Do you know how to substitute coloured pencil colours? By that, we mean – have you been working on a drawing, and have been happily working away – until – you need THAT colour – but you don’t have THAT coloured pencil in your stash?
How can you substitute the colour you need when drawing with coloured pencils? What can you do?
What’s the problem?
You’ve done the exercises, and drawn up a chart of pencil colour. You’ve got to know your pencils well. You know that if you need a lightfast or non-lightfast wax-based or oil-based pencil, you’ve planned to use it. BUT – now you’re in the middle of your drawing and you need THAT colour for the same brand of pencils that you are using now.
What can you do to substitute pencil colours?
Well – there’s a few things you can do.
1. Create a colour recipe to substitute the pencil colour
You can figure out what mixture of your pencils you have available, and that will make the right colour for you. So, create the same colour by layering the colours, and making colour recipes. You’ll need a good understanding of colour mixing to know which colour mix to make the colour you need. This isn’t too bad – you’ll at least get to know more about colour – it’ll take time- but you’ll learn.
There are a few more things you can try as well.
2. Use a colour comparison chart.
While colour comparison charts are generally used to see a colour that is the same as or similar to an existing coloured pencils, you may find that by looking at the comparison chart that are of those SIMILAR pencils, is the colour that you need.
Colour comparison charts compare all the colours in pencil sets. So, you have the availability to view all the available colours in a large range of coloured pencil sets.
You can find a coloured pencil comparison chart, such as one produced by Karen Hull, which you might find useful to find a similar colour.
3. Use Coloured pencil colour recipe apps
Yes – there is – there’s an app for that.
There may be others, but there is an app called the “Colored Pencil Picker” which provides colour recipes. Please note that I have no affiliation with this app and can’t verify it’s performance. But I have used the free version.
This app is a tool that provides colour recipes for a colour you might need. The app is available for free download, but the paid version does provide more functions.
This app accesses your reference photo via your mobile device, phone or tablet. It uses the colours of Caran d’Ache Luminance, Caran d’Ache Pablo, Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Prismacolor Premier, Faber Castell Polychromos, Faber Castell Classic, Derwent Artist pencils, and Derwent Lightfast pencils.
This app provides the colour recipes if you don’t have access to the full range but have these pencil ranges in different size sets. For example, it shows Luminance in 40’s and 76; Pablo and Supracolor in sets of 40, 80 and 120; Prismacolor in sets of 36, 48, 72, 132 and 150; Faber Castell Classic in sets of 36, and 48; Polychromos in sets of 36, 60, 72 and 120; Derwent Artist in sets of 36, 48, 72 and 120; and Derwent Lightfast in sizes 36, 48, 72, and 100.
So, you don’t need to have a full set of coloured pencils to find the colour mix you need.
A snapshot on how to use it to substitute pencil colours
Say you have a set of 40 Pablo colour pencils, and you want to find THAT colour you need, take a photo of your reference photo, or upload it to your mobile device (phone or tablet).
Open the app, choose the 40 Pablo coloured pencil set you are using, load the image, and then use your finger to move the pointer to the colour on the reference photo you need.
The colour mix using the 40 Pablo set is then shown at the bottom of the screen. The free version gives a 1:1 mix ration (of 2 pencils), the paid version unlocks a third colour.
The user guide has advice on how to use the application. I have uploaded my coloured pencil colour charts to see how the app performs. It certainly picks out the colour of the swatch, and sometimes, where the colour is lighter (digital image difference), it picked up the other similar colours and mixes in the set, to make that colour. But, it has also missed some as well….
4. The old-fashioned way
OK. The other way to find THAT pencil colour you need is to find out the colour recipe to make it.
I have done this, and I must say that it is labour intensive, but – you can find the colours you need.
Susan Rubin in her two Craftsy course about coloured pencils calls for artists to create colour recipes as they use their pencils.
This is a great idea, and one in which an artist can be organised and have an encyclopedia of colour recipes after doing artwork for some time.
