Switching to coloured pencils

April 8, 2022 | 21 Comments

On Monday morning while I was sipping my coffee and getting some sun (a rare thing this summer in Sydney) I did a simple line drawing of the postbox nearby. I didn’t feel like adding paint at the time so I simply took a photo. When I got home I suddenly had the urge to use coloured pencils. At the beginning of the year, I picked up a 72 set of Derwent Coloursoft pencils and have been wanting to use them more. (See my entire teapot collection drawing.)


I enjoyed that morning sketch so much that I did the same thing in the afternoon while I visited the supermarket. Once again I added colour at home because I didn’t have any pencils with me at the time.

At this point, I decided to stick with coloured pencils for the rest of the week. Last year when I started using my first Greenwood Journal I had made the decision to use coloured pencils but after a little while that morphed into using watercolour pencils and copic markers.

So this time I want to stick to using coloured pencils (not water-soluble) and really explore mark making with dry media.

On Wednesday I had a lovely zoom session with my friend Frannie from Belgium. We sketched from some of her photos of Bruges.  It felt really weird to hear Frannie talk about the granulation of her washes while I experimented with creating colourful shadow areas. I was struggling a little as I really don’t know the colours in my Coloursoft set at all.

When I use coloured pencils I want to work rapidly, have visible strokes and layer lots of different colours (especially in shadow areas). I have no desire to use realistic rendering techniques that coloured pencil work is most known for.

Towards the end of our session, I did a few colour swatches and then tried a quick version of the classic view of Bruges.

Yesterday I spent a few hours going through my rather large pencil collection to work out which colours I want to use. The idea of creating a manageable set for sketching on location still seems a little overwhelming so I’m taking it step by step.

This reduced selection of pencils represents colours that I’m happy to use (ie. no crazy overly bright pencils) and I now need to work out what is the minimum I can cope with for a sketching kit.

I’ve done more pencil sketches this week than the ones above, but I will save the rest for Monday’s article where you can see them in the context of the whole week. But the final image for today contains some tests – mark making and layering.

Can you tell that I’m having a lot of fun?


  • Marina Lee says:

    Hi Liz, will there be sketching classes with coloured pencils ? Love to learn this media.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Marina – no immediate plans as I already have demos inside Foundations with watercolour pencils and my approach is similiar.

  • Jane Glover says:

    I do pet portraits using color pencils and I have fallen in love with them. Previously I painted with acrylic, oil and some watercolor. The pencils are the most relaxing medium. I just lose myself when I am drawing. I am currently exploring different papers.

  • Laurence says:

    Thank you Liz for this topic on colored pencils 🙂
    Like you I am in full research on this media that I find adapted to so many situations! It is quick to implement, adds energy to watercolor when I finish a sketch with my pencils. I love to make a diversion by not necessarily using the color of the background watercolor and it brings a kind of abstraction in the end. I feel much freer in the line with colored pencils than with a pencil or ink pen especially when I start the sketch, especially if it is a person.
    It’s softer and it allows me to accept the mistake more easily, I go over it again….
    The biggest difficulty is to select when you go out. For me the essentials are a pale pink, an earth red, a yellow green and an indigo from the Caran d’Ache brand.
    I’m thinking of taking your course on design and then watercolor again, hoping to find this theme.
    See you soon

  • Sharon Nolfi says:

    Which brands are you using?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Sharon!
      Whatever I currently have 🙂
      Many are Coloursoft as mentioned above
      But other brands are indicated. Caran D’ache Illuminance, Faber Caster Polychromos and a few Prismacolor Verithins
      I don’t think any Derwent Artists from an old set made the cut this time.

  • Brigitte says:

    Thanks for this post. I love the expressive way you use the pencils. Making a slow medium much faster. You inspire me to try to do that myself!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Brigitte! I’m really interested in developing a fast and loose approach to sketching with coloured pencils

  • Annette Huppatz says:

    This is a co incidence, I decided to go back to pencils for a bit as I’m getting in a rut with my watercolours. Love my pencils.

  • Ingrid Hajek says:

    Thank you for this article. Often I carry my watercolor pencils with me – and back home again, without using it. I practice it too less and so I simply fall back in old routines when being on location. But your blog makes me long for going for it stronger and more often. Very inspiring!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Great to hear Ingrid… hope you will get into a habit of colouring on location. It’s so much more enjoyable than doing it back home (as long as weather is not too extreme of course!)

  • Barry Webb says:

    I love using colored pencils. I’m glade to see your take on using them. But then again, I really like all your work and have learned a lot from your posts.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Barry! I must say… I’m totally in love with coloured pencils now! Such a great thing for me to have a break from watercolour and try something new.

  • Skint Student says:

    I bought Derwent Chromaflow pencils after a pro artist’s review. (Which went “I didn’t expect to love these because they’re cheap and I’m a professional artist that uses lightfast only materials but these meant I did art so quick, they blend so well, I couldn’t stop myself having fun!” After I stopped laughing I checked the prices. The review was longer and included an art work sped up but that’s what stuck.)

    To be honest the full tin 24 pencil buy was for a mobile tin. It’s a two level tray of 12 pencils each. Much more movement friendly and a couple elastics will easily keep it closed. A full urban sketch kit with watercolour is beyond me for now.

    Derwent don’t sell the pencils, which aren’t cheap already but still better than Coloursoft pricing, open stock so when I run them out they’re done, ok? I will use the tin until it disintegrates.

    That said… I do like the pencils. High pigmentation and creamy feel. Somewhat similar to a warmed up Polychromous or a harder Derwent Lightfast they love putting pigment down without too much pressure. The blues are a bit odd so they’d get swapped out (too close to each other in shade but maybe that’s the batch I got).

    I don’t know if I’d take my new Lightfasts out of the house but if I did I’d take 2 purples instead of a couple duds I don’t like. Leave the white for my Drawing white too. So when the Chromaflow are done they’re out and while I’m not sure what brand will replace them at this stage whatever I pick’ll be open stock replaceable.

    Best of all they blend with Odourless Mineral Spirits (I use Art Spectrum’s Odourless Solvent) and a cheap brush if you really miss the painting look. Assuming you apply enough pencil layers, maybe three because they’re so pigmented, or that won’t work.

    It takes forever to use up but I keep the 100ml of spirits in a former peanut butter clear glass jar and a cut up magic eraser sponge in the bottom. It’s easier to see when your brush is grubby and wipe it off on the sponge. And to store it out of reach of little people/pets with my other art stash.

  • Melissa Clendenin Johnson says:

    Hi Liz, because we like to do everything you do, my sketching friend and I always say, “what would Liz do” lol. How do you decide which colored pencils to take with you on a sketching outing? I have a fairly large collection of CP’s and don’t want to bring them all.

  • janet says:

    i really enjoy your expression in colored pencil. it is you! i can see your hand in the colored pencil the way i see your hand in the watercolor. !!!!! it is superhelpful to SEE that. thank you.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Janet! I see my hand in it too – in a funny way as I used pencils before watercolour is like I’m seeing my old self in the work!

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