Can You Use Colored Pencils on Canvas? Benefits & Drawbacks

August 28, 2023 by

This is a guide covering what to know when using colored pencils on canvas.

We’ll be covering the following topics:

Table of Contents

Can You Use Colored Pencils on Canvas?

It’s possible to use colored pencils on canvas, but you need to consider a few things to succeed in drawing on canvas. First, the canvas is designed for paints, so when you use colored pencils on canvas, it chips away the pencils far too quickly.

Canvas works great in giving a more painting-like feel to your drawing and you can use color layering to add more vibrancy to the colors on the canvas.

Still, you can make detailed drawings on canvas with plain old colored pencils instead of purchasing expensive acrylic paints.

Using colored pencils on canvas the right way can be budget-friendly.

To further explore the subject of using colored pencils on canvas and to see it in action, we recommend checking out this video by sunshinearts:

Things to Consider Before Using Colored Pencils on Canvas?

You need to consider a few things before you try colored pencils on canvas. If you don’t consider these things, you’ll end up wasting money and getting stressed out.

1. Pencil Selection 

You can’t use just any colored pencils on canvas. It would help if you used hard pencils such as Faber Castell or Prismacolor.

colored pencil
pencil selection

Also, you need to choose oil-based pencils that have harder or solid cores since oil pigments work better on unprimed or lightly canvas.

For heavily primed canvas, soft pencils are better since they smudge easily, and you can blend the colors to add more details. 

2. Primed or Unprimed Canvas

Unprimed canvas is rough and has ample teeth on its surface. It works great with paints or charcoal.

However, your soft pencil will deplete a lot quicker with an unprimed canvas. In contrast, the primed canvas is smoother, especially a canvas that has been heavily primed.

It will work better with colored pencils. 

3. Use Canvas Panels

The canvas boards have a stretch canvas, and when drawing, most artists prefer to place their drawing hand on the canvas.

canvas panel color pencil
canvas panel

But this action causes the canvas to sink under pressure and then it bounces back after the pressure is lifted.

It may not seem like a problem, but it will affect the final drawing. So, instead, you should buy pre-primed canvas panels that are flat.

4. Prime a Canvas Yourself

Instead of buying primed canvas, you can make a primed canvas at home from an unprimed one. You’ll need gesso paint or spray for this.

To apply gesso paint on canvas, take a board-tipped brush and dip it in gesso. Apply the gesso in one direction first.

Then, check if you’ve missed a spot. Gesso is reflective so any nonreflecting spot has no gesso. Apply gesso on those spots.

Let the canvas dry after the first coat, and then it’s best to sand the canvas lightly with sandpaper. Now, apply the second coat.

You’ll want to do at least three coats to get a smoother canvas. 

Benefits of Using Colored Pencils on Canvas?

Canvas is a different medium than paper, and the effects of the colored pencils on canvas are also different than on paper.

However, there are many benefits of using canvas for colored pencils.

Canvas is durable, and there’s no risk of it tearing easily like with paper. 

Moreover, water or vigorous rubbing with an eraser won’t be destroyed a canvas. If you use board-mounted canvas, you won’t need to frame it.

But you may need to fix the drawing with a fixative or cover it with glassine. Similarly, drawing on canvas gives the final drawing a painting effect, even when it’s made with colored pencils. 

Here are all the benefits:

1. Texture and Visual Interest

Canvas has a distinct texture that can add depth and visual interest to colored pencil artwork. The texture can create a more tactile and three-dimensional appearance, enhancing the overall visual experience.

2. Blendability

Colored pencils on canvas can create interesting blending effects due to the textured surface. The texture can help naturally blend and soften colors, allowing for a painterly or pastel-like quality.

3. Mixed Media Possibilities

Using colored pencils on canvas opens up opportunities for combining different artistic mediums. You can incorporate other media like acrylic paint, ink, or even collage elements into your artwork.

4. Durable and Archival

Properly sealed and protected, colored pencil artwork on canvas can be quite durable and archival. Sealants can help protect the colors and prevent smudging, ensuring the longevity of the piece.

