Last week, I answered a reader who wanted to know where they should begin a drawing. Today, I want to answer the same question from a slightly different angle by telling you how I usually start landscape drawings.
In the previous 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.
So this post shows you how that looks with a specific drawing.
How I Usually Start Landscape Drawings
Landscapes almost always begin with an umber under drawing. Why browns? Umber base layers naturally keep landscape greens from being too vivid.
My favorite under drawing colors are Prismacolor Light and/or Dark Umber or Faber-Castell Polychromos Raw Umber or Walnut Brown. I have a nice collection of Derwent Drawing earth tones, too, but haven’t tried them as base layers.
Landscapes tend to take on a life of their own as I draw, making complex line drawings unnecessary, at best. So I begin landscapes with a very simple, basic sketch on the drawing paper, as shown below.
Dark Values First
I start the drawing by shading the base color into the darkest areas first. As I mentioned in last week’s post, starting with the shadows provides an excellent point of comparison for the middle values and light values. Even on colored paper.
However, it’s still important to work with light pressure and build up the values layer by layer. Corrections and adjustments are easier to make, and you also avoid the hazard of getting too dark too quickly.
Add Middle Values and Darken the Dark Values
Once the darkest values are in place, I develop the other values with additional layers.
If a drawing has particularly dark values, as this one does, I use a dark version of the same brown. I added Dark Umber to the Light Umber to darken the shadows.
Continue Developing Values and Start Developing Details
As I continue darkening the values, I also develop the most important details.
What I want in the finished under drawing is an art piece that looks finished on it’s own. So I fine tune the various parts of the landscape to create balance, a visual path, and interest.
Contrast is also important. The lightest values in a landscape are usually in the sky, so it’s important to get your shadows dark enough to give the landscape depth.
When the under drawing is complete, then I start glazing color. Usually, I choose colors that are light versions of the finished colors, and glaze them over the entire shape, as shown below.
But there is no “right way” to select colors.
Why I Start Landscapes Like This
If a composition fails as an under drawing, it goes no further. I’ve probably spent a couple of hours finishing the umber under layers, so I haven’t invested a lot of time.
If the under drawing can be improved (or fixed as is sometimes needed,) then I fix it now, before adding color.
If it can’t be fixed or improved, I start over with no hard feelings.
That’s How I Usually Start Landscape Drawings
My preference is to work an entire drawing at the same time so I can keep the light and dark values well balanced. I used to finish colored pencil drawings one section at a time, though, so it’s a matter of whatever works best for you.
You’re new to colored pencils, and eager to get started. Your first project is on the drawing paper, your pencils are at the ready, but you’re stumped. You don’t know where to begin a colored pencil drawing.
I’ve been there and stared at that blank sheet of drawing paper wondering where to start more than once. So afraid of doing the wrong thing, I do nothing at all.
Knowing where (and how) to start gets easier with each drawing, but even with your first drawing, it’s not an insurmountable obstacle.
Where to Begin a Colored Pencil Drawing
You may be looking for One Secret to answer all your colored pencil questions. Let me burst that bubble right now. There is no such secret.
But there is hope.
You see, the beauty of most art forms is that there are as many ways to make art as there are artists. Look for artists whose work you like, then learn how they make their art. Try their methods. If those methods work, great! Use them to make your art.
If those methods don’t work for you, don’t worry. Look at how another artist works and try those methods. Keep trying until you find the method that works best for you.
That’s what I did. When I found things that worked for me, I used them. I discarded the things that didn’t work at all, and when I found things that sort of worked, I adjusted them until they did work for me.
That’s probably what you’ll end up doing, too.
Now let me share a few tips for starting a colored pencil drawing, starting with the most basic. Base layers.
The first color you put on the paper is called the base layer.
A lot of times, the base layer is smooth color and is meant to shade the area you’re working on. Usually, it’s also the lightest value in that area. I usually select a color that’s the same value as or lighter than the brightest highlights if the brightest highlights aren’t white.
