Carrie L. Lewis, Artist

Helping You Create Art You Can be Proud Of

The Theory Behind Creating Complementary Underpaintings in Colored Pencil

Ever wonder why complementary under paintings work?

Do you want to know how to incorporate them into your colored pencil work?

The Theory Behind Creating Complementary Underpaintings in Colored Pencil on is Part 2 in an ongoing series featuring the use of complementary colors in creating vibrant and life-like colored pencil artwork.

Click here to read The Theory Behind Creating Complementary Underpaintings in Colored Pencil.

The Most Important Thing to Get Right with Colored Pencils

Is color the most important thing to get right in your colored pencil drawings?

A lot of beginning artists believe color is the most important part of drawing. Or painting, for that matter. Just look at all those gorgeous Classical paintings or brightly colored contemporary art. The color is often enough to make your mouth water, isn’t it. It has to be important.

Color is important.

But it’s not the most important thing to get right.

The Most Important Thing to Get Right Is…


The range of lights and darks in your drawing will make or break it, no matter how accurate your colors. Especially if you draw in anything like a realistic style. Get the colors spot on, but do nothing with values, and your drawing is flat.

Get the values correct, however, and even if you don’t use any color at all, your drawing will look like what it’s supposed to look like.

The Most Important Thing to Get Right with Colored Pencils

Let me show you with a simple illustration.

One Color Without Value

Here’s a ball. Drawn all with one color. I’ve layered the green as evenly as possible over the paper. It’s a nice shade of green, and pretty. But is it a ball?

The Most Important Thing to Get Right - Illustration 01

No. It’s a circle, because every part of it is the same darkness of green. There are no shadows, and there are no highlights. In other words, it’s all the same value.

Maybe it’s just not dark enough. Let’s make it a little darker and see what happens.

The Most Important Thing to Get Right - Illustration 02


It is darker. More of the paper holes are filled in and the green is richer, but…

…it’s still all the same value. It’s still a circle, not a ball.

Here it is as dark as I could make it. Now it has a nice dark value, doesn’t it? I’ve done as much with the color as I can.

The Most Important Thing to Get Right - Illustration 03

But it’s still all the same value. It’s just darker. And it’s still not a ball. Not even close.

One Color With Value

Okay, back to square (circle) one. Same color, same single value. Same result.

The Most Important Thing to Get Right - Illustration 01

This time, however, instead of darkening the whole thing, I’m going to darken just a part of it: The part that will be in shadow. A couple more layers and a little more pressure, and we’re getting somewhere! Finally!

The Most Important Thing to Get Right - Illustration 05

Let’s make that shadow a little darker. Even better.

The Most Important Thing to Get Right - Illustration 06

But it’s not quite there yet. I’ve gone as dark as I can with the color I’m using. What am I missing? Back to the drawing board.

One Color With Full Value

For this illustration, I lifted a little bit of color to create a highlight on the opposite side of the shape from the shadows. You can also work around highlights to get brighter highlight areas.

I used the same green as for the other circles, but also added a slightly darker green to darken the shadow a little bit more.

The Most Important Thing to Get Right - Illustration 07

Now, finally, we have something that looks like a ball! All it needs is a cast shadow and it’s good.

But can it be made to look even more like a ball?

Two Colors and Value

Now I’ve added a shade of blue that’s a little darker still to the shadows on the ball. It’s not a big difference, but it is a difference.

The Most Important Thing to Get Right - Illustration 08

Good Even Without Color

Now to show you that it really is the value, not the color, that turned this circle into a ball, here’s the illustration above converted to gray scale. No color, just shades of gray.

The Most Important Thing to Get Right - Illustration 09

So the Most Important Thing to Get Right Really is Value

Adding value to the color is what makes a circle (or any other shape) look three dimensional. The color is like the skin. The value is the body.

Value is, beyond all doubt, the most important thing to get right in any form of drawing or painting if you’re doing realism. That’s why I often recommend to artists new to colored pencil that they start with just a few high-quality colored pencils and learn to use them well.

Learn to draw value with just a few colors, and you’ll be able to draw anything with as many–or as few—colors as you wish.

Do I Need a Full Set of Colored Pencils?

When I started thinking about getting into colored pencils, one question I didn’t pay much attention to was this: Do I need a full set of colored pencils to get started?

