How to Draw Grassy Hills

Welcome back to this Tuesday Tutorial on drawing a landscape on sanded art paper. We’re passed the halfway point now. Today, I’ll show you how to draw grassy hills.

Links to the previous posts in this series are below.

Draw a Gray Sky with Colored Pencils

Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil

Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper

How to Draw Realistic Trees on Sanded Art Paper with Colored Pencil (on EmptyEasel).

Fixing a Colored Pencil Mistake on Sanded Paper

Now for this week’s tutorial.

How to Draw Grassy Hills

Ordinarily, when I speak of drawing grass, I’m talking about grass that looks tall and is full of detail. Tall grass, waving in the wind.

But for this drawing, the entire composition is far enough removed that there isn’t much detail even in the foreground. You can, of course, add details if you wish, but our focus for this post is on how to draw grassy hills that are not up close. There will be some detail, but perhaps not what you’re used to seeing in my tutorials.

How to Draw Grassy Hills

Step 1: Rough in the darkest shadows.

There are several hills in the middle and foreground of this composition, but the lighting is such that not all of the shapes are very well-defined. Emphasize those shapes in order to break up the foreground, but don’t add a lot of color or get bogged down in detail.

Sharpen your pencil so that there’s a good amount of pigment core showing. Hold your pencil a little further back along the pencil (if the pencil is long enough), and hold it so that it’s nearly level with the paper, as shown below.

Use light pressure and “slide” the pencil across the surface of the paper. Stroke along the contours of each hill. One or two strokes should be sufficient (unless you have an extremely light touch, as I do.) Keep the strokes loose and sketchy. All you need to do right now is establish the shadows and the suggest the shapes of the hills.

How to Draw Grassy Hills - Use the Side of the Pencil

Add shadows throughout the foreground.

Don’t forget the shadow under the small group of trees in front.

TIP: It’s not necessary to get the hills exact. You want the shapes to break up the foreground and provide a visual path that leads to the small group of trees at the center of interest. Feel free to change the shapes or positions of the hills to suit your own vision for the drawing.

How to Draw Grassy Hills with the shadows shaded.

Step 2: Glaze the hills with base color.

I chose Yellow Ochre for the first color on the foreground because I didn’t have a Prismacolor color that was close to the colors in the reference photograph. So I compared each of my greens. Chartreuse was the closest green, but it was way too bright.

So I looked through the earth tones, and realized Yellow Ochre was a good companion color for Chartreuse.

Since green is the dominant color, I layered Yellow Ochre first.

If you have a green that’s a better match than either of these two colors, use it. If you want to try different colors than I’ve suggested, that’s acceptable, too.

Layer color lightly over each hill. Draw the hills individually, and stroke along the contours of the hills. Use light pressure and it’s okay to use a blunted pencil.

A Word about Pencil Strokes

You have two options for strokes.

The first option is to hold the pencil in normal writing position and apply short, directional strokes along the curve of each hill, as shown here.

East of Camp Creek 49

You can also use the side of the pencil (as shown in the previous step.) You’ll still stroke along the contours of the hills, but will cover more of the paper with each stroke, and will also get smoother coverage, as shown below.

East of Camp Creek 50

The first stroke gives you more control and is best for working around the small group of trees in front. It also lays down color a little more heavily.

But the second stroke is faster and produces more even color. The paper shows through it more. If you’re using a single color (instead of mixing colors as I am,) you may benefit by having paper show through. It will add visual interest and help tone down whatever green you use.

It’s also acceptable to combine the strokes, or to use any other stroke that helps you produce the look you want.

Next, smooth out the color by dry blending with a stiff, bristle brush. Use medium pressure and stroke along the curves of the hills. Use short strokes and overlap strokes to smooth out the color.

Step 3: Dry blend pigment dust into the color layer.

Drawing on sanded paper produces pigment dust. You can either brush it off the drawing with a drafting brush or other soft brush, or you can work it into the paper and use the pigment.

East of Camp Creek 51

And this is the foreground with the first color applied and dry blended.

East of Camp Creek 52

If we were drawing a fall scene, all we’d need to do is deepen shadows, add details, and maybe a few highlights. That’s one reason I prefer dry blending to solvent blending for drawings like this. It gives the landscape a more natural feel, especially when working on sanded paper.

Step 4: Layer green over the base color.

Layer Chartreuse over the foreground using light-medium to medium pressure. Keep your strokes close together and short in the background. As you work toward the bottom of the drawing, use longer, more open strokes if you wish, or continue to use small, less open strokes.

In the front (at the bottom,) I switched to directional strokes that mimic the look of grass, but that’s a personal preference. If you don’t want to use this type of stroke, continue with the even layering.

If you do use “grass-like” strokes, keep your pencil sharp. Leave lots of open space (with paper and the previous colors showing through.)

How to Draw Grassy Hills - Layer green over the base color.

Next, darken the shadow on the hill immediately in front of the trees with Olive Green. Use a blunt pencil and short, horizontal strokes.

How to Draw Grassy Hills Darken the shadows8

You can blend this layer if you wish. That was my intention when I drew it, but I liked the way it looked unblended, so I left it alone.

There are plenty of details on the side of this hill in the reference photo. Stones and rocks. Clumps of grass and other things. Leave those details for later. For now, it’s easier to lay down all the color, and concentrate on values. The details can be added later.

Step 5: Continue darkening shadows and developing color.

Work through the rest of the drawing with Olive Green, darkening shadows and reshaping them as necessary. Again, don’t fuss over details. Work toward getting the color and value the way you want it first.

Feel free to try different types of strokes. I tried drawing directional, grass-like strokes with Olive Green in the lower right corner. While that’s a favorite stroke, it didn’t accomplish very much.

So I used the side of the pencil to lay down more even color along the contours of the foreground slope.

How to Draw Grassy Hills Continue darkening shadows.

Step 6: Add a warm, neutral color to keep the greens from getting too bright.

Next, use Cream to lighten and warm the green in the hill immediately in front of the trees. You can use either a sharp or blunt pencil. Use medium pressure or slightly heavier, and careful stroking to create even color. Don’t burnish just yet.

If the edge of the shadow is too abrupt, blend the edge slightly, but don’t work too much into the shadow with Cream, or the shadow will become too light.

I used a long stroke to draw along the slope of the hill that faced the light source (the sun) most directly. Beginning with medium pressure at the right edge of the paper, I drew along the hill to the crest, and decreased pressure while stroking so that I was using very light pressure at the end of the stroke (the crest of the hill.) Although the hill is not very tall and doesn’t have much of a peak, there is still a point where it starts curving away from the sun. I wanted the color to “fade away” in this area.

