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Every artist begins somewhere. Not every artist started at the same time in life or with the same mediums, but the journey often starts the same way: With basic drawing.
I’ve answered a lot of art questions over the years on this blog and in other places. Rarely does anyone ask how to get started. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps most people assume they know how to begin. I know it was never a question for me, but I was drawing before I was old enough to ask why.
Or even how.
But any time you think about starting something new, it is important to have a least a basic idea of how to begin. That’s the purpose of this post.
The suggestions I’m about to make are very basic, but hopefully they will be helpful to those of you who are thinking about starting with colored pencils.
I’ll also provide a few links to other articles that are a bit more in-depth for those who want more specific information.
Of course, if you have questions, you’re welcome to ask them either in the comments below or more directly by sending me an email. I’m always happy to answer questions and chat by email.
How to Get Started Drawing
The first thing you need to get started drawing is the desire. Without the desire to draw, it doesn’t matter how good your tools are or how many you buy. You won’t get very far.
The truth is that drawing isn’t something you can pick up overnight. Yes, it is easier for some than others, but all of us have to practice to get good at drawing. Even once you become good at it, you have to draw to remain good.
All of that drawing requires a certain amount of desire.
But since you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you have the desire.
Choose Your Medium
Since this blog is all about colored pencils, you may think this question is a bit daft. After all, what else would you draw with but colored pencils?
I’ve drawn with graphite, charcoal, conte crayon, Crayola crayons, and even ball-point pens. Any of those mediums are suitable for creating fine art. What’s more, all of them are also perfect for new artists. Most of them are inexpensive, capable to creating value and drawing intricate detail.
So the first step is for you to decide what you want to start drawing with.
If you’re like I was back when I first started, I didn’t want to mess around with graphite or anything else. I went straight for the colored pencils. That’s a perfectly natural decision if colored pencil drawing is what you want to learn.
But there’s also nothing wrong with deciding to begin with something less expensive and simpler.
A lot depends on where you are, how much you have to spend, and what’s available to you. I’ve heard of people who start drawing with a stick in the dirt. Why not? It’s not permanent, but you can learn to draw that way.
Remember, everything you learn about drawing accurately with graphite, charcoal, conte, pen, or any other tool transfers to drawing with colored pencils.
You can also always try other drawing mediums if your first choice doesn’t work out.
So don’t bypass this step because it doesn’t seem important.
Choose Your Tools
Once you’ve decided on the medium, it’s time to look at the tools that are available. As I mentioned above, you can start drawing with a stick and some dirt, but most of us want something a bit more permanent. And convenient!
All you really need, however, is paper and a drawing tool. Depending on the drawing tool, you may also need a sharpener, but those three things are enough to make a beginning.
Learn Everything You Can
If you’re just getting started drawing these days, you have a treasure trove of learning opportunities as close as your internet connection. Choose from free video tutorials on YouTube, paid videos through Patreon, Teachable, Craftsy, and a number of other options.
So how do you find the right teaching method and teacher for you? Look for an artist who does the kind of work you want to do in a style you like. It’s also helpful if they draw similar subjects to what you draw, but that’s not as important. All methods work for every subject for someone.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Did I mention practice?
Nothing helps you learn a new skill faster than using it as you learn. Or rather, learning it by doing it. I remember learning how to use a computer the first time. It went much more smoothly when I was able to use a computer in my spare time.
Drawing is the same way. So watch those videos and do those tutorials, but also draw for yourself. Fun stuff. Difficult stuff. Whatever catches your attention.
That’s How I’d Get Started Drawing If I were Beginning Today
Do you remember I mentioned some links? Here they are.
There is a nearly-free resource at Colored Pencil Tutorials that is a downloadable shopping list for you if you’re ready to buy colored pencils and accessories, but don’t know where to start.
The main thing is to start where you are. If all you can get is a number two lead pencil and typing paper, then do that. It’s far better to make that kind of start, than to wait until you have everything available and never start.
Last week’s featured newsletter article was called Planning for a Successful Drawing. One of the tips I shared was starting with great reference photos. A reader responded by asking how to improve reference photos that are less than ideal.
That’s a legitimate question. Many clients who want pet portraits are asking for posthumous portraits. In those cases, the reference photos are usually less than ideal for any of several reasons. Poor lighting, awkward perspective, and photos taken inside are just a few.
But there are times when the only choice is between refusing the commission or working with what the client provides. Sometimes refusing a commission really is the best decision, but I’ve always had difficulty doing that.
So I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade to improve reference photos using a photo editor, and I’d like to share those tricks with you today.
How to Improve Reference Photos
The reader who wrote to me provided a couple of photos and granted me permission to use them. So I’ll do what I can to improve each of the photos and tell you what I did with each one.
One quick note before I begin: Any good photo editor such as PhotoShop or GIMP can do basic adjustments. I think a lot of phone apps are also good for making basic adjustments to brightness, contrast, and other similar basic manipulations.
I used GIMP before I started publishing CP Magic! and tutorials. Afterward, I purchased publishing software called Affinity. Serif makes Affinity Publisher, Affinity Photo, and Affinity Designer. They all work together and you can move a file from one software to the next without closing and re-opening it. As you might expect, the range of photo adjustments is much broader. The Affinity apps are inexpensive ($50 per app and you can purchase only the ones you need,) so if you do a lot of photo work, Affinity Photo is well worth the purchase price.
But the adjustments I’m about to describe are more basic and you can do them on most basic photo editors.
Now on to the sample photos.
Improving Photo #1
Here’s the reader’s first photo.
Lightening Dark Photos
Poorly lighted photos are one of the most common types of reference photos clients provide. Poor lighting has several causes but the worst is interior photos because you often also have to deal with flash lighting.
