How to Find Your Next Subject

Let’s take a look at what some might call the most important aspect of drawing: How to find your next subject.

This might seem like an odd topic, but it isn’t really. Sooner or later, every artist finds themselves drawing a blank when it comes to choosing something to draw. If you haven’t reached that point yet, you will. So what are your options when it happens to you?

How to Find Your Next Subject

Most of us have favorite subjects. Horses and landscapes are mine. But every once in a while, I want to draw something different.

You’re probably the same way.

Or maybe you’ve never settled on a favorite subject, but enjoy drawing all sorts of things.

In either case, you might finish one drawing and find yourself undecided about your next subject. What should you do? Where should you look?

Here are just a few ideas.

How to Find Your Next Subject

Look at the Big Picture

Keep an eye on the big picture. Landscapes are great for this. They’re so wide and varied. They change from day to day and sometimes hour to hour.

But they’re not the only place where you should look at the big picture. If you like to draw cats, for example, stop looking at individual cats and consider the pride. This is especially helpful for portrait artists. Focusing on a group of cats instead of individual cats gives you a totally different perspective on your subject.

Find Your Next Subject inside the Big Picture

Also be aware that your subject may be a very small part of the big picture.

Remember the cat example from the previous paragraphs? Zooming in can be as helpful as zooming out.

Rather than considering a traditional cat portrait like this, why not draw just part of the cat? Maybe just the eye, or nose, or an interesting part of the fur coloring.

That up-close-and-personal perspective may present your subject in a brand new way.

What’s on Your Desk (or Easel)?

Still stuck? Take a look around your desk, easel, studio, or work space. What’s lying around waiting to be used?

Once when I was stuck for something to draw, I looked around my work space and found a stone I’d collected at some point. I drew that stone and published a short tutorial about it.

I’ve also sketched my pencil sharpener, my computer mouse, and parts of plants.

Review Your Photo Collection

I take a lot of pictures because I enjoy photography as much as drawing. So when I find myself wondering what to draw next, I sometimes go back to those collections of photos to see what might catch my attention.

You don’t take pictures? Now is the time to start. You don’t need expensive camera equipment to start. If you have a smart phone, use it!

Figure out a filing system for the photos (I file by subject) so you can easily find images, and you’re golden!

Look for the Ordinary

One day, I had a cup of coffee sitting on the table between me and the sunlight coming through a small window. Steam rose from the coffee and looked so artistic, I took some photos. There might be something there to use for a drawing. I hope so. The thought of a drawing like that is rather exciting.

So don’t automatically rule the ordinary. There are artists who build their life’s work around stunning drawings of ordinary things. Why not you?

How to Find Your Next Subject

Final Tips to Help You Find Your Next Subject

When searching for something to draw, I’ve identified two keys to keep in mind.

Don’t rule anything out at a glance.

Look for the thing that attracts your glance repeatedly.

What makes a subject interesting as a drawing or sketch has as much to do with how you see it and choose to draw it as with it’s innate qualities.

So take a look around and see what’s available.

Then take a little time to sketch it. You might be surprised at the results!

Ask Carrie a Question

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What’s in the Newsletter

The newsletter includes a Featured Post and a Forgotten Favorite post, and links to all the content published here on this blog each week.

You also get a weekly colored pencil tip, and the opportunity to participate in fun and informative reader surveys.

Subscribers can sign up for special offers and new product news, and studio news.

New Exclusive Colored Pencil Articles

The newsletter now also includes an article written specifically for newsletter subscribers. Subscribers even have a voice in deciding topics for those articles.

The current series covers the basics for artists new to colored pencils, including topics such as layering, blending, drawing paper basics, and basic information about colored pencils.

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Top 10 Art Tutorials of the Decade on EmptyEasel

It’s my delight to share a “guest post” today by sharing today’s EmptyEasel newsletter, The Top 10 Art Tutorials of the Decade on EmptyEasel.

I’ve been a subscriber to the EmptyEasel newsletter since 2012. I’ve also been writing for EmptyEasel since 2012, and that’s why I’m sharing today’s newsletter.

The EmptyEasel editor compiled a list of the most popular tutorials over the last ten years, and I wrote three of them! What’s more, one of them is about colored pencil!

So I asked for (and received) permission to share this list with you.

The Top 10 Art Tutorials of the Decade on EmptyEasel

Whether you use only colored pencils or enjoy working with other media, there’s sure to be something you’ll want to read.

The Top 10 Art Tutorials of the Decade on EmptyEasel

2010 – 10 Steps for Creating a Successful Business from Your Art
This post by Padraig McCaul is a straightforward roadmap to building an art business from the ground up. (And it’s so good, we keep updating it each year.)

2011 – 8 Creative Ways to Add Abstract Texture to Your Next Painting
Pure fun. Get in there and get messy!

2012 – How to Blend Colored Pencil Drawings with Rubbing Alcohol
Our Pinterest feed blew up over this one. It’s a legitimately “painterly” technique to use with colored pencils.*

2013 – How to Paint Oil Portraits from Photographs
Brandi Bowman is an excellent painter and teacher—and if you like this tutorial, here are the rest of her tutorials via Google.

2014 – A Beginner’s Guide to Encaustic Art and Painting with Wax
Another great teacher and painter, Kellie Day, with a fun look at encaustic art!

2015 – How to Draw Perfect, Luminous Clouds with Graphite Pencils
One of the best cloud-drawing tutorials I’ve found anywhere.*

2016 – How to Draw a Portrait in Three Quarter View
This 9-part series takes you through the classical method for portrait drawing.

2017 – What are the Advantages (or Disadvantages) of Drawing?
After seeing this search term appear over and over in our visitor logs, Carrie Lewis answered this question in 2017.*

2018 – 7 Tips for Starting a Sketching Habit
Another one of our most-pinned articles on Pinterest!

2019 – 3 Oil Painting Rules You MUST Understand & Follow
A foundational article for new oil painters.

2020 – 7 YouTube Art Channels that EVERY Artist will Enjoy
Kick back and relax with even more tutorials on YouTube, ranging from pure enjoyment to detailed instruction!

And there you have it. The ten most popular tutorials on EmptyEasel.

I hope you’ll take the time to visit the EmptyEasel website. It’s a great clearing house for all types of art news, tutorials, business articles and more. The newsletter is sent out once a week and is free of charge.

It’s easy to subscribe too, so give yourself an early Christmas gift and sign up. Just visit the EmptyEasel website and fill in the subscription popup!

How to Decide When a Drawing is Finished

Is there a “works-every-time” way to decide when a drawing is finished?

How I wish there was! The truth is that there is no such method because every artist creates for a different reason. Many times, there are also reasons for individual drawings. I do portraits for a different reason (and with different goals) than landscape drawings.

But I’ll share a few basic guidelines to help you better decide when your drawings are finished.

How to Decide When a Drawing is Finished

Your Drawing Matches Your Expectation

Every drawing starts with an expectation. You see a finished piece in your imagination, maybe. Or you see something you simply must draw.

You also prefer creating a certain type of art. Realism, for example, or impressionism. Perhaps your style leans more toward illustration than fine art. When you know the type of art you want to create, it’s easy to know when a drawing succeeds.

If you’re like me, you also start each drawing with a specific expectation, and you know when your drawing meets that expectation.

The drawing below is not the type of art I usually make, but I had a specific purpose for it. I wanted to use one or two colors of watercolor pencil to draw trees in fog. Even though I didn’t draw a ton of detail (which I usually do,) I knew what I wanted it to look like. I knew, in other words, when it was finished.

How to Decide When a Drawing is Finished by knowing how you want it to look before you start.

You Don’t Know What Else to Do With the Drawing

Even the most experienced artist reaches this point with some drawings. You have the feeling the drawing needs something more, but you don’t know what it is.

Or you know what’s needed, but you know how to do it.

In either case, I’ve discovered over the years that it’s best to consider such a drawing finished. I learn more by doing another drawing than by fiddling with the current drawing.

Or worse, setting that drawing aside until I have the skill to finish it. What usually happens is that I don’t work on the current drawing and I don’t work on a new drawing. Lose-lose!

Here’s a drawing I really like. But it has problems I didn’t know how to correct when I finished it years ago. The main problem is the color of the horse. The hair is way too orange. But back then, I had neither the knowledge nor the skills to correct the hair color.

If the drawing is for yourself, you can go back later and use newly acquired skills (or supplies) on it. If it’s a portrait, the best thing to do is finish it and send it out for customer approval.

Do you have to go back and correct old drawings? No. Keeping them as they are gives you a beautiful timeline of your art.

But there’s no reason you can’t redo it if you really want to.

You’re Satisfied with the Drawing

If you like what you’ve done, then it’s time to sign it and start a new drawing.

Here’s a drawing from decades ago. I loved the pony when it saw it at a sale, and I loved the reference photo. I loved the finished drawing, too.

Years later, it still looks complete, but I now see problem areas. That’s not bad; it’s a sign of progress in skill level.

Ignore potential technical problem when a drawing satisfies you. No matter how skilled you become with colored pencils, there’s always room for improvement. So take those successes as they come, then move on to the next drawing.

Does that mean you ignore technical problems all the time? Not at all.

But it does mean that if a drawing meets expectation overall, work on technical problems in the next drawing. Don’t fuss over them in this drawing.

Those are Three Ways to Decide When a Drawing is Finished.

There are other ways, as well. Time limitations, for example. Work on a drawing for fifteen minutes, an hour, a day, or a week. The drawing is finished when the time is up. Timed drawing is great for sketching, practicing, or just having fun with art.

Every artist has their own guidelines. Those of us who have been drawing a while know almost by instinct when a drawing is finished and when we might be able to push a bit further.

If you’re new to colored pencils, or haven’t been drawing very long, I hope the three guidelines I shared above help you finish more drawings.

Would you like more in-depth information on this topic? Read How to Know When a Drawing is Finished here for tips on analyzing specific drawings.

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CP Magic November 2020 is Here!

CP Magic November 2020 is now available and waiting to inform, entertain, and inspire you!

CP Magic November 2020 with featured artist Cathy Antkes Choyce

What’s in CP Magic November 2020

Featured Artist

Virginia artist Cathy Antkes Choyce is the featured artist. Cathy is primarily a portrait artist, but is also expanding into gallery art and teaching. She specializes in pet and animal portraits, but her “full scene” images are filled with eye candy in both composition and detail.

Cathy talks about her artistic journey, the motivations for her stunning equine, canine, and fox art, and the new directions her art has taken her. If you’re a beginning portrait artist, or if you want to become a portrait artist, she has great advice to get you off to a fast start.

Cathy’s tutorial features the wily fox in beautiful close up. It’s a beautiful blend of colored pencil work on the fox, and pan pastel work in the background. If you’ve ever wanted a closer look at mixing these two media, you don’t want to miss this tutorial.

The Great Art Adventure

With all great adventures come a variety of obstacles. Some are obvious and some are not. Those less obvious obstacles often catch us by surprise if we’re not careful. This month, Carrie talks about one of the least often recognized obstacles facing artists on a great art adventure.

CP Clinic

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, many artists are starting to think about goal setting. Did you know that not every way of tracking goals works for every artist? Did you even know there was more than one way to track goals?

Carrie takes a break from the more technical aspects of colored pencil art to share her thoughts on goal setting and goal tracking.

Also in CP Magic November 2020

Ask Carrie

Featured Photo

About CP Magic

CP Magic is a monthly digital publication written by a colored pencil artist—yours truly—for colored pencil artists at all levels. That’s you!

Each month features an artist interview and tutorial so you can meet the artist and see how they work. Other columns include the Great Art Adventure, CP Clinic, a featured photo, and more.

Get your copy of CP Magic November 2020 today.

Can Studio Lighting be Too Bright?

A few weeks ago, I talked about ways to light your art studio. One thing I didn’t mention in that post was the brightness of the lights you use. So today I want to answer the question, can studio lighting be too bright, and share some of the reasons that’s important.

Can Studio Lighting be Too Bright?

How the Brightness of Light is Measured

The brightness of light is measured by something called the Kelvin Color Temperature rating. The color rating is a four-digit number ending in the letter K, and ranging from low to high. The higher the number, the brighter the light.

Natural sunlight on a clear day is about 5,000K and is about as bright as light gets.

The Kelvin scale also reflects the color of the light. The higher the rating, the whiter the light. Light rated lower on the Kelvin scale is more yellow. A 5000K bulb produces whiter light than a 2700K bulb.

So those sulfur street lights that used to be so popular are quite low on the Kelvin scale, while the white LED street lights now in popular use have a higher rating.

As a point of reference, a standard household fluorescent is 3500K.

Can Studio Lighting be Too Bright?

The brightness of your lighting affects the look of your work. Yes, bright is good, but it turns out there is such a thing as too bright. Here are a couple of reasons why.

The Brightness of Your Lighting Affects Your Color Choices.

When studio lighting is too bright, it makes your paper look brighter, and that makes all the colors you put on the paper look brighter. The natural response is choosing darker colors so they look right as you work on them.

The problem is that when you see the artwork in normal lighting, then all those colors appear as they really are. That medium blue that looked perfect under bright light is suddenly a bit drab in normal lighting.

Of course that applies to all the colors you chose, with the end result that your drawings look subdued.

And all because your studio light was too bright.

Lighting that’s Too Bright Also Affects How You See and Draw Values

What applies to color applies to values, too. Even for under drawings drawn in a single color, working under light that’s too bright influences the darkness of the values. Shadows become too dark and highlights may disappear altogether.

It’s very difficult to make dark values lighter with colored pencil. It’s also difficult to replace highlights once you’ve lost them, so getting too dark early in a drawing makes making adjustments later on difficult.

Is Your Studio Lighting Too Bright?

It’s easy to tell. Display several finished pieces so you can see them all together. Are they darker than you intended? If most of those pieces look darker than you prefer, then it’s possible your studio lighting is too bright.

Comparing finished pieces seen in normal lighting to the original reference photo is also helpful. If the finished piece is drab or dark when compared to the reference photo when you view both in normal lighting, then chances are your studio is too brightly lighted.

There’s a lot more to consider when it comes to properly lighting your studio.

You also need to consider the color of the lighting, as well as the position and angle of the lighting relative to your drawing surface.

But most of us think first about brightness and most of us think that brighter is better.

So I hope I’ve given you helpful information before you rush out and buy the brightest light you can find!

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Draw on Suede Board with Prismacolor

If you’ve wanted to draw on suede board, but have been waiting for just the right tutorial, your wait is over.

Peggy Osborne walks you step-by-step through her drawing process using only 21 Prismacolor colors on suede board.

Draw on suede board with Peggy Osborne's new tutorial.

Draw on Suede Board with Peggy Osborne

Peggy knows working on suede mat board can be a challenge. She also knows the end result can be well worth the effort. She shares tips for working on suede board and talks about the characteristics that turned her into a huge suede board fan.

Peggy’s model is a stunningly beautiful long-haired German shepherd; the perfect subject for suede board. Peggy shows you how to draw long and short hair, a wet looking nose, and shining eyes, all on suede board.

You’ll learn valuable skills like layering and blending, using different types of pencil strokes to create textures, and how to lift color to add details. Peggy also shares a few tips for working on suede board, as well as a few things that work on traditional paper but are big no-nos when you draw on suede board.

The tutorial includes a full supply list, a color chart so you can match colors if you don’t have Prismacolor pencils, and a line drawing. Download it and start this delightful project today.

Are You Ready to Draw on Suede Board?

This tutorial is perfect if you’ve never before tried suede board but are ready to try it. You can’t do better than Peggy’s easy-to-read and follow instructions and beautiful illustrations.

And if you’re just looking for a new project to draw, then why not give this tutorial a try?

Click here to buy your copy of Peggy’s Long Haired German Shepherd tutorial.

About Peggy Osborne

See more of Peggy’s work at Pet Portraits by Peggy. You can also meet Peggy in the January issue of CP Magic.

Peggy is an accomplished self-taught artist living in Canada specializing in creating beautiful realistic portraits of pets and family members. She’s had an on going love affair with colored pencils, loving their simplicity, for as long as she can remember.

She started out using graphite pencil so it was an easy transition to carry on with colored pencils. Love of animals and art go hand in hand. Peggy is in awe of what can be accomplished with colored pencils.

Want to see a free sample of Peggy’s dog portrait tutorials and writing style first? Read How to Draw a Golden Retriever on this blog.

How to Square Up Photos in GIMP

In the past, I’ve shared tips for using Photoshop to manipulate digital images. Today, I want to tell you how to square up photos in GIMP.

Just What is GIMP?

GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program and it’s a free downloadable photo editor similar to Photoshop the way I remember PhotoShop (I last used PhotoShop 7.)

Versions are available for Windows, Mac, Linux and more, so there’s no reason you can’t download it.

It also includes an in-depth manual.

What GIMP is not is easy to use, but then Photoshop had a pretty steep learning curve, too.

It is great for graphic designers, photographers, and illustrators who prefer their software on their hard drives instead of in the clouds.

GIMP also offers one of the easiest ways to square up photos that I’ve ever used. That’s what I want to show you today.

How to Square Up Photos in GIMP

Step 1: Open GIMP

This is the window that opens.

There are the usual menu items across the top of the screen, but there’s also a window of option icons in the upper left corner. Those items icons are links to the same categories as the menu bar items at the top, so you have two ways to make selections.

I prefer the menu bar, but have also become familiar enough with some of the icons to use them, as well.

We won’t be using the windows at the right, so I’ll save those for another post.

Step 2: Open an Image

Once GIMP is open, open the image you want to work with.

From the FILE drop down menu select OPEN or OPEN AS LAYERS.

OPEN AS LAYERS allows you to add layers to your image if you wish, and gives you a little more flexibility. You won’t be using that to square photos, so it’s okay to simply open an image.

Step 3: Mark the Edges of the Image

Next, you need to mark the edges of the image to tell GIMP how to square the image.

To do this, place your cursor along the top ruler, right click, and drag a line to the bottom of the portion you want to straighten. See the dotted blue line at the bottom of the framed painting below.

Repeat this for the top edge.

How to Square Up Photos in GIMP

Then click on the left-hand ruler and drag a line to the left and right edges of the area you want to square up. When you finish, you should have four blue, dotted lines, as shown below.

I generally place the blue dotted lines so that a horizontal line meets a vertical line at one corner. For this demonstration, the lower right corner was already the most square, so that’s the corner I used as a point of reference.

You won’t always have such a clear choice. In such cases, frame the image as you would if you were cropping it.

Step 4: Select the Perspective Transform Tool

In the TOOLS drop down menu, select TRANSFORM TOOLS, then PERSPECTIVE, as shown below.

Your cursor changes to a shape with two short lines at right angles and a triangle. Position this symbol at one of the corners, then hold down the right-click button and drag that corner until it’s lined up with the two blue, dotted lines nearest to it.

Repeat this process until each of the four corners is square.

After you’ve finished lining up the four corners, check them. Changes made to one corner could affect the other corners, especially if your photo is very distorted. Make whatever adjustments may be necessary.

Step 5: Transform the Image

When you opened the Perspective Transform Tool, another window also opened on the right. This window tells you in decimals how much you’ve corrected your image, but unless you like numbers , the only things you need are the two buttons at the bottom.

The reset button is the magic Undo button if you decide not to keep the changes you’ve made.

If you do like the changes, click the transform button. GIMP then adjusts your photo and squares it up.

How to Square Up Photos in GIMP

Check the corners again after the transformation finishes. If you need to make further adjustments, follow steps four and five again.

Step 6: Export the Image

When you’re happy with what you’ve done, it’s time to save it.

But if you just SAVE the image, GIMP will save it as a .xcf file which only be opened with GIMP.

To save images as .jpg or other types of image files, you need to export the image.

To do that, select FILE, then EXPORT AS.

The dialogue box below opens.

In this sample, the image shows the same title and format (.jpg) as the original. You can export it like this, but if you do, you overwrite the original.

I usually either change the name of the file or export it to a different folder. You can also change the file format. There is no right or wrong way to do this, so do whatever makes the most sense to you.

When you’ve made the changes in name, file type, or destination, click EXPORT at the bottom of the dialogue box.

The last dialogue box to appear is this one. You can set the quality of the exported image. I set mine at 100 (high quality) because I’m never sure how many ways I may need to use the image in the future.

The higher the quality, the larger the file.

You can set and save your own defaults if you wish.

When you’re ready, click EXPORT and your squared up image is exported. When the process completes, you can close the program or open the next photo to square up.

One Last Note

When you quit GIMP, you will get a dialog box like this, warning you that changes have been made but not saved.

I rarely save changes, because I prefer not to make changes to the original image. But you can if you wish.

How to Square Up Photos in GIMP

That’s How I Square Up Photos In GIMP

GIMP does take some getting acquainted with, but I’ve yet to find an easier way to square up photos. It works with framed art, as you’ve seen here, but also allows you to adjust potential reference photos before distortions get into your art.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but if you take the time to learn how to use it, it can save you a great deal of time and possible heartache in the drawing process.

CP Magic October 2020 is Here!

CP Magic October 2020 is now available and waiting to inform, entertain, and inspire you!

CP Magic October 2020 cover

What’s in CP Magic October 2020

Featured Artist

Rochelle “Shelley” Oberholser is the featured artist this month. Shelley is a self-taught artist who learned most of what she knows about colored pencil by trying new things. Yes, a lot of those things didn’t work for her, but she also found a lot of things that did work, and her insight into this style of working and learning is a treasure for all of us.

Her still life tutorial (shown above) demonstrates her “try-it-and-see-if-it-works” drawing method. It’s a great tutorial, but it also provides a peek into Shelley’s thinking process.

CP Clinic

Have you ever stopped to consider how you might frame your art before you start drawing? I recently received a question from a reader who wanted to know how to determine the size of his work so it would be easy and inexpensive to frame.

The answer turned into this month’s CP Clinic.

The Great Art Adventure

Every adventure comes with side trips and forks in the road, but not all those side trips are helpful. Do you know how to decide whether something is a distraction to avoid or an opportunity to seize?

Ask Carrie

You bought a collection of open stock pencils, or a small set of pencils that didn’t include gray colors. You want to add a few gray colors to your collection, but there are so many choices. Which colors should you buy?

Also, can studio lighting be too bright?

Get the answer to both questions in this month’s issue of CP Magic.

About CP Magic

CP Magic is a monthly digital publication written by a colored pencil artist—yours truly—for colored pencil artists at all levels. That’s you!

Each month features an artist interview and tutorial so you can meet the artist and see how they work. Other columns include the Great Art Adventure, CP Clinic, a featured photo, and more.

Get your copy of CP Magic October 2020 today.

New Colored Pencil Tutorial

Announcing a brand new colored pencil tutorial from pet portrat artist, Peggy Osborne. A new tutorial with a twist!

This time, Peggy has chosen a subject that I’ve never seen in a tutorial download before. A baby goat.

Her Baby Goat tutorial not only shows you how to draw eyes and fur, but gives you the opportunity to decide how you’ll finish your baby goat drawing..

New Colored Pencil Tutorial

“This little cutie is a purebred Nigerian Dwarf goat kid. Yes, baby goats are called kids.

“Goats make me happy, there is just something so unique and beautiful about them and they make really beautiful art.” – Peggy Osborne

If you, like Peggy, enjoy drawing subjects that make you smile, look no further!

Follow along with Peggy as she draws one of her favorite subjects, a baby goat. You’ll feel like Peggy is sitting beside you, guiding you through detailed descriptions, full-color, step-by-step illustrations and tips.

You’ll learn valuable skills like layering and blending, using different types of pencil strokes to create textures, and a blurred background. Peggy also describes how she blends with solvent, and how she mixes and uses Titanium White mixture with Touchup Texture.

But that’s not all. With this tutorial, you have two options for finishing your drawing. With or without a background!

Ready for a New Colored Pencil Tutorial?

This tutorial is perfect if you’re already a pet portrait artist who wants to improve your skills. Not yet a pet portrait artist, but hoping to become one? This tutorial is for you, too.

And if you’re just looking for a new project to draw, then why not give this tutorial a try?

Click here to buy your copy of Peggy’s Baby Goat tutorial.

About Peggy Osborne

See more of Peggy’s work at Pet Portraits by Peggy. You can also meet Peggy in the January issue of CP Magic.

Peggy is an accomplished self-taught artist living in Canada specializing in creating beautiful realistic portraits of pets and family members. She’s had an on going love affair with colored pencils, loving their simplicity, for as long as she can remember.

She started out using graphite pencil so it was an easy transition to carry on with colored pencils. Love of animals and art go hand in hand. Peggy is in awe of what can be accomplished with colored pencils.

Want to see a free sample of Peggy’s dog portrait tutorials and writing style first? Read How to Draw a Golden Retriever on this blog.