Have you ever wanted to make colors lighter on a work-in-progress, but thought it was hopeless?
Let me assure it’s not hopeless, and I’ll show you why.
The following three tips work whether you added too many layers or chose a color that was too dark.
Better yet, they’re simple and use tools you already have! No complex methods or expensive tools today.
Are you ready?
How to Make Colors Lighter
Transparent tape, masking tape, or painter’s tape is probably the easiest method for making colors lighter. I wrote in detail about that here, but I wanted to mention it now because it’s so utterly simple.
Tear off a small piece of tape, lay it carefully along the area you want to lighten, then lift it off the paper. Don’t press the tape down firmly or you could damage the surface of the paper.
Do NOT use packing tape, duct tape, or any other heavy duty tape on a drawing. Once it’s on the paper, there’s no way to remove it without damage. “If a little sticky works, a lot of sticky works better” does not work with art!
The next best thing for lifting color is mounting putty.
Mounting putty is that sticky stuff originally designed to stick unframed posters to walls. It’s very handy for that, but it’s also very handy for making colors lighter on colored pencil drawings.
And it’s easy to use.
Just tear off a piece, work it in your hands long enough to warm it up a little, and then press it onto the color you want to lighten. The stickiness picks up some of that color without damaging the paper. One or two repetitions removes just a little bit of color.
More repetitions removes more color.
Mounting putty is self cleaning. If you work in it your hands while you use it, it absorbs the color it picked up. That means that color doesn’t end up back on your drawing.
This method doesn’t get you back to clean paper, but it is surprising how much color it will lift.
Any artist who has tried to change something after putting down a lot of layers, or using heavy pressure knows how difficult it is to add more color. Difficult, but not impossible.
Use the same methods you used to put down the original color. You will have to be more diligent in keeping your pencils sharp because you’ll be working over a “used” surface.
You may also have to use slightly more pressure than you originally used. But work slowly, use several layers of color, and carefully blend old and new.
This method is especially helpful if you want to tint the color already on the paper as well as lighten. Choose a light-colored pencil that’s lighter than the color you want to lighten. Be careful about the colors you choose, though, or you could end up with mud.
Time to talk about drawing styles! Shirley wants to know ways of creating a sketchy style of drawing with colored pencil.
I have sketched all my life for pleasure and am self taught on almost everything I do. I am trying to learn colored pencil but do not like the burnishing, etc.
Because of how much I like sketching and not a photographic look (I admire anyone who does that kind of artwork though), I would like my colored pencil work to look sketchy, as well. I’ve seen that style in magazines, etc. but not sure how to go about getting that result myself.
What kind of paper produces that style and/or any specific kinds of application. My feeling is that just because an apple is shiny doesn’t mean I have to draw it that way. I like realistic but not necessarily photographic.
Believe it or not, I have dabbled with less realistic art over the years. I don’t often share it on the blog because most of it is just for fun (as the reader pointed out,) or it’s an experiment. A way to learn a new medium.
I’ll share some of those pieces with you now, and tell you what I did to make each drawing.
Hopefully one of more of them will help you in creating a sketchy style all your own.
Creating a Sketchy Style with Colored Pencil
Coarse or Rough Papers
Most papers will produce most styles of artwork. You can use a coarser, toothier paper to get more “painterly” or “sketchy” results.
My first piece on sanded pastel paper, for example, was very sketchy and painterly. So it’s definitely worth a try.
You can, of course, do the same thing with smoother papers. Lay down color in broad washes and limit yourself to one or two layers (three at the most.) The paper will show through these layers and create a the kind of sketchy style you’re looking for.
Larger Pencils are Also an Option
You might also try using larger pencils.
Prismacolor Art Stix or Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils are ideal when you want to avoid detail. Color selections are limited with both, and only about half the colors in each set are lightfast, but the colors that remain are perfect for laying down large swatches of color, especially flat color.
You can then go over them with regular pencils to add accents.
Or sharpen your regular pencils and draw with the side of the exposed pencil core.
In both cases (larger pencils and the side of the pencils) color lays on top of the paper tooth, leaving lots of paper holes showing through on all but the smoothest papers.
One or Two Colors on Colored Paper
I do a lot of life drawing and sketching on colored paper because it gives me a toned base. I can use one color of pencil for quick sketches, like the one shown here.
