Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

Are paper holes showing through colored pencil layers a problem area for you? You’re not alone!

Today’s question comes from an artist who asked about that very thing. Here’s her question.

Hi Carrie,

I’m painting a subject in CP that I first planned to paint in WC, and it was drawn on a paper that is very textured. I only realized my error when I started the very dark parts. I’ve tried sharp pencils, burnishing, solvent, but nothing changed. I don’t mind the white showing through, but I don’t know if it’s acceptable.

And thank you for the tips on plants. My photo has lots of grass and I didn’t know how to approach it.

By the way, may I mix watercolor and colored pencils for the grass?

Thank you!

Mirian

Thank you for your question, Mirian. Your project sounds quite intriguing!

Personally, I usually don’t like paper holes showing through colored pencil in my finished art.

However, there have been times when it can be a great tool, especially in landscape drawings. Letting a bit of paper show through the color can help create the illusion of distance in a landscape. It’s also good for drawing fog or mist, or for creating texture.

In the end, it’s an entirely personal choice.

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

Most colored pencil artists seem to prefer full color saturation (no paper showing through,) but it’s perfectly acceptable to have paper showing through the color.

Back when colored pencils first started coming into their own as a fine art medium, a lot of works had that sort of “grainy” look. That seemed to be the standard for colored pencil art.

I don’t know if artists consciously made that decision, or if it was due to the newness of the medium and the tools being used.

This is one of my first colored pencil horse portraits. The color is not at all as saturated as I now prefer it, but it’s what I knew to do (and what I knew HOW to do at the time.)

As I look at this again, I wonder what it would look like if I were to do it over.

You have to admit colored pencils, colored pencil artists, and colored pencil art has come a long way in the last few decades.

So if having a bit of paper showing through the color layers gives you the result you want, then use it.

Otherwise, keep layering and blending until you fill in those paper holes.

How to Fill in Paper Holes

There are several ways to fill in all the paper holes (also known as saturated color.)

Layering

My preferred method is simply adding color until the combination of layers covers the paper completely.

I used light pressure for this test sample, building up value and filling paper holes with several layers of blue. I used heavier pressure in the darkest area, but only after putting down quite a few layers with light pressure.

I did this sample on Bristol, which is a very smooth paper, but I could get similar results on toothier papers or even sanded papers. It just takes more layers.

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

Now, I have a naturally light hand, so I can add dozens of layers if I want to. That helps fill in paper holes. But that’s not the only method out there.

Solvents

Blending periodically with solvent is a great way to blend smooth color and fill in paper holes. Make sure you have enough color on the paper to be blended, then use solvent sparingly. Don’t soak the paper! That could actually remove color.

If necessary, layer more color, then blend with solvent until the paper tooth is filled.

I’m surprised solvent didn’t work on the paper Mirian is using. It must be very toothy. But she should be able to alternate between laying and blending until the tooth is filled.

Burnishing

Burnishing is also a good way to fill paper holes. I burnished the salmon colored leaf in the upper left, and the three purple or pink leaves in the lower right.

Burnish sparingly and toward the end of the drawing process. Once you burnish, it’s difficult to layer more color over the top.

It’s possible that Mirian needs to use all three methods together, alternating between layering followed by solvent blending and layering followed by burnishing. I’ve never burnished and then blended with solvent, but it’s possible that might also help fill in the paper holes on Mirian’s drawing.

Mixing Watercolor and Colored Pencils

Another alternative is starting with water soluble media to lay down base colors, then applying colored pencil over the top.

This works with watercolors and watercolor pencils. Many artists also use inks or Derwent Inktense for base layers.

How to do a Water Soluble Under Drawing for a Landscape shows you one way to use water-based media under colored pencils for a landscape.

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

Just make sure to do all the watercolor work first. Then let the paper dry completely and you can layer colored pencil over that.

You can use the same methods to combine watercolor paint and colored pencils. Watercolors and watercolor pencils are a great way to lay down base colors quickly and fill all the paper holes.

You will probably want to use a paper made for wet media, though. Otherwise you’ll have problems with the paper warping, buckling, and possibly falling apart!

The Bottom Line on Paper Holes and Colored Pencils

Whether or not you allow paper holes to show through layers of colored pencil in your finished work is up to you.

Some artists like that look. Some do not.

If you prefer smooth, saturated color, the tips I’ve shared will help you achieve it.

Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

For most artists, learning to draw with a light hand is an important part of the artistic journey. I’ve heard from many readers who complain of having a heavy hand, so I wasn’t surprised to receive the following appeal.

