. The burnishing process takes away the texture made by the drawing surface and leaves a result that looks similar to a painting.

How to Burnish

There are several different ways you can burnish your colored pencil drawings. For now, I am going to share two of those ways. Don’t worry…they are both effective and easy to implement!

For these examples, I used Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils. However, you can use these techniques with other brands as well.

The first technique involves identifying the area you want to burnish and layering it with a white colored pencil. As you can see in the example below, the box on the left contains only the original color (Prismacolor True Blue – PC903) and is not burnished. The box on the right contains the True Blue after it has been burnished with White (PC938). You should use heavy pressure with your White pencil when burnishing.

true blue white

The second technique involves doing the same thing as the first; only instead of using white to burnish, you will use what is called a Colorless blender (PC1077). A colorless blender is a special kind of pencil that has a binder inside of it (just like all colored pencils) but lacks the pigment that the binder is meant to hold together. You can find them sold individually or as part of a colored pencil accessory set. Here is what a colorless blender looks like:

colorless blender

As you can see in the example below, the box on the left contains only True Blue and is not burnished. The box on the right contains the True Blue after it has been burnished with the colorless blender. Again, you should use heavy pressure.

true blue colorless blender

Which Technique Is Best?

You might notice that with both techniques, the True Blue experiences a change in value after being burnished.

true blue white and colorless blender

You might also notice that the white has a much greater effect on the change in value while the colorless blender’s effect on value change is not as noticeable. You will have to decide what kind of effect you are going for, and that will help you decide on which technique to use.

Drawing, Coloring, and Painting

Not only is burnishing similar to painting, but it is also similar to the blending process of graphite pencils. Just like smoothing and blending out the graphite helps our black and white pencil art look more realistic, the burnishing process smooths and blends out the colors in our colored pencil art.

Now you can see that with the help of burnishing, art drawn in colored pencils can appear even more like paintings. So the next time you “draw” in colored pencil, remember to try out one or both of these burnishing techniques and “paint” in colored pencil instead!

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