Carrie L. Lewis, Artist & Tutor

Classical Techniques in Oils and Colored Pencil

On EmptyEasel – 7 Lessons Learned from a Simple Drawing

In the previous post, I shared some of the mistakes I made when I was learning how to draw with colored pencils. None of them were particularly original and all of them were recoverable.

But lessons are learned with every drawing or painting. Sometimes I do a drawing with the goal of learning a new technique or experimenting with new colors.

Sometimes, the lessons just happen.

Such was the case with a small colored pencil landscape I did some time ago, West of Bazaar. I wrote about those lessons for EmptyEasel.

7 Lessons Learned from a Simple Drawing

Every drawing should be more than just a pretty piece of art. . . it should also represent your progress as an artist. Ideally, a look back at your work should tell a story of the lessons you’ve learned and the skills you’ve gained.

These lessons don’t even need to be mind-blowing or game-changing. Not at all! Just accumulate enough seemingly insignificant lessons and you could set yourself up for a break-through moment.

A few years ago, I did (what was, for me at that time) quite an experimental drawing. It was simply a smaller than normal landscape, on a surface I didn’t regularly use, but I’ve never forgotten the lessons I learned because of that drawing.

Here are a few of those lessons. Read More

4 Mistakes I’ve Made With Colored Pencil (And How You Can Avoid Them)

4 Mistakes I've Made with Colored Pencil

We’ve all done it. Made some mistake with a drawing that frustrates us at best and can necessitate starting over at worst (don’t tell me I’m the only one who’s ever done that!).

We all like learning new ways of doing things. We want to be more creative and more productive. We want to learn how to do things in the best possible way.

Most of the time, though, the best way to learn how to do something right is by discovering all the ways to do it wrong.

So here are four things I’ve learned how to do right by doing them wrong!

Mistake #1: Destroying Highlights

I was an oil painter for nearly twenty years before I started with colored pencils. I was accustomed to being able to add opaque highlights over everything else because oil paints are well suited to that process.

Colored pencils, on the other hand, are not.

I started with Prismacolor pencils because that’s what was available where I lived when I first started using colored pencils. I didn’t shop online (it wasn’t widely available way back then) and I had no idea there were other brands of colored pencils.

Or that Prismacolor pencils were wax-based or that there were oil-based pencils.

I used what I had and what I had wouldn’t allow me to add highlights over everything else. Usually because there was already too much pigment and wax on the paper by then, but also because all colored pencils are more or less translucent. Lighter colors simply disappear when applied over dark colors.

So I was forever creating colored pencil artwork with few or no bright highlights.

And I hated them!

How to Avoid It

hoof-drawing-demo-03I eventually began outlining highlights during the drawing process. If I knew where highlights were supposed to be before I put the first colored pencil to the paper, I could work around them. It’s still all-too-easy to layer color over the highlights, but it happens much less frequently than it used to.

I’ve also started outlining shadows, as the drawing at the right shows. The heaviest lines are the outside edges. I use a medium weight dotted line to define the strongest shadows and a light, dotted or broken line to outline highlights. Those lines are all transferred when the drawing is transferred, so I have a clear map for developing highlights and shadows.

I’ve also learned how to lift color after it’s on the paper. For highlights with extremely soft edges, I now glaze color lightly over the highlight, then lift color from the brightest areas with an eraser, sticky-stuff, or tape.

It’s also possible to burnish a lighter color over a darker color to create a subtle highlight.

Use all three methods to draw a range of highlights.

Mistake #2: Getting Too Dark Too Soon

I like my colored pencil drawings to look like my oil paintings. It is possible, but it takes a light hand and lots of layers. When I was first getting started with colored pencils, I didn’t know that and I often put too many darks on the paper too early in the drawing process.

And often over the highlights (see Mistake #1).

How to Avoid Getting Too Dark Too Soon

limitedpalettedogdetail1-carrielewisUse light pressure and light colors at the beginning of the drawing. Glaze colors carefully and work slowly to avoid getting too dark too quickly. The illustration at right shows several layers of color and you can still see paper through it. Even with darker colors, this technique helps you keep from going too dark to quickly.

Use harder, dryer pencils like Prismacolor Verithin pencils for work in the first stages. They go onto the paper more lightly and are easier to erase if necessary.

They also contain less wax, so you can add a lot of layers without filling in the paper tooth. Because they contain less wax, softer pencils can be applied over them with ease.

