Carrie L. Lewis, Artist

Classical Techniques in Oils and Colored Pencil

Creating a Landscaped Drawing using the Umber Under Drawing Method

This week begins another series; this one for colored pencilists (and anyone who loves colored pencils). The focus is the umber under drawing method and I’ll show you how I use colored pencils to draw a horse in a landscape.

I’ll document the process step-by-step and will cover topics such as:

  • Knowing when the umber under drawing is complete
  • Drawing a landscape
  • Drawing a horse
  • Creating realistic landscape greens

I’ll also describe the problems I encountered along the way and show you how I resolved those issues.

But don’t think the schedule is written in stone. If you have a question about any part of the process, please ask it. When it comes to learning how to draw or use colored pencils, there are no silly or stupid questions. I can guarantee that if you have a question, other people will as well. So, by all means, ask by leaving a comment.

The series begins with an introduction to the subject for the drawing and specifics on the drawing. I’ll also talk a little bit about making the line drawing and transferring the line drawing.

About My Subject

I used a photograph taken by photographer Mark Adair, whom I want to thank for allowing me to use his work. Thanks, Mark!

Lockkeeper in CP Reference

About the Drawing

The drawing is 16″ x 20″.

I used Rising Stonehenge paper in Natural, which is a light tan, almost bone colored paper. It’s 90lb paper; heavy enough to take some drawing abuse, but light enough to roll for storage or shipping.

Prismacolor Verithin and Premier (thick lead) pencils are what I used unless otherwise stated.

Now, let’s get started!

Creating a Landscaped Drawing Umber Under Drawing

Making a Line Drawing

For almost every piece of art that features a horse, I develop a detailed line drawing through several revisions, beginning with roughly defining the shapes to refining the drawing. Read more about my drawing process here.

I followed the reference photograph pretty faithfully for this drawing because I wanted to create a pastoral version of what I refer to as “moment in time” portraits. A real horse in a real setting.

But the second set of fences in the background were confusing, so I left them out.

The first step was defining the picture plane—the part of the paper where the drawing would appear. I marked off a 16×20 area roughly centered on a large sheet of paper.

Next, I located a laptop drawing board large enough for a 16×20 drawing. I generally use a 2-inch margin for large colored pencil work, so I needed a laptop drawing board that was at least 20×24. Fortunately, that’s a common size and I had one in stock.

Make Your Own Lightweight Drawing Board in Four Easy Steps.

I mounted a sheet of fresh tracing paper to the drawing board, then drew the fence. I chose a beginning point, measured its placement from the bottom of the reference photo, then indicated the relative location on the drawing. Since my reference photo was 8×10 and the full-size drawing was 16×20, all I had to do was double the original measurement. For example, if my starting point was two inches from the bottom of the reference photo, I placed it four inches above the bottom of the full-size drawing.

Whenever you do something technical like this, it’s important to get the first measurement absolutely correct. One small error here and nothing will be correct, since everything else will be measured from this first mark.

TIP: This step is especially important to me because I am not adept at technical drawing. I can draw a horse in almost any position, but straight lines and mechanical curves—not so much! If that describes you, take a little bit extra time with measurements for things like fences and vehicles. You will not regret it.

As I noted in the first post on the Muscle Hill series, I did the technical part of the drawing without the horse or the background. That removed all distractions. The fence also provided the “anchor” for the rest of the drawing, so getting it right at the beginning simplified the rest of the drawing process.

When the fence was finished, I taped the drawing of the horse to the drawing of the fence. Taping, rather than transferring the drawing allowed me to change the position of the horse relative to the fence. I tried a few placements before finding the best one.

When everything was where I wanted it, I darkened the outside edges of the fence, then set the drawing in a prominent place where I could see it throughout the day.

Taking time to review a drawing in this way allows me to see it in a “non-studio” context and over a period of time. That’s a great way to find mistakes before advancing to the next step.

Preparing the Paper

After the drawing was ready, I mounted the drawing paper to a 20×24 Masonite panel with masking tape. I use Masonite for this purpose because it provides a rigid drawing surface and is very smooth. It’s also reasonably portable.

Then I marked off the picture plane in preparation for transferring the drawing.

Transferring the Drawing

There are a lot of ways to transfer a drawing. You can use a projector, transfer paper, or transfer it by hand. I prefer to either shade the back of the drawing or use home-made transfer paper.

This drawing was on tracing paper, so I shaded the back of it with Prismacolor Premier light umber.

Next, I taped the drawing with the shaded side down to the front of the Rising Stonehenge and carefully redrew everything. I used light to medium pressure (medium pressure is about the same as normal handwriting pressure) to draw every line.

TIP: Use heavy enough pressure to make sure all the lines transfer clearly, but don’t press hard enough to impress the lines into the drawing paper.

When I finished, I checked the transferred drawing by lifting each corner one at a time and making sure every line had been transferred and was easy to see. If I’d missed something, I retaped the corner and transferred the missing area.

TIP: When transferring large or complex drawings, make sure you’ve transferred everything before separating the line drawing paper from the drawing paper. It’s virtually impossible to re-align them once you do!

Once I was satisfied the line drawing had been completely transferred, I removed the line drawing and cleaned up the transferred drawing wherever necessary. Since the transfer material was colored pencil, there wasn’t much to clean up.