Because of this, the first thing I always try is making the photo brighter. In most photo editors, look for a setting called Brightness & Contrast. Where you’ll find that setting varies from editor to editor. Sometimes it’s under a menu labeled “Images,” sometimes under “Adjustments” or in some other menu or option. No matter where it is in your photo editor, it’s a good place to start when adjusting most photos.
For this photo, I brightened it about 50%.
The next adjustment I usually do is adjusting the contrast. If a photo is too light, you can increase the contrast to bring out the details in washed out values. If it’s too dark, you can decrease the contrast to reveal details in areas that are too dark.
Since this photo was too dark, I decreased the contrast. You can see in this side-by-side that the details in the black parts of the black-and-white cat are much clearer in the adjusted photo than in the original photo.
Adjusting Brightness and Contrast
In the first two steps, I did just the brightness (first side-by-side) then just the contrast (second side-by-side.) Sometimes you need to do both, but don’t start by doing both. If one of these adjustments works, great. That’s all you need!
But sometimes it’s helpful to adjust both the brightness and the contrast. In that case, start with the adjustment that’s the most obvious. For this photo, that was adjusting the brightness. Whichever you decide to adjust first, get the photo to look the best you can with the first adjustment.
Then make the second adjustment.
That’s what I did here, and this is the result from adjusting the brightness first, then adjusting the contrast.
Making these adjustments is easy.
Finding the right balance is more difficult and is based on your preferences about how a photo should look. If you know the subject, then you’re better equipped to get the most accurate adjustments possible. If you’re working with a client photo, then you’ll have to do the best you can.
There will be situations in which you need to work from two versions of the reference photo: One adjusted for brightness and one adjusted for contrast. I’ve done this in the past and it works quite well.
If I were working from this photo, I’d use the third photo, but I’d also keep a copy of the original so I could make other adjustments as needed to see details.
Improving Photo #2
Here’s the second photo. This one was taken outside and is back-lit with strong light, so it presents some unique challenges.
Adjust the Brightness First
I once again began by adjusting the brightness first. I started out by increasing the brightness by 50%, but that didn’t bring out the details in the black areas as much as I liked. So I increased the adjustment to 100%.
There are more visible details in the black fur, but look at that white fur! It’s nothing but blazing white!
Adjust the Contrast
So I canceled the brightness adjustment and adjusted the contrast. Because the contrast is already so strong in this photo, I decided to decrease it.
Decreasing the contrast by 50% didn’t do much for the photo, so I pushed it all the way to 100%. That turned out much better than I expected. Other than the brightest white highlights still being blown out (over-exposed,) there is plenty of detail visible in the white fur and a good amount in the black fur. You could do a portrait based on this adjusted photo and have it turn out fairly well.
Adjusting Brightness and Contrast
The last thing I tried was adjusting brightness and contrast together. As you can see below, this produced the best results. Brightness is increased by 56% and contrast is decreased by 100%.
The colors are a bit washy, but you can see plenty of details in both the black and the white fur. Color is much easier to correct as you draw, so this is the photo I’d work from.
However, as with the first photo, I would keep a copy of the original photo for comparison.
There Are More Ways to Improve Reference Photos
These are just the three steps I take with most reference photos. Additional adjustments include things like color balance, white balance, color temperature corrections, clarity and so on. Some of them are quite complex and involved.
But for most artists, getting the brightness and contrast correct is all that’s necessary. The good news is that most photo apps, even the ones in your phone, are capable of these adjustments.
Today, I want to talk about the things artists tell themselves. Those preconceived notions that hold us back.
Let me explain by using myself as an example.
The Things Artists Tell Themselves
I spent over forty years drawing and painting portraits of horses. I was confident doing head studies, full body portraits, and action scenes. There wasn’t a horse I didn’t feel capable of drawing.
But put a rider in the saddle or add a buggy or carriage, and I was a bundle of insecurity!
In reality, I should have been able to draw the person or equipment with the same confidence with which I drew the horse. I had the skill to draw horses, so there was no reason I couldn’t also draw people or equipment.
So I avoided drawing people or equipment whenever possible. When I had to include a person or a buggy or whatever, I struggled.
The Big Lie
In novel writing, one of the things the novelist must decide is what lie each character believes. Often referred to as The Big Lie, this belief keeps the character from achieving a goal.
The Big Lie might be something the person heard as a child. It may be the result of a failure or misunderstanding. The character may realize it’s a lie, but more often, it’s subconscious.
Artists are the same way. Actually every person is that way. There is something I believe about myself that’s not true, and there’s something you believe about yourself that’s not true.
As I get older, I can more clearly see my Big Lie was that I couldn’t draw people or technical things. I’ve done both, now. I know I can draw people, and I can draw technical subjects.
They are more difficult because I’m not familiar with them, but when I apply the same skills that help me draw horses to these other subjects, I can draw them.
Big lies apply to what we think we can draw and what we think we can’t draw.
They apply to what we think we can and cannot accomplish with our art. They also apply to turning hobbies into businesses, or any other worthwhile endeavor.
What’s the Solution?
My husband has cited Henry Ford to me often enough that I sometimes hate the quote I used below. But it is true. That’s another thing I’m learning as I get older (and hopefully wiser.)
Whether I think or can, or think I can’t, I’m right.
And so are you.
The solution is two-fold and both parts can be difficult. Very difficult.
The first step is to be totally honest with yourself and identify the Big Lie you believe about yourself or about your ability. Get past the things that are skills you have yet to acquire.
For example, if you believe you can’t shade smooth color, that’s a skill you can acquire with time and practice.
