Drawing with Black and Gray Colored Pencils

In today’s tutorial, I’ll show you my first drawing of the year. The topic isn’t the drawing itself, but how to do a complete drawing with black and gray colored pencils.

Since I made a few mistakes with this drawing, I’ll also show you how to avoid or fix those mistakes.

Let’s get started.

Drawing with Black and Gray Colored Pencils

The 2018 Weekly Drawing Challenge

I was so busy with special projects in 2017 that I got out of the habit of drawing on a regular basis. Only seven drawings completed and two of those were for special projects. That’s not very encouraging.

So one of my December activities was finding a way to get back into the habit of drawing on a regular basis. Two personal art challenges emerged.

The first challenge is to finish one drawing 4×6 or smaller every week. That challenge directly affects this—and future—posts.

I really hoped to have 52 new, gallery-quality drawings by the end of the year, but I didn’t have to do very many to realize that probably wouldn’t be possible. One, in fact, was all it took.

The first week’s drawing went very fast and turned out well, as you can see below. But it’s not what I consider gallery quality. I did some things I shouldn’t have done, and although I like the results, the drawing is more suited to teaching than exhibiting.

So rather than plan an exhibit, I started planning a series of posts. I don’t know if I’ll cover every weekly drawing—some of them might actually turn out well—but whenever I can explain a mistake and show you how to avoid it or fix it, that’s what I’ll do.

Beginning with the first drawing of the challenge.

Drawing with Black and Gray Colored Pencils

The first drawing for the weekly challenge is a 6×9 on watercolor paper. I began with the idea of using one water-soluble pencil (black) and my cool gray Prismacolor Soft Core pencils to create a landscape from imagination.

I did use an old painting as a pattern, but that’s all.

Weekly Drawing Week 1 - Gray Scale Landscape WS

My Purpose

Lets get this started right by describing the reason I decided to do a drawing with black and gray colored pencils.

I also decided to start the drawing with water-soluble colored pencils because I didn’t get started until Wednesday and water-soluble colored pencils are faster.

So the goal was to see how realistic a landscape I could do with a water-soluble under drawing in half tones, and an over drawing of wax-based Prismacolor cool grays.

The drawing is poorly composed.

The Problem

The first problem is the basic composition. That’s not surprising, since I did no planning before hand. I just started painting.

While I consider myself an intuitive painter, meaning I compose by instinct, that doesn’t always work. In this case, I put the tree on the right too far to the right. I didn’t need to divide the composition into thirds to know that, but here’s how it looks.

Drawing with Black and Gray Colored Pencils - Bad Composition

The foreground tree, which is the center of interest, should fall on or near one of the four places where vertical and horizontal lines cross. Instead, it’s nearly entirely to the right of the vertical line on the right.

What’s worse, the towering, white cloud is also too far to the right, so the overall drawing was overbalanced to the right.

The Solution

To correct the composition, I added the smaller trees in the left background and the tall grass in the left foreground. The wind is blowing toward the tree, so the direction of the grass leads the eye to the tree. A suitable correction, but is it the best option?

I could also have turned the main tree into a group of trees expanding to the left.

A more drastic option is to crop the image so the center of interest is closer to the right spot. Below is a digital crop and it is a more balanced composition.

Drawing with Black and Gray Colored Pencils - New Composition

Visual Temperature Differences

The Problem

Faber-Castell  Art Grip Aquarelle Black is a warm black. It looked great on the paper, and dried to a very nice shade of gray. But I didn’t realize it was a warm black until I began layering cool grays over the sky.

The difference wasn’t drastic, but it was noticeable enough to prompt me to look for solutions.

The Solution

The easiest solution would have been to go over the sky with warm grays and finish the drawing with warm grays instead of cool.

Instead, I choose to add the Faber-Castell Aquarelle gray to my palette and do more work with that instead of dry pencils. I chose that option because it was faster and I needed to have the drawing finished that day.