I didn’t pay much attention to that because I didn’t think I needed to. My default opinion was to get a full set. In order to do the type of art I wanted to do, I absolutely, positively HAD to buy the full set. It was just the way things were.

Since then, I’ve come to see the error of my youthful ways.

Do I Need a Full Set of Colored Pencils to Make Great Colored Pencil Art?

So Do I Need a Full Set of Colored Pencils or Not?

The plain and simple truth is that most of us are capable of making great art with as few as one color. Don’t believe me? Ever seen phenomenal graphite and charcoal drawings?

It’s even possible with draw great colored pencil work with only a handful of pencils.

Why Wouldn’t I Want to Get a Full Set of Colored Pencils?

The biggest reason most of us don’t buy full sets is cost. The initial investment can be substantial if you’re interested in higher quality pencils. I just bought a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos for $161 and change. That was a huge amount of money for me and it took a considerable amount of effort to talk myself into the expense.

However, I strongly recommend you start out with the best tools you can—beginning with pencils and paper—so the only option is to buy smaller sets or get a few pencils as open stock.

You will pay more for each pencil that way, but ten Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils at $1.69 each (Dick Blick’s current price) is a lot easier on the budget than that full set.

And if you want to try more than one kind of pencil, buy five or six of the types you most want to try. If you like them, great! But if they don’t meet expectations, you don’t have a full set lying around unused and big hole in your finances.

But What Can I Do With Just a Few Pencils?

You might be surprised! Here are just a few suggestions to get you started.

Sketching—Even before I started using colored pencils exclusively, I used them for sketching. Whether from life, from photos, or from memory, sketching is a great way to practice drawing, and colored pencils are great for sketching.

This sketch is only one color.

Do I Need a Full Set of Colored Pencils - White Leg

I used two colors for this sketch.

Do I Need a Full Set of Colored Pencils - Concentration

Even if your colors don’t match your subject, they can make for fun and instructive sketching. I sketched this foal with blue pencils for a long-since forgotten reason, but it turned out delightfully well.

Do I Need a Full Set of Colored Pencils - Foal Study

Plein Aire Drawing—Drawing on location is made-to-order for working with only a few pencils. My field kit doesn’t contain a full set of anything except for Koh-I-Nor woodless and there are only 24 colors in that set.

Yet with layering of colors and close attention to value, it is possible to draw anything.

Do I Need a Full Set of Colored Pencils - Leaf Study

Portraits & Other Finished Drawings—You can even do finished work with only a few colored pencils.

One of the illustrations in the post on how color theory influences art is a gray, rainy landscape. I used a very limited palette combined with gray paper to convey the look of that landscape.

And this portrait was drawn with no more than a dozen pencils, and probably not that many.

Do I Need a Full Set of Colored Pencils - Feya

So whenever someone considering working with colored pencils asks me, “Do I need a full set of colored pencils?”, I now tell them they don’t. The truth is that you just don’t need every color in the rainbow to make great colored art.

Just a few pencils can serve you quite well.

Want to See How to Draw a Dog with a Limited Palette?

Sometime ago, I wrote on the subject of drawing with a limited palette for EmptyEasel. In this two-part series, I demonstrated how to do a limited palette colored pencil drawing of Toy Poodle. The series includes tips on using impressed lines to create details and how to correct mistakes.

If you’re interested in learning more about drawing with a limited palette, here are the links to those articles.

How Color Theory Influences Art

Last week, we talked a little bit about basic color theory. This week, we’ll take a look at how color theory influences art in general and how it can help you with your art in particular.

How Color Theory Influences Art

Blending Two or More Colors to Make New Colors

You don’t need a lot of pencils and every color in the rainbow to make top notch colored pencil drawings. It is easier and faster if you have a lot of colors, but it’s not necessary.

In fact, if you have one or two shades of each of the primary colors, plus black, white, and maybe a few earth tones, you can blend any color you want by layering one color over another.

Remember that color wheel from the previous post? Here’s a possibly more practical illustration of the color wheel and color theory. I used only three colors on this: Red, blue, and yellow.

How Color Theory Influences Art - Blending Colors

But I made two other colors in the process. Green resulted from layering blue over yellow and orange resulted from layering red over yellow.

