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Five Top Tips for Beginners Starting Their Coloured Pencil Journey

Something people often comment on is how challenging my portraits must be to draw, but actually, they’re not as tricky as some may think. I feel that, by following certain steps anyone can create a beautiful piece of art. So, for all of those people out there thinking “I couldn’t do that”, “that’s beyond my skillset”, here are my five top tips that will send you on your way to creating coloured pencil drawings that you can be truly proud of.
 
The Right Materials

It probably sounds obvious, but making sure you have the right tools in your toolbox is the most important aspect of drawing. The pencils, paper, and even the eraser you use will have a huge impact on the final outcome of your drawing. To help you get started on the right footing, I’d recommend making sure you have the following materials available:

  • Coloured Pencils - There’s such a huge amount available. To make it easier, I have a core list available to download here.
  • Paper - As long as it’s archival and acid free you can use whatever paper you wish. I have my favourites, of course, but I feel it’s important for a new artist to try as many surfaces as possible to get the feeling for what works best for them. Some of my favourites include Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Derwent Lightfast, Grafix Drafting Film, but a pad of heavy weight cartridge paper will also be perfect.
  • Eraser - Very important for managing those little mishaps, but also amazing for actually adding to your coloured pencils drawings. You can choose from a huge amount of erasers, but my favourites are Faber Castell Kneadable Eraser, Tombow Mono 2.3mm Eraser, Derwent Pencil Eraser.
  • Pencil Sharpener - There are a huge variety of sharpeners available from handheld to crank to electric. My preferences are the Swordfish Curve Crank, and the Swordfish Multi Point Electric.

 

A Subject to Draw

I’m a "jump in at the deep end" kind of girl! I always have been, that’s just my personality. So, for me it’s about choosing an image that really sings to me, that really makes me catch my breath and that I just have to draw. Choosing an image that really stands out is one of the best things you can do.

If you are very new to drawing, you may find it a little less daunting to maybe follow an artist on YouTube, or join an artist’s Patreon or teaching channel. There are many amazing artists out there who have some fabulous free tutorials available. This is usually the starting point for many, and will give you an idea of how to use your pencils, a subject to draw if you can’t choose, and will allow you to see first hand the techniques that coloured pencil artists use. And, we are all different, so watching as many different artists as possible is a great idea, as one technique may suit you more than another. Here’s a link to a full tutorial on YouTube of my beautiful Deerhound Vinnie. 

 

Learn the Basics
  • Use a sharp pencil for smooth paper and tiny details like eyes, a more dull pencil for more toothy papers like pastelmat or sanded paper and, would you believe it, a dull pencil for drafting film.
  • Layer light to dark. Because of how coloured pencils work, especially on smooth paper, it is very tricky to get light colours over the top of dark. So, start with your lights and work up to your darks.
  • Get your dark-darks in very early! This will then set the scene for your tonal values throughout the piece.
  • Remember the most important part of your drawing are the tonal values. Those are your shadows, highlights and the bits in between, which are called your midtones. These tonal values are far more important than your details and colour.
  • Pencil pressure - you will naturally have a certain pressure that you’ll feel comfortable with straight away. There is no right or wrong way of doing something, however, if you use light pressure, you will get more clarity of colour, if you go wrong it’s easier to erase, and it’s much much kinder to your wrists!
  • When drawing animals, remember your pencil strokes are basically the same as the animals hairs - so make sure you go with the direction of the hair grown, and pay particular attention to the length. Labrador hair equals short, Yorkshire Terrier equals long. 

Mini tip: Make yourself comfortable! If you’re anything like me, you could be sitting drawing for a good few hours. A comfy seat and a well-positioned table will be your best friends! I like to draw on a 60° angle and I have a fully adjustable chair. I use the Secret Labs chair, and it’s the best one I’ve had so far.

 

Keep Learning as You Go

As I’ve found for me and many of my students, you can never stop improving and growing as an artist. There is so much to learn, so many great techniques to help you master your artwork, and so many ways to keep developing your drawings.

Patreon is a great platform for artists wanting to expand their skill set. With an abundance of tutorials, you can really drill down and hone your skills, learning from other artists like me who specialise in the type of work you’re hoping to improve on. And the best bit? Entering the world of Patreon is like entering one great big, supportive community. It gives you a chance to meet other link-minded individuals who share your passion for art, start a conversation and get other people’s opinions and suggestions on your latest project, and even have your artwork critiqued by artists like me to help you continue to improve.

If you think Patreon might be useful, you can sign up to my page here.

I have four tiers, each offering slightly more than the last. Tier one is perfect if you want to dip your toe in or if you are a beginner. You’ll get access to my focus videos to help you improve your skills on parts of animals, like fur types, eyes, ears, some white on black pieces, and my beginner tutorials all for just £5 a month.

And, as a handy little extra, you’ll be able to join my Patreon Facebook Group and Discord chat group, which allows you to share your work and also see how other people are developing their own.

 

Have Confidence!

Possibly the most important item on this list, and I know something that many artists really struggle with, is confidence and self-belief. It should be easy, shouldn’t it? But, in joining the art world you become part of a huge network of artists at all stages of their development. You are constantly reminded of how brilliant some artists are, and this can be where you start to feel a little intimidated. Having those feelings of yes, the green eyed monster - and we all have those feelings - is a very natural thing, but embracing that feeling for too long can be really detrimental to your development and confidence.

So, my suggestion is to feel jealous for five minutes, then turn that feeling around to admiration, inspiration and aspire to be as good as those more experienced artists. This will have a great effect on your confidence, switching your mind set from “oh I’ll never be as good as” to “wow, I’m going to really work and develop to be this good” is a much more positive way of thinking.

Mini tip: For every negative thought you have, counter it with three positive ones. It’s hard, I know! We are oh so good at berating ourselves, but focusing on positivity can only have a beneficial effect on confidence and self-belief. And, if you’re brave, say it out loud in front of a mirror!

 

So, there you have it. All you need to get you on your way to becoming a coloured pencil artist. If you’re feeling ready to get started, I have some great free resources waiting for you on my new website to give you an extra push. And, if you decide to sign up to my Patreon, don’t forget to send me and my followers updates on how you’re getting along with your drawings. We always love to welcome someone new into our little community and to see them progress in their work.  
Best of luck!
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