Streaky Clouds

The Problem

The first color I put on the paper for the clouds on the right came out streaky and I was unable to cover it completely, even with dry pencils. Unlike watercolor, these pencils do not completely re-activate when you put water on them. Once a mark or edge is dry, it’s difficult to cover.

Drawing with Black and Gray Colored Pencils - Streaky Clouds

The Solution

The solution is to either wet the paper first and stroke color wet-into-wet so it flows together, or to use a bigger brush. One large enough so that a single stroke covers the area. Neither solution is likely to fix this drawing, even if I did want to continue working with it.

But they are good options to remember the next time I try a water-soluble under drawing.

No Reference Photo

The Problem

I almost always draw with my subject in front of my, either something from life, or in a good reference photo.

This drawing was drawn from an old painting, which was painted from my memory and imagination.

It looks detailed, but it could be much more detailed had I used a reference photo.

The Solution

Don’t be afraid to refer to photos when drawing. You can’t neither see nor remember every detail in whatever you’re drawing, even with simple subjects. You’re drawings will either lack detail, but become generic in detail, as happened with this drawing.

Dry Over Wet

The Problem

I tried adding water-soluble color after laying down dry color. The new color beaded up or run off. Water just doesn’t stick to either wax or oil, even in colored pencils.

The Solution

When mixing water-soluble and traditional colored pencils, always begin with water-soluble pencils.

For that reason, it’s best to work through the entire drawing with water-soluble colored pencils and do as much of the work as you want to do before layering traditional colored pencils over the drawing.

Getting Dark Values

The Problem

Water-soluble colored pencils lighten as they dry. Even Black. What looked very dark when it was wet, dried quite a bit lighter.

Drawing with Black and Gray Colored Pencils - Dark Blacks

The Solution

Keeping layering. Let the paper dry completely between layers, and continue adding more layers until you get the value you want. For dark blacks, do several layers, letting the color dry completely between layers. I did four or five layers on the darkest parts of the main tree.

Also use less water. The more water you add to water-soluble color, the thinner (and lighter) the color gets.

Adding Details

The Problem

I found it difficult to draw the kind of detail I wanted. Part of the problem was the paper I was using. It was a cold-pressed paper with a lot of tooth. Actual watercolor paper, I suspect. It was a scrap, so I don’t know for sure.

The Solution

Use smoother paper. Hot pressed watercolor paper is just as sturdy as cold-pressed and is much better for colored pencil uses.

Use a small brush and short or stippling strokes to add fine detail. I used a small sable round to “dot” in the leaves on the right side of the tree, especially around the edges.

I drew the shadows on the trunks and branches with a traditional colored pencil after I’d finished with water-soluble pencils.


So that’s my first weekly drawing. Will I do another drawing with black and gray colored pencils? Yes. Will I use both water-soluble and traditional pencils? Absolutely. Despite the problems with this drawing, enough went right to convince me it’s a combination worth exploring further.

And learning new methods is as good as getting a gallery-quality piece of art. Better, actually!

2018 Drawing a Week Gallery

I’m also posting each of the challenge drawings on the 2018 Drawing a Week Gallery page. At present there’s only one drawing there, but I’ll be adding to that collection as drawings are presented.

My Plein Air Drawings for 2017

This past September, I set a goal of drawing outside at least once a week. It was the second year I did the plein drawing challenge, and  I ended up with six plein air drawings that month.

That challenge was open to all who were interested in taking their colored pencils outside and drawing, too.

When September ended, I decided to continue with a personal challenge until the end of the year. I’d gotten into the habit, enjoyed sitting outside to draw, and because I was learning a lot. Setting a goal for the rest of the year looked like a good way to keep myself drawing, and to put more fun into the drawing process.

There are twenty weeks in the last four months of the year, so I should have ended up with 20 drawings.

While I didn’t always draw every week, I did end up with 23 plein air drawings!

2017 Plein Air Drawings

The drawings are arranged in chronological order. All of them are 5×7 inches or smaller, and most of them are colored pencil drawings, though I drew several of them with three colors or less, and three pen-and-ink sketches (ball point pen) are also in the collection. Those are very small. The pad of paper is about 3×5, just to prove you don’t need expensive tools to sketch!

