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.

Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.