I know. Colored pencils are meant to be colorful! I get that.
But if you want to do “sketchy” work, try limiting the number of colors you use.
It doesn’t matter what color paper you use, if you use colors that compliment that paper, or that contrast with it, you can produce a sketchy style quite easily.
You can also do quite finished work with only a few colors, so restrain yourself from layering too much or adding too much detail. A few contrasting values will produce nice drawings without a lot of detail.
Make the Most of Those Lines
Have you ever seen pen-and-ink drawings? If the artist used only black ink and only pens, then the entire drawing is made up of lines. Long lines. Short lines. Straight and curving lines. Dots and sometimes splatters.
Use your colored pencils the same way. Develop color and value not by filling in every bit of paper, but by layering different colors and varying the type of lines you make.
Limit Color Layers
Here’s a small colored pencil drawing I did several years ago. It’s totally colored pencil with no blending or special techniques.
The sketchy, almost illustrative look is the result of doing only a few layers of color, and limiting color choices. For example, I used one blue in the sky, one or two greens in the trees and grass, and mostly black in the horse.
I also kept the value range fairly narrow. There are lights and darks, but not much contrast. This keeps each element of the drawing from looking three-dimensional. Ordinarily, that’s not a good thing, but if you want a sketchy style, it’s perfect.
Outline Parts of the Composition
I outlined the horse and trees in the sample above.
Many other artists who prefer a more illustrative look have also made use of outlining to make their work unique. Rhonda Dicksion and Jan Fagan are two artists who make use of outlining. Some of their work is more realistic without outlining, and some includes outlining. But they also both do very illustrative type of work. Take a look at both and see what ideas you can glean from them.
Lots of Colors, But Keep Them Flat
It’s also possible to create a different kind of sketchy style by using flat color, almost in an abstract pattern.
Richard Klekociuk does the most amazing landscapes by laying colors next to one another. Rather than shading, he chooses light and dark colors to create values and contrast.
I wouldn’t call his style “sketchy” per se, but his basic compositions and color use are a great place to begin.
Also take a look at Dan Miller’s landscape drawings for a different way to use color and create beautiful landscapes without drawing tons of details.
Give Watercolor Pencils a Try
I did this piece entirely with watercolor and used some watercolor methods.
I let wet color run together in the sky and yellow trees in the background. In the yellow field, I added wet color to wet color for a slightly different effect.
The larger trees were added after the paper was dry, and I stippled them (tapped color on with a small brush.) There are light and dark areas in those trees, but not much detail.
Granted, it’s not a colored pencil look, so it may not be what you’re looking for.
Dry Colored Pencil Over Watercolor Pencil
If you let the paper dry thoroughly, you can draw over watercolor pencil washes to add touches of detail. For this small drawing, I washed blues and purples together wet-into-wet. When the paper dried, I added the dark trees in the foreground.
I didn’t draw them with much detail, but was still able to create the appearance of distance by making the closer trees a little bit larger than those in the background.
I did several small pieces in shades of blue just because I liked the color, and because I wanted to try night scenes. The image above is the simplest of this foursome.
I did the sky in this one by sprinkling table salt into the wet color. The salt soaks up the color with the moisture and leaves “stars”. When the paper was dry, I brushed off the grains of salt and this is the result.
With this one, I washed colors wet into wet and let them blend, then put salt on parts of it. My goal (as I recall) was to create the look of a cloudy sky with a break in the clouds and stars in that part of the sky.
Was I successful? It didn’t turn out the way I wanted, but it may be exactly what you’re looking for.
A Few Ideas for Creating a Sketchy Style
If nothing else, Shirley, I hope I’ve given you a place to begin creating a sketchy style of drawing. Try them for yourself, then experiment and see what else you might be discover.
Whatever you do, have fun and keep drawing. Sooner or later your style will come shining through!
I’ve used only Uart and Fisher 400. Following are five of the biggest differences I discovered.
This is a good difference.
Sanded papers are much stronger than most traditional papers. The substrate itself is heavier than most drawing paper. Combined with the coating of grit, it’s nearly impossible to accidentally damage the paper, so you can be as aggressive in applying color as you like.
Many sanded art papers are also available mounted to rigid supports for even better durability.