Will there be more plein air drawings next year?

Yes, there will, if only because I’m already planning to do a third annual plein air drawing challenge, and it will be open to anyone with an interest in drawing outside with colored pencils.

I haven’t yet decided whether to continue the personal weekly challenge.

Having said that, I have to admit to a certain feeling of satisfaction in seeing all of this year’s drawings together. Seeing the seasons advance drawing by drawing also has a certain appeal.

Don’t you think?

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Autumn Challenge 2017

Last autumn, I did something different with the blog. Something I’d never done before: A plein air drawing challenge. I had so much fun that I decided to do it again! Introducing the Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Autumn Challenge 2017!

Second Annual Colored Pencil Plein Air Challenge

Plein air art is usually associated with wet media like oils, watercolors, or acrylics. If people think of plein air drawing, they usually think graphite or charcoal. I know I do.

But have you ever considered doing the same thing with colored pencils?

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Autumn Challenge 2017

I’ve never been much of a plein air artist. I much prefer studio work and years of working as a portrait artist seemed to make plein air drawing unnecessary.

But I gave myself a challenge to do one drawing or sketch outside each week for September and October last year. You know what? Not only is it possible to do plein air art with colored pencils; it was fun!

Labor Day is just around the corner. That means autumn isn’t very far away. It’s time for another round of plein drawing. One drawing a week through the month of September.

You’re Invited!

You’re invited to participate in the challenge. There are no real rules. You can follow my plan to do one drawing a week or make your own plans. The real goal is to get outside and draw, so whatever suits your schedule and creativity works.

The challenge will run from September 1 through 30. Counting the first two days of September as a week, that’s five weeks.

Five weeks.

Five drawings.

That sounds easy enough, even to me.

I want this to be a fun challenge and I want to learn more about drawing outside, drawing quickly, and learning how to better capture the personality and appearance of a subject.

But I also want to improve my ability to see each subject and render the detail on paper.

You’re welcome to join me. I’ve set up a special group board on Pinterest where I’ll be posting all my plein air drawings. (My drawings from the first challenge are there, too.) If you’d like to post your drawings, all you have to do is request an invitation to join the board. You will need a Pinterest account, but they’re free and easy to set up.

There’s also a new Facebook group, Plein Air Drawing with Colored Pencils. If Facebook is your preferred social media, and you’d like to be part of the group and the challenge, click here.

Using a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know one of the drawing methods I use most often is the complementary under drawing method. Several landscape tutorials feature this method. But is that all it’s good for? Can you use a complementary under drawing to draw animals?


I don’t use it very often because I prefer the umber under drawing method for drawing animals. But both methods work, so I thought I’d show you one horse drawing I did using the complementary under drawing method.

Using a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals

Before we visit the tutorial, though, let’s take a quick look at just what the complementary under drawing method is.

What is a Complementary Under Drawing?

An under drawing is the first layers of the drawing. They can be in the same colors as the final drawing (what I refer to as the direct method). They can also be shades of brown (umber under drawing), complementary, or any other single color (monochromatic.)

When you use a complementary under drawing, you draw the first layers with colors opposite the final colors on the color wheel. If you’re drawing a red apple, for example, the first layers are drawn in greens. Green is on the opposite side of the color wheel from red.

The reverse is also true. Use shades of red or earth tones to under draw green subjects. Yes, even landscapes!

Read How to Use a RED Under Drawing to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens with Colored Pencil.

The complementary method works for any subject.

How to Use a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals

NOTE: This drawing is an older project, so there are no step-by-step illustrations available.

Getting Ready to Draw

I used Beach Sand Ivory Strathmore Artagain drawing paper because the color was ideal for this subject and the very vague background I wanted to use. Artagain drawing paper is also smooth enough for drawing details, and sturdy enough to take lots of layers.

The drawing method is based on the Flemish technique normally used with oils.

