Carrie L. Lewis, Artist & Teacher

Helping You Create Art You Can be Proud Of

Colored Pencil – Salt Lake – Umber Under Drawing

Reference Photo of Salt Lake

The subject of this painting is Salt Lake, 1989 Thoroughbred stallion.

Salt Lake is by one of my favorite Thoroughbred stallions, Deputy Minister. I first saw Salt Lake on the cover of The Blood Horse after his gutsy and amazing win in the Hopeful Stakes. “Salty” was the leading active California sire by lifetime stakes winners and earnings.

Golden Eagle Farm Equine Operations Manager, Lori Piedra, provided two excellent photographs she’d taken of Salt Lake. One of them is the reference photo for this project.

As with all portrait projects, the first step is preparing the primary reference photograph. The image was enlarged to full size for the portrait, then I drew a grid over the image. That was then printed and I was ready to begin.

The Drawing

Drawing of Salt Lake

In the portrait, Salty measures about ten inches tall by about thirteen inches head to tail so I drew a scaled-up grid to those measurements on a sheet of drawing paper.

The drawing shown here reflects two phases of work. The first phase was a rough design that placed shapes relative to each other and on the paper. It doesn’t generally take long to do this part, since the goal is an overall design and not detail.

Drawing of Salt Lake

I reworked the drawing on the grid, correcting problems I’d seen since the last working session. I also refined the drawing, improving the overall look and getting a better likeness to Salt Lake.

When the horse was as well drawn as I could get it that way, I removed the tracing paper from the grid, mounted it on a fresh sheet of drawing paper and went over it again using the original image on the computer to pick up more detail. Then I photographed the drawing.

 The Umber Under Drawing

Drawing of Salt Lake

One last check of the drawing, then I transferred the drawing to light ivory mat board and began the under painting. Since the purpose is to establish lights and darks without getting into deep detail, I used a simplified painting process of outlining an area, then filling in the shadow shapes. I started with the hind legs and worked my way forward.

Drawing of Salt Lake

From the head, I worked up into the ears and down along the neck and to the shoulders. I also worked the forearms on both legs and closed out the day by darkening the cast shadow on the ground.

Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.

Drawing of Salt Lake

The next step was to begin darkening the shadows, separating middle tones from dark shadows and separating highlights from middle tones. I took more time to do this, since some of the edges are very soft and others are nearly indistinguishable. The edges of the highlights were ‘sketched’ in using the pencil in a nearly vertical position and holding it close to the business end (the drawing end). I used a very light pressure so no lines were too dark to later cover.

Middle tones were placed with the side of the lead and holding the pencil at the unsharpened end and in a roughly 45 degree angle. Less control equals a lighter touch. To compensate for the texture of the mat board, I worked in several directions until I had the darkness I wanted.

Drawing of Salt Lake

I worked on the hip, legs, tail, barrel, shoulder, neck and head and finally got some work in on the halter. Then I used a small sable round and washed alcohol over the darkest shadows. Some of the darker areas were blended two or three times, but all of the darks were blended at least once. In some areas, I also pulled color into adjacent middle tones, then set the painting aside to dry.

Drawing of Salt Lake

After the mat board was thoroughly dry, I went over some of the darker areas. Again, I worked in the darkest areas first, deepening shadows and increasing the darkness of surrounding middle tones.

The result was very pleasing, but portrait obligations prevented spending more time on this painting than I already had.

Drawing of Salt Lake

I began darkening the darkest shadows beginning with the belly and hip and working forward using a variety of stroke types, pressures, and directions to fill in gaps and create even color layers.

After working through the body, shoulder, and front legs, I blended the new color with rubbing alcohol and a sable brush. The painting was given half an hour or so to dry completely, then I went over the shoulder and neck again. I also darkened the deep shadows on the head, inside the ears and in the forelock.

When the darks were uniformly dark and right on the edge of being too dark, the under painting was finished.

Drawing of Salt Lake

Color began with Terra Cotta, which I layered over most of the body, part of the rump and a little bit of the neck and head. Salt Lake is a dark bay, so the reds and golds are highlights and accents more than anything. I wanted to get a little bit of red on the painting right away to see how color worked over the under painting.

After that, I layered Ultramarine and Indigo Blue over the horse, again focusing on the darker areas and using a variety of pencil strokes to get the look I want.

Painting concluded with Violet in the cast shadow, using a heavier pressure to make a more dense color layer.

To finish, I used a small, sable round to paint rubbing alcohol over the cast shadow, working diagonally across the texture of the paper to get the best possible blending.

Drawing of Salt Lake

Color work is now beginning to make an impact on the under painting.

