How to Rework a Background

Can I rework a background? I’ve tried erasing at least a little bit without much success…Thank you so much. Have a beautiful holiday season. Mirian Bertaska

Mirian asks a great question. I’ve wrestled with this very thing many times, so let’s take a look at a few possible answers to Mirian’s question.

How to Rework a Background

Mirian very kindly included her drawing and gave me permission to share it with you, so you could “see” what we’re talking about.

Mirian has good color saturation in her drawing. Her color choices make the bird stand out from the background.

But she is right about the background. It doesn’t convey enough distance. It looks like the bird and the background are all at the same distance.

Kudos to Mirian for seeing that. Knowing what’s not working in your art is key to improving.

Suggestions about How to Rework a Background

Whether or not you can rework a background depends on how much color you already have on the paper, what type of paper you’re using, and whether or not you’ve burnished or blended with solvent.

Mirian’s drawing is on Bristol. Bristol is excellent for colored pencils, but it is limited on the number of layers you can put down. However, it’s also very good for lifting color if the color has been applied in layers with light pressure.

Try lifting color to push the background into the distance.

Scotch tape is probably the best way to lift a little color. Lightly press a small piece of tape to the drawing, then carefully pull it up again.

Mounting putty is another good way to lift color, especially if you want a blurry look.

For small areas or detailing, an eraser may also help lift color. The ideal place for eraser work is around the bird.

Read Two Neat Tricks for Erasing or “Lifting” Color from Colored Pencil Drawings at EmptyEasel.com.

Add lighter colors to lighten the background.

Softening the colors with a light blue or cool gray is a good way to push the background further into the distance. Color can either be added over the existing background, or after the background has been lightened by lifting color, as described above.

Use sharp pencils and light pressure to layer lighter colors. Choose colors that are not only lighter, but cooler (tending toward blues and greens, rather than reds and yellows.) Try combining a couple of colors, too, so the background doesn’t become too uniform in value or color.

Add color one layer at a time, then review the drawing. Keep adding layers until the drawing looks the way you want it to look.

Try a soft blend to dissolve wax binder and “sink” color into the tooth of the paper.

If you’re willing to experiment a little, try a soft blend with odorless mineral spirits. Use a soft brush and blot the brush after you dip it in odorless mineral spirits. You don’t need a lot of solvent for this type of blend.

If you don’t want to try odorless mineral spirits, or don’t have any, but you want to try blending, try rubbing alcohol. Dampen a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol, then rub it on a corner of the piece. That should give you a nice, soft blend that pushes the background further into the background.

Even if that doesn’t work, the rubbing alcohol could break down the binder in the pencils enough to allow you to add a little bit more color.

Don’t get your paper too wet or it could buckle.

TIP: Layer color onto a scrap piece of Bristol until you have a similar look, then try blending that first. If it works, great! You can blend your drawing. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t damaged the drawing.

How that Worked for Mirian

I asked Mirian if she would let me know how her experiments turned out. Here’s what she had to say.

Hi Carrie,

The painting wasn’t accepting more color, so I … layered violet blue on a little piece of each, and the alcohol one looks better in my opinion.

Mirian layered Violet Blue on the left side of the illustration below. The rubbing alcohol blend is on the right side.

The portion above the line is the original drawing.

How to Rework a Background - Rubbing Alcohol

Neither solution is ideal, but Mirian was satisfied with the rubbing alcohol blend.

Leave the background alone and work on the bird to bring it forward.

The final possible solution is to leave the background as it is, and increase the values on the bird. Make the highlights brighter and darken the darks.

One of the things that gives a picture “depth” is the value range. The greater the contrast between the lightest lights and the darkest darks, the closer the object looks.

Here’s Mirian’s drawing in black-and-white.

How to Rework a Background - Original Drawing in Gray Scale

As you can see, the value range is fairly close. When the background and the subject have pretty much the same values, the result is a background that’s not in the background.

I used GIMP (free photo editing software) to select the bird, then increased the contrast. The bird now “leaps” forward in the drawing.

How to Rework a Background - Gray Scale with Contrast

This tip doesn’t apply to reworking a background, but sometimes the solution involves the subject, not the background!

Thank you to Mirian, who was willing to share not only her question, but her artwork.

Thanks, Mirian!

Sign up for Carrie's Free Newsletter

The Challenges of Colored Pencils

Every artist who has ever picked up a colored pencil with the intent of creating art is familiar with the variety and number of challenges of colored pencils.

But let’s face it. For those of us who are die-hard colored pencil artists, the challenges of using colored pencils are part of their charm!

The Challenges of Colored Pencils

I’ve been making art with colored pencils for over twenty years. They’ve challenged my will, my problem-solving skills, and my discipline more times than I care to admit.

It often seems like every drawing presents a new challenge of some kind.

The Challenges of Colored Pencils

Here, in no particular order, are some of the challenges of colored pencils I’ve discovered (and sometimes overcome.)

Blending

Do you know what search engine word is used most often in bringing people to this blog? Blending.

And do you know why? Because it’s so difficult!

Colored pencils blend beautifully by layering one color over another. That’s because they’re translucent. You can see through the various layers no matter how many layers are on the paper. All those colors combine to make new colors and it can be glorious!

But it’s also time-consuming (see the next item.)

So artists are always looking for better, newer, and faster ways to blend. Some are great. Odorless mineral spirits and powder blender, for example.

Some are good only if you’re not making fine art.

But there is now and probably always will be an avid search for the perfect blending method because blending colored pencils is such a challenge for so many!

Especially blending methods that are faster or more thorough than simply layering.

Speed

Let’s face it. Using the words “speed” and “colored pencils” together is rather like pairing “speed” and “turtle” in the same sentence. The thought just doesn’t compute.

Colored pencils are a slow medium. There’s no way around it. Even with solvent blending, it can take weeks to complete a large, complex piece. Think about it. You still have to put color on the paper one stroke at a time.

And it’s not like you can make bigger strokes by using a bigger pencil. Colored pencils aren’t like brushes. There isn’t a “wash” pencil, for example. No #20 colored pencil or a half-inch shader pencil.

Nope.

Colored pencils are all like #000 Liners. Made for fine details. Not broad washes!

If you’re going to use colored pencils, you have to be prepared for s-l-o-w.

Permanence

The fine artists among us are concerned not only with creating great pieces, but creating pieces that look just as bright and vibrant in twenty years or more as they look the day they’re finished.

That can be a challenge depending on the pencils you buy and the colors you use.

You see, some colors are fading by nature. Pinks and purples are notoriously bad for fading across almost all brands. There are a few brands with light fast pinks and purples, but they’re the more expensive brands.

While some brands of pencils are more reliable, with fewer fading colors, they all have some colors that are less permanent.

Finding ways to work with those colors and minimize potential damage is one challenge facing many colored pencil artists.

