Carrie L. Lewis, Artist & Teacher

Helping You Create Art You Can be Proud Of

Colored Pencil Crit – Drawing a Bay Horse on Black

This week, I’m sharing a critique of a drawing by one of my colored pencil students.

Students of the online art courses send images of their works-in-progress, along with their reference photos, in order to get instruction on techniques.

Some also submit artwork done outside the course. This work is usually completed and the student is looking for ways to improve a drawing or painting they aren’t happy with or for an overall critique.

The thought eventually came to mind that you might like to see how a crit like this works. You might also be interested in improving your skills or diagnosing a problem with a finished piece.

And just that easy, an idea was born and took shape.

I’ll start by sharing the drawing, followed by the crit. Later in the post, I’ll tell you how you can get your own critique.

Here’s the student’s finished drawing. She liked the drawing overall but was looking for ways to improve it.

Colored Pencil Crit #1

The Crit

Great work. I love what you’re doing with these drawings on a black background.

Colored Pencil Crit #2

You mentioned that you don’t like the bridle burnishing, but that you couldn’t make any changes. That’s most likely because of the wax buildup on the paper. Dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and stroke it along the part of the bridle you want to fix. If you need to make corrections to all parts of the bridle, use rubbing alcohol on all the parts. Stroke along the length of each strap, but make sure to use a different part of the cotton swab or a different cotton swab so you don’t transfer color. Also, stroke from light to dark.

The alcohol will break down the wax binder and blend the colors a little, but the real advantage is that once the paper dries, you’ll be able to add more color to those areas. You should even be able to burnish a little more.

Once the paper is dry, darken the areas I’ve marked with red and add light blue-white highlights to the areas marked with blue. If the highlights get too bold, burnish them with Light Umber or Beige or Clay Rose. You shouldn’t have to do anything with most of the middle tones, but you can adjust those as you see fit.

The bit looks good, but a little “flat”. If you were to add small, bright highlights to the places where I’ve put blue color and add shadows on the opposite sides of those highlights, it would really make the bit look 3-D. Because the metal is smooth and reflective, the highlights should be sharp.

Also, darken the shadows of the bit on the horse to create the appearance of space between the bit and the horse’s face.

Lighten the area inside the nostril a little, especially deep inside. The highlight near the front of the inside of the nostril is great, but it needs to be balanced by darker values where the inside disappears behind the rim of the nostril (red arrow).

Also, add just a stroke or two of a light color to define the edge of the lip (blue arrow). If you add that edge to your drawing, the face will look more complete. Use light to medium pressure, since you don’t need a bold line. If it seems too bright, stroke over it with Light Umber or Beige.

Darken this buckle a little. Use a combination of light blue and light umber to tone it done just a little. If you can do a little modeling (creating lights and darks), that will also be helpful.

Do the same thing with the buckle on the throat latch. It should give the appearance of being in shadow.

Darken the chin so it more closely matches the jaw behind the bit. There should be a highlight on the fold of skin around the bit, but the rest can be darkened.

I also like to add reflected highlights in places like the bottom curve of the chin and the cheek and any other place where the surfaces of the head are parallel to the ground. They would give the head a more 3-D look.

The only other thing I see that you might do is add light blue highlights around each of the areas on the neck and shoulder that I marked with red arrows. These shouldn’t be as bright as the highlights on the face. As you move away from the head, they should become more subdued. They would add dimension to the drawing over all.

I don’t see anything else I’d change. You may see other things as you work on the suggestions I’ve made, but overall, this is a great drawing. You’ve done a very good job with it.

Do you want a critique of your latest drawing?

If you would like to one of your drawings critiqued on this blog, it’s easy to do. Just send me an email, along with the reference photo you used and an image of your drawing.

Images should be at least 500 pixels on the long side and set at a dpi of at least 96.

Be sure to include a reference photo. If your reference photo was taken by a professional photographer, make sure you have permission to use it and have it posted online in this fashion.


The Month on EmptyEasel, April 2015


When Drawing Horses Isn’t Enough – Two Landscape Galleries from Carrie L. Lewis


  1. Great idea!!!! I’m on my third horse now. Black on black. I picked up a few Luminance pencils because of their opacity on colored paper. I will send it for a critique. Hopefully, I can send the others for critiques.

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