A lot of colored pencil artists, myself included, work on mostly small pieces. But colored pencils are also good for larger pieces. Today I’d like to share a couple of ways to create large line drawings for those bigger pieces.
For most colored pencil artists, the key is small. It takes so long to complete a drawing in colored pencils, that a lot of us shy away from anything over 11 x 14. I know I do.
It took quite a while—and a paying client—to convince me to work large in colored pencil. That drawing was 24 x 30 (as I recall; it’s been a long time!) What I do remember is that it took nearly a full sheet of mat board, and I had to start it over once.
2 Ways to Create Large Line Drawings
While I don’t recall how I created the line drawing for this portrait, I can share with you the two ways I use most often these days.
Using a Drawing Grid to Make a Full Size Drawing
This is the reference photo for an oil portrait. The photographer is Nigel Soult, who photographs races at The Red Mile in Lexington, Kentucky.
I purchased the rights to use the image, a digital image for computer use, and an 11 x 14 printed version for use during the painting process.
Why the print?
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 like digital references for enlarging details when necessary, so I acquired both.
Step 1: Setting up the Grid
The first step was making a 1-inch grid on the photograph. I use either PhotoShop or IrfanView 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.
Whenever possible, I print the grid without the image and begin drawing on that.
TIP: 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.
Because this portrait is so large (22 x 28,) I couldn’t print the entire grid. After trying to print it on multiple sheets and piecing it together, I decided to print only the section containing the horse and driver at half size on a sheet of legal paper at half size. The rest of the drawing could then be drawn without a grid.
Step 2: Roughing in the Drawing
Begin drawing with a light value pencil. I usually use Verithin Non-Photo blue. Whatever color you choose should be dark enough to see clearly, but light enough to be drawn over easily.
Start by blocking in the major shapes, and refer to the gridded reference photo frequently to get the shapes in the proper place. Once the basics are in place, go over the drawing again and add the smaller details.
Next, use a darker pencil to revise the drawing, reshaping and refining where necessary and detailing where possible. I used a red Verithin. You can continue to make refinements on the same sheet of paper by using gradually darker pencils. Just make sure not to make so many refinements that the drawing becomes confusing.
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.
TIP: To check the drawing, put a piece of tracing paper on the reference photo and made a careful tracing. You can then compare the tracing to the drawing to see where you need to make corrections. Being able to see the “reference” as a line drawing helps isolate problems on the freehand drawing.
Step 3: Refining the Drawing on the Grid
Continue refining the drawing on the grid. If it helps, add basic shadows to begin showing form.
This illustration shows my work on the horse. I also developed the driver and equipment before taking the next step.
Step 4: Transferring the Drawing to Tracing Paper
When you’ve developed the drawing as far as you can on the printed grid, transfer it to a sheet of tracing paper. Continue making refinements even as you make this tracing.
You need to be able to erase lines, so use a graphite pencil for this step. A mechanical or technical pencil is best because they hold a point so well, and are better are producing uniform lines. However, a standard graphite pencil of medium hardness (a No. 2 pencil, or an HB) are also quite handy.
Step 5: Working on Front and Back
Once the drawing is transferred to tracing paper, begin working on it from the front and back, starting with the back (you already have the drawing on the front.) Flip the digital reference photo horizontally and work through the drawing in reverse.
Most of us draw with a bias to the right hand or left. Drawing in reverse reveals that bias and allows you to correct it. Each time you flip from the front to the back, or from the back to the front, you correct the bias a little more. In end, your drawing is more accurate.
Step 6: Combining Separate Drawings
If you had to make the line drawing in two parts as I did with my example, combine them again once they’re both as complete as you can make them.
In my case, I had the main subject (horse and driver) and the background. I laid the horse and driver drawing over the background, moved it around to get the best composition.
Step 7: Preparing the Final Line Drawing
When the completed line drawing satisfies you, transfer it to fresh tracing paper. If you had to combine line drawings to make a whole composition, combine all the pieces to single drawing.
If you wish, you can begin drawing pictorial depth (distance) by making the foreground elements darker than the background elements.
TIP: It’s never too late to make refinements to line drawings. I almost always make some adjustments every time I redraw a line drawing.
Step 8: Enlarging
If you need to enlarge your line drawing, you can now easily make a full-size drawing at a copy shop or printer. A commercial printer is more likely to have the capability of printing very large images, if that’s what you need.
You now have a full-size drawing on opaque paper for transferring to drawing paper and the original, finished line drawing on tracing paper. Keep both safe, in case you need to start over!
The second way to create large line drawings is by tracing the reference photo, then enlarging the line drawing. You can trace the entire composition, or do as I described above, and combine tracing and freehand drawing.
About the only times I use this method to make a line drawing is if I have a very short deadline, or if a composition is very complex. I could have traced the reference photo above and saved a lot of time, but it wasn’t that complicated once I decided how I wanted to do it.
Had it shown half a dozen horses and drivers, I may have chosen differently.
What’s the Best Way to Create Large Line Drawings?
That’s entirely up to you.
I prefer the grid method because it allows me to make a full-size line drawing, no matter what size the reference photo or the final artwork are. I’ve also found that the more times I redraw a subject, the more familiar I become with it.
But it does take time.
So if you don’t have a lot of time or if you just don’t like to make line drawing, then tracing may be your best option.