Anyone who draws animals has to draw whiskers sooner or later. They’re such a small part of most animal art, but believe it or not, they can make or break a piece. It’s important to get them correct.
Today’s post is a followup to a reader question from December 2019. You can read that post here. That post was specifically about drawing whiskers over watercolor pencil and it’s a helpful article for anyone who combines watercolor and traditional colored pencils.
But I wanted to share a few more general tips for the rest of you.
There are several ways to draw whiskers, but the correct answer for each artist depends on what they want to do with their artwork. Since my focus is creating archival art, I’ll answer this question with methods that are archival.
But there are several other methods that can be very useful if you’re doing adult coloring books, greeting card art, or craft art. I’ll talk about some of those at the end of this article.
4 Ways to Draw Whiskers for Fine Art
The following four ways of drawing whiskers—or any similar small detail—should work with any brand of colored pencils.
They are all archival and are therefore acceptable for portrait work, and other animal art that you want to sell. They don’t all work for every situation, however, so it’s best to practice with each one before trying them on a piece that’s important.
#1: Impressed Lines
I used to always impress lines into the paper before layering color. I impressed lines to highlight hair, draw whiskers, and add other small details that would be difficult to draw over color.
Then I started using impressed lines after putting down a layer or two of color. That way, the line was whatever color I layered first, instead of the bright white of the paper.
Impressing lines still has a role in my work, but I no longer use it as often as I once did. Why? Mostly because I usually tended to go overboard with it. You know the idea. If one impressed line is good, two is better, and you can’t go wrong with three. Or four or five or a dozen.
Except that you can go wrong. Used too much, impressed lines become distracting.
When you use impressed lines, remember two things.
Tips for Impressing Lines
First, use your impressing tool the same way you use a pencil. That is, vary the amount of pressure you apply. For drawing whiskers, for example, start with heavier pressure at the base of the whisker and decrease the pressure as you draw toward the end of the whisker. That produces a more natural looking whisker.
Second, try impressing with a very sharp pencil. I sometimes use Prismacolor Verithin pencils for impressing lines. They’re a hard pencil and hold a point very well, so they’re perfect as a stylus. You can also add color at the same time, so you can see where your impressed lines are before you start layering color over them. That is always helpful (especially if you tend to go overboard!)
#2: Use a hard pencil to draw whiskers over color layers
The second method is to add them over layers of color by using one of the harder colored pencils. Prismacolor Verithin pencils are just like the regular Prismacolor pencils, except they contain far less wax. The pigment cores are thinner and harder, so the pencils hold a point longer. That’s what makes them excellent styluses, and it also makes them good for drawing over other colors.
What you do is layer all or most of the color you want in the animal’s face. Then sharpen a Verithin of the right color to a very sharp point, and draw whiskers over the other colors. Because the pencils are so hard, they dig into the color somewhat, but they also leave a little color. The resulting marks will not be very bright, but you can add less obvious whiskers this way.
Colored pencils with thinner, harder cores like Prismacolor Verithin pencils or many oil-based pencils can be used to draw subdued whiskers over other color. You can also use them to “dig into” the color a little, scratching out whisker shapes.
The biggest advantage is that you can add whiskers of different colors, so not all the whiskers look the same.
I’ve used this method in the past, but the results have never been what I was looking for. However, it is worth a try. It may just work for you!
#3: Scratch out whiskers with a knife
Probably the best way to add whiskers is to use a sharp tool like the Slice ceramic blade or an X-acto knife. Use the knife the same way you would a pencil, but scratch out color after you’ve finished the rest of the drawing. You can scratch a few marks into the drawing, then layer more color over it and scratch out a few more lines.
Be very careful, though. It’s frightfully easy to cut into or even through the paper if you tend to have a heavy hand. This method definitely requires practice before you use it on finished or nearly finished art.
#4: Brush & Pencil’s Touch Up Texture and Titanium White
Finally, there is Brush & Pencil’s Touch Up Texture and Titanium White. Titanium White can be painted right over colored pencil, then drawn over with more colored pencil. It was developed specifically for use with colored pencils, so there’s no worry about damaging a drawing or the white flaking off, as may happen with gel pens or acrylic paint.
Use a very small brush to paint the whiskers, then shade them as necessary with color with they come out too white.
Peggy Osborne uses these tools in most of her pet and animal tutorials. Take a look at one of those to see just how effective these tools are.
3 Non-Archival Methods to Draw Whiskers
The following three methods of drawing whiskers will work, but some of them work for very limited periods of time. They’re not suitable for artwork you plan to exhibit or sell, but if you do crafts, greeting cards, or create art from which to make reproductions and you don’t sell the originals, they will work.
When I was first getting started with colored pencils, I could never get bright enough highlights. So I bought a tube of white acrylic paint to add highlights. It looked great at first, but after the paint dried, it seemed to fade into the colored pencil. The result was so displeasing that I used it only a couple of times.
I’m glad that happened, because I’ve since learned that acrylic paint doesn’t stick to colored pencils very well for very long. It’s just like trying to get water to stick to oil. The wax in the pencils keeps the water-based acrylics from sticking.
I’ve never used gel pens with colored pencils, and probably never will because they behave in pretty much the same way acrylic paint. They may last for a while, but sooner or later the bond between the colored pencil and the gel pen will break down and the accents added with gel pen will flake off.
That won’t happen quickly enough to make a difference with greeting cards, adult coloring books, or craft art, but for portrait work and other drawings I want to last decades, it would be a problem.
I haven’t tried this, either, though I did once try adding details to an oil painting with a colored pencil. That didn’t work very well, and I don’t expect oil paint on colored pencil would, either.
But the biggest potential problem with this combination is not with the colored pencils. It’s with the paper. Oil paints are made with an oil vehicle to make them useful. That oil could soak through the layers of colored pencil and stain the paper beneath. It could even discolor the colored pencil.
The idea is interesting enough to have me thinking about trying it someday, but not interesting enough to try it on a finished drawing. Especially not one I like! If I do try it, I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Those are My Tips for Drawing Whiskers
They’re not the only methods by any means, so if none of these fit your drawing style or give you the look you want, keep looking.
And try new things. You never know which method will be your best solution.