How to Draw Using Coloured Pencils

We’re all mad for art, and are always looking on ways to learn new skills and experiment with new mediums. We’ve spoken to artist Peter Nelson about his work, and have asked for an introduction to using coloured pencils.


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This project is based on a new theme – The Old Post Office, inspired by my move to a beautiful old sixteenth century cottage with a Victorian frontage which had been an old shop and post office up to the late 20th century. The property has a beautiful rustic garden, giving a fantastic variety of painting and drawing subjects.

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The composition chosen originated from an old white shed door that had been repeatedly repaired and become overgrown. What drew me to this subject was the disused hinge that had broken away, the combination of weathered paint work and rust, set against the clean surface texture of the new Ivy. For the layout, I chose an angled projection of the hinge and door, to enhance the perspective and stop it from looking too regimental.

I decided to use a cartridge paper for this composition that had a slight textured surface, where the valley of the tooth being left white, would help with the rustic paint effect. 

I normally use a manual grid technique for the transfer of the image onto my paper, but have since found a small App called ‘Artgrid’ where you can select the picture size and orientation you wish. The grid size can then be selected and sketched on to your paper and the image transferred by hand. This I did with a graphite 2H pencil. Once done, I removed the grid layout using an electric eraser and lifted off the excessive graphite using BluTack.

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I used the midnight to lay down a dark undercoat. Also for the first time, I have experimented using a UniP/N fine line 0.1mm marker pen to highlight the fine line cracks and edges of the wood and paintwork. 

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From there I carried on with the shed wall around the hinge and Ivy leaves, proceeding with my experimentation and to find which colour combinations of the wood worked the best.

For the bare timber where the hinge has come away I’ve used the Artist range, Burnt Carmine and Burnt Umber, blended with the pen and dark pencils. For the painted timber grain contours I experimented using both the Coloursoft and Artist grey ranges.

Where the painted surface has been coated with sap from the leaves and surrounding vegetation, again I have used both the Coloursoft, Artist and Drawing ranges of pencils. I chose a wide range of greens, Sap, Cedar, Moss, Olive, May, Yellow Green and Olive Earth, together with the new dark Forest green.

In some instances, I highlighted the very dark areas using a mixture of yellow greens and dark Midnight blue. For the subtle back ground shades I have used pencils from the Coloursoft and Drawing ranges, Cloud Blue, Grey Lavender, Pale Lavender, Cool Grey, Crag Green and Green Shadow.

After trying these combinations I reverted back to my normal procedure and started working from the right hand side, covering the existing work with a clean sheet of white paper, to ensure I didn’t smudge the work or contaminate the paper with grease from my hand. 

The grain of the wood was highlighted next, using an Artist pencil Felt Grey to ensure the correct proportions and direction and flow of grain, especially where the grain passed across the tongued and grooved edges and under the hinge. The fine textured cracks and holes etc in the paint along the grain and edges of the hinge were highlighted and drawn using the fine liner pen and these were very helpful to ensure the lines were laid down correctly.

The angular indentation of the wood grain lines were applied using the blunt flat edge of the pencil, not the pencil point. Depending on the flow and contours of the grain the pencil application technique varied from a straight line, to a circular scribble motion, varying the pressure on application, this produced the grain line base.

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To make the wood grain and blistering paint stand out shadows were required along these lines and this was done using the sharp chiselled edge or point of Coloursoft Persian grey. The vegetation build up on the paint surface was again applied with the various greens and blues, using a pointed pencil with a stipple and scribble technique. To highlight the small holes and paint cracks drawn with the pen, the colour pencils were lifted off with an electric eraser, then shadow areas applied, to make a raised paintwork effect.

All the tongued and grooved panels have been drawn using the techniques detailed above. The hinge is similar but where the paint has fallen away, the metal has oxidised, leaving beautiful rust colours on the bare metal and staining the wood and paint work. The screw heads and the peeling paintwork, were detailed and highlighted using the pen and dark pencils.

As the protected paint surface breaks down and the metal is exposed to the elements, it creates a beautiful rust surface. Because of the structure of steel, the surface breaks down unevenly giving a multitude of beautiful varying depths of brown, gold, orange and yellow colours. As the particles break away they are washed out by the rain, on to the surrounding areas, staining the paint and wood.

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The pencils used for the rust effect were a combination of Coloursoft and Artist pencils, Pimento, Mid Terracotta, Bright and Pale Orange, Scarlet, Cranberry, Sunset Gold and Burnt Yellow Ochre. On the bare metal parts, I didn’t layer these colours all together, but started with the Pimento and Terracotta at the edges, next the Bright Orange and Scarlet, finishing with the golds and Ochre and finally I used the Cranberry for depth. All were applied with a scribble action to give a pitted effect to the metal surface.

These washed out areas are drawn in a layer format, starting with the pen, Dark Midnight and Raven and then, as above, the Pimento, Terracotta etc, enabling the intensity and depth of colour to graduate out. As you can see they were applied after the paint surface shadow texture was complete. Where these areas come into contact with vegetation, leaves etc, then sap colours are added to enhance the colours and shadows even further.

The swivel section of the hinge, was different to the stay, being more pitted and weathered. The work with the liner pen was more intensive, with a lot more use of Cranberry and the addition of Colbalt Blue to enhance the shadows.

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The Ivy shadows, veins and surface textures were drawn in using the new Artist Midnight dark pencil. This enabled me to lay down a rich undercoat and feather in lighter shadow areas, then layers of various greens and others colours were used; Coloursoft – Yellow Green, Lime Green, Yellow Ochre, Lemon Yellow, Grey Green, Cream, and Artist – May Green, Sap Green, Light Moss, Distant Green. They were used on the areas as required, to create the various colours, shadows and highlights, but they were not all layered together.

Midnight blended beautifully with these combinations that were laid on top, in fact, they blended so easily that if an excess was put on, then the next colour tempted to pull the undercoat over areas not required. These areas I found could be corrected easily, together with other surface highlights that were required and these were lifted off by using an electric eraser and BlueTak, then smoothed out using a colourless blender.

Lastly the background shadow depths around the leaves were built up to enhance the shape and orientation, making them stand off the paper. This then leads your eyes up into the picture and creates a circle of movement along the hinge, out along the wood grain to rotate you back to the leaves.

The main exercise for this composition was the sole use of Derwent’s wax pencils ranges, together with their new dark and light Artist range of pencils. In the past using the Derwent product, I have only used the combination Coloursoft, Artist and Studio pencils, but found that it was difficult to achieve a deep depth of colour. I had to put down many various layers to achieve the results I required. Previously I used other brands to help obtain the rich darkness I was looking for, this time with the extra range of Derwent Drawing and the new dark Artist pencils, Raven, Forrest and Midnight I have had no problems.

The other new area I tried for the first time was the liner pen, this I found to be very successful, especially if using a coloured pencil where the next layer would dissolve that keen edge you require. The pen gives you fine crisp edges that stayed there no matter how many layers are applied on top. The combination of pen and the new dark pencil allows you to lay down a line with one crisp and one feathered edge, giving the best of both worlds. Lastly the picture was sprayed with Lascaux fixative, which I alway use to ensure no possibility of wax bloom or fading of colours.

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This has certainly been a worthwhile exercise and I look forward to trying new combinations and techniques with other Derwent products. I hope you have enjoyed my work in progress, and like my final composition. The only thing left for me to do is name this picture, after much thought and discussion, I have chosen the name ‘Weathered, broken and overgrown ‘

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