An additional upside to this is that you do not have to frame sanded art paper under glass if you don’t want to. It’s advisable, but not absolutely necessary, as is the case with traditional art papers.
Detailed Line Drawings
Transferring a detailed line drawing is difficult. You can’t use a light box because the paper is so thick. Transfer papers of any type are also unsatisfactory on some of the coarser surfaces.
I’ve found this difference to be less than ideal. I like detailed line drawings when I do portraits. For a while, that made sanded art papers a no-go for me.
But many artists use the grid method or a projector to transfer their drawings. Both are acceptable alternatives to regular transfer papers, and both give great results.
Another alternative is light sketching right on the paper. I usually start landscapes with just a basic sketch, so most of my drawings on sanded art paper have been landscapes.
August Morning in Kansas (above) is one of the most recent and it’s the best one so far. I’ve started all of them with simple sketches.
You don’t need sharp pencils to work with sanded paper. In fact, sharp pencils can be a detriment. They break easily on the gritty surface, and even if they don’t, you get two or three strokes before they go blunt.
So forget sharpening. Use your pencils more like pastels. It’ll be a lot less frustrating.
Forget preserving your pencils, too. Sanded art paper quite literally “eats them for lunch!”
But that’s not as bad as it sounds, because most of that color is going onto the paper. Yes, pencils wear down more quickly, but you’re building color more quickly, too. The details in the trees in August Morning in Kansas are lighter colors applied over darker colors.
And just in case you’ve heard the rumors about pigment dust when you draw on sanded papers, it’s true. But you probably haven’t heard that you can use a bristle brush to push that dust into the tooth of the paper so it’s not wasted!
Show me another drawing paper you can do that with!
Thick Color Layers
Thick layers of color work better than thin glazes. Even with the smoothest sanded papers, the tooth is such that getting an even color layer is next to impossible without solvent.
And light pressure? Forget it. Medium to medium-heavy pressure is going to be a lot more productive.
The best part? You can absolutely layer light over dark and it will show up. Try that with any traditional drawing paper.
Is this a good difference or a bad one?
I haven’t made up my mind yet. I have a naturally light hand so working on sanded art papers requires a definite adjustment in working methods.
But as I mentioned above, I can add so many layers even with medium pressure or heavier, that working on sanded paper is getting less and less frustrating.
If you’ve ever had trouble getting colored pencil to stick after a certain number of layers, the tooth of sanded art paper is a good difference.
Granted, it will take a lot more layers to get fine detail if that’s what you’re after and you may find the extra layers not to be worth the trouble.
But if you take the time, the tooth will definitely work for you.
This little drawing (3-1/2 by 2-1/2) is the first drawing I did on sanded art paper. I drew it like I always draw and the tooth didn’t help. See all those dots in the sky? Paper holes. I wasn’t able to fill in the tooth at all, and although the result was very painterly, I didn’t like it.
It took a long time before I tried colored pencil on sanded paper again, but the results were much more satisfactory. I was already learning how to use sanded art paper.
If you give sanded art papers a try, be prepared to do some bad drawings for the first few. It’s a great drawing surface, but there is a very definite learning curve!
Even so, I recommend it to anyone who wants to try something different.
Is there a sure-fire way to draw realistic landscape greens most of the time?
Short answer, yes.
The question is, what’s the best solution for you?
I can’t answer that question for anyone but myself, but I can share with you the method that helps me draw landscapes that look like landscapes, no matter what shades of green, what time of year, or what the lighting conditions.
Landscape greens can be the most difficult colors to get right in any medium. Most of us have drawn landscapes in which the greens are too soft and muted or are way too bold and artificial.
My Favorite Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens
Over the years, I’ve used several methods to draw landscapes. My favorite method to draw realistic landscape greens is beginning with an umber under drawing, then glazing color.
The first few layers of color you put on the paper are called the under drawing. An under drawing can be a single color, two or three colors, a limited palette, or lighter shades of the final colors.
When the under drawing is in earth tones, it’s called an umber under drawing. You can use any earth tone, but the best choices are generally medium-value, neutral colors like Prismacolor Light Umber or Polychromos Nougat or Raw Umber. Once I discovered umber under drawing, my landscapes began to look like they were supposed to look.
The process is simple. Develop your landscape first in all earth tones. Choose one or two browns—three at most—and draw the entire landscape with those colors.