Finding ways to work without those colors, is the challenge for many of us.

Framing

Framing is another challenge for a lot of colored pencil artists. Because colored pencils are usually used on paper, the artwork needs to be protected. The means a rigid back board to protect the artwork from behind, and glass or something similar to protect it from the front.

You want a spacer between artwork and glass, so that also means at least one mat and sometimes two or even three.

Then there’s the frame.

All of that costs money, especially if you’re framing for an exhibit. The challenge here is finding the right balance between a professional frame and a reasonable cost.

Selling

Selling any kind of artwork can be a challenge. Most of the time, it’s not what most people consider “necessary,” so if finances are tight, art is among the first things to go.

Selling colored pencil art can have additional charges if all people think of when they hear “colored pencil” is grade school.

And then there’s the added cost of special framing (see above.)

Selling any kind of art is a challenge, but selling colored pencil art sometimes seems to have its own unique set of challenges.

What About You?

Those are a few of the challenges of colored pencils that have confronted me over the years. Maybe your biggest challenge is on that list.

Or maybe it’s something else altogether? If so, share your biggest challenge in the comments below. Maybe someone else can show you how to overcome it!

Are Prismacolors Right for You?

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about Prismacolor pencils over the last several years. Some artists love them; some hate them. After all the debating, you have only one question. Are Prismacolors right for you or not?

Are Prismacolors Right for You

Last week, I shared reasons you might want to try colored pencils.

This week, it seems appropriate to answer some of the more common questions about Prismacolor pencils, and give you tips for deciding whether or not Prismacolor pencils are right for you.

A Little Bit of History

I always like to provide a little background for discussions like this, because background can provide insight into present day problems. Don’t worry. It’s going to be brief and personal.

I started using Prismacolors back in the 1990s, when they were Berol Prismacolor. There was no better pencil so widely available (in the US at least) and at reasonable prices. They were a high-quality pencil and problems like breaking leads, split casings, and off-center pigment cores were unheard of.

At least I never heard of them.

I had no problems with the pencils. They were perfect for the work I was doing, which was almost exclusively horse portraits.

Sometime since then, Prismacolor changed hands. Berol sold the brand to Sanford, which subsequently sold the brand to Newell-Rubbermaid. Manufacturing changed location and artists began having problems shortly afterward.

I used Prismacolor throughout all those changes, and to be honest, I had very few problems with them.

One batch of Indigo Blue pencils were so gritty I couldn’t use them.

Some pencils did break during sharpening or drawing, and there were a few that broke so much, they were useless.

I did discover (or maybe started noticing is a better way to say it) that quite a few pencils had off-center pigment cores, and I learned still later that sharpening problems often result from off-center cores.

More recently, I started finding pencils that were warped. Fortunately, I usually buy open stock from a local suppler, and learned how to check for warped pencils, so that problem was solved.

But overall, I’ve had relatively few problems with Prismacolor pencils.

Then came the spring of 2017.

The Case of the Fugitive Pencils

Early in 2017, I started hearing a word that aroused concern. Lightfastness. Specifically, the poor lightfast ratings of many Prismacolor pencils.

I believe I mentioned that I was using colored pencils almost exclusively for portraits, right? Portraits people were paying a good amount of money for.
I’d also started doing landscapes, which I hoped to sell.

So it was discouraging (to say the least) to discover that some of my favorite blues and greens, as well as a number of other colors, were fugitve. They faded over time, even in the best conditions.

How permanent were all those portraits I’d created? Would I start hearing from clients about disappearing portraits? It still gives me a twinge of concern thinking those thoughts!

So I went through my pencils, and sorted out all the fugitive colors. The pile of safe colors was almost the same size as the pile of fugitive colors, but I confess I erred on the side of caution. I threw out everything rated III, IV, or V.

I still use the other colors and I still love the way they go onto paper and the effects I can get. I also still miss colors like Sky Blue Light, Light Cerulean Blue, and Limepeel.

But I refuse to use them for anything except sketching and filling in my monthly habit tracker.

All of That to Say This….

What does that mean to you?

It means that what I’m about to say is being said from the standpoint of personal experience. Nothing more, nothing less.

You want to know if it’s safe to use Prismacolor pencils or not, and I’m here to tell you it is.

Depending on what you want to do with your art.

Reasons to Use Prismacolor

So how can you know if Prismacolors are good deal or not?

You Color for Fun and Relaxation

If adult coloring books are your thing, then by all means invest in that full set of Prismacolor pencils.

I don’t do very much in the adult coloring book line—I don’t have much time, to be honest—but I have read plenty of articles about the subject written by artists who do. Almost to the artist, they recommend Prismacolor because of the smooth color lay down, wide variety of colors, reasonable cost, and availability.

Are Prismacolors Right for You - Adult Coloring Pages

I do, too, and for all the same reasons.

In fact, when I doodle with a coloring page, I often use those fugitive colors.

You’re Crafty

You’re making greeting cards, coloring in adult coloring books, or doing crafty things. Color permanence doesn’t concern you.

Color selection, ease of use, and price do.

Prismacolors are probably your best choice. There are over 150 colors altogether. They lay down like a dream, and blend beautifully. You can get them almost anywhere in the United States, and in most cases they’re a good value.

Are Prismacolors Right for You - You're Crafty

They’re also artist-grade, which means pigment quality is high. That means you’ll get a lot more color per pencil than you’d get if you purchased student-grade pencils.

You’re New to Colored Pencils

You think you’ll enjoy them, but you don’t know. You’re not interested—right now—in making art for sale. You just want to draw.

You also don’t want to spend an-arm-and-a-leg on something you may not enjoy.

But you want to try the medium with the best quality tools you can find.

Prismacolor is the answer. They offer students and beginning artists the best combination of quality and value around. Yes there are better pencils, but they’re more expensive.

Are Prismacolors Right for You - You're New to Colored Pencils

And there are cheaper pencils, but they’re lower quality. Even if you get them at a bargain basement price, you may soon find they don’t put much color on the paper or are a struggle to use for other reasons.

Prismacolor is, in my opinion, the only way to go if this describes you.

You Make Fine Art, but Sell Reproductions, Not Originals

The fact of the matter is, you often keep your originals yourself because you like them so much, or you give them to family members or friends. What you sell are reproductions.

Most reproductions are made with lightfast inks, so the lightfastness of the pencils does not matter. At. All.

Use every pencil in the set, lightfast and not-so-lightfast. Get top-notch photographs or scans of the finished pieces, and sell reproductions to your heart’s content!

Then give the original pieces to whomever you like, or hang them on your own walls.

Just make sure to advise friends and family to frame those works of art under UV resistant glass and never, never, NEVER hang the art in direct sunlight.

So Are Prismacolors Right for You?

Prismacolor pencils are perfect for uses like those described above, as well as many others I didn’t touch upon.

By the way, the same applies if you make art mostly to teach others.