Finish all the slopes that face the sun this way, but make sure to keep the emphasis around the center of interest. Keep the brightest brights around the trees in the center, and fade them gradually as they move toward the edges of the drawing.

How to Draw Grassy Hills 11

Step 7: To dry blend or not to dry blend.

The next step depends on whether or not you want to dry blend the hills. If you don’t skip this step.

If you do, use a stiff bristle brush to blend the colors together. Use horizontal strokes that follow the slopes of the hills to smooth out the color. Start with the lightest areas and blend them first, then move to the next darkest areas. Finish with the darkest areas.

This is important! If you work from dark to light, you will add unwanted dark colors to the highlights. While that’s not a disaster if it happens, it is an unnecessary irritation.

How to Draw Grassy Hills Dry blending


The end is drawing near on this tutorial. All that remains is drawing the center of interest (those unfinished trees,) and finishing the drawing.

Fixing a Colored Pencil Mistake on Sanded Paper

This week’s Tuesday Tutorial is the fourth tutorial in this series. Our topic today? Fixing a colored pencil mistake on sanded paper.

If you missed the first three parts of this tutorial, you can read them at the following links.

Draw a Gray Sky with Colored Pencils

Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil

Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper

EmptyEasel also published part of this tutorial. You can read How to Draw Realistic Trees on Sanded Art Paper with Colored Pencil here.

Now for this week’s tutorial.

Fixing a Colored Pencil Mistake on Sanded Paper

Fixing a Colored Pencil Mistake on Sanded Paper

It happens all the time. Your piece is progressing nicely, then all of a sudden, you discover a mistake. It could be the wrong color, a value that got too dark, or a drawing error.

Whatever the mistake, your latest masterpiece suddenly looks like a disaster in the making.

That happened to me with this project. I thought I was within days of completing it when I realized I needed to undo something.

What was the problem?

I didn’t like the color of the hills behind the trees. Even after I finished the sky, they just didn’t look right. I knew which colors were working best for the greener hills, but none of them provided a realistic transition between the dark gray and green hills.

Fixing a Colored Pencil Mistake on Sanded Paper - The Mistake

This was what I’d consider a fatal error. That is, if I didn’t fix it, the landscape was certain to fail.

The question was, what was the best way to fix the problem?

Step 1: Remove as much color as possible.

The obvious first step is to remove as much color as possible. Ordinarily, this is the most difficult part of the process. Once you’ve put colored pencil on paper, removing it can be a serious challenge.

But I was working on sanded art paper, and one of the best things about sanded art paper is that it’s usually pretty easy to remove color. If you haven’t blended with solvent or put a fixative over color, it can be removed almost entirely.

Even if you burnished it. And the best part is that all you need is sticky stuff.

“Sticky stuff” is a generic term for a reusable adhesive substance often used to hang posters. It’s inexpensive, reusable, and self-cleaning. Popular names are Handi-Tak and Poster Tack. It’s also known as mounting putty.

For larger areas, roll a section of sticky stuff into a ball, and use it like a stamp. Turn it a little between each “press” so you put clean sticky stuff on the paper.

To remove color from a small area, shape the sticky stuff into the shape you need. It can be shaped into a wedge or a pencil-like point.

Fixing a Colored Pencil Mistake on Sanded Paper - Lift Color

I shaped sticky stuff into an elongated cylinder, which I then pressed against the paper, turning it after each stroke.

TIP: When the sticky stuff is full of color, knead it enough to absorb the color, then repeat the process until you remove as much color as necessary.

As you can see, I was able to remove almost all of the color in the dark gray and green hills. The areas blended with solvent did not lift as well as dry color, but it was lightened enough to allow me to layer fresh color over it.

Fixing a Colored Pencil Mistake on Sanded Paper - Lifted Color

Step 2: Restore outlines.

When you remove color this way, you will remove outlines too, and possibly the original line drawing.

So the next step is outlining the shapes again.

I made no attempt to reproduce the original outlines, but instead drew them while referring to my reference photograph. I didn’t outline the hills again, but if you need to restore interior shapes, this is a good time to do it.

Fixing a Colored Pencil Mistake on Sanded Paper - Outlining Trees

Step 3: Layer new color over the hills.

Now continue with the drawing. You needn’t prepare the paper surface for new color. Sanded art paper is very durable and removing color will prepare the surface to accept new color.

Layer Warm Grey 20% into the hills immediately in front of the most distant hills. Use light-medium pressure (slightly less than normal handwriting pressure) to draw a smooth color layer.

Next, layer Warm Grey 10% over all the area where color was removed. Use medium pressure and directional strokes following the slopes of the hills. Follow up with a layer of the same color, but with cross hatching strokes. Draw as smooth a layer of color as possible.

Follow that up with Jade Green layered over all of the hills immediately behind the outlined trees.

Add Chartreuse and Cream to make the closer hills warmer and greener. If they get too warm, glaze them with Warm Grey 10%.

Step 4: Add small accents to help accurately judge color and value.

If it helps define the different hills in this area, add a few trees as I did. Use Marine Green, light pressure, and squiggly strokes to shade a few trees in the distance. These shapes should be flat in appearance, with very little variation in value, because they’re so far away they show very little detail or value.

I also added the shadows in the row of trees so I’d have a point of comparison for the background.

Fixing a Colored Pencil Mistake on Sanded Paper - Adding Trees


And that’s it! As you can see, it’s difficult to tell there was a problem with the background hills. Fixing mistakes on sanded art paper is remarkably easy even with colored pencils.

The next step in the process was drawing the trees. You can read How to Draw Realistic Trees on Sanded Art Paper with Colored Pencil on EmptyEasel.

In the next post, we’ll tackle the foreground.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper

Welcome to Part 3 in this tutorial. The first post in the series showed you how to draw a gray sky, and the second post described how I made adjustments to the sky after beginning to draw the landscape. This week I’ll show you how to begin to draw far distance on sanded art paper.

The drawing for this tutorial was drawn on sanded art paper, but most of the methods can be used on most other drawing papers and supports.

I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper

The first two steps are a quick recap from last week’s post.

Step 1: Establish the horizon line before doing anything else.

The best way to establish the horizon is to lightly draw it. Use the color you plan to use for shading the shapes. In this illustration, I’ve outlined three hills and shaded one of them. At this point, they’re flat color. No variations, no shadows.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 1

Step 2: Shade the horizon shapes with a base color.

Shade the shapes on the horizon with a base color.

The base color should be a medium value color that you will then draw light and dark values over. Once you’ve chosen a base color, layer it evenly over the distant background, without getting too bogged down in detail. If you do draw variations in value, keep them soft and vague and draw them by adding layers, not pressure.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 2

Step 3: Add color to the hills in front of the most distant hills.