Drawing the Background

I drew the background by applying several layers of color and blending heavily with a clean tissue between each layer. The result is a look that is “watercolor-like” in appearance.

To create the look of the Arabian horse’s native desert, I used blues at the top and blended into golds at the bottom—the look of sky and sand.

The colors were so soft and subtle, they neither photographed nor scanned very well!

Drawing the Under Drawing

I had to find suitable opposites for horse colors. Namely, the browns, red-browns, and golds in the horse’s coat.

Browns are shades of oranges, so the logical choice was to begin with violets, purples and/or blues. Sometimes, near complements are more useful than direct complements, so I considered a number of colors.

I chose Verithin Parma Violet* because it’s an excellent color with a light value. I didn’t want a strong complementary color presence, so this seemed like the ideal choice.

However, it was much too light to provide the necessary range of values even after several layers.

So I layered Verithin Violet* over the darks and darker middle values.

I worked on the under drawing for two days, reviewing the work at the beginning of each day and making necessary changes or corrections.

TIP: Verithin pencils are a harder version of Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils. They hold a point longer, lay down thinner layers of color, and do not fill up the tooth of the paper as quickly. You can do an entire under drawing with Verithin pencils, then layer softer pencils over them.

Read 2 Ways to Use Bath Tissue with Colored Pencil.

Glazing Color

After a final review of the under drawing, I began glazing color. I applied each color only into the areas where I could see it in the reference photograph or where I remembered seeing it in the horse’s coat.

Working from light to dark, I used Verithin Goldenrod, Verithin Orange*, Verithin Dark Brown, and Verithin Indigo Blue. With every color layer, the goal was to get as seamless and smooth a glaze as possible.

This is what the drawing looked like when I finished the Verithin layer. The complementary under drawing is still very evident. The warmer areas are the first glazes of color.

Complementary Under Drawing - Finished Under Drawing

Glazing Color over a Complementary Under Drawing

As already mentioned, this is an older project, so I don’t have step-by-step photographs of either the under drawing or the glazing process. The photo shown above is the only one, in fact, and I now wish I’d taken more in-progress images (a good reminder to all that you cannot have too many in-progress photographs!).

However, you can see how I outlined the highlights and worked around them with each layer of color.

You can also see how I used purples and lavenders to lay the foundation for the horse’s bay coat. Darker purples in the darker, blacker areas along his neck and lighter purples or lavender (or no purple at all) in the areas where he shows a more golden color.

After this point, I used Prismacolor Thick Lead pencils and continued layering color. I developed color saturation and value through a series of glazes, all applied with light to medium pressure until the drawing was finished.

For the sleek hair on the body, I used short strokes, placed close together. In the illustration below, you can also see that I used the color of the paper for the highlights.

Complementary Under Drawing - Shoulder

I drew the mane and forelock with long, directional strokes, working around the highlights.

By the way, since blacks often show a variety of other colors, I let the under drawing show through around the highlights in the mane.

Complementary Under Drawing - Mane Highlights

This is the finished drawing.

Complementary Under Drawing - Finished Drawing


For a more information on using a complementary under drawing to draw animals, check out the free eBook, The Complementary Method for Colored Pencil. It also features a horse as the subject, but also includes a landscaped background.

*The colors marked with asterisks are not lightfast colors, and I no longer use them. If I’m working with Prismacolor products only, I substitute lightfast blues and/or reds for purples. You can also substitute lightfast purples in other brands of pencils for Prismacolor purples. Faber-Castell Polychromos has a nice selection of lightfast purples.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 10 Report

The Autumn Plein Air Drawing with Colored Pencil Challenge is now over. I set out to draw ten plein air sketches between September 1 and October 31. Did I succeed?

Yes! I ended up with 14 drawings. Topics and techniques varied, but I met my goal.

I began and ended with a tree drawing. Nature turned out to be the most frequently visited subject. No surprise there, I suppose, given my inclination to draw landscapes and horses.

The most unusual thing I drew during the challenge was my subject for week 6.

