3 Ways to Create Base Colors

3 Ways to Create Base Colors

In a previous post, I shared a way to choose base colors that works every time I use it. Today, I thought I’d show you 3 ways to create base colors to start a drawing.

These aren’t the only ways to create base colors, but they are easy and two of them are also quick. What could be better?

Let’s get started.

3 Ways to Create Base Colors

The first step is deciding what the base color or colors should be. I did the same thing with a photo of a horse that I did with the photos of wood in the previous post.

Finding the Base Color

I opened the photo in Affinity Photo and used the dropper tool to isolate the lightest highlight color on the horse. Because the white blaze is the brightest part of the horse, I ignored that. The lightest color is just above the halter nose band. I’ve linked it to the sample in the illustration below.

Next, I opened my digital Faber-Castell Polychromos chart and started sampling colors.

There was no exact match in the Polychromos line. There wasn’t even a close match, so I added White to the two closest samples just to see what I could come up with. The results are shown above.

Naples Yellow and White were the most pleasing. Nougat and White were the closest. I wasn’t particularly satisfied with either one.

I prefer Polychromos pencils, but they don’t always have colors I need.

So I switched to Prismacolor. Again, there were no exact matches, but I was able to get much closer. I also liked the resulting choices much better! I wouldn’t need to adjust them if I didn’t want to, and these two colors, Beige and Sand, were much more pleasing to the eye.

They just looked “more right” for a horse of this color. Yes, both of them are lighter than the lightest highlight, but I think that’s a better place to begin than with colors that are too dark. Depending on the type of paper I use, it will be easier to darken the highlights later if I need to, than to lighten them.

Also, Beige is a top-rated color for lightfastness. Sand is in the second best rating, so either one can be used without fear of fading.

So Prismacolor it will be.

Now that I’ve chosen the base color, how do I create the base color for the actual drawing?

Colored Paper

The fastest and easiest way to create a base color is to choose a paper that’s the same color or close to it. This way, you begin the drawing with the base color already established. All you have to do is build on that color with colored pencil.

For this particular project, I’d choose something like Stonehenge Cream, Natural or Warm White, or Pastelmat Maize. Canson Pale Yellow and Ivory are also close to the base color for this project.

For textured paper, my first choice is Pastelmat Maize, which is a very light yellow color. Buttercup would also work, but it’s a bit too yellow for my taste. Maize is shown below and is a bit lighter and warmer in tone in real life.

Mixed Media Washes

Another relatively fast and easy way to establish a base color is by toning white paper with wet media.

In the example below, I washed watercolor onto watercolor paper to tone the paper and lay down a base color. You could also use India ink, InkTense pencils or blocks, or markers. Watercolor paper is necessary for the watercolor and watercolor pencils. Illustration board will give you the best results with markers, so practice first.

The beauty of doing mixed media like this is that you can develop color and value quite a bit before you start adding colored pencil. That leaves more tooth on the paper for the colored pencil. It also allows you to get better color saturation (fewer paper holes) with fewer layers of colored pencil.

Plain Ol’ Colored Pencils

The third method is also easy, but it’s not fast. Using nothing but colored pencils requires a careful hand and steady stroking, but it is possible to create nice layers of base colors this way.

The example below is on Pastelmat, so the layers are not as smooth as they would be had I drawn it on traditional paper. However, because I used Pastelmat, it’s much easier to blend smooth color if that’s what I want.

You can see in this example that I chose one base color for the sunlit parts of this bale of hay, and another color for the shadows. If you want to use pencils and nothing but pencils to create base colors, then you may find it necessary to use a different base color for each area.

3 Ways to Create Base Colors
From the Hay Bale Study tutorial at Colored Pencil Tutorials.

3 Ways to Create Base Colors

As I mentioned at the beginning, these aren’t the only ways to create base colors, but they are the ones I use most.

Which one is my favorite? I love using Pastelmat and it comes in a limited selection of colors, so I prefer working on that in a color that’s close to the base color.

But if that’s not possible, my next preferred method is creating the base color with nothing but colored pencils on white Pastelmat.

However, that may not work for you, so test each of the three. Then do a little experimenting if none of these work for you.

After all, there is no “right way” to do art. So find a method that works for you!

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  1. Patricia+E+Wilson

    Wow, that was very interesting that you would mix Naples Yellow and White to achieve a more or less beige color. I found this very helpful. I often use white as a base when using colored pencils on dark cardstock as it enhances the image for me. Thanks for sharing these great tips.

  2. Carrie, you were singing my song when you said that you prefer Polychromos but they don’t always have the right colors so you switched to Prismacolor. I do the same, or I start with Prismacolor and then when the breakage is too much of an obstacle, I switch to Polychromos. If only these two companies would merge. . .

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