Last week, I answered a reader who wanted to know where they should begin a drawing. Today, I want to answer the same question from a slightly different angle by telling you how I usually start landscape drawings.
In the previous post, I talked about general starting points like base layers, dark values, and light values. I listed them as three separate options, but they really work together on most projects.
So this post shows you how that looks with a specific drawing.
How I Usually Start Landscape Drawings
Landscapes almost always begin with an umber under drawing. Why browns? Umber base layers naturally keep landscape greens from being too vivid.
My favorite under drawing colors are Prismacolor Light and/or Dark Umber or Faber-Castell Polychromos Raw Umber or Walnut Brown. I have a nice collection of Derwent Drawing earth tones, too, but haven’t tried them as base layers.
Landscapes tend to take on a life of their own as I draw, making complex line drawings unnecessary, at best. So I begin landscapes with a very simple, basic sketch on the drawing paper, as shown below.
Dark Values First
I start the drawing by shading the base color into the darkest areas first. As I mentioned in last week’s post, starting with the shadows provides an excellent point of comparison for the middle values and light values. Even on colored paper.
However, it’s still important to work with light pressure and build up the values layer by layer. Corrections and adjustments are easier to make, and you also avoid the hazard of getting too dark too quickly.
Add Middle Values and Darken the Dark Values
Once the darkest values are in place, I develop the other values with additional layers.
If a drawing has particularly dark values, as this one does, I use a dark version of the same brown. I added Dark Umber to the Light Umber to darken the shadows.
Continue Developing Values and Start Developing Details
As I continue darkening the values, I also develop the most important details.
What I want in the finished under drawing is an art piece that looks finished on it’s own. So I fine tune the various parts of the landscape to create balance, a visual path, and interest.
Contrast is also important. The lightest values in a landscape are usually in the sky, so it’s important to get your shadows dark enough to give the landscape depth.
When the under drawing is complete, then I start glazing color. Usually, I choose colors that are light versions of the finished colors, and glaze them over the entire shape, as shown below.
But there is no “right way” to select colors.
Why I Start Landscapes Like This
If a composition fails as an under drawing, it goes no further. I’ve probably spent a couple of hours finishing the umber under layers, so I haven’t invested a lot of time.
If the under drawing can be improved (or fixed as is sometimes needed,) then I fix it now, before adding color.
If it can’t be fixed or improved, I start over with no hard feelings.
That’s How I Usually Start Landscape Drawings
My preference is to work an entire drawing at the same time so I can keep the light and dark values well balanced. I used to finish colored pencil drawings one section at a time, though, so it’s a matter of whatever works best for you.
Glazing color is pretty much the same for the complementary method as for the umber method or any other drawing method. You layer colors over the under drawing in thin, smooth layers to develop saturated color (no paper showing through,) vibrancy, and to add detail.
Keeping your pencils sharp and using light pressure to apply color are important. Creating smooth color is easier with sharp pencils, and applying color with light pressure allows the under drawing to show through.
As always, suit your pencil strokes to the area you’re working on, and begin with the lighter colors and work toward the dark colors.
Beginning Color Work in the Landscape
When glazing color over a complementary under drawing, develop the color one layer and color at a time. In most cases, more than one color is needed to achieve the final color. With this drawing, I combined glazes of several greens to get the right shade of green for the grass. The trees required a slightly different combination of greens.
For instance, I used Prismacolor Grass Green, Peacock Green, Apple Green*, and Spring Green* in the grassy meadow. I used only Peacock Green and Dark Green in the trees for the first round of color.
Start with Grass Green applied in broad horizontal strokes throughout the grassy meadow. Shade all of the meadow on the first pass.
In the foreground, add short vertical strokes to mimic the look of grass. Apply Peacock Green, Apple Green, and Spring Green to the same areas and in the same manner to begin developing the darker values.
In the trees, use Peacock Green to lay in middle values, and Dark Green in the shadows.
You want to add color over the under drawing; you don’t want to cover up the under drawing. Colored pencil is a transparent medium overall, but it is possible to apply color so heavily that you lose the details in the under drawing. A good rule of thumb is to go through all the colors you want to use at least once using light pressure. Then you can use heavier pressure in those areas you want to accent or where you need to burnish.
Beginning Color Work in the Horse
Begin adding color to the horse by working light to dark using Burnt Ochre, Sienna Brown, and Pumpkin Orange as base colors. Use light pressure and a sharp pencil to work around the shapes of muscle groups, body contours and the edges of the horse.
Next, layer Burnt Ochre over all of the horse except the brightest highlights, then Sienna Brown over the same areas. Finally, add Pumpkin Orange to the darkest middle values and shadows.
Carefully work around the highlights with each color. As you add the darker colors, give the highlights more space. That creates areas of smooth and very soft color and value gradations around the highlights.
In this illustration, the back half of
the horse shows all three colors in place and shows you how the green
under drawing is contributing to the form and mass of the horse.
The front half of the horse shows only the Burnt Ochre. The area immediately behind the shoulder is a blending of Burnt Ochre and Sienna Brown.
Working the entire drawing at once (as opposed to finishing each area before moving to the next) allows you to make adjustments throughout the process and keep the composition unified.
It’s not necessary to work in this
fashion, but it can be helpful in establishing the initial layers of
A Word on Correcting Mistakes
Whether you plan compositions to the
minutest detail or develop compositions intuitively (by the seat of
your pants, so to speak), there will come a time when you discover
late in the process that you’ve made a mistake. DO NOT LET THIS
From the start, I included a tree on the right hand side, behind the horse. The tree survived through the under drawing and into the color phase.
