First Attempt at Art with Color


This may be a little surprising, but I’ve never really worked with color. Well, back when I was a kid in school I’m sure I painted something. But, in terms of art as a hobby, I haven’t branched out at all from my basic graphite pencil. Exploring other websites via the WordPress Reader has really opened my mind to it though, because I’ve seen so many amazing artists sharing paintings, sketches, and other mediums that exist beyond black and white. I really like what I’ve seen from watercolor artists, but having zero experience with paint, that seemed like a huge step. I decided to take a crack at colored pencils, since that’s in theory closer to what I already do.

I found what looked like a pretty decent deal on Amazon for 132 pack of Prismacolor soft core pencils for $53. According to the box, they are “artist quality” with “soft, thick cores to create a smooth, rich color laydown.” I’ve seen these things for a couple bucks per pencil at Hobby Lobby, which makes $53 seem like a bargain for so many. And according to camelcamelcamel’s Amazon price watch, that’s a great price historically speaking.

Prismacolor price

So, I placed my order and received the pencils a couple days ago. They came in a really nice tin, and…well…there are SO MANY PENCILS. It’s actually pretty overwhelming, and as I started working with them, I wondered if perhaps I should have gotten a smaller set. But, I suppose having options is a good thing. Even though I still can’t figure out which color blue my hoodie is.


I decided to go back to a scene I already did, which is of me, my wife, and our two little ones. Before jumping in, I watched a couple of YouTube videos to get a feel for how others use these soft core Prismacolors on people. There are some amazing artists out there using these; for example, here’s a lady named Luisina Juliete doing an incredibly lifelike portrait of Emma Watson. I got some great tips from videos like that; specifically, how to blend colors using white. Here’s a clip of me blending sort of successfully:

blending skin tones using white (amdall family)

My primary takeaway from this experiment? Working with color is hard. Very hard. And it’s extremely time-consuming, requiring tons of patience. I’m used to being able to knock out a sketch, if it’s relatively basic, in an hour or two. But you really have to take your time applying color, and for me it requires a lot of focus. Sketching with a regular ol’ pencil is more of a mindless activity. Much respect to the artists out there who create beautiful things in color, because it’s quite challenging.


The final product I think turned out okay. For a first time dealing with color blending and matching, it’s probably the best I could have hoped for. One issue for me was that I might have some small degree of color-blindness, possibly in the blue-purple range. I struggled selecting the right colors, and I think I botched the coloring around everyone’s mouths. Also, some skin coloring around the eyes ended up making us look really tired. Which, honestly, we probably were in that scene. I was surprised that, with 132 colors to choose from, there weren’t a dozen or so dedicated to skin tone variants. I guess I took for granted that individual people actually have many different colors represented in their skin, especially in the face. So, that was an unexpected challenge, and a ton of blending practice.

Now that I’m a bit more familiar with some of the colors, I think the next one might involve a little less guesswork. Also, that very skilled colored pencil artist I linked before (Luisina Juliete) sometimes uses a bit of paper as a color palette, similar to a painter. She  scribbles a little color to get a feel for the right tones, which I didn’t do for this one, but I think it would probably help. I also wonder if the baseline sketch should be lighter, with no standard pencil shading. If I’m going to work in color, the shade should probably come from the colored pencils. I’ve also wondered what it would look like if I did the sketch in pen, let it dry, then added color using the pencils. I’ve seen some people do that with water color, and it looks awesome. I doubt you would get the same effect with colored pencils, though.


  • Well done, Jon – taking on color is a BIG leap and you have done well with your first attempt. Colored pencils sound like a good choice, for you, coming from graphite – who knows, they could be a bridge to either watercolor (via watercolor colored pencils) or other dry media (pastel pencils, conte, nupastel, etc?) It’s really fun seeing how different artists evolve their media over time! If you do end up feeling overwhelmed with so many color choices, might I recommend that you limit your palette for a while to cut down on that effect? (I actually found it really helpful to use only red, black and white on a mid toned brown paper, for portraits, when I was starting out in color and it really cut out some frustration and improved the enjoyment level, for me :-)) Best wishes on this new phase of your art journey! 🙂

    • Thanks Hilda! I hope I stick with it, and that does lead to watercolor. Paint has such a cool look, but I think it’s going to be hard to learn.

