How to Get SUPER BRIGHT WHITE + Fine Details (Artist Hacks)

Wanna learn some cool art hacks for getting super bright white and fine details into your coloured pencil drawings?

Look no further!

Over the years I’ve learnt about some awesome tools and useful tips for achieving those all important fine details that help make coloured pencil drawings pop.

As with all my coloured pencil tips, these are just what I personally love to do and I love the effect created using these tips and tools… have fun experimenting and make your art your own!


White Gel Pen

LITERALLY CHANGED MY LIFE. Eugh. Before discovering this hack I was using Tipex. Yes, TIPEX. It was kind of effective, but tricky to use, often messy, and I couldn’t get the precision I wanted. I also tried using white paint once… did not go well.

If you’re in the U.K. (apologies I’m not sure of suppliers in other countries), single white gel pens are readily available very cheap in many stores. You don’t need anything fancy or branded. I get mine from The Range for £1 each.

I draw a lot of portraits, and I use the white gel pen for glistens in eyes all the time. It really helps make the eyes pop and the portrait come to life.


White Watercolour Pencil

I’ve struggled to find a bright white coloured pencil. The Caran D’Ache white Luminence is the best I’ve found so far, it’s still not quite bright enough for me. Then I found out about using a white watercolour pencil, and now regularly use the Caran D’Ache Museum Aquaelle White Watercolour Pencil.

It has a slightly different effect than the white gel pen. I used the watercolour pencil on this tiger drawing for the bright white parts of the fur after I had done all my layers:


Slice Manual Pen Cutter

This tool was a definite game changer, especially for my coloured pencil portraits. I love this product – there are alternatives that achieve a similar effect so might be worth researching or asking other artists you like what they use… this is just what I personally use and love!

I use Pastelmat paper which is pretty thick so it doesn’t damage the surface at all. This works best on white paper, obviously, if you want bright white details. I still use it when drawing on coloured paper, when I want fine details that match the colour of paper I’ve chosen.

Here I’ve used my Slice Manual Pen Cutter for fine white fur detail on this portrait on white Pastelmat paper:




Be very scarce with these super fine and bright white details, try not to go overboard as I’ve found this can make things look a bit flat (same goes for using too much solid black)

These fine details are best applied at the end, as finishing touches when everything else is completed and the tones and colours are built up nicely

The white gel pen and watercolour pencil work really well for tiny glistens in eyes especially, and as final touches for light reflections on subjects with a shiny surface

I always try and achieve the look I want with just the pencils first, and avoid relying on the tools – I think of them as a last resort and aid to add that extra final touch 👌

Happy experimenting!

Alice x

4 IMPORTANT Coloured Pencil Techniques – What They Mean + How to Do Them

You can watch the video version of this article here:


There’s always four techniques I’m constantly thinking of when I’m drawing:


I teach these techniques in my workshop. They all form part of my process of creating a coloured pencil drawing from sketch to finished polished piece.



I would argue that layering is the most important fundamental technique, and is what ultimately brings a piece together. Layering builds up tone and colour, creates depth, and transforms a dull, flat drawing into a rich and realistic one that stands out.

The amount of layers depends on many factors: the materials being used, how much tooth the paper has, what you’re trying to achieve, personal preference, and how much patience you have!

Layering definitely takes patience, and is a big reason coloured pencil drawings can take such a longg time to do. I personally find the whole process super relaxing and therapeutic, which is why I love coloured pencils so much 🙂

Here are some photos showing each layer for this fish drawing (Faber-Castell Polychromos on Clairefontaine Pastelmat):

This was for one of my 4-hour workshops, so I decided to opt for 5 layers. I always do 5+ layers, I could have done more if I felt like it but stuck to 5 for the purpose of the workshop. Starting with very light pressure, I gradually increased the pressure with each layer until the final details.

Pastelmat has a LOT of tooth and allows for so many layers. Other papers can hold a different amount of layers – all comes down to trial and error and experimenting!



For me, blending means mixing two or more colours together to create a smooth and even appearance.

It happens naturally for me as I’m doing my light layers. With each layer, the colours naturally blend together a bit more. Some of my Polychromos blend better than others, it just comes down to experimenting and allowing room for making mistakes / trying new things without expectation.