You will notice that the orange is barely discernible from the red and you might wonder why. It’s because red is both darker in value and more dominant than yellow. Had I used lighter pressure with the red, but still burnished with the yellow (instead of burnishing both colors), there would have been a more distinct orange.

TIP: Some colors are more dominant than others. Even lightly applied, they appear bold. When combining them with less dominant or lighter value colors such as yellow, use light pressure with the dominant color and multiple layers of the less dominant color.

Changing the Brightness of Colors

One way color theory helps you create better art—especially if you do representational or realistic art—is in drawing more natural colors.

Lets say you want to draw a lush, spring landscape. Trees. Grass. Maybe a river or some flowers.

The natural inclination is to choose green pencils to draw green grass. I mean, that only makes sense, right? You don’t want the grass to be a solid block of a single shade of green, though, so you select a few shades of green from yellow-green to blue-green, and light to dark. That should do it. Right?

Except after you’ve layered all those lovely greens together, your grass looks fake. It’s, well, it’s simply too green. As though it was painted. It may even look like it might glow in the dark!

It really needs to be toned down, but how do you do that?

Cue the color wheel and color theory.

The complement of any color naturally tones down the color. In the color wheel below, orange is opposite the color wheel from blue; it is the complementary color to blue. Shade a little blue over an orange object and the orange will be less vibrant, less bright.

Shade a little orange over blue and the blue becomes less vibrant.

How Color Theory Influences Art - The Color Wheel

Green has a complement, too. Red is the complementary color to green. So to tone down the bright greens in your landscape, lightly shade a little red over it.

In this illustration, I drew the grass with three different colors of green and two or three layers of each. Then I shaded Orange over the right half, followed by one more layer each of the two lightest greens.

How Color Theory Influences Art - Using Complementary Colors

Why did I use orange instead of red, which is the true complement? Because red is too dark a color. The values of the greens I drew are so light that red, even applied lightly, would have dominated the greens. Orange is a near complement and is also a lighter value, so it works just as well.

The left third of the illustration has a glaze of red over it. Can you see the difference?

TIP: This technique works best if you incorporate the complementary color into normal layering process, rather than do a flat glaze like I did. Also use very light pressure. I used a flat glaze and a little heavier pressure so you could easily see the difference.

This method works with everything. Every color has a complementary color, and you can use complementary colors to alter the brightness or boldness of any color with any subject you might want to draw.

I have used red as a complementary under drawing for landscapes and it works perfectly for that. But for glazing greens after they’re on the paper, consider a lighter value, less dominant near complement.

Creating an Emotional Response

Sometimes, an artist wants to create a certain mood or emotional response in the people who see a particular drawing or painting. Maybe they want to convey a scene that’s lighthearted and happy. Or maybe they want to emphasize the gloom of a scene.

In this drawing, my subject was the gray light of a rainy day more than the landscape itself. To depict that grayness and wetness, I chose colors that were visually cool. Even the greens, earth tones in the telephone poles, and the red in the stop sign are cool versions of those colors.

How Color Theory Influences Art - Using Cool Colors

If I were to draw the same scene, and even the same gray day, with warm colors, it would have a different look and feel.

Those are just three ways understanding color theory and help you use color to its full potential in your artwork. Master these tools, and your well on your way to producing artwork you can be proud to display.

What are the Disadvantages of Drawing?

I don’t spend a lot of time checking blog statistics. Those kinds of numbers can be an addictive habit for me, and not a very productive one.

But I do track things like search engine terms (the words and phrases people use that lead them to the blog), and the places they come from. That information is helpful in developing new content and updating old.

I mention those things only because of the topic for today’s post and this week’s article on EmptyEasel. Namely, repeated inquiries asking the same essential question: what are the disadvantages of drawing.

What are the Disadvantages of Drawing?

Some version of that search term appears regularly on the list of most used search terms. Today (Tuesday, April 11), seventeen of the most frequently used search terms over the last 30 days use the words “advantages” or “disadvantages.” One form of the question is the second most frequently used search term.

Some of the searches are specific. Disadvantages of drawing lines, sketches, or still life drawings, for example.

Others are much more general. It all leads to the same conclusion: A lot of readers wanting to know why they should draw.

So lets take a look at some of the questions being asked.

