Nearly Top 35 Posts from This Blog

Nearly Top 35 Posts from This Blog

Today’s post is a list of the nearly top 35 posts for the past quarter on this blog.

I’m not a big fan of checking statistics every day. There are just too many other things to do and getting bogged down in statistical analysis is a lot like getting bogged down in details too soon. It slows everything down.

But I did take a peek at the statistics this week looking for a good topic to write about today. The idea that came to mind was to share a list of previous posts that have been well-read, but are still under 600 views for the past three months.

Why 35? I don’t know. It seemed like a good number and when is the last time you saw a list of 35 anything? Top ten or twenty, yes. But nearly top 35? Not so much.

So that’s the number I settled on, and I have to admit that the collection is impressive. There’s definitely something here for everyone.

Nearly Top 35 Posts from This Blog

A single list of 35 posts is a lot of posts to sort through. So I sorted them into categories. You can browse all the categories, or choose the categories that are of the most interest.

How to Posts

The Best Way to Transfer a Drawing to Black Paper

Drawing on Wood with Colored Pencils

Tips for Drawing on Black Paper

How to Make a Color Lighter

How to Draw a Night Sky

7 Ways to Draw Whiskers for Colored Pencil Artists

How to Draw the Blackest Black in Colored Pencils

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing

Layering and Blending Colored Pencils

How to Draw White Fur with Colored Pencils

How to Draw Crisp Edges with Colored Pencils

Realistic Landscape Greens with Colored Pencils

How to Make Drawings Look Less Flat

Draw Cat Eyes with Colored Pencil

How to Draw a Gray Sky with Colored Pencils

Drawing Vibrant Highlights with Colored Pencils

How to Draw Carpet with Colored Pencil

Supplies and Materials Posts

My Thoughts on Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

The Difference Between Hot Press and Cold Press Papers

Reasons to Try Canvas with Colored Pencils

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Tools

Alternatives to Drawing Paper for Colored Pencil

The Best Black Paper for Colored Pencil Art

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Old Prismacolor Pencils vs New Prismacolor Pencils

Get the Most Out of Every Colored Pencil

Can You Use Graphite Under Colored Pencil?

After the Artwork is Finished Posts

Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art?

How I Store My Colored Pencils

Framing Colored Pencil Drawings: Must You Use Glass?


Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil

5 Drawing Exercises with Curving Lines

Where to Begin a Colored Pencil Drawing

The Biggest Mistake I Made as a Beginning Artist

An Easy Way to Test Colored Pencil Lightfastness

And there you have it. The Nearly To 35 posts from this blog.

A well-rounded list of 35 of posts that lurk just under the top-rated posts for the past quarter. I hope you’ve found something helpful among these topics.

Blending Smooth Color with Colored Pencils

Blending Smooth Color with Colored Pencils

Some topics never grow old. Either they’re so expansive, there’s always something to write, or there are always new readers who haven’t read previous posts. Blending smooth color with colored pencils is one of those topics.

I have written posts on blending smooth color in the past. How to Blend Smooth Color and My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Methods are just two of those posts. Even if you have read them before, they’re well worth reviewing again.

Today, I’d like to share some additional tips for blending smooth color.

Tips for Blending Smooth Color with Colored Pencils

Some of these tips are common sense (to me anyway,) and some might be a bit “radical.” But I have used all of them at least once or twice, and they have been helpful.

Go Slow & Draw Carefully

Okay, so this is neither new nor radical, but I mention it first because I have so much trouble with it myself.

The key to blending smooth color is drawing smooth color.

The key to drawing smooth color is to go slow and draw carefully. It’s very difficult to blend smooth color from color that’s been scribbled onto the paper. Trust me; I’ve tried it. It just does not work.

Here’s a sample of “scribbled” color. In the background, I got tired and started scribbling color. It’s very light color to start with and may be difficult to see here (in the circle,) but it sure showed up as I was working on the drawing. I was thoroughly disappointed with myself and had a difficult time smoothing out those scribbles. It took several layers to smooth the color enough to create the look of grass.

Blending Smooth Color with Colored Pencils 1

It’s always better to take your time drawing smooth color. If you find yourself getting careless in applying color, take a break.

Read Drawing Smooth Color With Colored Pencils on the Colored Pencil Tutorials blog.