Mistake #3: Giving Up on Drawings Because They’re Ugly

These two mistakes led invariably to my third mistake: Giving up on drawings. I might add, giving up too soon, but in most cases, any time I gave up, it was too soon. A little more work, and I could have gotten past the problem.

How to Avoid Giving Up on a Drawing

The most important thing I’ve learned about colored pencil drawing (and most artwork) is that every piece goes through an awkward or ugly phase. At some point, a drawing starts to look hopeless.

But I’ve also learned that a drawing can go from looking hopeless to looking finished almost from one stroke of the pencil to the next. I can’t explain it but I know it happens.

Mistake #4: Giving Up on Drawings Because They’re Taking Too Long

Even if there appears to be no “ugly phase”, it sometimes takes so long to finish a drawing—especially a large one—that I just got tired of it. New drawings started to look real attractive and a lot more exciting. It’s oh-so-easy to giving up on a large or time-consuming drawing because I just get tired of it.

How to Avoid Giving Up on a Drawing

If you tend to work all over a drawing at the same time, cover everything except one element of the drawing with paper. Work on that element to near completion, then move to another element.

You might also try working section by section. Divide the drawing into sections by the square inch (or square foot or whatever size works best). Finish or nearly finish that section, then move to the next. Keep the edges between the sections soft so you can blend them together. When the drawing is nearly finished all over, work on the entire piece again to do whatever fine-tuning is necessary to finish the drawing.

Another method that works well for me is to have more than one piece in progress at the same time. If I get tired of one, I move to the other. You can alternate by the day or by the week, or simply move to the second drawing whenever you get tired of the first one.

Those are four of my early mistakes. I confess. I still struggle with all of them once in a while and with a couple of them routinely.

They are not, by any means, the extent of the mistakes I’ve made!

What about you? What mistakes would you add to my list? How did you overcome them if you did?

Drawing Challenge November 21, 2015

Weekly Drawing Challenge 2015-11-21The mini clinic for the week was all about how to draw the legs and feet of a horse. I showed you how I use a grid system to draw everything from small drawings to the most complicated of drawings or paintings. Before that, I also described how to draw a standing hoof using a freehand method.

This week’s featured article from EmptyEasel, How to Create an Accurate Drawing Using the Grid Method, further describes drawing with a grid.

That’s a lot of information on drawing, with a lot of horse legs and hoofs into the bargain.

Now it’s your turn.

Below is a collection of photographs of the legs and feet of horses. While I hope you enjoy looking at them, what I really hope is that you’ll use them to practice the lessons from earlier this week. Do a hoof drawing or two and see how they turn out. You can use any medium and style you like.

If it’s helpful, you can download any of the images for reference.

If you get a drawing, sketch, or painting that you like and want to share, email it to me and I’ll upload it to this page. Put the words “drawing challenge” in the subject line.

Images should be between 300 and 500 pixels on the long side and saved at 72 dpi as a jpg or png file (jpg preferred). Tell me a little bit about your artwork, including the size, medium and up to 100 words about your artwork.

I’ll post images as they’re received at the bottom of this post, so you may want to bookmark this page for easy future reference.

Weekly Drawing Challenge November 21, 2015 #2

Weekly Drawing Challenge November 21, 2015 #3

Weekly Drawing Challenge November 21, 2015 #4

Weekly Drawing Challenge November 21, 2015 #7

Reader Artwork

Drawing Challenge 2015-11-21 Hoof Sketch

I drew these studies freehand and from my imagination in a few spare moments. I used a 6B graphite pencil (my favorite sketching tool) and a Mead Academie sketch book, 9×6 inches, white. The paper has a medium tooth suitable for a number of different dry mediums. I like the way they all turned out, but my favorite is the one in the middle. It has the most motion.

On EmptyEasel – How to Create an Accurate Drawing Using the Grid Method

How to Create an Accurate Drawing Using the Grid Method

It’s a painstaking job to draw an accurate grid by hand, which is why I prefer to print this grid on my paper whenever possible. However, in this case the size of this portrait (16×20) makes it too large to print—so I did have to hand-draw it.

Today I’m going to describe my actual drawing process. Although I’m using a dog portrait as a demonstration piece, this method works with any subject.

Luckily, this grid is square, which made calculating it’s size and placement fairly easy. I just needed to decide how large the grid should be on my paper before using a ruler or straight-edge to put the grid in place.