Some people like to have a spare bit of paper next to them as they work to test out how colours look and blend before drawing on their actual piece – you might find this helpful!

I personally don’t use any blending aids and just prefer blending gradually via layering – some artists like to use a solvent like Zest-It or a colourless blending pencil to help.



Read my in-depth post about Burnishing here.

Burnishing literally means covering the surface / tooth of the paper with pigment so no paper shows through and no more layers can be done.

I think of it as ‘sealing in’ my layers once I’m happy with the depth and colours created. It’s what gives drawings a shine and a smooth finish.

Burnishing can happen naturally through layering if you get to a point where you can’t easily put down any more layers. Or you can get a coloured pencil or colourless blender and increase the pressure on a later layer to burnish quicker. Some artists like to use a paper stump or tortillion.



I only learnt this coloured pencil technique a few months ago! I have always done it instinctively for years, just didn’t know there was an actual term for it.

When you’ve done your layering, the colours are blended and you’re pretty happy with the overall piece, you can slightly tint or alter the colour of a section by glazing, as a finishing touch.


Happy experimenting!

Alice x

How to Use Clairefontaine Pastelmat with Coloured Pencils

Pastelmat is for… pastels, right? Well, yes. They also happen to work wonderfully with coloured pencils!

What? Why? How?

Clairefontaine Pastelmat has particular  features that make it great to use with coloured pencils. Read on to find out the main features of Pastelmat and how you can use these properties to create realistic, colourful and fun coloured pencil drawings 🙂

(For reference, I use Faber-Castell Polychromos and Caran D’ache Luminence coloured pencils and Clairefontaine Pastelmat. I’ve created many drawings and run several workshops with these materials – I’m in love!)

For a full review of the paper, click here.


Pastelmat Paper Weight and Thickness

Pastelmat is a thick paper, almost like textured card. 360gsm / 170lb weight to be precise (which in art paper terms I’ve learnt is pretty darn thick).

Basically, it’s a sturdy paper. This means it can handle solvents well if you like to use them and solvents don’t affect the texture / tooth of the paper. I also love to use my Slice Ceramic Pen Cutter for fine details like hairs, and this doesn’t rip or affect the surface of the paper either, at all, as long as I angle the blade right and don’t press stupidly hard – just scrapes the coloured pencil pigment off where I want it to.


Pastelmat Paper Tooth / Texture

This is where the Pastelmat shines and why, in my opinion, it’s ideal for coloured pencils.

Paper tooth is simply the texture of the surface. Pastelmat specifically has a lot of tooth, meaning you can do many many layers and build up a lot of depth, tones and rich colours.

The surface of printer paper, for example, has no tooth whatsoever. It’s quite hard to do more than one layer in coloured pencils on this kind of paper.

There are deep hills and valleys, peaks and troughs, on the surface of the Pastelmat. It’s not until you have covered the surface of the paper (ie, burnished / covered the hills and valleys), that you’ll get that smooth finish. The first layers will be grainy and the paper will show through – this is what you’re aiming for!

Here is a short video explaining paper tooth:

It’s very easy to layer light over dark colours, provided you’re using light pressure and not accidentally pressing too hard / burnishing. So you can build up sooo much depth and blend colours together to create a rich coloured pencil drawing that pops. It’s very forgiving, so you can make little mistakes then just fix them on the next layers.

The downside of this paper having lots of tooth is that it can wear your pencils down pretty quickly. Less so with my Polychromos as they’re oil-based and strong pencils, I notice it more with my Caran D’ache Luminence pencils as they’re softer and wax-based. The pencil needs to be really sharp for details (link to article), so you’ll probably find yourself sharpening a lot during the last layer and final touches.

Another con is I can’t really use graphite pencil for the outline or sketch for my drawing as it’s not easily erased, which is annoying. I use Frisk Tracedown transfer paper in white or a coloured pencil instead. A putty eraser and scotch tape work well for getting rid of marks, smudges and softening harsh edges.


Pastelmat Colours

I don’t know of many other art papers suitable for coloured pencils that have so many brilliant colour options. I LOVE colour, and have been totally converted to coloured paper after 7 years of only using white papers with coloured pencils. I literally used to be terrified of them.