Now for some newer ideas.

Experiment on Scrap Paper

The absolute best way to learn a new tool or technique is by drawing. You can learn on “real art,” art that you want to finish, but I’ve found that method to be frustrating and sometimes discouraging.

Instead, save scrap pieces of your favorite drawing papers and use them to test new tools and techniques. They don’t have to be large pieces. Four inches by six inches is large enough.

If you like the results, then you can try it on a drawing. If you don’t like the results, at least you haven’t ruined a drawing.

Use the same type of drawing paper you’re using for the drawing for the best results.

Put Enough Pigment on the Paper

When you blend with solvent, you need enough pigment on the paper for the solvent to work.

If you layer with medium pressure or lighter, put down two or three layers, blend, then add a couple more layers, and blend again. You may have to do that a couple of time to get smooth color, so you might want to try it on a test sample first. Just layer color on a paper, blend it, then add more color and blend again. See what happens.

If you draw with a naturally heavy hand, you may be able to blend smooth color after only one or two layers of color. I have a naturally light hand, so usually have four or five layers before I do solvent blending of any kind. But each layer is quite thin.

Blend with Paper

Sometimes the best way to blend smooth color is by trying different blending tools. I like bath tissue and paper towel to blend because they give a different look than colorless blenders or solvents.

But did you know you can also blend colored pencil by using small pieces of the paper you’re drawing on? It’s nowhere near as effective as using solvents, but if you want to “gently smooth” color, take a small piece of drawing paper and rub it on your drawing. You can use light pressure for light blending or use heavier pressure.

Blending Smooth Color with Colored Pencils Doesn’t Have to be Difficult.

Or complicated.

But it does take patience, and a willingness to try different and unusual methods.

Keep in mind that not every method works for every artist or on every drawing. You may need to do some experimenting on your own to get those special results that make artwork sing.

Just remember to practice and experiment on scrap paper; not on your artwork!

Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

Blending backgrounds with powder blender can be faster and easier than drawing blurred backgrounds with traditional drawing methods.

Today’s post is about my first attempt at blending backgrounds with Powder Blender.

This is my second attempt using Clairfontaine Pastelmat Sienna colored paper. I described my first experience here. If you’re interested in traditional drawing methods on Pastelmat, then you’ll want to read How to Draw a Blurred Background.

For this piece, I followed Alyona Nickelsen’s method of colored pencil painting, which is based on the Flemish Seven-Step method. I used many of her Brush & Pencil products, including Powder Blender, ACP Textured Fixative, and Titanium White.

The portrait is 6 inches by 8 inches. As mentioned above, I’m using Clairfontaine Pastelmat.

Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

I’m reading Colored Pencil Painting Portraits, and wanted to try the step-by-step background method described in that book.

I didn’t want to just practice, though. I wanted to do an actual work. This portrait was ready for background work, so I decided to work on it.

Since this is a teachable moment, I chose one of the tutorials in the book, and followed it step-by-step. Here’s how that worked.

Step 1: Apply Powder Blender to the Paper

Alyona recommends applying Powder Blender to the paper before you add any color. According to the book, you can use sponge applicators, a brush, or even your finger if you wear a cot.

I chose a #6 sable round brush to apply Powder Blender to the background. It’s very easy to do. Simply lightly touch the Powder Blender with the brush, then brush it onto the background.

You don’t need a lot of Powder Blender. A little bit goes a long way, so use it sparingly.

Powder Blender is a white powder, but it disappears on paper. Even on colored paper like this Sienna Pastelmat.

Step 2: Layer Color

Next, I layered Faber-Castell Polychromos Sky Blue over the background with light to medium-light pressure and big, bold strokes.

My understanding was that I didn’t need careful strokes in order to get smooth color with Powder Blender. So I used light pressure, but essentially scribbled color onto the paper in just a few minutes.

I didn’t even bother covering all of the paper, since I want a blurred look for the background.

Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

Step 3: Blend with Powder Blender

Next, I used the same brush to blend the color, which is one of the ways to blend described in Alyona’s book.

Blending with painterly strokes stirred up pigment, but didn’t blend well, so I tried a stippling stroke. Stippling strokes (tapping strokes) pushed pigment down into the tooth of the paper instead of spreading it around.