Then I decided it added very little to the overall composition and crowded the horse visually. The solution? The tree had to go.
To remove it, I went back to the early
stages of the process and layered under drawing colors over it so it
matched the surrounding areas as much as possible. That wasn’t
difficult in the upper portion, where the strokes are random. It took
a bit more care in the lower areas.
When I was satisfied, I began glazing local color over those areas to bring them up to the same level as the surrounding areas. The tree wasn’t completely covered, but it had become very vague, merely a ghost of itself.
Continue working throughout the background with layers of Apple Green*, Spring Green*, Canary Yellow*, and Lemon Yellow in the sunlit areas of the landscape.
In the darker areas, add Dark Green, Olive Green, and a touch of Burnt Umber.
In the trees, use Dark Green, Olive Green, and Indigo Blue in the shadows and Olive Green, Grass Green, and touches of Apple Green* in the highlights.
The trees and grass need to work together visually, but they also need to stand apart, so use a couple of colors in both areas, but also keep the trees darker and cooler overall than the grass.
Use Dark Umber, Terra Cotta, Indigo Blue, and a little Dark Green in the shadows on the horse, and Terra Cotta and the siennas and ochres in the middle values.
The highlights on the horse are still untouched paper at this stage. Develop them by working around them. Sometimes, the best way to produce vibrant highlights is to darken the areas around them.
Finishing the Background
At this stage, the background is nearly
finished. The brightest greens are around the horse, with shadows
creeping in around the edges and throughout the trees. Individual
groups of trees have also been created to lead the eye to the focal
point, which is the horse.
Finish each area with medium or medium-heavy pressure. Fill in as much of the paper texture as possible without burnishing. Once you burnish, it’s very difficult to add more color without the use of a solvent or spray. Solvents or sprays can be used without damaging paper or artwork, but once you take that step, it cannot be taken back.
Finishing the Horse
Finishing the horse consists of adding more layers of the colors already used. Use medium pressure and directional strokes to develop color and value one layer at a time.
Also begin adding ‘surface’ colors. For such a bright chestnut, Orange* and Pale Vermilion*. Use medium or heavy pressure to add these colors. The heavier the pressure, the more impact each color will make.
Remember that heavier pressure also limits the number of layers you can add later.
Add reflected light with a layer of Light Cerulean Blue* burnished with Sky Blue Light* or White over the back and rump. Use Apple Green* burnished with Sand under the belly.
Then burnish around the places where the reflected light areas meet the horse’s natural coat color with the lightest of the coat colors to soften and blur those edges.
The Final Review
The final step is a review of the artwork, then making whatever adjustments need to be made.
When I think a drawing might be finished, I generally set it aside overnight and look at it again the next day. The reason for this is that it allows me to look at the artwork with a fresh eye; as though seeing it for the first time.
You can also get a different perspective on your work by looking at it upside down or in a mirror. Any areas that need work will become obvious when you view your artwork in one of these ways.
Glazing Color over a Complementary Under Drawing
And that’s how to use the complementary drawing method to draw a horse. The really neat thing is that you can use the same drawing method for any subject you want to draw!
It’s not my favorite method for drawing animals, but it’s perfect for landscapes because the complementary under drawing naturally tones down the landscape greens. That makes for more natural looking landscapes.
*Denotes Prismacolor colors that are not guaranteed to be lightfast. Substitute other greens, or lightfast greens from other brands if lightfastness is important to you.
Today, I want to talk about glazing color over an umber under drawing.
The umber under drawing method is one of my favorite drawing methods. I first started using it with oil paints, but it works just as well with colored pencils.
It’s good for animals, landscapes, and most subjects.
Some of you have asked about the umber under drawing method in general, so I thought it was time to share a tutorial.
This one features a horse in a landscape. I’ve finished (or nearly finished) everything but the horse. The horse is still at the umber under drawing stage, and I’ll show you how to glaze color over it.
Glazing Color over an Umber Under Drawing
Glazing color over an umber under drawing involves two steps: establishing the base colors and details, and developing color and value ranges. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, you get the best results by following these two basic steps.
The final step with every drawing is reviewing it as a whole and making whatever adjustments to color, value, and detail may become apparent.
NOTE: This is an older drawing. I used some fugitive (fading) colors that I no longer use. Those colors are marked with an asterisk (*). You can use those colors if you wish, or find lightfast replacements.
Step 1: Establishing Base Colors and Details
I used four colors for the base layers. Yellow Ochre in the lighter mid-tones, Pumpkin Orange* in the mid-tones, Dark Umber in the shadows, and Cloud Blue* in the reflected highlights. It isn’t always necessary to use more than one base color. But choosing base colors that represent the final color helps establish contrast and color variations more quickly.
I applied each color with light pressure and a sharp pencil. Wherever possible, I stroked in the direction of hair growth. When that wasn’t possible, I worked around the contours of the horse’s body.
TIP: The base color is the foundation for everything else. Use small strokes placed close together or the side of a well-sharpened pencil to create smooth, even color.
You want smooth color and even application, so use sharp pencils and light pressure. Add more layers in areas where you need darker values. Work around the highlights as much as possible to avoid losing them.