Nor were there many parts of the drawing to be darkened before I started the umber under drawing, which we’ll begin next week.


How I Prepare My Painting Supports

An oil painting is only as archival as the surface it’s painted on. The best, most trusted techniques in the world don’t mean a thing if whatever you paint on disintegrates under the painting.

If you use a commercial support, you won’t need to prepare the surface. Most commercial supports, whether stretched canvas, canvas mounted to panels, or panels, are ready-to-use.

The only thing you really have to look for is whether the preparation is oil based or acrylic based. Both oil-primed and acrylic primed-supports can be used for oil painting. They behave very much the same, but while you can use oils or acrylics on an acrylic-primed support, you cannot use acrylics over an oil-primed support. The paint simply will not stick.

Make sure to check the labels when purchasing commercial canvas for the type of priming used for the support you want to buy.

When I began painting, I used ready-to-use acrylic primed stretched canvases. Over the years, I’ve used ready-made acrylic primed canvas panels, hand stretched canvases made of oil-primed linen, and Masonite panels hand prepared with either straight acrylic gesso or with a mix of 50% acrylic gesso and 50% modeling paste. Each one served its purpose well and the only difference I could see was in the smoothness of the surface and in the cost. So after trying as many options as appealed to me, I finally settled on the option I’m about to describe as the best blend of usefulness and cost for my style of painting.

The moral of that paragraph is that you, too, should try the available options to see which one works best for you.

How I Prepare My Painting Supports

Step 1: The Support

My preferred support is Masonite. I use quarter inch panels, which I buy in four-feet (48 inches) by eight-foot (96 inches) sheets at a local lumberyard. I have the panel cut into standard sizes at the lumberyard, a service that is often free or very low cost. A full sheet can be easily cut into four 24×48 sections or into a variety of other standard sizes with little or no waste.

Step 2: Preparing the Support

First I lightly sand the smooth side of the panel. Masonite is manufactured with a protective surface that must be removed or scuffed first. A light sanding is generally enough. Acrylic gesso sticks better to the resulting surface and I have no worries about losing a painting because the priming fails.

Sanding a Masonite Panel

I use a sanding sponge ($5 to $10 at the nearest hardware store or lumberyard). My favorite sanding sponge has two sides, one medium and one coarse, but sanding sponges are also available in fine grit and other grits. The only thing you really need be concerned about is properly sanding the surface without gouging it, so try different types of sanding paper (or power tools) to find the best fit.

It’s best to sand lightly several times. I use light to medium pressure (medium pressure is the pressure you’d use to write) and a circular stroke. After each sanding, I check the surface visually, looking for any places that are still shiny. I also run a hand over the surface. The surface should have a uniform look and feel when it’s ready for painting.

Step 3: Acrylic Gesso

When the surface is ready, I paint it with acrylic gesso. I don’t thin the gesso with water. I pour a little gesso onto the panel, then use a foam brush to spread it around until the entire surface is covered. Rinse the foam brush immediately, before the gesso dries, then let the panel dry (usually about 30 minutes). Coat both sides and all four edges.

I put a minimum of three layers of gesso on each panel. One layer is applied stroking horizontally. The next is applied stroking vertically and the third layer is applied with diagonal strokes. If I do additional layers, I continue to turn the panel so no two consecutive layers are applied in the same direction. The order doesn’t matter as much as making sure each layer is applied at a different angle.

Sand lightly between each layer if you want an eggshell smooth painting surface. Sand only after the last layer if you’d like a little more texture.

A sanding sponge is excellent for this, too. Just make sure you have a clean sponge (or one dedicated to sanding gesso) for this work. Use light to medium pressure and a circular stroke.

If you want to duplicate the look of canvas, use a bristle brush and don’t sand the brush strokes until after the final layer is dry.

A Word of Caution

Use a drop cloth when you prime a panel or canvas. Acrylic gesso can be removed easily if you find it while it’s still wet. Removing dried on gesso is another matter. It’s far better to prevent drops and drips by using a drop cloth.

You can prepare panels at any time with this method. Whenever possible, I try to do several at the same time. Even if it takes most of the day, I end up with a selection of panels that are ready to paint.

Many times, though, I prepare the painting surface after I finish the line drawing and before I’m ready to transfer the drawing. Find the method and system that works best of you.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Last week, I shared the method I used to create an under drawing using water soluble colored pencils. While I focused on water soluble colored pencils in that post, the technique applies to any type of water soluble media with the possible exception of water miscible oils. I’ve never tried that combination, so cannot tell you whether or not it would work.

In this post, I’ll show you how to add traditional dry color to the under drawing.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Before adding dry color, make sure the under drawing and the paper are completely dry. If there’s any residual dampness, you risk damaging the paper. I usually allow paper to dry over night, just to be on the safe side.  I also usually allow papers to air dry by natural evaporation. Even on the hottest days, this process is less likely to cause warping or buckling.

But you can dry paper with a hand-held hair dryer if you need to finish it quickly. Use a low heat setting and don’t get the dryer too close to the paper to keep the color from running before it dries.

Once I start adding dry color, I use the same methods of choosing colors that I use for any other technique. I start with the lightest colors and build toward the darks layer by layer. By the way, unless I note otherwise, the colors listed in this article are Prismacolor Thick Lead colors.

