What are Some of the Challenges of Using Colored Pencils?

Updated by Brandon F. on March 21, 2023

Colored pencils can be a wonderful and rewarding artistic medium and the results can be truly breathtaking.  However, like many things in the art world, there can be some hurdles, especially when starting.  Understanding this upfront can help one to prepare and minimize the negative effects.  This can be especially helpful in beginner and classroom settings, but can also be applied to those more experienced.  Listed below or some of the more common challenges of using colored pencils.

Getting the “Perfect Blend” Can Be Difficult

There might be a particular color or intensity that you are striving for in your mind.  Unfortunately, the pencils at your disposal might not entirely be there so you are going to have to do some blending.  Depending on many factors such as the caliber of the pencil, the initial color selection, the pencil core material, and the level of experience, this could be laborious if not a seemingly impossible endeavor. 

Understanding this going in is very important.  It is essential to practice with the colored pencils at your disposal and learn their limits and capabilities.  And it is also important to realize and acknowledge when the set you are using just isn’t capable of certain things and either find another route or try a different set of colored pencils.

Want Deeper colors?  Prepare For Some Layers.

Many pencils (especially harder-cored, “budget” lines) may not put down very deep color on the first pass.  Because of this, multiple passes may be required to get the desired color depth you are after.  Remember not to push down extremely hard with your pencils because this will often result in a broken tip and even more frustration.  Put down a solid, firm layer and build from there with as many layers as you deem fit.

Erasing isn’t Necessarily the End-all Solution You Think of When You Hear the Word “Pencils” Thrown Around.

Most pencils (especially any oil-based and also many wax-based) will not easily erase.  There are some special “erasable” pencils such as the Prismacolor Col-Erase, but some might not easily remove color.  The best approach is to start light until you have a good foundation or idea of where you need to build your color and then apply the deeper tones.

Keeping a Sharp Point for the Intricate Areas Might be a Test of Patience.

More detail-oriented areas of a piece might require careful application and a small brush point.  This can be done by sharpening the pencil to a fine tip, allowing very narrow lines to be applied.  However, for many pencil lines, keeping this fine tip may prove to be very difficult.  Even the slightest application of pressure could easily break the tip, forcing you to head back to the sharpener. 

This annoyance can even extend to the sharpener, where getting that fight point before breakage might prove to be difficult if not impossible.  Certain pencil sets specialize in detailed areas of work via thin cores that can be easily sharpened to a fine point, so if you plan on having a lot of intricate details in your work then perhaps consider purchasing one of these.  But even in other artworks that don’t have as much detail, there are often opportunities to use these unique pencils in certain areas where more detail is necessary.

Wax Bloom Can be an Annoying Reality

Wax bloom is essentially the build-up of wax binder on the top layer of a work, which can create a cloudy haze over the color.  This is a very common issue with wax-based colored pencils.  Ways to avoid this include applying in lighter layers and there are also spray fixatives that you can apply that will seal in each layer which makes the underlying wax unable to surface.  That being said, some pencils will simply have more wax bloom than others.  So it is important to do your research before purchasing to see what the level of wax bloom will be.

Controlling the Water in Watercolors Takes Practice and Patience

The beautiful aspect of watercolor pencils is that, with the addition of water, the color can be evenly and dynamically spread across great regions, allowing for interesting color schemes and great area blending.  The problem is that controlling this can be a test of patience! 

The best approach is to start small: apply a tiny amount of water to the color and see what that does with the color.  If you wish to spread the color out more or lighten up the color additionally then add a bit more water.  Each watercolor pencil line is going to vary in terms of its responsiveness and sensitivity to water so practice and more practice is the most viable approach.

These are a few of the common obstacles that may exist with colored pencils, but fear not!  All can be overcome and learning how to work around and even master these and the other challenges is part of what makes it fun and rewarding!  Despite these minor inconveniences, the pros far outweigh the cons and these should not scare any interested beginner from diving into this wonderful art!

For some more common mistakes that people may commit when starting out using colored pencils, check out this helpful Youtube video below:

Finally, if you wish to continue this discussion, tons of art forums talk about using colored pencils and how to best handle challenging areas.  Here is a link to one example.

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