I prefer Prismacolor Light or Dark Umber, usually use just Light Umber. It’s possible to get a nice value range with Light Umber simply by adding layers. The more layers, the darker the value.
You don’t want to get too dark too quickly, and you also want to avoid developing details too quickly, so draw the under drawing with several layers applied with light pressure.
You can also use a tinted paper, as I did with the drawing below. The paper is Rising Stonehenge in a very light tan color. The color of the paper provided the lightest values for the drawing.
Step 2: Develop Detail & Values
Use a variety of strokes to mimic each element of the landscape. Short vertical strokes with a sharp pencil for grass, stippling (dotted) or circular strokes with a sharp to slightly blunt pencil for trees (use a sharper pencil in trees close to the foreground and a blunter pencil for more distant trees), and the sides of the pencil to lay down even color in the distance.
Define the center of interest early by drawing the darkest shapes near the center of interest or in the foreground and keeping other parts of the drawing more subdued.
Step 3: Finishing the Umber Under Drawing
You can make the under drawing as detailed as you like. When I draw horses, I generally draw a more detailed under drawing, because I want the under drawing to look like a finished drawing on its own.
But with landscapes, I develop just enough light and shadow to define the landscape elements and to begin depicting the sense of space (pictorial depth or aerial perspective).
Glaze color over the finished under drawing layer by layer with light pressure. Most colored pencils are translucent by nature, so the umber under drawing tones down the greens you glaze over it. Even if you appear to totally cover all of the under drawing, its influence is still present.
Want to See How I Drew Realistic Landscape Greens Step-by-Step?
I drew this landscape as a demonstration piece for EmptyEasel.com. To see the full, step-by-step demonstration on EmptyEasel.
Let’s talk a little bit about reflected light basics today. You’ve probably heard me mention reflected light in various tutorials and maybe even in a class if you’ve taken one of those. It’s time to define what I’m talking about.
What is Reflected Light?
Reflected light is light that comes from a source other than the primary light source. The light of the moon is sunlight reflecting off the moon and back to us.
Reflected light in art is the light that bounces off one object and strikes another object.
No matter what subjects you draw or paint or how you draw or paint them, you’re working with light. How well you draw light determines how three-dimensional your drawing turns out.
How well you draw reflected light determines how strong the illusion of three-dimensions is.
So it’s important to know and understand just how reflected light works.
The Basics of Reflected Light
A natural light source (the sun) in an outdoor setting, illuminates these books and their surroundings. The light source is strong and direct.
The light source is from the upper right and almost directly to the right of the books.
The Merck Manual gets the most direct light, but since the brightest light is on a side that isn’t visible, you can’t see the brightest highlights anywhere but along the edge where the spine curves around to meet the front cover.
But there is plenty of reflected light. The black arrows below mark light reflected onto the books from other books or from the floor.
But do you see the red-tinted area on the white bricks? That’s light bouncing off the front of the Merck Manual, and illuminating the wall. In other words, reflected light.
If the light source is strong enough and the object off which light is being reflected is close enough to the object onto which light is being reflected, the second object reflects color as well as light.
Horses and Other Animals
Reflected light affects more than smooth or shiny objects. It affects all subjects, animate and inanimate. Take a look at this photo, for example.
The primary light source is the sun, and comes from the upper right. The cast shadow is directly beneath the horse and stretches out behind. The shadows are all exactly where you expect them to be.
But note that his belly and the downward facing planes of the chest are light. The darkest part of the shadows is not on those surfaces—where you expected them—but partway up the horse’s side and chest.
Light bounces off the sandy ground and illuminates the underside of the horse. The affect is especially noticeable because the primary light source is so strong, the horse’s coat is smooth, and the ground is flat, bare, and reflective.
Reflected light on a wet horse is also quite noticeable. That’s what makes “bath shots” so appealing.
Dimmer primary light (as in a cloudy day or indoor light) creates less reflected light. Longer hair also produces less reflected light, as would mud or grassy ground cover.
Also take a look at the top slope of the horse’s rump. The rump is well lighted even though it doesn’t face the light source. Compare it to the shadow on the ground.
The light across the top of the rump is another form of reflected light. This time, the reflect light comes from the sky, hence the bluish tint.