Another good way to begin a colored pencil drawing is by starting with the darkest value first, as I did with this study of a cat’s eye.
Establishing this value first gives you a point of comparison for all the work to follow.
Look closely at your reference photo to determine the darkest color. It’s not always black!
Then outline the shape, then shade it. I used a variety of strokes in this illustration, starting with small, circular strokes. But I also used other strokes to fill in more of the paper holes.
Many artists begin with the lightest values. Some lightly outline those values so they don’t accidentally shade color over them. That’s what I often do because I often accidentally shade over highlights. So I draw the highlights as well as the shadows from the beginning, as shown in this line drawing.
I know a line drawing like this is overwhelming to some, but it helps me preserve those all important highlights. Even if I don’t transfer every mark, I do transfer the shadows and highlights, as well as the outside edges.
You can also actually shade the highlight color over the highlight areas. Even if the color is too light to see on paper, it acts as a “resist” so that any color you put over it isn’t quite as dark as shading it over blank paper. The waxier the light color, the more it acts as a resist.
If you use medium pressure or heavier (or work on a softer paper like Stonehenge,) you also impress the marks into the paper. When you color over that area, the marks show up, as shown below. I drew the eyelashes with a very light color, but I also pressed the marks very lightly into the paper.
As I shaded color over that area, the new color did not cover the previous color. The impressed marks also began to show up because the new color didn’t get down into them. As I darken the eye, the eyelashes become more and more obvious.
The illustration above is also a good example of base layers. I selected the lightest color in each area and shade it lightly over the area.
Those are Three Ways to Begin a Colored Pencil Drawing
They aren’t the only ways to start a drawing. In fact, they aren’t the only starting point I use.
But they are the most common and, I believe, the easiest for new artists to learn quickly. Try them out and see which one or which combination works best for you and gives you the results you want.
I recently received the following question from a reader who wanted to know how to draw white objects on white paper. It’s a good question and one I’ve struggled with in the past.
Here’s the question.
There are several occasions where the subject I am working on has white areas such as a bird, flower, or animals that should be left white. How should these areas be treated if you are using white paper? Or there whites in some brands of colored pencil that lighten better than others?
This reader is talking about drawing white parts in otherwise colorful subjects. The white blaze on a horse or the white parts of a flower.
But let’s be honest. We also have trouble—and sometimes a lot of trouble—drawing things that are entirely white.
How to Draw White Objects
A lot of things come into play when drawing white things. Is the object smooth or rough? Is the surface shiny or dull? What is the setting like?
You have to ask the same questions for objects of any color, but for some reason, white objects throw us into more confusion than the same object in a different color. I dare say most of us know how to start drawing a red mug (or are willing to just pick a red and start drawing.) Give us a white mug, though, and we’re stuck.
The Real Question
So far as I’m able to tell based on personal experience, the biggest problem isn’t with drawing a white mug or anything else. The biggest problem is how I approach the drawing.
For example, if I’m drawing a black horse, I don’t ask what color of black I should use. I ask what colors I see in the horse.
But if I’m drawing a white horse, I start fretting over how to draw a white horse and don’t look for the colors in the horse.
The next time you prepare to draw something white, ask yourself what other colors you see in the reference photo. If you accurately identify the other colors and draw them, you won’t need a white pencil.
That’s because you can’t really draw white, especially on white paper. You have create the illusion of white through the colors you use on the white subject AND on everything around it.
Here are four other things to consider.
Is the object smooth or rough?
Smooth surfaces catch and reflect light and color better than rough objects. The smoother a surface, the more likely it will show hints of the colors that appear around it.
The petals on this flower are smooth and velvety.
This snow has a more granular surface. It’s still influenced by the colors around it (especially the sky,) but the granular surface texture gives it a different look. A rough surface would look different from both the flower and the snow.
Is the surface shiny or dull?
Smooth or rough is not the same as shiny or dull. A smooth surface can be either shiny or dull.