What can you do if you have not been able to overcome the dreaded heavy-hand?

Thanks,

Romona

Romona’s email conveyed not only her struggle with a heavy hand, but her emotional response. How many of us haven’t struggled with the dreaded heavy hand?

I have the opposite problem. My hand is so light that I have to increase pressure to reach what other artists consider light pressure. If you have a heavier hand, you may see no problem with a light hand, but it’s sometimes frustrating when I have to do several layers of light work just to get the same amount of color saturation other artists get with one or two layers!

The interesting thing is that what works for me in learning to draw with a heavier hand also works for those who want to learn how to draw with a lighter hand.

What is it?

Training!

Tips for Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

Here are a few of the training exercises I use, and that will also help you.

Change the Way You Hold Your Pencil

When you need to draw with a lighter hand, change the way you hold your pencil. Instead of holding it in a normal way, try holding it at the back.

Holding the pencil at the back reduces the amount of pressure you can exert on the pencil.

You will also be holding the pencil in a more horizontal position, which means you’re drawing with the side of the pencil more than with the tip. That means the pencil is skimming across the surface of the paper, hitting the high spots. Less color gets into the tooth of the paper and that produces a lighter value.

It also keeps the tooth of the paper from filling up so quickly, so you can add more layers.

Learning to Draw with  Light Hand

Work at an Easel or Standing Table

Have you ever tried drawing while standing? If not, give it a try.

Working at an easel or drafting table changes the way you approach the paper, especially if the paper is in a vertical or nearly vertical position.

I was an oil painter for over 40 years, and while I usually worked with the painting lying on a drafting table, I did notice a difference on those occasions when I worked with the painting on an easel.

I have done some colored pencil work on an easel and can say that it changes the dynamics between my pencil and my hand, and between the pencil and the paper.

You don’t need a big, fancy easel like this one. A simple table-top model that’s properly anchored so it won’t move as you draw will let you know whether or not this way of drawing helps you.

Give it a couple of weeks, though. It will be uncomfortable at first.

If you try this, you might also want to experiment with working a little further away from your paper. Oil painters often work with the brush held in their extended arm. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work for colored pencils, too.

Keep in mind that you will lose a lot of control, so you’ll have to find the right balance between light-handedness and control.

Drawing Exercises

You might also try some simple drawing exercises, such as those described in Straight Line Drawing Exercises.

Not all of these are designed to help you lighten your hand, but they are all helpful in gaining better control of your pencil. That, in turn, gives you a better ability to control the amount of pressure you use when you draw.

And that WILL help you draw with a lighter hand.

What About a Hand or Wrist Rest?

Typists use rests on their keyboards quite frequently. The rest is only an inch or so thick and you rest your wrist on it. It changes the angle between your hand and your drawing paper, and that might help.

It also takes some of the stress off your hand, and that is always a benefit.

I haven’t tried this myself, but it just might work.

Learning to Draw with Light Hand

Learning to draw with a light hand is a matter of being conscious of how you’re pressing your pencil against the paper all the time. That sounds tedious, I know. It’s so easy to get caught up in the process of creating that we forget how we’re creating.

That’s why I recommend the drawing exercises. You can do those in a drawing pad or on scraps of paper and I believe that if you do them regularly, you will see an improvement in your ability to draw with a lighter hand.

But I’ve used most of these tips myself and they have all helped me control how much pressure I use.

I hope one of them helps you, too!

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Today’s Reader Q&A is a request for information on glazing colored pencils. Since that’s a phrase I use a lot, but really haven’t clearly defined, I thought it was time for an article about glazing colored pencils for beginners.

But first, here’s the original question.

Just starting out in pencil. What or how do you glaze in pencil? Thank you in advance.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Let’s begin with a basic definition of glazing and an example from my oil painting days.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Glazing Defined

The term “glazing” comes from the world of oil painting. It refers to the application of thin, transparent color over whatever color is already on the canvas.

In oil painting, the artist thins the paint with linseed oil, walnut oil, or another painting medium to thin the paint and make it transparent. The thin color is then applied over part of a painting to add color without hiding or covering up the details underneath.

The Old Masters used this method frequently to make adjustments or corrections. The Flemish method of oil painting relies heavily on glazing color over a half-tone under painting.

I used a variation on this method for a few years before putting my oil paints away. The slide show below shows one of those old portraits, beginning with the finished under painting.

As you scroll through the images, you’ll see a progression of glazing until the portrait is finished. The original details are visible through layers of transparent color.