Step 2: Glazing Color over the Base Layers
Over the base colors, I layered Slate Gray in the light areas and Black in the shadows of the muzzle and black areas. I applied color with tiny, circular strokes to the muzzle and directional strokes in the forelock.
Next, I worked on the legs and muzzle with Black and Slate Blue, darkening values and drawing detail.
Mineral Orange, Dark Umber, and Red Ochre were used in the body, neck and head.
(Red Ochre is not a Prismacolor color.)
For this round of color, I continued working throughout the horse with light pressure and sharp pencils.
TIP: At some phases of a drawing, you can spend a couple of hours working without appearing to make much progress. Be patient! Your work will be rewarded if you stick with it!
Add More Color Layers
I layered Mineral Orange, Sienna Brown, and Burnt Umber over the body, legs, and neck, then added Black to the legs and darkest shadows of the body. I shaded reflected light on the under sides of the belly, chest, and legs with Limepeel*.
Next, I added Orange* throughout the horse, shading over some of the highlights that had been protected up to that point while working around others. I used reading glasses for the work so the work was slightly out of focus. That helped me avoid getting too detailed too quickly. I also applied color mostly with the side of the pencil.
Then I layered Sienna Brown and Henna over the brown parts of the horse following the contours of the horse. Except for the smaller areas or tighter details, I used the side of the pencils.
The browns were getting a little too bold, so I toned them down with a layer of Peacock Green, which I also used on the black areas.
To darken the blacks and darker shadows, I next used medium pressure to apply Copenhagen Blue*, then glazed Henna over all of the horse except the blacks.
Step 3: Developing Depth of Color
At this point, my goal shifted to building up color and value toward a finish.
I layered Tuscan Red* over all of the horse but the brightest highlights and the reflected light areas, followed by Ultramarine* on the legs and in the darker shadows in the head and body. Over almost all of the horse, I layered Dark Brown, then Bruynzeel Full Color** Permanent Orange over all of the browns
**The Full Color line of Bruynzeel pencils is no longer available. I’ve read that the Design line is the same basic pencil and that the colors are the same, but I have yet to give them a try.
I applied all colors with medium length, parallel strokes except in the tighter, smaller areas or when I needed to create a directional pattern.
Next, I used Black, Blue Slate*, Powder Blue, White, and Limepeel* (in that order) to draw the legs. First, I layered Black over all four legs.
Then I singled out the flexed front leg and concentrated on that. I alternated among the colors and, when the leg was nearly complete, began working the grass and fence, so I could adjust edges.
When I finished that leg, I worked on the off side hind leg using the same method. In that manner, I worked from leg to leg until they were all finished.
Still More Color Layers
When I finished the legs, I started on the body, again, layering Bruynzeel Permanent Orange** over all of the body, neck, and head except the reflected lights and brightest highlights. I worked into some of the highlights I’d previously worked around, but only very lightly. I used the side of the pencil and stroked in several different directions to get even color.
Then I used True Blue* and the side of the pencil to layer color into the reflected highlights along the back, top of the neck, and rump, as well as on the off side of the shoulder and the front leg. I followed that by layering the same color throughout the body to gray and darken the orange.
When I finished, I used Dark Brown to deepen the shadows on the chest and neck.
By the time I finished, the paper was losing tooth and burnishing the drawing or spraying it with fixative were possibilities.
TIP: I try never to make a decision like this without giving myself time to consider options. You can’t unburnish a drawing. Nor can you remove fixative, so it’s better not to rush these decisions.
When I reviewed the drawing later, I decided against using fixative at least long enough to try burnishing.
Detailing began with the muzzle, where I used Dark Brown and Black to darken values, then burnished with White. I worked up into the head, brightening highlights and darkening darks as I went, adjusting edges and shapes, and burnishing area by area. I finished the head and ears, then worked down the neck toward the shoulders.
TIP: With larger drawings, it can be better to work section by section when doing final details. This method produces a sharper, clearer image more quickly. It also looks like you’re making faster progress as more and more surface was covered. That can be a major encouragement!
The final layers on the neck, shoulders, chest, body, and rump were Bruynzeel Permanent Orange**, Sienna Brown, Dark Brown, Dark Green, Deco Blue*, Tuscan Red*, and Cream.
When I finished adding color, I blended with rubbing alcohol applied with a cotton swab. Rubbing alcohol “melted” the wax binder enough for the colors to blend slightly. It also restores some of the paper tooth, so after the paper is dry, I can add more color if necessary.
When I finished, I set the drawing aside for a few days, so I could review it with a fresh eye.
There was nothing more to do when I reviewed it later. Finished!
That Concludes this Quick Lesson on Glazing Color over an Umber Under Drawing
It would be nice to say that every step of every drawing goes smoothly; that I never have to go back and correct an umber under drawing (or any other phase of a drawing.) That an eraser never touches my drawings.
The fact is, nothing could be further from the truth. You know what?
Almost every drawing has a few minor missteps. After all, I’m not perfect and make no claim to be.
Little missteps are easy enough to correct just by adding more layers.
But what happens when you make a big mistake?
I’m no stranger to big mistakes. You probably aren’t either. That’s why you’re still reading, right?
But a few years back, I discovered an almost fatal mistake with a large piece (16 x 20 inches.) A problem big enough to require removing a portion of the drawing and doing it over.
So, just in case you’ve made big mistakes, here’s what I did to correct my umber under drawing.
How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing
The first thing I did was open the digital reference image and enlarge it enough to see the details that were either not visible in the smaller printed photo or were hidden under the lines of the grid drawn over the image. I worked directly from the computer.
