Tips for Drawing Miniature Art

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.

Tips for Drawing 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.

The answer?

Miniatures!

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.

Tips for Drawing Miniature Art - Field of Eight

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?

Just doodling?

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.

So Are You Ready to Try Drawing Miniature Art?

I’ve written a tutorial showing how I drew this miniature portrait for a client.

So if you have new supplies to try, a new method to check out, or you just want to have a little fun doing something new, may I suggest drawing miniature art?

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Colored Pencil Basics for Beginners

A few weeks ago, I talked about what you needed to buy if you want to get started drawing with colored pencils. This week, let’s take a look at a few colored pencil basics.

Colored Pencil Basics for Beginners

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

Colored Papers

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.

West of Bazaar
West of Bazaar 5×7 on Gray Mat Board

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.

Prismacolor makes a soft, thick lead pencil (top) and a thinner, harder leader pencil (bottom.) Combine hard and soft leads for best results.

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.

Applying Pressure

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.

Sharp Pencils

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 deeper the tooth of the paper, the more layers or pressure it takes to fill in the “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.

Top to Bottom: Very Blunt, Blunt, Dull. All three points can be useful in colored pencil art.

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.)

Getting Dark Without Getting Too Dark

Values are the most important tool you have to use. It’s more important to get the values right, than to get the color right.

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!

Correcting an Uneven Color Layer

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?

Tips for Correcting an Uneven Color Layer

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.

Afternoon Graze after Correcting an Uneven Color Layer

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.

Read Two Ways to Get Smooth Color with Colored Pencils for two more tips on layering.

Keep your pencils sharp.

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.

Trust me!

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.

Conclusion

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.

It will all work out!

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Metallic Colored Pencils on Black Paper

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

Metallic Colored Pencils on Black Paper

Three Experiments

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!)

Metallic Colored Pencils on Black Paper 1

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.

Metallic Colored Pencils on Black Paper 2

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!

Metallic Colored Pencils on Black Paper 3

The final touch was more snowflakes with all three metallic colors and white.

Conclusion

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.

It’s worth a try, anyway.

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Add Spots of Color to Black Paper with This Neat Trick

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.

Try This Neat Trick to Add Spots of Color to Black Paper

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.

Add Spots of Color to Black Paper - Christmas Tree and Stars

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!

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How to Draw Gold in Three Steps

Today, I want to show you how to draw gold.

My subject is the gold cap on a Christmas ornament, but you can draw any type of reflective gold object using this method.

In fact, you can draw any reflective object using this method.

How to Draw Gold in Three Steps

How to Draw Gold in Three Steps

The method is a three-step method starting with an under drawing and finishing up with detailing.

I used Bristol vellum paper because of its smoothness and ability to take color. This three-step method is also suitable for other papers, but the more tooth in the paper, the more layers you need to get full, rich color.

One other note on materials. I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils for the first two steps, then switched to Prismacolor Soft Core for the final step.

Polychromos pencils are oil-based, so they’re harder than Prismacolor. They do lay down smooth color on Bristol, but you have to work slowly and carefully.

Prismacolor are wax-based and are much softer. That makes them ideal for the final layers, for burnishing, and for filling in the last paper holes.

NOTE: You can get the same results with any artist grade colored pencils.

Now, for the tutorial.

Step 1: The Under Drawing

The under drawing is not the local color of the gold cap. It’s not gold or even yellow; it’s all the colors reflected in the gold. You have to look deep to see the other colors in each area. Those are the colors for the under drawing.

Use a very sharp Burnt Sienna pencil and light pressure to shade the darker reflections.

Since reflections are usually hard-edged, it’s a good idea to outline each shape then shade it. Since there’s a lot of detail in this area, it’s also a good idea to work slowly. Spend more time studying the reference photo than drawing.

Smooth color is key, so use whatever stroke works best in allowing you to draw smooth color. Add layers to get darker shadows and use only one or two layers in the lighter shadows. Fade Burnt Sienna into the white of the paper where the edges are softer.

The shadows around the bottom of the gold cap should also be under drawn with Burnt Sienna.

The next color is Scarlet red. Layer red in two or more light layers on the left side of the gold cap. Lightly outline the shapes, then lightly fill them in. Use more layers to increase the value and saturation.

Finally, light layer Cream over the remaining parts of the gold cap. Work around the white highlights! Once again, draw the smoothest possible color.

Step 2: Glazing Color

Darken the shadows with Walnut Brown. Use medium or medium-heavy pressure with a very sharp pencil to draw smooth color.

Add gold reflections with Cream and the red reflections with Scarlet Red. Blunt pencils are ideal for this. Use heavy pressure, but don’t burnish.