Glazing with Colored Pencils

The same thing happens with colored pencils.

But with colored pencils, you don’t need to add medium because colored pencils are naturally translucent. When you layer one color over another using light pressure, the top color alters the colors underneath without covering the details. That’s why I say that most of my colored pencil work is glazing.

If you use heavier pressure to layer color, you lose a lot of the glazing properties that come naturally with colored pencils. But you can still glaze to adjust or change colors.

When Glazing is Useful

Some artists glaze color in almost every project. I tend to do that because I like starting with an umber under drawing. Once the under drawing is finished, I add colors by glazing layer by layer.

But even if you don’t start with an umber under drawing, glazing can be helpful in the following ways.

Correcting color is one instance when glazing is a valuable tool. If you need to lighten a color slightly, glaze a color of lighter value but similar color over the color already on the paper. A very light warm yellow over a darker warm yellow, for example. Such a glaze lightens the color slightly without changing the color temperature.

You can do the same to darken colors. Glazing a warm medium-value yellow over a lighter warm yellow darkens the yellow already on the paper without changing the color temperature.

Glazing is ideal for changing color. If you need to change a blue area so it’s a little greener, glaze yellow over it, for example.

You can also adjust color temperature by glazing. You have to be bit more careful, because its easy to create muddy color. Especially if you happen to use a complementary color as the glazing color.

Toning down colors by glazing a complimentary color has been helpful to me in drawing realistic landscape greens.

Glazing is also perfect for creating depth of color. I drew the red horse in the illustration below with alternating glazes of red-browns, browns, various shades of oranges and yellows, and even blues. The result was much more satisfactory than doing just a few layers of colors that closely matched the actual color of the horse.

Tips for Successful Glazes

Glazing with colored pencils involves using very light pressure to put color over what is already on the paper. If you have a naturally light hand, then you don’t need special techniques in order to glaze color.

But if you have a naturally heavy hand and you want to glaze, look for ways to apply light, thin layers of color.

Following are two things I do when I need to glaze, and that will help you.

Use the Side of a Well-Sharpened Pencil

I usually use the side of a well-sharpened pencil to glaze when I want to alter or adjust the color in an area.

I hold the pencil nearly horizontal to the paper, and let it “glide” over the paper. It is possible to apply pressure this way, but I rarely do. Instead, I use the weight of the pencil. That produces a nice, broad stroke of broken color as shown here. This is perfect for glazing.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners
Using the side of a pencil as shown here creates “broken” color. The paper or the colors already on the paper show through the glazing color, but the glazing color alters the way they look.

Use a Very Blunt Pencil

For small areas, I like using a blunt pencil such as shown below. The flattened tip works the same as the side of a well-sharpened pencil, but gives me more control.

To use a blunt or very blunt pencil, hold it in a normal position, but with the blunt side on the paper. Then make directional, circular or other strokes to glaze the area.

If you need to clean up or sharpen an edge, turn the pencil until the sharp edge is on the paper.

The pencils on the right and left are blunt. The tips are flat. The pencil in the center is well-sharpened.

In each of these situations, the part of the pencil touching the paper is bigger. That means the pencil doesn’t get very deep into the tooth of the paper. The color stays mostly on top of the tooth, and the color that’s already on the paper shows through. When you look closely at a drawing, you can see that “broken color.”

But when you view the drawing from a normal viewing distance, your eye blends the two colors.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners (in a nutshell)

You can keep glazing simple or get as involved as you wish. After all, some of the Old Masters glazed their paintings extensively and others rarely glazed color.

Whether or not you glaze is a personal choice. Your personal preferences, how you work, and how often you need to make the kinds of adjustments described above all determine how often you need to glaze.

But it can be a very useful skill, so I encourage you to experiment with it, at least a little.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

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?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

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.

Finished complementary under drawing (left) and finished landscape.

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?

A sample of an umber under drawing.

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—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!

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings
I was able to remove enough color from this umber under drawing to redraw the horse’s face and save the drawing.

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 seems to slow 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.

If forcing myself to take the process more slowly was the only reason to use under drawings, I would still use them.

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.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Right?

Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.

How to Draw a Dark Background

A dark background to makes your subject stand out like no other background. Especially a brightly lighted one. But what’s the best way to draw a dark background?

There are several ways to get a dark or black background for your colored pencil drawings. Colored paper, mixed media, and using colored pencil.

Colored paper—and especially dark paper—presents a set of drawing problems better left for another post.

Mixed media with India ink, acrylics, or air brushing are also topics for other posts.