I don’t like erasing my work any better than any other artist does, so the first thing I tried to do was correct the problem by adding color and covering up the mistake. It didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t going to work. I’d have to lift color and start over.
How to Lift Color
To remove color, I used something called Handi-Tak.
Handi-Tak is a low-tack adhesive product created for hanging posters. Brand names include Blu-Tack, Poster Tack, and by many other names. The common name is mounting putty.
I warmed the mounting putty by working it in my fingers for a few minutes. Then I pressed it repeatedly against the areas I wanted to lift and rolled it forward while maintaining pressure. Each time, it lifted a little more color.
Another method involves pressing the mounting putty against the paper and turning it. You can also use a blotting motion in which you simply press the mounting putty against the paper and lift it again without any secondary motion.
After every two or three applications, I worked the color out of the mounting putty again. Several cycles of this removed most of the color, allowing me to pinch or press the mounting putty into smaller shapes and fine-tune the amount of color lifted in specific areas.
TIP: It’s next to impossible to lift every bit of color from paper when you’re using wax-based colored pencils. Using a combination of methods and tools can remove most color, but be careful of damaging the surface of your paper in the process.
When I finished lifting color, the head looked like this.
Redrawing the Image
After that, it was a slow, careful process of applying color and lifting color until I got the head correct.
I began redrawing the features of the horse’s face with Prismacolor Light Umber using the enlarged digital image for reference. I redrew the off side eye and that side of the face, which was the original problem area. That led to redrawing the muzzle and mouth and in doing that work, I also saw some mistakes in the jaw and neck. I corrected all of those areas.
I also started developing values as I worked.
Corrections took about forty-five minutes, and it seemed at first like I was going backward faster than I was going forward.
But the end result was a much better drawing. It was even a little bit further ahead of where I started in spite of the initial backward steps.
These corrections not only allowed me to finish the umber under drawing, but set the stage for the color glazes that followed.
It Is Possible to Correct an Umber Under Drawing
Or any drawing, for that matter. The key is not to panic or despair when you discover the mistake. Don’t leap to any hasty solutions either.
Take your time. Assess the amount of damage, decide the best way to correct it, and then proceed carefully. Nine times out of ten, that plan will make it possible to finish the drawing successfully!
Dan Duhrkoop, founder of EmptyEasel and author of How to Draw Exactly What You See, asked if I would provide a review of his book if he sent me a copy.
I love books, reading, and art, so I said, “Sure!” (Who doesn’t like free, if it’s something they can use?)
Ordinarily, I don’t accept freebies because it almost always leads to unwanted obligations. But I’ve been freelance writing for EmptyEasel since 2012 and have a good working relationship with the author of this book, who is also the founder of EmptyEasel.
Even so, my review is unbiased. I’d say the same things if I’d purchased the book on my own, and didn’t know Dan!
So let’s get to it, shall we?
How to Draw EXACTLY What You See – My Review
From the Introduction:
Whether you’re a brand-new artist with zero training, or a more experienced artist looking to improve your drawing skills, this guide will teach you everything you need to know to look at a still life scene and draw it EXACTLY as it appears.
I’m not a still life artist. I love looking at well done still life artwork, and I can look at the produce section in the grocery store and see sorts of possible subject. But that’s as far as it usually goes. I have next to no interest in drawing my own. So I wasn’t sure what this book could offer me or how it could help me improve my drawing skills.
One look at the cover, and you may be thinking the same thing. Don’t let that put you off. If you do, you’ll be missing a great opportunity.
And if you do enjoy still life drawing of any kind—in studio or plein air—then you’ll want this book. It covers every step of the process from basic composition and setting up your own still life to sketching what you see and rendering it realistically in graphite.
If you’re just getting started drawing, the book also contains over a dozen high-quality still life images from very easy to quite complex. You’ll start out ahead of the game!
Putting the Draw EXACTLY What You See Method to the Test
As I mentioned, I’m not a still life artist, but I did intend to do some still life drawings just to see how they turned out. A number of things derailed that plan, so my first trial with the author’s drawing method concerned a dog portrait I’d been having fits trying to get right.
That difficult portrait line drawing turned out so well using Dan’s drawing method that I decided to try another one for this review. I am so glad I did!
My Demo Subject
This is the reference photo I chose for this demo. I chose it for two reasons.
The first and most important is that the cat is our oldest cat, Thomas. We’ve had him since mid-2003, when we saw him and a litter mate playing in the gutter while we were out walking. They were our first rescues. Thomas recently died and I wanted to do his portrait.
Second, I have always loved the golden light of late evening and liked this photo of Thomas, taken when he was at his prime. Now that he’s gone, that westward gaze into the sunset seems somehow appropriate.
Second, the drawing method described in How to Draw EXACTLY What You See starts with marking off each of the places where the subject leaves the composition. This photo of Thomas focuses so closely on his face and eye that one ear leaves the composition as well as the back of his neck and his upper chest. That made it perfect for this demo.
Preparing the Image
Since I wasn’t working from life, I had to make a few adjustments. But I prepared the reference photo as much according to the steps in the book as possible.
I used GIMP (a free photo editor download) to add a wide white border around the reference photo and then mark with a red line each place where an edge leaves the composition. Edges included Thomas’ markings.