Then glaze Scarlet Red over the parts of the gold cap that reflect red. Layer Cream over the rest. Work around the bright white highlight.

Step 3: Detailing

Burnish the gold cap with Poppy Red in the areas that reflect red, and with Dark Umber in the areas that reflect a brownish color.

Then burnish both red and brownish reflections with Yellow Ochre.

Also burnish the yellow parts of the gold cap with Yellow Ochre, working around the bright highlights.

How to Rework a Background

Can I rework a background? I’ve tried erasing at least a little bit without much success…Thank you so much. Have a beautiful holiday season. Mirian Bertaska

Mirian asks a great question. I’ve wrestled with this very thing many times, so let’s take a look at a few possible answers to Mirian’s question.

How to Rework a Background

Mirian very kindly included her drawing and gave me permission to share it with you, so you could “see” what we’re talking about.

Mirian has good color saturation in her drawing. Her color choices make the bird stand out from the background.

But she is right about the background. It doesn’t convey enough distance. It looks like the bird and the background are all at the same distance.

Kudos to Mirian for seeing that. Knowing what’s not working in your art is key to improving.

Suggestions about How to Rework a Background

Whether or not you can rework a background depends on how much color you already have on the paper, what type of paper you’re using, and whether or not you’ve burnished or blended with solvent.

Mirian’s drawing is on Bristol. Bristol is excellent for colored pencils, but it is limited on the number of layers you can put down. However, it’s also very good for lifting color if the color has been applied in layers with light pressure.

Try lifting color to push the background into the distance.

Scotch tape is probably the best way to lift a little color. Lightly press a small piece of tape to the drawing, then carefully pull it up again.

Mounting putty is another good way to lift color, especially if you want a blurry look.

For small areas or detailing, an eraser may also help lift color. The ideal place for eraser work is around the bird.

Read Two Neat Tricks for Erasing or “Lifting” Color from Colored Pencil Drawings at EmptyEasel.com.

Add lighter colors to lighten the background.

Softening the colors with a light blue or cool gray is a good way to push the background further into the distance. Color can either be added over the existing background, or after the background has been lightened by lifting color, as described above.

Use sharp pencils and light pressure to layer lighter colors. Choose colors that are not only lighter, but cooler (tending toward blues and greens, rather than reds and yellows.) Try combining a couple of colors, too, so the background doesn’t become too uniform in value or color.

Add color one layer at a time, then review the drawing. Keep adding layers until the drawing looks the way you want it to look.

Try a soft blend to dissolve wax binder and “sink” color into the tooth of the paper.

If you’re willing to experiment a little, try a soft blend with odorless mineral spirits. Use a soft brush and blot the brush after you dip it in odorless mineral spirits. You don’t need a lot of solvent for this type of blend.

If you don’t want to try odorless mineral spirits, or don’t have any, but you want to try blending, try rubbing alcohol. Dampen a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol, then rub it on a corner of the piece. That should give you a nice, soft blend that pushes the background further into the background.

Even if that doesn’t work, the rubbing alcohol could break down the binder in the pencils enough to allow you to add a little bit more color.

Don’t get your paper too wet or it could buckle.

TIP: Layer color onto a scrap piece of Bristol until you have a similar look, then try blending that first. If it works, great! You can blend your drawing. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t damaged the drawing.

How that Worked for Mirian

I asked Mirian if she would let me know how her experiments turned out. Here’s what she had to say.

Hi Carrie,

The painting wasn’t accepting more color, so I … layered violet blue on a little piece of each, and the alcohol one looks better in my opinion.

Mirian layered Violet Blue on the left side of the illustration below. The rubbing alcohol blend is on the right side.

The portion above the line is the original drawing.

How to Rework a Background - Rubbing Alcohol

Neither solution is ideal, but Mirian was satisfied with the rubbing alcohol blend.

Leave the background alone and work on the bird to bring it forward.

The final possible solution is to leave the background as it is, and increase the values on the bird. Make the highlights brighter and darken the darks.

One of the things that gives a picture “depth” is the value range. The greater the contrast between the lightest lights and the darkest darks, the closer the object looks.

Here’s Mirian’s drawing in black-and-white.

How to Rework a Background - Original Drawing in Gray Scale

As you can see, the value range is fairly close. When the background and the subject have pretty much the same values, the result is a background that’s not in the background.

I used GIMP (free photo editing software) to select the bird, then increased the contrast. The bird now “leaps” forward in the drawing.

How to Rework a Background - Gray Scale with Contrast

This tip doesn’t apply to reworking a background, but sometimes the solution involves the subject, not the background!