Work began with a light layer of Pumpkin Orange over the warmer parts of Salt Lake’s coat. I kept the layer as even as possible, but was more careful to define the highlights accurately. Most of the work was on the rump and flank, but I also worked in and around the shoulder and on the head.

That was followed with Yellow Ochre, which I used exclusively on the head.

But the work that made the biggest difference was layering Non Photo Blue over the horse from head to tail. I stayed away from the brightest highlights and from the warmest areas of the head, behind the point of the shoulder, the flank, and the rump. Every other place received at least one layer of blue and some were worked over two or three times.

Original Colored Pencil Drawing of Salt Lake

I laid aside the Verithins this week and turned the softer leaded pencils Prismacolor Thick Leads.

Van Dyke Brown, Dark Green and Crimson Red were layered over the horse from head to tail, focusing on the body. I followed those colors with Black and Indigo Blue stroked into the tail and Indigo Blue over most of the body.

When I finished with color application, I used rubbing alcohol to blend some of the darker areas. I also pulled a wash of color into the inside of the off-side hock. Then the painting was set aside to dry.

Original Colored Pencil Drawing of Salt Lake

I layered Dark Green, Crimson Red, Black Grape, and Tuscan Red into the darks along Salty’s back from poll to tail head. I worked mostly with the grain of the mat board and holding the pencils almost completely vertical. I used medium to heavy pressure, kept the pencils needle sharp and blended between layers and, sometimes, during application.

Original Colored Pencil Drawing of Salt Lake

At this point, I began building color saturation and detail. The goal is to bring each area to completion before moving onto the next.

Rather than use one color at a time as I have been doing, I chose a handful of colors including black, white, several blues and a couple of earth tones and applied them as necessary. I also used a colorless blender to burnish the work, sometimes burnishing between every color, sometimes burnishing over multiple layers, and sometimes burnishing darker colors with a lighter color.

Original Colored Pencil Drawing of Salt Lake

Work continues with the same method of color application and burnishing. I finished the hind legs from the ground up, finished the rump and did the tail.

Original Colored Pencil Drawing of Salt Lake

More finishing work, completing each area as I move forward in the painting.

I worked on the front legs, the body and the cast shadow, alternating between heavy applications of color and heavy burnishing with light colors over dark or with a colorless blender over the light areas.

Original Colored Pencil Drawing of Salt Lake

Work continues nicely, with the portrait of Salt Lake nearing completion.

This week’s work involved a little bit of tweaking on the rump, polishing and adjusting the color and form of the body, finishing the near side front leg, the shoulder, chest and neck. I found a few things to correct, but not many. Most of the corrections were the chest and neck.

Work concluded by finishing the cast shadow and playing with the mane.

Original Colored Pencil Drawing of Salt Lake

Work began on the head and halter. The halter was easier to get started on because of the smaller sections.

After the halter, I worked on the face, darkening it overall and drawing the highlights and shadows. I finished the jowl and tweaked the neck around the halter, too.

I worked throughout the head, correcting mistakes and fine-tuning the details.

When the painting advanced as far as possible, I cleaned up the background with an eraser, then sprayed it with retouch varnish, and added the final bits of detailing. The last detail was my signature and the painting was complete.

Original Colored Pencil Drawing of Salt Lake

Salt Lake in Colored Pencil is 12″ x 16″ and is available for purchase unframed, matted only, or matted and framed.


Want to learn how to use this method for drawing with colored pencils?


  1. Anna Pahlavan

    amazing work Thank you for sharing Anna

  2. Catherine

    This was amazing to me! I have had a few classes in color pencil but learned a ton from you! Thank you so very much. I loved horses growing up! Owned one and now I want to paint them. Great help Carrie. Your work is wonderful…

    • Catherine,

      Thank you so much! I appreciate your readership and your very kind comments.

      I’ve always been “afflicted” with a deep appreciation for horses, the way they look, and the way they move. They are ever fascinating.

      I’m delighted the step-by-step description of Salt Lake was helpful to you. It was one of the projects I did while leading a colored pencil class a few years ago.

      If you’re interested, I offer an online colored pencil course one-on-one. Check out the information by clicking on the link in the sidebar.

      Thanks again for visiting.


  3. Not only a beautiful picture but it’s helped solve one of the biggest stumbling blocks for me as an amateur. It must sound silly to an established artist but I can usually follow step by step guides without any trouble; however, when it comes to doing my own original work I can’t somehow translate what I’ve seen done but using this, with the result broken down to almost microscopic steps, I think I can overcome this hurdle. Thank you

    • Angus,

      Thank you!

      I know exactly what you mean! I’ve learned primarily from watching and studying the work of other artists. Sometimes, I have to see a thing many times before I finally get it.

      I’m glad I was able to help you.


  4. bea gustafson

    Thank you for the great instruction!!