Follow the same procedure with the next line of hills. If you outline, make sure to outline any small shapes on the hills or that overlap the hills.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 3

Step 4: Shade the last row of hills in the background.

You may need to mix colors to get a good match for these hills. In real life, they’re the same color as the hills further in the background, but they’re so much closer, they appear to be a different color. Mixing colors may be the only way to draw that difference.

For example, I started with Earth Green, but decided that was too dark and too green. None of the other greens were closer, so I layered Warm Grey III over the Earth Green.

Use short, horizontal strokes to layer the first color along the slopes of the hills, then tiny, circular strokes to add the second color. Mixing strokes as well as color, and using small strokes fills in the paper better. That helps this row of hills look more solid and, therefore, a little closer than the hills beyond them.

Use medium-light to medium pressure for both colors.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 4

Step 5: Begin adding color to the greener hills.

As you move closer to the tree line, the shapes become more detailed, so you may want to take a little more time to mark the edges of those shapes. I outlined the slopes of the hills, but also outlined the trees that overlap the hills.

However, I didn’t outline the entire shape of each tree. Instead, as you can see below, I outlined only the overall contour of the tree line.

Do just enough outlining to guide you so you don’t accidentally shade over the trees.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 5

Step 6: Remember to use slightly warmer colors.

Color becomes slightly more green and slightly less gray as you move forward (downward) in the composition, but the change should be very subtle. Color temperature also increases—though very slightly.

Use the same color you used to outline the shapes (I used May Green) and medium-light to medium pressure to shade those shapes.

For the first layer, which should include all of the hills, use long, gently curving horizontal strokes to mimic the contours of the hills. In the places that are a little darker, add another layer using shorter strokes. Work around the trees beyond the hills as well as the trees in front of the hills.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 6

Step 7: Oh-oh!

I saw immediately that the transition between the gray green hills in back and the more yellow hills closer to the front was much too abrupt. After getting May Green into the front hills, I didn’t like the hills in back at all.

This is where it’s important to trust the reference photo. I’d matched the colors in both areas so was pretty sure they were accurate to this point. I just needed to add the second color to the May Green to get the right shades of green and the right values.

So I resisted the urge to “fix” the back hills and instead continued working on the front hills.

Step 8: Tone down the green if necessary.

The color you choose to mix with the green depends in large part upon the colors in your printed reference photo and the green you chose for the previous step. But that’s okay. No two pieces will ever turn out exactly the same, even if you work from the same image and use the same materials. I’ll tell you what I ended up doing and you can make your own choices.

I knew I’d need a color lighter in value and somewhat warmer than Warm Grey III so I opted for Warm Grey II. I started with the hill on the far right, since it’s a little further in the distance than the hills on the left.

Next I tried Ivory on the middle portion.

Finally, I tried Cream on the left.

This illustration shows each of the three colors layered of the respective hills. I’ve created a little bit of surface texture on the left by adding additional layers of May Green over the Cream, but have still kept the level of detail to a minimum.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 7

TIP: Try different colors on portions of the drawing to find the combination that works best. If you don’t want to experiment on your drawing as I did here, keep a scrap of paper handy for sampling colors.

What to Do if You’re Still Not Satisfied with the Color Choices

Warm Grey over May Green was the best of the three color combinations I tried, but none of them satisfied me. I was so unhappy with the way things were turning out that I let the drawing sit idle for a while, hoping looking at it afresh might fix things.

It didn’t.

So in the next post, I’ll show you what I did and how I finally got the hills to turn out right.

Hint: It involved removing most of the color I’d already put on the paper.


If you learn anything from this series, it should be that you may encounter several obstacles along the way. That applies no less when you draw far distance than to any other subject.

But I hope you’ll also learn you don’t need to ditch a drawing, no matter how serious the obstacle looks! Making art is as much about solving problems as drawing, so I hope you’ll join me next week.

Want to take a peek ahead? I described how I drew the trees on EmptyEasel. Read How to Draw Realistic Trees on Sanded Art Paper with Colored Pencil then join me again next week.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil

This week’s Tuesday Tutorial picks up where last week’s left off. Last week, we drew a gray sky. This week I’ll show you how to finish a sky in colored pencil, and why that was necessary.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored PencilThe drawing for this tutorial was drawn on sanded art paper, but most of the methods can be used on most other drawing papers and supports.

I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

When I concluded the previous post in this series, I thought the sky was finished. I was ready to move on to the landscape itself.

So I established the horizon and began shading the distant hills.

But sometimes, an area looks finished until you add color next to it. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it did happen with this drawing.

All of a sudden, I realized the sky wasn’t finished.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil

Step 1: Lighten the sky with additional color.

Layer a light color over the lower part of the sky. Use the lightest color you used to draw the sky, but if that isn’t light enough, chose a slightly lighter color. Chose a color that matches the previous sky colors in color temperature. I used Ivory to lighten and warm up the sky in the first post, so that’s what I used this time. Had I needed to lighten it further, I would have used a warm color with a lighter value.

Use medium-heavy to heavy pressure (not quite burnishing) to fill in as much of the paper’s tooth as possible.

You can also cross hatch strokes to fill in the paper tooth more completely. Use as many layers as you need or want. I did three, stroking from lower left to upper right with the first layer, and lower right to upper left on the next layer.

The last layer was vertical strokes. For those, I started each stroke at the horizon and stroked upward so the heaviest color was at the horizon and tapered off as I drew upward.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 1

Step 2: Smooth the colors in the sky with odorless mineral spirits.

The overall result was much more satisfactory, but still not what I wanted, so I decided to use a solvent blend on the sky.

I used a small round sable so I would have more control over where I applied solvent.

I also held the brush in a more upright position, and used a stippling stroke to tap solvent onto the paper. This type of stroke is better than any other type of stroke for blending on sanded paper, because the pigment dissolves quickly and almost completely. It’s far too easy to lift or move pigment, especially if you use horizontal or circular strokes.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2a

I worked in a horizontal pattern, starting at one side of the paper, and tapping solvent into the color layer all the way across to the other side. Then I moved up and repeated the process.

This illustration shows the lower half blended with solvent, while the upper half is still dry.

I went over the entire sky this way, then blended it again.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2b

It took quite a bit of solvent to get the color to dissolve, but once it did, it dissolved almost completely. The stippling stroke proved beneficial once the color was dissolved, because it didn’t move color around too much.

However, solvent did tend to puddle and created small bubbles in some places.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2c

The bubbles disappeared as the solvent dried, and the areas where solvent puddled weren’t noticeably different than the rest of the sky.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2d

Step 3: Add more color, but use heavier pressure to smooth out the sky.