How to Draw a Dark Background

That leaves drawing a dark background with colored pencil; a process that can be time consuming. But it doesn’t have to be, and I’ll show you one way to draw very dark backgrounds quickly.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil

I had in mind a head study of a running horse, but my model was filled with light. She also had a long, black mane.

It might seem counter intuitive, but I planned do a dark background layer by layer. The plan was to use light pressure to layer several different colors to develop a rich black. The process began with Prismacolor Peacock Green and I spent several hours working on it.

As much as I looked forward to drawing the mane, drawing the background around the mane was a problem. This is as far as I got layering color with light pressure.

A Change in Course

Before I got any further, it was time to work on the next article for EmptyEasel. I chose to write about using masking fluid with colored pencil. That article needed a demonstration piece.

This drawing waited on the easel. I looked at all that mane, and decided the horse—more specifically her mane—was the perfect subject for the article.

And so it was.

I used both masking fluid and masking film on the mane, working on both at the same time to compare them. The part of the mane that is orange is masking fluid. The rest is masking film.

Drawing the Dark Background

First, I applied Dark Brown over all of the background using medium pressure (normal handwriting pressure). I added between two and five layers over the entire background, but wasn’t satisfied with the result.

Next, I chose three colors–Indigo Blue, Dark Brown, and Black–and applied them with medium-heavy to heavy pressure.

Working from one area to the next beginning at the upper right, I layered Indigo Blue and Dark Brown in random patterns. I then added Black. I used medium-heavy pressure for all three colors.

When I’d covered all of the background, I burnished it with each color. For most of the background, I burnished with all three colors, usually finishing with black. But I also burnished some areas with only Indigo Blue or Dark Brown, depending on whether I wanted cool tones or warm tones.

Finally, I burnished with Burnt Ochre to accent the head and to introduce the primary color of the horse into the background.

It took two days to finish the background with heavier layers of color. Although I don’t usually prefer this more direct method of drawing, it is a satisfactory look.

draw a dark background

Conclusion

Ironically, this drawing never went any further. It lurks somewhere in the studio, waiting for resuscitation, but even if it remains unfinished, it served its purpose.

I know one more way to draw a dark background.

And now you do, too!

If you have a drawing you need to be finish quickly and you want deep colors and saturation, this method may very well be your solution.

Realistic Landscape Greens with Colored Pencils

I’ve been drawing landscapes with colored pencils for almost as long as I’ve been using colored pencils. One of the most difficult things to get right in a landscape are the green colors. So today, I want to show you one way to draw realistic landscape greens.

Learn how to draw realistic landscape greens.

There are several ways to draw landscapes with greens that don’t look washed out or garish. One of my favorite methods is to start with an umber under drawing. That’s because earth tones naturally tone down other colors.

But most artists prefer to go straight for the color. I confess. I often do that, too, because color is just so much fun!

So let’s take a look at how I use that method to draw landscapes.

Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Using Direct Color

When you draw with a direct color under drawing, you begin drawing with pretty much the same colors you finish with. You simply begin with lighter versions of the final colors, or start with lighter pressure.

You build color through a series of layers and either increase the pressure or mix in other colors. Sometimes both.

While it’s quite likely you’ll include earth tones and complementary colors to keep the greens looking natural, you won’t use them by themselves at any part of the drawing process.

In other words, the under drawing will look like a faded version of the final, full color drawing.

How does that look in practice? Here’s a step-by-step.

How to Use a Direct Color Under Drawing

As with any other method of drawing, the first step is creating the patterns of lights and darks in the composition. You also begin developing the most basic details at this stage.

The Base Layer

For this illustration, I glazed a medium green over all of the trees using open, diagonal strokes to establish the base color.

Next, I drew the form shadows (on the trees) and the cast shadows (between the trees) with the same color. But I increased pressure a little, and used slightly smaller strokes, which I placed closer together.

The results are the same as with the other methods, but the drawing is already showing the finished colors. Green.

The Middle Layers

Next, I layered a light dull-ish yellow over the trees, followed by a couple of layers of a yellowish-green. Those colors provided the warm yellow tint necessary to create the appearance of late afternoon sun slanting across the landscape.

I followed that with another layer or two of the original color into the shadows on each side of each tree. Then I glazed a light-value, yellowish earth tone over all of each of the trees.

After a few more layers alternating between those colors, I burnished with a very cool, light blue in the lightest areas. Then I added a little dark green or dark brown in the shadows, and then burnished with the colorless blender.

Once the basic values were in place, I continued layering all the colors over the trees. Layer by layer, I developed colors, values, and details.

