Meredith Moss Art

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Why do colored pencil drawings look like oil paintings?

written by Meredith

May 14, 2023

A selection of paints and the types of pigments and binders used to create them.

Often people refer to my art as “paintings” but in most cases I’m using colored pencils — not paint. What you’ll learn is that the materials used to create different media are often the same or very similar.

Media or medium is the term for the raw material used to make art. Familiar examples include oil paints, acrylic paints, watercolor/gouache paints, egg tempera, pastels, and colored pencils (my fave!). Each medium is comprised of two basic parts: pigment and binder.


Pigments are the substances used to create the actual color. For example, if you look at a watercolor set, each different color has a different pigment. When looking across brands and media, the pigments remain fairly consistent from one medium to another. Some well-known pigments are yellow ochre, cobalt blue, lapis lazuli, sienna, sepia, and cadmium red.

Jars of powdered pigments

These pigments are derived in many ways. They can be synthetic or natural and organic or inorganic. Their properties can vary in terms of opacity, lightfastness, tinting strength, and other properties. We’ll talk more about pigment properties in a future post.

Pigments have large particles and are insoluble in water. Therefore, they are suspended in a binder. (Note: compounds which dissolve in water are dyes.)


The binders are what hold the pigments together until they are deposited onto their intended surface. It is really the binders that create major differences among media.

You start with a pigment which is usually a powder. From there, you mix it with a chosen binder for the desired result. So, you start with pigment and mix it with the binder:

oil and waxoil paint; oil pastels; crayons; colored pencils
egg yolkegg tempera
caseincasein paint
acrylic polymeracrylic paint
gumwatercolor paint; gouache paint; soft pastels
Table of binders and media
A selection of oil and wax binders

Did you know???

The name Crayola was derived from a combination of the French word for chalk pencil and the word “oleaginous” which means oily. So, crayons were designed as oily chalk pencils!

So, if most media are using similar ingredients, why are they different? This happens because of variations in binder specifics, the proportions of various ingredients, and the additional ingredients.

I’m intentionally using very generic terminology.  There are many types of oils and waxes. Traditional oils include linseed, walnut, safflower, and poppy. Popular waxes are beeswax and paraffin.

Other Ingredients

Pigments and binders are just the basics. Depending on the manufacturer’s objective, they can add quality ingredients which can improve performance or introduce fillers with the goal of reducing price. It all depends on the market.

Video: Making Paint

Click on the link to enjoy this short video demonstration of making and tubing oil paint.

For example, a special additive for watercolors is honey (both Sennelier and M.Graham use honey). Some painters appreciate the smoother consistency of the paint. But for others, honey is a liability because it can make the paint less transportable (especially true for those painting outdoors). As with any other product, different buyers favor different qualities.


Different media using the ultramarine blue pigment

In addition to the differences in raw materials, manufacturing processes vary. And, by definition, artists use the products creatively so that the same materials can produce unique outcomes.

Now you understand that my colored pencil drawings look like oil paintings, because the raw materials are very similar. I love understanding the supplies I use. And, I’m on a mission to learn more! What else would you like to know about art supplies? Please let me know in the comments below.

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2 comments on “Why do colored pencil drawings look like oil paintings?

  • Ellen Bucciarelli Bucciarelli says:

    So interesting. I learned so much . Did not realize bees wax and honey were used in this nature

    • Ellen, many of the art supply manufacturers take great pride in the quality of their materials. Sennelier even keeps bees on their premises so they control the quality of honey. Now that’s real commitment to quality.

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