After the paper dried completely, I used heavy (but not burnishing pressure) to apply Ivory to the lower half of the sky and Cold Grey I to the upper half.

At the top and bottom, I held the pencils in a normal position and used a combination of strokes to cover the paper. In the center portion, I used the sides of the pencils to lay down thinner layers of color.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 3

Is the Sky Finished Now?

I don’t know.

I like the faint, horizontal patterns in the sky, but also wanted smoother color. Should I blend again and add more color, or leave the sky alone for now?

I decided to leave it alone for the time being and continue drawing the landscape. Adjustments can always be made later, but it’s difficult to undo something once it’s done.

If you want to push color saturation a little further, continue layering the same colors and blending between layers.

Next week, we’ll go back and finish drawing those most distant hills.

How to Draw a Gray Sky with Colored Pencils

Today’s tutorial is another sky tutorial. This time, I’ll show you how to draw a gray sky with colored pencils.

This tutorial is a continuation of last week’s post on sketching a composition right on your drawing paper.

How to Draw a Gray Sky with Colored Pencils

How to Draw a Gray Sky

The demonstration piece is a 6×8 inch landscape drawn on sanded art paper. If you want to try your hand at a gray sky, but don’t have sanded paper, use the same basic process with any drawing paper.

I’m using Faber-Castell Polychromos, but any brand will have enough grays and other colors to draw a gray sky.

This is my reference photo. It’s one of my own, so you’re welcome to download it if you want to follow along with your own drawing.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Reference

Step 1: Choose the colors that match the colors in your reference photo.

The first step is always figuring out the best colors for your subject. You can do this a number of ways.

Most artists simply “eyeball” their reference and select the most likely colors to use. For example, to draw a blue sky, they grab a handful of blues in a variety of values and start testing them on paper. That’s a perfectly acceptable way to select colors, and it’s a great way to learn what doesn’t work. I choose colors this way for years.

Most photo editing programs include color picking tools (look for the eye dropper icon in the tool box.) Select that tool, then click on any area in a digital reference photo to isolate the color in the tool bar. Find the colored pencil that’s closest to that color (or the colors needed to mix that color,) and you’re good to go.

A third way to select colors is to physically compare the pencils with your subject, as I did for the illustration below. I chose the three pencils I thought were close to the color of the sky and laid them on the reference photo. Obviously, this works only if you have a printed reference photo, but it is a good way to actually see pencil colors and photo colors side-by-side.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 1

TIP: You may have to blend a couple of colors to get an exact match, or you may choose to use a color you have and draw a slightly different color of gray than the reference photo shows. Either method is fine. Reference photos are only places to begin. You don’t need to follow them exactly (unless you’re doing a portrait.)

Step 2: Layer the base color over all of the sky.

Layer the base color (the color that’s closest to all of the grays in the sky) along the horizon using medium pressure and diagonal strokes. I outlined a portion of the horizon, then shaded the color along it. You don’t have to outline first.

Here, the sky is about half finished. The individual “rows” of color are clearly visible. You can also see the direction of the strokes I used. It doesn’t matter so much what type of stroke you use, so use the stroke or strokes that are most comfortable for you and do what you want to do.

Work across the lower part of the sky, then layer color across the middle part, and finish with the top.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 2

Drawing on sanded art paper produces more than just stunning results. It produces pigment dust, as shown below. It can be a nuisance if you happen to rest your hand in it, then smudge it into another part of the drawing (that’s why I recommend using a cover sheet even with small drawings.)

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 2b

But pigment dust is easy enough to dispose of. Use a drafting brush and careful brush it into the waste basket.

There is, however, a better use for pigment dust.

Step 3: Use a stiff brush to dry blend pigment dust into the layer of color.

Colored pencil dust can be blended into the color layers, whether you blend wet or dry. All you need is a stiff bristle brush.

You can use a new brush if you wish, but if you have a couple that are worn down from painting, they work best. Just make sure they’re absolutely clean and completely dry.

These are the brushes I use. The top brush is for solvent blending, the bottom brush is for dry blending.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 3a

They’re both former oil painting brushes, so the bristles are worn quite short. Short enough for me to use them almost like pencils, with either light pressure or heavier pressure.

The bristles don’t bend, either, so I can use the long edge for larger areas or the corner for small areas.

TIP: If you’re not an oil painter and don’t have used brushes lying around, look for short bristled brushes when you go brush shopping. If the bristles are still long, trim the bristles with a scissor or “wear them down” by stroking them along coarse sand paper. They will, of course, wear down naturally as you use them for blending.

Finish layering gray over all of the sky, then blend with a bristle brush. I generally blend in the same direction in which I applied the color, but use the stroke that works best for you. Blend with light to medium-light pressure to avoid creating “bald” spots in the color layer.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 3b

Step 4: Continue layering and blending until the paper is covered.

Continue to layer color and blend until the sky looks as saturated as you want it . Use a combination of strokes and increase the pressure with each layer.

Don’t worry if you can still see variations in the color after all of this. Sanded paper takes a lot of color, so it will take time to fill in all of the tooth.

In this illustration, I’ve blended the first round of color and layered the next ones and I can still see some of the diagonals. I have to remind myself that this is the nature of the paper, and unless I want to burnish the colors, I won’t be able to fill in the paper.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 4

Step 5: Add an accent color if you want to break up the flat gray.

I decided after finishing the sky to add warmer, lighter values near the horizon, to add more interest. The two lightest value grays in the Polychromos line were already on the paper, so I added Ivory, and small, circular strokes along the horizon.

This is what I consider an “enhancement,” so you don’t have to add Ivory if you prefer not to. Even with the first application, however, it gave a little more depth to the sky.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 5


And that’s all there is to it. The landscape I’m drawing shows a very flat, light gray sky. I could have gotten pretty much the same result by drawing on gray paper. In fact, I am doing a similar landscape on gray paper and so far, I’ve done nothing with the sky.

For the sample drawing, I made the sky a little darker, and added lighter color along the horizon.

Is the sky finished? For the time being, yes. I’ll finish the drawing, then go back over the entire piece and make whatever adjustments might be necessary. Including the sky!

Next week, we’ll work on the hills on the horizon.

Would you like a copy of the reference photo so you can work along with me?

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper

Let’s take a look at something that scares the wits out of a lot of us: How to sketch a composition directly on paper. (And no, I don’t mean a preliminary sketch on any old sheet of paper: I mean sketching on good drawing paper!)

I know it’s scary, because it was years before I started doing it.

Want to know the truth? I didn’t start sketching directly on good drawing paper until I started doing landscapes a year or two ago, and I’ve been an artist for fifty years!