What are the Disadvantages of Drawing? The Questions

Please keep in mind that the answers I’m about to share are my personal opinion. You may very well see other disadvantages to drawing. Indeed, you may think my answers are pretty flimsy! So be it! Drawing—and all art—is very subjective and personal.

Having said that, let me jump into the fray.

1: Disadvantages of the Drawing Process

This question appeared a couple of times in different forms. The phrase used here was the second-most often used key word phrase over the last few weeks.

I find no easy answer to this question beyond the matter of time. It quite simply takes a long time to do a complex and detailed drawing, even if you use modern shortcuts. Some of the line drawings for my large works have taken a couple of weeks to work out. Do enough revisions of the same subject and it can get tiring.

And frustrating.

Then there’s the shading, usually with further fine tuning.

If your end goal is the drawing itself, that’s one thing. But if the drawing is only the first step in the process, it’s quite another matter.

2: Disadvantages of Line Drawing

There is something almost magical about setting up an easel, putting a canvas or paper on it, and just producing a finished piece without going through all the preliminaries.

What are the Disadvantages of Drawing Line Drawings

For this type of artist, taking time to do a line drawing not only takes valuable time away from painting, but it may even quench the creative fires. By the time they’ve worked through a line drawing—even a simple one—there’s no longer a desire do the “real piece of art.”

I can understand that, though my empathy comes by way of writing. My second love is writing stories, but I’ve discovered that my brain thinks the story has been written when the story summary is finished. I can’t tell you how many fully developed summaries have gone no further.

If you’re that type of artist, then line drawing may indeed be a disadvantage.

3: Disadvantages to Sketching

To my way of thinking, the primary disadvantages to sketching are all personal—the excuses I give myself for not sketching. In my case, they are:

  • I don’t want to take the time
  • There are too many paid and therefore “more important” pieces to work on
  • I don’t know what to draw or don’t want to draw whatever happens to be nearby
  • It doesn’t contribute directly to my current project (whatever that project may be)

I still struggle with those “disadvantages”, but I also try to sketch frequently (I can’t yet say “regularly”.)

4. Advantages and Disadvantages of Drawing

I wrote specifically on this subject for EmptyEasel this week.

You see, once I got started, my thoughts on the subject went in several different directions. For a few more of those ideas, read What are the Advantages (or Disadvantages) of Drawing?

Whether or not I’ve answered the questions posed above I cannot at present say. Since some variation of the term appears regularly on the list of most popular search terms, it’s entirely likely that some of you also have thoughts on the subject. If so, I invite you to share them below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

So, what are the disadvantages of drawing for you?

Understanding the Basics of Color Theory

If you’re like me, the very thought of color theory evokes all kinds of complicated definitions, higher levels of learning, and intimidation. But every artist needs to understand the basics of color theory, and how it affects their art. Fortunately, it’s not really all that complicated.

In short, color theory is a fancy phrase that describes how colors relate to each other. All an artist really needs to know is which colors to mix to get the desired result, and how colors react to each other when placed side by side.

That’s what this post is all about.

The basics of color theory

The Color Wheel

Let’s begin with the color wheel.

This is a color wheel. Every artist has seen these. Many have made them. This is one I made with colored pencils but you can make them with oils, acrylics, water colors, and many other mediums.


The color wheel divides the spectrum of color into categories. The three primary colors are the colors that cannot be mixed.

Every other color is a combination of two or three of these primary colors. Green is a mixture of blue and yellow. Purple is a mixture of blue and red, and orange is a mixture of red and yellow. Green, purple, and orange are secondary colors.

There are three primary colors and three secondary colors. Beyond that, the possible combinations increase rapidly. For example, the color wheel above breaks includes primary, secondary and tertiary colors. Three primaries, three secondaries, six tertiaries.

You make a tertiary color by mixing one primary and one secondary color. Yellow-green, for example is a combination of yellow (primary) and green (secondary.)

Of course, you can break down a color wheel even further. There is no limit to the number of “slices” in a color wheel. But for artistic use, most color wheels go no further than tertiary colors.

A color wheel is a must-have tool, and can save you a lot of time making color choices.

Get a free blank color wheel and instructions for completing it.

Color Categories

Analogous colors are side-by-side on the color wheel. Blue, green, and yellow are analogous.

Analogous Colors Blue Green Yellow

So are purple, red, and orange.