I finished by layering medium green, dark blue, and dark brown into the shadows, alternating between the colors to create a range of values within the shadows.

Finishing the Trees

I finished work on these trees by burnishing in a couple of rounds.

For the first round, I used different colors for each area: Light, cool blue in the lightest areas and dark green in the darkest areas.

I used a colorless blender for the second round of burnishing, and I burnished all parts of each tree.

To burnish, I used heavy pressure, sharp to slightly blunted pencils with a variety of strokes to achieve the look I wanted for each tree.

This is what these trees look like finished.

The final drawing with realistic landscape greens

You Can Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

It takes some thought and patience, but once you master the process, it makes perfect sense.

When you use the direct color method, all you’re doing is developing color along with values and details layer-by-layer.

It’s more difficult to determine where the under drawing ends and the final drawing begins when you use direct color, but it is no less effective than using an umber under drawing or a complementary under drawing.

One note to those who will ask. I didn’t name colors in this step-by-step because the specific colors don’t matter all that much. You can use any combination of yellow-greens, medium and dark greens, earth tones and blues to duplicate the results I showed you here.

You can see the finished drawing, Afternoon Graze, here.

Can Colored Pencils be Erased

Can colored pencils be erased? That’s what Katherine wants to know. Here’s her question.

Hello, Carrie,

Erasing? Is it a reality? I know I drew with too much pressure on my first project and plan to use a lighter touch and layer the colors this time. So will this facilitate erasing at all?

Thank you for offering to help all of us with our art journey,

Katherine

I want to thank Katherine for this particular question because it’s a subject that arises often.

I think there’s the perception that because colored pencils are pencils, they can be erased just like graphite pencils. How I wish that were true!

Unfortunately, it’s not.

Can Colored Pencils be Erased?

Colored pencils look and behave like regular pencils, but they are very different. Both types of pencils contain a binding agent that allows the manufacturer to form graphite or pigment into a lead.

It’s easy to erase the binding agent in graphite pencils once the graphite is on the paper. Removing the binding agent also removes the graphite. Almost any eraser removes graphite from paper.

Can colored pencils be erased like graphite?

Colored pencils, on the other hand, are made with a binding agent that includes wax and oil in differing amounts. Wax-based pencils contain more wax than oil. Oil-based pencils contain more oil than wax.

The result is the same, though.

Both oil and wax resist removal once they’re on paper. Try to erase them with a regular eraser, and what happens? You may remove some color, but you’re more likely to smudge and smear it around, making a bigger mess.

But does that mean you can’t remove color once it’s on the paper?

Is Erasing a Reality?

Erasing is a reality if you use the right kind of eraser. Some artists use what they call an ink eraser. I don’t know exactly what that is, but I imagine those old typing erasers that look like a pencil with plastic bristles on the end.

Other artists recommend Tombow Mono erasers.

I have no personal experience with those, so I don’t know how they work on heavily applied color.

I’ve had success lifting color using mounting putty, masking tape, transparent tape, and what I call a click eraser, shown below. But even they do not completely remove heavily applied color.

Can Colored Pencils be Erased

If you work on traditional drawing papers, it doesn’t matter what method you use to lift color. Even combining some of the tools mentioned above removes only a limited amount of color. The more color on the paper, the more difficult removing it becomes.

Yes, applying color with lighter pressure makes lifting color easier. That’s because you don’t press the color so deeply into the tooth of the paper.

Starting with a harder pencil such as Prismacolor Verithin, Faber-Castell Polychromos, or Caran d’Ache Pablo also makes lifting color easier. But even then, it’s next to impossible to get down to bare paper again.

To read more about my experiences removing color, read how to Remove Color from a Colored Pencil Drawing here. You can also read 2 Neat Tricks for Erasing or “Lifting” Color from Colored Pencil Drawings here, published on EmptyEasel.

The Paper Makes a Difference

The difference can be huge!

I described above what happens when you try to erase colored pencils applied to traditional papers.

But apply color to a sanded art paper like Uart, Fisher 400, Pastelmat, or Lux Archival, and it’s a different story. Regular graphite erasers are still a no-no, but you can remove color almost completely from sanded papers with mounting putty, a stiff brush, or other similar tools.

I’ve been experimenting with the Brush & Pencil products lately, and can tell you that when I use Powder Blender before adding color, it’s even easier to remove color.

In fact, Alyona Nickelsen’s “painting with colored pencils” process involves adding color AND removing color. This lifting off method is very much like the wipe-off method oil painters have been using for centuries.