Just to show you reflected light does appear on long haired animals, here’s Max. Asleep in a patch of sun falling on a pink towel.
Pink reflects up onto Max between his eyes, on the underside of his outstretched paw, and in the fur around his neck. It appears in shadows and in mid-tones.
Not drawing or painting reflected won’t make your art bad. I painted portraits for years without understanding or using reflected light.
But a good understanding of the basics of reflected light, and knowing how to draw or paint it will make the subjects you paint or draw look more three-dimensional. It is a valuable addition in your art toolbox no matter what your preferred subject.
I’ve long been an advocate of drawing miniature art and small format art. Colored pencils are ideal for both, but I’ve also used oils, acrylics, and graphite—even a ball point pen—to make miniature art.
We all know colored pencil is a slow medium. You don’t have finish dozens of drawings to figure that out. The fact of the matter is that you have to do only one piece!
It not seem to make sense, but drawing tiny is one way to improve your ability to render details in artwork of all sizes.
First, though, lets think about reasons why you might want to draw miniature art.
Reasons to Draw Miniature Art
Faster to Finish
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, colored pencil is a naturally slow medium. It takes a long time to finish a detailed drawing no matter what size it is.
Of course, the bigger the drawing the longer it takes to complete.
For a lot of us who work jobs or have families or other obligations, drawing time is limited. That means it may take months to finish a piece that takes only 24 hours of actual drawing time. That’s a long time to work on the same piece.
Even if you do a lot of detail, you can still finish a miniature in just a few hours. If you have an hour a day to draw, you can probably finish one miniature a week. I drew these eight ACEOs in less than two months for a card swap, while I had a part-time job.
And we all know that finishing a piece is very motivating!
Forces You to Focus on the Important Details
When you draw small, you don’t have room to draw every detail, so you have to choose the most important details. That’s good exercise no matter how large you usually draw.
Unless you’re going for hyper-realism, when you really do draw every single hair.
Drawing Miniature Art is Perfect for Quick Sketches
Trying to figure out a difficult part of a larger drawing?
Working out compositions?
Draw miniature sketches. They’re quick. They’re easy. And they’re extremely portable. You can keep a small sketch book or art journal in your purse, briefcase or a field kit.
Miniature Drawings are a Great Way to Experiment
We’ve all heard it, haven’t we? To see if a pencil, type of paper, or drawing method works for us, the best thing to do is experiment.
But those supplies are so expensive, we hesitate to “waste” them on experiments.
Why not experiment with miniature art? You can learn just as much about new supplies, tools, or methods by drawing small as you can by drawing large.
Miniature Drawings are a Great Way to Use Paper Scraps
Speaking of expensive, don’t you hate throwing away those scraps of paper left over when you trim a sheet to size? Don’t throw them away; turn them into miniature art!
You don’t even have to cut them to any specific size. Use them in whatever size or shape they happen. I have a box of scraps cut down to ACEO size because I did a lot of those one year.
But I also save every scrap of paper that’s more than an inch wide on the short side, no matter what shape it is. When I’m stuck for something to draw, I sometimes go through those scraps and see if one of them sparks an idea. Even if the result isn’t a masterpiece, I did draw something. Some days, that’s a huge win!
Tips for Drawing Miniature Art
Keep Your Pencils Sharp
Sharp pencils are always important, but unless you want a broad accent (which doesn’t need to be very broad for a miniature,) sharp pencils are doubly important to drawing the important details in miniature art.
The sharper your pencil, the smoother your color layers, too.
Keep the Background Simple
Unless you’re doing a miniature landscape, it’s best to keep the background simple with miniature art. Especially with human or animal subjects.
Work Slowly and Carefully
Of course this is important with all sizes of colored pencil art, but it’s especially important with miniature art. You don’t have a lot of room to correct errors or cover mistakes when you’re working small.
There’s so much to learn with any art medium that it can quickly get confusing. Confusing isn’t what I want to accomplish, so let’s stick with just a few of the essentials. Papers, pencils, pressure, and more.
Let’s begin with paper.
Colored Pencil Basics for Beginners
If you’re thinking of using a colored paper, choose a color that works well with all parts of your artwork. The color of the paper should ideally provide a base color for the artwork.