But if you believe you can’t learn to shade smooth color, that’s a lie you’re telling yourself.
Do you see the difference?
Back to my example, I believed I couldn’t draw people or equipment and that was a lie. I proved it was a lie by drawing people and equipment.
The truth was I didn’t have the skill or determination to draw those things. Another truth was that I didn’t want to try drawing them because they were hard.
So ask yourself the following questions and fill in the blanks as they fit you.
I believe I can’t draw ___________________.
I believe I can’t draw ___________________, but I can learn how.
The first is the lie. The second is the truth and a plan of action.
If you don’t think you believe any Big Lies, then you’re either miles ahead of the rest of us or….
…maybe that’s the Big Lie you believe about yourself.
Think about it.
The Things Artists Tell Themselves
I decided to publish this post today because I’ve learned over years of blogging that if I struggle with something, some of my readers also struggle with it.
Self imposed obstacles and the things artists tell themselves (that aren’t true,) are some of the biggest hurdles we have to get over if we really want to succeed.
This week, I published a new tutorial, Draw Clouds from Life, available at Colored Pencil Tutorials. It’s a graphite tutorial and I had a lot of fun with it, so I decided that all my sketches for the week of August 16 would also be in graphite.
Because it’s easy to use, it’s a great way to practice drawing values, and it’s fun.
It’s also a change of pace from colored pencil sketching, and since my sketching habit goals didn’t specify colored pencil, I thought, why not graphite?
My Sketches for the Week of August 16, 2021
Because I’d already decided to use graphite for all of my sketching this week, I decided to try different papers. I didn’t expect much difference from one paper to the next, but I got a couple of surprises.
Trunk Study in Graphite on Canson Mi-Teintes Pearl Grey
This sketch is on Canson Mi-Teintes Pearl Grey, which is a very light gray paper. I sketched on the back because that’s the smoothest side, and I chose Pearl Grey because it was the lightest color of paper I had cut to the right size.
I sat on the front porch and sketched the base of an old elm tree in the front yard. The shape of the trunk is interesting because it isn’t round. It looks almost like two trunks grown together early in the life of the tree. When the late afternoon and evening sun strikes it just right, the shape is clear.
I used a 6B Prismacolor Turquoise pencil sharpened to a sharp point and did all my shading with mark making. You can see the hatching and cross-hatching strokes quite clearly. It’s quite easy to create value layering graphite this way, and the direction of the strokes adds visual texture to the sketch.
So do my smudgy fingerprints! One thing I always forget about graphite is that it migrates so easily. Get a little bit on your fingers, and you leave finger prints everywhere!
Branch Study in Graphite on Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Grey
I did this sketch immediately after doing the previous sketch, but i did this one from imagination.
The darker gray paper didn’t work as well for graphite, but I wanted to try it anyway, just to see what could be done. I like the sketch, but it would have been better on lighter paper and more detailed if I had been drawing an actual branch.
Even so, it was fun to practice blending by smudging. It was a good effort.
But probably the last combining graphite and medium-value paper.
Mountain Landscape in Graphite on Bienfang Bristol Vellum
The next paper was Bristol Vellum. I like Bienfang Bristol because it’s the only Bristol I’ve found that comes in a pad of 146lb weight. It’s a good, sturdy paper.
I thought it would be perfect for graphite because it’s so smooth. This is where I got the first surprise for the week: Bristol is too smooth for good graphite drawing.
I was able to get a wide range of values by starting with a 3H pencil. But that pencil was so hard, it felt scratchy on the paper. I sketched in the most distant mountains (barely visible) with this, then switched to an F for the next range. Better, but still too hard.
For the rest of the drawing, I used a 6B, which is very soft. Even this soft pencil didn’t work very well on Bristol.
I blended with a stiff bristle brush and my finger to smooth out some of the values, but the best work I did was the nearest range of hills, which I drew with the side of the 6B, then left alone. I also like the grass in the foreground. That was fun to draw!
Broken Ends Graphite on Bristol Vellum
Unwilling to let the Bristol go without another try, I used it to sketch this branch.
Once again, I sat on the front steps and started by intending to sketch a dead branch from life. But I had a lot of help in the form of cats. After the first random mark made when a cat rubbed against my arm as I drew, I decide to just “wing it.”
I continued drawing the branch, but also worked in whatever additional random marks my “studio assistants” caused. This bare and cracked branch is the result.
Prismacolor Turquoise graphite worked better for this type sketching, but it was still a struggle to get really dark values. Confirmation of my conclusions after the previous sketch.
Broken Graphite on Bristol Vellum
I liked the previous sketch enough to try a similar subject. This time, I focused on one end of a branch and made sure my studio assistants were elsewhere.
I also used different pencils. That’s part of the reason I wanted to try Bristol Vellum a third time.
The first pencil was a Prang 2B. Believe it or not, I liked this pencil better than the supposedly higher quality Prismacolor Turquoise pencils. Layering was much smoother and the pencil was easier to use. Surprise #2 for the week!
But a 2B is all I had. So for the darker values, I switched to a Mirado B1 pencil. I got these pencils in a box of over 1,500 pencils purchased years ago. They’re an excellent sketching pencil, with nice dark values, smooth lay-down, and several grades. They make Bristol vellum a decent sketching paper.
That’s the third surprise.
Sunset Graphite Powder & Pencil on Clairefontaine Pastelmat
The last sketch for the week doesn’t really look like a sketch, does it? I tried something brand new this time: Graphite powder on white Pastelmat.
Graphite powder is essentially a graphite pencil without the pencil. It’s all graphite. No binders, no fillers, nothing but pigment.
