Do you have to draw under drawings when you draw with colored pencil? It seems like a lot of work for something you’re going to cover up anyway.
A reader once asked that question and I had to admit it seemed to make sense. They were right. The first layers of color on the paper are always covered up (unless you work with single layers and no blending.)
So why bother with an under drawing?
Why not go straight for the color?
Before I go any further, let me say there is no Right Way to draw. I dare say there are as many ways to draw—and draw well—as there are artists.
There is no One Way that I use every time, either. A lot depends on what I’m drawing, why I’m drawing it, and whether or not a due date is attached to the artwork.
But the method I use most involves adding color over an umber under drawing. I’ve had great results with direct color drawing, but I still prefer working over an under drawing.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings
There are a lot of reasons for choosing a drawing method. Even if you use an under drawing method—as I do—your reasons for making that decision may not be the same as mine.
So I’ll tell you up front that the advantages and disadvantages I’m about to list are in no way universal. We’re all individuals and even if we use the same tools and the same methods to draw the same subjects, our work and our motivations will be different.
But if you’re considering trying one of the under drawing methods I’m about to describe, then I hope I can shed some light on the process so you can make an educated decision.
Or at least an advised decision!
3 Advantages to Working with Under Drawings
You can work out the values first, without having to make color decisions.
There are a lot of decisions to make with every drawing. Contour. Perspective. Value. Composition. Color.
When you start with an under drawing, you don’t have to make color decisions, too. That reduces the number of decisions to be made up front and focuses attention on what’s important—making the best drawing possible.
It also allows you to draw the strongest values possible. Why is that important?
The basic line drawing and the values are like the foundation on a magnificent building. You can build a building—and create a piece of art—without a strong foundation, but it won’t be the best it can be. And it may not last very long either.
Take the time to develop the foundation of your next drawing and the end result will be noticeably better.
Can you draw values and color at the same time? Absolutely. I just find it easier to develop values first, then glaze color over that.
You may, too.
It’s easier to find and fix mistakes in the under drawing phase.
You can find mistakes in your drawing at any stage of the process no matter how you draw. But I find it’s easier to spot problem areas if no color is involved. Since under drawing layers are also generally applied with light pressure and with harder pencils—I recommend Prismacolor Verithin pencils or Faber-Castell Polychromos—it’s easier to erase and correct those mistakes.
Let’s face it. The sooner you find and correct mistakes, the easier it is to conceal them!
Using an under drawing method forces you to slow down and take your time with each drawing.
I tend to work slowly no matter how I draw, but an under drawing slows me down even further. In the early stages of a project, that’s a good thing. It allows me to find and fix errors and helps keep me from making errors.
Or making existing errors worse before I realize what I’m doing.
One thing I’ve learned about colored pencils is that they are a naturally slow method.
Another thing I’ve learned is that I tend to get lazy, careless, and in search of shortcuts. Those things do not mix well with colored pencils.
3 Disadvantages to Working with Under Drawings
Are there disadvantages to using an under drawing? There sure are.
Any under drawing method adds time to the drawing process.
Doing an under drawing first—especially a detailed under drawing—takes time. If the artwork is very big, it can take a lot of time. You essentially do the drawing twice: once without color and once with color.
But in all honesty, I use the direct color method the same way I use the umber under drawing or complementary under drawing methods. One layer of limited value color, then another layer that develops values and colors more completely. I still do two rounds of work, but the perception is that it takes less time to work directly with color.
A mind game, you say? Quite likely, but if I need to finish something fast or am doing studies, the direct drawing method is better.
The more layers you add, the more you fill the tooth of the paper.
The more color you use, the more you fill the tooth of the paper, and the more difficult it gets to add more color.
When you start with a detailed under drawing, you’ve already used up some of the paper tooth. That tooth is no longer available for color glazing. That can be a problem toward the end of a complex drawing.
This problem is negated quite a bit by using sanded art papers. Textured papers like Lux Archival, Clairefontaine Pastelmat, and UART Premium Pastel paper allow you to add a nearly unlimited number of layers
It’s so boring to do all those layers!
I really hate to use this word but I can’t think of a better one.
One of the biggest disadvantages to drawing under drawings first, is getting tired of working large projects or projects that take a long time. I like starting things. That’s fun.
Finishing can be a nuisance.
And if I’ve spent all my enthusiasm working out a great under drawing, it can be a challenge to finish the drawing.
There is no clear-cut, right-all-the-time answer to the which-method-is-best question. The disadvantages of using an under drawing appear equal to the advantages.
I still prefer developing drawings stage by stage through an under drawing, then subsequent color layers. It pleases my spirit to see a drawing come to life first as a half-tone (no matter the color), then as I add color.
And enjoying what you do is the bottom line.
After all, if you don’t enjoy making art—or the way you’re making art now—you should find something else to do.
Carrie, maybe “tedious” would work in place of “boring”. Or tiresome, unexciting, repetitious. It is the art equivalent of stretching before running, or perhaps washing your car instead of driving it, maybe even like chopping all the vegetables before you begin making the soup.
Can you tell that I don’t do underdrawings? 😎
Clever answer from Jana, Would like to have her wisdom,
On behalf of Jana, I thank you for your comment. Jana is full of practical wisdom in the use of colored pencils and art in general. She has written a couple of posts for the blog. If you type her name into the search bar on this page, you can see her posts, as well as posts that mention her.