For example, for a landscape on a rainy day, light gray or a light gray-green paper is ideal. Gray paper provides an excellent base for a gray sky or misty air with very little work. Gray-green paper provides a good base for the greens in the landscape but might be more problematic for the sky if the sky is light.
For this little landscape, I used light gray paper. All I had to do was add the colors for the sky (white and light gray) and the landscape.
This is not to say no other paper color would work. I drew a more recent “gray day” landscape on very light tan paper for a slightly different look.
White paper is also a good choice for both landscapes, but would have taken longer to draw.
The color of the paper affects the drawing, so choose a color that adds to the atmosphere or tone you want to set for the drawing.
Hard Lead Pencils
Using a pencil with a harder lead can be helpful for beginning a new drawing. Prismacolor Verithin pencils are much harder than Prismacolor Soft Core pencils. The two red pencils are Prismacolor Soft Core. They’re what people usually think of when they think of Prismacolor pencils.
The two pencils on the bottom are also Prismacolor pencils, but they’re Prismacolor Verithin. The leads are thinner and harder because they contain less wax binder.
They hold a point longer, and lay down less color even with heavy pressure. They are subsequently easier to lift or erase if you need to lighten an area or remove color altogether.
Oil-based colored pencils are generally harder than wax-based pencils so they’re also a good choice if you want to lay down a lot of layers, but don’t want to fill up the paper’s tooth too quickly.
Use light pressure in the early stages no matter what type of pencil you use.
It takes pressure to put color onto paper. Pressure is usually measured on a 10-point scale, with “0” being no pressure at all and “10” being burnishing pressure. Normal hand-writing pressure is generally considered to be “5” on the 10-point scale.
In most cases, it’s best to begin with light pressure and gradually increase pressure as you add more layers. It’s easier to correct or conceal mistakes drawn with light pressure.
It’s also easier to avoid getting too dark too quickly if you add layers and colors little by little.
It’s important to keep your pencils well sharpened. The surface of most papers is made up of tiny hills and valleys. The difference between the tops of the “hills” and the bottoms of the “valleys” is what is called the paper’s tooth. The rougher a paper, the bigger the difference between the hills and valleys.
The sharper you keep your pencils, the better they reach all of the parts of the paper and the better they cover the paper.
You can also combine sharp pencils with heavier pressures to get good coverage on papers. Just don’t do this too early in the drawing because it flattens the tooth of the paper. That makes it more difficult to add more layers.
Sharp pencils are also ideal for drawing detail.
Blunt Can be Useful, Too
Blunt pencils are not always a bad thing. More paper shows through when you use blunt pencils, so color will appear more grainy.
Glazing color (applying a very think layer of color to tint color already on the paper) is best done with blunt or dull pencils in my experience. That’s because so much of the previous colors show through.
Using heavier pressure takes care of those paper holes (if you don’t want them.)
This method works best if you don’t plan to use a lot of color layers, since heavy pressure adds more wax binder as well as more color (assuming you’re using wax-based colored pencils.)
It’s also important NOT to get too dark too early. Every layer of color darkens the shadows and middle tones.
It’s always better to stop short of what you think is the proper darkness. It’s much easier to darken shadows later than it is to lighten them.
Working On Everything At Once
Working the entire drawing at once (as opposed to finishing each area before moving on to the next) allows you to make adjustments throughout the process and keep the composition unified.
It’s not necessary to work in this fashion, but it can be helpful in establishing the initial layers of color.
One of my problems in my early drawings was avoiding seams. I always worked one section at a time and even when I used the same colors from one section to another, I could often tell where the two sections met—especially if I was working in an area of uniform color, like a grassy field. The best way I found to avoid this was to work over the entire area, one color at a time.
To Turn Your Paper or Not to Turn Your Paper
Turn the drawing if necessary to make it easier to apply color. Orient the drawing in a fashion that is most comfortable for the area you’re working on. When doing large amounts of grass, for example, turn the drawing upside down so you can stroke toward yourself (which is more natural for most artists than stroking away). This will also reduce hand stress and give you a fresh perspective on the composition.
Reviewing Your Work
It can be productive and helpful to give your artwork a periodic check throughout the process.
Also try viewing it in a way other than normal. Ways to do this are:
Viewing it in a mirror
Looking at it upside down
Viewing it from a distance
Setting it aside and looking at it after a couple of days
Imbalances in drawing, values or colors can more easily be seen when you look at your artwork in a way other than the normal.