This coffee cup has a smooth surface and it is also shiny. The flower petals also have a smooth surface, but they are not shiny.
The shiny surface of the mug shows clearer reflections of the things and colors around it than the dull surface of the white flowers.
What colors are around the object?
Especially with highly reflective objects, you have to pay attention to the things and colors around whatever you’re drawing. Why? Because they influence the colors you see in your subject.
Look at all the shapes, values, and colors in this coffee cup. Light is shining on it directly and also indirectly. The saucer is shown in reflection on the lower half of the cup, and so on. Just drawing this cup with the dark background and shading it without all those details may produce a good drawing, but it will lack life.
What is the lighting like?
Perhaps the biggest factor in drawing accurate white objects is the lighting.
In the example above, the mug is brightly lighted by sunlight coming from the upper left.
This mug is lighted in artificial light with a bluish (cool) cast.
This mug is back lighted, and the light has a warm cast.
They’re both white, but you would use different colors to draw each one because of the lighting.
How to Draw White Objects Accurately: 4 Tips
Believe it or not, it’s easier than you think.
Tip 1: Study Your Reference Photo
Look at the colors in the photo. Set aside the idea that you’re drawing something white. Also set aside the notion that you’ll use white in your drawing. If you’re working on white paper, you won’t need a lot of white, if any at all. The photo below has very little white in it, yet the cup and book both look white.
If it helps, use a photo editor to isolate colors, as shown below. You can select colors as you draw, or make a digital palette before you start, then choose the best colors based on that.
Tip 2: Follow the Reference Photo
Draw the shapes, values, and colors you see as you see them. Study the reference, even when you think you know what to draw. Nothing gets me into trouble with a drawing more quickly than thinking I know what’s in the photo instead of studying the photo to make sure.
Tip 3: Light Pressure, Sharp Pencils, Lots of Layers
Use sharp pencils and light pressure to add color. Build the values and colors layer by layer. Consult your reference photo often before, during and after each layer.
Tip 4: Work Around the Brightest Highlights
The best way to get good whites in a colored pencil drawing is to work around the area you want white. You can lift small amounts of color if you’ve used light pressure to layer them. But even then, you won’t be able to get all the way back to the original white of the paper.
How to Draw White Objects in Conclusion
If you remember nothing else, remember that even the whitest object shows other colors. Shiny surfaces show those colors more clearly, but even dull surfaces show them.
The egg drawing below shows how I drew a white egg on white paper. Only the brightest area (the top part) is pure white and that’s the color of the paper.
To draw the shadows, I used the same colors I used in the background and on the cloth. To draw the reflected light (lower left part of the egg), I used a light yellow and light grays.
As with all subjects of any color, accurately drawing white objects is a matter of knowing what colors you see in your reference photo, then reproducing them as accurately as possible.
You know framing colored pencil drawings can be expensive due to a variety of factors. The frame itself, matting costs, and glazing. Often, the glazing is the most expensive item, especially if you opt for UV resistant glass.
Must you use glass for framing?
This is a great question.
For the longest time, my answer was always the same. Yes.
Why Framing Under Glass Is Usually Necessary
The reason is simple.
For many years, colored pencil drawings were almost always on paper. Paper is vulnerable to damage by tearing, puncturing, or denting if not properly protected. Stains also pose significant risk to unprotected paper. Unprotected paper also tends to absorb moisture and dirt out of the atmosphere.
So when framing drawings on paper under glass, it’s the paper more than the drawing itself that needs protection.
Alternatives for Framing Colored Pencil Drawings
However, there are other supports available that do not require this degree of protection. If you work on any one of these, you can safely frame your drawing without glass.
The best way to eliminate the need for glass in framing is to use a rigid support to begin with. These days, there are plenty of options. Here are just a few.
Pastelbord and Similar Supports
Originally designed for pastel work, these supports are, in essence, pastel papers mounted to a rigid support such as gatorboard or wood. They come in a variety of sizes and some of them also come in a variety of colors.