In other words, if you don’t care to sell your originals, it doesn’t really matter whether they fade away with time or not. It seems a shame to me to put that kind of time into something that will fade whether you sell it or not, but it’s really up to you, the artist.

Have a question about Prismacolor pencils I didn’t cover? Click here to ask me by email.

6 Reasons to Try Colored Pencils

There are lots of reasons to try colored pencils for fine art or fun art. I started using them mainly because they’re easier to travel with than oil paints (and cleaner, too!)

But the longer I’ve used them, the more reasons I’ve found to recommend them to others.

6 Reasons to Try Colored Pencils

Today, I want to share six of the best reasons (in my opinion) you should try colored pencils if you haven’t already.

(Or to give them another try if you tried them before and weren’t sure they were for you.)

6 Reasons to Try Colored Pencils

#1: They’re Relatively Inexpensive

You can spend $4 a pencil if you want to, but you don’t have to. And if you’re just getting started, you probably shouldn’t.

For most people who want to try colored pencils, the basic Prismacolor pencils you find at Hobby Lobby or Wal-Mart are an excellent place to begin.

Reasons to Try Colored Pencils - Inexpensive

You don’t need the full set, either. A set of 12 gives you enough colors to try. You’ll be able to see how they feel to draw with, how they go onto the paper, and how they look when you layer various colors one over another.

And even if the colored pencils you’re looking at seem expensive, take a look at the get-started supplies for oil painting, watercolor, or acrylics!

#2: You Can Get Them Almost Anywhere

Most Wal-Mart type stores carry colored pencils in some form.

So do most office supply stores and even some print shops.

And of course colored pencils are a staple at most hobby shops, art stores, and crafting supply stores.

You can even buy them from eBay and Amazon if you don’t mind paying for shipping.

#3: You Don’t Need a Bunch of Special Equipment

No fancy easels, canvases, or dozens of brushes. No paint thinners or drying retardants, and no varnishes or fixatives.

Reasons to Try Colored Pencils - No Fancy Supplies

Just pencils, paper, and a sharpener.

What could possibly be easier?

#4: You Don’t Need Solvents or Other Toxic Materials

You can use a wide range of drawing techniques with colored pencils without using smelly or toxic solvents. Many artists, even advanced artists, don’t use any of those tools and they produce vibrant, real-to-life works of art.

You can use those things if you wish. They can be time saving tools if you decide colored pencil is your medium.

But if you’re just getting started, leave those things on the shelf.
Get an extra sheet or pad of paper instead!

#5: They’re Clean

Colored pencils are a dry medium. They go on the paper dry and they stay dry. You don’t need to worry about cleaning up afterward, unless you spill shavings out of your sharpener.

Reasons to Try Colored Pencils - Clean

I mentioned above that you don’t need toxic solvents or other materials to use colored pencils.

The even better news is that most colored pencils are also non-toxic to use. Just don’t eat them, chew on them, or suck them.

(Yeah, I know. You’d think that warning shouldn’t be necessary, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself with a pen or pencil in my mouth while pondering something or studying a drawing. NOT a good idea!)

#6: They’re Portable

This is the primary reason I took up colored pencils years ago. They’re portable. Because they’re clean and dry, you can travel with them and use them almost anywhere without worrying about leaving or making a mess.

I took them to horse shows and other venues, and was able to work on a piece while on site. They were a lot easier to travel with than the oil paints I’d been using for years.

That’s why I now use them almost exclusively. Even in the studio, they’re mess-free.

Bonus Tip: They’re Great for the Kids, Too

If you have kids and are looking for an art-related activity you can do together, there is no better medium than colored pencils.

Reasons to Try Colored Pencils - Kids

You and your budding artist can use the same pencils without worries about messes, unsafe materials, or the other cautions required with many other mediums.

And if you find colored pencils aren’t for you, turn them over to the youngsters in your household.

I’ve put together a list of Basic Drawing Lesson Materials & Supplies that you can download for free, then print it and take it shopping. It includes not only the items you need, but my recommendations on brands and size (when applicable.)

I hope you find it useful.

And I hope you also enjoy your adventure with colored pencils, no matter where on the journey you may be!

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Last week, I defined some of the basic terms relating to colored pencils and drawing paper. This week, I want to continue that discussion with more basic colored pencil terms, but this time, lets talk about method and technique terms.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Before we go any further, let me assure you there is no “right way” to draw. The methods and techniques I’m about to describe are just a few of those that are available to artists.

Some of the technique terms apply to colored pencils no matter what methods you use. Some of them are applicable only to specific methods or techniques.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Method

Let’s begin with the broader subject of drawing methods. The following definitions are very basic. For more information on any of them, read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

Direct Drawing Method

When you use what I call the direct drawing method, you begin with the same colors you end with. There is no clear difference between the first layers of color and the final layers except perhaps in the vibrancy of the colors, and the level of detail.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Direct Drawing Method

This is the most common drawing method.

It’s also the most intuitive. It’s natural to begin drawing a tree with greens and browns, after all. That’s the way I started drawings (and paintings) when I first started doing art.

Complementary Under Drawing Method

With the complementary under drawing method, you start drawing with colors that are on the opposite side of the color wheel from the final colors. The complementary under drawing for an orange is going to be blue.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Color Wheel

The complementary method is excellent for landscape drawings because the complementary under drawing automatically keeps the greens from getting to bright.

Umber Under Drawing Method

The umber under drawing method begins with an under drawing that’s brown, like those old-fashioned sepia-tone photographs. Values and details are developed in brown no matter what color the subject is.

The shade of brown can vary from subject to subject. You can choose a warm brown such as Prismacolor Light Umber (my preference) or a cooler brown such as Dark Umber or Sepia.

You can also mix browns, using a combination of light and dark browns or warm and cool browns to create more interest and contrast in the under drawing.

But with this method of drawing, the under drawing is always only shades of brown.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Umber Under Drawing

Monochromatic Under Drawing Method

One method I haven’t mentioned here, but that I have talked about elsewhere is the monochromatic method. With this method, you create an under drawing in a single color or, sometimes, with a single color family. For example, you might choose to draw an Indigo Blue under drawing.

The reason I’ve not described this method further is that I haven’t used it in years. Why? Because the colors I most often choose for a monochromatic under drawing are either earth tones  or complementary colors.

I tried Indigo Blue once and didn’t care for the result. Most other colors don’t result in the look I want for my work, so this method has fallen out of favor.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Monochromatic Method

But that’s no reason for you not to try it. The fact is, it may suit your choice of subject and your drawing style beautifully!

Combining Methods

There are other methods of drawing, and you can combine elements of these methods in a single drawing. For example, I’ve used an umber under drawing for the trees in a landscape, but drawn everything else using the direct method.

As mentioned previously, there is no right way to draw. Every artist needs to find the method or methods that work best for them.