The white Pastelmat isn’t great, I think the coloured Pastelmat papers are fantastic. When drawing commissioned portraits, I usually opt for a paper colour similar to the mid-tones of the subject I’m drawing (unless the client specifically requests another colour).

For original pieces, I love to experiment! There are so many options for lots of subjects that compliment and contrast the colours you use, and really make the drawings pop in a way that white paper simply doesn’t.

I hope this explains a bit more about using coloured pencils with Clairefontaine Pastelmat! Any questions don’t hesitate to contact me.

Alice x

Why EXPERIMENTING is Vital when Learning to Draw with Coloured Pencils

As a former perfectionist, I always needed to get everything right first time. Not only was this unrealistic, it was also anxiety-provoking and often crippling to creativity.

I am now a HUGE fan of experimenting. It’s through experimenting that you learn what you like, don’t like, enjoy, don’t enjoy, what works well, what doesn’t, etc!

There is never only one way of doing things, never one person who knows ‘best’, never a right or wrong when it comes to art. Hey, if you don’t like my way of doing things or prefer doing something else – do your own thing! I encourage it 😀 I want you to experiment and learn as much as you can… I guarantee your art will flourish as a result.


So… WHY is Experimenting with your Coloured Pencils so important?


You Will Make Mistakes

… and learn from them. I love making mistakes. The more mistakes I make, the quicker I learn and the more I know.

Most people don’t like to ‘fail’ or ‘get things wrong’. I see mistakes purely as learning curves and an opportunity to accelerate my development.

If you’re so afraid of experimenting and not having everything perfect straight away, this can be rather restricting. Creativity is all about expression, pushing boundaries and giving your soul freedom to simply create – judgment free. Allow yourself permission to mess up and learn from it.


You Can Find New Ways of Doing Things

How will you know what you like and what works well if you don’t experiment?

You won’t learn anything new unless you try other options. Try new materials, alternative paper, different techniques, methods and effects. Get tips and advice from lots of different artists.

I discovered through experimenting that I absolutely LOVE working on coloured paper after 7 years of only drawing on white paper. I’m also now obsessed with my white gel pen and watercolour pencil (read my article for how I use these here).


It Will Make Your Art Unique

I don’t want your art to look like anyone else’s – I want it to be totally yours and unique! Experimenting and trying new things helps you to develop your own personal style.

I love it in my workshops when everyone creates something different when drawing the same subject – it’s so inspiring and wonderful to watch.


It’s Fun!

Being a perfectionist stuck in my comfort zone WAS NOT FUN. I lost my love for coloured pencils when I became obsessed with achieving perfect realism and detail. I stopped enjoying the process, and it became stressful.

Once I stopped judging myself and started playing about with new ideas – again, I stress: JUDGMENT FREE – I fell in love with coloured pencils all over again. I am so passionate about colour and every piece I create now is bursting with it… whereas before I would be more reserved as I didn’t want things to look ‘unrealistic’.  The process has became an exciting and relaxing journey.

You can watch the video version of this article here! Watch me draw a coloured pencil duck at the same time 😀

Happy experimenting lovely people!

Alice x

Clairefontaine Pastelmat and Polychromos?! (An Artist’s Honest Review)

Pastelmat… the name kind of gives it away, right? This paper is originally designed for pastels – I also discovered that it works quite well with coloured pencils! I’ve been using Clairefontaine Pastelmat with my Faber-Castell Polychromos for over six months now, mostly for detailed portrait work. I feel it’s time for an honest review so you know a bit more about what to expect and whether it’s right for you 😊

You can read my review of Faber-Castell Polychromos here.


Paper Thickness


The first thing I noticed when I opened my first pad of Clairefontaine Pastelmat was how thick and heavy the paper was. It’s pretty thick, and feels like textured card (360gsm / 170lb for those into numbers). I love this, it just feels luxurious. If you’re a fan of solvents this paper is also great for that, as the thickness means it can hold solvents really well.


The only issue with the paper being so thick is that it starts to curl at the ends after a while. I spend 20-60 hours on each piece, so this can be a real pain. I used to draw straight from the pad – now I carefully rip the paper sheet out and attach to a board with low tack artists tape (for anyone in the UK, I buy super cheap canvas boards from The Works and artists tape from The Range, you don’t need fancy materials for this!).