So Can Colored Pencils be Erased?

Yes.

And no.

It all depends on the paper you use, the tools you use to lift or lighten color, and how you apply the color.

I recommend testing various methods with the paper or papers you use most often to find the method that works best for you.

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

We’ve all heard we should keep our pencils sharp for the best results. Most of the time, that’s true, but today’s reader wants to know about using the side of a colored pencil. Here’s the question.

Hello, Carrie,

Is it more effective to use the side of the pencil and avoid the tip except for making defining lines?

Most of the time, smooth color is vital to smooth color layers and smooth blends. Sharp pencils are usually necessary for both. So it’s understandable that most artists recommend keeping pencils sharp all the time.

the Side of a Colored Pencil

But that’s not to say there’s never a time to use the side of a pencil.

Following are a few examples of using the side of the pencil instead of the tip.

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

Covering Large Areas with Color

Let’s say you need to shade an area that’s fairly large and in which no sharp detail is needed. A distant hill, maybe. Or an under drawing layer. Using the side of your pencil makes perfect sense in those situations.

You can draw smooth color with the side of a pencil, but the color skims across the tooth of the paper without filling the tooth. The resulting color layer will appear lighter in value because more of the paper shows through. This is ideal for showing distance in a landscape, or for drawing mist or fog.

I used the side of a pencil to draw the distant trees in this landscape. The broken color (paper showing through the color layer) helped create to look of far off trees.

Glazing

When you glaze, you put down just enough color to tint whatever color is already on the paper. With oil painting, you do that by adding painting medium to thin the paint and make it more transparent.

Colored pencils are already translucent, so you don’t need to add anything to them to use them for glazing.

You can cover more area by using the side of a sharp pencil rather than a dull pencil, as shown in the previous illustration.

Instead, you glaze by using light pressure and not doing more than one or two layers. The sides of pencils are perfect for this because they create a smoother color layer and cover more area without visible pencil strokes.

The resulting color layer is broken. That means that paper holes show through the glazing layer, as shown below. The rougher the paper, the more paper shows through glazed color.

Whatever color is already on the paper, also shows through, and that’s what makes glazing so effective. You can tint previous color layers without completely covering them up.

Too Much Detail

Have you ever realized after finishing an area that you’ve drawn too much detail? Have you ever wished there was a way to reduce the amount of detail without removing color?

Try lightly shading that area with the side of a pencil. You’ll be able to add color without adding detail. That color layer helps “veil” the previous layers. The details still show through, but they’ll be less obvious.

I often use a light gray for such work, but you can use any color. Use a darker color if you need to darken the area; use a lighter color to lighten it slightly.

One Other Reason to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

Over the years, readers have asked how to learn to use lighter pressure when they draw.

The best tool I’ve found for a naturally heavy hand is changing the way you hold the pencil.

Here are two samples of how I hold pencils.

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

On the left is a nearly vertical grip. I use this when drawing tight detail, or when I need to be very precise. It’s also a good way to work on small areas.

When you hold a pencil this way, you’re using only the point of the pencil. You have a lot of control and can put a lot of pressure on the pencil.

On the right is a nearly horizontal grip. With this grip, you’re drawing with all or most of the exposed pigment core, not just the tip. This is perfect for glazing thin layers of color, as I explained above.

But you know what else it’s good for? Decreasing pressure! That’s because you hold the pencil more toward the unsharpened end. That makes it a little more difficult to put a lot of pressure on the pencil as you draw.

(My illustration isn’t perfect because I used a short pencil to show the horizontal grip. No matter the length of the pencil, hold it near the end.)

If you want to draw with very light pressure but have a naturally heavy hand, try holding the pencil near the end of the pencil and drawing with the side of the pencil.

Conclusion

In most cases and with most papers, it is smart to use the tip of a well-sharpened pencil.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when using the side of the pencil is more helpful. I’ve shared a few of the times I’m likely to use the side of the pencil.

Experiment with your next drawing and see when the side of your pencil produces better results than the tip.

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

Today, I want to show you how to start a miniature horse drawing. That is, a miniature drawing of a horse.

The original drawing is an ACEO, 3-1/2 inches wide by 2-1/2 inches tall.

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

Officially, it also falls into the miniature art category. I’m not certain ACEOs are as popular as they once were, but they’re a great way to practice a new method or technique. If you like finishing artwork quickly with colored pencil, ACEOs are perfect for that, as well.

A Bit about ACEOs

ACEO stands for Art Cards, Editions and Originals, also known as Art Trading Cards (ATCs) because they are the size of a typical trading card.

