Coloured Pencil Charts – Part 1

Colour Charts are an important tool for any artist. While it may seem tedious, there are many benefits to having one. If you don’t know what I’m referring to or have never made one before, fear not. When I sat down to write this post I realized it was going to be incredible EPIC if I tried to do it all at once. I didn’t want to take out some things I thought were important so this will a 2-PART post! This week I’m going to share with you some of the basic information and benefits and next week in part 2 take you step by step on how to make your own.

What is a colour chart?
A colour chart is essentially swatches of colour of a certain type and brand of a medium, that you apply in an organized and logical way on paper. How you choose to set up your chart and what information you want to include is up to you.

Can I just download the official PDF colour chart from a certain company?
Yes, you can do that, and I would recommend you do. It will help you with creating your own, but there is a problem with doing this. The colours you see on screen and what would print out from your printer, would not give you true accuracy to that specific medium. It’s very close in most cases, but sometimes not at all.


Basic Colour Wheel – In this chart you are using your primary colours red, blue and yellow to also create your secondary and tertiary colours. You can also add a grey scale chart using black and white.
Complete Colour Line – In this type you are creating a space for every colour in the line that the company makes. This is useful if you actually have all the colours or intend to.
On Hand Hues – This is pretty self-explanatory but basically, you make a chart with only the colours you currently have or wish to have. If you like working with a limited palette of colour this is a great way to make a simple and easy to execute chart.

barbsotiart_blog_ccp1_2Basic colour wheel with grey scale example.

1. Colour Accuracy – when you apply the paint, ink, coloured pencil or whatever medium you choose directly on a piece of paper it will give you exactly what the colour is going to look like. There’s no guess-work. Often times the colour on the outside of the tube may not quite exactly match what’s inside. It also doesn’t give you an accurate idea of opacity.

2. Understanding Application – When I created my Liquitex Acrylic Ink Chart, I had never used that particular medium before. Making the chart helped me understand how much of it and how many layers it would take to get full saturation and how much water to get a lighter hue. Testing this out ahead of time in this format can be beneficial. You may also choose, for example, with paint to mix out swatches incrementally with white to see how the colour changes.

3. Practice Blending Tones and Tints – lf you choose to blend your colours out with white, this is great practice for achieving tint gradations. This is an exercise often done in colour theory classes for art instruction. You can make this as complex or simple as you like.

4. Saves Time Finding a Colour – When I was working on my recent piece Tyto Alba. There were a lot of different colours in the photo I was working from. My Polychromos set has 120 colours in it, which is great for variety. The downside to this though, is I don’t always want to have to do a test swatch on scrap paper to find the right colour. There’s nothing wrong with that approach but personally, I don’t like going through that process. With the colour chart, you have already created a swatch that tells you exactly what all of the colours will look like and can make your selection from there.

5. Great Way to Test Lightfastness – Your colour chart can have many uses. One of which is that you can use it to do a real life lightfastness test. While the information provided by the companies and various other resources are usually pretty accurate, there’s nothing wrong with testing it yourself. You can do this by creating a chart the covers a portion of the swatch you created, while leaving the other side exposed. Then hang it where it will get direct sunlight. Its a good idea to note, time of the year, month, day etc on there somewhere as well and for how long you exposed it for.

6. Cataloguing Your Inventory – I recently decided I’m obsessed with Liquitex Acrylic Ink and need to own every colour it comes in. The chart I made helps me identify which colours I have and which ones I still need to get. In doing this, you can also see which colours are very similar to each other. You may not want to purchase both hues again in the future once you run out.

If you are thinking about making your own colour chart, you have some homework until we meet again next week. First, decide which medium and brand you want to make a chart for. An example would be Prismacolor Premier Coloured Pencils. If you don’t have the complete full set of the colours and brand, don’t worry you can tailor your chart however you want. If you are feeling extra keen you can always purchase as many of the colours as you can. By all means, don’t feel pressured to though. Great charts can be created with 4 or 5 colours if need be. Once you have made that decision you also want to find out if the company that makes that brand has an official colour chart that you can use for reference and to fill in information next week.

Charts from brands I use:

Barb Sotiropoulos

Barb Sotiropoulos

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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Hey, I'm Barb!

I’m a Canadian artist and designer specializing in coloured pencil and mixed media. When I’m not creating art, I love helping other artists by sharing tips and tricks that have helped me. You can find me on all of my social channels @barbsotiart or check out my past Q&A articles for COLORED PENCIL Magazine or my co-hosting appearances on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast.

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