Most of the strokes blended out nicely, but I wasn’t able to cover all of the paper. That was okay, though. It showed me that I needed more color on the paper for effective blending.

Step 4: Continue Layering Color

I layered more Sky Blue over parts of the background, and then added Earth Green Yellowish in some areas. The additional color will create the look of blurred foliage in the background.

I alternated layering and blending several times without adding more Powder Blender.

The more color on the paper, the more satisfactory the blending process, but you can still see a lot of paper showing through the background. At this stage in the drawing, that doesn’t bother me. I’ll be able to continue layering color until the portrait is complete.

I continued working on the background with Sky Blue and Earth Green Yellowish to build color. I also added Deep Cobalt Green for a darker cooler green, and Dark Indigo to create even darker values. When the greens got too bright, I toned them down with Bistre.

I tried a blending layer with Cinnamon, which is very close to the color of the paper. Blending layers often work on other projects, but I didn’t care for the look of it this time.

When the background was finished, I did a final blend with Powder Blender and the color was ready to be “fixed into place.”

Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

Step 5: Spray with ACP Textured Fixative

After finishing with layering and blending, I lightly sprayed the drawing with ACP Textured Fixative.

Two light coats with half an hour of dry time between the two coats. Then I put the drawing away for the day.

My Thoughts on Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

So what’s my opinion of Powder Blender? Favorable! I clearly need practice with this new tool, but I need practice with every new tool. We all do.

Overall, I like this background much better than the blurred background I drew on the same paper using traditional methods.

It also took far less time to do this work. Less than two hours total, while it took several hours over a period of days to do the traditional background. Even if the only place you use Powder Blender is the background, it’s well worth the investment.

I blended with a sponge applicator until I noticed spongy part was coming apart due to friction with the paper. Sanded papers are hard on sponges!

So I went back to my sable brush, but wasn’t getting much good out of that. The next brush, a stiff bristle brush, worked so well that I put the sable brush and the sponge applicators away.

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers

This week’s Q&A question comes from a reader who is having problems blending smooth color with alcohol markers. Here is the question.

I’m having trouble when I try to blend large areas of colour with the colourless (alcohol based) blenders. I’ve tried Prismacolor and Winsor & Newton blending pens and different papers, but the backgrounds come out blotchy.

I want to blend that way because the colours come out more vibrant, plus I want to be able to add additional layers without filling up the tooth of the paper.

I have tried blending on Fabriano Artistico 140 lb hot press, and Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Vellum 100 lb. Both seem to turn out poorly.

What am I doing wrong?

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers

I have used blending markers, but it’s been years. I think I used one marker and decided they weren’t for me for a number of reasons.

First, I had a lot of the same problems this reader is having.

Second, the markers tended to get dirty quickly. That makes sense, because any time you use solvent on colored pencil, you remove some color.

But the biggest reason I didn’t buy another blending marker was that the first one dried out too quickly. It just wasn’t cost-effective or convenient.

Having said all that, let’s talk about how to use alcohol markers more efficiently.

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers

So what is this reader doing wrong?

I strongly suspect the answer is attempting to blend large areas with a tool designed for small areas.

Markers are, by nature, designed for small areas. The marker I used had two tips: one small and round, the other wedge-shaped. But even the wedge-shaped edge was no more than an inch wide and probably not even that big.

Alcohol also evaporates very quickly; sometimes almost instantly. It’s very difficult to get smooth blends when the surface dries from one stroke to the next. Even overlapping strokes and working quickly isn’t always the solution.

How Do You Blend Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers?

Save the blending pens for those small areas that can be blended quickly. If your marker has two tips, use the largest tip that will fit the area you want to blend.

Blend the entire area as quickly as you can, and overlap strokes. Then let the paper dry.

If the color looks good after it’s dry, you’re finished.

If it needs more work, add more layers of color, then blend again. The beauty of alcohol markers is that they don’t fill the tooth of the paper, so you can layer and blend almost indefinitely.

What about Blending Larger Areas?

For larger areas, try ordinary rubbing alcohol.

Rubbing alcohol is not the same type of alcohol found in alcohol markers, but it behaves in much the same way. It breaks down the binding agent that holds the pigment together, allowing you to blend color. It does evaporate quickly, but not as quickly as an alcohol marker.