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper

Landscapes are ideal subjects to begin with because you don’t need to get every detail correct in order to draw an accurate representation.

I’m using sanded art paper for this tutorial because it’s so easy to remove color and make changes. The goal is to reach the point at which you don’t need to make changes to your sketch, but it’s nice to have that option.

Don’t worry! If this is the first time you’ve ever sketched directly on good drawing paper, it’s not that difficult. Just focus on the big shapes and don’t worry about getting everything exactly right! If it looks too difficult, do a couple of practice sketches first. That’s always a good way to improve drawing skills, anyway, so the time will not be wasted.

I also recommend starting small. This project is 6 inches by 8 inches. Large enough to give you plenty of wiggle room, but small enough to keep it from being too intimidating.

And choose a relatively simple landscape to begin with.

Step 1: Draw compositional guidelines by dividing the paper into thirds horizontally and vertically.

Divide the paper into thirds, as shown below. You can also divide the long side into thirds if you wish. I didn’t because this composition is so horizontal, but in hindsight, I could have saved myself a little time by dividing the long sides into thirds, too.

TIP: Most landscape drawings are best if they are divided roughly into thirds. A composition that’s divided into thirds is generally more interesting that one that’s divided into halves, especially if the halves are nearly equal. If, for example, the horizon line is right in the middle of the drawing, the composition may look more like two compositions cobbled together, than one unified composition.

This illustration shows my paper with the short sides divided into thirds.

You don’t need to draw lines all the way across the paper (though you can if you want to.) Marks along the edges are sufficient. If you taped your paper to a rigid support, mark the tape and not the drawing.

If you do draw lines on the paper, draw them lightly and with a color that fits the final color scheme, so the lines disappear into the drawing.

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper Step 1

NOTE: The red lines shown above were added to point out the marks I made on my paper. I didn’t draw lines all the way across the paper, though you may if that helps you.

Step 2: Decide where the horizon line should be.

The horizon line is the line between the land and sky. It should be at or near the the top mark you made in Step 1.

Use a light touch, and keep the strokes loose. Your lines should be dark enough to see through a couple of layers of color, but not so dark that it’s difficult to cover them.

It also doesn’t matter what color you use to sketch, so long as it fits into the color scheme of the drawing. I used a gray-green because that’s the of the most distant hills. It’s also a good base color for the rest of the greens.

I could also have used a sky color had I wanted to.

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper Step 2

Step 3: Draw the big shapes first.

Draw the large shapes that make up the “thirds” of the drawing. The horizon line marks the sky and the lower line, which swoops down in the center, defines the foreground.

While it is a good idea to divide your composition into thirds, it’s not absolutely vital that the thirds be precise or equal. As you can see in this illustration, the horizon line peeks over the red line that marks the top third of my drawing.

It also dips below the line. Most of it is below the line.

The same holds true for the sloping line at the bottom.

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper Step 3

The rule of thirds—and most other art rules—are only guidelines. Follow them strictly every time and all your drawings may begin to look the same. Like all art rules, the rule of thirds is a good place to begin and a good guideline, but there are times when a subject benefits from ignoring or adjusting the guidelines.

Step 4: Add more details and begin drawing smaller shapes.

Draw the rest of the details within the larger shapes using slightly lighter than normal handwriting pressure.

You can either draw from the background forward, or start in the foreground and work back. I usually work from both directions, though it can be easier to draw foreground shapes first. If you do, the shapes and lines behind them can be drawn around them.

Whichever way you draw the landscape, remember it’s not necessary to draw a  lot of detail. The basic shapes and placement of trees and hills are sufficient to provide guidelines for layering color.

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper Step 4

Step 5: Add any additional details

Finish the line drawing by adding any other details that may be necessary. Some of the final details I added were the small tree right of the three trees near the center, and a few lightly sketched lines indicating the slope of the hill below and to the left of those trees.

This is also a good time to make changes to the composition if that becomes necessary. For example, after I finished the line drawing, I realized the composition in the photo is too static. The horizontal lines are well placed, with the horizon about 2/3 of the way up the composition, and the trees a little bit below that.

But the pair of small trees in closest to the foreground are too much in the center, so I added a third tree to the grouping, and placed it to the left of the original two. I also thought about placing other, rounder trees either further to the left or the right, but decided against that for the time being.

How to Sketch a Composition Directly on Paper Step 5

NOTE: This where my drawing would have benefited had I divided the paper into thirds along the long sides. That just shows you that you should always be learning as an artist!


And that’s how I sketch a composition directly on paper.

If you don’t feel comfortable making a line drawing directly on sanded art paper, that’s okay! It took me a while to get comfortable beginning a drawing this way. Make a few practice drawings to familiarize yourself with the composition. You may also want to try rearranging the parts of the landscape a little while you’re at it.

When you’re ready, put your drawing on the sanded paper.

And remember, if you don’t like the sketch once you’ve drawn it, it’s very easy to remove and start over. Sanded art paper is very forgiving that way. So take your courage in hand, and start sketching!

2 Ways to Create Large Line Drawings

A lot of colored pencil artists, myself included, work on mostly small pieces. But colored pencils are also good for larger pieces. Today I’d like to share a couple of ways to create large line drawings for those bigger pieces.

2 Ways to Create Large Line Drawings

For most colored pencil artists, the key is small. It takes so long to complete a drawing in colored pencils, that a lot of us shy away from anything over 11 x 14. I know I do.

It took quite a while—and a paying client—to convince me to work large in colored pencil. That drawing was 24 x 30 (as I recall; it’s been a long time!) What I do remember is that it took nearly a full sheet of mat board, and I had to start it over once.

2 Ways to Create Large Line Drawings All That

2 Ways to Create Large Line Drawings

While I don’t recall how I created the line drawing for this portrait, I can share with you the two ways I use most often these days.

Using a Drawing Grid to Make a Full Size Drawing

This is the reference photo for an oil portrait. The photographer is Nigel Soult, who photographs races at The Red Mile in Lexington, Kentucky.

Create Large Line Drawings - Reference Photo

I purchased the rights to use the image, a digital image for computer use, and an 11 x 14 printed version for use during the painting process.

Why the print?

Working from a high quality print produces much better results than looking at the same image on a computer screen. For one thing, it’s easier on the eyes.

For another, a print can be clamped to the easel for easy reference.

But I like digital references for enlarging details when necessary, so I acquired both.

Step 1: Setting up the Grid

The first step was making a 1-inch grid on the photograph. I use either PhotoShop or IrfanView to put a grid on digital images. It’s easier and more accurate than drawing a grid by hand, because my area of expertise is not technical drawing.

Create Large Line Drawings - Reference Photo with Grid

Whenever possible, I print the grid without the image and begin drawing on that.