Thank you to Mirian, who was willing to share not only her question, but her artwork.

Thanks, Mirian!

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How to Draw Vibrant Shadows

Knowing how to draw vibrant shadows is key to realistic art. It doesn’t matter what medium you prefer, if your shadows are weak, contrast is weak.

Weak contrast makes for flat artwork, and we all know flat artwork doesn’t usually look very realistic.

So how to do you get strong contrast? Push those dark values as far as you can with strong, vibrant shadows!

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows

Value is the most important thing to get right in your art.  You need to have strong highlights and strong shadows.

But shadows can be so difficult to get right, as a recent reader question proved. There are so many different ways to draw shadows, the reader wanted to know the best way.

There really isn’t a “best way” that works with every drawing. You style of work, your subjects, and the colors you have available all play a role in how you draw shadows.

Five Ways to Draw Vibrant Shadows

There are as many different ways to draw shadows as there are artists. Sooner or later, every artist develops their own way of doing things.

Lets start with five red balls. I’ve drawn them all with the same color (Scarlet Lake) and to the same degree. There’s a decent range of values, but nothing stunning.

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows - 1

Use darker values of the same colors to draw shadows.

I “finished” the first ball with the same color simply by adding more layers of Scarlet Lake. The darker the values, the more layers.

The darkest values are burnished with Scarlet Lake to fill in the paper tooth and make the shadow darker.

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows - Local Color

Use darker versions of the local colors to draw shadows.

From this point on, there are two important things to remember.

First, don’t add the new colors only to the shadows. Shade them over most of the middle values, too. Fade them out just like you fade the base (local) color, or you may end up with a shadow that looks “stuck on.”

Second, alternate layers of the new color and the local color. You should almost always finish with a layer of local color, too. That gives the shadow the look of being a darker version of the local color, rather than an entirely different color.

The shadow and darker middle values in the second ball are Crimson Lake. Crimson Lake is a darker red with a hint of blue. The resulting shadow is darker than the rest of the red, but still not very vibrant.

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows - Darker Local Color

Add Black to dark versions of the local colors.

Black was layered over the shadow in the third ball. You might think this is the logical choice for darkening shadows, but as you can see, it didn’t really make the shadow very vibrant. Instead, the shadow looks more gray. That may work for some drawings.

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows - Black

Add a complementary color to draw shadows.

I layered Grass Green into the shadow on the fourth ball. Green is the complement of red, so you could add red to the shadow of a green ball. Any complement naturally darkens and tones down the color it’s added to.

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows - Complementary Color

Mix a dark brown and dark blue to draw shadows.

The best way to draw shadows is by mixing other colors. My favorite colors for shadows are dark brown and dark blue. Combined in alternating layers, they create lively dark values that rival black. That combination works with most medium to dark-colored objects and I’ve used them with great success on horses and landscapes.

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows - Indigo and Dark Brown

For lighter colored objects, you’ll want to replace these colors with lighter shades.

Those are five ways to draw vibrant shadows.

There are other ways, too, so the best advice is to experiment. Do like I did with a series of balls or any other shape. The drawings don’t need to be polished pieces of fine art to help you find the best way to draw vibrant shadows in your own work.

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When to Use Blunt Colored Pencils

It’s a well-known and oft-repeated “rule” that you should always keep your colored pencils sharp. But is that true? Following are a few guidelines to help you know when to use blunt colored pencils.

When to Use Blunt Colored Pencils

Like most art “rules,” these are not written in stone. You can follow them or ignore them as you wish.

How Blunt is “Blunt?”

Before we get to my tips, though, let’s talk about the different degrees of bluntness. Believe it or not, I’ve identified three.

Dull

In my book, a pencil is dull when the sharp point has been worn down a little, but there’s still a lot of pigment core showing. The tip is rounded, but not flat.

You gt a dull pencil with regular drawing, especially if you turn your pencil as you work. All sides of the tip touch the paper, so the pencil wears evenly.

If you need a sharp pencil, it’s time to sharpen this one.

When to Use Blunt Colored Pencils - Dull

Blunt

The rounded point has been worn down to an angle. The flat edge is not clearly pronounced. There’s no chance of mistaking this pencil for a sharpened pencil.

A pencil becomes blunt when you draw on one side of the pigment core only. That side wears down, but the other sides don’t.

When to Use Blunt Colored Pencils - Blunt

Very Blunt

This is a pencil that’s worn totally flat on one side. It has a sharp, very distinct and very flat edge. The pigment core tip is very definitely wedge-shaped. You get a wedge like this either by being very careful not to turn your pencil as you draw or by using heavy pressure on a scrap paper.