Then I printed the reference photo above, and the picture plane (below) on a blank sheet to draw on. I was able to do that because I put the border and marks on a separate layer added to the photo in GIMP. All I had to do was hide the image and print the new layer. (If you’d like to see a tutorial on that, let me know.)
How to Draw EXACTLY What You See
Step 1: Start with negative spaces
The first step is to make a contour drawing of the negative space using the edge markings as a guide. However, I was so focused on drawing Thomas that I totally forgot that step.
Had I remembered, these blue shapes are the shapes I would have drawn. All of the light blue is negative space. Just two large, fairly simple shapes. (That’s another reason I chose this reference photo.
Draw the negative spaces as accurately as you can. According to the author, this is a good way to “trick” your brain into accurately drawing shapes instead of drawing what it thinks it sees.
Don’t be frustrated if it’s difficult at first. Just choose a mark and draw the shape as best you can. Measure and erase if it needs correction.
Step 2: Rough in the subject
Next, block in the subject with light pressure and loose lines. I didn’t draw very many interior details and instead focused on the big shapes. The eye, the ear, and the nose and mouth.
I roughed in the dark patches of hair, too, but only because they’re such a big part of the drawing.
Step 3: Start drawing details
When the rough sketch was as accurate as I could make it, I went back over the entire drawing again. I corrected and adjusted lines by measuring the distance between edges on the reference photo, and then on the line drawing.
This step involves a lot of erasing. You can see faint smudges and even a few eraser crumbs around that off-side ear. That’s why I used an ordinary number 2 pencil. I can make light lines to begin with, then draw steadily darker lines, and I can also easily erase mistakes.
Besides, I have a drawer full of ordinary number 2 pencils; why not use them!
Step 4: Fine-tune the drawing
After that round of work was done, I went over the drawing again and fine-tuned it still more. I added interior details like whisker lines, creases in the fur, and other things. The outside lines are darker, but those interior details will help me when I get started with colored pencil work.
It took three days to develop this drawing of Thomas and I confess that when I stepped back and looked at what I’d done, I cried. It looked so much like Thomas.
That’s How to Draw Exactly What You See…
…even if it isn’t a still life!
As I said before, the book focuses on drawing still life subjects, but as you can see here, it can easily be adapted to other subjects. Even portrait work!
Today, I want to talk about using the umber under drawing method. This method of drawing is just one of many, and works for any type of subject. I use it most often for landscape drawing, but I hope you’ll find useful information here even if you’ve never drawn a landscape, or don’t want to!
Why You Should Use any Under Drawing Method
The first question most people ask (about art or any other subject) is why.
Why that subject instead or another?
Why did you choose those colors?
Why do an under drawing when you draw over it anyway?
You get the idea!
With most aspects of art, the answers are personal. That applies to drawing methods, too. You can use any drawing method you prefer. You can even use a different method for every drawing or based on you mood when you draw.
But no matter what method you use, you begin with an under drawing of some kind. Why? Because in reality, an under drawing is simply the first layers of color you put on the paper.
So the real question becomes, why use a special kind of under drawing?
Most artists start with under drawings to achieve a certain effect. Most colored pencils are translucent, so every color you put on paper influences every other color. (That’s also why it’s so difficult to cover up mistakes.)
The type of under drawing (umber, complementary, monochromatic) affects the look of the finished artwork.
Subject can also be a determining factor. Landscapes benefit from complementary colors and earth tones, if only to tone down the greens.
Atmospheric drawings benefit from monochromatic under drawings that help create the mood or atmosphere the artist wants to create.
Answers to this question vary from artist to artist, but here are the biggest reasons I prefer umber under drawings.
1—I do a lot of landscape drawings. For many years, I struggled with greens that were unnaturally bright. The only way to tone down those greens is by adding their compliments. Usually reds, oranges, and earth tones.
You can, of course, add those colors at any time in the process—and I often do. But an umber under drawing has rescued many a drawing. So many that this drawing method has become my favorite.
2—An umber under drawing is ideal for drawing animals of almost every stripe. It also works for many other subjects.
3—It’s a lot easier for me to work out shapes, values, and details if I’m not also making decisions about colors. When I begin with local colors or with a complementary under drawing, I have to make color choices from the start.
With an umber under drawing, the choice is already made. One light brown, and one dark brown. Sometimes, I even limit myself to one or the other.
4–Quite simply, I like earth tones. There is so much variation in earth tones that I’ve often considered doing sepia studies in nothing but earth tones.
Or those lovely French greys in the Prismacolor line.
So when it comes to choosing under drawing colors, it’s natural to reach for a brown of some kind!
That’s Why I Use the Umber Under Drawing Method
The umber under drawing method isn’t the only method I use, but it is my favorite method.
Today, I’d like to show you how to draw leather with colored pencils. The project for this tutorial was drawn on gray paper, which gave me a head start on establishing values.
But this method of drawing will work on any color of paper. Yes, even white!
How to Draw Leather with Colored Pencils
Pencils: Prismacolor Premier
Paper: Canson Mi-Teintes 98lb pastel paper, Steel Grey. (If you use Mi-Teintes, make sure to use the back, which is much smoother and more suitable for colored pencils.)
Step 1: Add basic colors to begin developing values.
Begin drawing the leather by working on an isolated piece, as I did here, or by layering each color over all parts of the bridle. I tend to work section by section, but either way works.
Ordinarily, it’s best to begin with lighter colors, but since we’re working on a medium gray paper, you can begin with darker values first.