But understanding the basic differences and characteristics of each method helps you make better decisions.

Technique

Under Drawing/Under Painting

The first layers of color you put on a drawing are called the under drawing or under painting. No matter what method you use, these layers are the foundation of the artwork.

The colors you use for the under drawing are determined by the method you use, as described above.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Under and Over Drawings

This sample shows a complementary under drawing.

Over Drawing/Over Painting

The over drawing or over painting refers to all the layers of color you put over the under drawing. Some of the methods I use have very distinct beginnings and endings. Others do not.

Layering

Layering is the process of layering one color over another, or adding multiple layers of the same color. You can use light, medium, or heavy pressure to add color. You can also use sharp or blunted pencils, and hold them vertically, horizontally, or somewhere in between.

Glazing

Glazing is the same as layering, except that the layers are thinner, so that the colors that are under the new layer are still clearly visible. The term comes from oil painting, a medium in which you can thin paint so it’s very transparent, almost like laying a piece of colored plastic over a painting to tint the colors.

Most colored pencils are translucent by nature, so almost every layer you put on a drawing is technically a glaze. But when you glaze a color onto a drawing or painting, you use very light pressure, and barely add any color at all. I usually glaze with the side of a pencil held horizontal to the paper.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Glazing

Pressure

Pressure is the amount of force you put on the paper with the pencil. It’s often measured on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the lightest pressure and ten the heaviest. Burnishing is the heaviest pressure you can use. It’s most used at the end of the process.

When you glaze a color, you’ll most likely be using a pressure of one or two.

Blending

When an artist uses a wet medium such as oils, acrylics or watercolors, they mix two or more colors together to get a new color.

Colored pencils are a dry medium, so they can’t be mixed the same way. Instead, colored pencil artists create new colors by layering one color over another color on the paper. Since colored pencils are not opaque, every color influences every other color in some way.

This is called blending, and there are different ways to do it.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Layering

Dry Blending

Layering is one method of blending and it’s the method most artists use because it requires no additional tools or smelly solvents. I drew the sample above with multiple layers of yellow and blue. The green results from alternating layers of each of the other colors.

Other methods of dry blending include rubbing a drawing with paper towel or tissue, or using a colorless blender.

Burnishing is another form of dry blending in which you use very heavy pressure to “grind” layers of color together. You can use either colored pencils or a colorless blender to burnish.

Solvent Blending

Solvent blending is a method of blending in which you use a solvent or paint thinner such as odorless mineral spirits to break down the binder. Once the binder is dissolved, pigments mix and blend more like paint.

Solvent blending is often faster than dry blending or blending by layering, but it also requires some caution, due to fumes. It also requires drying time.

Conclusion

There are, of course, even more basic colored pencil terms to learn, but they can wait for another post.

It may seem confusing now, but once you understand each of these terms and how they apply to colored pencil art, you have a great foundation. Most other art terms—and colored pencil terms—build on these basic terms.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Let’s talk about basic colored pencil terms today.

A lot of readers are new to this blog, or new to colored pencils, or both. Whichever category you fall into, welcome! Welcome to the blog and welcome to colored pencils!

If you haven’t already, you’re going to hear a lot of terms that make no sense. That’s my bad. I’ve been doing colored pencils so long, I tend to forget what it was like when I first got started!

I also know there are a lot of budding artists out there who already love the medium, but are confused by the jargon.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners
So today, I want to go back to square one and define some of those confusing-but-basic colored pencil terms.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained

To make things less confusing, I’ve arranged terms into four separate categories. We’ll begin with the two most basic: Pencils and Paper!

Basic Pencil Terms

The following terms apply to your colored pencils no matter what brand you prefer or the quality of pencils in your pencil box.

Wax-Based

All colored pencils are made by grinding pigment, then mixing it with a binder. The binder allows the pigment to be formed into the core of the pencil, holds it together while you use the pencil, and allows the pigment to lay down smoothly on the paper.

Wax-based pencils like Prismacolor and Caran d’Ache Luminance utilize a binder that’s mostly wax.

Wax-based pencils generally lay down more smoothly, and are softer. They also tend to break more easily if you press too hard with them.

They’re great for laying down lots of color quickly, but can be more of a challenge in drawing details.

Wax bloom can also be a problem, especially with dark colors.

Wax-based pencils are the most popular and the most widely available.

Oil-Based

Oil-based pencils have a binder that’s mostly oil, often vegetable oil. They do contain some wax, but not usually much. Faber-Castell Polychromos and Rembrandt Lyra are oil-based pencils.

Oil-based pencils are harder and sometimes more brittle feeling than wax-based pencils. That makes them great for detailed work. Smooth layers of color are possible, but aren’t usually as easy to achieve. They hold a point much longer, too.

Wax bloom is not usually a problem with oil-based pencils, even if you tend to use heavier pressure when drawing.

Wax Bloom

When you draw, you leave color on the paper, but you also leave binder. The harder you press on the paper with the pencil, the more color and binder you leave on the paper.

Wax binder eventually rises to the surface of the color layers, giving them a foggy, misty, or gray appearance. This is normal with all colors, though it’s more obvious on darker colors.

The cloudy right half of this sample is wax bloom. The left side shows the natural color after the wax bloom has been removed.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Wax Bloom

Wax bloom is easily removed by wiping a drawing with clean tissue and light pressure. It can be prevented by sealing a finished drawing with final finish; preferably one designed for colored pencil work such as Brush & Pencil’s Final Fixative.

Framing under glass will not prevent wax bloom.

Grades of Pencils

Colored pencils are manufactured in three grades: Scholar, Student, and Artist. Scholar-grade pencils the least expensive and poorest quality. Artist-grade pencils are the highest quality, so are usually more expensive.

Artist grade pencils have a higher ratio of pigment to binder, so they produce better color and results with less effort. They’re often more fade resistant.

Scholar grade pencils have more binder and less filler, so the color they produce may be weak or pale.

You can make great art with any grade of pencils, but will generally get the best results with higher quality pencils.

Lightfastness

A pencil is lightfast if it doesn’t fade over time.

If a color fades over time, it’s also referred to as fugitive. The color “runs away and hides” if exposed to light. Sometimes it may disappear altogether, and sometimes very quickly.

Pencils are rated differently in the US than in Europe and other parts of the world, but all brands are tested in some form, and many companies provide color charts that include lightfast ratings.

Watercolor Pencils/Water Soluble Pencils

These are watercolors in pencil form. Many artists consider them to be colored pencils, others don’t. Since many colored pencil manufacturers also produce watercolor pencils, I tend to think of them as colored pencils that just happen to dissolve in water.

Instead of a wax- or oil-based binder, they use a binder that dissolves in water. You can draw with them dry and mix them with other colored pencils.

You can also draw with them dry, then wet blend them with water, or paint with them by dampening the pigment with water and using a brush.