Size is the only qualification. Artwork must be 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2.

ACEO/ATCs can be created with any medium on any support, and in any style. They can be originals or reproductions. I’ve used oils, colored pencils, ballpoint pen, graphite, and acrylics to make landscape, abstract, and equine-theme ACEOs.

ACEO horse painting in oils.

I like the size because I can use scrap pieces of paper, canvas or other material to paint or draw on. Another benefit is being able to toss a drawing that doesn’t work.

And that makes ACEOs ideal for trying new materials, new mediums, new techniques, or new subjects.

Colored Pencils and Miniature Art

Colored pencils are ideal for miniature art. Their size and shape make them a natural for producing detail in miniature and the size of miniature art is perfect for colored pencil.

Colored pencils are my favorite medium because they allow a high-degree of detail and I can complete some ACEO-sized pieces in an hour or less.

Now, time for the tutorial!

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

This is my reference. I did a lot of composing with the camera, but also began work by cropping the digital image to the proportions of an ACEO.

Start a miniature horse drawing reference photo.

To transfer the line drawing, I coated the back with a graphite pencil. The soft lead I used required some cleanup afterward, but I got a nice, crisp drawing without leaving impressions on the paper. At this size, that’s a plus.

By the way, I’m drawing on Rising Stonehenge 90lb paper in white. You can use your favorite white paper as long as it’s not too toothy.

This week, I’ll show you how to do the umber under drawing, then follow up with the color glazes next week.

The Umber Under Drawing

I chose to start with an umber under drawing because that’s the best way I’ve found to get the shadows, values and details right.

Working without color is also a little bit faster.

The Background

I chose Prismacolor Verithin Dark Umber because that line of pencil has a thinner, harder lead. It covers paper well without filling the tooth. It’s also easier to erase and correct than softer pencils. You can use Prismacolor Premier Dark Umber, or any similar medium-value brown.

Layer color unevenly over the background. The background will be blurry green, so don’t put the same amount of Dark Umber over every part of it. One option is to leave the background lighter around the horse’s head, and darker along the edges, but you can try other backgrounds, too.

Use hatching and cross-hatching strokes and layering to create variations in values.

Since I was creating my own background, I drew a random pattern of light and dark areas, but kept the background around the horse’s head and especially around the ears, light to accent the horse.

The Horse

I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t save the highlights, I tend to work right over them. It’s impossible to recover nice, clean highlights once you’ve shaded over them if you’re using traditional drawing methods.

So the first step to drawing the horse is lightly outlining some of the more prominent highlights (outlines are still visible on the shoulder.)

Use directional strokes that follow the contours of the head and neck everywhere except the eye.

For the eye, use circular strokes to fill in the shape as completely as possible. Work around the lashes and use only a few layers around the lower edge of the eyeball, where there will be reflected light, while adding more layers to darken the rest of the eye.

Start a miniature horse drawing.

Except in the eye, use light pressure. When drawing the eye, begin with light pressure and work up to medium light pressure.

Other Notes

Since this piece is so small, there isn’t much room for fine details. Don’t fret too much over all the details you see in the reference photo.

I used a dry fine point ballpoint pen to impress my signature into the paper before starting to draw. Even with a single color applied with two or three light layers, the signature is quite clear. You don’t have to sign your art, or you can use a light Verithin (or other pencil.)

This is an ideal way to sign small format or miniature drawings, especially if you lay down a lot of color and don’t use solvents. When you use a solvent, the signature will be filled in to some extent, but may still be visible.

You may need a couple of rounds of shading the background and/or the horse to finish the umber under drawing. The key thing to remember is to make sure there is a clear distinction between the horse and the background. If the horse doesn’t stand out at the under drawing stage, it probably won’t stand out even after adding color. Contrast is important. Make sure the dark values are dark enough and the light values are light enough.

Now You Know how to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

If you like, practice on a few more. Or do this one again and save the best one for next week.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can try this method on other subjects. Just remember to have fun!

Next week, we’ll finish with color glazing.

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

What is the best method of transferring drawings to drawing paper? That’s what Kathryn wants to know. Here’s her question.

Hi Carrie

I’ve only started drawing and using coloured pencils in the last 6 years and often have problems transferring my sketch onto good paper.  What is the best method of transferring my sketch onto good paper?