I used a bristle brush for everything but the sun and the trees. I dipped the brush into the graphite powder, then brushed it onto the paper. Pastelmat grabbed hold of it very well.
Better than expected, as a matter of fact. I couldn’t spread the graphite as thinly as I wanted, so the clouds are far darker than I intended.
I “drew” the sun and sunbeams with a pink pearl eraser. That worked quite well, but didn’t make as bright a sun as I’d hoped. Probably because white Pastelmat isn’t bright white. I would also have been better off with a smaller harder eraser.
After that, I used a 6B graphite pencil to draw the trees.
While it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped, I’m pleased with the results. I learned a lot from this try and know what to do (and what not to do) the next time!
Those are My Sketches for the Week of August 16
I had hoped to do more than just six sketches, but it was a busy week. Then I spilled some of the graphite powder on Saturday afternoon, and spent the rest of the afternoon vacuuming and steam cleaning my “studio.” That happened to be a black couch. I’m still not sure I got all the graphite powder.
Despite the surprises, “help” from studio assistants, and spilled graphite, I really enjoyed sketching with graphite. I hope you’ll take up the challenge and do some graphite work, too.
If you purchase graphite pencils, I recommend not buying Prismacolor Turquoise. Some of the pencils I used felt gritty. One or two felt capable of scratching the paper.
I’m very pleased to announce a new tutorial, Draw Clouds from Life. This is the second life drawing book I’ve published, and the first that focuses on graphite.
But don’t dismiss it because it’s not a colored pencil tutorial. The focus of this book is drawing, not graphite, and we all know that basic drawing principles apply to all media.
Even colored pencils.
About Draw Clouds from Life
I wrote this tutorial to encourage artists to take up the challenge to get outside and draw. So the tutorial begins with tips on setting up to draw outside as well as choosing a subject.
But it doesn’t stop there.
A step-by-step tutorial follows, showing how I draw clouds using nothing but graphite pencils and an eraser or two. I use the same drawing method described in Draw From Life in Three Easy Steps. This drawing method can be mastered by any artist from beginner upward who is willing to take the time to draw regularly.
Includes a Photo Collection
Drawing from life is beneficial to every artist.
But I realize that not everyone can get outside to draw. Nor can every artist easily view clouds or take pictures of them.
So I’ve put together a collection of some of my favorite cloud photos. The photos are my own so anyone can start drawing clouds the moment they download the tutorial.
Draw Clouds from Life is perfect for anyone who wants to learn to draw clouds from life.
And once you master cloud drawing, you’ll be able to draw anything else you want to draw.
Beginner and higher.
This tutorial includes a complete, easy-to-get supply list and suggestions for drawing outside. It also contains a selection of reference photos so you can start drawing clouds today!
If you’ve ever wanted a good, basic drawing tutorial, this tutorial is for you. Start drawing better drawings now!
Summer colds. Not much fun. I spent the week feeling like I was wading through tapioca, so I don’t have many sketches for the week of August 9.
The week was also busy with a student for the week, the latest freelance article, and other things going on. A couple of days ended with no energy for even the simplest sketch.
But I did get six sketches for the week; and that’s my weekly goal.
My Sketches for the Week of August 9, 2021
Branch Study in Derwent Drawing on Canson Mi-Teintes
The sketching week got off to a fairly good start given the circumstances. It was late in the day before I got to sketching, and I really didn’t feel like picking up a pencil, but did it anyway.
This branch was sketched with Derwent Drawing Olive Earth on Canson Mi-Teintes Fawn. Not the best color combination, perhaps, but not bad either.
I drew this from memory and imagination, combining interesting twists and turns, and other features seen in real life branches.
Mountain Landscape with Derwent Drawing on Stonehenge
With no particular goal in mind this week other than sketching, I used whatever paper was on the top of the stack. The first sketch for the week was Canson Mi-Teintes. Both of the next two sketches are on Stonehenge Fawn.
It was very hot and humid on Wednesday, so when I sat down to draw, I decided to draw something cool and not so humid. A mountain landscape with a lake in front seemed like the perfect subject.
I drew this scene from memory, but it was heavily influenced by two of my favorite landscape painters. One works in oils, and the other in acrylics, but they both do a lot of mountain landscapes.
So I did one, too!
And I’m very pleased with it.
Blue Mountain on Stonehenge
Derwent Drawing colored pencils are great sketching pencils. They work on every paper I’ve tried, though they’re better on traditional papers.
For this sketch, I chose Derwent Drawing Smoke Blue and focused on drawing space and form with line and limited values.
The mountains are imaginary. I simply sketched and shaded until I thought the sketch was finished.
Mountain Landscape with Derwent Drawing
This is a more complete sketch than what I’ve been doing. I used almost all of my Derwent Drawing pencils (I have about eight colors) to draw this landscape. The paper is Stonehenge Fawn again, which proved not to be a good color for the light blues in the mountains.
It was perfect for the rest of the landscape however.
This sketch is very loosely based on a photograph sent to me by a reader. I started a more “serious” piece late this winter, but have never finished it. So now I can say I’ve done something with that photograph!
Tree Branch with White Derwent Drawing
Back to Canson Mi-Teintes Fawn for this sketch, and back to just one color. Derwent Drawing Chinese White.
Instead of drawing a subject by drawing the shadows, I decided to try drawing just the highlights and reflected light.
It’s not quite as finished as I would have liked, but I was interrupted. One of my rules for this sketching habit is not to go back so something once I’ve put it down (unless I have to sharpen pencils or something like that.)
Still, I’m quite happy with the results.
By the way, I drew this from my imagination.
