3 useful things to do with the white colored pencil

tip of a white caran d'ache colored pencil on dark blue grey background

The white colored pencil is kind of an odd pencil. It is in every set of pencils you buy, but you've probably barely used it. And why would you? The paper is already white so the white pencil is of no use, right?

Well, the white pencil can actually be quite useful. For many artists the white pencil is one of the most important pencils.

This blog will help you understand why artists love the white pencil so much and what YOU can do with the white pencil to make your drawings look better and make you drawing process more enjoyable.

What do you do with the white pencil?

With the white colored pencil you can do things all the other pencils can't do, like drawing highlights, drawing color transitions from white and creating lighter shades of colors you don't have as pencils without making them look muddy or desaturated.

1. Drawing highlights

The first thing you can do with white colored pencils is drawing highlights. White pencils are really good for drawing highlights on top of markers or on toned paper. But they also work really well on top of colored pencils.

Drawing highlights on top of markers

a square layer of purple blue winsor and newton promarker alcohol marker with white highlights drawn on top with a white caran d'ache colored pencil
Fig. 1: white pencil highlights on layer of blue marker

When you make a drawing with markers it can sometimes be very difficult to keep the highlights white. But you don't have to go around every highlight. You can easily add those in later with the white pencil. This works best if you use alcohol based markers, because they don't damage the paper unlike water based markers. 

You can now just use the white pencil like you would use any other pencil. And it will be visible as the paper isn't white anymore.

Some white pencils are more opace than others so it might not turn out completely white, but it is at least a lot lighter than the markers.

Drawing highlights on toned paper

white caran d'ache luminance colored pencil highlights drawn on grey toned paper
Fig. 2: white pencil highlights on grey toned paper

Toned paper can make your drawings really pop and that is mostly due to the white highlights. On toned paper, just like on top of markers, the white of the white pencil is visible and especially on toned paper it can make your drawings stand out more.

That's not all. You can even make a whole drawing with just the white pencil, no other pencils needed. You only need black paper to draw on. You can make very realistic drawings with only the white pencil and dark toned paper.

This is a whole other way of drawing though. Normally you draw the dark parts, the shadows, and now you draw only the light parts, leaving the black parts black.

Drawing highlights on top of colored pencils

a square of burnished black faber castell polychormos pencil on the left and on the right a black square with burnished black faber castell polychromos with highlights burnished into the black pencil layer drawn with a white caran d'ache luminance pencil
Fig. 3: white pencil highlights on a layer of black pencil

With the white colored pencil you can even draw highlights on top of a burnished layer of black pencil (and any other color of pencil). To achieve this you'll need to press relatively hard and move the white pencil back and forth.

This, however, doesn't work well with all pencils. The best pencils for this are soft, wax based pencils and water color pencils. It will indent the paper a bit, but that shouldn't be a problem as drawing highlights are often one of the final things in the drawing process.

2. Blending colored pencils

orange caran d'ache luminance colored pencil blended with white caran d'ache luminance pencil using the burnishing technique
Fig. 4: red-ish orange pencil blended with white pencil

Another thing white colored pencils are useful for is blending. 

Have you ever tried to make a gradient from a color to white? 

If you do this without a white pencil the grain of the paper will be very visible, so it won't look smooth. To make it look smooth the white pencil can be very helpful.

When you want to draw a gradient from white to any color you just use the white pencil as the secondary 'color'. To create the transition you alternate between the white and the color and use varying amounts of pressure. A bit more pressure at the ends of the gradient and towards the middle less and less pressure until you barely touch the paper. When you think you have enough of the colored pigment down you can start burnishing with the white to get fully rid of the graininess.

3. Creating lighter shades

dark green polychormos colored pencil burnished square on the left and to the right a layer of the same dark green polychromos colored pencil gut lightened with a white caran d'ache colored pencil
Fig. 5: normal layer of green pencil on the left and a with a layer of the same color lightened with a white pencil on the right

Have you ever wanted lighter shades a colored pencil, but that shade doesn't exist as a pencil? 

Well, I have. Many times. 

Luckily there is an easy solution for this which is burnishing with a white pencil.

This means that you go over another layer of pencils and start pressing hard on top of that with the white pencil. By doing this you can make new, lighter shades of the colors you do have as pencils. 

One thing you need to take in account is that the layer on top of which you want to do this can't be already fully burnished. This will result in an uneven finish or might not even work at all depending on the pencil.

What is the best white colored pencil?

For blending and creating lighter shades wax based white pencils are the best choice. This is because they are very soft and creamy which makes blending and layering a very smooth process. On the contrary, oil based pencils are very hard and not at all creamy, which makes them more difficult to blend. The best white pencil to blend and to create lighter shades, in my opinion, is the Caran d'Ache Luminance white colored pencil. This pencil is in comparison with other white pencils by far the most opace.

For drawing highlights wax based pencils are also very good, but when the highlights are very small or thin white water color pencil are very useful. As mentioned before wax based colored pencils are very soft. This has one disadvantage: you can't really draw thin lines. But that's not the case with water color pencils. They are very hard, but still easily give of the pigment. I often use those for adding thin lines. Personally I use the Caran d'Ache Supracolor white water color pencil. But any other water color pencil would do the trick too, like the Faber Castell Albrecht Dürer water color pencils.

Conclusion

Now you know how the white pencil can help you make better drawings. You can draw highlights with it, even on a black layer of pencil, you can blend colors into the white of the paper without leaving white spots and you can make colors you don't have.

You also now know that the best white pencils to do most of these things is the white caran d'Ache Luminance pencil. Even though it is more expensive than most other colored pencils, it is definitely worth having. It is by far the best white pencil I've ever used.

I hope you found this helpful. If so I would love to here how it helped you in the comments.

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