I’ve tried:

  • transfer paper with charcoal on the back (got quite messy)
  • coloured carbon paper (but it didn’t work very well)
  • bought a lightbox which worked well sometimes but a lot of my paper is really thick and doesn’t work with the lightbox

Also I would like to say thank you for all your emails, blogs and encouragement in your articles. I felt like giving up numerous times but would read your weekly emails which would encourage me.  I have made progress over the years and enjoyed your tuition and done a number of your lessons.  I’m emailing from New Zealand so just to let you know you have fans all over the world.

Blessings

Kathryn

Thank you to Kathryn for her question, and readership. And for her encouragement. One can never get too much encouragement!

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

It would be nice if I could share an answer that works all the time for every artist. The fact of the matter is that there is no such answer. I’ve used four or five different transfer methods over the years. Some worked a lot. Some worked once in a while, and some didn’t work at all.

There are many other transfer methods that I’ve never tried. Some artists swear by those methods, but I can’t personally recommend them.

So I’m going to talk about the three transfer methods that work best for me.

My Best Methods of Transferring Drawings

Light Box

My absolute favorite method of transferring drawings is a light box. In my case, that’s one of two or three large windows.

But Kathryn is right. Some papers are too thick or opaque for this method to work. I can transfer to Bristol and Stonehenge fine with a light box, but need other methods for colored papers, and heavier papers.

Carboning the Back of the Drawing

The easiest way to transfer a line drawing to another surface is to shade graphite directly on the back of the drawing. This process is called “carboning the drawing” and it lets you trace the line drawing onto almost any other drawing or painting surface.

Kathryn has already tried a form of this. But she used charcoal rather than graphite, and that will produce a messier line.

Instead charcoal, try a pencil that’s soft enough to make a nice, clear line, but not so soft that it smudges wherever you happen to rest your hand. A 4B is the best choice if you tend to draw with a light hand. Otherwise, a 2B is probably your best choice.

How to Carbon a Drawing

To carbon a drawing, turn the drawing upside down and shade the back of the paper along the lines. You don’t need to cover the entire piece of paper, but make sure to shade every part of the line drawing.

It doesn’t matter how careful you are in shading. Notice the random patterns in the illustration below. But you MUST cover every part of the line drawing.

This is what my line drawing looked like after I carboned it.

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

You can see the shading on the drawing because my line drawing is on tracing paper.

If your drawing is on drawing paper, so you may not be able to see the shading from the front of the paper. To make sure you’ve shaded behind every line, hold the drawing up to a window or lay it on a light box. Do any additional shading that might be necessary.

When you’ve shaded over every part of the line drawing, mount it to drawing paper and retrace the lines. The graphite transfer to the drawing paper. Clean up as necessary afterward.

Home-Made Graphite Paper

I don’t often carbon the backs of my line drawings because I prefer clean line drawings. In the past, I used commercial carbon paper, usually Saral greaseless. Then I started making my own transfer paper and have never looked back.

It’s fast, easy, and inexpensive. And you can “recharge” the sheet whenever necessary!

Use a 2B or 4B graphite pencil to shade one side of an ordinary piece of paper. I use printer paper, but you can also use any other type of paper that’s heavy enough to stand the abuse.

Shade the paper as much or as little as you like. This sample shows two or three layers applied in one direction, with two or three additional layers applied in a different direction.

All you need is enough graphite on the paper to transfer a drawing, so two or three layers with a soft graphite pencil will probably be enough.

You can also shade all or part of the paper. I do a lot of smaller drawings, so this partial sheet is sufficient. If I need something for a larger drawing, I shade more of the sheet.

When I was oil painting, I even had a legal sheet fully carboned for those larger oil portraits.

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

Some artists stabilize the graphite with a light coat of workable fixative. That also keeps the transferred lines from being too dark. I’ve never sprayed my graphite paper with anything, so can’t say from experience how it works.

Graphite transfers easily and clearly. If you used a very soft pencil (4B or softer,) it also smudges, but smudges can be easily removed with mounting putty or an eraser.

One Precaution

If you carbon the back of your drawing or make your own graphite transfer paper, make sure to use a bit of mounting putty on the transferred drawing. That lifts excess graphite from your drawing paper, and keeps it from muddying the colored pencil. This is especially important if you’ll be using a lot of lighter colors.

So What’s The Best Method of Transferring Drawings?

For me, it’s a light box, with my home-made transfer paper a close second.

Those methods may or may not work for you. If they don’t, there are other ways to transfer drawings, such as projectors and copying gadgets.

Whether you begin with my favorite methods or explore on your own, deciding on the best method of transferring drawings is really a personal choice.

And you may find as I did, that you’ll need more than one transfer method for the different types of paper you use.