The most fun thing to draw was the portion of rotted board I drew in the fourth week.

Here is the complete collection of plein air drawings. Click on the “week headings” to read more about each one.

Colored Pencil Plein Drawing Collection

Week 1

Getting started on anything is almost always the most difficult part of the project. Yes, I love to start new things, but sometimes it’s a big step.

And very challenging!

So I started with something familiar. A tree.

2016-09-02 Plein Air Drawing 1

Week 2

The sky, and particularly clouds, have long fascinated me. I love weather. Like many others, severe storm warnings send me outside to watch and take pictures. Things have to get pretty bad before I head for the storm shelter. A characteristic that goes way back to childhood.

I drew two versions of the sky for the second week.

Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge, Drawing 2

2016-09-12 Plein Air Drawing Week 3

Week 3

Another drawing of the sky for week 3. This time, I used water soluble colored pencils, just to see how they performed.

This is also the only plein air drawing for which I did a little studio work afterward.

2016-09-12 Plein Air Drawing Week 3, Drawing 2

Week 4

Another favorite subject for the fourth week. Wood. This time a decaying plank from the back porch.

If I remember correctly, these same planks were the subject for an article on drawing realistic wood grain that I wrote for EmptyEasel some time ago.


Week 5

Back to trees and traditional colored pencils this week. But I used only three colors—a cool dark and a warm light for the tree and a touch of green around it—and a method that involved using nothing but line quality. An interesting experiment and pleasing results.


Week 6

A subject of a different nature for week six. This is the only man-made item I drew. Do you know what it is? Although I prefer drawing nature, I did want to stretch my drawing skills a little, so chose this coil of extension cord. Not a bad effort, if I say so myself.


Week 7

More wood, this time the top of a fence post. I used water soluble pencils for this, but used them in a traditional manner. The drawing began with a green under drawing over which I developed value and detail. I liked working with the water soluble pencils, but getting truly dark values was much more difficult because the pencils were so dry and hard. If I remember correctly, this is also the only subject that I revisited. I worked on it two days.

2016-10-14 Plein Air Drawing Week 7, Step 2

Week 8

Water media! The top drawing is watercolor. I intended to draw a wash of watercolor for colored pencil, but it was a cool evening and by the time the watercolor dried, the light was gone.

2016-10-19 Plein Air Drawing 1 Week 8

This drawing is water soluble pencil and another view of another evening. Alas! It didn’t turn out either, but at least it had colored pencil work in it.

2016-10-21 Plein Air Drawing 8 2

Week 9

Somehow, it seems appropriate to save the best for last. I had just enough time while waiting for someone to draw this sprig of leaves. Of all the drawings I drew for this challenge, this one is my favorite. What do you think? It’s amazing what you can do with one pencil, one piece of paper, and a few minutes, isn’t it?

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 9 Report - Sketch of Leaves in Blue Colored Pencil

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 10 Wrap-up

Did everything turn out the way I hoped it would? No, but then it rarely ever does. I always expect every drawing to be perfect and to be a masterpiece. As pleasing as some of these drawings are, none of them are perfect and I don’t think there’s a masterpiece among them.

But I did have fun and I did learn a few things during the challenge. First that it’s easier to draw from life than I anticipated. All I had to do was find my subject and identify the major details.

Is plein air drawing going to become part of my weekly routine? Probably not, but only because it’s so difficult to get outside some weeks.

I may instead incorporate life drawing into my routine more often. There were a few weeks when weather, health or circumstance made it a challenge to get outside to draw, but when I could have drawn something inside without difficulty.

Did you take the Autumn Plein Air Drawing challenge? If you did, how did you do?

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 9 Report

You don’t always have to spend a lot of time to get a nice sketch. Nor do you need a lot of pencils or other equipment. The fact is, all you really need is a piece of paper, one pencil, and a few minutes. That’s all I had Thursday afternoon of week nine.