However, they’re great for colored pencil work, too, and your finished drawing needs only a light coat of varnish. Frame like an oil painting.
Some popular drawing papers are also now available mounted on rigid supports. You can also mount your favorite paper to a rigid support and use it that way. Make sure you use an archival adhesive.
Keep in mind that these drawing supports are less vulnerable to mechanical damage. It’s much more difficult to puncture or tear them. But paper is paper and it tends to absorb moisture out of the atmosphere if framed without glass.
It also gets dirty just as easily on a rigid support.
If you want to frame it without glass, take care to hang it in a place that’s as free of contaminants as possible and is temperature and humidity controlled.
Wood is another rigid support suitable for colored pencil drawings. Look for the same types of wood the Old Masters used for painting. Many online art supply companies offer wood supports like Birch or Basswood precut to standard sizes. I have a 16×20 inch piece of Baltic Birch originally purchased for oil painting, but waiting now for colored pencil work.
Most of the time, a good sanding is all it takes to prepare a wood panel for drawing, especially if you want to use the wood grain and color as a background or for accents.
But you can also paint it with acrylic paint or gesso before drawing. In this way, you can work on a background of any color you wish. You can even do preliminary work with the paint for a mixed media drawing.
Varnish finished artwork like any other painting with an final fixative made for colored pencil. When that’s dry, the artwork is ready to hang with or without a frame, depending on the thickness of the wood.
Semi Rigid Supports
Semi rigid supports offer additional alternatives to drawing on paper. These supports are thicker than paper and often behave like rigid supports in smaller sizes.
Mat boardis perfect for colored pencils. If you draw on it unprepared, as I did with this portrait, you will need to frame it under glass.
But if you prepare the mat board by gessoing all sides, the mat board is properly sealed and will not absorb moisture from the atmosphere. While the layers of gesso do not protect the mat board from impact damage, it will allow you to frame smaller works without glass if you protect the back with a rigid support or foam core.
You’ll have to keep artwork relatively small—11×14 inches or less—but anything that size or smaller should be quite safe without glass. Provide proper back support for larger works on mat board.
Consider a protective coating of final fixative no matter what size the drawing.
Sanded Art Paper
Sanded art paper is another good drawing support, and doesn’t need to be framed under glass. Even if you don’t mount it to a rigid support, most sand paper is sturdy enough to do quite well with a rigid back board of some type when you frame it. It’s also less likely to absorb moisture or dirt out of the atmosphere.
This colored pencil landscape is drawn on Uart Sanded Pastel Papers, which comes in a variety of grits and makes for a very “painterly” drawing.
Final Thoughts on Framing Colored Pencil Drawings
There are, of course, other options available that allow you to frame colored pencil drawings without glass. Canvas is one that comes immediately to mind.
Although a drawing on a rigid support is less likely to be torn or punctured, it’s still susceptible to other hazards if framed without glass, so take appropriate precautions.
I prefer glass for the simple reason that a colored pencil drawing framed under glass looks more complete and is easier to clean. If you get UV protective glass, framing under glass also keeps light from altering the appearance of your artwork.
Sometime ago I wrote a post on drawing vibrant shadows to create strong contrast. There are two sides to strong contrast; shadows and highlights, so lets talk about drawing vibrant highlights today.
The following reader question prompts today’s post.
“I always admire the flowers or eyes that have highlighted white shines. When I try it, the white from my pencil doesn’t stand out, or it gets drowned by the other surrounding colours.”
Most of us can empathize with this reader. How many times have you tried to get nice, bright whites—or highlights of any colors—and had the same results? Too many to number if your experiences are anything like mine.
Time to end the frustration with three easy-to-implement options.
3 Tips for Drawing Vibrant Highlights
There are a number of ways to get bright whites and vibrant highlights with colored pencils, but some of them require certain papers, some require specific tools, and some work best with both.
We don’t all have easy access to those special papers or specific tools, so I’d like to focus this post on things you can do with most drawing papers and any type of colored pencils.