May in Kansas
The final sketch for the week was drawn with Derwent Drawing Sanguine on Canson Mi-Teintes Fawn paper.
I revisited a scene I drew last week. This week, however, I drew the main tree much as it appears in the reference photo, with leaves.
This is the sort of scene that makes me think I’ll some day do a more serious piece based on it. Neither this sketch nor the previous one shows the atmosphere of this morning time scene.
And atmosphere is one of the things I enjoy about drawing landscapes.
Comparing Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes with Derwent Drawing Colored Pencils
I used either Canson Mi-Teintes or Stonehenge paper for this week’s sketches, and I used Derwent Drawing pencils on all of them.
Derwent Drawing colored pencils are a great sketching pencil. A full set of 24 colors is definitely on my wish list. The earthy colors are great for nature subjects as well as sketching.
And as I mentioned before, they’re ideal for traditional drawing papers.
Both types of papers I used are 98-pound papers, but they feel different. Stonehenge has a sturdier feel, but it’s also much softer. Canson Mi-Teintes is a nice paper for sketching and more serious drawings, but it’s best for colored pencils if you use the back side!
Those are My Sketches for the Week of August 9
And that’s my abbreviated report on my sketches for last week. It was disappointing not to have drawn more, but I’m pleased to have drawn any at all! It was just one of those weeks.
I hope you’re week went more smoothly, and that you were able to do some sketching.
If you have, I hope you’ll join me in developing your own sketching habit. I invite you to share them. I’ll be happy to add them as a reader’s sketch gallery to this post!
Last week, I did all of the sketches for the week on white Clairefontaine Pastelmat. This week, I used the same pencils, but all the sketches for the week of August 2 are on Stonehenge.
Here’s what I thought.
My Sketches for the Week of August 2, 2021
Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils
Green Desert with Koh-I-Nor
I’ve been generally dissatisfied with these pencils for every application, but I haven’t done much drawing with them. So my first sketch for this week was more like a color study than a sketch.
The scene is based on the Flint Hills in Kansas, but it’s totally imaginary.
And not as finished as I’d intended.
That was because I didn’t like the way the pencils were layering on Stonehenge. Stonehenge is super soft, and just was not a good surface for these pencils.
Tree Branch with Koh-I-Nor
So I went back to a more typical sketching style. I like this piece much better, but am still not happy with the pencils. Getting good, dark values was difficult.
However, I do like having the ability to draw broader, softer lines.
Blick Studio Colored Pencils
Elm Tree with Blick Studio
I sat on our back porch Tuesday evening with a few pieces of Stonehenge and my cup of Blick Studio pencils. My intention was to draw from life, but before I did more than choose a subject and rough it in, mosquitoes drove me back inside.
The two knots on the upper left got most of my attention while I was outside, so they became the focus. I filled in the rest after going into the house again.
Those two knots do intrigue me. I may have draw them more specifically later. After a cold snap removes the mosquitoes!
Mountain Landscape with Blick Studio
The idea of line drawing landscapes interests me enough that I decided to give it try this week. I wanted to see if I could draw a complete landscape with distance using only the darkness and thickness of the lines.
That was not only possible; it turned out pretty well.
But I had to press so hard with the Blick Studio pencil to get those dark foreground lines that I felt like I was impressing them into the paper. I don’t think I was, but I didn’t like working that way.
Prismacolor Soft Core Pencils
Mountain Landscape with Prismacolor
The next pencils I used were Prismacolors, and I started with another landscape line drawing. In fact, I redrew the previous sketch, but without looking at the previous sketch.
The Prismacolor I chose was Indigo Blue and it worked extremely well this way. I still had to use heavier pressure and repeated marking to get the dark lines in the foreground, but the overall drawing process was easier and faster.
It also felt more comfortable.
Rotted Plank with Prismacolor
For this drawing, I went back to the back porch. It was earlier in the day and more windy, so the mosquitoes weren’t much of a problem.
But I didn’t want to draw a tree again, so I looked around where I sat and finally settled on this rotted plank. I’d drawn something like it for the original plein air challenge in 2016, so thought it was time to revisit the subject.
I did a little bit of shading in the darkest values, but used mostly lines to suggest the weather-worn wood.
I’ve used Polychromos pencils for a lot of sketches since starting this sketching habit, so I did only two this week.
Flint Hills with Polychromos
Another line drawing landscape. I really enjoy sketching like this!
This sketch is drawn from an old, poor quality photo I took of the Flint Hills many years ago. I did a little more shading with this one than with the other line drawings. But I still relied on line thickness and darkness to convey the look of distance.
Tree Branch with Polychromos
Another sketch from one of my photos. This tree is near a local business and has interesting lighter patterns in the bark. Those light patches are what I wanted to capture, since they really defined the twisting and turning of each of the three large branches.
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor
This is my Lyra Polycolor sketch for the week. It, too, is based on one of a collection of images I took a couple of years ago. I simplified the landscape quite a bit, and drew the main tree without leaves so it stood out even more from the clumps of trees in the background.
Caran d’Ache Pablo
The last sketch for the week was this tree trunk study with Caran d’Ache Pablo.
I liked the tree in the previous sketch so much that I decided to do it again with much background.
Crayola Colored Pencils
I got an opportunity to try a brand of pencils I would not be likely to ever purchase: Crayola colored pencils.
I love their crayons. The smell of Crayola crayons is one of my all-time favorite non-food scents. The colored pencils are made for the same artists for whom the crayons are made. Grade school students.
So I had no interest in purchasing them, even just to test them.
But this week, I came into possession of a large collection of them. Since a reader asked about them, I decided to do a little work with them, just to see how they measured up to my expectations.
