Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How to Paint with Color Pencil on Wood and MDF PANELS

New Color Pencil Paintings
by Alma Lee

How to Create a Color Pencil PAINTING on WOOD!
A step by step tutorial by Alma Lee

That's right I said painting on wood! After all these aren't your Grandma's color pencils. If you are like me you thought of your color pencil set only in terms of sketching, color selection, and drawings. Color pencil technology has increased hundredfold in the last few years. Making painting with color pencils on a variety of substrates including Wood and MDF panel a reality.

I decided to create a step by step tutorial for my technique and show my NIBBLEFEST entry; GEISHA KITTY & SILVER MOUSE SUSHI as a work in progress. I will be using all of the traditional color pencil choices in this piece. But one in particular trumps them all, when it comes to performance on wood and MDF panel. I want to introduce you to my personal NBFF (New Best Favorite Forever) Color pencils for wood, made by Walnut Hollow. These pencils are oil based, acid free, and photo safe. What makes them superior on wood is they are semi opaque, instead of transparent. Wood grains show through, but are not allowed to "overrun" the image. They truly have a buttery lay down and a excellent adaptability to blending, and shading. If you love working with color pencil, and longed to create "painting" like finishes on a heavy substrates, these are going to rock your world. Here is the step by step through the process and hopefully it will expand your creativity, and get you started on your very own.


You will need:
MDF or Wood Panel. ( Home Depot in a 2'x4' 1/2" sheet.),
Walnut Hollow Oil Color Pencils (Michaels or Dick Blick)
Liquitex Gesso (S) Surface Prep Artist Acrylic
Prismacolor Colorless Blender
Paper stick Blender
Prismacolor Matte Fixative
Winsor & Newton All Purpose Varnish
Soft Brush (for whisking away stray pencil particles)

Step 1 Preparing your surface.
You will want to cut your board to desired size. I used a circular hand saw and then smoothed the edges with belt sander. Dust off any saw dust and debris. Next you will want to lay down the thinnest layer possible of the liquitex gesso. I squirt sparingly out of the bottle right onto the panel, then then using a foam brush with firm pressure "force" the gesso into the fibers on the board.
Because color pencils of any kind do not adhere well to an acrylic surface. You are not trying to seal the panel here just laying down a hint of white to reflect through the color pencil and markers. When you are done you will have a slightly irregular coat, but that is OK.
Step 2 Make your sketch and transfer it to the panel.

Step 3 Lay in Your base colors.
I chose to use Dual Brush Pens for this. They have a brush end that is a little more flexible than a felt marker. (water based only at this point) You can use your color pencils, or art sticks for this instead of marker, if you choose. Bear in mind because the Walnut Hollow Oil pencils are semi opaque, you will be able to change the color slightly in the following layers. But they are not opaque so stick to laying down the median color or highlights
Step 3 Lay in Your base colors.

Step 4 Start with a thin layer of Color pencil
At this point you can use any brand of color pencil desired. I use the majority of my prismacolor and ergo soft colored pencils during this step, primarily for color range. Prismcolor and Ergosoft have more color choices than Walnut Hollow. So I just want to establish my color scheme at this point.
Note: you can use any brand
of color pencil at any point from here to finish as desired. The chemistry of all these pencils interacts very well with the others.

Step 5 Blend your colors and add your shadowing.
This is the step where you are finishing your layers to desired opacity in order to get that faux oil painting sheen finish. Stick to prismacolor colorless, and the paper stick blenders. Using turpentine, or alcohol to blend will run your colors and distort them with the panel texture.

Step 6. Add highlights with Color Pe
ncils and markers. This is where you will be concentrating on the final touch ups and full color saturation. Once you are done with this stage you will be unable to return to either color pencils or markers.

Step 7. Spray a couple of light coats of fixative. You should do 2 coats about an hour in between. This sets your color pencils and prevents colors from "wax surfacing as it ages. Note: be sure that the entire piece is coated with fixative, otherwise your finish coat of general purpose varnish will make your colors bleed.

Step 8. Spray 1-2 Layers of Gloss Varnish. Again light coats are the rule. I used Winsor Newton All Purpose Varnish High Gloss. It is a permanent non-removable protective coating. I found that I did not end up with a High gloss finish, just a satin sheen, because the MDF panel absorbs a lot of it. But it is a very attractive sheen nonetheless. and certainly reminiscent of a oil painting finish.
Note: I did notice that it did cause the red tones in my piece to bleed slightly through my metallic silver markers, but it was very subtle and not an issue for me.

Here is the Finished piece. A little FYI it will be available for purchase for March's Asian Inspired Nibblefest Auction on EBAY starting 03/20/09.
Check out my Alma Lee Originals EBAY Store for details


by Alma Lee © 2009
Color Pencil Painting
Available starting 03/20/09


  1. Thanks Alma, I'm looking forward to trying this myself (if I can get a hold of some precut mdf, I'm not too good with a saw).

    I'm sure this will do great in Nibblefest!

  2. Stunning creations, Alma, great tutorial!

  3. Nice to read your article! I am looking forward to sharing your adventures and experiences. alma handpiece repair

  4. Very colorful. No idea it was MDF. I have been creating ONLY on MDF for 4 years now. I Love it especially lazercut shapes found all over the Web. See my work @ http://facebook.com/indy.gee.7