Analogous Colors Purple Red Orange

As a rule, analogous colors are either two primaries and the secondary they make (first example) or the two secondaries made from the same primary (second example).

Analogous color groups can be warm (reds, oranges, yellows, some violets, and some greens) or cool (blues, some greens, and some violets).

Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. One color is always warm and one is always cool. The difference diminishes as you get away from primary (red, yellow, blue) colors and secondary colors (orange, purple, and green), but there will always be a difference.

Red and green are complementary colors.

Complementary Colors Green Red

Blue and orange are also complements.

Complementary Colors Blue Orange

Unless you break down the color wheel into more subtle gradations, most complementary colors include one primary color and one secondary color.

Conversely, if one color is a tertiary color, it’s complement will also be a tertiary color.

Reds and yellows are warm colors, as are their secondaries and some of the tertiary colors. Here’s a sampling of warm colors. Reds, oranges, yellows, and earth tones are warm colors. Some of the greens that tend toward yellow are also warm.

Warm Colors

Cool colors are predominantly blue or green. Here are a few cool colors. Any color that leans heavily toward blue is likely to be cool. Most greens and purples are also cool.

Cool Colors

Color Context

Colors can appear to “change sides” in some contexts. A naturally warm color such as yellow-green would appear to be a cool color if it appeared in a composition with predominantly warmer colors. A yellow-green umbrella on a sun-drenched day in the desert, for example.

In this collection of pencils, six of the colors are cool. The green in the center is warm in comparison to the blues and cooler greens around it.

Color Context Warm Accent

Use the very same color in a composition that’s predominantly warm colors and it becomes the cool color accent.

Here’s the same green pencil with warm colors. It’s still a warm green, but now it’s cool in comparison to the colors around it.

Color Context Cool Accent

The context in which such colors appear is what determines whether they’re warm or cool in your drawing or painting.

The examples I just used are examples of color context: the way one color affects the color next to it. While some colors are more easily affected by contextual changes, all colors are subject to the context in which they appear.

Using the Basics of Color Theory to Make Better Drawings

Knowing how to combine these three aspects of color theory will help you create drawings or paintings that do more than just depict a scene. You’ll be able to capture the many moods of any subject through the colors you use and how you combine them.

For one thing, it will greatly simplify color selection. You’ll know which colors work best for depicting rainy days and what colors to use for accents.

If you want a drawing to create a sense of warmth, you now know to use warm colors.

Want More Than Just the Basics of Color Theory?

Color Matters is one website you should take a look at. I refreshed my understanding of color theory and, yes, learned a few things, there. It’s well worth your time. Their article, Basic Color Theory, is especially helpful in more fully understanding the basics of color theory.

You can also learn more about color theory and it’s applications with two podcasts from The Sharpened Artist.

Taking Better Reference Photos for Your Next Drawing

Not all artwork begins with a pencil or paint brush. With the ease of owning and using modern technology, many artists begin by composing artwork with a camera. That means many of us are always looking for things that will help us in taking better reference photos.

If that describes you, then this post is for you.

Taking Better Reference Photos for Your Next Drawing

With the capabilities of modern smart phones and other digital devices, you don’t need a high-powered camera to take good photos. However, the better your equipment, the better your chances of taking better reference photos.

The great news is that good digital cameras are no longer all that expensive. They can be, of course, but you can do very well with a mid-range camera, the right lenses, and a little practice. If you know how you want to use a camera—subjects, locations, etc.—you’ll be better able to find the right camera for your needs.

Nor do you need to be an expert. Obviously, the more you know, the better your photos are likely to be, but anyone can take good reference photos by remembering three very simple things.

3 Things to Remember For Taking Better Reference Photos

Take a Lot of Pictures

Even if you have a very definite idea of what you want, take a lot of pictures. And I don’t mean half a dozen or a dozen; I’m talking hundreds. It doesn’t cost anything to develop digital images, so be extravagant! Make that camera smoke!

If your subjects are living, there’s every chance in the world you’ll get photos with closed eyes, droopy lips, funny faces, or other less-than-desirable looks. The more pictures you take, the better chance you’ll get a photo that’s close to ideal.

