Layering Coloured Pencils to Create Realism in Your Artwork

Nov 02, 2021
Layering Colours to Create Realism - Blog - Bonny Snowdon Academy

When it comes to coloured pencils, there are a few techniques that are absolutely fundamental to the success of creating a drawing that looks realistic. So, I wanted to focus on one of these techniques that is really important and forms the foundation of drawing in coloured pencil: layering.

Layering is all about how you mix your colours. If you work with watercolours, oil paints or acrylics, you tend to mix colours on a palette. When it comes to coloured pencils, you have to mix your colours on your paper. If you're lucky, you'll find a colour that is a close match to the colour that you're trying to create, however it is rare, and it's not often that you'll be able to use just one colour to get the richness and depth of a drawing. 

Recently, I've been working on a portrait of a horse on drafting film, and I found that a combination of three or four colours was a really perfect match to my reference photo, and not only to the colour but to the tonal values too. 

And, when it comes to layering, it’s a matter of getting those colours in over the top of each other. The initial layer always looks a bit flat, but after bringing some other colours in over the top of it, you start to see the depth and vibrancy coming through. And, it is a slow process. You might feel like you’re drawing every single hair, when, in reality, you’re bringing the texture of a piece in, bit by bit. 

So, the question is, how do you know which coloured pencils to bring together to create the colours you need? Some people like to create swatches before they begin a piece, which gives you a chance to test out different combinations and find the ones that work. Personally, I don’t do this as it can become time-consuming, and I’m often working to a deadline, so I tend to pick colours as I draw. I’ll have an idea in my head before I begin, then I’ll mix my colours on the page. 

This might sound a little daunting, but the more you draw, the easier you will find it to pick out colours. Like everything, it’s all about practice, and with each portrait you draw, you’ll start to make those connections, and you’ll start to build an inventory in your head, where you know that bringing Caput Mortuum Violet in over the top of Burnt Sienna will give you a rich orange-brown colour. If you bring Apricot in over the top of that, it won’t give you bright orange, it will simply enhance the lower layers. With each drawing, you’re adding to your level of expertise and increasing your knowledge of colour mixing. 

Find out more about layering by watching the video above, where I talk in more detail about the technique and show you how I approach it. 

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