Photographing or scanning your artwork and viewing it on your computer screen can also reveal problem areas or areas that are not quite complete.
There’s a lot more to creating beautiful colored pencil art, but these colored pencil basics are enough to get you started. Master these and you’re well on your way!
A reader recently asked for suggestions on correcting an uneven color layer. Since I know from personal experience that drawing smooth color is both important and difficult, I wanted to share a few tips with you.
Here’s the reader’s question summarized:
If the color that you layered isn’t even can one correct it and if so how?
Learning from My Mistakes
I can speak of uneven color layers from personal experience.
I made mistakes with Afternoon Graze early in drawing the meadow in the background, and I know exactly how they happened.
Getting careless in finishing the first layer in the middle distance was my downfall. This detail reveals my careless drawing. You can see “streaks” of slightly darker color to the right and left of the horses.
Here’s a closer look at the area on the left.
I was drawing on Bristol, a very smooth paper that’s made for smooth color. Imagine how uneven this layer of color would have been on Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Teintes!
Even on Bristol, it took a lot of work to cover the unevenness. However, if you look at that piece now, you can’t see those uneven patches. You’d never know they were there, under all that color, if I didn’t tell you.
The moral to that story is that there is hope for correcting uneven color layers, or at least covering them up. If I can do it, you can too.
Tips for Correcting an Uneven Color Layer
Covering up uneven color will take a little time and effort, as my example proves. But you probably already have all the tools you’ll need to smooth out the color. The six tips that follow require no special skills or purchases. You can implement them right now!
Continue layering color over the uneven color.
Make each additional layer as smooth and even as you can. It will take a lot of layers, but you will eventually cover the uneven areas. Careful stroking is the key.
The sharper your pencils are, the more easily the tip goes into the tooth of the paper. The more color you get into the tooth of the paper, the more even the resulting color layer. So sharpen often.
Try holding your pencil in a more vertical position.
Holding the pencil in a more vertical position makes it easier to get the tip of the pencil into the tooth of the paper without damaging the tooth. Especially if your pencil is as sharp as you can make it.
Try a stippling (tapping) stroke with this grip for even better results.
Mix strokes from one layer to the next.
Using different types of strokes helps fill in the uneven color a little more quickly. You might use circular strokes for one layer, then cross hatch for the next, and use directional strokes for the following layer.
If you do mix strokes, keep them all close together and use light pressure so you don’t accidentally make the problem worse. Or create a new one!
Work slowly and carefully.
Perhaps most important of all is to work slowly and carefully. I created my problem by rushing through the work. Had I been more careful in putting color on the paper, I would have avoided the uneven color in the first place.
And I didn’t help myself by trying to hurry through making corrections, either!
So whenever you find yourself hurrying or getting careless in how you draw, take a break! You’ll save time in the long run.
Blending with odorless mineral spirits may help.
Solvents blend color by breaking down the binder and allowing the pigment to flow together. The more fluid the pigments become, the better they sink into the tooth of the paper.
You do need a sufficient amount of pigment on the paper for solvent to work, though. In the case of Afternoon Graze, solvent would not have helped me because there was so little color on the paper.
If your uneven color layer happens after you have a lot of color on the paper, you might try carefully blending that area with solvent before trying any of the previous tips.
However, blending will change the appearance of the color, even if just a little bit. That’s why I mention it last, and why I usually use it as a last resort.
So the next time you discover you’ve drawn an uneven color layer, don’t panic. Take your time. Keep your pencils as sharp as you can, and keep every new layer as smooth as you can.
After last week’s article published, I got a thank you and a question (or two) from a regular reader. She liked the tips on putting spots of color on black paper, but wanted to know how metallic pencils worked on black paper.
You know what? I didn’t know, so I told her I’d do some experimenting and let her know.
Metallic Colored Pencils on Black Paper
The reader wanted to know the following:
Do metallic colored pencils look better on black paper than on white?
What happens if you layer them over watercolor?
I cut a few four by five inch pieces of Canson Mi-Teintes black and started drawing (and painting.) Here are my answers.
Do metallic colored pencils look better on black paper?
Yes, in my opinion. They show up better on black than they do on white. They don’t look any more metallic, but the color is good.