One of my tests was a sketch on Stonehenge.
This sketch is called The Moor, and I drew it one evening while watching The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The moor shares some characteristics with the Flint Hills and I love drawing the Flint hills, so I decided to try sketching the moor.
I would have made more progress with a better pencil, but I’m still pleased with the way this turned out.
How I Rate these Pencils
I made some interesting (and surprising) discoveries this week.
As I mentioned last week, I have only one each of the Caran d’Ache Pablo and Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor pencils, but they turned out to be my favorites on Stonehenge paper. They both performed very well and I didn’t feel like I had to press very hard to get the darker values. I rate them about equal in ease of use and overall performance.
After that, my favorites, Polychromos and Prismacolor, tied for second. That’s not surprising. The really good pencils general perform well on most surfaces. And they weren’t that far behind the first two.
The Blick Studio pencils were okay with Stonehenge. I think if I had no other pencils, I could get used to them easily. But they are better suited for sanded surfaces in my opinion.
Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils are still at the bottom of the list, but this week they’re joined by Crayola colored pencils. I won’t be doing anymore tests with Crayola, but I’m not yet ready to give up entirely on the Koh-I-Nor Progresso pencils.
The most interesting discovery this week was the fact that Stonehenge has fallen from favor with me. It just seemed too soft and spongy after all the work I’ve done on the sanded art papers. In fact, by mid-week, I realized that my problems with the pencils were really problems with the paper.
And to think that Stonehenge was once my go-to paper!
Those are My Sketches for the Week of August 2
Another interesting sampling of different types of pencils on Stonehenge paper. I hope you enjoyed the results as much as I did.
I also hope you’ll join me in developing your own sketching habit.
And if you’ve created some sketches during the week of August 2, I invite you to share them. I’ll be happy to add them as a reader’s sketch gallery to this post!
Sometime ago, a reader asked how to find a printing company to make reproductions of her work. She wasn’t asking about printing machines; she wanted to know where to send digital images to have reproductions made.
Let’s let her explain.
How do you find a printer who can make quality prints of your work? I’m not talking a machine, though if there are reasonably priced ones, that would be good info. I’m talking about a service that specializes in reproducing art.
Thanks so much for your great information!
Artists these days have a couple of very good options available. Let’s talk about them.
Once you make that decision, you need to decide how you want to print your reproductions—by print-on-demand or in bulk.
One of the more popular ways for artists to enter the print market is through print-on-demand. Companies such as Fine Art America, and Gelato are only two of the many options.
Many of these print-on-demand providers offer ways to get started at no cost. All you have to do is open an account, upload high-resolution images of the artwork you want to market, and decide what sizes and types of reproductions you want to sell.
Some of them offer different printing surfaces from paper to canvas to wood, metal and acrylic.
Many also give you the opportunity to market merchandise such as mugs, tote bags, and decor items if you’re of a mind to do that.
These companies take care of shipping orders and handling returns as well as printing. They will take a sizeable commission off each sale, but that’s how they make their money.
You don’t earn anything until you sell something, but unless you open a premium account, you also won’t pay anything until you sell something.
You also don’t need to worry about stocking inventory.
Selling Print on Demand
As good as some of these companies are, they do have some disadvantages.
For one thing, unless you order a sample of each item you market, you have no way of knowing how good the printing work is.
They also do very little marketing for you. Yes, they promote the company as a whole, but there are thousands of artists with accounts, trying to sell things, so you need to promote your “store” just as much as you would promote anything else. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a nice web space, but no visitors.
Print in Bulk Options
I just ordered a small batch of print copies of the June 2021 issue of CP Magic. They arrived this week and they look great. What’s more, the cost of printing was such that I was able to get a small order (10 copies,) at an affordable price. I won’t make a lot of money, but I didn’t pay an arm and a leg either.
The ordering process was easy once I got a handle on it, the printing was fast, and so was delivery.
A company called Mixam did the printing for me and on the basis of this one order, I’m not at all hesitant in recommending them.
They do printing of all types, including brochures, business cards, post cards and…
Keep in mind with orders like this, the more copies you buy, the less you pay per copy.
You also need a clean, dry place to store the reproductions flat until you sell them.
My personal advice on bulk reproductions is to market them in advance. Promote the piece you want to market and give people the opportunity to buy in advance.
Then order enough to fill those orders and a few extra to continue to market. You could very well get enough advance sales to pay for the printing. The more copies you sell in advance, the fewer you have to store.
If you decide to purchase only enough to fill the orders you get, you don’t need storage space.
So What’s the Bottom Line on Finding a Printing Company?
This is a two-step process. Decide what you want to have reproduced, then decide how you want to reproduce it.
Keep in mind that there are advantages and disadvantages to both methods I’ve discussed here.
It’s also important to take your schedule into consideration. If you really want to enter the print market, but you don’t have time to package and ship orders or deal with customers, then print-on-demand is the best option.
The choice is yours. Selling reproductions of your best work can generate a good income, but it’s not easy. Nor is it pain free.
So consider all the options, then choose wisely, and you’ll be ahead a step or two from the start.
Before I picked up a pencil to sketch this week, I decided to be a bit more deliberate. I’d still draw whatever struck my fancy, but I’d do all the sketches for the week of July 26 on the same paper.
I cut a full sheet of white Clairefontaine Pastelmat into 4×6 pieces (sixteen of them, plus a few smaller pieces.) My intention from the start was to try different pencils on Pastelmat just to see how they performed in a week-long comparison.
So hold on. This week’s sketching report is also a review of several types of pencils on Pastelmat!