Paper Tooth


I LOVE layers. Lots and lots of layers. Call me a bit obsessed. Each piece I create has 5+ layers, and so I need a paper that can handle this without burnishing too soon (read my Burnishing article if you’re unsure what this is). This is where the Pastelmat excels. It has a lot of tooth, and deep ‘hills and valleys’ in the surface of the paper.

The coloured papers perform very well with layering with Polychromos coloured pencils, and I’ve noticed the darker papers seem to be able to take more layers, although the difference is fairly small.


Three things you need when working with coloured pencils on Pastelmat: Patience, patience, aand more patience. Layering can take quite a while and be very frustrating. The first few layers are ugly, and when first using this paper after a few layers in I thought I would never get rid of the graininess and achieve a smooth finish. You really need to trust the process 😊

Some people say this paper wears their pencils down quickly – I haven’t really noticed this to be honest and it isn’t very different to when I was using different paper as the Polychromos are hard and durable. It’s only in the last couple of layers when I need to keep my pencil super sharp that I have to keep sharpening, which obviously wears the pencil down.

Another con to note is the white Pastelmat doesn’t seem to take as many layers. Read on for another reason why I’m not fan of the white Pastelmat below!


Paper Colour Choices


I spent years working only on white papers. I didn’t go near coloured paper and had no idea how to work with them. Clairefontaine Pastelmat has totally converted me, and now I absolutely adore coloured paper. I’m super impressed with the wide range of colours Pastelmat offers and there’s always a shade to suit what I’m drawing. It’s so fun experimenting and seeing how different colours affect the subject. I recently started a tiger drawing on green paper and I’m obsessed with the results – here’s how things look so far!


So yeah, the white Pastelmat… not great. I’m going to go as far to say I loathe working on it. It can take a decent number of layers and helps the subject stand out… wow does it attract literally everything. I always work so carefully, with my hand resting on tracing paper (which comes with the paper pads) to avoid smudges and marks. I swear it has magnets in it because no matter how carefully I work it just attracts dust and particles and marks. The marks are also frustratingly difficult to erase, so I have permanent anxiety when drawing. NOT FUN.



I’ll cut to the chase, Clairefontaine Pastelmat is quite expensive  (ranging from £1-£8 per sheet depending on size and where bought). I usually buy the pads, and I have bought the large 50 x 70cm size paper in individual sheets as I was excited to find it in a little art shop. In the UK, I’ve personally found it quite hard to find Pastelmat in art shops in any colour other than white (ahh white noo!!), so I buy mine online.

Most large online art retailers sell Clairefontaine Pastelmat (Cass Art and Jacksons Art Supplies are my personal favourites), and Amazon sells it usually a bit cheaper if you’re on a budget.



At first I found Clairefontaine Pastelmat frustratingly slow and tricky to work with. Graininess was a HUGE issue. After some practise, watching a few YouTube videos and asking a few artists on Instagram, I now loveee drawing on it with my Polychromos and the pros in the end definitely outweigh the cons for me!  

I personally feel it’s fab for beginners, as you can make lots of mistakes and as long as you’re building up lots of light layers these are easy to go over and fix. It’s rather relaxing to draw on as everything doesn’t need to be perfect straight away and colour alterations are relatively simple (as long as I haven’t burnished) as I can go light over dark pretty easily. I’ve also found the coloured paper less intimidating to work on than white paper.

The colour choices are amazing, and they come in different sizes to suit most projects I do:

18 x 24 cm

24 x 30 cm

30 x 40 cm

50 x 70 cm (have only found this size in individual sheets)


The only negatives I can think of are the white paper (enough said), the cost per sheet and the fact that I can’t draw a graphite outline as it’s very very difficult to erase fully. I usually use white Frisk Tracedown paper and/or sketch freehand using a coloured Polychromos pencil similar to the main colour of the subject I’m drawing.


All in all, I wanted a thick paper that could hold lots of layers – falling in love with the colour choices was an awesome bonus I didn’t expect! 😊

I hope that helps. As always, if you have any questions at all please feel free to email or contact me via Instagram or Facebook!