Use a sharp pencils and light pressure to layer Dark Brown over the middle and dark values. Start with the darkest area first, then put a second layer over that area plus the middle values. Work around the two bright highlights at the top and bottom of the leather strap (also known as the headstall.)
Next, layer Mediterranean Blue with light pressure between the lightest area and the darkest value, then layer White over the lightest area at the top of the headstall.
Also layer White over the highlight near the bottom of the strap. To warm up the color, layer Spanish Orange over the browns.
Step 2: Layer colors again to create saturation and color depth.
The texture of Canson Mi-Teintes paper helps establish the “feel” of the leather without much effort. The appearance of color on the paper gives the leather a finished appearance after only one round of color. For some kinds of leather, that would be appropriate.
This leather is very smooth, though. Almost polished in appearance. So add a couple more layers of Dark Brown alternating with White in the lighter areas along the side of the head.
Mix Dark Brown and Indigo Blue over the top of the head. Use slightly heavier pressure to create smooth color, but don’t burnish.
At the top of the head, darken the shadow with Indigo Blue, then punch up the reflected light highlight with a little bit of White.
Also layer White over the lower part of the strap and burnish the brightest part of the highlight with White.
Step 3: Fine-tune highlights, shadows, and reflected light.
Next, I fine-tuned the headstall by re-enforcing the reflected light with a stroke or two of Cool Grey 20% and adding a form shadow on the back edge of the strap with Indigo Blue.
Continue drawing the leather parts of the bridle and reins by using Sienna Brown as the base color, and mixing Dark Brown and Indigo Blue in the shadows and darker areas.
Draw the lighter middle values by mixing Goldenrod and Sienna Brown, then add highlights with a mix of White and Powder Blue.
Use light pressure and circular strokes for the first layers of color in each strap. Add additional layers with medium pressure and the highlights with heavy pressure.
The primary goal is filling in all of the paper holes, so after the colors are established, continue layering with a variety of strokes, gradually increasing pressure with each layer.
Add touches of Black in some of the darker shadows.
Step 5: Add detailing.
To give the bridle an extra look of realism, use a light and dark color to add shadows and highlights around the holes in the straps, the stitching in some of the straps, and on and around the restraints holding the ends of the straps. A stroke or two in most of these areas makes a big difference.
Step 6: Draw the reins using the same colors and layering process.
Finish the reins in the same way and using the same colors.
This illustration shows the finished bridle.
That’s How to Draw Leather with Colored Pencils
At least, that’s how I draw leather.
Drawing leather doesn’t have to be complicated. If you follow the steps described here, you can draw even the most complex bridle or harness. Take your time, keep your pencils sharp, and work from one strap to the next.
Today, I’d like to explain one of my favorite ways to draw: The complementary under drawing method. We’ll talk about what makes this drawing method unique, how you can use it to advantage, and few disadvantages to consider, as well.
The Complementary Under Painting Method Explained
The color wheel is what sets the complementary under drawing method apart from the other drawing methods I’ve used over the years. I don’t need to refer to a color wheel with the direct method or the umber under drawing method. The complementary under drawing method requires a color wheel.
When you use the complementary under drawing method, you create the under drawing with colors that are opposite the color wheel from the finished colors.
For example, the complementary under drawing for an orange is blue, because blue is the complement to orange. Blue and orange are on opposite sides of the color wheel.
Complex subjects as well as simple ones can be drawn effectively with this method. I’ve used it to draw horses and landscapes, and have seen excellent still life compositions rendered using this method. If you can dream it up, it can be drawn with the complementary under drawing method.
Advantages to the Complementary Under Drawing Method
That’s all well and good, but why should you try the complementary under drawing method? Here are a few of my reasons.
Deepens color depth and creates vibrant color
One way to create points of interest in artwork is to put complementary colors side by side. The contrast created by those two colors next to one and another adds a bit of sizzle to that part of the composition. That “sizzle” is a great way to emphasize the center of interest.
You would expect the same thing to happen when you layer complements one over another, wouldn’t you?
But it doesn’t.
A color layered over its complement produces a depth of color that’s difficult to get any other way.
Naturally tones down landscape greens
One of the biggest challenges facing me as a landscape artist is creating landscape greens that look natural. For years, that seemed like an insurmountable problem. The greens in my pencil box looked good in the box, but no matter how I mixed them on paper, they always ended up looking fake.
Way too bright.
Much too vibrant.
Practically glow-in-the-dark sometimes (at least that’s how it seemed to me!)
The first time I tried a complementary under drawing with a landscape, I didn’t expect much from it. How could it possibly work?
But it did!
I was convinced. When I started doing more landscapes, the complementary method was one of methods I used.
Disadvantages to the Complementary Under Drawing Method
I’ve made the complementary under drawing method sound like a magic bullet, haven’t I? A sure-fire cure for everything that can go wrong with a colored pencil drawing.
It’s not a magic bullet.
There are downsides, too.
Color selection can be confusing and time consuming
Selecting the right colors for a complementary under drawing can get very complicated very quickly. If your subject is complex (colorful marbles or a still life,) choosing the right complement takes time and patience. For some that wouldn’t be a disadvantage. For others, it might be.
The complementary under drawing method also presents the opportunity for a lot of nuance. Two trees side by side might both be green, but one is blue-green, and the other has more yellow.
You can use the same complement for both, but true complements would reflect those color shifts in the green.
Or consider a group of horses, a flock of colorful birds or a bed of flowers..