My Sketches for the Week of July 26, 2021
Since this is a more “disciplined” sketching week, with a specific purpose in mind, I’m still listing sketches in chronological order. But I’m also doing a sketch or more with each type of pencil before moving to the next type.
So the sketches will be categorized by pencil, beginning with Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless.
Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils
I originally bought these pencils for use in laying down broad applications of color. At one time, I had Prismacolor Art Stix, which are Prismacolor pencils in a chalk-like shape. I never developed a taste for the Art Stix. After some early success with the Progresso, I decided they weren’t for me, either.
But I haven’t tried them very much on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, so they were the first pencils to come off the shelf this week.
Tree Study with Koh-I-Nor Progresso #1
I mentioned last week that I wished I was better at sketching in color, so I tried a color sketch first the the woodless pencils. I used Brown, Sap Green, Light Ochre, and a touch of Black.
These pencils are about the size of a standard colored pencil, so they’re easy to handle.
But they’re all pigment, so it can be difficult to get fine lines with them. I knew that when I started, so I kept my sketching loose in style.
The first layer or two went well. But then I remembered why I didn’t use the Progresso pencils more. They just don’t layer very well on sanded paper. It’s as if the pigment clogs up the tooth of the paper without filling the tooth; almost like all the pigment stays on the top of the grit.
Adding more layers just adds to the clogging.
It’s possible that using a solvent to blend would smooth out the color and sink the pigment down into the tooth, but for straight sketching or drawing, I’m not happy with them.
Tree Study with Koh-I-Nor Progresso #2
For the second Progresso sketch, I drew a similar subject, but limited myself to one color: Brown. I also chose not to layer color, but to use line to create value. I handled the pencil more like a graphite pencil, using directional lines, hatching and cross-hatching lines, and light pressure start to finish.
The results are better, but I still found the Progresso pencils a bit clumsy. I have no doubt that I could learn to create smooth, subtle color and value transitions with them if I continue using them.
I’m just not sure I like them enough to put in that kind of drawing time!
Blick Studio Colored Pencils
Cloud Study with Blick Studio Pencils
I was feeling a bit unfocused Tuesday morning, so after doing the second of the sketches above, I got out the Blick Studio pencils and started sketching. The sky I could see out the window was clear, but a nice blue. I decided to sketch clouds against a blue sky by shading the sky.
I used only two colors for this sketch: Ice Blue and Light Blue, and I applied both colors with light pressure for the entire sketch, but mixed strokes.
The sky is layer after layer of both blues, sandwiching Light Blue between multiple layers of Ice Blue (which is much lighter.) I used horizontal strokes, vertical strokes, hatching and cross-hatching strokes, and even circular strokes. In between some of the layers, I blended with a finger tip.
I drew the clouds by drawing the shadows in the clouds with the same two colors. But most of this work was completed with circular strokes.
The result was much more satisfying with the Blick Studio pencils than the Progresso pencils. I’ve tried Blick Studio pencils on a number of surfaces, and for my style of drawing, they seem to be made for sanded art papers.
I’ve been watching the videos of an acrylic landscape painter who paints the most remarkable landscapes. Many of them include water and from the first video, the process has mesmerized me.
And made me wonder if there was a way to get the same look with colored pencils.
As it turns out, there is. Slice tools!
I started out by laying down three or four different colors with medium-heavy pressure and back-and-forth horizontal strokes. I wasn’t particularly careful adding color, though I did try to apply colors in a way that looked like water.
Then I went over each area repeatedly until the tooth of the paper was filled.
Next, I used Slice tools to etch X shaped “stars” in the places where I wanted sparkles. They didn’t look like much at first, but after going over them a couple of times, they began to look better.
When I finished, I showed the sketch to my husband and said, “What does this look like?” (It didn’t look like much to me.)
“It looks like water reflecting trees or something,” he said.
I made my art notes on the back and called this sketch finished.
Tree Study with Blick Studio
This is the last sketch with Blick Studio, and I used Gold for this and sketched from memory and imagination. I didn’t really have a goal beyond playing with color, value, and shape.
I like the way this sketch turned out.
Prismacolor Soft Core Pencils
I did three sketches with Prismacolor pencils just because I enjoy using them so much. They’re not quite as good on sanded papers as on traditional papers, but they were still fun to use.
This sketch is drawn from a photo of a tree that was partially destroyed in a storm early in July. I received a few photos of the damage before the tree was taken down, and this branch caught my eye. The simplicity of the branches and the complexity of the positioning both drew my attention.
It was also silhouetted against the sky, which meant I could create my own lighting. I chose backlighting and big, bold strokes to add details I couldn’t see in the photo.
My subject for this sketch is a dead branch on a live tree in our front yard. After I drew it, I added other branches drawn with lighter and lighter pressure to create context for the main branch.
The main focus is that spindly looking branch so I keep the darkest values on that branch.
I merely suggested bark on the main tree with lines.
The final Prismacolor sketch is another, much older favorite subject: Horse hooves.
I’m not sure what appeals to me so much, but I really enjoy drawing the joints in the legs, particularly the back legs.
This was drawn without a reference photo so it’s a bit rusty. It’s been a long time since I drew a horse’s hoof and it shows.
I’ve used Polychromos pencils for a lot of sketches since starting this sketching habit, so I did only two this week.
Tree Branch with Polychromos
I used a Black pencil to sketch these branches from memory and imagination. I’m seeing improvement in my ability to use lines to convey form and create the illusion of depth on paper. Even with such a simple subject and one color.
Mountain Study with Polychromos
For this sketch, I used Polychromos Mauve. I really like the look of this sketch. It’s one of the more pleasing in this week’s collection (in my opinion.) The use of line to create visual texture in the mountains and the clouds turned out extremely well.