Alice x

Bluntly Honest Review of Faber-Castell Polychromos Coloured Pencils

After months of research, asking numerous other artists online, and clicking them in and out of my online shopping basket, I finally took the plunge and invested in a set of 60 Faber-Castell Polychromos. I’ve had them for four months now, created many artworks and a few portrait commissions with them, so I feel I can give a bluntly honest review of what I think about these oil-based beauties.


If you’re an eager beaver and can’t be bothered to go into the details, here are my top Pros and Cons:



Good choice of colours, lots of vibrant shades

Super great for fine detailed work

Allow for the gradual build-up of many layers

Good for blending

Are fairly strong and do not break easily, so can last a long time

Don’t hurt your hands to use if you use lots of light layers



Not a huge range of skin colours

The smaller sets don’t have a great range of colours – you’ll probably need to buy individual pencils to top up

Some pencils don’t blend well

The white pencil isn’t very bright

The black pencil isn’t very dark

They are expensive


If you’re still with me, let’s go into some detail on a few points:

Colour Options:


I love the vibrant colours in my Polychromos set, and I never have any problem finding the right shades of blue, green, yellow, orange, red, pink, grey or brown. If anything, there is TOO MUCH choice for these colours. (Personally I don’t think you need so many colours to create highly detailed and realistic drawings – so definitely don’t be pressured into buying a larger set.)


The reason I went for the 60 set is because I wanted a big range of colours, and the smaller sets just didn’t seem to have the colours I regularly use for portrait work, and not enough variety. They also don’t do a good range of skin colours unless you go for the 120 set, so I’ve had to adapt by buying individual pencils and blending colours together to get close to the shade I need.

The white pencil also isn’t very bright, and the black pencil isn’t hugely dark. When I need to draw super bright white detail, I currently use Caran D’Ache Museum Aquaelle Watercolour pencil, Caran D’Ache Luminance or a white gel pen. For a deeper black, I always create depth using red and blue shades, and I find the Caran D’Ache black pencil works better when I need to achieve super dark detail.


Layering and Blending:

Quick Note – layering does hugely depend on what kind of paper you’re using, and how much tooth (‘hills and valleys’ in the surface of the paper) the paper has. For reference, I currently use Clairefontaine Pastelmat.


These pencils are a pleasure to layer with, especially when working on a paper with a lot of tooth. They allow for multiple layers, and I don’t find it difficult to layer light on dark as long as I am using light pressure. Most shades blend really wonderfully together.


Some of these pencils just really do not blend nicely. I highly recommend the cinnamon or nougat shades (will have to buy these individually unless you purchase the 120 set) as these are lovely for helping to blend colours together. You’ll quickly find out which pencils blend better than others through practise.




One thing I LOVE about Faber-Castell Polychromos is that they very rarely break in the pencil sharpener!!! Can you tell how happy I am about this by the amount of punctuation I’m using here!!??

The last thing you want when you invest in high-quality coloured pencils is for them to constantly break whenever you go to sharpen them. You don’t want to be terrified of your sharpener and have your artwork suffer in quality as a result. For detailed work, you need a sharp pencil, so a strong pencil and a decent pencil sharpener are a must.


A pencil may eventually break or be difficult to sharpen – it happens. In my experience, this has happened once in four months, so isn’t a deal breaker for me.




These pencils are not cheap. In fact, they’re one of the most expensive coloured pencil brands to buy. And if you’re a portrait artist or do a lot of detailed work, you need to keep them sharp… which inevitably means certain pencils need replacing regularly.


I’m a professional portrait artist and I personally want to use only the best materials, which is why the cost is worth it for me. If you’d like to give these pencils a try but don’t have a big budget, I don’t think it’s necessary to invest in the larger sets straight away, as I believe you can achieve amazing results with a limited colour palette.


Overall, I love these pencils! I’d love to hear what you think or what your experience of Faber-Castell Polychromos has been, drop me an email or message me on my social media 😊

Alice x

COLOURED PENCIL TIPS: Are You Holding Your Pencil Wrong? How to Hold your Pencil for Different Techniques

I love this coloured pencil tip so much! It sounded so simple when I first thought about it, yet it is so effective and often overlooked. Read on for some tips on how to make the most of your pencils and achieve different results by holding your pencil in different ways 😊

As with all of my tutorials, tips and advice, this is just what personally has helped me draw realistically. I’m all for experimenting and finding your own style, so if you like the effects achieved doing things differently, keeeep doing them!