Also photograph your subject from different angles and in different poses. I took over 30 pictures of this horse (on film—I’d have taken 300 with a digital camera.) Conformation poses from each side. Three-quarter angle shots from both sides. Head studies. Traditional compositions. Arty compositions. Whatever I could think of.

Not all of them will be useful as reference images, but it’s better to have too many photos than not enough.

Taking Better Reference Photos - A Horse in a Paddock

Taking Better Reference Photos - Same Horse, Different Photo

Try Different Orientations

If you’re taking pictures for a portrait, shoot a few photos with a horizontal (landscape) orientation. If you’re looking for the perfect landscape photos, try taking a few pictures with a vertical (portrait) orientation.

Looking at your subject in a different configuration might be just the ticket for taking better reference photos.

Taking Better Reference Photos - Vertical Landscape Photo
Taking Better Reference Photos - Horizontal Landscape Photo


One of my favorite tools for composing through the lens is the zoom function. Even a standard zoom is wonderful for zeroing in on your subject and decluttering the background.

You can also use the zoom function for getting close-up shots of details. Eyes and markings on animals, individual elements in a landscape, or just a more interesting crop. Once you leave the photo shoot, you’ve lost the opportunity to get those images, so take pictures of anything that looks remotely helpful.

Taking Better Reference Photos - Zoom in on Your Subject

Taking Better Reference Photos - Zooming in Your Subject Even Works With Landscape Photos

Additional Reading

For more tips and methods on taking better reference photos, check out How to Take Better Reference Photos for Your Next Art Project on EmptyEasel.

For More Expert Instruction…

I’m no photography expert and don’t pretend to be one. That’s why I like the Digital Photography School website. I recently read an eBook on taking better landscape photographs that was designed for photographers, but that will be a major help to me in getting better references for drawings. So if you’re looking for more than basic tips, take a moment to visit Digital Photography School.

Do Colored Pencils Fade over Time? How to Know and What to Do

Do colored pencils fade over time? The short answer is that yes, some of them do. Some colors are notorious for fading. Pinks and purples, for example. It doesn’t seem to matter the brand or type of pencil, these colors are subject to fading.

Some brands also seem vulnerable to fading, perhaps due to manufacturing procedures or the quality of the raw materials.

In many case, the lower quality pencils can also be subject to fading.

The difficulty is that there is no rule of thumb that’s always true. You simply cannot make a one-size-fits-all statement about fugitive colors (colors that fade).

S0 how do you know the difference between colors (or brands) that fade and those that don’t?

And maybe more importantly, what should you do about it?

Do Colored Pencils Fade over Time

Fading and Colored Pencils

Lightfastness is a measurement of a pigment’s ability to resist fading or discoloration under normal circumstances. A lightfast pigment doesn’t fade. A fugitive color does.

The American Standard Test Measure (ASTM) rates pigments from one to five and is generally displayed in Roman Numerals (I, II, et cetera). The lower the number, the more lightfast a color is. Prismacolor uses this method of rating their colors.

Other countries use other rating methods. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Blue Wool Test is used and pigments are rated from 1 to 8, with the higher numbers being the most permanent.

The general rule of thumb is that the higher quality pencil, the more lightfast. That’s not universal, however. You’re likely to have a lower percentage of fugitive colors if you buy a higher quality pencil, but that’s not always a given.

But even the highest quality pencils will have some pencils that may fade under normal circumstances. That’s just the nature of those pigments.

Do Colored Pencils Fade over Time Stock Pencils

How Do You Know Which Colors May Fade?

Many manufacturers provide color charts that indicate the lightfastness of each color they produce. Many others provide that information online, though you may have to search long and hard to find it. I was able to locate color charts for Faber-Castell and Prismacolor easily.

Others were more difficult and some were impossible. Below are the links I found.

Faber-Castell Color Charts (PDF downloads)

Prismacolor Color Chart (PDF download)

Koh-I-Nor Polycolor Color Chart (PDF download)

Koh-I-Nor Progresso Color Chart (PDF download)

If you want a color chart for your favorite brand, check the company’s website or search for the brand name with the words color chart. Faber-Castell color chart, for example.

NOTE: Just because a color is currently a fugitive color doesn’t mean it always will be. Manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve their products and that does include lightfastness.

I have a 1999 color chart from Prismacolor that shows Spanish Orange with a IV rating (poor). The current color chart shows Spanish Orange with a III (good) rating. I won’t be using my old Spanish Orange pencils, but I would buy new Spanish Orange and use them.