Paper

The following terms apply to drawing papers of all types.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Paper

Support

The surface you draw on. For colored pencils, that’s usually paper, but colored pencils can also be used on wood, pastel papers, mylar and other similar films, and mat board, just to name a few.

Some paper manufacturing companies also produces papers mounted to a rigid support. The drawing surface is still paper, but the support itself is rigid. Many sanded art papers are available as sheets and boards, for example.

Tooth

Tooth refers to the surface texture of papers. The toothier a paper is, the more texture it has. Sand paper has more tooth than inkjet paper.

Tooth is important to the colored pencil artist because of the way colored pencil lays down on different types of paper. In most cases and for most methods of drawing with colored pencils, smoother papers are better.

However, there sanded art papers are one notable exception. The grittiness of sanded art papers would seem to make them unsuitable for colored pencils, but many artists actually prefer them to traditional drawing papers.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Tooth

Weight

The weight of the paper refers to the thickness. A 98lb paper is thinner than a 140lb paper. Paper is measured this way because the “weight” is what a standard ream of a particular paper weighs. A ream is 500 sheets, so a ream of 98lb paper weighs 98 pounds.

The actual process is quite complicated, since the weights assigned to papers are assigned based on the standard size for each type of paper, and the type of paper (bond paper, card stock, etc.)

All you really need to keep in mind is that the higher the pound weight, the thicker the paper is most likely to be.

This is important because you don’t want to use a drawing paper that’s too thin (light weight.)

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Paper Weights

Most pads of drawing paper include clear labeling on the weight of the paper (see above.) Most full sheets are also labeled, though the information may be more difficult to locate.

Conclusion

Those are our basic colored pencil terms defined for today. There are a lot more terms relating to both pencils and papers, so if you encounter a term you don’t understand, send me an email and ask about it.

Next week, we’ll talk about some basic colored pencil terms concerning drawing methods and techniques.

How to Make a Color Lighter

Do you know how to make a color lighter once you’ve gone too dark?

Any artist who works with colored pencil gets a color too dark sooner or later. Most of us have heard that it’s next to impossible to add lighter colors over dark colors and make an impact, so just how do you make a color lighter once it’s gone too dark? Is it even possible?

Yes, it is possible. Not always easy, but definitely possible.

How to Make a Color Lighter

Over the last few weeks, more than one reader has asked about ways to make colors lighter. Here’s a sample:

I have a drawing I’m doing for some friends of ours and I misunderstood what color she actually said she wanted their classic 37 Ford Club Coupe car to be and I think I’ve got it too dark. I’ve found it’s not hard to darken something but to lighten something is different. Especially after using a waxy pencil like the better Prismacolor ones. What would you use and/or do?

There are three basic approaches to making a color lighter:

Burnish with a lighter color

Restore paper tooth, then add a lighter color

Remove the dark color, then add the right color

Let’s take a look at each one of those options in detail.

How to Make a Color Lighter

Burnish with a Lighter Color

Burnishing is a method of applying color with very heavy pressure. When you burnish, you’re essentially “grinding the colors together” and pushing them down into the tooth of the paper.

Read A Beginner’s Guide to Burnishing.

This is the easiest way to lighten a color, but it may also keep you from using either of the other methods described in this post. Depending on the number of layers already on the paper, burnishing should work.

The tips that follow are based on your having a lot of layers on the paper, with the final few layers applied with medium-heavy pressure or heavier.

Different Ways to Burnish

If you want to lighten the color without changing it, burnish with a white pencil. The white will not cover the dark color, but it will tint the color. You could also use a lighter value of the same dark color if you need to lighten the color only slightly. For example, a light green over a dark green.

If you want to make the dark color lighter and a little warmer, burnish with Cream, Jasmine or a similar light color. The French Greys are ideal for this because they come in several different values.

You could also burnish the color with a shade that’s lighter and warmer than the original color. A light, yellow-green over a dark, cool green, for example.

If you want to make the dark color lighter and a little cooler, use a light color that’s cool, such as Powder Blue or one of the cool greys.

Or try a lighter, cooler shade of the same color.

And if you need to lighten the color and neutralize it (make it less vibrant,) burnish with a light shade of the original color’s complement or a near complement. I often layer an earth tone that’s light in value over landscape greens that are too dark and too vibrant.

Your Drawing Paper Makes a Difference

The success of these methods depends on the paper you’re using. If it’s very smooth—a Bristol for example—you may not be able to lighten the drawing very much by burnishing.

If it’s a medium tooth paper (like Stonehenge) or rougher, give these tips a try. Use the same type of strokes with these lighter colors that you used with the original colors.

Using a blunted pencil is a good idea, so you don’t damage the paper.

One More Suggestion

If at all possible, try the Luminance line of pencils by Caran d’Ache. These wax-based pencils are very high quality, and more opaque than almost any other wax-based colored pencil on the market. The lighter colors do actually cover dark colors better than most other pencils. If you tend to go too dark on a regular basis, it might be worth your time and money to invest in some of the lighter Luminance colors.

Restore Paper Tooth, Then Add a Lighter Color

You can also restore a little surface texture, then add color over it.

One way to do this is by spraying your drawing with retouch varnish or workable fixative.

I’ve used retouch varnish to restore the tooth to paper and have been able to draw over it, but it’s effectiveness is limited. At most, you can probably add three or four more layers of color. You can spray the drawing again, but each time you do, the result may become less satisfactory, so I don’t recommend it.

I’ve also tried workable fixative, but it’s even less helpful than retouch varnish.

For the best results, apply two to four very light coats to your drawing. Let each coat dry completely before applying the next one. Half an hour is probably sufficient. I prefer a full hour.

Make a Color Lighter by Restoring Paper Tooth

Make sure the final coat is absolutely dry before you start drawing over it.

One thing you don’t want to use is the final finish made for oil paintings. Not only may that flake off a waxy drawing, it may also discolor the paper and the drawing.

A Better Alternative

To truly restore the tooth of the paper, the best option is Brush & Pencil’s texture fixative. This spray-on product restores texture over colored pencil so you can continue to layer color as much as you wish. It works on any type of paper, and I’ve heard you can even use it on just a few layers of pencil.

This product is on my wish list, and is worth your time to investigate.

NOTE: Once you spray your drawing with any of these products, it will be very difficult—if not impossible—to change the color beneath the spray coating.

Remove the Dark Color, then Add the Right Color

I recently wrote about lifting color to fix a big mistake in a drawing-in-progress. The same process works with little mistakes.

Sometimes all you need to do is lift a little color. Use transparent tape, masking tape, or sticky stuff to lift small amounts of color or an eraser to remove larger amounts of color.

Tape

Use transparent tape, masking tape, or painter’s tape. Painter’s tape is your best choice because it’s designed to be less sticky.