5. Layering and Depth

The texture of canvas allows for layering colored pencil strokes in a way that adds depth and complexity to the artwork. The textured surface can contribute to creating rich layers of color and shading.

6. Distinctive Look

Colored pencils on canvas produce a unique look that can set your artwork apart from pieces done on traditional paper surfaces. This can be especially valuable if you’re aiming for a specific artistic style or aesthetic.

7. Adaptable Techniques

While there may be a learning curve, artists can adapt their colored pencil techniques to the canvas surface. Techniques that emphasize texture, impressionism, or abstraction can work particularly well on canvas.

8. Expression of Texture

If you’re interested in capturing the appearance of textured subjects like fur, foliage, or rough surfaces, colored pencils on canvas can help you convey these textures convincingly.

9. Surface Experimentation

Canvas provides a surface that invites experimentation. You can scratch, layer, and manipulate the colored pencils in ways that might be less feasible on a smoother paper surface.

10. Unique Challenge

Overcoming the challenges of working with colored pencils on canvas can be a rewarding artistic experience. Navigating the unique properties of the medium and the surface can lead to innovative and unexpected results.

Drawbacks of Using Colored Pencil on Canvas

There are several drawbacks and challenges associated with using colored pencils on canvas:

1. Surface Texture

Canvas has a rough and porous texture, which can make it challenging to achieve smooth and even color application with colored pencils. The texture might interfere with getting fine details and gradients.

2. Color Vibrancy

Compared to paper, canvas doesn’t have the same level of color absorption, which can result in less vibrant and less saturated colors when using colored pencils.

3. Layering Difficulty

Colored pencils are often layered to achieve depth and shading. On canvas, layering can be more difficult due to the texture, as the pencil may not adhere well to the surface or may create uneven buildup.

4. Prone to Smudging

Colored pencil marks on canvas can be more prone to smudging, especially if not properly fixed with a sealant or fixative. This can compromise the final artwork’s quality.

5. Durability

Canvas fibers might not hold up as well to repeated blending, erasing, and layering, leading to potential damage or fraying.

6. Limited Erasability

Erasing mistakes or unwanted marks from colored pencils on canvas can be more challenging compared to paper, potentially leaving visible marks or damaging the canvas surface.

7. Time-Consuming

Achieving a smooth and vibrant result on canvas with colored pencils can be time-consuming due to the need for multiple layers and careful blending.

8. Adhesion and Fixatives

Colored pencils might not adhere as strongly to canvas as they do to paper, which could lead to problems with colors not sticking well or becoming dislodged. Fixatives might be required to prevent this, but they can alter the artwork’s appearance.

9. Frame Considerations

Finished colored pencil artwork on canvas might require special framing considerations due to the texture and thickness of the canvas, which can impact how the artwork is displayed.

10. Learning Curve

Artists accustomed to using colored pencils on paper might need to adapt their techniques significantly to work effectively on canvas, which could require additional time and experimentation.

Do Water Color Pencils Work on Canvas?

The result will look very much like watercolors on the canvas. Just like colored pencils can be used on canvas, watercolor pencils work on canvas.

However, they work best on small canvases, and it’s best to use a primed canvas for drawing with watercolor pencils.

Final Remarks

You need to take care to use the right kind of colored pencil on canvas and use a primed canvas for your drawings. You can buy primed canvas or apply coats of gesso on an unprimed canvas.

Canvas is cheap and a great medium for drawing and you can hang it up in your home without framing it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of canvas is best for colored pencils?

The best type of canvas for colored pencils is a fine-toothed surface canvas or paper. This type of canvas provides enough texture to hold the pigment of the colored pencil, while also being smooth enough to allow for detailed work.

How do you blend colored pencils on canvas?

To blend colored pencils on canvas, you can use a blending tool such as a blending stump or tortillon, or use a dry blending technique by layering and burnishing colors with a white pencil or colorless blender. The key is to use light pressure and layer colors gradually to achieve a smooth blend without damaging the tooth of the canvas.