Colored Pencil Drawing Techniques: Shading and Highlighting

May 18

An important skill to master as you evolve the quality of you colored pencil drawing technique, is that of shading and highlighting. Not surprisingly, adding the appearance of glints of light, or depth of shadow, is not as simple as layering white or black colored pencils in the designated areas. To help you add shadows and light to your colored pencil drawings, follow these tips.


How to Add Highlights

There are several methods that will allow you to create the appearance of highlights, but we’re going to focus on some of the easiest to master and the most common. If you’re drawing on white paper, simply leave the area you want to serve as a bright highlight blank. Yes, it’s that simple. Don’t even bother coloring the white paper with your white colored pencil. It’s not necessary, and it will only dull the vibrant white of the paper itself. To give shape and form to the highlight (think the glint in someone’s eye, or the sun reflecting off of ocean waves), outline the highlighted area with a very light—but not white—colored pencil such as cream.

If the paper you’re using is not pure white, the technique above will not be effective, so you will need to fill in the designated highlighted area with white colored pencil, however, the secret is not to only use white. White is a cool color, but most highlights, especially those caused by sunlight, are warm. To accomplish a more realistic highlight, you’ll want to start with a light, warm color such as a cream, and then add your pure white colored pencil on top. If you want a truly vibrant glow, apply heavy pressure when layering.

How to Add Shadows and Shade

Now that you’ve mastered the light, it’s time to master the dark. Shading requires more practice and a more complex technique than highlighting, but can still be accomplished with patience and the right colored pencils. We recommend Stabilo Carb-Othello Pastel Pencils in a set of 60 for the greatest variety.

With shading, the way that you hold the pencil is important to achieving the desired effect. Hold your Stabilo colored pencil sideways to give you the greatest amount of surface area, and so that you are using a wider, flatter, smoother area than the pointed tip of the colored pencil.

Just like with so many aspects of colored pencil use, creating depths of shadows and shades is all about layering. You’ll want to start with light layers of your shade color, and slowing build layer upon layer until you achieve the level of darkness that you want.

Rather than starting to shadow with gray or black, depending on the composition of your piece, try shading with two contrasting colors such as red and green, or blue and yellow. Remember to always start with the lighter color first, and then layer your darker shade on top. Also, when using contrasting colors, layer them in opposite directions. For your first color, shade from left to right, starting with heavier pressure to achieve a darker look, and then easing the pressure to create a lighter look. Then, with your second color, shade from right to left, also dark to light. This approach will help you to blend the colors in a way that will create a more cohesive and solid appearance.

Remember, as with all art techniques, mastery takes practice. Start with scrap paper and practice as many times as necessary before you feel confident. When you’re ready, pull out your best Rhodia Notepad and create your next frame-worthy piece of art.

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