3 Easy Ways to do Backgrounds in Colored Pencil Drawings

You have drawn a beautiful colored pencil picture and now it needs some kind of background. It should enhance but not detract from your well-rendered subject. You want color but don’t relish the thought of creating an entire background by drawing it on with the pencil.

If you tend to get stuck thinking about how to create backgrounds in drawings, then you’ve come to the right place. I have 3 unique easy ways to discuss for how to create quick and easy backgrounds in your colored pencil drawings that make it seem like you worked hours!

Even though your drawing may have been done in colored pencil there’s nothing to prevent you from using a different medium for the background.

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Using Pastels

One quick and easy way to do the background is by using Pastels (basic set – click here).

How To Do

One of the ways I accomplish this is to scratch the pastel with a plastic knife to create loose powder in whatever color(s) you wish. You can do this for as many colors as you would like to have in your background. You could mix colors, too, if you’d like right on the scrap.

The next step is to dip a cotton ball into the powder to pick some up and

begin to spread it around on your background of your drawing. I like to rub it in circles to more effectively force the color into the tooth of the paper and tone it. You will want to go lightly at first to be sure you do not add too much at once.

Likewise, you can increase the color intensity by simply adding more of the color to your

paper. I recommend adding to it gradually until you have reached the desired color intensity.

Of course, you can also color mix however many colors you would like to have in your background as you go along. You can also make the indication of objects that are out of focus in your background by drawing an approximation of the shape of the object as you apply the powder.

Advantages and Other Tips

One of the nice things about using this way for your background is that the pastel can be erased to a certain extent if it hasn’t been over ground into the paper.

Pastel backgrounds also work well if you do need to apply more colored pencil on top of the pastel. The two mediums mix well without any issue.

Although this method is very easy to do, I do recommend practicing on a scrap of your art paper to see how to work with it and how it works with your paper, until you get comfortable to use it right on your picture.

Also, as you probably guessed, though, this method can be a little messy using the pastel powder. I would keep a dampened paper towel handy for your fingers, Nonetheless, it does produce beautiful backgrounds.

Don’t Discard the Shavings

One day, I was sharpening woodless colored pencils made by Koh-I-Noor in a handheld sharpener. Only the pigment collected, since it they are woodless. Looking at these beautiful shavings, I felt like it was such a waste to dispose of them when they must be able to be used for something.

(Note:Koh-I-Noor Woodless Colored Pencils are a great colored pencil in their own right. I love working with them as they have a rich, vibrant lay-down of color and are buttery soft.)

Then a light bulb went off! I grabbed a pinch of the shavings, put it on a scrap piece of paper and just started pushing it around on the paper.

Much to my delight I realized that these shavings could tone my paper very quickly, efficiently and beautifully. So, I began doing a lot of my backgrounds this way.

How to do it

So here’s how you do it with any kind of colored pencil. Grab a handheld sharpener . Holding it upright, sharpen the pencil to collect shavings on top of the sharpener. If there is wood, remove the wood then drop your shavings on the paper.

You should then gather it up into a fingertip size pile. Place your fingertip over on top of

the shavings and while keeping the shavings under your fingertip simply “paint“ firmly with your finger toning your paper as you go.

After some time, the shavings will slide out from under your finger and will scatter on the paper. This is normal. Just gently sweep the scattered shavings (you can use your finger or a small clean cosmetic brush) back into a pile again. Then place your finger over top of the pile and resume “finger painting” once again.

Of course, you can use as many colors as you would like to have in your background. If you want to mix them that is perfectly fine to mix the shavings as well. However, if you want to keep the colors separate without mixing them together, you will definitely need to clean your sharpener in between colors to avoid contamination.

If as you’re sharpening you see a chunk of pigment, remove it from the shavings first. I’ve learned the hard way that rubbing larger pieces can create lines in your background. Also, do try this on scrap art paper first to get comfortable with this technique.

Save and store the shavings

As you sharpen each color, you theoretically could save the shavings of colors you may be likely to use in a background.

An egg carton makes a nice container for them. And you could label the lid of the egg carton to correspond to the compartment with the color.

Or, maybe zip lock bags would work well too. You could have a bag for every color and write the color name on the bag. No matter how you save them, the point is you’d have shavings at the ready when you need them!

I happen to be a huge fan of this method. It is not as messy as the pastel and does a great job of creating a background quickly and efficiently while it is extremely fun to do, too. The participants of my classes love doing backgrounds this way. It truly is like finger painting with color pencil—so fun!