Colored papers are wonderful time savers and fun to work with. Colors look so different and interesting on them.
But they’re not very good for drawing vibrant highlights.
Contrast—not color—is what makes a drawing look three-dimensional. Contrast requires really bright bright values and really dark dark values.
It’s easy to get dark values on a colored paper, especially dark paper.
But bright bright values? Not so much.
Yes, you can get values that look bright relative to the dark values, but they won’t be truly vibrant because the color of the paper will tint even the whites. That’s because colored pencils are translucent, not opaque.
Look at this horse portrait.
I chose medium gray paper because of the horse’s color. The gray paper served as a beautiful middle value. It also saved a lot of drawing time because I didn’t need to draw those middle values.
But although the white face and blue eye look bright, they’re not as bright as they would have been on white paper. I don’t regret this paper choice; it was a good one, but I had to choose between absolutely vibrant highlights and saving time.
You have to make that decision with every drawing you do.
Unless, of course, you work only on white paper!
Even with white paper, identifying and preserving highlights is necessary. Once you’ve layered color onto paper, it’s difficult if not impossible to get back to the color of the paper. No matter what method you use to lighten or remove color. Staining is inevitable.
So the best thing to do is map out your drawing well enough to know where the highlights and shadows are.
Let me show you how that might look. Here’s one of my favorite current line drawings.
I developed this complex line drawing method because I always seemed to work over highlights no matter how careful I was while shading. I had to find a better way and this type of line drawing was the solution.
What do all those lines mean?
The darkest lines are outside edges. Highlight and shadow edges are outlined with dotted or dashed lines (see #2,) and contours are marked with directional lines.
I develop most line drawings to this degree, then transfer the lines I need for shading. Always outside edges, highlights and shadows; sometimes contour lines.
You don’t have to get this complicated with a line drawing, but it is important to find some way to mark those highlights so you don’t accidentally shade over them.
Work Around Highlights
When you begin shading, it’s doubly important to work around the highlights. It’s not enough to identify them; you must preserve them, too.
That sounds easy, but how do you do it?
Start by shading the darkest values first.
I always begin shading in the shadows no matter what method I use. In this sample, I started with light versions of the local colors. But the same principle applies to an umber under drawing, a gray scale under drawing or any other color you use to begin with.
After shading the shadows, I go over them again and work into the next lighter values with the next layer. I continue that process until everything is shaded except the highlights.
Use light pressure when layering.
Apply each layer of color with light pressure. Color applied with light pressure is easier to correct if you need to. You’re also less likely to get too dark too quickly if you use light pressure.
Continue using light pressure as long as you can, then increase pressure slowly, layer by layer.
Develop values slowly, layer by layer.
Don’t rush the drawing process. Colored pencil work sometimes seems unnecessarily slow, but it’s usually best to develop shadows slowly and gradually add the lighter values.
Here, I’ve shaded all the values up to the brightest highlights, which I’ve worked around. They don’t look very bright, do they? That’s because the darker values are still quite light.
But this horse is overall darker than the horse above. That’s because I darkened all the values with each layer.
The horse below is darker still, and the highlights are starting to look brighter. The darker the dark values become, the brighter the highlights look.
But it’s still important to work slowly and carefully work around those highlights.
Tint highlights as needed.
The final step in drawing vibrant highlights is tinting the highlights as needed. For Afternoon Graze, I lightly layered yellows over most of the highlights to give them a golden glow.
For drawing horses at mid-day, some of those highlights would remain white.
Want to draw these grazing horses? The full Grazing Horses tutorial is available from Ann Kullberg. Just click here. This link is an affiliate link.
Drawing Vibrant Highlights Needn’t be Difficult
But it must be intentional, especially if you use traditional drawing papers. You need to know where those highlights are, and keep them clean throughout the drawing process.
Plan your drawing enough to know where highlights are, then work carefully around them, and you’ve got the hard work done.
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.