You can also use cotton swabs, cotton balls or brushes to blend, so you can more quickly and easily blend larger areas.

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers
Using a flat bristle brush instead of an alcohol blending pen to blend a background with rubbing alcohol.

What to Remember when Blending with Alcohol Markers

They are made for small areas, so save them for blending those small areas.

Try rubbing alcohol to blend larger areas.

Don’t be afraid to layer color, blend, then layer again.

For more specific information on blending colored pencil with rubbing alcohol, read How to Blend Colored Pencil Drawings with Rubbing Alcohol, which I wrote for EmptyEasel.

Comparing Colored Pencil Methods

Comparing Colored Pencil Methods

Today’s post is all about comparing colored pencil methods.

Choosing between colored pencil methods can be a challenge. For one thing, there are nearly as many methods of drawing with colored pencils as there are artists using colored pencils.

And even though two artists may produce similar styles and types of work, the methods they use differ widely.

So how do you know which method is best for you?

Why Comparing Colored Pencil Methods is Important

As universal as drawing with colored pencils seems, the method you use depends largely on three things:

  1. The type of work you want to create
  2. Your favorite papers or supports
  3. The pencils themselves

Believe it or not, some methods work better on smooth paper than on rough. Some methods also work best with high-quality pencils, and sometimes, the method that’s best for you is dependent on your artistic temperament: How you like to put color on the paper.

Choose the wrong method for your tools and personality, and you may very well give up on colored pencils before finishing your second piece.

But find the right method, and you can draw for years and enjoy almost every minute of it!

That’s why it’s important to know the basics of various colored pencil drawing methods. If nothing else, you can rule out those methods that don’t appeal to you at all!

Understanding Drawing Terms

Before we get started, let me briefly explain terms.

Regardless of the way you draw, you’re likely to work in two basic phases.

The first phase is what I call an under drawing. It’s the first layers of color you put on the paper no matter what method of drawing you use. The under drawing may consist of just a couple of layers or it may involve as many as six to ten layers.

It doesn’t matter what colors you use in the under drawing. It’s still an under drawing.

The second phase is the over drawing. In this phase, you’re developing the colors, values, and details you established in the first phase.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll be comparing different methods for drawing the under drawing, since the over drawing is fairly consistent no matter which method you prefer.

Comparing Colored Pencil Methods

To keep the discussion brief, I’m limiting it to the methods I use most often: Complementary, direct, and umber under drawing method.

As mentioned above, these names refer to the way I draw the under drawing. Once I have a complete under drawing, the over drawing is pretty much the same from one method to the next.

Complementary Drawing Method

With this method, the under drawing is drawn in colors that are opposite the the color wheel from the final colors of the drawing.

In the color wheel shown here, I’ve circled two complements; red and green. If you wanted to draw something green using this method of drawing, you’d begin by drawing the under drawing in shades of red.

The drawing, Green Pastures, was drawn over a complementary under drawing. The illustration below shows the finished under drawing (top) and the finished drawing.

Local color (the finished colors) were glazed over the under drawing.

comparing colored pencil methods

Tips for Using the Complementary Drawing Method

Take careful note of the local colors of your subject. A blue-green object requires a different complement (red-orange) than a yellow-green object (red-blue). The more precisely you identify the local colors and their complements, the better this method works.

For environmental greens, consider using earth tones as the complements. A grassy field on a sunny day benefits from an under drawing in cool browns, for example.

This piece also began with a complementary under drawing, with different colors for each area.

comparing colored pencil methods

Download my free color wheel template and make your own color wheel. Instructions are included.

Direct Color Drawing Method

Direct drawing is probably the most popular method of drawing with colored pencils because it’s natural. You draw the under drawing with the same colors with which you draw the over drawing. There usually isn’t a moment when you say to yourself, “The under drawing is done.” Instead, you continue layering until you finish the drawing.

This  illustration shows the under drawing stage of a drawing in which I used the direct method.

comparing colored pencil methods

With this method, you develop detail and value—just as you do with the other methods. But you also make color choices. The drawing develops at all three levels at the same pace.

The drawing moves without notice from the under drawing phase to the over drawing phase.