This is the result.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 9 Report - Sketch of Leaves in Blue Colored Pencil

The Method I Used

I started sketching with the top leaf and worked my way down the stem. The only “special technique” I used was putting darker, heavier lines on the shadowed edges of the leaves (the left side).

Time Spent Drawing

Ten to fifteen minutes. Because I was waiting on someone, I didn’t time myself.

What I Learned

You don’t need much to draw outside. I had one pencil, my drawing pad, and a little bit of time. The resulting drawing is not a Masterpiece, but it’s one of the nicer, more pleasing drawings I’ve done during this challenge.

Practice drawing value with one color and you improve all your drawings. Granted, I didn’t do a lot of shading on this sketch, but the value I added identified the direction of the light source—light was coming from the upper right—helped define the modeling of some of the leaves, and established where the leaves were in relation to each other.

You don’t have to draw every detail to establish the character of your subject. The little branch I drew was one of many. There were also other leaves on that branch, but I didn’t get a chance to draw them. But I didn’t need to draw every twig or leaf to get an idea of the character of the subject.

Drawing leaves from different angles also provides a good idea of what the leaves look like overall, including how they grow on the stem and their general shape.

When you’re short of time, look for the things that define your subject best and concentrate on them. Then look at secondary details.

Tools Used

Mead Academie Sketch Book, 9 inches by 6 inches, Heavyweight white paper

Prismacolor Pencils

  • Ultramarine

Interested in other drawings from the Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge? Here’s another leaf sketch from week 5.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 8 Report

The eighth week of the Autumn Plein Air Drawing challenge was not a good week. At least not for plein air drawing.

No. That’s not strictly true. I did make a couple of attempts to get a drawing done. It’s just that none of them worked as I’d hoped.

To start with, I didn’t have a lot of time. A number of other things rose up and took charge of my time. Some were expected. Some—like furnace troubles—were not.

I snatched a little time between a mid-week Bible study and choir practice on Wednesday evening to do a quick watercolor study of the evening sky. The colors were so lovely, I just couldn’t resist. My intention was to draw clouds and a few trees with Prismacolor after the watercolor dried, but by the time the paper was ready to draw on, the light was gone and it was time for choir practice, so the drawing went no further.

2016-10-19 Plein Air Drawing 1 Week 8

My next opportunity came Friday evening. I was having back problems by then and couldn’t sit outside in the cool air for very long, so I drew a portion of sky visible through the office window. Again, I tried the evening sky, but this time I used water soluble colored pencils.

That did not work at all, sad to say, though I think part of the problem was the fact that I’m using a box of student grade water soluble colored pencils acquired on the cheap some time ago.

Be that as it may be, I did my best and ended up with something that looked a whole lot like a mess. The blue was very lovely, but much too dark. I also got the paper too wet and by the time it dried, the light was gone. Again.

2016-10-21 Plein Air Drawing 8 2

Time Spent Drawing

All told, I’m guessing I spent about an hour drawing as part of the challenge.

What I Learned

Cheap art supplies are just not worth it. A lesson learned years ago with oil paints. I still remember the day I put the first mark on canvas with professional grade oil paint. It was astounding!

Why I have to relearn the lesson with other materials is beyond me. I guess it’s that frugal—dare I say cheap—streak running up the middle of my back!

Sometimes the best you can do isn’t very good. Another lesson with a shallow learning curve. I like to make every drawing and painting good. The best! But there are times when the best I can do isn’t very good. Or at least not very pleasing. Such was the case with plein air drawing this week.

Do what you can. There are times in life when we simply cannot meet our goals. That was my experience with week 8 of the plein air challenge. The time and will didn’t coincide in a fashion that allowed me to spend the necessary amount of time outside drawing or painting. That’s just life. I’ll be thankful for the drawing I did on the challenge, for the other artwork I did, and for everything else that did go right and I’ll look forward to next week.

Tools Used

Strathmore Bristol Vellum 100 lb white paper

Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle Water Color Pencils, 12 pencil set. I used pretty much every color except black!

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 7 Report

Week Seven of the Autumn Plein Air Challenge is now complete. A number of things kept me from getting outside to draw most of the week, chief among them a decided cold snap!