NOTE: A good rule of thumb when drawing portraits is that the subject should take up at least half of the width of the paper. Since the width of my paper is 16 inches, 8 inches is as small as the grid should be. Read More

How to Draw the Legs and Feet of Horses

How to Draw the Legs and Feet of HorsesA horse’s feet are nearly as distinctive to each horse as human fingerprints are to each person. Bone structure in the legs, body type, and genetics all play a role in the shape of the natural hoof, how it strikes the ground, and it’s positioned throughout the stride. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits all foot for the artist who is interested in painting individual horses.

For the longest time, all my horses appeared in tall grass or water or were painted or drawn in poses that didn’t require feet. I hated drawing feet because I could never get them right.

Over the years, skills at drawing feet improved and they are now among my favorite horse parts to draw and paint. Hopefully, this mini clinic will help you find the same enjoyment in producing a solid, believable foot. Let’s go!

The First Step

How to Draw the Legs and Feet of Horses Step 1

Drawings are developed through a series of stages beginning with a full-size grid drawn or printed on drawing paper. I try to make the squares as large as possible and still retain the ability to capture finer details.

In the illustration above, we’re actually looking at the third step in the drawing process. The grid was printed on drawing paper and the first stage of the drawing was done in Verithin Non Photo Blue pencil. That shade of blue doesn’t photograph very well, but it’s ideal for the first phase of drawing because it’s easy to erase and easy to work over. At the blue stage, my goal is placing the large shapes in the correct sizes and positions on the paper.

For the next step, I used Prismacolor Vermilion Red/Pale Vermilion to begin fine-tuning the lines. I worked throughout the drawing, reshaping and re-positioning as necessary. The back foot and extended front leg are finished at this stage.

The flexed front leg is one step beyond. I stopped using the reference photo with the grid and relied more on the enlarged (11×14) original photo at this stage.

I’m still correcting the line drawing, but I’ve also begun establishing shape and contour by adding value. I keep the values light and even at this stage, because I am still drawing.

But I had drawn this foot in profile based on what I could see in the gridded 8×10 photo, and when I looked at the enlargement, I realized the foot is actually tipped outward so the shoe and a bit of the sole of the foot is visible. That required redrawing that area.

I also noticed that the shin boot doesn’t cover the fetlock on the outside, so I had to correct that area. To keep the lines and shapes in correct order, I added the shading.

The image below gives you a better idea of how the leg took shape through the first three phases of drawing. Take note that I haven’t bothered to erase previous lines. The drawing is built on each phase of work and unless there’s a major error, no erasing is done until I’m working on the final version.

How to Draw the Legs and Feet of Horses Detail


The Second Step

How to Draw the Legs and Feet of Horses Step 2
Once the drawing is in place on the paper, the process becomes a matter of refining the shapes and adding detail, one layer after another.

In the first illustration for this step, I’ve defined the details in the two extended feet. The shoes have been drawn and I’ve added shading to the hooves to give them mass and shape. I’ve also shaded the fetlocks on both legs and, although you can’t see it, I’ve shaded into the upper legs. As in the previous step, pressure is kept light and the color layer is thin and light enough to be erasable.

How to Draw the Legs and Feet of Horses Step 3

In this step, I’ve started adding darker values. Technically, I’m still drawing, but because the lines between highlights and shadows can get confusing, shading helps establish those edges more clearly.

Take note that the hooves are not shaped exactly the same. The two front hooves are close, but the angle of the foot changes the shape.

The back foot is not the same shape. This horse has a blockier back hoof. Because this is a portrait of a specific horse, I’m taking special care to draw each part the way it appears in the reference photograph.

The Third Step

How to Draw the Legs and Feet of Horses Step 4

When I’ve done as much as I can with the original drawing, it’s time to lay a fresh sheet of tracing paper over the drawing and make a new one. This will be the drawing I photograph for the client if they get an electronic proof, so it needs to be as clean and crisp as possible. If they’re getting a full-size physical drawing, this will be the second to last step. The client drawing will be the final step.

In the photo above, the front legs and the cast shadow have been drawn on the new sheet of paper. The back leg has not yet been drawn. I work through each area carefully, making sure the line is crisp and dark enough to photograph. Accuracy is of major concern so even at this point, I continue to compare the drawing and the reference photograph, taking measurements if necessary and erasing and making changes as I go.

How to Draw the Legs and Feet of Horses Final Drawing Detail

Because this is a pretty intense part of the process, I tend to work in short sessions. I work standing up, so my legs and back need frequent breaks. So do my 50-year-old eyes. I’ve found out the hard way that it’s a lot better to work in shorter sessions than it is to push through a long session and risk getting impatient. Mistakes happen in moments of impatience. It’s best to avoid them.

