I know, you finally figured out how to make shiny leaves and flowers, how to make the fur on your fox hidden in the brush and how to make the eye pop on your fairy coloring. You think you’ve reached the end of your learning process but then you see those other colorists, you know those… whose great products always make you feel like yours isn’t finished… It’s the background. I’m also still learning techniques on how to make backgrounds but having the right background coloring supplies helps with that.
Soft pastels for adult coloring book backgrounds
The easiest way to apply the background is a soft pastel. They come in many different shapes and price points. The question to ask yourself is do you care if your area is messy because playing with chalk pastels is messy! Should it be lightweight, aka do you care if your photos fade over time? The first set I bought was this cheap set with so many beautiful colors because I had no idea what I wanted.
The first set I tried was Mungyo Soft Pastels in 64 colors. Each stick is just over an inch long but for backgrounds, don’t use too much. I take my fingernails, or a pocketknife, or these artist knives made specifically for this purpose or whatever I have on hand, and I scratch a very large area on the area I want to color and using my fingers or an applicator or a cotton tip I carefully fill it into the background. (Watch Peta Hewitt’s instructional videos less) You can easily layer and blend colors to get a sunset effect, for example, or a soft glow around the moon.
There are a plethora of Blick’s pastel combination options here
My next experiment was a little more expensive and I still don’t think I’m using it properly! I purchased Derwent soft pastel pencils. I don’t like using them at all, firstly, the sound and feel of using them on paper is a bit like fingernails on a chalkboard, so maybe I should try sharpening them on a paper board and using them with a rod like Mungyo above. After reading the reviews on Amazon, I think I’ll have to try it again. I think 24 colors is enough if you are going to use it for backgrounds. If you’re going to use them on other art projects, the set of 72 colors in the wooden box looks pretty cool and only a few dollars more than a tin which we all know is frustrating to use at best.
I would give these Faber-Castell pastels a try just to see the difference between the budget brand above and the mid-range artist quality of these FC’s. Sennelier’s iridescent 24-color set of chalk pastels is alluring, the reviews are glowing, and it’s the top of the line for artists.
The soft pastel pebbles are gorgeous! I especially love the applicator and the little cotton buds that come with these sets of colors which come in 15 shades with 2 shades of each color for 30 different options.
Crème de la Crème when it comes to pastels for coloring books and mixed media arts. They are very lightweight and low on dust.
Blick’s best selection of PanPastels can be found here.
Individual tubs, applicators, kits, and pads are available.
I started with yellow, blue and pink but now that i have tried them i want more. You can also use it with a damp brush to give it a watery look. PanPastels are highly pigmented and wonderfully smooth to apply.
Seascape 10 packs contain the beautiful white + green and blue. The Collection of Tints would probably be an ideal place to start because they are light shades that you might want to use for backgrounds, and they include Hansa Yellow Tint, Permanent Green Tint, Permanent Red Tint, Ultramarine Blue Tint, and Violet Tint. Sketch set contains all neutral colors for holistic pictures of skin. Panpastel also contains a colorless blending medium that helps smooth or create other layering effects. You also get this tray that will organize your pastels.
Eye shadow – yes, eye shadow. Have you had eye shadow since you were in high school and never got rid of it? excellent! Use them just as you would soft pastels. Once you start using them for coloring, don’t use them for your eyes anymore, you won’t want to use that bacteria in your eyes. You can also go to the dollar store for half-price post-Christmas makeup.
The Matte Shimmer Metallic Eyeshadow Palette is perfect for back-to-back purposes
Watercolors and watercolor pens – We won’t go into detail here because we have a whole article on using watercolors in coloring books, so click here for that.
Don’t buy oil pastels for coloring books, They are completely different and will make a smudgy mess in your coloring book. You are looking for soft pastel colors sometimes called chalk pastels.
Don’t blow pastel dust off your work, Gently press it into the trash, you could accidentally breathe in the dust which could cause problems. You can also use a sticky.
Soft pastel fixatives
Chalk is by nature dusty and messy and you don’t want that to get all over the rest of the coloring pages and books in your collection, so a spray fixer is a must. You need to get a workable fixative that you can go over the chalk with gel pens, pencils or marker, and be sure to spray the fixative before using gel pens or markers because it can make them bleed through the paper or smudge. This must be done outdoors, of course.
Soft pastel applicators
Coloring and pastel backgrounds is a delicate endeavor, so you’ll need an eraser no matter how careful you are. These erasers will do double duty for colored pencils and soft pastels.
Background stencils at Scrapbook.com
I’m starting to see colorists use various mixed media supplies to do special effects on their backgrounds and one of the things is using stencils. Using a repeating type stencil will usually give you the best results because you want the background to be just like that, the background for your beautiful color image. Tim Holtz has a large collection of background stencils and I use them on most of my creative projects. You can go for the soft look of pastels with a q-tip type of applicator or apply a soft chalk background and go back again with simple stencils using a more subtle method with your colored pencils.
Tim Holtz’s layering stencils are my favorite; he has dozens of combinations. Here at Scrapbook.com, Joggles, or Amazon
The experience is always fun!
I think this snowflake stencil would look great in Joanna’s Christmas Book or any of our Top 25 Christmas Coloring Books. Little Circles seem to be a new trend for wallpapers, I really love the look of this Cell Theory by Crafters Workshop because I never like anything that looks too perfect. If you don’t like the look of your lettering or handwriting, these word stencils look fun. These folk art Moroccan tiles would make a great background, as well as Tim Holtz’s floral flourish stencils, (I use this all the time in my art journal) This is a floral lace stencil or layered lace stencils, but my favorite so far are these stencils of burlap and fumbled bubbles Appearance by Tim Holtz.
Backgrounds using marker or gel pens
I have used successfully Faber Castell pencils for backgrounds and they work great. It hangs a bit if you look closely and use that critical eye, we’re distracting ourselves, but it’s retracted a few inches and looks flawless. My recommendation is to use the Pitt Pen for smaller details around design and tight spaces. Then pencil the large brush with matching color for the larger areas. If you use Faber Castell Polychromos pencils for your drawing, you will immediately notice that the Pitt pencils match perfectly in color making it look very cohesive for your project.
Posca paint pens – I’ve seen artists rave about and like these pens more than Pitt Pens, so far my experience hasn’t been great. It’s the paint pen type where you have to put it on top and when I do that the paint just squirts everywhere. I will say try them at your own risk and find some YouTube on how to use them. This is the set i bought with bigger nibs, i probably should have bought the good points to try them out first. Anyway, if you like these let us know your tips on how to use them, I’m sure in my case it’s a user error.
Gel Pens – These are tricky to use for backgrounds because of the smudging that inevitably occurs if you’re an impatient colourist but especially use metallic or glitter effects, you can get a really cool piece of art. My favorite is the skull from Magical Jungle where I used the silver metallic gel pen to do some filling work with the black Pitt Pen for the full background using only colored pencils.
Visit the background coloring technique tutorial page here.