Layering Pencil Over Marker

By Mary Winters-Meyer

Markers are a wonderful tool. They allow you to apply color to paper quickly, which makes them great for adding your basic colors. They also fill the paper, so you don’t have white showing through the color. But even with all their uses, markers often can benefit from the help of their cousins, colored pencils.

Why Layer Pencil Over Marker?

  1. Because you’re using colored pencils, which won’t leak through paper, the paper you use isn’t incredibly important. Thinner paper isn’t as much of a problem as it would be with heavy marker use.
  2. Pencils allow you to shade with lighter colors on top of darker colors. Try that with markers and the light color probably won’t even show!
  3. Pencils allow you to get crisp, fine details. No matter how fine of a tip, it can be difficult to get really sharp detail with a marker. So pencil is great for things like adding fur to animals, or eyelashes and other details to a person’s face, or even adding features like brick or stone details to an otherwise plain section of wall.
  4. Color gives the image texture you don’t get with marker. Since the pencil adds wax layers on top of the paper, you get a rougher, more matte finish to the image.
  5. With pencil, you can add multiple layers to get the look you want, and it gives real depth to your image.

In addition to your markers and pencils, I highly suggest a colorless blender. Prismacolor makes a colorless blending pencil, or you can pick up a more generic blending stick at your art store.

How to Layer Your Pencil – Lights and Darks

Let’s do a very simple layering technique to start. For this, pick a direction on your image for where the light is shining. Pick a color that is lighter than the marker color, and color that side of the image.

Next pick a color that is darker than the marker, and color the opposite side of the image.

In the image below, I’ve added both light and dark to the green “leaves” and the blue “petals.” I’ve also added lavender highlights to the center purple circle.

Now you may look at this image and think that the additions really don’t look all that great. But here is where the magic happens.  After adding the color, you’ll use your colorless blender and go over all the areas where you’ve added pencil.

The blender is going to soften the color a bit by adding uncolored wax to the image. It will also pull some of the color into the marker color, giving you a softer blend from one color to the next, as you can see in the image below.

How to Layer Your Pencil – Color Changes

Another great use for pencils over marker is to change a color you don’t like. You’ll notice (in the image at the right) that the smallest purple circles on the top right are now a softer lavender color. The original marker color ended up brighter and more pink than I had intended. So I used a bit of 10% gray and light lavender pencil to actually change the color.

For even more depth, consider using white to add a highlight to the image to indicate where the light shines brightest. Because you are layering over another color, there will still be a hint of that color under the white, again adding depth to the image. (See video at the end of the article for an example.)

How to Layer – Gradient Blending

In the next sample, I used two colors of Sharpies to do a gradient background, but the colors ended up having a rather abrupt transition. I decided to use colored pencil to bridge the gap and create a smoother blend.

I also thought the pink was a little too bland, so I added a bit of my favorite dark pink, (Prismacolor Mulberry, PC995,) to create a gradient. Here are the before and after shots of adding the colored pencil. Again, using the colorless blender really helps the final results, as shown in the third image.

Two more benefits to layering with pencil. First, if you decide you have too much pencil, you can erase some. I would recommend erasing before you use the blender. You can erase the color after the blending, but it takes a bit more work.

Second, remember that once you’ve used the colorless blender, you don’t have to stop. If you don’t have the look you want, you can add a second layer, and a third, etc. The limit on the layers is partially dependent on how heavy you lay down the color, but also how rough or smooth your paper is. Rougher paper will generally allow for more layers.

Do you want to see how multiple colored pencil layers can turn a flat, rather strange looking apple, (colored with marker,) into something that you want to pick up and eat? Check out this YouTube video by Merrill Kazanjian, who has much more experience than I do! LOL



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