Vax’ildan – coloured pencil tutorial

Coloured pencils, eh? I used to use them a lot around 20 years ago. They’re beginner-friendly, yield pretty fantastic results, are easy to use and make little mess – and still they had some of a “kid stuff” vibe to them, so I pretty much abandoned them when I got into watercolour for real. Now that watercolour details escape me but I still feel the need to mess with actual pigments once in a while, large formats and coloured pencil seemed like a great idea. And they were!

Materials used:

Paper: Strathmore coloured pencil paper. Great texture, just enough grain to look interesting, but allows for smooooth blending.

Pencils: Wax-based coloured Prismacolors as well as a set from Castle Arts.

Blenders: Derwent Burnisher.

For the background: Shire Blue watercolour by Schmincke.

1: I lay down a pale, very even layer of a yellowish olive colour as a base. The trick in getting smooth areas of colour is swirly movements, even pressure, and being careful with sudden darker strokes. You can erase them with a rather rough eraser. The smooth ones I usually use just smear the colour, but with the right grainy eraser, you can take an amazing lot of colour off. 

2: Trying around with different colours for the skin tone I’m going for. I blended the smooth patch there with white instead of the blender, which results in a pastelly, very smooth look. 

3: After the bottom yellowish later, I add reds (with a burned-Sienna-like colour) to the skin areas with the most blood circulation (around the eyes, nose, lips, and ears). 

4: More skin detailing. Going with the yellow forehead/reddish nose and cheeks/bluish chin scheme, which is SO MUCH EASIER to do subtly in coloured pencil than it is in watercolour. The bluish bits on his chin will almost vanish in comparison once the dark hair is in place, so I already have it on my mental list to darken it later. 

5: Blending! I blend the portions near the nose, lips and chin that also have some white parts with a white coloured pencil rather than the blender, as it remains lighter and more pastelly. The parts near the ear and under the eyebrows are blended with a Derwent burnisher pencil, which again makes for very smooth gradients and colour flats. 

6: Adding another layer of colour over the blended base layer until I’m happy with the texture and the light/dark look. The portion near the cheek/ear is okay looking slightly fuzzier and less smooth, so I don’t blend it. 

7: More darker, desaturated browns in shadowy areas. 

8: I call the skin done for now (I can always go back to it later when the hair and feathers are done if it looks too light in comparison), and lay down the first layer for his hair and colour his eyes. Fun fact: Thirty years of drawing and painting elves, and doing my first one that has brown eyes. Which is a total shame, by the way, as I always fall for them! =D 

9: Adding blue streaks to the hair (and some to the skin) after laying down the brown. 

10: Laying down a pale blue base layer for the clothes. It felt so wrong to dress Vax in baby blue. =D Putting down a green sheen to it, too. 

11: Adding a desaturated purple. I can not work without desaturated purples. They’re the best for black. 

12: Putting down purples in the hair as well. I work in overall layers here, the way I would in watercolour, so I can see how the different areas affect each other. You often see coloured pencil artists work in tiny portions that they complete with all detail before moving on to the next portion; this works best when working from photo reference that you just have to match. 

13: I’ve put about everything down that needs to go down. Now I can take a look with fresh eyes to see what’s missing. Apart from the skin, nothing is blended at this point. 

14. Some warmer brown tones in his hair are missing, for example. 

15. BLENDING! I use two different ways to blend: For darker colours that are allowed to go even richer and darker, I use a blending pencil (here, the burnisher from Derwent, which does the job best, I find). For lighter areas – like the skin and the lighter portions of his hair – I use a white or pale cream coloured pencil, which results in great smoothness and doesn’t dull the colours. 

16. Blending the feathers was so much fun. It’s amazing to see that stuff suddenly pop to life. I followed my colour lines while blending, and left some toothier bits standing. 

Final touchups! 

17: Hair smoothing. 

18: Feather detail. 

19: Almost done, with a simple watercolour wash in the background. Coloured pencil paper is too thin for watercolour, so the paper cockled rather badly. I had to moisten the back and flatten it between heavy books before scanning. (I also forgot I no longer have a printer with waterproof ink, so the Procreate lines bled a bit on the outlines.) 

20: I’m still finding my way around the brightness and saturation of coloured pencils, and the feathers especially felt too colourful for Vax. So I went for the complementary colour of blue/green – a dull orange – to subtly tone them down. 

Hope that was helpful!

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