Tips for Using the Direct Drawing Method

Start with light colors and light pressure. Use lighter values of the local color if you wish, or simply start with very light pressure and increase the amount of pressure layer by layer.

Build color and value slowly. It’s easier to increase vibrant color and strong values than it is to decrease it.

Expect to mix colors to get the exact color you want. I didn’t have one color that was an exact match for the palomino color of the horse in this example, so I combined several shades of yellow- and red-browns.

Umber Under Drawing Method

This is my preferred method; the method I use to draw horses, landscapes, and almost anything else I want to draw. That doesn’t make it better than any of the others. It just means it works best for me.

With this method, I always start with a medium-value earth tone such as Prismacolor Light Umber. I develop the values, shapes, and many details using this color.

I layer color over the finished under drawing.

This is a horse portrait using an umber under drawing.

Tips for Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

Use an earth tone that’s either neutral in color (not too blue or too yellow) or that is the complement of the final color. I use a light umber most of the time, because it’s a light brown that’s still dark enough to draw nice dark values. But it’s a little on the warm side, so if I’m drawing a subject that will feature warm colors in the over drawing, I might switch to a darker shade, which is slightly bluer in color.

General Under Drawing Tips for All Colored Pencil Methods

There is no easy way to categorize drawing methods. The methods I described above are not isolated. You can combine various aspects of them as you like, so they’re more like points on a line.

Begin with light pressure and build value slowly, layer by layer.

Choose middle value colors. The color needs to be dark enough to impact the over drawing, but light enough that it doesn’t overwhelm the over drawing.

Work around the highlights. It’s much easier to preserve the highlights than to restore them.

When drawing landscapes, don’t under draw the sky unless there are clouds. A clear, blue sky should be the purest color in your landscape, so it doesn’t need an under drawing.

Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.

How to Mix Colors for Color Matching

How to Mix Colors for Color Matching 4

A few weeks back, I answered a reader question about knowing how to choose colors for layering. That reader wanted to know how to create color depth by layering. Today’s reader is asking a similar question, but wants to know how to mix colors for color matching.

Here’s her question.

Dear Carrie,

I am taking some drawing and painting classes online through the Continuing Education for older adults. In the portrait class, I try to use colored pencils.

Should I use an available color according to the area of the skin tone, or mix the colors as a wet paint artists do? To mix or not to mix, that is the question!

Thank you for your very helpful emails, which I enjoy reading like short novels.

Your invisible student, Natalka

In a perfect world, every line of pencils would include perfect color matches for whatever you want to draw.

In the real world, however, that’s simply not possible. There are so many variations in every color that exact matches are impossible.

Even the color white has so many nuances based on surface texture, lighting, and other things that you could have a full set of pencils of nothing but shades of white, and still have to mix colors.

Most colored pencil artists have to mix most of the colors they need to create their art work.

But don’t let that scare you. Here’s what to do.

How to Mix Colors for Color Matching

This is a potentially complex subject. For the best results, you need a basic understanding of the nature of colored pencils and of color theory. For good information on that, I recommend Amy Lindenberger’s excellent book, Colors: A Workbook.

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I bought the book when it first came out, did the exercises, and learned a lot about color mixing with colored pencils. I still have the tools from those exercises, and I still use them.

The principles Amy discusses in this book apply to every subject. Yes. Even portraits!

So this is a great first step in understanding how better to mix colors for color matching, no matter what your favorite subject is.

Now, back to the post….

How to Mix Colors for Color Matching in Three Steps

I recently wrote a tutorial describing a three-step process for choosing colors that I learned as an oil painter. You can read that tutorial here. In short, it goes something like this:

Find the Color that Matches Your Subject the Best

Determine the main (or base) color of the area.

For example, what is the main color of the skin in your portrait? Is it more pink or does it lean toward brown? Maybe it’s more cream-colored or even some other color.

Consider the overall face, not the differences between light and dark. Most of the time, when you’re beginning, you’re not drawing a subject with complex lighting. The light is usually pretty direct from one light source, like the lighting on this plaster bust.

how to mix colors for color matching

For most subjects that are lighted with one light source, you’ll be able to create the differences in light and shadow by choosing the influencing color (step 2.)

Later, after you’ve learned how to choose colors to mix, you’ll be able to refine the color selection method for specific areas.