      That’s a good idea about limiting the palette too. I think it might help me focus on learning techniques rather than worrying about which of the 30 blues I need to use

      Thanks for the advice! Always good to hear

      • You are most welcome! I don’t know about you, but if I get too overwhelmed when I start something new, I know it can easily lead to me giving up on it….wouldn’t want you to end up shoving that lovely, huge set of colored pencils in a drawer somewhere!! 🙂

      • That’s definitely true for me as well. Fortunately, I was able to push through that initial feeling of “whoa what did I get myself into.” Actually, I even moved forward with another sketch using the colored pencils! I wanted to use what I learned from this one, while it was fresh in my mind. I’ll post it pretty soon, but I think it does look a little more natural

  • Your previous commentor has given you lots of excellent advice. Just to add to it, it’s exciting that you want color in your art at this stage! What you might enjoy is an art instructor’s demo of the various color options for drawing. I found each one quite different in what it delivered. And realize, wanting color is really a rather different itch to scratch from wanting to draw well in monochrome. Be patient with yourself. Get some useful instruction. Go for it!

    • Much appreciated Carol! Yeah, I think I could stand to watch some more artists to learn from experience. I’m glad we’re in such a time where I can just hop onto YouTube and choose from thousands of videos

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  • You can get watersoluble pencils which enable you spread their marks with a brush, leading you further down the path to paint.

    • That sounds pretty awesome. I think I’d read about something like that, or maybe seen it on someone else’s blog, but I don’t know much about it. Is it challenging to work with? Does does the end result look pretty similar to watercolor paint?

      That might be a good thing to try next!

  • It’s great to work with. Some watercolourists use it for markmaking, and extend their range of textures but you can blend colours by running in water with a brush. You can also shave or grate the leads and add to wet paper to get other textures. I use it to augment my watercolours but some people use them as simply sources of colour, like watercolour pans. Another trick I do is to wet the leads and get them soft which again gives different marks, which can again be different depending if you work them on wet or dry paper. You can then get a soft damp brush and mix up further.
    If you are uncertain about painting it could be a way to go and if you take the full plunge with watercolour you can still use them in your painting at a later date. I just buy odd colours that I need, one or two at a time. Hope that is of use.

    • This is really great advice, thanks for passing it along. That’s definitely at use, because I am uncertain about painting. I really love the way it looks, but it’s so foreign to me and I’m not sure how it would go. And it sounds like there are so many techniques to master that are unique to the medium.

      When I see other art blogs like yours though, it gets me fired up thinking maybe I should try it. Water soluble pencils sound like an excellent bridge, if I get brave enough!

  • Best of luck – at the end of the day it’s just a piece of paper.

  • Nice 😊 wish you all the best for learning new medium 👍

  • I recently made the transition to color as well, also with Prismacolors. On the one hand I’m glad I started with the set of 72 because yes, it was slightly less overwhelming. But on the other, I’m jealous of all those colors you have! I am definitely beginning to feel limited by the smaller selection. You’re doing well with it so far, keep it up! Also, consider checking out the book Colored Pencil Painting Bible by Alyona Nickelsen, which is about colored pencil drawing that looks like painting. It’s pretty cool, and I’ve been happy with my results when working with her advice.

  • Thanks for the book recommendation – it’s always good to see some real experts in action, and to read advice from them. Some of these folks do truly amazing things with colored pencils. It’s almost unbelievable the realism they can coax from these things.

    If you’re interested in diving into a bigger Prismacolor set, the 132 pencil pack is $50 on Amazon right now! It’s crazy seeing how inexpensive they can be in bulk like that, when places like Hobby Lobby sell them for $2-3 per pencil.

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