I used Prismacolor Soft Core Silver, Gold, and Copper to draw the following tree study. The center tree is silver, the tree on the left is gold, and the tree on the right is copper. I used the paper color for shadows, and drew highlights with medium or heavier pressure and multiple layers. The middle values are the result of lighter pressure and fewer layers.
Just so you could see what white looks like applied the same way, I added some snowflakes. (You can’t blame me. We had snow this past week, and it was lovely!)
You probably can’t tell the colors are metallic, but if I hold the drawing a certain way against the light, there is a sparkle. That’s kind of neat.
What happens when you use metallic colored pencils over watercolor pencil.
Since I don’t have artist-grade watercolors and since the watercolors I have dry slick, I tried Faber-Castell watercolor pencils. The set I have includes white, so I drew the trees with that, then used a damp brush to activate it.
I didn’t have to pick up a metallic colored pencil to know this wasn’t going to work. As soon as the color got wet, it disappeared into the paper. Canson Mi-Teintes is pretty absorbent, so I should have anticipated this. I let the paper dry, then went over it again. The results were only slightly better.
When the paper dried, I added metallic silver, gold and copper to the trees. That turned out okay, but the color looked a lot better (in my opinion) when put straight on the black paper. However, the white added a little bit more to the drawing as a light value and that made the trees look more solid.
Again with the snowflakes. This time I used the three metallic colors along with white to put in the snow. Even those little dots show up better than the metallic colors on white watercolor pencil.
What happens when you use metallic colored pencils over watercolor.
Since I’m a glutton for punishment and was having fun, I got out those cheap watercolors and painted another tree. When the paper was thoroughly dry, I tried to put metallic color over it. As expected, I couldn’t get much colored pencil to stick to the watercolor.
However, I could lay down colored pencil next to some of the painted shapes, and I also added some twigs with colored pencil. The result was surprisingly pleasing!
The final touch was more snowflakes with all three metallic colors and white.
In my experiments, metallic colored pencils performed quite well on black paper. At this point, I suggest using them without a white under drawing or painting, but better quality watercolor paint might produced better results.
Here’s a neat trick to add spots of color to black paper or paper of any dark color. It’s fast and easy, too. What could possibly be better?
What’s more, you can add bright color to dark paper using this method.
I really enjoy drawing on dark papers. Black is a favorite color, but greens, blues, and browns also attract my attention. There’s just something about putting color on a darker paper that no lighter paper can match.
But lets face it. It can be so difficult to get decent color on dark papers. Colored pencil seems to seep into the paper and disappear!
But my holiday doodles and plein air sketches led to a neat way to add spots of color to black paper. Or any other dark-colored paper.
Best of all, it’s easy!
How to Add Spots of Color to Black Paper
Hold your pencil vertical to the paper, with the tip of the pencil on the paper. This part is important. If you hold the pencil any other way, you will not get spots. At least not round spots.
Turn the pencil a half turn or more without lifting it. The more you turn the pencil, the brighter the resulting spot of color will be. You may need to support the pencil with your free hand to keep it steady on the paper.
Use medium pressure. Light pressure isn’t enough to get bright color. Heavy pressure may result in puncturing the paper or breaking the pigment core. I shattered several pigment cores while doing the drawing below. The good news is that they didn’t damage the paper.
A soft pencil such as Prismacolor Soft Core or Caran d’Ache Luminance works best with this technique, but I’ve also had success with Faber-Castell Polychromos.
You’ll also get better results is you use a soft paper like Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Teintes.
I used this “trick of the trade” to draw this lighted Christmas tree and stars on black Canson Mi-Teintes, but it would work great on any other dark colored paper. I’m eager to find dark green, dark blue, and even dark red paper.
It’s also an ideal way to add spots of color and accents to any drawing on any color paper.
Other Tips and Suggestions
This method impresses the marks into the paper, so you could use it on light colored paper to add spots of color, then shade other, darker colors on top.
The size and brightness of the spots you add vary depending on the softness of the pencil and paper you use.
You can add small details to any type of drawing with this method.
One Final Comment….
This discovery proves how important it is to draw regularly, even if you’re just doodling or playing with color. I would probably not have learned how to add spots of color to black paper this way if I hadn’t been doodling.
So do some doodling. You just never know where it might lead!