Cut off a small amount of tape, press it lightly against the area you want to lighten, then carefully lift the tape. Depending on the paper you’re using, you might be able to lift enough color to work. I’ve used this method successfully a number of times.

Make a Color Lighter - Tape

Be careful not to press the tape too hard against the paper or you could tear the paper.

TIP: If the tape seems too sticky, press it against a piece of non-lint cloth first. Denim is great!

Sticky Stuff

Sticky stuff also works great if you need to lighten your color just a little bit. Press it against your paper and lift it again to remove a small amount of color.

Press it against the paper, give it a twist, then lift it to remove more color.

Make a Color Lighter with Sticky Stuff

Sticky stuff is ideal because you can mold it into different shapes. It’s also self cleaning. Knead it in your hands and it absorbs the color!

Erasers

Any eraser designed for use with colored pencils will help you remove color. I prefer a click eraser, but have also used an electric eraser with good results.

Use medium pressure (normal handwriting pressure) and stroke along the shape you want to lighten. Two or three strokes should be sufficient. It’s better to remove color a little bit at a time, rather than pushing too hard and damaging the paper.

Make a Color Lighter with an Eraser

You won’t be able to remove all the color, but you should be able to remove enough to be noticeable.

TIP: It’s easier to make a color lighter if you haven’t used heavy pressure to put the color on the paper, but you should be able to remove some color with any of these methods no matter how hard you pressed while drawing.

Read “2 Neat Tricks for Erasing or “Lifting” Color from Colored Pencil Drawings” on EmptyEasel.com.

Bonus Tip #1

One way to make a color appear lighter is to darken the values around it. Admittedly, this method has limited use. It would be way too easy to end with an entire drawing that’s too dark.

But if the area that looks too dark is small, or is surrounded by light values, consider darkening some of those light values just a little bit.

This is an ideal method to test first on a photo editing program. Scan or photograph your drawing, then use Photoshop or something similar to darken the values around the place you think is too dark.

Bonus Tip #2

Sometimes, the best thing to do when you think you’ve made a mistake is to walk away. No, not forever. Take a break and do something else.

It may be that there isn’t really a problem with the drawing, other than that you’re just tired of it.

I know it sounds trite, but it does work. I can’t list all the times I thought I messed up a drawing—or even ruined it—only to discover the problem mysteriously disappeared over night. The rest, the time away from the drawing, and a new perspective was really all that was needed.

So my best tip when you think you’ve gotten something too dark? Set the drawing aside over night or over the weekend. Then, if you still think it needs to be fixed, give these methods a try.

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Methods

Some time ago, I asked and answered a selection of questions frequently asked by readers and students about colored pencils. Since this is Q&A Month, I’d like to tackle another set of reader questions: questions about colored pencil methods.

Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Methods

1. What Are Your Favorite Colored Pencil Methods?

For most of my drawings, I draw an umber under drawing first, then layer color over that. This is what I call the umber under drawing method, and it allows me to develop details and values without having to make color choices.

Colored Pencil Methods - Umber Under Drawing for a Landscape

The complementary method is similar, but instead of using an earth tone for the under drawing, the under drawing is drawn with the complementary colors of the finishing drawing. An orange under drawing for a blue object, for example.

Colored Pencil Methods - Complementary Under Drawing for a Landscape

I also use a direct method in which I begin with color and simply build color layer by layer. This illustration shows the initial color lay in with the direct method.

Colored Pencil Methods - Direct Drawing Under Drawing for a Landscape

As with choosing pencils, finding the method that works best for you is a matter of experimentation. You may find you like to vary the method from one drawing to the next. It’s just as likely your favorite method will end up being a combination of methods used by other artists.

In other words, there is no Right Way to Draw.

Read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

2. What Are the Best Ways to Blend Colored Pencils?

How you blend depends on whether or not you want to use solvents.

For most of my work, I blend by layering one color over another and letting the colors blend visually. I also burnish (drawing with very heavy pressure) with either a colorless blender (a colored pencil without color) or a light color of pencil.

When I want to use a solvent, I use rubbing alcohol for a light blend, or rubber cement thinner or turpentine for a deeper, more complete blend.

rubbingalcohol1-carrielewis

I really prefer staying away from solvents, though. I like the look of colored pencil without solvent blending better in most cases.

3. Is layering the colors from light to dark generally better or does it depend on the look you want to achieve?

For most colored pencils, working from light to dark is the best way. The reason is that most colored pencils are translucent to some extent, so you can’t completely cover up colors with other colors. You can, of course, tint a darker color with a lighter color, but it’s impossible to cover it completely.

That’s also why I work around highlights at the beginning of a drawing instead of drawing over them. The only highlights drawn in this drawing are the reflected lights along the horse’s back.

Colored Pencil Methods - I worked around the highlights.

Caran d’Ache Luminance colors are opaque, however. You can draw with white over darker colors and it shows up pretty much like painting white oil over darker oils shows up.

Many artists begin by drawing the darkest dark areas first, then working around them. There is nothing wrong with that method of working, so long as you remember to preserve the highlights.

4. Can Regular Colored Pencils be Mixed with Wet Media?

Yes. You can combine regular colored pencils with a variety of water media from water soluble colored pencils to watercolor, acrylics, and ink.

The only thing you need to remember is that the water soluble media should be used first. Colored pencils will work very nicely over watercolor, water soluble colored pencils, thin applications of acrylic paint or any other water soluble media. I’ve even used them over ink. I used brown India ink for this project, but any color would work.

Colored Pencil Methods - Ink Under Painting

Read Drawing with Colored Pencil over India Ink on EmptyEasel.

Colored Pencil Methods - Colored Pencil Over Drawing

Read Using Prismacolor Pencils over India Ink on EmptyEasel.

The best way to discover what works for you is to try it. There is no rule that says every piece of art you draw has to succeed or has to be for sale. You can experiment and have fun!

So have fun!

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil

I’m wanting to do a bokeh/blurred background in colored pencil for an image I’m working on…. Do you happen to have a tutorial on bokeh-like backgrounds in colored pencil?

For the sake of this tutorial, I’m using the word “bokeh” as being different from a simple blurred background. I’ll also be focusing on drawing circles. This method will work no matter what shape you choose for your background.

If you would like to see how to draw a blurred background, check out the palomino filly demo.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil

This is my reference photo. It’s a composition of a couple of images and is the result of combining the horse with several potential backgrounds using Photoshop 7. The horse is one I photographed. The background came from Pixabay.com photographer, pezibear.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil - Reference

I choose it because it was the most straight forward. Like many of you reading this post, this is my first attempt at drawing a bokeh-style background, so I wanted to keep things simple!

You also don’t have to browse bokeh photographs very long to discover the bokeh pattern can easily overwhelm your subject if you’re not careful!

I used Prismacolor pencils and Stonehenge paper in the Fawn color. Fawn, because it provided a natural color foundation for the background and the horse.

