Shading with colored pencils is easy and fun. It can give depth to any design and expand the range of a small number of pencils to hundreds of variations. In this article we’ll look at five different tips or techniques that can give smooth, beautiful shading to any design.
Prismacolor Premier Colors used:
Reds dark to light:
- Tuscan Red 937
- Crimson Lake 925
- Carmine Red 926
- Blush Pink 928
- Deco Pink 1014
Greens dark to light:
- Olive Green 911
- Apple Green 912
- Chartreuse 989
- Yellow Chartreuse 1004
Golds dark to light:
- Goldenrod 1034
- Yellow Ochre 942
- Jasmine Yellow 1012
Prismacolor Colorless Blender pencil 1077
Prismacolor Colorless Blender Marker or Bestine rubber cement thinner or Zippo lighter fluid or Turpenoid odorless mineral spirits
If you don’t have these colors, substitute five reds (including pinks), four greens (including yellow or nearly yellow green) and three values of gold to light gold or cream. Cream would have worked as well as jasmine. Or use shaded colors of other hues or values, make up your own color harmony! I chose predominantly red and green for a natural look but you could color this in any way you wanted!
Hues can change along a value gradient too, you could use a blue-violet, purple, red-purple, magenta and pink range for a gorgeous effect. The rose design in the center is a traditional heraldic rose based on wild roses with only five petals rather than today’s multipetal varieties.
If you have fewer colors, shading red, green, orange up through yellow works well and cold colors like violet, blue and magenta to white. A white pencil can be used instead of the Colorless Blender pencil but darks should be restated over it.
Here’s five great tips for good shading!
1. Pressure Shading
The simplest, most natural type of shading is to just alter pressure on your pencil. Sharpen it to a fine point and make small overlapping circular marks with as light a pressure as you can. Try to cover the area smoothly at the light end of the section and then gradually increase pressure as you work toward the darker end where it’s filled in nearly solid.
Alternately, you can shade the entire area smoothly in the lightest value, then add more layers as it gets darker and darker shrinking the area of the last layers. You can fade these smoothly into each other or leave a clear line between areas shaded once or more than once.
Pressure shading is a good way to take a dark or medium value pencil and get more variations out of it.
Pressure shading is a good way to take a dark or medium value pencil and get more variations out of it. The red in any 12 color set will give at least three or four different pinks before you reach the point where your hand can’t press more lightly and still have control. Practice extends the number of values you can achieve just by pressure changing.
Here’s the petals on the Rose Mandala shaded in entirely with pressure changing:
2. Colorless Blend
Pressure shaded areas show flecks of white from the paper. One of the simplest ways to smooth them is burnishing with a colorless blender. Start at the lightest area and press hard while making slightly larger overlapping short or circular marks. Stay within value areas and work light to dark. This will darken and intensify the color, smooth out all the white specks and give a polished surface to the areas.
Colorless Blender pencils burnish away white specks and blends layers of colors. Use over a color change to get a soft transition.
3. Add Darker Colors to Intensify Shading
The contrast diminished in the large petals once I applied the colorless blender, so I intensified the dark edge by adding Tuscan Red right over the burnished area. Colored pencils are translucent and Prismacolors blend easily with the layers under them. It didn’t get quite as dark as Tuscan Red does by itself but reached a nice dramatic dark anyway that lent the flower some depth. A lttle band of stronger Crimson overlapping that into the pinker area smoothed the transition.
Layering darker colors over light or medium adds color and darkens. Layering light over dark burnishes and adds nuances without dramatic changes.
Work back and forth with the medium and dark colors till the transition looks smooth. Either color can help where strokes went awry to create unwanted streaks, spots or patterns blending out the colors under them. Pressure is medium to heavy on these later layers since the paper tooth is filled and you’re smudging with each new stroke, blending new color with what’s under it.
4. Shade Light Colors over Dark to Blend
Instead of shading entirely by pressure, I did some areas by setting out several values in the same color group. Crimson Red, Carmine Red, Blush Pink and Deco Pink for reds (with Tuscan Red added on the large petals) and Olive Green, Apple Green, Chartreuse and Yellow Chartreuse for greens.
See this article for some colored pencils techniques. Within a small area, do a small patch at the darkest end and shade away slightly with pressure. Then overlap it with the next darkest color, burnishing the previous color. This technique eliminates the colorless blender stage, as you use either Yellow Chartreuse or Deco Pink to burnish the entire small area. Each color smooths the transitions with the previous colors.
5. Use Solvents
If you have watercolor pencils, just choose a watercolor pencil with a similar texture to your other colored pencils. My examples are all in Prismacolor Premier. If you don’t have any watersolubles, many different solvents can work with colored pencils.
Ronson or Zippo lighter fluid works for colored pencils. Bestine rubber cement thinner is very good as a solvent. Another popular solvent is Turpenoid also known as odorless mineral spirits. Test different solvent products on a separate piece of paper to understand how they work with your pencils before applying them to your project.
Some dry faster than others and may leave a surface cockled or blotchy. A little goes a long way. One very effective solvent technique is a Colorless Blender marker from Prismacolor. It’s the same as their regular markers but dissolves colored pencil beautifully with minimal liquid. See this article for another colored pencil demo.
The smoothest solvent treatment is the Prismacolor Colorless Blender Marker.
I tested Zippo Lighter Fluid, Everclear drinking alcohol and a Prismacolor Colorless Blender next to the demo art. Of the three available, the smoothest thinner is the solvent in the Prismacolor Colorless Blender Marker, so I used that in the outer pink ribbon and the Goldenrod center.
Over the Goldenrod shading I went back with successive colors using Goldenrod, Yellow Ochre and Jasmine for the yellow center and dots, then back to the greens and pinks for the rest of the finish. The pollen dots inside the rose are yellow ochre.