But I did find a comfortable chair in sunny spot one afternoon and had access to an aging wood fence as a subject. Rather than draw a section of fence, I chose the top of one post as the subject for a detailed study.

The Method I Used

I drew this as a straight-forward sketch, beginning with Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle light phthalo green. I roughed in the overall shape of the post, added larger details such as the knot at the top and the larger cracks, then darkened values in some of the cracks, and in the cast shadow to the left.

Next I went over the drawing with Van Dyke Brown. In addition to darkening values, I added more detail and lighter values.

In the cast shadow, I then layered helioblue-reddish and a small area of light blue at the top of the shadow for reflected light.

I also glazed light flesh over part of the post in an attempt to get a warmer gray, but didn’t like that and didn’t glaze the entire post.


Later in the week, I did a little more work on the study. I added texture with short, open, diagonal strokes with Van Dyke brown along the vertical grain. I also glazed light phthalo green, light blue, and Van Dyke brown over the side of the post.

Finally, I used black to darken some of the accents.

2016-10-14 Plein Air Drawing Week 7, Step 2

Time Spent Drawing

I didn’t measure the time for this drawing, since I was more interested in rendering a detailed study of my subject. I was outside a little over an hour, but part of that time centered around a lap full of kittens. Drawing and kittens are usually mutually exclusive!

I’m guessing about 45 minutes total.

What I Learned

Dress for the weather. Yes, I sat in the sun and out of the wind. Yes, I was dressed appropriately. But dressing for outdoor activity and outdoor leisure are not always equal. Once I’d sat there for a while, I had to shed my over shirt because the sun was just too warm. Dressing in layers is definitely a wise decision when drawing outside.

Sketch with light colors. Do initial sketches with light colors and or light pressure. Rough in your subject first this way, then either go over it again with the same color and heavier pressure or with a darker color to establish the most accurate lines. I tend to layer colors with very light pressure, but draw with a heavier hand. Using a light touch was definitely to my advantage.

Sketch with complementary colors. I chose green for the beginning sketch because I wanted to do something different. Using a color other than the color of the subject is a good way to see it with a fresh eye.

But you can also begin with a complementary color to add depth and richness to the final colors of your subject.

Get the most out of your pencil strokes. Match the darkness, thickness and openness of your pencil strokes to the subject you’re drawing. The top of this post is rough, so I used short, vertical, zig-zag strokes to draw that area. I used the stroke shown below to draw the top of the post.


Tools Used

Mead Academie Sketch Book, 9 inches by 6 inches, Heavyweight white paper

Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle

  • Light Phthalo Green
  • Van Dyke Brown
  • Helioblue-Reddish
  • Light Blue
  • Light Flesh
  • Black

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 6 Report

Week 6 of the Autumn Plein Air Drawing with Colored Pencil Challenge was a challenge.

I worked on an oil portrait almost every day for an hour or two because I want to finish this month (it’s almost there!).

The two final lessons in the Basic Drawing series also needed to be finished and one required a graphite drawing.

Autumn set in for real with a wild thunderstorm and dropping temperatures Thursday evening and although it was sunny on Friday, it was chilly. Not exactly conducive to sitting outside and drawing! I gave serious thought to sharing the graphite drawing with you and taking a pass on the plein air challenge.

Instead, I found a place in the sun and out of the wind and proceeded to draw. Here’s the result. Do you know what it is?

colored pencil plein air drawing week 6

I didn’t set out to draw a section of extension cord, but it was the most colorful and interesting subject I could find in that spot.

It’s also the first man-made subject I’ve drawn, so its color and nature were an appealing combination.

The Method I Used

No special methods were used to draw the extension cord itself. I simply started with the lightest value of yellow on the list below and continued to build color and value through the darker yellow-oranges, the shadows on the cord, and the cast shadow.

To shade the background, I laid the paper on the paved walk and stroked sepia over the paper with medium light pressure and the side of the pencil. I wanted to transfer some of the texture of the walk onto the drawing, but had only moderate success. The paper was just too heavy.

