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In my post A Beginners Guide to Colour Pencil:  The Colour Wheel I wrote about the elements of the colour wheel and how colour pencil artists can use it and start to be more proactive in choosing and mixing their colours.  If you’re interested in finding out a bit more about the colour wheel you can check it out here. In this post we’re going to continue our discussions on colour and look at working with the 6 basic colours of the colour wheel to learn how to mix them successfully.  It’s amazing what this limited palette can achieve, as seen in the video found on Keeping it Simple: colour pencil drawing using 6 colours and some simple step-by-step techniques I discuss can get you there. Mixing primary and secondary colours can be super fun and great colour ranges can be achieved, it all comes down to the key elements of successful layering techniques, a great colour pencil, a surface that will take multiple layers and a good understanding of the colour wheel.

A quick note: What you read here is my opinion and only that. I’m just one of many colour pencil artists who are interested in sharing my knowledge with others and as I tell my students, take what you want and leave what you don’t want. so, thanks for joining me and let’s get into this.

Photo by Jess Bailey Designs on


Why should we even care about how a colour pencil is made and how this affects colour mixing? If you’re interested in creating art that is rich in colour, that allows for multiple layering where you can achieve texture and depth through colour mixing then the pencil you choose is going to be an important factor. This along with a great substrate are two key ingredients for successful colour pencil drawings.

Colour pencil leads are constructed of a pigment and a binder held inside an outer wood barrel. Quality of pencils differ based on the ingredients used in the manufacturing process. Generally a professional colour pencil brand will use superior pure pigments and wax and or oil mixed with the binders. Pencil barrels have an exact paint colour match to the pencil core, the leads are glued down and the pencils have gone through a vigorous lightfast test based on the 6901 ASTM standard. If you’ve ever played around with student grade colour pencils, you’ll immediately see the difference when switching to a professional colour pencil.

What these manufacturers do not have in common is the hue of the colour core, they are not standardized.

If we use the hue cobalt blue as an example, many professional colour pencil companies make this hue. But when comparing them together we see that they vary in their colours. One cobalt blue might be more reddish, one might be more green, and another might be darker. To see an example of this, check out my short video here.

How does this play into colour mixing of primary and secondary colours?

When we work with colour pencils, we generally work with a layering technique.

Close up rose by Jeannette Sirois demonstrating colour layers

If we consider each colour we work with as a unique colour then using a cobalt blue from one brand over another is not about the colour name but simply the hue of that cobalt blue from that brand. If we are aware that different brands using the same name are different in it’s hue, than we can safely move on and keep creating by taking note that one cobalt blue might be more reddish, darker or more green.

In mixing with a limited palette of only primary and secondary colours the issue of hue differences does become important. If you are working with a limited palette and start with one brand of cobalt blue as your primary blue hue, and mix it with a purple, your mixed colour will result in an additive mixed hue specific to the hue and brand of that mix. But if you use a hue of cobalt blue from another brand and mix that with your purple the result will likely differ.

In the end, it is just simply knowing that the results could differ and to be aware of it.


In my post on the colour wheel (insert link here) I discussed creating secondary colours with primary colours and how to make brown/black. Now let’s look at mixing primary colours with a secondary colours and how to effectively get a great mix of new colours.

We’ll do a sample with yellow, red and blue at various value ranges.

Blue With Secondary colours

Red with Secondary colours

Yellow with secondary colours


There are two elements to the work surface that will affect the colour of the pencil.

  1. The tooth of the paper

  2. The surface colour

Tooth of Paper

The tooth or texture of the paper is what creates the white we see in a drawing. Tooth on paper can be seen as tiny mountains and valley, and as the pencil slides across the surface of the paper the valleys remain white.

Paper tooth – image copywrite Jeannette Sirois

In colour pencil work we use a negative positive situation where white from the paper is the white in the image we are creating. Having an amount of tooth is important. Mixing pigments with the white of the paper creates highlights and helps artists to attain form. As we build up colour and eventually start to crush the tooth of the paper the white of the paper gives way to colour. As the artist we need to control the tooth overlay. Working up colour layers is an important part of colour pencil work.

If you need to find out more about paper tooth check out this post here.


There are many different professional grade drawing papers on the market. For a list, check out my Guide to Papers post here.

The paper we work with, depending on the manufacturer will be unique in it’s colour. Some papers have a very yellow tint to them, while other will be a stark blue white. Paper colour will affect the colour of the pigment laydown of the pencil. It’s important to take note of this as you’re considering your next drawing and how the surface colour of the paper can affect your drawing this is called simultaneous contrast and it can affect the colour and the colour shade.

Various papers – image copywrite Jeannette Sirois


Colours and values in colours affect surrounding colours. This is called simultaneous contrast. When we work with various colours we need to take into consideration not only the colour of the paper, but the colours that surround those colours. Everything creates influence and it is important that we become aware of this when we lay colours down for drawing.

Below is an example of this. You an see that the colours appear different when placed next to or within another colour.

Use this to your advantage and be aware of how colours can change the colour feel when working with them.

colour and surrounding colour – image copywrite Jeannette Sirois

In the example below we can see what happens when you put values beside each other and how they appear very different depending on the values around it.

values and how they are influenced visually with other values – image copywrite Jeannette Sirois

A and B are the same value

values and how they are influenced visually with other values – image copywrite Jeannette Sirois


In conclusion, the elements effecting how colours are mixed can be influenced by many things. Keep those in mind when mixing and you’ll have a lot of success on your continued journey of art making.

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