It’s a Saturday morning, you’re scrolling through your Instagram feed and you see tons of drawings by incredibly talented artists that seem realer than life. You’re suddenly inspired, so you sit down with your pencils and paper, and you start to replicate their drawing… but it doesn’t seem to turn out. You know there’s no ‘right and wrong’ in art, but you know you can do better. Here’s 5 mistakes you might be making with your colored pencils when it comes to realistic drawing:

 

1. The Pencils Aren’t Sharp Enough

It may seem simple or obvious, but I see a lot of artists making this mistake. Everyday objects are made up of tiny little lines, highlights, dots and details, and a sharp tip allows you to capture those details accurately. It also leaves room for you to make your thin lines thicker if needed, where as it is difficult to do the opposite. In contrast to a sharp tip, a dull tip makes for thicker lines, thicker lines means less control, and more mistakes.

I’ve literally been asked “How do you keep your pencils so sharp all the time?!” There are no magic colored pencils that always stay sharp (although there should be, right?), the only way to to keep those points needle thin is to keep sharpening them. I could write a whole post about sharpeners, but whatever you have on hand should do (as long as you keep using it, of course.)

2. Not Adding Enough Color

Too often I see drawings that are given the label *Finished* but have only been given 2-3 layers of color, and have not even gotten to the middle stages yet. Colored pencils are opaque, waxy, dreamy sticks that are meant to be layered to the point where the opacity on the paper matches that of the pencil core itself. They have a lot more potential than you think, USE it!

Although I always start off with sheer layers, I typically add about 10 of those layers before it reaches an opacity I’m comfortable with (which again is the opacity of the pencil core). Unless you are drawing something transparent, real objects are not sheer and need to look solid on paper just as they are solid in real life. Long story short, keep layering!

3. Too Much Highlighter

‘Blinding the haters’ with your highlight may be a trend nowadays, but it doesn’t always work with drawings. What exactly am I talking about? Yep, you guessed it, your best friend the white gel pen (or acrylic pen). This pen is no doubt a powerful tool, and can really elevate your drawing to a whole another dimension. But just with all powerful tools, you’ll want to use it strategically rather than abundantly. In this case and not in the case of chocolate, less is more.

Quick tip: try using white pencil for most of your highlights, and only use white gel pen for the UBER highlighted areas.

4. Using Your Black Pencil Too Early

Just as you can use too much highlight, you can definitely use too much black. When drawing your shadows, instead of going straight for the darkest color shortcut, try slowly darkening your base color to a deep, rich version of it, then add black (if needed) at the very end. You’ll find that most of the time, black is not needed.

5. Layering Colors in The Wrong Order

Due to the waxy nature of colored pencils, if the two colors you are trying to blend together have too much contrast, the result can look uneven and blotchy. That is, if you try to put down your lighter color followed by your darker color. Lighter colors can blend out darker ones smoothly as the the base color is solid, but trying to blend out your light color with a dark contrast makes for a more uneven look (which is actually quite helpful if your trying to create texture, on the other hand.) Try putting down a thick of white pencil followed by a thick layer of black. Then do the opposite and compare. You’ll notice the result is quite different!

In the end, art is art and if you’re happy with anything I mentioned as a ‘mistake’, you do you!

Related: Terms and Techniques Every Colored Pencil Artist Should Know | Colored Pencil Drawing Techniques

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