No drawing is ever complete until the painting is finished. Tweaking continues until the signature is in place.

But a good finished drawing provides a clear road map of where the painting is headed. In the case of a paid portrait, it also gives the client an idea of what their finished portrait will look like as far as composition.

Muscle Hill

Learn more about drawing with one of my online art courses.

Drawing Challenge November 14, 2015

Weekly Drawing Challenge 2015-11-14More leaves this week—it is Autumn after all and even here in Kansas, the color eventually fades!

You’re welcome to sketch, paint, draw, or otherwise make art from the images I post. Feel free to download the following image and have fun with it.

If you get something you like,  send it to me by email and I’ll upload it for you. Put “Drawing Challenge” in the subject line.

Images should be between 300 and 500 pixels on the long side and saved at 72 dpi as a jpg or png file (jpg preferred). Tell me a little bit about your artwork. Include size, medium, and up to 100 words about your drawing, painting, or sketch.

I’ll post images as they’re received at the bottom of this post, so you may want to bookmark this page for easy future reference.

Drawing Challenge 2015-11-14 Autumn Leaves 1

Drawing Challenge 2015-11-14 Autumn Leaves 2

How to Draw a Realistic Landscape in Colored Pencil

How to Draw a Realistic Landscape in Colored Pencil

The good people at EmptyEasel are taking the week off, so I’m reposting links to one of the first articles I wrote for them. In this three-part series, I demonstrate how to draw a realistic landscape using the complementary under drawing method.

I hope you enjoy the series!

How to Draw a Complementary Underpainting for your Green Landscape

How to Add Rich, Vibrant Color on Top of Your Colored Pencil Underpainting

Finishing Up a Traditional Colored Pencil Landscape Painting


Featured Art – Buckles & Belts in Oils

6″ x 8″ Oil
Prepared Masonite Panel

Although the composition includes a horse, the focus is the combination of buckles, straps and shadows where a bridle and halter meet so I consider Buckles & Belts in Oils to be more of an equine still life than a horse painting.

The horse was a pony horse I photographed years ago at Mt. Pleasant Meadows, a small horse racing facility in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. He was a regular for the several years I visited the track and on this particular day, I ended up with quite a few photographs of him and some of his ‘coworkers’ at the track. So far, this is the first painting to result from all those images.

The drawing had been worked out some time ago. If I remember correctly, it’s been in existence since 2003, when I needed to put together a body of new work for an art show to be held in conjunction with that year’s Kentucky Derby (the year of Funny Cide!).

Buckles & Belts in Oils is 6×8 and is priced at $300 unframed ($375 with standard framing).

Custom framing is available upon request.


Weekly Drawing Challenge November 7, 2015

Weekly Drawing Challenge 2015-11-07Beginning this week, I’ll post an image from my photo collection for you to draw. Images will vary week to week and cover a variety of subjects animal, mineral, and vegetable.

You’re welcome to sketch, paint, draw, or otherwise make art from the images I post. Feel free to download the following images and have fun.

If you get something you like, send it to me by email and I’ll upload it for you. Put

“Drawing Challenge” in the subject line.

Images should be between 300 and 500 pixels on the long side and saved at 72 dpi as a jpg or png file (jpg preferred). Tell me a little bit about

your artwork. Include size, medium, and up to 100 words about your drawing, painting, or sketch.

I’ll post images as they’re received at the bottom of this post, so you may want to bookmark this page for easy future reference.

Drawing Challenge, Sunlit Leaves 1

Drawing Challenge, Sunlit Leaves 2

The Only Blending Methods You’ll Ever Need for Colored Pencil

The ONLY Blending Methods You'll Ever Need for Colored Pencil

There are many ways to blend colored pencils, but they can be classified in three basic ways.

  • Pencil blending
  • Dry blending
  • Solvent blending

Over the course of the years, I’ve touched on each of these methods in various demonstrations and mini-clinics. Today, we’ll take a look at them all in the same place.

Pencil Blending

Blending Colored Pencil With Another Colored PencilThis might seem painfully obvious, but the obvious is often the thing that gets overlooked most. One of the only 3 blending methods you’ll ever need for colored pencil is….

…Your colored pencils.

It’s also the method that is the most automatic. Every time you layer one color over another, you’re blending.

The most familiar way to blend with colored pencil is burnishing. When you burnish, you use very heavy pressure to “grind” layers of color together. You can use any color over any color, but it’s most common to burnish with a color that’s lighter than the color you’re burnishing. The one thing to keep in mind is that the color with which you burnish will affect the color you’re burnishing.

