Using Colored Pencils with a Solvent

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All colored pencils are to some degree turpentine soluble, but only some brands are water soluble. Those that are water soluble include the Caran D'Ache Supracolor, Venus Watercolor-ing, and Mongol brands. The Pris-macolor and Spectracolor brands are among those that are not water soluble.

For the look that most closely resembles watercolor or painting, the water soluble pencils work best. Pencils that are only turpentine soluble also yield a fluid and painterly effect, but they do so with less conviction. Unlike the water-mixed leads, which flow smoothly, the turpentine-mixed pencils produce washes of a speckled and slightly clumped look. On the other hand, because the turpentine-mixed pigment dries in less time on the paper than the water-mixed, you can work at a faster pace with a turpentine solvent.

However, the point here is not to discover which of these two solvents is better—because neither is—but only to understand the nature of their differences in solubility and how this influences how you handle a particular type or brand of colored pencil. In either case, there are two basic approaches to using solvents with colored pencil:

1. The solvent is added only where needed for spot blending and intensification. This is done by simply dipping a colored pencil's point into a cup of solvent or into a solvent-saturated cotton ball: a rolled paper stomp (tor-tillon) or a watercolor brush dipped in solvent can also be used to apply the solvent to the surface. This kind of spot blending is particularly suitable to the more easily controlled turpentine-solu-ble pencils. They also dry almost instantaneously.

2. The use of a solvent is integrated into the drawing process from its earliest stages. In this method, lines or tones are used to establish elements, and brushwork with a solvent used to move around and modify areas of color. Further additions of pencil are then worked into the surface. This is a dynamic way of combining colored pencils with solvents, and one in which distinctions between drawing and painting begin almost to vanish. While water soluble pencils often excel at this kind of technique because of their easy fluidity, it is by no means limited to them.

An important thing to remember when experimenting with the integrated method of using solvent is. the more colored pencil material that is placed on the paper the more color you will have for the solvent to liquify and spread. Likewise, the less pencil on the paper, the less the pigment will spread. This is an important key to gaining control. Also, this method's similarity to working with watercolor requires a paper that is suitable for use with liquid media—thus, a paper not prone to buckling.


Some manufacturers of felt-tipped art markers also offer unpigmented or colorless markers. They contain only a solvent for liquifying or blending the colored markers. These colorless markers (or blenders) can also dissolve the binder of most colored pencils. In addition, their sturdy felt tips provide the additional friction often needed to freely move the dissolved pencil pigment around the paper.

Colorless markers offer a relatively new and unique way of working with colored pencils and solvent. With an unpigmented marker, a fine-art quality pencil such as Prismacolor or Spectra-color can be used with almost the speed and sureness of a felt-tip marker, yet still retain the colored pencil's vitality of color and permanence.

The methods with which unpigmented markers are used with colored pencils are similar to those methods used with water or turpentine. The marker's felt tip can be a swift color intensifier, a means for rapidly lightening or softening an image, or a tool for gaining a more active or gestural surface effect. When using the marker, a sheet of scratch paper is kept nearby to "run out" the picked up color from the felt tip. One of the advantages of using a colorless marker is that almost any drawing paper can be used with no danger of buckling.


Although using colored markers as a solvent is not a process that gains its effect by dissolving the colored pencil's pigmented material, as are colorless markers, they are frequently used for similar effects. So for this reason, they can also be regarded as a way of combining colored pencils with a liquid medium.

When using colored felt-tip markers with colored pencils, broad areas of color are usually first established with the markers; then pencil colors are laid over the marker color for details of form or texture. The mixing of the semi-transparent pencils with the underlying

Solvent For Colored Pencils

A solvent brushed into pencil pigment can liquify colors individually or in layered combinations.

marker colors adds a quality of luminosity to the pencil colors similar to that gained with a colored or toned paper.

Because color can be quickly and accurately established with the markers and texture and detail easily added with colored pencils, commercial artists and designers often use this combination. The only disadvantage is that markers lack color permanence. However, when long-range permanence is not an issue—as is often the case with color design and graphic work—the combining of colored markers with colored pencils offers a swift and versatile way of getting the best from two sources of color.

When you start to experiment with this technique, you will find that there are many suitable brands of colored markers on the market. If you are already using Eberhard Faber's #311 colorless blender, you may want to add a few colored markers from this manufacturer's "Design" series. But whatever colored markers you choose, a general palette of primary, secondary, and tertiary hues—all of less than full intensity—is recommended, plus a few earth colors and neutrals.

A helpful guide when combining colored pencils with colored markers is to choose those colors that contrast well with each other. For example, a light-valued pencil shows well over a dark-valued marker, as does a pencil of bright intensity over a duller marker. Again, personal experimentation is the surest and fastest way to discover how colors and texture mix best for your own purposes.



Different characteristics of fluidity can be seen in these examples of turpentine and water soluble pencils. The pencil pigments of Spectra-color and Prismacolor (left) are turpentine soluble and disperse less evenly than the Caran D'Ache Supra-color and Venus Watercolor-ing pencils, which are water soluble.

The speckled effect resulting from use of turpentine as a solvent can be better seen in the close-up view below of the two center pencils.

Prismacolor Pencils Over WatercolorPrismacolor Pencils Over Watercolor



Venus Colored Pencils

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