A Recent Experience

I’ve been aware of issues of lightfastness and art supplies for quite some time. I’ve also known that some colors of colored pencils have serious problems with fading.

But it wasn’t until recently that I actually compared my stock of pencils with the ratings on the chart with the intent of removing all the fugitive colors. You can imagine my dismay when I discovered that nearly half of all the pencils I owned were fugitive. Some of them favorite colors.

Admittedly, I’ve always used Prismacolor pencils. That’s what I started with and what I’ve stayed with. They’re relatively inexpensive and easy to find in the US. Why change?

But seeing my pencils divided into two nearly equal piles was disheartening. It was clear I’d have start doing a lot more blending or settle for art that was less than permanent.

I wasn’t thrilled with either option.

Do Colored Pencils Fade over Time

What to Do

I am determined to produce the best, most permanent possible colored pencil work, so my choice is easy. I’ll replace fugitive colors with similar colors that have a better rating. For example, no more limepeel (IV). Instead, I’ll use chartreuse (II).

And instead of light cerulean blue (IV), I’ll use true blue (I), non-photo blue (II), or cloud blue (II), depending on what I’m drawing.

So it’s far from a hopeless case.

But you could also switch brands. A lot of artists have stopped using Prismacolor altogether in favor of some other brand. I have a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos on the way. Not only do they have a luscious collection of earthy colors; most of their colors have good or excellent lightfast ratings.

Before switching, though, it’s worth your time to research lightfast issues. It’s pointless to replace one brand with another that’s more expensive, but rates no better.

You can also buy open stock from a variety of brands, choosing colors that are highly rated for permanence.

Or you can simply continue drawing with your current pencils, but make sure to notify buyers that some colors may fade if not properly framed with UV protective glass.


What you do with this information depends in large part on you. It’s perfectly okay to use fugitive colors in your artwork if you’re not planning on selling it or if you let buyers know. I may keep some of my favorite colors for doodling or other uses.

But I won’t be using them in portraits, gallery work, or anything I intend to sell. Fine art buyers spend a lot of money on art and deserve to know that whatever they buy from me will stand the test of time.

Additional Reading

Not sure whether or not your pencils are lightfast and can’t find a manufacturer’s color chart? Here’s an easy way to test your pencils for lightfastness.

Looking for the Perfect Reference Photos?

If you’ve been an artist for any length of time, you know the value of perfect reference photos.

Regardless of your chosen medium, you can’t draw what you can’t see and you can’t see something that’s not shown—or not shown clearly—in a poor reference photo.

Oh, sure, if you know your subject well enough, you can add some of the details that might not show, or that might show, but not in an ideal way. I’ve drawn horses for so long I can change ear positions if necessary.

But even then, details are missing in the drawing. What if the ear I turned around in the drawing has a spot of white? Where is that spot of white? How is it shaped, and how big is it?

A spot of white will not make or break a drawing (unless it’s a portrait), but there are other details that could easily make or break a drawing. It’s far, far better to have the reference photo as close to perfect for your proposed drawing as it’s possible to get.

The Absolute Best Way to Get Perfect Reference Photos

The best way to get perfect reference photos is to take the photos yourself. And not just a few! Take a lot of photos. In the days before digital cameras, it wasn’t unusual for me to take three or four 36-exposure rolls’ worth of pictures for a portrait project. Sometimes more.

Now that I have a digital camera, it’s a simple matter to shoot 100 to 200 photos. Why so many? Because you never know when an otherwise perfect image might include a closed eye, drooping lip, or that ever popular ear turned in the wrong direction.

“But,” you might say, “I stink at taking pictures. What should I do?”

Finding Perfect Reference Photos Online

In today’s world of  high-tech, easy-access cameras, in which you can shoot images AND access the internet with your phone, it’s quite likely you can find all the images you’ll ever need for reference photos somewhere online.

Post-production photography software also makes it easy to combine images for unique compositions.

But you need to take care in where you get images. After all, not everything you see online is free for your use.

Looking for Perfect Reference Photos - 4 Websites

Luckily, there are many websites that exist solely to share reference photos. Many of them are even free of charge and the photographs are unlicensed, which means you don’t have to give the photographer credit for his or her work and you can use them for whatever you wish (including your artwork).