In this illustration, I’ve added a very light earth tone that’s also a warm color. Burnt Ochre was lightly shaded over the darker area behind the ears and in front of the ears. I used light pressure with a very sharp pencil to draw an even color layer.

Water Soluble Demo 05

Next, I layered Burnt Ochre over the rest of the horse except the highlights. I always work around highlights so they don’t become muddy or—even worse—disappear.

On the horse’s head and neck, I used a sharp pencil to draw a smooth, even color layer. In the mane, I stroked with the growth of the hair, starting at the bottom edge of the highlight and stroking downward to the ends of the hair groups.

I used light or very light pressure on the head, neck, and ears. For the mane, I used light to medium-light pressure.

I began drawing the muzzle with a light layer of pink at the chin and light gray in and around the nostril.

Water Soluble Demo 07

With the base color in place, I began developing values and colors.  Colors used were Sienna Brown and Mineral Orange in the middle values.  I added a light glaze of Light Umber and Goldenrod to the lighter values, and Dark Brown to the shadows.

I’m still working around the brightest highlights.

Water Soluble Demo 08

Most of the colors I’ll use to draw this chestnut have already been used. Now, it’s a matter of adding more layers until I get the color and saturation (no paper holes) I want.

For each round of work, I add more of each color.

I also increase the pressure with each round of work. The second layer is applied with light to medium-light pressure, the third round with medium pressure, and so on.

Water Soluble Demo 09

When the drawing nears completion, I begin working on the highlights. Some of the highlights are left alone. The highlight along the top of the crest, for example, is whatever color shows through from the under drawing.

For the others, I added Spanish Orange, Orange, or Yellow Ochre if the highlight is warm in color (the highlight along the cheek). If the highlight is more neutral, I used Sand or Cream (behind the eye).

No reflected sky light is included on this drawing, but had there been, I would have used Non-Photo Blue burnished with Sky Blue Light.

Most of the highlights are then burnished with a color like Beige or Cream to keep them unified with the coat colors around them.

Water Soluble Demo 10

Using water media or water soluble colored pencils to draw the under drawing is a great way to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a colored pencil work. It’s also a good way to cover the paper without filling in the tooth of the paper.

I probably won’t be using this combination very often because it doesn’t work very well on my favorite papers. They just don’t handle moisture well and I don’t care for the texture of watercolor papers that are heavy enough to take the moisture.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a viable—and valuable—alternative to using only traditional, dry colored pencils.

As I mentioned in the previous post, if you hope to enter your artwork in shows that are exclusively colored pencil, stick with water soluble colored pencils.

If that doesn’t matter, then experiment and have fun!

What about you? Have you tried mixing water soluble colored pencils with dry? Did you like that combination?

How to Create a Line Drawing for a Large Painting

It’s been quite a while since I’ve documented an oil painting project, so I’m happy to announce that today begins a new oil painting series.

For the next few weeks, I’ll walk you step-by-step through the process of painting a large, “moment in time” portrait.

About the Subject

The subject for this demonstration is a portrait of the fabulous trotting wonder, Muscle Hill. The reference photograph shows Muscle Hill uncontested en route to winning the 2009 Kentucky Futurity at The Red Mile.

The photographer is Nigel Soult, who has been instrumental in the creation of more than one portrait. My thanks to Mr. Soult and to my client.

About This Series

The portrait is a 22×28 original oil on prepared panel. It was created using the Flemish method.

I’ll be documenting the creative process from beginning to end. Topics will include:

  • Developing the line drawing
  • Preparing the painting surface
  • Painting the umber layer
  • Painting the dead layer
  • Painting the color layer

There will also be tips on problem solving, painting individual elements, and staying motivated on large projects.

Let’s get started.

How to Create a Line Drawing for a Large Painting

Getting Ready to Draw

Muscle Hill Reference Nigel SoultHere’s my reference photo. I received a digital image for computer use, but also purchased an 11×14 print version for use during the painting process. I find working from a high quality print produces much better results than looking at the same image on a computer screen. For one thing, it’s easier on the eyes.

For another, a print can be clamped to the easel for easy reference.

But I also like digital references for enlarging details when necessary.

The first step was making a 1-inch grid on the photograph. I use PhotoShop to put a grid on digital images. It’s easier and more accurate than drawing a grid by hand, because my area of expertise is not technical drawing.

MS Reference Photo with Grid

I worked from an 11×14 inch reference photo. The portrait will be 22×28, so calculating the size of the full-size grid was easy. I just doubled the size.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time making these sorts of calculations with any painting, so my standard practice is to use a full size reference if the finished art will be 11×14 or smaller and to use a half-size reference photo for larger work.

Whenever possible, I also print a plain grid and begin drawing on that. Because this portrait is so large (22×28) I couldn’t print the entire grid. After trying to print it on multiple sheets and piece it together, I decided to print only the section containing the horse and driver. That fit onto a sheet of legal paper. The rest could be drawn by hand once I had an accurate drawing of the horse and driver.

I began the drawing with Verithin non-photo blue to sketch the horse, bike, and driver. It wasn’t pretty when I finished for the day, but at least all the major shapes were in place.

Next, I used Vermillion Red to revise the drawing, reshaping and refining where necessary and detailing where possible. I worked throughout the drawing, then concentrated on the near front hoof and leg. In that area, I began defining detail with shading. I also began using the enlargement without the grid, relying more on my eye to get the drawing right.