TIP: Use a full size reference if the finished art will be 11×14 or smaller and to use a half-size reference photo for larger work.

Because this portrait is so large (22 x 28,) I couldn’t print the entire grid. After trying to print it on multiple sheets and piecing it together, I decided to print only the section containing the horse and driver at half size on a sheet of legal paper at half size. The rest of the drawing could then be drawn without a grid.

Step 2: Roughing in the Drawing

Begin drawing with a light value pencil. I usually use Verithin Non-Photo blue. Whatever color you choose should be dark enough to see clearly, but light enough to be drawn over easily.

Start by blocking in the major shapes, and refer to the gridded reference photo frequently to get the shapes in the proper place. Once the basics are in place, go over the drawing again and add the smaller details.

Next, use a darker pencil to revise the drawing, reshaping and refining where necessary and detailing where possible. I used a red Verithin. You can continue to make refinements on the same sheet of paper by using gradually darker pencils. Just make sure not to make so many refinements that the drawing becomes confusing.

I worked throughout the drawing, then concentrated on the near front hoof and leg. In that area, I began defining detail with shading. I also began using the enlargement without the grid, relying more on my eye to get the drawing right.

Create Large Line Drawings - Roughing in the Line Drawing

TIP: To check the drawing, put a piece of tracing paper on the reference photo and made a careful tracing. You can then compare the tracing to the drawing to see where you need to make corrections. Being able to see the “reference” as a line drawing helps isolate problems on the freehand drawing.

Step 3: Refining the Drawing on the Grid

Continue refining the drawing on the grid. If it helps, add basic shadows to begin showing form.

This illustration shows my work on the horse. I also developed the driver and equipment before taking the next step.

Create Large Line Drawings - Refining the Drawing on the Grid

Step 4: Transferring the Drawing to Tracing Paper

When you’ve developed the drawing as far as you can on the printed grid, transfer it to a sheet of tracing paper. Continue making refinements even as you make this tracing.

You need to be able to erase lines, so use a graphite pencil for this step. A mechanical or technical pencil is best because they hold a point so well, and are better are producing uniform lines. However, a standard graphite pencil of medium hardness (a No. 2 pencil, or an HB) are also quite handy.

Step 5: Working on Front and Back

Once the drawing is transferred to tracing paper, begin working on it from the front and back, starting with the back (you already have the drawing on the front.) Flip the digital reference photo horizontally and work through the drawing in reverse.

Most of us draw with a bias to the right hand or left. Drawing in reverse reveals that bias and allows you to correct it. Each time you flip from the front to the back, or from the back to the front, you correct the bias a little more. In end, your drawing is more accurate.

Step 6: Combining Separate Drawings

If you had to make the line drawing in two parts as I did with my example, combine them again once they’re both as complete as you can make them.

In my case, I had the main subject (horse and driver) and the background. I laid the horse and driver drawing over the background, moved it around to get the best composition.

Step 7: Preparing the Final Line Drawing

When the completed line drawing satisfies you, transfer it to fresh tracing paper. If you had to combine line drawings to make a whole composition, combine all the pieces to single drawing.

If you wish, you can begin drawing pictorial depth (distance) by making the foreground elements darker than the background elements.

Create Large Line Drawings - Finished Line Drawing

TIP: It’s never too late to make refinements to line drawings. I almost always make some adjustments every time I redraw a line drawing.

Step 8: Enlarging

If you need to enlarge your line drawing, you can now easily make a full-size drawing at a copy shop or printer. A commercial printer is more likely to have the capability of printing very large images, if that’s what you need.

You now have a full-size drawing on opaque paper for transferring to drawing paper and the original, finished line drawing on tracing paper. Keep both safe, in case you need to start over!


The second way to create large line drawings is by tracing the reference photo, then enlarging the line drawing. You can trace the entire composition, or do as I described above, and combine tracing and freehand drawing.

About the only times I use this method to make a line drawing is if I have a very short deadline, or if a composition is very complex. I could have traced the reference photo above and saved a lot of time, but it wasn’t that complicated once I decided how I wanted to do it.

Had it shown half a dozen horses and drivers, I may have chosen differently.

What’s the Best Way to Create Large Line Drawings?

That’s entirely up to you.

I prefer the grid method because it allows me to make a full-size line drawing, no matter what size the reference photo or the final artwork are. I’ve also found that the more times I redraw a subject, the more familiar I become with it.

But it does take time.

So if you don’t have a lot of time or if you just don’t like to make line drawing, then tracing may be your best option.

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil

Sometime ago, I shared a few ways colored pencil artists can adapt the Flemish painting method to colored pencil work. Today’s post continues with more general tips for adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil.

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil

Also known as the Seven Step Method, the Flemish method involves seven distinct steps:

  1. Imprimatura (toning the canvas)
  2. First Umber Layer (values)
  3. Second Umber Layer (values and details)
  4. Dead Layer (gray scale)
  5. First Color Glaze
  6. Second Color Glaze
  7. Detailing

Each layer builds on the work of the previous layers. The method is capable of producing rich, luminous colors because it utilizes the way light passes through layers of colors and bounces back out again. Every layer of paint influences the quality of the light both in color and in intensity. The thinner the paint, the more light gets through the paint, and the deeper a painting appears.

Much the same thing happens with colored pencils, because most colored pencils are translucent. No color is completely opaque, so light goes through all of the layers.

In other words, you can layer colored pencil in the same way oil painters layer paint to get deep, rich color. The results differ, but the basic principles are the same.

The purpose of this article is share a few basic tips that will help you adapt this method of painting to your colored pencil work.

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil

There are some supplies on the market that make adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil much easier. Brush and Pencil’s Advanced Colored Pencil Texture Fixative is one such.

You may not want to invest in new supplies just to try the Flemish method with colored pencils. So we’ll look at techniques using the things you already have.

Make Maximum Use of All of Your Tools

It’s easy to layer oil paints one over another. Just wait for each layer to dry fully and you’re ready for the next layer.

You don’t have to wait for colored pencils to dry before adding the next layer. Even so, there are a few things to keep in mind.


It’s quite likely to take three or four layers for each of the steps of the Flemish method, except for the first step (Imprimatura) which you won’t need.

To make sure you can draw all the layers you need and still have enough paper texture to finish the drawing, begin with colored pencils that have harder pigment cores. Prismacolor Verithin and Caran d’Ache Pablo are two such pencils, but any artist grade pencil with a harder lead will work.

Pencils with harder pigment cores leave less color on the paper, but they also leave less wax.  They don’t fill the tooth of the paper as much as softer pencils. They also do not become as slick as softer pencils can after multiple layers.