Find the Influencing Color

Now decide what color you need to add to the main color to get closer to the colors on your model or in the reference photo. On a skin tone, this could be a brown, a pink, some shade of red, or even a hint of green or blue.

You may have to do a little experimenting to get the best influencing color. If so, use the same kind of paper you’re drawing on, and make color swatches. Each swatch should start with the main color, then layer other colors over it.

I rested my left hand beside a piece of white paper and did a color matching exercise.

First, I determined that the closest match of the colors I had with me was Beige, so I made three boxes with Beige across the top.

Next, I compared my skin color with the beige boxes and selected two other colors as possible influencing colors. They were Raw Umber and Ice Blue. The first box in the second row shows Raw Umber layered over Beige. The middle box shows Ice Blue layered over Beige.

Then I added Pink to the third box in the bottom row, just to see what it looked like and because most people think skin tones have to have pink in them.

Some skin tones do, but the closest match to my skin tone was Beige mixed with Raw Umber.

Find the Tinting Color

Most of the time, you’ll also need one or two other colors to tint each area. These colors will be the subtle colors that give your portrait life.

Make more color swatches and test the colors you think will tint your layers to right shade.

I described this process in more detail here. The sample in that post is a rose, but this color selection and mixing process works the same for anything you want to draw.

Learning how to Mix Colors for Color Matching is an On-going Process

Since it’s impossible to find exact matches for all the colors you’re likely to draw, you will be doing a lot of color mixing. That’s just the nature of the drawing (or painting) process.

And it will never end. You’ll always find a need for a subtle color shift that’s unique to a project.

So be prepared to practice, experiment, and, yes, make mistakes.

My Colored Pencil Painting Process: An Overview

My Colored Pencil Painting Process: An Overview

Today I’d like share an overview of my colored pencil painting process. This topic was suggested by a reader who wanted to see the steps I follow to do a colored pencil painting.

The problem is that I use more than one drawing method. There are similarities between them, but also enough differences that describing every step in each process would result in a book!

So I’ll present a “big picture” view of the general process for the methods I use most. I’ll link to other posts that describe the process in more detail.

Also, as it happens, the newsletter article is a detailed step-by-step of my colored pencil painting process. Last week started with how I make an accurate line drawing, and this week (July 3 newsletter,) I’ll describe how I transfer the line drawing.

I’m not following a specific piece with this series, but I will describe each step in the process. So if you’d like to join us for that discussion, sign up for the free weekly newsletter here. You won’t get the previously published articles, but you will get the future articles.

Now back to the post.

Colored Pencil Painting Process

My Colored Pencil Painting Process: An Overview

I’ve used several different painting methods over the years. Some were good for one or two projects; some are favorites.

To keep this post from getting unbearably long, I’ll talk in brief about the two methods I use most often.

The Umber Under Drawing Method

The umber under painting method is a method I first used as an oil painter. It begins with an umber under painting and finishes with color glazes.

It doesn’t work exactly the same with colored pencils, but I have adapted it for use with colored pencils.

I start with one or two browns and go over the entire drawing shading values.

The amount of details in the under painting is also determined by the paper. If the paper is smooth like Bristol, I tend to skimp on details so there’s enough surface texture left to add color glazes. With papers like sanded art papers, I might add more details in the under painting.

This drawing is on Stonehenge so there was plenty of texture for a detailed under painting and color glazes.

When the under drawing is finished, I glaze color over each part of the composition. I continue layering until the drawing looks the way I want it.

I’ve used this method on pets and landscapes, and for drawing animals in the landscape, as shown in this example.

This method allows me to work out details and values without having to make color decisions at the same time. That simplifies the process, and works well with my painting style.

Second, earth tones naturally subdue many other colors. Greens can easily become too bright in most landscapes, and starting with an under painting in earth tones is the perfect way to keep them toned down and looking natural.

Here’s a link to a more detailed article on this process. The subject for this article was a horse. If you’d like to see the process with a landscape, here’s a two-part tutorial I wrote for Empty Easel: Part 1 and Part 2.

The Direct Method

I also use what I call a direct method.

With this method, I begin with the lightest values for each color in the composition. I develop the under painting with base colors of each part of the composition, then finish by adding more color to build color saturation (no paper holes showing through) and detail.