Line Drawing Development 01

I used the gridded drawing to check placement of shapes, but used the enlarged photo most.

To check the drawing after I’d nearly finished it, I put a piece of tracing paper on the reference photo and made a careful tracing of the horse and driver. I then compared the tracing to the drawing. Being able to see the “reference” as a line drawing helped isolate the areas on the freehand drawing that I needed to correct.

I worked through one round of changes, then photographed the drawing and continued revisions to the horse. After that, I finished the driver and bike, then made a new drawing on fresh tracing paper. At this point, I left the grid behind for good.

Line Drawing Development 02

Even though I was transferring an existing drawing to new paper, the process spanned two or three days. As usually happens, I found details to add or change, particularly with the driver, bike, and harness. Also, the drawing is full size, so there was a lot of transferring to do.

Once the drawing was transferred to tracing paper, I began working on it alternately from the front and from the back. I did the head first, working on it in reverse, then erasing the front and refining it one more step. That helped clarify the bridle and the shape and placement of the facial features and resulted in a much more pleasing drawing.

Next, the legs and body, then the harness and the rest of the drawing.

When the drawing was as finished as I could make it, I mounted it to a drawing of the background I did earlier. The purpose in doing a separate background drawing was that I wanted to change the position of Muscle Hill relative to the background in order to improve the composition and reduce the infield clutter. The easiest way to do that was to make two drawings so I could move the drawing of the horse around on the drawing of the background.

I also decided to leave out the big screen in the infield and the buildings in the background. I replaced the latter with a tree line, so needed to take those changes into account in finding a good composition.

It took a couple of attempts to find the best combination, but it was well worth the effort.

Preparing the Final Line Drawing

When I was happy with the composition, I transferred the two parts of the drawing  to fresh tracing paper. I worked on it in small periods of time, working section by section from the lower left hand corner to the upper right hand corner.

When the drawing was finished, including last minute refinements, I made a fresh drawing on opaque paper to be sent to the client for approval.

Finished Line Drawing of Muscle Hill

While waiting to hear back from the client, I prepped the painting surface. I’ll show how I did that in the next post.


How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Courtster, Colored Pencil, 16x20Making art with colored pencils is time-consuming. If you like detail and want to do anything larger than 11×14, you should plan on spending hours in the process.

It could take weeks.

Or months.

This drawing, Portrait of Courtster, is 16×20—a standard portrait size for me.

Even though the background is soft-focus and doesn’t have much detail, it took over 70 hours to complete the portrait. That’s a lot of time!

Portrait of Courtster is 100% colored pencil and 100% dry. I don’t think I used any solvents to blend color. Solvents are one way to save time with colored pencil.

But there are other ways. Using a traditional colored pencils over water soluble colored pencils is one of them.

That’s also our topic today.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

About the Drawing

The art work is small. About 5×7.

I used a combination of Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle and Prismacolor pencils on a scrap of watercolor paper. Unfortunately, I don’t know what type of paper beyond the fact that it was not very smooth and heavy enough to withstand repeated wetting.

My purpose with this drawing was to learn what I could do with water soluble colored pencils, so I used an old drawing from another project.

The Process

I marked off the borders of the drawing, leaving ample margins to allow me to wash color beyond the edge of the drawing.

I then created the pink wash with Rose Carmine (124) and the yellow wash with Cadmium Yellow (107).

There are several ways to create color washes with water soluble colored pencils.

To create strong color, draw the color onto the paper dry, then dampen a soft brush with clean water and wet the color. Colors will “melt” and flow together just like traditional watercolors.

You can also dip a sharpened pencil into water and draw while it’s wet. This works especially well in small areas.

If you want softer color, dampen a soft brush with clean water, then stroke the exposed core of the pencil with the dampened brush to pick up color. Usually one or two strokes against the pencil is sufficient to produce color such as shown below.

Palette of Water Soluble Colored PencilIf you plan to use water soluble colored pencils for most of the drawing, it’s often helpful to first create a palette by making heavy layers of the main colors on a scrap of watercolor paper. One of my palettes is shown at the right.

Several heavy applications are necessary, but when you finish, you can use this palette as you would use a watercolor painting palette. Dampen your brushes, pick up color from the palette, and brush it onto the paper. When the palette begins to look used, simply recharge it by relayering the colors.

For this piece, I dampened a brush and stroked it against the exposed cores of each pencil to pick up color, then added a band of pink and a band of yellow. I also blended a tint of pink wet into wet into part of the yellow.

Water Soluble Demo 01

Next, I made an emerald green (163) wash over part of the background and part of the horse using the same method described above.

For the mane, I used a small, round sable. The smaller brush made darker color, which I used break the mane into hair masses.

To get the stronger color, I wetted the brush, then blotted it before touching it to the pencil. The resulting color was less diluted and, therefore, darker.

One thing to remember when using colored pencil in this way is that you have one or two strokes—at most—to get the look you want. The more strokes you do and the more water you add, the more you’ll dilute the color. For the mane especially, where I needed well defined shapes, I limited myself to one stroke and worked with whatever I got. Not always an easy thing to do for someone who likes to fiddle and fine-tune!

Water Soluble Demo 02

After the previous work was dry, I added a very thin wash of cadmium yellow over the horse. I also tinted the upper right corner of the background to eliminate the stark whiteness of that area.