I like to push the drawing as far as possible with hard pencils, up to and including the first color glaze.


Choose a paper of medium texture. Stonehenge (either regular drawing paper or Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press) are good examples.

Stay away from heavily textured papers, because it will be very difficult to draw even layers of color, and evenly applied color is vital to this method.

However, you can use toned or tinted paper if you wish. Earth tone papers are ideal for this method because they can replace some of the work of the umber layers. Try a medium value color, so you can draw lights and darks.


If you use a heavier paper or a paper designed for wet media, you can also use solvent blending. Mona Lisa Odorless Mineral Spirits and Gamblin’s Gamsol are the most often recommended, but any odorless mineral spirit, white spirit, or even turpentine works.

If you choose to use solvents, make sure to use them safely. Store solvents in air-tight containers, and keep small quantities available for use. Keep them covered when not in use (yes, even between blending sessions), work in a well-ventilated area, and whatever you do, do not keep them in containers commonly used for food storage or drinking!

Plan Your Drawing

Although it’s not recommended that you make dramatic changes to an oil painting when painting with the Flemish method, it can be done.

You can also make changes to a colored pencil drawing in progress, but it’s a lot more difficult.

It’s better to plan your composition completely beforehand, and to draw every detail you want to include in the drawing. That includes highlights and shadows as well as outside edges. It’s far easier to work around or within those details than to restore them after accidentally shading over them.

That kind of drawing can get confusing fast, so use line quality to clarify things, as I’ve done with the drawing below.

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil - Detailed Line Drawing

Draw outside edges with solid lines, shadows and highlights with either dotted or dashed lines, and contour edges with directional lines. For a little more detail, draw the outside edges of foreground elements with darker lines, and the background elements with lighter, solid lines.

You don’t have to use this combination of lines, but developing your own method of keeping all the shapes in proper order will pay dividends when you start adding color, especially if you decide to use the Flemish method more often.

Take Your Time

Finally, take your time. No matter what method of drawing you use, colored pencils take a lot of time. That’s their nature.

Since the key to successfully adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil is even layers of color, it’s more important than ever to take your time and exercise patience.

If you find yourself getting careless or impatient, set the drawing aside for a while. Take  a break, take a walk, do some housework, or tidy the studio. You’ll soon find that it takes less time to finish a drawing if you take a break when you need it, than if you push through and end up having to do something over.

Trust me. This is my biggest hurdle when it comes to colored pencils! I want things done now! That simply does not work.


Adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil is possible. Although I’ve yet to use all seven distinct layers, I have worked over an umber layer for many works and have been very pleased with the results.

The key things to remember are planning your work ahead of time, focusing on value in the initial layers, and developing color layer by layer so you can take full advantage of the translucent nature of colored pencil.

Did I mention patience is also key?

For a more detailed, step-by-step explanation of adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil, here’s an article I wrote for EmptyEasel.

Adding Colored Pencil Over a Water Soluble Under Drawing

Welcome back to Tuesday Tutorials. This weeks’ topic is adding colored pencil over a water soluble under drawing.

This post is the follow up to last week’s Tuesday Tutorial, in which I showed how to draw an under drawing using water soluble colored pencils. If you missed that post or if you’d like a quick review before continuing, you can find the post here.

Adding Colored Pencil Over a Water Soluble Under Drawing

For this step, I switched from Faber-Castell pencils (Art Grip Aquarelle), to Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils. It wasn’t until later that I realized I could have used the same colors had I used Faber-Castell Polychromos instead.

My bad! I guess I’m still not accustomed to having Polychromos pencils to use!

Anyway, if you’re following this tutorial, if you have Polychromos, and if you want to use them instead of Prismacolor, go ahead. Do a little bit of color matching, and you should get good results.

Adding Traditional Colored Pencil Over a Water Soluble Under Drawing

Step 1

Layer Prismacolor Jade Green over all of the sky except the bottom one quarter to one third. Use a combination of strokes and two or three layers to draw smooth color.

Next, layer Powder Blue over all of the sky, top to horizon. Use the same methods and strokes to cover the paper.

Keep your pencils sharp and vary the type and direction of the strokes from one layer to the next, in order to draw a sky with even color and few or no visible pencil strokes. Use light to medium-pressure for both colors.

Adding Colored Pencil Over a Water Soluble Under Drawing Step 1

Step 2

Next, add several layers of Slate Gray. Draw the darkest values at the top of the sky, but don’t create a lot of variation toward the horizon. This sky is not clear. The landscape was in sunshine when I took the photograph, but the sky was still full of clouds.

Vary strokes from layer to layer. I used diagonal strokes in both directions, as well as horizontal strokes and vertical strokes. As I finished the Slate Gray layer, I even used the side of the pencil to lightly glaze color over the sky.

In areas where the color layer was a little rough, I used tiny, circular strokes to fill in some of the paper holes and smooth out the color.

Adding Colored Pencil Over a Water Soluble Under Drawing Step 2

Step 3

Once the sky is the color and value you want, blend the color by burnishing. You can use a colorless blender to burnish if you don’t want to change the colors.

If you want to make them lighter without changing the color, use a white pencil to burnish.

I chose to burnish with Powder Blue to lighten the sky and give it a blue cast.

This illustration shows the sky about half burnished, so you can see the difference burnishing makes.

Adding Colored Pencil Over a Water Soluble Under Drawing Step 3

Here is the sky completely burnished.

Adding Colored Pencil Over a Water Soluble Under Drawing Step 4

TIP: When burnishing an area that has gradations in color or value, start with the lightest areas and work into the darker areas. If you work from dark to light, you may leave dark marks in light areas. Once these marks are burnished into a drawing, it can be difficult to remove them.

Step 4

Layer Jade Green and Slate Gray into the most distant hills. Use medium to medium heavy pressure to apply one layer of Jade Green, followed by a layer of Slate Gray. Continue to alternate layers until you have the color and value you want.

TIP: It’s helpful to overlap the colors so that the color is not uniform, but you don’t need to draw a great deal of detail because these hills are a good distance away.

When the colors and values are the way you want them, burnish with Powder Blue. Make sure to soften the edges of the hills where they meet the sky. You don’t want those edges to be too sharp.

You can also use a warmer color to burnish parts of the middle hill if you wish. I used Cream in the lower portions on the left. This will create a transition between the shadowed parts of the landscape and the sunlit parts.

You can also wait until after the drawing is finished to add these touches.

Adding Colored Pencil Over a Water Soluble Under Drawing Step 5

Step 5

Layer Jade Green very lightly over the large hill in the middle, just behind the most distant trees. It’s all right to use a blunt pencil. The texture of the paper helps create the look of the landscape. Use light to medium light pressure. Cover all of the hill, but don’t worry about filling in every paper hole.

