Colored Pencils Hack for Mixed Media Artists

colored pencils box

colored pencils graphic

A couple of years ago, I bought my first (and only) set of really high quality colored pencils. They are the Caran D’ache Luminance Colored Pencils. You can get them in a small set of 12 pencils all the way up to a full set, which I think is 76 or 84 pencils. (And quite pricey – I think the largest set is almost $200!)

hand holding colored pencils

My Luminance set is 40 pencils, and I love them. They really are amazing quality and a great range of colors. They cover nicely and you can use them over other media, making them perfect for doing mixed media pieces. This is how I used them when I first purchased them and I was still doing most of my mixed media works on paper.

They come in a nice quality box with removable lid and separate cushioned trays for the two rows of 20 pencils. (The top tray has little tabs that make is easy to remove the whole tray and set aside so you can reach all your pencils. It really does feel kind of fancy!

But, sadly . . .

As my style has changed and I moved to using canvas more often, I find myself reaching for my pencils less.

Through no fault of their own, of course.

However, as often happens, two separate events persuaded me to pull out my Luminance pencils over the weekend to experiment with an interesting colored pencil trick I had just learned.

I think it’s one of those artist’s secrets that feel like magic when you learn it, (and that you have been doing things the hard way for so long).

One of the things I found frustrating about using colored pencils was that – depending on what paper you used – they tend to “skip” over the surface and that leaves some areas unblended.

Well, little did I know (until a week ago) that this was a problem with a solution! If you are a colored pencil artist you likely know.

In a word: solvents.

Solvents + Colored Pencils = Magic

So, here’s the deal. I learned that you can turn colored pencils into paint. At least, that’s the gist of it. If you make your drawing and then use your colored pencils, you get the dry “skippy” effect.


If you make your drawing and then use your colored pencils, and then apply a solvent over the areas of colored pencil with a cotton swab or brush, the pencil blends almost like paint.

I know, right??

(Forgive me if you’ve already known about this for ages. I just found out and I’m still excited :-))

I first heard this trick when YouTube offered me a random art video suggestion. Then, about a week later, we were discussing a painting in my art group and the woman who made it, Paula, said she thought about using colored pencils on it but was worried how it would come out because the canvas panel was rough. She wondered if the pencils would have a hard time blending.

I mentioned the video I had watched and how it showed blending colored pencil using baby oil.

What are Solvents? What Solvents Work Best on Colored Pencils?

I looked up more information on blending colored pencils that day. I wanted to find out what the best solvents were. There were online recommendations for many different substances.

  1.  Baby Oil/Mineral Oil
  2.  “Pencil Blend”
  3.  Paint Thinner
  4.  Turpentine
  5.  Rubbing alcohol
  6.  Vaseline
  7.  Gamsol

The idea is basically this: any substance that breaks down the binder that holds the pigment together in the colored pencil will blend the pencil marks to varying degrees. Some substances (like baby oil) only break down the binder a little. Others (hi, turpentine!) break it down a lot.

Here is a helpful video comparing some different colored pencil solvents: CraftTest Dummies

After learning about this magic trick I did what any good magician does. I decided to practice this trick for myself.

Making a Colored Pencil Portrait

In my sketchbook, I did a pencil portrait. Then, I got my Luminance pencils and filled in the areas of color like I’d done in the past. The information I read online said to lay down the colored pencil and get the colors how you want them before doing solvents. Basically, all the areas should be colored and the solvent should be the last step – no matter how impatient you are and just want to get to the fun part already. (That last bit of advice was mainly for me).

You can then take a small paintbrush or a cotton swab to use with your solvent of choice.

Another tip I saw was to use the solvent only over the colored pencil area. With some of the solvents (like baby oil), if you get it outside the colored pencil areas it will leave an almost greasy residue.

I drew my portrait and started putting in colored pencil areas – The hair, the shadow side of the face, etc.

colored pencils 1

Here I had all my face colors laid in and I had also defined and added color to the eyes. Time for the fun part! Using Low Odor Paint Thinner, I brushed over the colored pencil. See how the skin looks smoother and the eyelashes are more blended?

colored pencils 2

Below is my finished colored pencil portrait. I finished adding color to the hair and blending, then had some fun giving the shirt a little “drip” effect.

colored pencils 3

I liked how the solvent smooths out areas that have tooth and don’t blend as well with just using the pencils. Also, I like how it gives it a different feel than just colored pencils – like a pencil/paint hybrid!

(Hey, I am a mixed media artist after all!)

Colored Pencil Blending Experiment – Totally Scientific!

To see how colored pencils look with and without solvents, I created a little sketchbook experiment where I compared side by side.

green colored pencil blend

I used a Luminance colored pencil. I also dug out a few other brands I have to see how it looked using different branded pencils. The other pencils were: Derwent Lightfast, Derwent Metallic and Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

blue colored pencil blending

I probably would have to give them another chance (it could have been user error) but I found that the Derwent Lightfast pencils were the hardest to work with. They didn’t lay down as well as the others, and the solvent didn’t seem to blend it that well either. The Lightfast pencil also picked up the pencil I used to draw the square and smeared it into the color, and the other pencils didn’t do that.

other brands colored pencil blending

Just so you can see it all together, here is the whole page:

page of blending experiment

Also, here  is a quick sketchbook page I did of a face with just the eye peeking through the hair:

Colored pencil blending eye

I hope you liked learning about this magic trick as much as I did! It really got me thinking about different ways I can start using my colored pencils in my mixed media art pieces more often. Please let me know in the comments what you thought, and/or share a photo of your colored pencil art!

Interested in other fun mixed media art supplies? Check out Fun Mixed Media Supplies: Watercolor Crayons

Jaime Leigh Thanks for Reading

Jaime Leigh
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