Most of the yellow wash on the horse was applied with a larger brush. I loaded the brush with water, then tinted it by touching it to the sharpened pencil. But I also wanted brighter color along the top of the crest and in the mane. To get that, I switched to a smaller brush and used a more dry-brush method to stroke color into the still wet wash. The new color dissolved slightly into the wash, creating darker accents with soft edges.

Notice how fresh dampness affected the dry color on the mane (the green). Working with water soluble color—whether it’s traditional watercolor or water soluble colored pencil—requires a different working mindset than using dry color.

Water Soluble Demo 03

Using watercolor-like washes to start a colored pencil drawing is a great way to get a lot done in a short amount of time. You can use water soluble colored pencils (as I did here), watercolor, acrylic (thinned to tint strength), or any other medium that can be thinned with water in used in this way.

Keep in mind that if you use water soluble colored pencil, the work is still considered colored pencil. Using any of the other mediums makes your drawing a mixed media. If you want to exhibit in exclusive colored pencil shows, this is important to keep in mind.

If this is the first time you’ve used water soluble methods, practice first. It doesn’t matter how you practice. This piece was my test piece, but you could also do random color swatches or just play with color to see how it responds.

Wet media colors interact differently than dry media. Some of them also dry darker or lighter than they appear when wet. Doing a few test pieces will show you what to expect from the medium you’re using.

But you also need to know how traditional colored pencils react with a wet medium under drawing. Next week, I’ll show you how I finished this piece with traditional, wax-based pencils.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll take time to experiment with water soluble colored pencils yourself.

Oh, and have fun!

If you have questions, leave a comment below. You probably won’t be the only one who has a question.


2 Oil Painting Demonstrations

I recently shared links to demonstrations featuring two recent colored pencil drawings.

I would like to be able to do the same for oil painting, but the truth is that the oil paints and brushes just haven’t been used much in the last several months!

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t demonstrations to share with you. The fact is that for most of my studio life, oils have been my primary medium, so there are lots of paintings to be chronicled, including what I consider to be among my best portraits ever.

In the meantime, I’d like to bring to your attention two demonstrations of oil painting that you may have forgotten—or never seen! Bonus! They describe two of my favorite painting methods.

Autumn Field 2


Autumn Field 2
Oil on Panel

I’ve always had a special fascination with horses. Watching them. Drawing them. Painting them.

But despite the fact that most horses live in the out-of-doors or at least visit the out-of-doors in some fashion, I didn’t spend much time learning how to paint landscapes until 2007. I could do it, but I honestly preferred not to.

In 2007, I decided to teach myself to learn to paint and draw better landscapes by doing a year-long challenge to paint one ACEO (3-1/2″ by 2-1/2) landscape every day.

Not only did it work; it was fun!

I painted this landscape after doing that challenge. This is actually the second painting based on a photograph taken not far from where I lived in Michigan. I used the direct method of painting for this landscape and you can read about it step-by-step in the links below.

Autumn Field 2 in Oils, Session 1

Autumn Field 2 in Oils, Session 2

Autumn Field 2 in Oils, Session 3

Autumn Field 2 in Oils, Session 4

Autumn Field 2 in Oils, Session 5

Guienne Hanover

Guienne Hanover, Oil, 22x28

Guienne Hanover, Oil, 22×28

Guienne Hanover is a Standardbred filly who set a world record and North American record for three-year-old fillies trotting the mile when she won her qualifying heat for the Virginia Breeders Elimination at Colonial Downs.

This portrait was painted to commemorate that stunning performance.

I used the umber under painting method. Read about the process read the step-by-step demonstration on this page.

For more information about learning how to use either of these methods, check out my online oil painting courses. Work at your own pace and get one-on-one instruction to improve your oil painting or to learn new techniques.

Colored Pencil Blog Class – Adding Color to a Complementary Under Drawing

Welcome to the second part in this two-part blog class on drawing with the complementary under drawing method. Last time, I showed you how to draw a complementary under drawing with colored pencil. This week, I’ll show you how to add color to your completed under drawing.

Let’s get started.

Blog Class Complementary Method with Colored Pencil

Beginning Color Work in the Landscape

Green Pastures Step 3

One of the rules of thumb with the drawing methods I use for colored pencil is to start with very light pressure and gradually increase pressure through successive layers. That’s how I drew the under drawing for this drawing. It’s how I’ll add color.

I also suit the strokes I use to the area I’m working on. If I’m drawing grass in the foreground, I use short, vertical strokes with an upward motion. In the background, I use the side of the pencil and put down broad, horizontal strokes. Why? Because the distance will show color, but not as much detail. Reducing the level of detail as you move into the background of your drawing helps create the illusion of distance.

Reducing the level of detail as you move into the background of your drawing helps create the illusion of distance.

Finally, I begin with lighter colors and work toward dark colors.

In this step, I worked exclusively in the background, building greens one color at a time. I started with Grass Green, which I applied in broad horizontal strokes throughout the grassy meadow. In the foreground, I then added short vertical strokes to mimic the look of grass. Peacock Green, Apple Green, and Spring Green were then applied to the same areas and in the same manner.

In the trees, I used Peacock Green to lay in middle tones and Dark Green in the shadows.

I used a slightly blunt pencil and circular strokes to mimic the appearance of leafy foliage without drawing too much detail.