For a lot of artists, that’s just more fussiness than they want to deal with.
Sometimes, that includes me!
It can take more time to finish a drawing
Any time you use a different set of colors to create the under drawing, you potentially extend the amount of time it takes to complete the drawing. Especially if your under drawings are very detailed.
It’s Easy to Create Mud
Remember I said one of the things I liked best about complementary under drawings for landscapes is that the complements naturally tone down the greens?
There is a dark side to that comment.
Complementary colors also tend to create muddy color if you’re not careful. Color that’s dull and lifeless results from carelessly choosing complementary color, or from using too much of the complement.
The landscape greens I love so much would go from just the right green to an ugly, dull green when I use too much red.
Or the wrong kind of red.
So there you have it. A brief explanation of the complementary under drawing method.
If you haven’t yet experimented with it, I urge you to take time to do so.
And if you’d like more information, I’ve selected a collection of articles on this blog and EmptyEasel.
On The Blog
Using a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals
The sample study was painted on Canson Mi-Teintes 98lb paper, Azure. If you use Canson Mi-Teintes, make sure to use the smooth side. You can use the front if you wish, but the texture will be more difficult to work with and finishing will take longer.
My cloud study is quite small, 4″ x 2.75″, and is a Drawing of the Week. I used a combination of layering and solvent blending, along with the direct method.
It was also the first time I’d used Canson Mi-Teintes‘ Azure paper, which is a very soft, light shade of blue.
How to Draw Clouds with Colored Pencil
Step 1: Lightly outline the clouds and land and shade the sky.
Use very light pressure to outline the clouds and the horizon. You can use the same color for both, or use a medium blue to outline the clouds and medium gray-green to outline the horizon.
Keep the edges somewhat soft since clouds very rarely have crisp edges.
TIP: Use at least two shades of blue, one medium and one light. The colors you choose should reflect the color of the sky you’re drawing, since skies are not the same shade of blue everywhere.
Next, shade the sky with the same blue you used to outline the clouds. Use light pressure and the stroke that gives you the most even color. Start at the top with a sharp pencil and layer color about three-quarters of the way down the sky. Work carefully around the clouds.
Follow that with a lighter value blue. Start at the top again, but this time, layer blue all the way to the horizon.
If you’re using a very light blue, start at the horizon and layer that upward to a little past the halfway mark.
Use light pressure with all the colors and do at least two layers of each, rotating through the colors as you work. You want smooth gradations in color and value.
Step 2: Lift a few more clouds with mounting putty.
Use mounting putty to lift a little color from the sky to create thin, wispy clouds if you wish.
Shape the putty into small shapes, press it lightly against the paper, then reshape it. If you don’t, you may end up with a pattern of lifted color that’s too regular in shape to look like clouds.
Step 3: Blend with odorless mineral spirits or other art solvent.
You can use a brush (the most common way.) Dip the brush into a little solvent, then “paint” it over the color. The solvent dissolves the color and allows the different shades of blue to mix almost like paint.
I used a cotton swab instead of a brush. In the blue at the top, I tapped the color repeatedly with the end of the swab. Too many times, as it turned out, because I began lifting color (as you can see below.)
In the rest of the sky, I rolled the side of the cotton along the sky in horizontal strokes. Once to moisten the color, then again to blend it.
If you lifted color to create light, wispy clouds, work around them unless you want to reshape them by blending into them. Don’t wet them completely.
TIP: If you need to soften edges, blend over them as shown around the clouds around the center patch of blue sky, and in the clouds leading toward the upper, right corner.
Step 4: Continue layering and blending until the blue sky is finished.
Layer color and blend with solvent, until the sky is finished to your satisfaction.
If you need to, you can also do the final blend with a colorless blender.
Step 5: Draw the landscape using the same methods.
Draw the landscape using the same layering and blending method. The landscape is really the stage for the main subject, the clouds, so you don’t need to put a lot of detail into it.
Since this tutorial is about the clouds and not the land, I’ll show the first round of color, and the finished landscape.
I did three or four rounds of layering color and blending with solvent to reach this point (below.) The landscape isn’t completely finished, but I’ll do the clouds before making any changes to either the sky or the landscape.
Step 6: Shade the dark values in the clouds
Carefully sketch in and shade the darkest values in the clouds with a medium value blue-gray color. Use a sharp pencil and put down multiple layers to create a variety of values.
Pay close attention to the overlap of clouds. Each set of clouds is different, so don’t rush, and don’t draw generic clouds.
After you’ve put three or four layers of color into the shadows and darker middle values, blend with solvent.
Step 7: Layer the same blue, a medium gray, and a lighter gray-blue into the shadows and darker values.
Darken the shadows and darker middle values with alternating layers of the same blue you used in Step 6, plus a medium gray, and a gray-blue lighter than the previous blue.
Focus your attention on the shadows, but also layer the two shades of blue into the middle values.
Very lightly layer the lighter blue into the lighter middle values.
Step 8: Blend with solvent, and pull dissolved color into the lighter parts of the clouds.
Blend with solvent. Blot the brush before touching the paper to remove excess solvent.
Begin blending in the darkest areas. Observe the edges of those shapes carefully, especially where they overlap lighter areas.
Also pull color from the darker middle values into the lighter middle values to create even lighter middle values. Work around the white areas. They will be the highlights in the clouds, so you need to preserve them.
Step 9: Continue layering and blending until you get the color, values, and saturation you want.