I think one of the reasons for that is that I didn’t over-work it. I tend to keep working on a drawing when I should quit. I’m not sure how to correct that, but it does look like I got it right this time!
Caran d’Ache Pablo
I have only one Pablo pencil and in the rather atypical color of Flame Red; atypical for a landscape artist, anyway.
So I did only one sketch with a Pablo.
Pablos are said to be a harder version of Caran d’Luminance, much like Prismacolor Verithin pencils are a harder version of Prismacolor Soft Core. In a way, that’s true. They are a bit harder than Luminance pencils.
But while Verithins are quite a bit harder and thinner, Pablos are only a bit harder and about the same thickness as Luminance.
This sketch turned out well, given what I was attempting to draw. My subject was a couple of dead branches hanging down on the interior of a favorite oak tree across the street. The branches were mostly in shadow, so there wasn’t a lot of middle values. But there were patches of sunlight shining through the foliage.
I was able to capture that look fairly well, but I had difficulty getting decent middle values with the Pablo pencil. They didn’t gum up the surface like the Progressos, but they weren’t as easy to use as the Polychromos either. That could be a lack of significant experience with this pencil. As I mentioned, I have only one color and I haven’t done much with it. Perhaps practice is all I need.
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor
Another line of pencil for which I have only one color is Lyra’s Rembrandt Polycolor, True Blue.
I decided to sketch something I haven’t sketched in quite a while; a horse’s eye.
Polycolor pencils are a bit smaller than most of the other pencils I use. That wasn’t a major problem for me, but I know it can make a difference to some artists.
Polycolor’s are oil-based, so they’re a bit harder than wax-based pencils. The pencil I used laid down color nicely and I was able to get a nice range of values. I didn’t have enough color on the paper to scratch eyelashes with a Slice tool, but overall, I’m quite happy with this sketch.
How I Rate these Pencils
First: I’m giving Faber-Castell Polychromos a slight edge. I just really like these pencils for every type of drawing I do. They’re easy to work with, they have a great color range, and I have yet to find a paper they don’t work with.
Second is Prismacolor Premier. They’re not quite as handy on Pastelmat as the Polychromos, but they’re the first pencils I used. It’s difficult not to list them as favorites after using them for over twenty years!
Blick Studio pencils perform nicely on Pastelmat. They feel like a cross between Polychromos and Prismacolor. Color selection is more limited than either of those two brands, but they are very reasonably priced.
Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils are at the bottom of the list. I don’t know what it is about them, but I’ve never used another type of colored pencil that clogs the tooth of Pastelmat (or any other sanded paper) the same way these do.
What about the Lyra Polycolor and Caran d’Ache Pablo? My initial impressions are mixed. They both have good pigmentation and they feel good layering on Pastelmat. But I just don’t have enough experience with them to feel capable of giving an honest opinion.
They are however, pencils I would like to continue working with.
Those are My Sketches for the Week of July 26
I’m very pleased with the decision early this week to use different pencils on Clairefontaine Pastelmat. I hope you enjoyed the results as much as I did.
I also hope you’ll join me in developing your own sketching habit.
And if you’ve created some sketches during the week of July 26, I invite you to share them. I’ll be happy to add them as a reader’s sketch gallery to this post!
You’re in the zone, adding layer after layer, blending color, creating contrast and harmony. Then it happens. You pick up another pencil, start layering and…
…your pencil skids across the surface without leaving any color.
That happened to Eloise, who asked the following question:
When you have put so many layers on and you can’t get any more down, what do you do?
What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick
Prevention is the Best Cure
The best way to deal with slick paper is to avoid it. The best way to avoid slick paper is drawing on sanded art paper.
Sanded art paper takes a lot of layers without the tooth filling up. It doesn’t really matter what type of sanded paper you use. I’ve been experimenting with Lux Archival, Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Fisher 400, and Uart. They each have enough tooth to take a practically endless number of layers, but they each have unique characteristics. They behave differently.
It also makes a difference what type of pencil you use, as I’m learning with this week’s sketching habit. Some pencils work better on sanded papers, than other pencils.
Your style of drawing also makes a difference, so you may have to experiment to find the right combination.
If you don’t care for sanded art papers, Canson Mi-Teintes is a more traditional paper that falls somewhere between sanded and traditional papers. I can’t recall ever ending up with a slick drawing surface while using Mi-Teintes.
In fairness, however, I must also mention that most of my work on Canson Mi-Teintes has been vignette-style portraits like Portrait of a Black Horse. I usually use colored paper, and chose a color that works for the background and the middle values.
In other words, I didn’t have to apply a lot of color.
Whatever type of paper you use, you can also avoid (or at least delay) the build up of too much color by applying each layer with the lightest pressure possible. You’ll have to increase pressure slightly during the drawing process, but don’t use heavy pressure until the end.
Also don’t burnish until after the drawing is nearly finished.
Cures for Slick Paper
Most of the time, paper gets slick when you reach the maximum amount of color the paper will grab onto and hold.
Sometimes, workable fixative made for dry media helps restore a bit of surface texture. A couple of light coats may restore enough tooth for you to finish the piece.
But that’s not guaranteed. I’ve had mixed results with workable fixative.
A light blend with rubbing alcohol could also help. Rubbing alcohol cuts the wax binder in colored pencils a little bit, and that may be enough to allow you to finish a drawing.
It’s also possible to lift enough color with mounting putty to allow you to add more color, but unless you need to change a color or value, lifting color is really a step backward.
If you get the idea that there isn’t much you can do once your paper gets slick, you’re getting the right idea.
That’s why I spent so much time talking about ways to avoid slick paper. In this case, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.