Technical Tip

Use light pressure at this stage. You want to add color over the under drawing; you don’t want to cover up the under drawing. Colored pencil is a transparent medium overall, but it is possible to apply color so heavily that you obliterate the under drawing. A good rule of thumb is to go through all the colors you want to use at least once using light pressure. Then you can use heavier pressure in those areas you want to accent or where you need to burnish.

Beginning Color Work in the Horse

I began adding color to the horse by working light to dark using Burnt Ochre, Sienna Brown, and Pumpkin Orange to create the base color. I used light pressure and a sharp pencil to work around the shapes of muscle groups, body contours and the edges of the horse.

Green Pastures Step 4

I layered Burnt Ochre over all of the horse except the brightest highlights. Next, I layered Sienna Brown over all of the horse except the brightest highlights and surrounding areas. Finally, I added Pumpkin Orange to the darkest middle tones and shadows.

The lighter colors were worked closely—and carefully—around the highlights. As I moved through the darker colors, I gave the highlight areas more space. That created areas of smooth and very soft color and value gradations around the highlights.

In this illustration, the back half of the horse shows all three colors in place and shows you how the green under drawing is contributing to the form and mass of the horse.

The front half of the horse shows only the Burnt Ochre glaze. The area immediately behind the shoulder is a blending of Burnt Ochre glaze and Sienna Brown glaze.

Technical Tip

Working the entire drawing at once (as opposed to finishing each area before moving on to the next) allows you to make adjustments throughout the process and keep the composition unified.

It’s not necessary to work in this fashion, but it can be helpful in establishing the initial layers of color.

One of the things I like about the under drawing process is its flexibility. Whatever method of under drawing you use, you can develop values without worrying about color. When you get to the color phases, you can experiment more freely with color without worrying so much about value.

Developing Color

A Word on Correcting Mistakes

Whether you plan compositions to the minutest detail or develop compositions intuitively (by the seat of your pants, so to speak), there will come a time when you discover late in the process that you’ve made a mistake. DO NOT LET THIS DISCOURAGE YOU!

From the start, I included a tree on the right hand side of this composition. The tree survived through the under drawing and into the color phase.

Please take note that it is no longer part of the composition. Why? Because it added very little to the overall composition and because it crowded the horse visually. The solution? The tree had to go.

Green Pastures Step 5

To remove it, I went back to the early stages of the process and layered under drawing colors over it so it matched the surrounding areas as much as possible. That wasn’t difficult in the upper portion, where the strokes are random. It took a bit more care in the lower areas.

When I was satisfied, I began glazing local color over those areas to bring them up to the same level as the work as the surrounding areas. The tree wasn’t completely covered, as you can see, but it became very vague, merely a ghost of itself.

Once corrections were complete, I continued to work throughout the background with layers of Apple Green, Spring Green, Canary Yellow, and Lemon Yellow in the sunlit areas of the landscape.

In the darker areas, I used Dark Green, Olive Green, and a touch of Burnt Umber.

In the trees, I used Dark Green, Olive Green, and Indigo Blue in the shadows and Olive Green, Grass Green, and touches of Apple Green in the highlights. The trees and grass need to work together visually, but they also need to stand apart, so I used a couple of colors in both areas, but also kept the trees darker and cooler overall than the grass.

I used Dark Umber, Terra Cotta, Indigo Blue, and a little Dark Green in the shadows on the horse and Terra Cotta and the siennas and ochres in the mid tones. The highlights on the horse are still untouched paper at this stage. I developed them by working the areas around them. Sometimes, the best way to produce vibrant highlights is to darken the areas around them.

Further Color Development

At this stage, the background is nearly finished. The brightest greens are around the horse, with shadows creeping in around the edges and throughout the trees. Individual groups of trees have also been created to lead the eye to the focal point, which is the horse.

Green Pastures Step 6

Heavier pressure is used to finish each area. Between 6 and 8 on a scale of 10 (with 1 being very light pressure and 10 being very heavy pressure). I wanted to fill in as much of the paper texture as possible without burnishing. Once you burnish, it’s very difficult to add more color without the use of a solvent or spray. Solvents or sprays can be used without damaging paper or artwork, but once you take that step, it cannot be taken back. If I use solvents or sprays, I generally use them very near the end of the process.

I much prefer pure colored pencil, though, so I try to avoid solvents or sprays.

Very little additional work has been done with the horse. That will be the final step.

Step 7: Finishing Touches

The background is now essentially finished. The colors and values are where they need to be for a completed drawing. Work on the horse consists of additional layers of the colors already used. Using medium pressure and directional strokes, I developed color and value one layer at a time.

Green Pastures Finished Drawing

I also began adding surface colors. For such a bright chestnut, this required Orange and Pale Vermillion. At this point, using either medium pressure or heavy pressure is suitable. The heavier the pressure, the more impact each color will make. However, heavier pressure limits the number of layers I can add because it fills up the tooth of the paper more quickly.

Reflected light was added to the horse. Light Cerulean Blue burnished with Sky Blue Light or White over the back and rump; Apple Green burnished with Sand under the belly.

I then used the lightest of the coat colors to burnish around the interior edges (the places where the reflected light areas meet the horse’s natural coat color) to soften and blur that edge.

