Coloured Pencil Techniques

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