It’s also great in that you can obtain a larger number of colour recipes by mixing just a few coloured pencils together – Susan says you only need 16 pencils! – down from 36 pencils in her earlier coloured pencil course on Craftsy.
5. An easier way to find alternative pencil colours – sort of…
Another way that you can find THAT colour you need takes time and energy. It’s a bit involved in that you must have plastic sheets (not with any colour tint).
Generally, a mylar or stencil plastic sheet works well.
Then you need to cover this plastic with two thin coats of acrylic matte medium – not thick – and not gloss. The pencil will not grip to a gloss medium. However, it will fix to a matte medium surface. Just be sure that the medium doesn’t have colour. It may have some white – but this should be minimal.
Then you need to draw grids on these plastic sheets. These will be colour swatches of your pencils.
What’s the next step?
If you have sorted your pencils according to type and lightfastness, you will have already got your pencils in order ready to put colour onto the plastic.
So, you write the name of the pencil, colour number and lightfastness on the outer side of the colour swatch. Then colour the area with a light layer of coloured pencil. The layer needs to be light so that you can see through it.
Fill in the whole plastic sheet until you have used up all your pencils.
Keep these plastic colour swatches on blank white sheets of paper. You can now see the colour swatch clearly. Now to get the mix, you layer another plastic colour swatch over another. You’ll see the resultant colour visually. There is no need to physically draw the colours on paper to get an idea of the colour mix. Just get out your plastic colour sheets, place one on top of the other, move the top sheet around, and then find a colour. When you see one similar to the colour you need, you can get these pencils out, draw up a colour swatch, and you can record the recipe.
However, do you see the problem with this? What if there were two colours on the same sheet that you want to compare? How can you do that? How can you see the colour recipe?
Here’s what you do.
Buy some film negative sheets – 35mm is good. Make sure that this plastic is also clear and has no colour. Cut the plastic colour swatches into squares. Place them into the film negative plastic sheets according to brand, colour wheel family colour or lightfastness – whichever you prefer. Then you can keep these sheets in a binder. When you need to find a colour, take out a film negative sheets, and then you can take out a single colour swatch, and mix with another colour swatch – make sure you do this on a blank white sheet of paper so that you can see the colour mix. When you’ve found the colour you want, take out your pencils, get the colour recipe, count your layers, etc. and then record that on your colour recipe book.
You can create many, many pencil colour subsitutes (and colour recipes)
Just think – if you have one set of 76 Luminance coloured pencils, you have the potential to have at least 5,776 colour recipes. Now if you have a set of 150 Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils as well, this is at least another 22,500 possible colour recipes. If you’ve got them, add into that your wax-based Luminance and Prismacolor pencils, this is at least 51,076 colours.
Now – what would it be if you added in the oil-based pencils? Polychromos and Pablo sets of 120 equal a total of 14,400 possible colour recipes each – or a total of 56,700 colour recipes when added together. So, if you want to mix your wax-based pencils and oil-based pencils to find THAT colour, you have at least 217,156 colour recipes.
What’s the easiest way to view these many coloured pencils substitutes?
Now – I know what I’d rather be doing to see those colour substitutes. I’d rather be comparing plastic colour swatches to see what colours work – without having to use pencils and paper to test the colours.
The plastic colour charts should be arranged according to colour family, as having a base knowledge of colour theory/mixing will help you to know which colour wheel colour family group to use to mix the colour you want – i.e. if you want a purple – go to your red and blue colour families (or their nearest colour wheel colours) and mix the colours.
So, there you have it – that’s what you can do to find that colour you need for your drawing.
To recap on how to substitute coloured pencil colours
- Create a colour recipe to substitute the pencil colours.
- Use a colour comparison book to see if another pencil brand has the colour you need.
- Use an app – but you need to have the pencil brands that the app uses.
- Keep a running record of all colour recipes used in your artwork.
- Write your own colours either through your recording colour recipes (as a practical part of your art process), or by making your own colour pencil plastic swatches, cutting and storing them in clear plastic film negative plastic sheets. That way you are viewing all the possible colour recipes that you can make from all the coloured pencil brands that you own.
Good luck with it!