First – what IS cold finish as it relates to ceramics?  A cold finish is anything that is NOT glaze/underglaze. Only to be used for sculptural items – yes, jewelry can fall under this category.  It is relegated for sculptural items ONLY because it is NOT food safe.

Cold Finish Medium Used

As it says in the title of this post, this tutorial is all about using craft quality colored pencils as a cold finish on sculptural ceramics.

Liqui-Mark is the name brand of the pencils that I used for this example.  There are other name brands that create some great quality pencils.  I will be exploring different name brands in future tests.  Do you have a specific name brand of colored pencil you’d like me to add to my resource page?  Comment below and let me know!

The best way to use this product is with patience! Using colored pencils out of the box is definitely more time consuming than other techniques we’ve looked at in previous explorations. The pencil doesn’t cover as much area, multiple passes are required to apply pigment solidly over the ceramic base, and you will stop on a regular basis to sharpen the pencil.

Image collage with ceramic tile, colored pencils, and caption about the subject - using colored pencils as a cold finish


Image of ceramic tile with calla lily design showing supplies needed for the process of using colored pencils as a cold finish

Colored pencils in a variety of colors

A pencil sharpener

Bisqued Ceramic Item (I make carved relief tiles to use as test tiles)

Eye shadow brush or q-tip (not pictured)

My Process

In the image above, you may have noticed that one side is white and one side is off white.  The white side has been primed with gesso while the off white side is bare stoneware clay.  In my cold finish exploration, it’s not just about the mediums that can be used.  It’s about finding the best combination to create the best results. I’m testing all my current materials on tiles that have been primed with Liquitex Gesso . Once I complete this round of testing, every medium will get tested again with a different priming material.

Image collage with ceramic tile, colored pencils, and the Maine Arts Commission logo

  1. Prime half the test tile. Let sit overnight.
  2. Decide on color scheme. Grab a colored pencil and start coloring!
  3. Apply first layer of color without worrying about coverage.
  4. Continue to add layers of color creating depth and opaque coverage.
  5. Smudge/blend/burnish with q-tip or eye shadow sponge.
  6. Apply sealant.

I know… seems way too simplistic, right?  Well it is EASY, but I’m saving the more in depth and time intensive tutorials for those in my member group. This process/tutorial page is definitely geared for folks who just need a little prodding, to know the basics, and like to explore the DIY approach. If you’re interested in the more in depth tutorials, check out the MEMBERS ONLY tab at the top and look at all the different subscription levels. There’s something for every budget. 


Image of colored ceramic tile with calla lily design, showing the difference in matte and gloss sealants

I mentioned earlier that these were craft quality colored pencils – you don’t HAVE to use expensive professional artist quality products.  Using a higher quality product will definitely prolong the life of your finish – especially if the colors are lightfast – but it’s not necessary when you are first starting out and just experimenting to see if this is a technique that appeals to you.  If you read the tutorial about using Pan Pastels as a cold finish, you can see how the roughness of the bisqued stoneware clay eats up the sponge.  It has the similar affect on the pencils. I had to sharpen each pencil multiple times before I was done.  I used probably 0.5″ on each pencil (except the yellow). Keep in mind this is a small 4″ square relief tile..

Image of ceramic tile with calla lily design showing how the colored pencil looks different when one side is bare and one side has gesso
Image of ceramic tile with calla lily design, showing the differences in appearance for different sealants

When comparing the gessoed versus non-gessoed side of the tile, I personally prefer the non-gessoed side.  If you look closely, you can see the pencil marks more on the gessoed side. The gessoed side was more difficult to burnish with the sponge in my effort to blend/smudge the pencil marks together  While this COULD be a desired look depending on what I’m working on, more often than not, I would rather it all blend together. The non-gessoed side allowed the pigment to be blended much easier and allowed me to eliminate a majority of the pencil marks.

In the next picture, you can see the differences in using a variety of different sealants.  For this iteration of experiments I’m using ModPodge.  I’ve used Krylon as a sealant but have found that for my preference (a matte finish), Mod Podge Matte provides that better than some of the other sealants I’ve tried.  As with the primers, I will be doing these same sets of test tiles with a variety of sealants in the future.

With the colored pencil, it is more difficult to see the difference between the gloss and matte sealant.  You have to look closely and adjust the light angle to see the gloss.  Additional layers of gloss sealant would increase that affect if desired.   There is a slight difference between the matte ModPodge and the non-sealed colored pencil.


Image of a Ceramic tile with a calla lily design, person holding up two fingers to show durability of colored pencils on ceramic tile

  • When using craft quality colored pencils, keep in mind that it will take many layers of color the ceramic base.
  • If you want to blend 2 different colors into a gradient as I tried on the test tile, you have to do so in layers.  Apply the darker color in areas, apply the lighter color, then use a third color to go over them both to blend it in. You can see this process more clearly in the hyperlapse video below.
  • Very little pigment came off my fingers when I pressed firmly and drug my finger over the top of the unsealed part of the tile.  You do not necessarily NEED to apply a sealant unless you want to change the finish from matte to glossy or vice versa. I apply one as a precaution and to make cleaning my sculptures easier as well as to help protect against the elements.


I hope that these basic pictures, tips, and brief instruction were helpful.  At the very least, it should give you a starting point to launch your own exploration into this medium as a cold finish.  For more information about additional cold finishes, check out the COLD FINISHES page under the RESOURCE CENTER tab.  To be notified when I publish new tutorials or blog posts, sign up for my newsletter or RSS feed and check back often.

Have any questions?  Please ask!

cold finish technique exploration and resource page funded in part by a project grant (2018-2019) from the Maine Arts Commission