Re-purposeThat Old Splatter Screen

This technique is similar to the shavings technique in that colored pencil is used but the colored pencil pigment becomes

finer texture almost like powder. The way it’s done is simple.

Hold the screen over your art surface, then scrape your colored pencil back and forth vigorously across the screen for about 5-10 seconds . Most of the color will fall through the mesh. Tap or wipe the screen with cotton to make the rest of the color fall


What you will see is colored powder on the paper ready to go for your background. So next, take a cotton ball and (very similar to technique number one) dip it into the powder. Then begin lightly rubbing it across your paper.

I do like to use circles as I’m rubbing as I believe it gets down into the tooth of the paper much more efficiently.

As with the other two methods this technique also allows you to color mix if you

so desire. But if you do not wish to mix your colors, you will need to clean off the screen in between scrapings to avoid contamination of the colors.

Here is the finished piece with all 3 methods: upper left, pencil shavings; upper right,  splatter screen; and lower half, pastel powder. Each will give you a slightly different look. But any of the three are effective ways to create the background.

Traditional Ways to do a Background

The above 3 techniques presume you are OK with dealing with a little bit of mess. If you’d really rather not, you still can very much do a background (yes even large areas) with just drawing it on. If you wish to put on a background this way, use a very fine, light, and dense stroking and build up the layers. I would also recommend rubbing the application with cotton in between the layers. This method is just as nice as the effects produced by the first 3 methods. It just takes probably 3 times as long to do it well, and is way more laborious.


 makes colored pencil in a larger stick form, Prismacolor Art Stix The sticks allow you to use broad strokes covering a larger area in half the time. However, it is important to note that the look you would get by using the stick is quite different. It would be a textured look as opposed to the fine smooth look of using the pencil point or the other 3 methods mentioned.

Prismacolor Art Stix - Assorted Colors, Set of 24
Think Outside the Pencil

Well, there you have it. Doing backgrounds with pastel, pencil shavings or pencil powder are all great ways to create backgrounds in drawings. These three unique methods for colored pencil drawings are sure to please. They can be easily and beautifully accomplished with minimal clean up at the end (but well worth it in my opinion). And each of the three methods are very delightful to do. The other nice thing is the shavings and splatter screen methods do not require fancy equipment. You can probably do your background today without even leaving the house!

I hope this was helpful to you in how to create backgrounds in drawings. I encourage you to give it a try. If you do, I’d love to hear what you think.

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment below.

Have a colorful day!


24 thoughts on “3 Easy Ways to do Backgrounds in Colored Pencil Drawings”

  1. These are great methods thank you for sharing ,funny thing it was only yesterday I wondered if you could use pastels in card making .

  2. I love the idea of the pencil shavings. I am going to try it with my card making program at my senior center. Thanks for the info and share.

  3. Thank you it’s allways good to hear about different methods on how to use coloured pencils,as I am new to it I love reading about them ,and it makes using them more interesting and exciting thank you ,Margaret

    • Thanks for your kind words. Glad I can be helpful. We’ve all been there where we can’t think of what to draw. My article on how to find inspiration for art may be helpful. Here’s the link:
      It also can be as simple as going out in your yard and finding some twig or dried plant, break it off and draw it. Start simple: Just one small twig, not the whole tree. If you keep it very simple, you won’t be overwhelmed either. Or just pick something small (maybe a Knick-knack)in your living space and relax and draw it (without worrying about how it will turn out!). Hope that helps.

  4. I have only recently started to experiment with coloured pencils having accumulated quite a collection belonging to my grandsons.
    I found your tip about using a cotton bud was worth giving it a go and was delighted how easy I could achieve a softer look.
    Thank you

    • So happy you gave it a try. It’s a wonderful technique for when you wish to minimize the look of the pencil strokes when rendering softer subjects, like flower petals, for example.
      Happy colored penciling!

  5. I just saw a article on working with colored pencils and enjoyed it so much. I do love using the pencils but mine were off brand and I hope to get the brand you mentioned and trying more things in life. I love any kind of art work. I crochet a lot and try to stay busy but On August 2nd I turn 83 and hope to do more things that I love.

    • So glad to hear, Bonnie. How wonderful it is to try new things, and we never stop learning, do we? Regarding colored pencil brands, my recommendation is to invest the best you can afford. The better quality won’t disappoint!
      Have a colorful day!

  6. Thank you I will almost certainly use at lest one of these methods. A tea strainer works well for “shaving” pencils. Sometimes they come with a dish which collects the shavings

  7. Great info on the backgrounds! And will incorporate into my enditions!
    Inspired by Paul Calle Andrew Loomis James Bama
    Thx again!


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