When to Use Blunt Colored Pencils - Very Blunt

When to Use Blunt Colored Pencils

Following are four ways I use blunt pencils. These aren’t the only times to use blunt pencils, nor are blunt pencils the only ways to get these effects.

Soft Detail or Drawing Distance

Soft detail requires soft, sometimes blurred edges. The perfect use for blunt pencils. Before you sharpen again, look for background areas that could benefit from a blunt pencil.

Smooth Layers of Broken Color

Lay down smooth color layers with blunt colored pencils. The smoother the paper, the smoother the color, but you can get excellent “broken” color that’s a consistent value by using blunt pencils on sanded or toothier papers.

When to Use Blunt Colored Pencils - Even Color

Sanded Art Papers

Speaking of which, blunt pencils are your absolute best bet when you draw on sanded art papers of any kind. That grit wears down sharp points quickly, so skip the sharpening and start with a blunt pencil!

Burnishing

Burnishing is another time for blunt pencils. When you burnish, you use heavy pressure to “grind” layers of color together. That’s no time for a really sharp point. You want a slightly blunted pencil.

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Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt, Ground & Soil

I know what you’re thinking: Who cares about drawing realistic dirt? What possible difference does it make?

For many artists, dirt is. . . well, just dirt, and not nearly as interesting as water or as monumental as mountains. A few swipes of color and a little bit of shading is all you really need. Right?

For most subjects, that’s probably true. But if you enjoy making landscapes or other outdoor scenes, it’s important to know how to draw dirt in a manner that fits your subject and style.

That’s I’m sharing a few basic tips for drawing realistic dirt.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt, Ground & Soil

Maybe you’ve never thought about how you draw dirt before! If so, that’s OK. It’s not the most glamorous subject and the most notice it gets is either in the form of rocks, or as an unimportant part of the overall composition.

That’s a shame.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt, Ground & Soil

It isn’t that difficult to draw almost any kind of soil so it looks believable and fits into the overall composition as though it’s meant to be there, rather than an afterthought.

Let’s look at a few of them.

A Few of My Favorite Methods

Watercolor Pencils

Here’s a portrait I drew sometime ago. I used watercolor pencils with watercolor paper to lay down the foundation, then finished with regular colored pencils.

The setting was a specific racetrack with a distinctive color of sand. There were also specific types of soil and cover on the winner’s circle, which is visible in the middle ground on the left. Since this was a “moment in time” portrait, all those things had to be correct.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt - Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Here’s a detail of the track and winner’s circle. As you can see, there isn’t much detail. The portrait was just too small for that (only 8 x 10.)

But there is still a distinct difference between the sand on the track and the ground in the winner’s circle.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt - Water Soluble Colored Pencils Detail

How I Did It

I laid down washes of color in several layers, letting each wash dry completely before adding the next.

The initial wash was a red-gold base color that covered everything. Next came layers of darker, cooler browns in the shadows and to add details. Final details were added with traditional pencils.

I worked on four versions of this portrait before getting it right. One of them was entirely traditional colored pencils, and I documented that process for an EmptyEasel article. Read How to Draw Realistic Dirt, Ground, & Soil with Colored Pencil on EmptyEasel for more tips.

Traditional Colored Pencils

The Sentinel, shown below, was drawn entirely with traditional colored pencils.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt - Traditional Colored Pencil

How I Did It

This path is a little outside the ordinary because it didn’t appear in the original composition. I finished the entire piece, then decided it needed something to more clearly direct the eye to the trees. What could be better than a path?

So I had to first lift as much color as possible with an eraser. Next, I added the path by layering fresh color over the areas that had been erased. The end result was much more satisfactory.

The same method—without the erasing of course—can be used for any drawing. For step-by-step instructions, read How to Correct Mistakes or Rework a Finished Colored Pencil Drawing on EmptyEasel.

Interesting Drawing Surfaces

Sometimes all you need to do is find the right support. A colored paper or unique surface texture, and you’re halfway there.

That was the case with this miniature drawing. I used a piece of cured Silver Maple for the support. The drawing was an experiment. I wanted to see how well colored pencil worked on wood (it works beautifully).

Tips for Drawing Realistic Dirt - Support

How I Did It

Ironically, this one was the easiest of all. I simply used the wood grain for the exposed soil along the bottom of the composition. A few accents and details made the wood look like dirt for this miniature drawing.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that it isn’t that difficult to make any patch of ground in your composition look like it belongs there. Any one of these tips will help you do it, or you can think outside the box and find your own ideas!