The drawing is 8×10, not that big, but I quickly discovered drawing a bokeh background is no hasty matter, so I’ll be focusing on the left side of the background for this demonstration.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil

Step 1: Prepare the Line Drawing

Develop a line drawing from the reference photo and transfer it to the drawing surface, in this case, Stonehenge Fawn.

Because this composition features light-colored objects against a dark background and flyaway hairs, I outlined the horse and most of the circles. You don’t have to do this if your transferred line drawing is crisp and clear (mine wasn’t) or if you don’t generally work over lighter areas (I sometimes do.)

If you do outline, match the color you use to the objects you’re outlining. I used dark brown for the horse and dark green for the upper circles. For the circles in the yellowish area (not shown), I used goldenrod.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil 01

Step 2: Color Selection

For this drawing, I selected two additional greens, and three additional yellows. Those choices were made by physically comparing pencils to the printed reference photo. The background was pretty basic. Dark green as the base with shades of olive green and dark brown.

The bokeh circles are not all the same color or value, though, so that’s why I chose additional yellows and greens. I ended up with dark green, dark brown, and goldenrod from the first step. Additional colors are olive green, limepeel, cream, sand, and jasmine.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil - Background Colors

Step 3: First Round of Color

Color layering began with the circles for the same reason I outlined them: preserving shape, placement, and value. Color placement is illustrated below. You’ll notice that I didn’t layer the same color over all of the circles.

Nor did I do the same number of layers. Part of the reason for that was so you could see the progression in work, but the circles are also different colors and values. No two of them are exactly the same color or value.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil 03

The background is dark green, with more layers and better saturation on the left side and fewer layers on toward the right. I worked around each circle to begin, then hatched and cross-hatched additional layers to get a smoother color field.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil 04

I continued layering dark green across the background.

At this stage, my main concern was getting down the first color and covering all of the background except the circles. I can’t do much with them until rest of the background is finished, so from this point, it’s a matter of building color layer by layer.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil 05

Step 4: Second Round of Color

Next, a layer of olive green over the top half. I extended the green a little further down on the right side of the drawing. I’m still using light pressure and a very sharp pencil, but I’m varying strokes in any way necessary to get good coverage.

Some of the areas are darker than others by design. For example, I want the area around the horse’s ears to end up lighter than the rest, so I barely touched it with olive green.

The smallest circle in the upper right hand corner was also glazed with olive green so it’s darker value than the two nearby circles.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil 06

Next is a layer of limepeel.

I layered limepeel over the left side of the upper background, and over the lower right. The upper right corner is more brown, so I didn’t add limepeel in that area.

I also layered limepeel over the small circle in the upper left, the larger circle behind the mane and the next to the rump, and the two smaller ones near the ears.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil 07

Step 5: Happy Surprises

You’ll also notice that the way I’m layering color is beginning to suggest new circles in other places, especially in front of the horse’s face. For now, I’m working around those to see how they work with the composition. If they don’t work, I’ll fill them in; if they do work, I’ll emphasize them a little more.

The next step was to darken the values in the areas that are darker, namely the upper corners. I alternated layers of dark brown and indigo blue in both corners and down the right side to create the deep rich green shown in the reference photo. The image below shows two rounds of those colors. Getting close but not quite there.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil 08

I followed up with another layer of olive green. This time I covered every part of the upper background except the three brightest circles behind the horse’s head. The next step is developing those circles more completely, so I laid the foundation for that by shading them with a layer or two of olive green applied with medium pressure and/or the side of the pencil.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil 09I followed that up with a layer of goldenrod throughout the upper background and a little bit more into the lower background.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background in Colored Pencil - 10

One thing of note is that I shaded a couple of layers of goldenrod in the larger shape adjacent to the horse’s rump. I also shaded goldenrod into some of the other circles to start pushing them into the background.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil 11

Step 6: Developing the Bokeh Effect

I began working on the circles with the larger circle above the horse’s rump. I used sharp pencils to layer color with small, circular strokes and medium pressure beginning with cream over all the of the shape except the right side, followed by limepeel, which I blended in the background.

The lighter area on the right end of this shape was drawn with Jasmine and slightly heavier pressure.

To further emphasize that shape, I layered limepeel, sepia, and marine green into the surrounding background.

Going in Circles

Now the focus shifts to individual circles. In the illustration below, I added a thin, wide layer of sienna brown around the edge of the largest circle and worked over the edge of the circle. I then layered marine green over the sienna brown, then burnished the lightest part of the circle with Jasmine, and the darker part with cream.

Next, I began alternating marine green and sepia in the background around that large circle. I used sharp pencils and heavy pressure. Some areas I did nearly burnish, but not all of them.

I also added a circle in the lower left by burnishing a partial circle with cream.

The combination to three overlapping circles near the piece of the mane curving upward were drawn as follows.

  • Limepeel only in the larger, outside circle, color applied with medium to medium-heavy pressure.
  • Limepeel and cream in the middle circle (visible as only a crescent), color applied with medium to medium-heavy pressure.
  • Small circle, color applied with heavy pressure.

How to Draw a Bokeh Background with Colored Pencil 14

Circle Template

For each of these circles, I either used my circle template or drew the circles freehand because they don’t need to be perfect.

I also worked the background and circles in each area at the same time so that no hard edges developed.

One thing I had to be careful of was making each circle solid. A glance at the reference photo shows that some of them are a solid color, but others are not.

There’s still a lot of work to do on this. I’ve spent over five hours over the past week working the drawing and even the most finished part is not completely finished.

A Few Closing Thoughts

I used no solvents. The same results can be achieved—more quickly—by using a solvent to blend colors after every few layers. Solvents I would suggest are rubbing alcohol for light blending, turpentine or odorless mineral spirits for more complete blending.

I kept the bokeh-effect simple, but the method described will work equally well for more complex designs.

If you’re using this style of drawing as a backdrop for another subject keep the design simple. Get it too fancy, and it will compete with the real subject of the drawing.

The most important thing you can do with this type of background is be patient. Take your time choosing and applying colors. Follow the colors in your reference as closely as possible, and concentrate on reproducing what you see in the reference.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil

Do you know how to draw a clear sky with colored pencil?

Think carefully. There’s more to it than picking a nice blue and putting it on paper.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at your box of pencils. Unless you have a small set of pencils, you probably have at least half a dozen shades of blue. Which one is the right one?

And you can’t pick one or two colors that work with every landscape drawing. Not all clear blue skies are the same shade of blue, after all. The color you see on any given day is determined by altitude, the moisture and heat in the air, and the time of year.

A winter sky doesn’t look the same as a summer sky.

Nor does a clear sky in the desert look the same as a clear sky in the mountains.

You can’t trust photographs, either. Not unless you took them yourself. Why? Because photographers—the serious ones—love filters and special lenses. Some of those lenses and filters enhance color and make a rather plain blue sky absolutely luscious.