I love using lots and lots of light layers to build depth, colour and contrast in my coloured pencil drawings. These layers are done with a very light pressure, so it helps to hold my pencil far up the pencil, like this:

Holding the pencil in this way ensures some control and precision, and at the same time prevents me from pressing down too hard and accidently burnishing (read more about burnishing here).

If I hold the pencil too close to the tip, I find it really hard to press lightly and achieve the effects that I want with my layering. It also starts to hurt my hand and tire out my wrists because layering can take a veryy long time!

Another thing to note: I find it helps to tilt the pencil in order to cover more paper more quickly and create an even layer, constantly rotating to make the most of the pencil.



I’ve written a more detailed post about burnishing here. Burnishing basically means covering the tooth of the paper so no paper shows through, and can involve using a heavier pressure than when layering (unless you are burnishing by doing a lot of light layering or by using tools such as paper stumps and tortillions).

When burnishing with a coloured pencil or colourless blender, I usually hold my pencil like this:

I’m not pressing super hard, just enough to get into the ‘valleys’ of the paper so the paper is totally covered with coloured pencil. For realism, burnishing is usually done after putting down lots of layers first, so you shouldn’t have to press super hard. I find it works best to burnish an area using small circular marks with a sharpened pencil (the pencil doesn’t need to be super sharp, just not completely blunt).



Glazing is done usually when a piece is very nearly complete, as a finishing touch. It means adding a glaze of colour on top of all of your layers to help add some extra depth and make an area pop. It’s done with a similar pressure to when you’re layering, therefore the hand positioning is pretty much the same:



For precise, detailed work, this is when I always hold my pencil very close to the tip. I’m usually leaning in quite close to my drawing at this stage, really making sure I am getting the right detail in where I want it.

I need full control and precision for fine details, and I won’t get this by holding the pencil further up. My pencil is always super sharp (read my post: How Sharp Does Your Pencil Need to Be? to see if your pencil is sharp enough) and I’m using a medium to hard pressure depending on what detail I’m drawing.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed tips like this, please feel free to subscribe to my Instagram or YouTube where I share tips, tricks and techniques for drawing realistically with coloured pencil. Happy drawing! 😊

Alice x

COLOURED PENCIL TECHNIQUES: Burnishing – What it Means & How to Burnish Effectively

If you’re anything like me, you heard of the term ‘burnishing’ with coloured pencils, did your research, did some more research… and just got more and more confused. Or maybe you’ve never heard the term before, or just heard it once, and don’t know what on earth I’m on about.

Either way, you’ve clicked to read this article, so hopefully I can help 😊


In one sentence, what exactly IS burnishing?

Here’s my best summary:

Smoothing out the tooth of the paper so it is completely covered with coloured pencil.

That’s. It. I think sometimes it’s made way more complicated than it actually is.

Most papers suitable for coloured pencils come with a tooth (‘hills and valleys’ in the texture of the paper), and burnishing basically means getting into the valleys and onto the hills and totally covering the surface, so no paper shows through.


When Should you Burnish with your Coloured Pencils?

I think of burnishing as sealing in my layers and is the last thing I do before the really fine details. Burnishing helps give drawings that shiny, blended effect and makes the colours richer – but shouldn’t be done too early.

When I first started drawing and had no clue what burnishing was, I often found myself getting quickly to a point where I couldn’t layer anymore or blend colours effectively. This is because I was unknowingly burnishing too early.

Burnish too early, and you’ll find it very difficult to layer more colours onto the paper, because the surface has been smoothed out.

This is when I personally use the burnishing technique in my own drawings:

STEP 1: Layering – Lots of light layers with light pressure

STEP 2: Blending – This happens naturally the more I layer, unless I use blending tools / aids

STEP 3: BurnishingUnless it has happened naturally just from building lots and lots of light layers, it often involves a harder pressure (read below for how to burnish)

STEP 4: Details and Glazing

A finished drawing – I burnished the skin using lots of light layers and a final layer using heavier pressure to help make it shine!