The final step is a review of the artwork, then whatever adjustments need to be made. When I think a drawing might be finished, I set it aside at least overnight and look at it again the next day. The reason for this is that it allows me to look at the artwork with a fresh eye; as though seeing it for the first time.

You can also get a different perspective on your work by looking at it upside down or in a mirror. Any areas that need work will become obvious when you see your artwork in one of these ways.


If you have questions or difficulties, let me know in the comment box below. Chances are that if you have a question, others will have the same question, so please ask!

I’d love to see your work, too. So if you’d like, email me a picture of it. Make sure your images are saved at 300 pixels wide and at a resolution of 72 dpi. Also save images as jpg or png files (jpg preferred). Let me know the details of your drawing (paper, size, etc.). Also let me know whether you’d like to share it with the class and I’ll post it at the end of this post.

Colored Pencil Blog Class – How to Draw a Complementary Under Drawing

Today is the first in a two-part demonstration that I hope is just the beginning of something new and fun at Carrie L. Lewis. A blog class.

What is a blog class?

Think of it as a cross between my online colored pencil course and the demonstrations you usually see on this blog. I’ll still be showing you how I do various things—in this case, drawing a pastoral scene with a horse using the complementary under drawing method—but I’m also inviting you to apply the lessons to make your own drawing.

Here’s how it works.

I’ll share my reference photo, which you’re welcome to download.

You’re also welcome to try your hand at the technique with your own subject or you can just read along. There are no obligations with a blog class, so sit back and enjoy or sit down and get ready to draw. The choice is yours!

Blog Class Complementary Method with Colored Pencil

Let’s get started!

My Subject

Here’s the reference photo.

Green Pastures Reference

No doubt the first thing you see is that the horse is a different color! I love this photograph but had already drawn the horse as a bay. I wanted to draw a chestnut, so I used the same photo to get the drawing correct and as a reference for light and shadow. But I drew a horse of a different color.

A few other details were also changed. Most notably the thickness and position of the tail.

You may download the photograph and draw a bay or follow my color recommendations to draw a chestnut. The reference photograph is 1250 pixels wide with a resolution of 72 dpi. Unless you change the print size, it will print at about 17″ x 13″.

I don’t recommend that. The drawing is so old, the original photograph was 35mm and had to be scanned. That means it isn’t the best quality for large printing. Reducing the size should bring it into sharper focus. I’d suggest an 8×10 or smaller.

I’d also suggest saving it to your hard drive when you download it.

Materials & Supplies

This drawing is on Strathmore Artagain Drawing Paper in Beach Sand Ivory. The paper is ivory in color, which is perfect color for this drawing. While white paper can be used, a complementary base color will essentially allow the artist to start with one layer already in place, enhance the “tone” of the finished artwork, and facilitate quicker attention to detailed areas. If you decide to use a toned paper, use a color that’s fairly light.

I used Prismacolor Verithin and Premier (Thick Lead) pencils unless otherwise noted.

The Complementary Under Drawing

The under drawing is created using colors opposite the final colors on the color wheel. I want to draw a chestnut horse (shades of red and orange), so the under drawing will be shades of green. All of the greens in the background will have an under drawing made up of shades of red or earth tones.

Color plays a major role in this method, but value is also important. A final color that is light in value such as yellow or light blue requires a complement that is lighter in value. Parma Violet is an excellent choice for under drawing yellow or you can use a darker color applied with very light pressure.

Tint is also an important consideration. A blue-green subject will require a red-orange under drawing. This is where your color wheel will prove its worth.

If you don’t have a color wheel, this is a good time to purchase one or make one. Download a free template for a basic color wheel, along with instructions for making your own color wheel. A free value scale template and instructions is also available on that page.

If you prefer to purchase a color wheel, you can find one at most art supply stores or print shops. They are an inexpensive, but invaluable tool.

Starting the Under Drawing

Green Pastures Step 1

For the horse I used Prismacolor Premier grass green to outline the horse, then began picking out the highlights by lightly outlining them, then shading around them. There are a minimum of three layers of grass green at this stage, building darker values with each pass.

I used light pressure with each layer, building value with layering rather than pressure. It is important to start with light pressure so that mistakes can be easily erased or covered. Work carefully around the highlights.

For the background… The same process was used in the background, where I used Prismacolor burnt ochre and sienna brown to establish the shapes in the trees and the values in the grass.

Finishing the Under Drawing

Green Pastures Step 2

Once the basic shapes of subject and background were in place, and the highlights and shadows were established, the process shifted from adding color to building on values to bring the under drawing—and the composition—to life. I extended the range of values throughout the artwork to bring out the highlights by darkening shadows and middle tones.

I also matched strokes to the object I was drawing.

  • Short, vertical strokes with the point of the pencil in the grassy areas, particularly in the foreground.
  • Long, sweeping strokes with the point of the pencil in the tail.
  • Broad horizontal strokes with the side of the pencil in the hills
  • Circular or looping strokes with the sides and point of the pencil in the trees

Matching the stroke to each area saves time and effort in the long run.

Also stroke in the direction of natural patterns whenever possible. Stroke grass upward, just as it grows. Stroke tail and mane from the point of growth toward the ends of the hairs.

I like to get as much detail as possible in the under drawing, but you can develop the under drawing to your personal preferences. Just remember that most colors of colored pencil are transparent, so the details and values you establish now will influence the final drawing.