So just how do you draw a clear blue sky in colored pencil?

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil

General Tips on How to Draw a Clear Blue Sky

Lets begin with a few general tips that work no matter what type of blue sky—or any clear sky—you might be drawing. I’m using blues for the following illustrations, but the techniques will work for night skies and sunsets or sunrises, as well.

If You Have a Small Patch of Sky to Draw

If you’re drawing a very small section of sky—a bit a blue peaking through the trees, for example—or if you’re drawing is quite small, consider using a cotton swab or cotton ball to apply color. The result is smooth, very thin color with absolutely no pencil strokes.

The process is simple. Begin by using very heavy pressure to apply the colors you want to use to a piece of scrap paper.

Stroke the cotton swab or cotton ball across the color swatches to pick up color.
Next, stroke your drawing with the cotton swab or cotton ball with light to medium pressure.

Continue adding layers until the sky is the color and value you want. “Recharge” the cotton swab or cotton ball frequently by rubbing it against the color swabs.

If you want a clear sky with no variations, continue to layer color over every inch of the sky patch, and then blend with the cotton swab or cotton ball until the color is saturated and looks the way you want it to look.

I described the process more fully in Add Color to a Colored Pencil Drawing with Bath Tissue. The process is the same—but more precise—if you replace the bath tissue with cotton swabs or cotton balls.

If You Have a Large Sky Area to Draw

With larger areas of sky, the best method is drawing with your pencils.

Layer multiple colors with very light pressure. If you have difficulty drawing with light pressure, hold the pencil as close to the end as you can, and hold it so it’s nearly horizontal. Stroke lightly, with little or no pressure on the pencil. Let the weight of the pencil work for you.

Use the side of a well-sharpened pencil or a woodless pencil to cover larger areas.

Work in circular strokes to avoid the darker areas at the beginning and end of “back-and-forth” strokes.

Always make the sky slightly darker toward the top of your drawing and lighter at the horizon.

Optional: Blend between layers with a tissue or cotton ball to even out color and preserve paper tooth.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil

Let me show you step by step how I draw a clear sky. Here’s the reference I’ll be working from.

How to Draw a Clear Blue Sky with Colored Pencil Reference

Choosing the Right Colors

The first thing I do is compare the reference image with my collection of blue pencils. My preferred sky colors are Light Cerulean, Non Photo Blue, Powder Blue, Sky Blue Light, and True Blue, but I could see immediately that none of those colors were a good fit for the shades of blue in this summer-time sky. I’d have to do some blending.

TIP: Having trouble seeing the colors in your reference photo? If it’s a digital image, open it in Photoshop or whatever software you use for photos. Use the color picker and click on the area you want to draw. The color in that area will be displayed isolated from all the other colors and will give you a much clearer idea of the true color. Match your colored pencils to that color.

The lightest blue actually leans toward green. The closest color in my collection proved to be Light Aqua, a color I rarely use for drawing skies.

The lower sky is lighter than the rest, so I also selected a similar color in a lighter value. I made three choices, so I also made three color swatches with Light Aqua. Then I layered each lighter color over a color swatch, as shown below. It was easy to see that Sky Blue Light and Light Aqua provided the best combination.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil - Color Swatches

The Initial Layers

I outlined the trees with Light Aqua and light pressure. Whenever I draw background elements first, I outline any shapes that overlap it. All you need is a line that’s dark enough to show where the sky ends.

Next, I began filling in the sky with light pressure and careful, closely spaced strokes. Because the end goal is to draw even color with no visible strokes, I combined circular strokes with diagonal strokes and concentrated on a small area.

I always use very light pressure when beginning to draw skies (or almost anything else). Darkness and saturation are developed layer by layer. The topmost part of the patch of color shown below is the result of one or two layers of color. The more saturated area at the bottom is five or six layers, all applied with light pressure and a sharp pencil.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil - Layering Color

TIP: In the illustration above, my pencil should be sharper. I’ve worn down one side of it and simply turned it so I was drawing with the resulting sharp “edge.” But I’m sometimes a lazy artist, and didn’t sharpen the pencil instead. Laziness usually leads to more work.

Here’s what the area looked like when I finished layering Light Aqua.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil - Step 1 Finished

Adding Layers

I next layered Sky Blue Light over the lower portion with medium heavy pressure, both to smooth out the layer of Light Aqua and fill in the tooth of the paper.

There’s a warm cast to the lower sky, so I burnished with Cream in a small area at the bottom, and followed up by burnishing White into most of the same area to lighten it a little more.

Keep the edges soft and smooth. Color and value should change so gradually that there are no edges anywhere. Whether you work from one part of the sky to the next or cover all of the sky with every layer, be deliberate in how you apply color. When you find yourself getting sloppy or “just scribbling”, stop. Those scribbles will be difficult to cover so it’s better to take a break.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil - Burnished

Once the initial color is on the paper, continue building upward. Work with light pressure and multiple layers. If necessary, “weave” different shades of blue in with the original colors, layer by layer.

It’s important to remember that a well-drawn sky will be heavily saturated with color: There should be no paper holes at all if the sky you’re drawing is clear. When I stopped to take this photograph, I estimated I was one-third to one-half finished.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil Multiple Layers

Building Saturation

As the sky progresses, I add new colors as well as more layers. The previous image shows True Blue at the top and Light Cerulean Blue throughout the sky from the top nearly to the bottom.

I also added a light layer or two of Ultramarine at the top in the following illustration.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil Before Burnishing

A few more layers of True Blue, Non-Photo Blue, and Sky Blue Light.

Every layer was applied with light pressure and careful strokes to cover as much of the paper as possible. I have started increasing pressure a little toward the top, where the color will be the darkest, but I won’t use heavy pressure until the end, when I burnish the sky.

Even so, you can see the difference a few additional layers of color make even if they are applied with light pressure. The point? Don’t burnish too soon!

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil Before Burnishing 2

Burnishing

Rather than use a colorless blender for burnishing, I used the same colors I used to color the sky.

When I burnished, I burnished from the top down with Non-Photo Blue, and from the bottom up with Sky Blue Light. Most of the strokes were horizontal and I blended the two colors together as much as possible for smooth transitions.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil Burnished

And that’s how to draw a clear sky with colored pencil. At least that’s the way I do it.

There are variations on this theme and much of what I’ve shown you here is determined by paper color and other factors. If you begin with a blue paper, for example, there would be a lot less layering involved.

The type of paper (I used Bristol vellum) and pencils (I used Prismacolor) would also determine how you might need to change how you draw. Bristol vellum doesn’t usually take as many layers to cover because it’s so smooth. Stonehenge, on the other hand, will take more layers to produce the same level of color saturation.

Now that you know the basics of how to draw a clear sky with colored pencil, you can conduct your own experiments to see what works for you.

I've Always Wanted to Draw Clouds Banner