Colored pencils are a powerful medium for creating art. I definitely did not realize this when I first used them. I thought that they were great for sketching, but not really capable of producing rich and vivid colors.
But overtime, I have learned just the opposite. Colored pencils can be used to produce incredibly vivid imagery with strong colors. Clearly, they are much more than a medium reserved for sketching.
The secret to producing a "painted look" with colored pencils comes from the application approach and what I like to call "the magic of burnishing".
Colored pencils require multiple applications of color. Using just one color usually results in an artificial look. In contrast, layering multiple applications of color adds depth to the color, making it appear more natural and realistic.
Colored pencils are designed to be built up to a heavy application. Although you can use them anyway that you like, I have found that heavily applying the color produces a more desired result.
With each progressively heavier application, the binder becomes thicker on the surface, creating a "buttery" consistency. This waxy build up allows the colors to blend and layer easily. This allows the artist to create smooth gradations between colors and values. Colors can be gradually adjusted for this reason as well.
Once the surface has reached this "waxy" consistency, burnishing can occur. Burnishing is basically polishing the waxy build up so that it is completely filling in the "tooth" or texture of the paper. This creates an even surface that is usually "slick" to the touch.
Burnishing can be accomplished in several different ways. Lighter pencils such as white and cream can be used to work the color into the surface. For darker colors, a colorless blender can be used. Solvents can also be applied using a brush. We take a much deeper look at burnishing colored pencils in The Colored Pencil Course.
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As far as colored pencils go, there is great disparity among brands. The quality of the pencil depends greatly on the binder used and the concentration of pigment. The quality of the wood that encases the pencil also plays a role. To compare colored pencils brands and types, I suggest you check out the colored pencil comparison chart, which includes my recommendations.
My personal favorite among all brands and types (and the pencils used in this demonstration) are Prismacolor Premier pencils. They are a bit pricey, but well worth the investment. The quality of the pencil will always play a role in the overall success of your work.
Although some will argue that the quality of Prismacolor has declined in recent years, I haven't found this to be the case. The pigment is still very rich and the binder is exceptional. Layering and burnishing are very easy to achieve, even for a beginner.
We'll begin by lightly drawing the contours with graphite or transferring the image to the surface using a transfer process. We'll then start in the pupil and work our way outward from there. To create a natural "black", we'll layer Indigo Blue and Dark Umber. True Blue is used for the initial application of color in the iris. On top, a progression of Indigo Blue, Putty Beige, and White is layered. Marks are made extending outward from the pupil.
To make to color appear more natural, neutrals are layered. Details on the iris are developed by creating contrast in value with Indigo Blue, Dark Umber, and White.
With the iris and pupil defined, we'll turn our attention to the "whites" of the eye. First, a heavy layer of White is applied and then toned using Light Peach, Cream and Cloud Blue. Shadows are added by layering Dark Umber and Indigo Blue. These applications are then burnished with a colorless blender to make the shadow appear more natural.
The tear duct of the eye is addressed with a bit of Light Peach and Peach and then intensified with a light application of Crimson Red. The shadow on the bottom portion of the upper eye lid is then darkened with Dark Umber and Peach. A light application of Mulberry is added after a light layer of Light Peach to the upper eye lid.
Shadowed areas are developed above and below the eye with Burnt Sienna and Dark Umber. The upper crease of the eye lid is also made a bit darker and defined with Dark Umber.
This entire area is then burnished with a heavy application of Light Peach, Cream and White. With a buttery consistency developed, darker values are pushed further with Burnt Sienna and Dark Umber.
The eyebrows are drawn by pulling out strokes in the direction that the hair would grow. Dark Umber is used initially. Indigo Blue is applied on the bottom side to create shadow, depth, and contrast. Using the same progression of colors, the eyelashes can be drawn. Here again, the strokes are pulled outward as the hair grows.
Indigo Blue and Dark Umber are layered to create a natural "black" for the eyelashes, completing the drawing.
Want this step by step as a handy infographic? Just click on the image below to enlarge...