Time Spent Drawing

I didn’t time this drawing, but would guess I spent about an hour outside.

What I Learned

Orange is a difficult color to get right. Almost as difficult is landscape greens.  My subject was a faded, dull sort of orange that looked like it should be easy to capture. It wasn’t. I managed to draw an orange close to the color of the cord when it was new, but couldn’t get the right shade of dull and faded orange. Not even after layering olive green and sepia into the shadows or burnishing with white over a colorless blender.

Use “found” texture to add accents. I’ve been doing this a long time, but don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it on this blog. Found texture is any texture you can transfer into a drawing. Stone. Concrete. Wood grain.

I’ve written about different ways to use found texture on EmptyEasel. Read How to Draw Realistic Rough Stones and Cement Objects in Colored Pencil for a step-by-step demonstration. That’s what I tried to do here, but again, with only moderate success.

Tools Used

Mead Academie Sketch Book, 9 inches by 6 inches, Heavyweight white paper

Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle

  • Dark Chrome Yellow
  • Burnt Ochre

Prismacolor Pencils

  • Orange
  • Pale Vermillion
  • Pumpkin Orange
  • Raspberry
  • Olive Green
  • Cold Grey Medium
  • Sepia
  • Cream
  • White
  • Colorless Blender

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 5 Report

Fall is definitely approaching! I could feel its chill breath even in the late afternoons this past week.

I finished the week with two plein air drawings. One worked and one, well. I’ll show you what I did and let it go at that.

I doodled a tree from imagination using nothing but lines late one evening and have wanted to try the same method with a plein air drawing. This week, that was what I did for the first drawing. I spent 23 minutes on this and used three colors.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 5 The First Drawing

It’s not totally disappointing. There are some nice value shifts and interesting shapes and it does look like the tree I was drawing, but it didn’t turn out quite as I’d hoped it would.

The fact is, I was dissatisfied enough to find something else to draw and landed upon this little leaf of wild violet growing—or trying to grow—in the back yard.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 5 The Second Drawing

The Method I Used

Drawing the leaf was a simple matter of basic sketching and drawing. I roughed in the general shape first, then added the veining within the leaf, and began drawing color and value through several light layers—all with limepeel. Next, I layered olive green into the shadows and middle values, then continued to develop color, alternating between those two colors.

To finish, I added yellow chartreuse for a highlight color, then burnished the highlights with cream. Finally, I drew a few accents with sepia.

I started drawing with sharp pencils (I always try to sharpen pencils before heading outside), but continued drawing as they became blunt. That helped capture the surface texture of the leaf, which was soft and kind of dull looking.

Time Spent Drawing

I didn’t measure time on this drawing. Instead I just sat down and started to draw. I also worked on this drawing two days.

What I Learned

It never hurts to experiment. Trying new things when drawing is a great way to learn what new methods might suit your drawing style. Since it’s also a good way to discover what doesn’t work, experiment with sketches. Not on important work!

It’s not always necessary to draw a background. The one thing I don’t care for in the leaf drawing is the background. I thought adding a dark background would enhance the drawing by creating contrast. Unfortunately, it actually looked better without that background. When you’re sketching or drawing details like this, you don’t need to add the context of the drawing. Let the details you put into whatever you’re drawing speak for themselves.

Don’t be afraid to revisit the subject again. If you have time to go back and add more detail to the drawing, do so. I didn’t have the time the first day to get the level of detail, color, or value I wanted, so I found the same leaf again and worked on it a little more the following day. You won’t always be able to do this, but when you can, it’s helpful to see what you may have missed in the first drawing and to maybe do a second drawing of the same subject under slightly different circumstances.

Tools Used

Mead Academie Sketch Book, 9 inches by 6 inches, Heavyweight white paper

Prismacolor Pencils

  • Limepeel
  • Olive Gray
  • Dark Brown
  • Yellow Chartreuse
  • Cream
  • Sepia