For example, this shows the under painting for the landscape portion of Afternoon Graze.

The base color is always the lightest color, usually decided by the highlights. For Afternoon Graze, I started with yellows and light yellow greens in the grass, and blue greens in the trees.

There is no clear division between the under painting and the next phase. The transition is much more gradual.

As happened with Afternoon Graze, I also tend to work from one area into the next with each layer, so the painting develops in stages. The image above shows the foreground more developed than the middle ground and the distant trees are still at the base layer stage.

I like this method because I can finish a composition area by area.

Progress is more obvious this way and with a piece that’s very large, it’s easier to maintain momentum by working on small sections.

It also gets to color more quickly. For some project’s that’s the best way to proceed.

Here’s a link to a longer article on this method.

Overviews of My Colored Pencil Painting Process with Two Methods

As you can see, the process is basically the same for both of these methods. I start with light pressure and light values and gradually develop detail, color and value layer by layer.

The two examples I’ve chosen also prove that successful pieces can be finished using both methods. My primary guideline in the method I choose is the paper. The first example was drawn on Stonehenge, as I mentioned earlier.

Afternoon Graze is on Bristol Vellum.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this overview of my colored pencil painting process!

How to Know What Colors to Layer

How to Know What Colors to Layer

Hello I really enjoy your posts. How do you layer colors to add depth to a picture. For example instead of using black use dark brown and indigo blue. I guess I’m asking how do you know what colors to layer when looking at a reference photo. Paula


Thank you for your question. This is a great question and gets right down to the heart of colored pencil work.

How to Know What Colors to Layer

Learning which colors to mix to get certain results is a long-term process that involves experimentation and reading (or watching) what other artists do.

But there are a few things you can do to make those decisions easier until they become natural to you.

How to Know What Colors to Layer

Following are three things you can do to learn color mixing more quickly.

Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

Experimenting with color is the best way for a lot of us because we can see first hand what happens when we layer two or more colors. I’ve heard of artists who sit down with new pencils and make color swatches for every single color.

You don’t have to do that if you don’t want to, but the best way to learn which colors to mix to get new colors is by trying different combinations. Here’s an easy way to do that.

Take out a sheet of paper and start by making color swatches something like this.

The bottom row shows the first color I used.

The middle row shows that color with another color layered on top of it, and the top row shows both colors with a third color added to them.

I was testing colors for grass with this sample. You could make solid blocks of color or use whatever stroke strikes your fancy. Just put color on the paper.

This is a great way to see how each color affects all the others. If you keep these swatches in a binder, notebook or drawing pad, you’ll eventually have a very good catalog of color mixes. Of course, you need to name the colors for future reference.

Other artists make mixing palettes in which they have sheets of paper with nothing but various mixes of different colors on each sheet.

Physical Comparison

If you work from printed reference photos, you can compare your pencils with the reference photo as shown here.

In this sample, none of the three colors I thought were closest to the greens in the photo were exact.

But I could see that I needed to add other colors to get a closer match.

For example, if I used the pencil in the left, I’d have to add a cooler, bluish color to tone down the warmth of that green.

If I used the pencil on the right, I’d have to layer a warmer, yellowish color because this green is very cool and blue.

Reading and Watching

Another way to get the basic knowledge is by reading good art books or watching videos.

In my opinion, the best art book on color mixing with colored pencils is Amy Lindenberger’s book, COLORS: A Workbook. I bought that book when it first came out and did most of the exercises. I’d been using colored pencils for years by then, and I still learned a lot.

Whatever book you buy or video you watch, don’t just read or watch. Do the exercises. Doing the exercises helps imprint the information on your brain in a practical fashion.

It’s also a great way to add to your color chart or swatch collection!

Knowing What Colors to Layer for Specific Results

There are no short-cuts. It’s all about drawing often enough to learn which colors to mix for whatever new color you want.

Remember, you don’t have to do all this drawing on actual artwork, although there’s nothing wrong with that.

Find a method that is enjoyable enough that you want to do it, then practice that method diligently.

Then apply what you learn to your artwork.

It won’t be very long before you discover that making the right choices is happening almost without thinking about it!

I hope that helps. This subject is pretty involved, and difficult to give a short answer for!

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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!


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.)


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.


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 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?



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?


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!