Since this small piece was a study and a Drawing of the Week, I didn’t push the details. The finished study, below, represents two more rounds of layering color and blending with solvent.
I finished by burnishing the clouds with a light blue Prismacolor pencil. Prismacolor because they’re wax-based, and good for burnishing. Light blue to unify the values in the clouds and because the color was just the right touch for the hint of shadow in the brightest part of the clouds.
As already mentioned, this is only a color study, so isn’t as detailed as a larger painting.
But it is enough to tell me this type of painting is not only fun to do, but worth expanding into a larger, more complex piece.
Learning how to draw clouds is a challenging, but satisfying process. You’ll have an endless variety of subjects, even with the same cloud, since they change so quickly.
It’s also an excellent way to improve your powers of observation, and you ability to sketch and draw quickly.
Step 1: Block in the basic shadows within the tree.
The trees that are the center of interest are closer than any of the other trees, and they’re also more lacy in appearance, so use squiggly or stippling strokes (or a combination) to draw the shadows with Olive Green.
Also “sketch” in the trunks.
Make sure to leave lots of openings in this layer of color. Some of it will be the background showing through the tree when the tree is finished. Other parts will be highlights in the tree.
Work over the background as well as within the tree itself.
Step 2: Darken the shadows within the tree.
Next, dot Marine Green into the shadows of the tree, and also around the edges, overlapping the background on the shadowed side of the tree.
Use medium pressure or slightly heavier, and a blunt pencil held in a more vertical position.
Step 3: Add the middle values.
Add another layer of Olive Green over all of the trees, including the shadows.
Step 4: Add a lighter color in the lighter middle values and highlights.
Layer Jasmine over every part of the trees except the shadows to lighten the green. Use a sharp pencil with medium pressure or lighter, and a squiggly or stippling stroke (or whatever stroke works best for you.)
Don’t layer Jasmine over everything. Leave Olive Green showing through some areas to create more subtle variations in color and value.
Step 5: Darken the shadows.
Add a few darker accents to these trees with a mix of Olive Green, Marine Green, and Indigo Blue.
TIP: If the foreground trees get too dark, lighten them by lifting color or adding more Jasmine (or other lighter color.) You may also darken the background trees.
Step 6: Begin adjusting color and value in the foreground hills.
Layer Sepia very lightly over the shadows in the hill with medium pressure and horizontal oval-shaped strokes.
Follow up with Jade Green, also applied with small, horizontal ovals and medium pressure. Shade all of the shadow and work into the lighted hilltop slightly to soften that edge.
Step 7: Tone down the greens with an earth tone.
Tone the base greens with a layer of Sepia. Use short horizontal strokes in the more distant hills and vertical, grass-like strokes in the foreground.
Next, add a layer of Chartreuse, then Olive Green. Layer a little further out of the shadows and into the highlights with each color to create middle values. Don’t put every color in every place so to create variations of color and value.
Step 8: Dry blend with a stiff brush.
Next, dry blend the colors with a stiff bristle brush. Stroke in the same direction as you applied color, over the contours of the hill. You can scrub a little bit if you wish.
The sanded art paper will take heavy pressure and you don’t need to worry about removing color by blending with heavy pressure. If you want very smooth, blended edges, then blend with heavy pressure.
If you want to preserve some of the edges, blend with lighter pressure.
Step 9: Repeat steps 6 – 8 on the rest of the foreground.
Repeat the process for each of the hills. Continue adding color, then dry blending until each part of the foreground looks the way you want it. Work from background forward, from the tree line to the bottom of the drawing.
Step 10: Draw tall grass in the extreme foreground.
Before drawing tall grass all the way across the front hill, add or finish any trees that the taller blades of grass will overlap.
Then use long, directional strokes to draw tall grass, overlapping the hills in the back. Use a variety of greens, dark blues, and dark browns. I used Prismacolor Verithin Olive Green, and Dark Umber for most of the tall grass, and added strokes of Indigo Blue in the darkest shadows on the left.
My favorite way to draw tall grass.
Use different shades of green, dark blue, and dark brown to draw layer after layer of overlapping, directional strokes, as I’ve done on the left of the illustration below.
A faster way to draw tall grass.
Begin by shading a base of green over the paper. Dry blend that color, then apply more color and repeat the blending until the base color is the way you want it.
Then use curving, directional strokes to add enough detail to make the area look like grass.
Both methods work very well.
Step 11: Final review and adjustments.
At this stage in the process, the look of your landscape becomes a matter of personal preference. I like to get as realistic a drawing as possible, but you may want a less detailed landscape. There is no right or wrong way to finish your drawing. Work on each area to your satisfaction.
You will also want to set the drawing aside over night when you think it’s finished. This will allow you to review the drawing with a fresh eye the next day, and you’ll be better able to see what adjustments need to be made.
Is it finished or isn’t it?
After letting the drawing sit a couple of days, I reviewed it again and decided all it needed was the usual final-round touchups.
I emphasized the tall grass in the foreground, then deepened the shadows in the trees, added some low scrub brush on the hills.
Those are the steps for finishing a landscape on sanded paper, and that’s the conclusion of this series.
Drawing on sanded art paper is almost like learning a new medium. It’s close enough to using colored pencils on regular drawing paper to provide a relatively easy transition.
But it’s enough different to give you a challenge and make you stretch your skills.
It’s well worth the effort to master though, and I’m looking forward to doing many more landscapes on sanded art paper. Maybe even painting some portraits on it!