  5. Jack Etheredge

    I thought I filled everything out properly. Anyway, thanks for all the tips. I really enjoy your site and I am glad you take the time to do it. I have learned a lot from reading it.

  6. Jack Etheredge

    I am learning a lot from your page. I am an experienced watercolorist, but just learning colored pencils. Thank you for sharing your knowledge so freely. It is rare that an artist of your ability is willing to share this way.

  7. Edwina Cooper

    Jun. 24, 2016
    Ms. Carrie,
    Thank you for all the instructions with your portraits and for sharing your knowledge in using the colored pencils!

    I have had only one class in colored pencils, thus far, and now I am wondering where that one lesson and with all that is on your blog where it will lead me? I was introduced to the pencils as a child but I didn’t do much with them at that time. I was more interested in the crayons at that time because they didn’t take much time to do what I wanted to accomplish. But, now I can see that the pencils can be more adaptable to what I would be more interested in learning to do. The pictures are more refined and beautiful.

    Thank you again for sharing your talent and techniques with others, especially me.

    • Edwina,

      Thank you for reading my articles and for your very kind comments. I’m glad to be of help to you.

      You can pretty go wherever you want to go with colored pencils. The articles I write are a mix of basic information and more specialized methods. I try to hit all the basics and to answer the questions I had when I was getting started with colored pencils 20 or 30 years ago.

      The online art courses are designed around whatever you might want to learn, whether it’s learning a new method or improving existing skills. Students have worked mostly with equine subjects, but have also drawn big cats and primates.

      If there’s something you’d like to know or a question you want answered, let me know. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it or find someone who does know.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!


  8. Theresa Glover

    Awesome step-out, beautiful work. Thanks for taking the time to do this pic. I am a cp beginner. I find it very hard to do underlayers, but this tutorial was very clear. Thank you,

    • Theresa,

      You’re welcome. I’m glad you found this tutorial helpful. This is one of my all-time favorite colored pencil drawings.


  9. I enjoyed your tutorial very much. I had one question, why did you photograph the drawing after it was finished?

    • Cindy,

      Thank you for reading all about how I drew Salt Lake and for your comment.

      Most of my artwork over the years has been portrait work and has been delivered as soon as it’s finished. I got in the habit of photographing everything early in my career. To begin with, it was so I had a record of the work I’d done and had samples to show others. Having a good portfolio is vital for an artist whose art is their livelihood.

      As the years have passed, being able to look back over the work I’ve done has also provided a sort of measuring stick against which I can measure progress. An unexpected consequence is that whenever I feel like my work is no good and I can’t draw anything, all I have to is look at photos of old work to see how far I’ve come.

      Besides, my drawings and paintings are like my children in a lot of ways and who doesn’t take pictures of their children?


  10. Joletta M. Brooks

    WOW ! This is simply wonderful! I look forward to trying my hand at it . Thank you so much for sharing your methods … step-by-step … you truly are a great teacher. I have owned horses in my younger years so have lots of photos to work from. It will be a joy this winter when the snow is on the ground to have projects. THANK YOU!

    • Joletta,

      I’m glad you like the demonstration of Salt Lake. This is one of my all-time favorite colored pencil drawings. Feel free to try the same method with any subject and to let me know if you need help with anything. That’s what I’m here for, after all.

      Ah yes. Drawing during the winter. The perfect time to stay inside with colored pencils!


  11. Debbie Davis

    Absolutely beautiful work! Thank you so much for your dedication to help others!! Until my daughter recently bought me the 72 set of Prismacolor Premier, I had used my trusty cheap pencils and perfected my skills perfectly over many years. Now, I am unable to master these buttery soft pencils. I’m trying to draw a Rhodesian Ridgeback and am still not satisfied after 7 attempts. It hit me a week ago to try an ‘undercoat’. Never trying this, would you recommend drawing the complimentary colors over the entire dog being he’s basically the same color (adjusting for shading)? Thank you again for sharing your knowledge Carrie ♡

    • Debbie,

      Thank you for reading this demonstration and for your very kind comments.

      I also congratulate you on persisting until you mastered cheap pencils. Most people give up on them because they can be difficult to use. That tells me you will be able to master the better pencils, too. It’s all a matter of persistence!

      If you do a complementary under drawing, do it over the entire dog except for where the dog may have white markings. Make the complementary color in the shadows a little darker than the middle values and work around the highlights, since you probably won’t want too much of the complementary color in those areas right away.

      If you’re at all unsure, try a few sample swatches first, and see how it turns out.

      You can also add a complementary color over what you’ve already drawn. It won’t have quite the same effect, but it will make the following layers deeper and richer.

      I’d love to see what you’re doing. You may be closer to finishing one of those seven drawings than you realize.


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