Then layer Sand over that using light to medium-light pressure.

Adding Colored Pencil Over a Water Soluble Under Drawing Step 6

Step 6

Layer Chartreuse over the hills immediately behind the trees. Use a sharp pencil and light pressure to lay down an even layer of color.

Make sure to add a few “holes” where the hills show through the trees.

Next, add the cast shadow from the large trees on the left with a lightly applied glaze of Dark Green. This shape should be fairly even, but it’s okay if you end up with patches of brighter green showing through the shadow. That will make the shadow look more like a shadow and less like a piece of dark green fabric lying on the hillside!

Adding Colored Pencil Over a Water Soluble Under Drawing Detail

Layer Dark Green into the darkest shadows of the trees. Make sure the pencil is sharp. Use light-medium pressure and squiggly strokes to mimic groups of foliage.

Add Dark Brown over that, followed by Indigo Blue to darken the shadows, but maintain a natural looking green color.

In this illustration, the trees on the far right show only the under drawing. Next to them, I’ve added only Dark Green in the shadows.

Adding Colored Pencil Over a Water Soluble Under Drawing Step 7

In the next group, Dark Green and Dark Brown have been applied and the tree on the left shows Dark Green, Dark Brown, and Indigo Blue layered into the shadows, then Dark Green applied with lighter pressure over most of the rest of the tree.


The next step in the process is finishing the shadows on all of the trees. Then I’ll pick up how I finished the trees, drew the foreground, and made final adjustments to the drawing, all in the next post. I hope you’ll join me.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil

Today, I’m going to share some basic brushing techniques for water soluble colored pencil, as well as a few basic ways to put water soluble color onto drawing paper.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil

The brushing techniques I’ll describe are pretty basic to watercolor painting. These brushing techniques are methods I’ve used on the few occasions I’ve used either watercolor or water soluble colored pencil in my work. They’re easy to learn, but are extremely versatile.

Before we look at them, though, let’s look at four different ways to get color on the paper.

Dry on Dry

This is probably the most familiar way to put color on paper, even with water soluble pencils. Draw on dry paper with a dry pencil, then brush water over the color to activate it and blend color. It’s ideal for covering large areas quickly with even color that does not fill up the tooth of the paper.

You can also blend two or more colors together as I’ve done in this illustration, or layer colors to create a new color.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Dry on Dry

Dry on Wet

To draw dry on wet, dampen the paper first, then draw into it with a dry pencil. The moisture on the paper “melts” the water soluble pigment, so you get better color saturation, but it doesn’t melt it  so much that the strokes blend together.

The darker strokes in this illustration are on wet paper. The lighter strokes show where I continued drawing onto dry paper.

This method is perfect if you want to draw a small accent or detail with water soluble pencil.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Dry on Wet

Wet on Dry

When you draw wet on dry, you put wet media on dry paper.

In this sample, I’ve dipped the pencil into water, then drawn with it. The strokes on the left are with wet pigment. With each stroke, the pencil gets drier, so that the strokes on the right are drawn with dry pigment.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Wet on Dry

Another way to do wet into dry is to use a damp brush to pick up color from a palette, then brush it onto dry paper. The results are much the same as using the pencil, but the strokes are more fluid and less defined.

Wet on Wet

Most watercolor painters dampen their paper, then brush wet color into the wetness. The color flows and blends randomly to create interesting color gradations and shapes.

You can do the same thing with water soluble colored pencil by wetting your paper, then using a large brush to pick up color from your palette and stroke it onto the wet paper.

One Thing To Remember

Water and oil do not mix. Neither do water and wax.

You can layer wax-based or oil-based colored pencil over water soluble color with great results and the drawing is still archival.

But if you put water soluble colored pencils over either wax- or oil-based pencil, it may not stick if you use water.

So if you plan to use water soluble pencils, always do that work first!

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil

Following are a few brushing techniques I’ve used, and how I’ve used them.

Washes Before Drawing

A wash is a broad application of color on wet paper. You use a large, soft brush that allows you to cover large areas with a minimum of strokes. Strokes usually cover all of the area you want to paint. Specially designed “wash brushes” are available in many sizes and shapes.

“Drawing” takes place in two steps.

First you wet the paper either by misting it with a spray bottle or by brushing the paper with a wet brush. The wetter the paper, the more easily colors will blend. Also, the wetter the paper, the more likely random effects become.

Second, dampen your brush and pick up color, then stroke it onto the wet paper.

This plein aire drawing was done with a wash. The colors in the sky blended together the moment I put them on the paper. The paper was very wet, so the color shows no brush strokes.

It’s also possible to get very interesting results, such as the area on the right, where blue and pink have formed a blurred line.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Wet Wash

For more broken color, let your paper dry a little before adding color.

Washes After Drawing

You can also do a wash after applying dry pigment. In this little landscape, I drew the sky with dry pencils, then used a medium-sized soft brush to create a wash.

The result isn’t quite as smooth as doing a wet-into-wet wash, but it allows you to work around areas you want to preserve, such as the clouds.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Adding Water to Dry Pigment


When you “stipple,” you tap your brush or pencil against the paper without actually moving it across the paper.

You can also stroke slightly to make more elongated marks.

I painted these trees with a stippling stroke, and a round sable brush that no longer holds its shape properly. As a result, no two strokes look exactly alike.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Stipple Stroke

TIP: To prevent patterns from developing, turn the brush after each stroke or two.

Directional Strokes

Directional strokes are strokes that mimic whatever you’re drawing. If you’re drawing grass, stroke upward from the bottom and curve the strokes in different directions and to different degrees.

If you’re drawing hair, stroke “from the skin” outward.

Overlap strokes to create light and dark values.

This illustration shows directional strokes stroked onto wet paper. The same type of stroke on dry paper produces bolder strokes.

Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencil Vertical Strokes Wet into Wet

“Dry” Brushing

With dry brushing, you use a damp brush loaded with color to stroke color onto dry paper. Color will stick mostly to the tooth of the paper, leaving paper holes showing through. The drier the brush, and the toothier the paper, the more paper is likely to show through.


These basic strokes work equally well with water soluble colored pencil or water color. Water soluble colored pencil work makes for great under drawings, and you can lay down a lot of color quickly.

But you can also do complete drawings with water soluble colored pencils.

You might also want to read How to Use Traditional and Water Soluble Colored Pencil 8 Must Read Articles on this blog or a pair of two-part tutorials written for EmptyEasel. How to Draw a Sunrise Landscape with Water Soluble Colored Pencils begins here and How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils begins here. Each tutorial shows you step-by-step my methods of using water soluble colored pencils.