Next time, we’ll begin glazing color over the complementary under drawing.


If you have questions about the process or have difficulties with your drawing, let me know in the comment box below. Chances are that if you have a question, others will have the same question, so please ask!

I’d love to see your work, too. So if you’d like, email me a picture of it. Make sure your images are saved at 300 pixels wide and at a resolution of 72 dpi. Also save images as jpg or png files (jpg preferred). Let me know the details of your drawing (paper, size, etc.). Also let me know whether you’d like to share it with the class and I’ll post it at the end of this post.


3 Excellent Supports (That Aren’t Paper) for Colored Pencil

In a previous post, I shared my thoughts on drawing papers you can use with colored pencils. But paper isn’t the only thing you can draw on, so this week, let’s take a look at three other surfaces that make for interesting colored pencil artwork.

3 Excellent Non-Paper Supports

3 Non-Paper Supports for Colored Pencil

Mat Board

That’s right. The same material you use to frame your colored pencil drawings can also be drawn on. This drawing was drawn on gray mat board with a medium texture.

Colored Pencil Portrait of Blizzard Babe

Portrait of Blizzard Babe
Colored Pencil on Gray Mat Board

That’s one of the things I like about mat board. Unlike paper, there’s a wide variety of textures available from rough and almost “pebbly” to egg shell smooth. If you want something truly unique, you can also use suede mat board. Gemma Gylling has been using suede board for years and creates the most phenomenal pet and wildlife artwork. Sue Ziegler also makes extraordinary use of suede mat board for her equine and canine portraits.


Mat board also comes in a wide variety of colors, so if you like experimenting with colored supports, give mat board a try. I chose a gray mat board for Portrait of Blizzard Babe (above) because the gray provided an excellent basic color for this wonderful light gray filly and because it reduced the amount of time necessary to produce the portrait.

Mat board comes in full sheets and can be purchased online or at any reputable framer. While you can draw on any type of mat board, use archival or museum quality mat board for your best work. Lesser quality mat board often contains acids that can leach into artwork and cause discoloration.

Sanded Papers

Pastel artists have been using sanded papers and supports for years, but what about colored pencil? Are sanded papers any good for that?

Here’s a small work I did on UArt Sanded Pastel paper. The support is sand paper! Granted, it’s not the same quality as sand paper purchased from a hardware store or lumber yard, but it looks the same and it behaves the same when it comes to drawing.

Spring in CP

Spring in Colored Pencil
Colored Pencil on UArt Sanded Paper

Most sanded papers are heavier by nature than standard drawing papers, but many are also available as rigid supports. UArt has a line of sanded pastel panels and Ampersand Art Supply has flat panels and cradled panels in a variety of depths. They even have toned panels!

It’s very difficult to get a high degree of detail with these supports if they’re coarse (and UArt produces some very coarse surfaces), but most of them are guaranteed archival and most of them can also be framed with or without glass. A big advantage for many colored pencil artists.


That’s right. Basic wood!

When it comes to wood, however, make sure to stick with the types of wood proven by decades of use as oil painting supports. Birches and hardwoods have been popular among oil painters for a long time and they’re also wonderful with colored pencils.

Colored Pencil on Wood

Colored Pencil on Wood

One of the neatest things about wood is that you can find it almost everywhere. Literally. Several years ago, we cut down an old Maple in our front yard. It had been dying for a couple of years, thanks to carpenter ants. After the tree was removed, I collected a few pieces with the intention of drawing on them after they’d cured for a year or two.

But I got a few small pieces from another source and have made a drawing or two on those. The small landscape shown above was drawn on a piece of wood six or seven inches long and roughly two inches tall.

Wood can be drawn on with just a little sanding—which is what I did—or with the more involved preparation of planing and varnishing or painting. You can leave it fairly textured or sand it smooth.

And that little landscape drawing? The piece of wood was thick enough that it stood up on its own! No framing or hanging necessary. It was just right for display on a shelf or a desk.

Two Recommendations

When trying a new surface, it’s best to experiment a little before you start a major work. The more exotic the surface, the more necessary the experimentation.

The drawings on sanded pastel paper and wood shown above are both very small. The sanded pastel paper is actually an ACEO (3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches). Each piece was large enough to give me a good idea of how color went onto the surface, but not so large that it took days to finish it. I think each of those drawings took no more than an hour and probably a lot less.

Also, whenever you try a new support, it’s a good idea to do a piece that you can keep around for a while. Especially with untested supports. You want to get some idea of how permanent the artwork will be on each support and the only way to determine that is to keep a small drawing so you can look at it. I can’t think of very much that would be worse than selling a lot of drawings on an unproven support and having customers return them when the artwork failed to last.

Beyond that, I encourage you to try supports and have fun.

Have you used unusual supports for drawing? What did you use and how well did it work for colored pencil?

Drawing Challenge January 9, 2016

Drawing Challenge 2016-01-09This week’s drawing challenge is one of countless, abandoned structures dotting the Flint Hills. I always wonder what story lies behind the empty houses and barns and decrepit windmills. Who built them and what prompted them to come to the prairie in the first place?

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 longest side and saved at 72 dpi resolution. JPG files are best, but I can also use PNG files.

All images will be posted in the order in which I receive them at the bottom of this post, so you may want to bookmark this page for easy reference.

Drawing Challenge 2015-11-14 Stone House

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