And here’s the important part…

How to Burnish with Coloured Pencils

There is no right or wrong way to burnish, just like there are no right or wrong techniques for coloured pencils. If you like the effect created doing different things, keep at it! If you’re struggling and aren’t getting the results you would like, and want to learn more about the burnishing technique, I hope these tips will help 😊

You can generally burnish in several ways:


This one involves lots and lots (and lots) of light layers with a light pressure. As you build up more and more layers, the paper naturally gets covered with coloured pencil, and enough layers means you can burnish almost by accident. I personally find this technique the most effective and gives the greatest depth and realism especially for portraits, it just takes a lot of patience!


Increasing the Pressure

If you’re a bit impatient (like me – sometimes wonder if I’m in the wrong profession), or you’re done with your layering, you can increase the pressure with your pencil and really get into the tooth of the paper to smooth things out. Small, circular movements with a sharpened pencil works well.


When I’m burnishing this way, I use a colour similar to the section I’m burnishing that I know blends fairly well, or a lighter coloured pencil such as white or cinnamon. If you do this, however, it does give a tint to the drawing – so make sure you’re happy with the colour you choose to burnish with.


Burnishing with Tools

I haven’t personally used any tools to help with burnishing yet and I may try in the future, but I know they can work quite well for some. Tools such as a colourless blender, paper stumps and tortillions might be worth a try!


I hope that helps! Any questions please ask. Happy burnishing 😀

Alice x

COLOURED PENCIL TIPS: How Sharp Does Your Pencil Need to Be?

Might seem overdramatic, but learning this tip (see what I did there…ha) literally changed my life. Or at least transformed my approach to my drawing and drastically improved the level of realism I could achieve.

DISCLAIMER: these are tips that worked for me personally when on the epic search for creating realism and I liked the outcome – if you find you like the results of other methods PLEASE KEEP DOING THEM!


Let’s get into it. I would say how sharp your pencil needs to be depends on a few things:

What effect you would like to achieve

Materials you are using

Which layer you’re working on

Your budget (you’ll see why this is a factor below!)


This article is aimed at those specifically wanting to achieve more realism in their portraits and drawings. I’m not a renowned expert at realism, it’s just my thing – or I would like it to be my thing anyway. If you’re wanting to draw more realistically, these tips might work really well for you.



I use Clairefontaine Pastelmat and Faber-Castell Polychromos for most of my work currently. Pastelmat is quite a thick paper that has ‘tooth’ (meaning ‘hills and valleys’ on the surface), that can take many layers. I haven’t yet used a smoother paper, but I think these usually can’t take as many layers, therefore the process is slightly different.

To achieve a smoother and more realistic effect – and avoid graininess – the pencil needs to cover the surface of the paper and get into the ‘valleys’ and onto the ‘hills’, which can be achieved by layering, blending and burnishing.

At the different stages of layering in particular, it helps to have the pencil at different sharpness.


First Stages of Layering:

I usually start with the base and colour blocking. Light pressure, holding the pencil halfway down. My pencil usually looks like this:

A blunter pencil helps cover more area quickly. If your pencil is too sharp at this stage, use the side of it.


Middle Stages of Layering:

My pencil usually looks like this halfway through:

Not blunt, not super sharp, as I am working towards putting more detail in.


Final Layer and Detailing:

At this point, my pencil looks like this:

Pretty sharp, right? I’ve found the Polychromos sharpen well to a sharp point, and I haven’t had any break on me yet (fingers crossed). I would highly recommend investing in a decent pencil sharpener… pencil breakage rage is REAL. There is nothing more annoying than your pencils constantly breaking due to a rubbish sharpener, especially if you’ve spent a lot of money on high-quality pencils.

I usually use the hardest pressure at this stage and hold the pencil closer to the point (as pictured). It helps to keep turning the pencil as you work to make the most of the sharpness. Basically, if you want super fine detail, you need a super sharp pencil.


Warning: Coloured Pencils are an Expensive (Addictive) Habit

There’s no getting round it, decent coloured pencils do not come cheap. As this is my career, I happily invest in them because I want the best quality and to achieve the best results.

But… keeping your pencils super sharp, especially if you like doing a lot of detailed work, means they can get eaten up fairly fast. Just something to consider if you’d like to jump down into the rabbit hole to the beautiful world of coloured pencils. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED 😊


Any questions at all please don’t hesitate to ask! Happy drawing x