When blending colored pencil with colored pencil, be careful to match pressure with sharpness. The sharper your pencil, the lighter the pressure. Using heavy pressure with a sharp pencil is likely to either break the tip off the pencil–possibly leaving an unsightly mark–or tear the paper. If you want to burnish, it’s best to use a blunt pencil, like the one shown above.

Dry Blending

Blending with Paper TowelFor the purpose of this discussion, when I refer to “dry blending”, I’m talking about blending without solvents (see below), but with a tool other than your colored pencils.

The blending tool I use most often are a couple of household items. Paper towel and bathroom tissue. Both are great for blending colored pencil and producing an eggshell smooth surface. They’re also easy to use. Simply fold a piece into quarters or smaller and rub them over the area you want to blend. You can use very heavy pressure if you want without risk of damaging the drawing paper. Granted, the effects are light, but if all you want is a light blend between layers, paper towel or facial tissue is the tool you’re looking for.

Blending stumps and tortillons are more often associated with graphite drawing, but they also work with colored pencil. I’ve found them to be slightly less effective than paper towel, but they are very useful if you want to blend a small area.

I also use a Prismacolor Colorless Blender. It’s basically a colored pencil without pigment and it works great for any colored pencil that’s wax-based, as Prismacolors are. Other lines of colored pencil may also include colorless blenders. One thing to note when using this type of blending tool is that it adds wax or oil (depending on the tool) to the paper.

Solvent Blending

Using solvent to blend colored pencil

Using solvent to blend colored pencil

I use three basic solvents for blending colored pencil. In order from mildest to most aggressive are rubbing alcohol, turpentine, and rubber cement thinner.

Before you try any solvent on a colored pencil, test it on a piece of scrap paper. You want to make sure the paper will stand up to a solvent blend. Nothing is more discouraging than to have your paper buckle or warp when it gets wet.

It’s also a good idea to see how colors react to the various solvents before blending a drawing. While solvent blends are appropriate in most cases, they may not produce the look you want.

If the paper you’re drawing on is very smooth or is heavily sized, it’s also possible to remove color completely, no matter how carefully you blend.

So test first!

Rubbing alcohol is ideal for doing a light blend. It breaks the wax binder in colored pencil just enough to move a little pigment around and to fill in paper holes. You need a good amount of pigment on the paper for the best results, but it also works with less pigment.

Make sure you’re using a rubbing alcohol that’s 70% or less. Any stronger than that and you risk destroying the drawing. I know of one case where a 90% solution was used and the color came right off the drawing! You do not want that to happen.

Use cotton balls or swabs or painting brushes to blend with rubbing alcohol. Because rubbing alcohol is relatively mild, you can do a little scrubbing with a bristle brush IF THE PAPER WILL TAKE THAT KIND OF ABUSE.

Turpentine will blend color more completely than rubbing alcohol. It breaks down the wax binder more completely, freeing pigment to blend more thoroughly. Again, the more pigment on the paper, the better the results, but you can also do a watercolor-like wash with turpentine.

For an even lighter tint, “melt” a little color in turpentine, then wash it over the paper.
You can use turpentine a maximum of three times with heavily applied color between each blend. You need a sturdy paper or board for this kind of treatment, but the results can be very painterly and saturated.

Any type of turpentine that’s suitable for oil painting can also be used with colored pencil drawings.

Use bristle or soft brushes to blend with turpentine. In later layers, where there’s a lot of pigment on the paper, you can use heavier pressure, but it’s best to use medium pressure (normal handwriting pressure) to avoid scuffing the paper or removing color.

The most potent of the solvent blends I use is rubber cement thinner. It works the same way as turpentine, but breaks down wax-binder even more than turpentine. My experience has been a maximum of two blends before the solvent begins removing more color than it blends.

Use brushes to blend with rubber cement thinner. I don’t recommend more than medium pressure. Bristle brushes are good for more thorough blending, while softer brushes are excellent for creating washes or “gentle blends.”

Safety Tips

Make sure you use all of these solvents safely. Work in a well-ventilated space and exercise caution. Don’t work around children or pets and make sure to clean your work area and tools thoroughly and to secure cap containers when you finish.

Artwork should also dry thoroughly before you begin working on it again. I like to let drawings air for no less than an hour and often let them sit overnight.

These are the blending methods I’ve found most useful with colored pencil. What other tips or tools do you use?

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