Pexels is one of the websites I frequent. All images are covered by the CCO license. Find something you like and you can download it for any personal or commercial use. You don’t need to buy a membership, nor do you need to give attribution to the photographer (though photographers usually appreciate it when you do!)

Unsplash is another website offering high-resolution images for any use at no cost. You don’t have to be a member to download images, but if you join the group, you get ten new images in your inbox every ten days. There’s no charge to join.

Pickup Image also allows you to download images for any use free of charge and without a membership.

I share four more excellent resources for finding high quality reference photos in today’s EmptyEasel article, Looking for the Perfect Reference Photo? Here are 4 Websites to Help.

There are many other sources for reference photos. If you’d like to see anything from stock public domain images to vintage and specialty images, search for CCO images and enjoy browsing the results.

Wherever you go for reference images, make sure to check the licensing information (also sometimes called “terms of use”). Each website has different licensing, so make sure to check the details before downloading or using any images.

Unusual Blending Methods for Colored Pencil

This is our final post in on the theme of blending colored pencils. We’ve barely scratched the surface of this topic, but I hope the posts have been helpful. To close the series, I’d like to talk briefly—and perhaps a little light-heartedly—about some unusual blending methods for colored pencil.

Unusual Blending Methods for Colored Pencil

Most of the items on this list can be found in your home without too much difficulty. In fact, you may see some of them every day of the week, but have just never considered them to be art supplies.

So what are they?

Here’s my list.

Unusual Blending Methods for Colored Pencil

Whenever I talk about unusual blending methods, I begin with my two favorite things: Paper towel and bath tissue.

They’re inexpensive, easy to store, and super easy to use. Just fold a piece of either one into a small square and rub a portion of drawing vigorously to smooth color

Granted, using paper towel or bath tissue is not a very bold blending method, but if all you need is a softening of color, this might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Want to learn more? Read 2 Ways to Use Bath Tissue with Colored Pencil

Other Unusual Blending Tools

I keep a bag handy to throw rags into. The rag-bag is a natural outgrowth of oil painting. There are brushes, painting knives, and palettes to clean, after all. Nothing works better for that than paper towel, but that can get expensive. Since I’ve always been on a budget, I started looking for alternatives. Enter, the rag-bag.

So just what goes into my rag-bag?

  • Old socks
  • cast-off clothing
  • Worn dish towels
  • Scraps of fabric
  • Anything that looks at all useful

Unusual Blending Methods for Colored Pencil Rag Bag

Now I can guess what you’re thinking. Just what in the world does this have to do with colored pencil? Just this….

All of these things can be used to dry-blend colored pencil, and it’s very easy to do. Fold a piece of cloth into a small square, then rub the part of your drawing you want to blend. Make sure to hold the drawing firmly and work small areas, or you can bend or tear the paper.

You can also fold the cloth around your finger or fingers if you need to blend a small area. If the socks are intact, you can even slip your hand inside them and use them that way.

You can use heavy pressure and a fairly vigorous motion if you like, but understand that you’re probably not going to get a “really deep” blend with this method. The coarser the cloth, the more blending capability, but even so, all you’ll be able to do is smooth the color.

One Last Option

If you just can’t find the right blending tool, try a scrap of drawing paper. Did you know that Stonehenge paper is a great way to blend colored pencil on Stonehenge paper? Don’t throw those scraps away!

The Best Part About These “Art Tools”

What’s the best part about all of these “art tools?”

They’re completely non-toxic (well, some of them will be non-toxic after they’re laundered!). No fumes, no hazards, no need to use them in well-ventilated areas.

Anyone can use them! No special skills required and no need to worry about allergens.

Clean up is also pretty straight-forward. Throw the fabrics into the washing machine with the next load, and the papers into the trash, and you’re good!

Most of them are inexpensive. You absolutely, positively will not need to add to your art budget to get them.

The plain and simple fact is that most of us throw most of these things away without giving them a second thought. So why not start your own “rag-bag” collection of art tools and give these things a try?

Who knows? These unusual blending methods for colored pencil might be exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Interested in learning more about blending colored pencils? Check out The Only Methods You’ll Even Need for Blending Colored Pencil.

Page 1 of 32

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén