How to Draw a Dark Background

A dark background to makes your subject stand out like no other background. Especially a brightly lighted one. But what’s the best way to draw a dark background?

There are several ways to get a dark or black background for your colored pencil drawings. Colored paper, mixed media, and using colored pencil.

Colored paper—and especially dark paper—presents a set of drawing problems better left for another post.

Mixed media with India ink, acrylics, or air brushing are also topics for other posts.

How to Draw a Dark Background

That leaves drawing a dark background with colored pencil; a process that can be time consuming. But it doesn’t have to be, and I’ll show you one way to draw very dark backgrounds quickly.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil

I had in mind a head study of a running horse, but my model was filled with light. She also had a long, black mane.

It might seem counter intuitive, but I planned do a dark background layer by layer. The plan was to use light pressure to layer several different colors to develop a rich black. The process began with Prismacolor Peacock Green and I spent several hours working on it.

As much as I looked forward to drawing the mane, drawing the background around the mane was a problem. This is as far as I got layering color with light pressure.

A Change in Course

Before I got any further, it was time to work on the next article for EmptyEasel. I chose to write about using masking fluid with colored pencil. That article needed a demonstration piece.

This drawing waited on the easel. I looked at all that mane, and decided the horse—more specifically her mane—was the perfect subject for the article.

And so it was.

I used both masking fluid and masking film on the mane, working on both at the same time to compare them. The part of the mane that is orange is masking fluid. The rest is masking film.

Drawing the Dark Background

First, I applied Dark Brown over all of the background using medium pressure (normal handwriting pressure). I added between two and five layers over the entire background, but wasn’t satisfied with the result.

Next, I chose three colors–Indigo Blue, Dark Brown, and Black–and applied them with medium-heavy to heavy pressure.

Working from one area to the next beginning at the upper right, I layered Indigo Blue and Dark Brown in random patterns. I then added Black. I used medium-heavy pressure for all three colors.

When I’d covered all of the background, I burnished it with each color. For most of the background, I burnished with all three colors, usually finishing with black. But I also burnished some areas with only Indigo Blue or Dark Brown, depending on whether I wanted cool tones or warm tones.

Finally, I burnished with Burnt Ochre to accent the head and to introduce the primary color of the horse into the background.

It took two days to finish the background with heavier layers of color. Although I don’t usually prefer this more direct method of drawing, it is a satisfactory look.

draw a dark background


Ironically, this drawing never went any further. It lurks somewhere in the studio, waiting for resuscitation, but even if it remains unfinished, it served its purpose.

I know one more way to draw a dark background.

And now you do, too!

If you have a drawing you need to be finish quickly and you want deep colors and saturation, this method may very well be your solution.

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Realistic Landscape Greens with Colored Pencils

I’ve been drawing landscapes with colored pencils for almost as long as I’ve been using colored pencils. One of the most difficult things to get right in a landscape are the green colors. So today, I want to show you one way to draw realistic landscape greens.

Learn how to draw realistic landscape greens.

There are several ways to draw landscapes with greens that don’t look washed out or garish. One of my favorite methods is to start with an umber under drawing. That’s because earth tones naturally tone down other colors.

But most artists prefer to go straight for the color. I confess. I often do that, too, because color is just so much fun!

So let’s take a look at how I use that method to draw landscapes.

Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Using Direct Color

When you draw with a direct color under drawing, you begin drawing with pretty much the same colors you finish with. You simply begin with lighter versions of the final colors, or start with lighter pressure.

You build color through a series of layers and either increase the pressure or mix in other colors. Sometimes both.

While it’s quite likely you’ll include earth tones and complementary colors to keep the greens looking natural, you won’t use them by themselves at any part of the drawing process.

In other words, the under drawing will look like a faded version of the final, full color drawing.

How does that look in practice? Here’s a step-by-step.

How to Use a Direct Color Under Drawing

As with any other method of drawing, the first step is creating the patterns of lights and darks in the composition. You also begin developing the most basic details at this stage.

The Base Layer

For this illustration, I glazed a medium green over all of the trees using open, diagonal strokes to establish the base color.

Next, I drew the form shadows (on the trees) and the cast shadows (between the trees) with the same color. But I increased pressure a little, and used slightly smaller strokes, which I placed closer together.

The results are the same as with the other methods, but the drawing is already showing the finished colors. Green.

The Middle Layers

Next, I layered a light dull-ish yellow over the trees, followed by a couple of layers of a yellowish-green. Those colors provided the warm yellow tint necessary to create the appearance of late afternoon sun slanting across the landscape.

I followed that with another layer or two of the original color into the shadows on each side of each tree. Then I glazed a light-value, yellowish earth tone over all of each of the trees.

After a few more layers alternating between those colors, I burnished with a very cool, light blue in the lightest areas. Then I added a little dark green or dark brown in the shadows, and then burnished with the colorless blender.

Once the basic values were in place, I continued layering all the colors over the trees. Layer by layer, I developed colors, values, and details.

I finished by layering medium green, dark blue, and dark brown into the shadows, alternating between the colors to create a range of values within the shadows.

Finishing the Trees

I finished work on these trees by burnishing in a couple of rounds.

For the first round, I used different colors for each area: Light, cool blue in the lightest areas and dark green in the darkest areas.

I used a colorless blender for the second round of burnishing, and I burnished all parts of each tree.

To burnish, I used heavy pressure, sharp to slightly blunted pencils with a variety of strokes to achieve the look I wanted for each tree.

This is what these trees look like finished.

The final drawing with realistic landscape greens

You Can Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

It takes some thought and patience, but once you master the process, it makes perfect sense.

When you use the direct color method, all you’re doing is developing color along with values and details layer-by-layer.

It’s more difficult to determine where the under drawing ends and the final drawing begins when you use direct color, but it is no less effective than using an umber under drawing or a complementary under drawing.

One note to those who will ask. I didn’t name colors in this step-by-step because the specific colors don’t matter all that much. You can use any combination of yellow-greens, medium and dark greens, earth tones and blues to duplicate the results I showed you here.

You can see the finished drawing, Afternoon Graze, here.

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Can Colored Pencils be Erased

Can colored pencils be erased? That’s what Katherine wants to know. Here’s her question.

Hello, Carrie,

Erasing? Is it a reality? I know I drew with too much pressure on my first project and plan to use a lighter touch and layer the colors this time. So will this facilitate erasing at all?

Thank you for offering to help all of us with our art journey,


I want to thank Katherine for this particular question because it’s a subject that arises often.

I think there’s the perception that because colored pencils are pencils, they can be erased just like graphite pencils. How I wish that were true!

Unfortunately, it’s not.

Can Colored Pencils be Erased?

Colored pencils look and behave like regular pencils, but they are very different. Both types of pencils contain a binding agent that allows the manufacturer to form graphite or pigment into a lead.

It’s easy to erase the binding agent in graphite pencils once the graphite is on the paper. Removing the binding agent also removes the graphite. Almost any eraser removes graphite from paper.

Can colored pencils be erased like graphite?

Colored pencils, on the other hand, are made with a binding agent that includes wax and oil in differing amounts. Wax-based pencils contain more wax than oil. Oil-based pencils contain more oil than wax.

The result is the same, though.

Both oil and wax resist removal once they’re on paper. Try to erase them with a regular eraser, and what happens? You may remove some color, but you’re more likely to smudge and smear it around, making a bigger mess.

But does that mean you can’t remove color once it’s on the paper?

Is Erasing a Reality?

Erasing is a reality if you use the right kind of eraser. Some artists use what they call an ink eraser. I don’t know exactly what that is, but I imagine those old typing erasers that look like a pencil with plastic bristles on the end.

Other artists recommend Tombow Mono erasers.

I have no personal experience with those, so I don’t know how they work on heavily applied color.

I’ve had success lifting color using mounting putty, masking tape, transparent tape, and what I call a click eraser, shown below. But even they do not completely remove heavily applied color.

Can Colored Pencils be Erased

If you work on traditional drawing papers, it doesn’t matter what method you use to lift color. Even combining some of the tools mentioned above removes only a limited amount of color. The more color on the paper, the more difficult removing it becomes.

Yes, applying color with lighter pressure makes lifting color easier. That’s because you don’t press the color so deeply into the tooth of the paper.

Starting with a harder pencil such as Prismacolor Verithin, Faber-Castell Polychromos, or Caran d’Ache Pablo also makes lifting color easier. But even then, it’s next to impossible to get down to bare paper again.

To read more about my experiences removing color, read how to Remove Color from a Colored Pencil Drawing here. You can also read 2 Neat Tricks for Erasing or “Lifting” Color from Colored Pencil Drawings here, published on EmptyEasel.

The Paper Makes a Difference

The difference can be huge!

I described above what happens when you try to erase colored pencils applied to traditional papers.

But apply color to a sanded art paper like Uart, Fisher 400, Pastelmat, or Lux Archival, and it’s a different story. Regular graphite erasers are still a no-no, but you can remove color almost completely from sanded papers with mounting putty, a stiff brush, or other similar tools.

I’ve been experimenting with the Brush & Pencil products lately, and can tell you that when I use Powder Blender before adding color, it’s even easier to remove color.

In fact, Alyona Nickelsen’s “painting with colored pencils” process involves adding color AND removing color. This lifting off method is very much like the wipe-off method oil painters have been using for centuries.

So Can Colored Pencils be Erased?


And no.

It all depends on the paper you use, the tools you use to lift or lighten color, and how you apply the color.

I recommend testing various methods with the paper or papers you use most often to find the method that works best for you.

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Tips for Drawing Animal Portraits

Today, I’d like to share a 5 tips for drawing animal portraits.

Tips for Drawing Animal Portraits

5 Tips for Drawing Animal Portraits

Let me tackle this like a step-by-step tutorial, and lets begin with the reference photo.

Step 1: Use Good Reference Materials

For most of us, our art is no better than the reference materials we use. I have completed portraits from poor reference materials and the client has been happy. But it was a struggle, and not much fun.

And lets face it; unless you know your subject inside and out, you simply cannot draw what you cannot see!

Tips for Drawing Animal Portraits

So the process begins with the best reference photos possible.

Step 2: Start Drawing Detail with the Line Drawing

One thing I learned early on was that I needed to develop details from the beginning. If I didn’t start developing the details with the line drawing, I got to the under drawing or color phase, and was completely lost. And often frustrated.

What held true for oil painting (where I could easily paint over or wipe off mistakes) was even more important with colored pencils.

So over the years, I developed a method of creating line drawings that shows as much detail as possible.

I use a strong, dark line to draw shapes. The outline of the horse, the eye, and the bridle, for example.

I use lighter lines to draw the shapes within those areas. I even mark highlights and some of the more obvious middle values using dotted or dashed lines. So my line drawings often look like complex road maps, as shown below.

Illustration from the Portrait of a Black Horse Tutorial.

I don’t always transfer all those lines, but I do transfer the more important ones. In some way, it helps just to have drawn all those details as a line drawing.

Something else that makes doing a detailed line drawing helpful is that it gives you the opportunity to work out shapes with simple lines. Getting size, shape, and position correct as a line drawing goes a long way toward creating a fabulous portrait.

Step 3: Establish the Most Important Elements Early

When you begin color work, start with the most important part of the portrait. Usually that’s going to be the eye, but not always.

Shadows are a good place to begin, too. They’re what give your portrait form and make it look real. Like your subject takes up space.

I use the umber under drawing method a lot for animal portraits because it allows me to work on the values separate from color.

But you don’t need to start with an under drawing like this one (below) in order to begin developing details early. So carefully place the most important details from the start, then gradually add additional details as needed.

Step 4: Draw Slowly and Carefully

Don’t rush! Nothing derails a portrait more quickly than rushing!

Study your reference photo carefully. Choose colors carefully and make those decisions based on the colors you see in the reference photo. No two animals have exactly the same skin tones or hair colors.

Lighting has as much to do with the colors you’ll draw as the actual skin tones or hair colors. So forget the idea that there’s a “basic set of colors” that works for all subjects.

After you’ve done a few portraits, you’ll no doubt discover that you use some colors for most of them. That’s okay. Those become your go-to colors.

Step 5: Pay Attention to the Details

It’s vital to get the overall shape of your subject correct. That means the proportions need to be correct, as does their position relative to the animal as a whole.

But the smaller details can transform a so-so portrait into a great portrait.

So what kind of details am I talking about?

The direction of hair growth is one key detail that is often overlooked. It may seem minor, but when you shade hair or fur as a solid, it can look flat. Even if the color and values are accurate.

Get the big shapes right, then continue adding smaller and smaller details until your animal portrait looks the way you want it to look.

Illustration from the Portrait of a Black Horse Tutorial.

And this goes back to the line drawing, as I mentioned above.

Those are My Basic Tips for Drawing Animal Portraits

Of all kinds.

These five steps are actually good steps for any subject from still life to complex landscapes.

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When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

We’ve all heard we should keep our pencils sharp for the best results. Most of the time, that’s true, but today’s reader wants to know about using the side of a colored pencil. Here’s the question.

Hello, Carrie,

Is it more effective to use the side of the pencil and avoid the tip except for making defining lines?

Most of the time, smooth color is vital to smooth color layers and smooth blends. Sharp pencils are usually necessary for both. So it’s understandable that most artists recommend keeping pencils sharp all the time.

the Side of a Colored Pencil

But that’s not to say there’s never a time to use the side of a pencil.

Following are a few examples of using the side of the pencil instead of the tip.

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

Covering Large Areas with Color

Let’s say you need to shade an area that’s fairly large and in which no sharp detail is needed. A distant hill, maybe. Or an under drawing layer. Using the side of your pencil makes perfect sense in those situations.

You can draw smooth color with the side of a pencil, but the color skims across the tooth of the paper without filling the tooth. The resulting color layer will appear lighter in value because more of the paper shows through. This is ideal for showing distance in a landscape, or for drawing mist or fog.

I used the side of a pencil to draw the distant trees in this landscape. The broken color (paper showing through the color layer) helped create to look of far off trees.


When you glaze, you put down just enough color to tint whatever color is already on the paper. With oil painting, you do that by adding painting medium to thin the paint and make it more transparent.

Colored pencils are already translucent, so you don’t need to add anything to them to use them for glazing.

You can cover more area by using the side of a sharp pencil rather than a dull pencil, as shown in the previous illustration.

Instead, you glaze by using light pressure and not doing more than one or two layers. The sides of pencils are perfect for this because they create a smoother color layer and cover more area without visible pencil strokes.

The resulting color layer is broken. That means that paper holes show through the glazing layer, as shown below. The rougher the paper, the more paper shows through glazed color.

Whatever color is already on the paper, also shows through, and that’s what makes glazing so effective. You can tint previous color layers without completely covering them up.

Too Much Detail

Have you ever realized after finishing an area that you’ve drawn too much detail? Have you ever wished there was a way to reduce the amount of detail without removing color?

Try lightly shading that area with the side of a pencil. You’ll be able to add color without adding detail. That color layer helps “veil” the previous layers. The details still show through, but they’ll be less obvious.

I often use a light gray for such work, but you can use any color. Use a darker color if you need to darken the area; use a lighter color to lighten it slightly.

One Other Reason to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

Over the years, readers have asked how to learn to use lighter pressure when they draw.

The best tool I’ve found for a naturally heavy hand is changing the way you hold the pencil.

Here are two samples of how I hold pencils.

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

On the left is a nearly vertical grip. I use this when drawing tight detail, or when I need to be very precise. It’s also a good way to work on small areas.

When you hold a pencil this way, you’re using only the point of the pencil. You have a lot of control and can put a lot of pressure on the pencil.

On the right is a nearly horizontal grip. With this grip, you’re drawing with all or most of the exposed pigment core, not just the tip. This is perfect for glazing thin layers of color, as I explained above.

But you know what else it’s good for? Decreasing pressure! That’s because you hold the pencil more toward the unsharpened end. That makes it a little more difficult to put a lot of pressure on the pencil as you draw.

(My illustration isn’t perfect because I used a short pencil to show the horizontal grip. No matter the length of the pencil, hold it near the end.)

If you want to draw with very light pressure but have a naturally heavy hand, try holding the pencil near the end of the pencil and drawing with the side of the pencil.


In most cases and with most papers, it is smart to use the tip of a well-sharpened pencil.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when using the side of the pencil is more helpful. I’ve shared a few of the times I’m likely to use the side of the pencil.

Experiment with your next drawing and see when the side of your pencil produces better results than the tip.

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How I Usually Start an Animal Drawing

Sometime ago, I answered a reader who wanted to know where they should begin a drawing. In a follow-up post, I also described how I start a landscape drawing. Today, I want to round out the series by telling you how I usually start an animal drawing.

How I Usually Start an Animal Drawing

In the original post, I talked about general starting points like base layers, dark values, and light values. I listed them as three separate options, but they really work together on most projects.

The landscape drawing post described the way I draw most landscapes beginning with an umber under drawing.

At one time, I started most animal drawings that way, too. But over the years, I tried different papers and using more colored papers, so I had to find other ways to begin animal drawings.

How I Usually Start an Animal Drawing

The method I use to draw animals is based on the paper I choose for the project. Traditional papers like Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Teintes require a traditional approach to drawing. Watercolor papers can be used in different ways, and sanded art paper is even more versatile.

Let’s start at the beginning with traditional white drawing paper.

Traditional Drawing Paper in White

I start drawings on traditional white paper with an umber under drawing, and I begin by shading the base color into the darkest areas first. As I continue darkening the shadows, I also add lighter values.

However, it’s important to work with light pressure and build up the values layer by layer. Corrections and adjustments are easier to make this way, and you also avoid getting too dark too quickly in the darkest places.

Once the darkest values are in place, I develop the other values with additional layers.

I also develop the most important details, and then fine tune them.

Traditional Drawing Paper in Colors

An umber under drawing doesn’t work very well on colored paper unless the paper is a very light earth tone. Even then, I have the best success with light-colored papers that are cool in color. Stonehenge Natural is the best color for use with an umber under drawing.

With other light colors, I start an animal drawing by deciding on the base color of the animal. The base color is often the lightest color in the animal’s hair, and is most often (but not always) most evident in the highlights.

This portrait was drawn on a warm, light-value Stonehenge, and the horse was a palomino. The base color was a reddish-gold earth tone.

Then I started shading the same way I start an umber under drawing; by working first in the shadows, and then developing the middle values.

A full-length tutorial on this portrait is available for you to read here.

I also shaded the white blaze on the horse’s face so I wouldn’t work over it. The paper was just dark enough to make that possible. Otherwise, I’d lightly outline the blaze with the base color, and then work around it.

For darker papers, I start with lighter values and essentially draw in reverse by marking out the highlights and lighter middle values first if the paper is very dark.

If the paper is a medium value, such as Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Grey, then I begin with whatever color and value works best with whatever animal I’m drawing.

No matter what color of paper or pencil I use, I almost always start by shading the shadows, and then working into the middle values.

Watercolor Papers

The beauty of watercolor papers is that you can do the base layers with watercolors or watercolor pencils. Those mediums do not fill the tooth of the paper and they fill in paper holes much better.

I don’t usually start with an umber under drawing because reapplying water reactivates the layers underneath. So I choose an overall base color for each area, then apply that with water-based mediums. When that dries, I continue with dry color, layering colors just as I would on regular paper.

In this sample, the background has been developed more completely at this stage than the horse. Part of the reason for that is that I needed to work around the edges of the horses and wanted to do that before working on the horse. Just in case the background didn’t turn out!

I wrote a two-part tutorial based on this drawing for EmptyEasel. You can read more about this method here.

Sanded Art Papers

Sanded art papers are actually more versatile than any other paper I’ve ever used. I’ve started drawings with an umber under drawing, with a more direct method, and using water-soluble media.

The method I use depends on the color of the paper and the color of the animal I’m drawing.

I started this horse portrait with an umber under drawing because it’s on white Clairefontaine Pastelmat.

I’ll use a more direct method with another portrait because I chose Sienna Pastelmat as the support.

There are Other Ways to Start an Animal Drawing

In fact, I sometimes don’t use any of the methods described above. Much depends on the subject, the color of the paper, the type of paper, and how much time I have to finish.

And as I’ve said about so many other topics, there really is no one-size-fits-all way to start a drawing.

But I hope you’ll find a method that works for you among those I described above.

If not, I hope you’ve at least discovered some ideas that get you started looking for your own best ways to start your animal drawings.

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Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing

Last week, I began a step-by-step demonstration showing how to draw a horse as a miniature drawing. This week I’ll demonstrate glazing color on an umber under drawing on the same project.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing

Glazing Background Color Over an Umber Under Drawing

The drawing is an ACEO (Art Cards, Editions and Originals) on white Rising Stonehenge paper.

This is the finished umber under drawing. You can read about drawing the under drawing here.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing -- The finished umber under drawing.

You can finish your under drawing with as much detail as you like. Some artists produce under drawings that look like finished works of art. I admire those artists and their work, but I don’t possess enough patience for such highly detailed under drawings!

My Color List

I used Prismacolor Verithin pencils to preserve as much of the paper’s natural tooth as possible for as long as possible. Finding other ways to preserve tooth is important when you don’t want to use solvents. Verithin pencils include only 36 colors, but there are enough colors to get started.

These are the colors I used.

I didn’t use these colors in any particular order beyond working generally from light to dark. Many of them were used several times, alternating colors among the many layers I did throughout the day.

To preserve paper tooth, use harder pencils for the first few layers of color work.

You can successfully complete this project using your favorite colors.

Layering Colors

I started with Prismacolor Verithin pencils, using light pressure and a variety of strokes to layer smooth color.

To keep the green from getting too bright, I sandwiched earth tones (Dark Umber, Terra Cotta, and Goldenrod) between greens (Apple Green, Grass Green, Peacock Green, and True Green.) I further adjusted color and value by mixing in Canary Yellow, True Blue, Non-Photo Blue, and Ultramarine.

No color was applied in an even layer throughout the background. Multiple layers and varying strokes were used to create the look of sun-dappled foliage in soft-focus.

The result is some areas that are more blue than yellow, and some that show a lot of brown.

Since I wanted as many layers and colors as possible without producing the ‘slick’ look of heavy burnishing, I kept pressure light to medium-light for each layer.

Keeping the pencils needle-sharp wasn’t a high priority. With this type of background, a slightly dull or even an angled pencil tip can be advantageous.

Glazing Color on the Horse

I used Verithin pencils to begin glazing color on the horse, beginning with Goldenrod in the lightest values. The medium value base colors were Orange and Orange Ochre, with Indigo Blue as the base color in the mane and forelock.

Developing Color

After the base layers were finished, I added Indigo Blue in the darker shadows to begin developing those shadows.

Then I continued layering with Verithin Terra Cotta, Goldenrod, and Orange Ochre in the red-brown parts of the horse’s coat.

Next, I darkened values with Dark Brown and Crimson Red. With each color, I worked around the highlights.

For the muzzle, eye, mane and forelock, I layered Black in the darkest areas, followed by Indigo Blue in the darkest values and middle values.

I also used some Prismacolor Soft Core pencils (the same colors) to add vibrancy.

Adjusting the Background

Now that the main colors and values were in place on the horse, I felt the need to add more color to the background. For this, I switched to Prismacolor Soft Core pencils.

To begin, I used Dark Green, Olive Green, Indigo Blue, Apple Green, Dark Umber, and Yellow Chartreuse to deepen saturation all around. I applied light colors in light areas and dark colors in dark areas with enough overlap to avoid ”pasted on” value patterns.

Then I used Yellow Chartreuse, Chartreuse, Light Green, Apple Green, Deco Yellow, and French Grey 30% to burnish the background.

The result was a deep and rich color that looked almost like it could have been an oil painting.

Adjusting the Horse

I added Goldenrod, Orange Ochre, and Terra Cotta applied with light to medium pressure and in random order. Mixing colors like this helped create rich, saturated color.

Then I added Orange Ochre, Spanish Orange, Crimson Red, Orange, Peacock Green, Black, Non-Photo Blue, and Goldenrod. In the first pass, I used the colors in the order listed. Later, I used them in random order.

I started with Verithin colors to establish as deep and even a layer of color as possible while filling as little tooth as possible.

When I had done all I could do with those, I switched to Prismacolor Soft Core pencils and used Burnt Ochre, Orange, and Black.

For the most part, I used a medium to heavy pressure, really forcing color down into the tooth of the paper to fill up every last space.

Finishing Touches

I started the final round of work with Verithin Goldenrod, Orange Ochre, Crimson Red, Ultramarine, and Orange. I used Canary Yellow, and White for highlight colors and to burnish where needed.

Then I added Prismacolor Soft Core Burnt Ochre with light to medium pressure to add teh final touches.

And here is the finished portrait.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing -- The finished portrait.

If it were a larger portrait, I’d refine the details further and add more color depth. It looked great as an ACEO.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing is now Complete

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial. You can use this method with success on any subject at any size.

And as I mentioned earlier in this post, you can develop the under drawing as much as you like. The more detail you include in the under drawing, the easier (and less work) glazing color becomes.

Are you interested in more information on this method? I’ve published a subject study tutorial that’s currently available on Colored Pencil Tutorials and you can read more about that here.

Other Articles in This Series

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

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How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

Today, I want to show you how to start a miniature horse drawing. That is, a miniature drawing of a horse.

The original drawing is an ACEO, 3-1/2 inches wide by 2-1/2 inches tall.

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

Officially, it also falls into the miniature art category. I’m not certain ACEOs are as popular as they once were, but they’re a great way to practice a new method or technique. If you like finishing artwork quickly with colored pencil, ACEOs are perfect for that, as well.

However, you can download the line drawing here and make this project whatever size you like! I’ve shaded some of the middle values on the head and shoulder to make the highlights easier to see.

You can also download the reference photo here. The photo is a scan from a print photo, so it isn’t the best quality, but it includes all the information you need for this project unless you like hyper-realism!

A Bit about ACEOs

ACEO stands for Art Cards, Editions and Originals, also known as Art Trading Cards (ATCs) because they are the size of a typical trading card.

Size is the only qualification. Artwork must be 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2.

ACEO/ATCs can be created with any medium on any support, and in any style. They can be originals or reproductions. I’ve used oils, colored pencils, ballpoint pen, graphite, and acrylics to make landscape, abstract, and equine-theme ACEOs.

ACEO horse painting in oils.

I like the size because I can use scrap pieces of paper, canvas or other material to paint or draw on. Another benefit is being able to toss a drawing that doesn’t work.

And that makes ACEOs ideal for trying new materials, new mediums, new techniques, or new subjects.

Colored Pencils and Miniature Art

Colored pencils are ideal for miniature art. Their size and shape make them a natural for producing detail in miniature and the size of miniature art is perfect for colored pencil.

Colored pencils are my favorite medium because they allow a high-degree of detail and I can complete some ACEO-sized pieces in an hour or less.

Now, time for the tutorial!

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

This is my reference. I did a lot of composing with the camera, but also began work by cropping the digital image to the proportions of an ACEO.

Start a miniature horse drawing reference photo.

To transfer the line drawing, I coated the back with a graphite pencil. The soft lead I used required some cleanup afterward, but I got a nice, crisp drawing without leaving impressions on the paper. At this size, that’s a plus.

By the way, I’m drawing on Rising Stonehenge 90lb paper in white. You can use your favorite white paper as long as it’s not too toothy.

This week, I’ll show you how to do the umber under drawing, then follow up with the color glazes next week.

The Umber Under Drawing

I chose to start with an umber under drawing because that’s the best way I’ve found to get the shadows, values and details right.

Working without color is also a little bit faster.

The Background

I chose Prismacolor Verithin Dark Umber because that line of pencil has a thinner, harder lead. It covers paper well without filling the tooth. It’s also easier to erase and correct than softer pencils. You can use Prismacolor Premier Dark Umber, or any similar medium-value brown.

Layer color unevenly over the background. The background will be blurry green, so don’t put the same amount of Dark Umber over every part of it. One option is to leave the background lighter around the horse’s head, and darker along the edges, but you can try other backgrounds, too.

Use hatching and cross-hatching strokes and layering to create variations in values.

Since I was creating my own background, I drew a random pattern of light and dark areas, but kept the background around the horse’s head and especially around the ears, light to accent the horse.

The Horse

I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t save the highlights, I tend to work right over them. It’s impossible to recover nice, clean highlights once you’ve shaded over them if you’re using traditional drawing methods.

So the first step to drawing the horse is lightly outlining some of the more prominent highlights (outlines are still visible on the shoulder.)

Use directional strokes that follow the contours of the head and neck everywhere except the eye.

For the eye, use circular strokes to fill in the shape as completely as possible. Work around the lashes and use only a few layers around the lower edge of the eyeball, where there will be reflected light, while adding more layers to darken the rest of the eye.

Start a miniature horse drawing.

Except in the eye, use light pressure. When drawing the eye, begin with light pressure and work up to medium light pressure.

Other Notes

Since this piece is so small, there isn’t much room for fine details. Don’t fret too much over all the details you see in the reference photo.

I used a dry fine point ballpoint pen to impress my signature into the paper before starting to draw. Even with a single color applied with two or three light layers, the signature is quite clear. You don’t have to sign your art, or you can use a light Verithin (or other pencil.)

This is an ideal way to sign small format or miniature drawings, especially if you lay down a lot of color and don’t use solvents. When you use a solvent, the signature will be filled in to some extent, but may still be visible.

You may need a couple of rounds of shading the background and/or the horse to finish the umber under drawing. The key thing to remember is to make sure there is a clear distinction between the horse and the background. If the horse doesn’t stand out at the under drawing stage, it probably won’t stand out even after adding color. Contrast is important. Make sure the dark values are dark enough and the light values are light enough.

Now You Know how to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

If you like, practice on a few more. Or do this one again and save the best one for next week.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can try this method on other subjects. Just remember to have fun!

Next week, we’ll finish with color glazing.

Ask Carrie a Question

How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know how to get bright highlights in eyes. This is a great question, because the answer works for any type of bright highlights on any subject.

Here’s the question.

How do you get that realistic look of shiny glaze look in eyes, besides just having a white dot from a jelly roll pen? Please, I’m lost on making the seem real, Thanks.


Thank you for the question!

This post is a followup to last week’s Q&A Wednesday post, in which I talked about using gel pens and other supplies for adding highlights to colored pencil. That method works well for craft uses and other non-archival art forms. If you’re fine artist and want to know whether or not that’s a good idea, take a moment to read that post here. We’ll wait for you.

How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

There are two ways to get bright highlights in eyes—or bright highlights on any subject. The methods are very different, so what I’d like to do is share a few general tips on each subject.

I’ll include links to more in-depth tutorials on this blog when they’re available.

Drawing Highlights on Traditional White Paper

Traditional paper is what most of us think of when we think of drawing paper. Brands like Stonehenge, Strathmore, and Canson Mi-Teintes are examples.

These papers take varying amounts of color, but one thing is fairly standard. You cannot layer light colors over dark colors and get bright values. That has more to do with the pencils than the paper, because the pencils are translucent. But the paper does make a difference.

When you use white paper, you have to preserve the highlights and work around them. The method that works best for me is marking out the highlights on the line drawing, then developing color by starting with the lightest colors and gradually drawing the darker colors and values layer by layer.

Peggy Osborne wrote an excellent tutorial about drawing cat eyes on white paper, which you can read here. She uses a method similar to what I described above. You can draw highlights in any type of eye or on any subject using her method.

Drawing Highlights on Traditional Paper That’s Medium Dark or Darker

Drawing on medium-dark or darker paper has one advantage over white paper. You can actually draw the light values first and see them. You still have to work around them, but at least you can see them more easily.

I wrote a tutorial on this subject, which you can read here. The subject is a cat, but the method I describe works with any type of eye.

Or with any subject on which you need a bright highlight.

Drawing on Abrasive, Non-Absorbent Papers

Uart Premium Sanded Pastel Paper, Fisher 400 Pastel Paper, and Clairfontaine Pastelmat are all abrasive papers. They have obvious texture.

They are also non-absorbent, so they don’t soak up solvents the same way traditional drawing papers do.

While you can use normal drawing methods on them and get good results, they also allow you to use more “painterly” methods of applying color.

I haven’t yet completed a pet portrait on this type of paper, but I did do a landscape in which I added light-value highlights over darker colors. As you can see in this detail, the light greens and whites show up quite well when placed over medium dark and dark greens.

If you have the right tools, you can even isolate layers and add new colors just as though you were drawing on fresh paper.

That means that you can add highlights and lighter values over darker values with much greater success than you could on traditional drawing paper.

You will need special tools for this method. Tools such as Titanium White, Powder Blender, and ACF Texture Fixative from Brush & Pencil. Alyona Nickelsen’s book, Colored Pencil Painting Portraits is a great resource for learning how best to use these tools.

Drawing Those Bright Highlights

As you can see, there are several methods for drawing bright highlights in eyes. It all depends on the paper you use and your preferred drawing style.

If you work on traditional white drawing paper, preserve the white of the paper in the highlight area. You’ll always get brighter highlights if you preserve the white of the paper than if you try to add them over darker colors.

The other methods I described are also very effective once you learn them.

But if you prefer using traditional papers and just colored pencils, then your best option—your only option—is defining the highlights first and working around them from the start.

Ask Carrie a Question

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

What is the best method of transferring drawings to drawing paper? That’s what Kathryn wants to know. Here’s her question.

Hi Carrie

I’ve only started drawing and using coloured pencils in the last 6 years and often have problems transferring my sketch onto good paper.  What is the best method of transferring my sketch onto good paper?

I’ve tried:

  • transfer paper with charcoal on the back (got quite messy)
  • coloured carbon paper (but it didn’t work very well)
  • bought a lightbox which worked well sometimes but a lot of my paper is really thick and doesn’t work with the lightbox

Also I would like to say thank you for all your emails, blogs and encouragement in your articles. I felt like giving up numerous times but would read your weekly emails which would encourage me.  I have made progress over the years and enjoyed your tuition and done a number of your lessons.  I’m emailing from New Zealand so just to let you know you have fans all over the world.



Thank you to Kathryn for her question, and readership. And for her encouragement. One can never get too much encouragement!

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

It would be nice if I could share an answer that works all the time for every artist. The fact of the matter is that there is no such answer. I’ve used four or five different transfer methods over the years. Some worked a lot. Some worked once in a while, and some didn’t work at all.

There are many other transfer methods that I’ve never tried. Some artists swear by those methods, but I can’t personally recommend them.

So I’m going to talk about the three transfer methods that work best for me.

My Best Methods of Transferring Drawings

Light Box

My absolute favorite method of transferring drawings is a light box. In my case, that’s one of two or three large windows.

But Kathryn is right. Some papers are too thick or opaque for this method to work. I can transfer to Bristol and Stonehenge fine with a light box, but need other methods for colored papers, and heavier papers.

Carboning the Back of the Drawing

The easiest way to transfer a line drawing to another surface is to shade graphite directly on the back of the drawing. This process is called “carboning the drawing” and it lets you trace the line drawing onto almost any other drawing or painting surface.

Kathryn has already tried a form of this. But she used charcoal rather than graphite, and that will produce a messier line.

Instead charcoal, try a pencil that’s soft enough to make a nice, clear line, but not so soft that it smudges wherever you happen to rest your hand. A 4B is the best choice if you tend to draw with a light hand. Otherwise, a 2B is probably your best choice.

How to Carbon a Drawing

To carbon a drawing, turn the drawing upside down and shade the back of the paper along the lines. You don’t need to cover the entire piece of paper, but make sure to shade every part of the line drawing.

It doesn’t matter how careful you are in shading. Notice the random patterns in the illustration below. But you MUST cover every part of the line drawing.

This is what my line drawing looked like after I carboned it.

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

You can see the shading on the drawing because my line drawing is on tracing paper.

If your drawing is on drawing paper, so you may not be able to see the shading from the front of the paper. To make sure you’ve shaded behind every line, hold the drawing up to a window or lay it on a light box. Do any additional shading that might be necessary.

When you’ve shaded over every part of the line drawing, mount it to drawing paper and retrace the lines. The graphite transfer to the drawing paper. Clean up as necessary afterward.

Home-Made Graphite Paper

I don’t often carbon the backs of my line drawings because I prefer clean line drawings. In the past, I used commercial carbon paper, usually Saral greaseless. Then I started making my own transfer paper and have never looked back.

It’s fast, easy, and inexpensive. And you can “recharge” the sheet whenever necessary!

Use a 2B or 4B graphite pencil to shade one side of an ordinary piece of paper. I use printer paper, but you can also use any other type of paper that’s heavy enough to stand the abuse.

Shade the paper as much or as little as you like. This sample shows two or three layers applied in one direction, with two or three additional layers applied in a different direction.

All you need is enough graphite on the paper to transfer a drawing, so two or three layers with a soft graphite pencil will probably be enough.

You can also shade all or part of the paper. I do a lot of smaller drawings, so this partial sheet is sufficient. If I need something for a larger drawing, I shade more of the sheet.

When I was oil painting, I even had a legal sheet fully carboned for those larger oil portraits.

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

Some artists stabilize the graphite with a light coat of workable fixative. That also keeps the transferred lines from being too dark. I’ve never sprayed my graphite paper with anything, so can’t say from experience how it works.

Graphite transfers easily and clearly. If you used a very soft pencil (4B or softer,) it also smudges, but smudges can be easily removed with mounting putty or an eraser.

One Precaution

If you carbon the back of your drawing or make your own graphite transfer paper, make sure to use a bit of mounting putty on the transferred drawing. That lifts excess graphite from your drawing paper, and keeps it from muddying the colored pencil. This is especially important if you’ll be using a lot of lighter colors.

So What’s The Best Method of Transferring Drawings?

For me, it’s a light box, with my home-made transfer paper a close second.

Those methods may or may not work for you. If they don’t, there are other ways to transfer drawings, such as projectors and copying gadgets.

Whether you begin with my favorite methods or explore on your own, deciding on the best method of transferring drawings is really a personal choice.

And you may find as I did, that you’ll need more than one transfer method for the different types of paper you use.

Ask Carrie a Question