Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress

Today, I want to address a topic that’s near and dear to all artists, regardless of age, or type of art: our hands and ways to minimize hand stress. The article is prompted by the following question.

Carrie,
Boy, do I love coloring with my pencils…but I can get a sore right hand. Especially since I have Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome. Besides setting myself time limits, what else helps, in your experience?
Thanks Much, Denise

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress

Denise asks a great question. Even if you don’t have Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome, there will be times when the repetitive nature of drawing causes hand and wrist fatigue, discomfort or pain.

But there are ways to manage those symptoms and possibly prevent them altogether.

Drawing Tips to Help Minimize Hand Stress

The best way to minimize hand stress is to take breaks. If you can draw comfortably for half an hour, then start to feel stress or discomfort, take a break from drawing every 25 minutes. It’s best if you leave your drawing table or easel and walk or do something else for five or ten minutes because that gives the rest of you a break, as well as your hands.

But just putting down the pencils and doing some simple hand exercises at your drawing table or easel helps strengthen your hands, improves flexibility, and relieves fatigue.

Beyond that, here are some drawing tips that may also help.

Solvent Blending

Using solvent to blend colored pencil allows you to continue drawing with colored pencil, but reduces the amount of time you need to spend on each drawing, and reduces the number of strokes.

If you blend by burnishing, you’re exerting a lot of pressure on the pencil. That usually also means you’re holding the pencil more tightly. Both things cause stress to the muscles of your hands and fingers. Solvent blending eliminates much of that pressure.

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress - Blend with Solvent

Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Try using water soluble and traditional colored pencils together. Draw with them dry or use them like watercolor to do as much of the work as possible, then add details with traditional colored pencils.

You won’t need to work as long on a drawing, and can cover more area more easily with a brush than with individual strokes no matter how you use water soluble colored pencils.

Mixed Media

Watercolors, inks, markers, and even acrylic paints make great under drawings for colored pencils. Just make sure to use them for the first portion of the work, then add traditional colored pencil over them (none of these mediums stick very well to colored pencils because of the wax or oil binders in colored pencils.)

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress - Watercolor Pencils

Art Products that Help Minimize Hand Stress

Sanded Pastel Paper

I know what you’re thinking: Sanded pastel paper will make drawing more difficult.

That’s what I used to think, too, but it isn’t true. Believe it or not, the drawings I’ve completed on sanded pastel paper have been finished more quickly and with less stress than similar drawings on regular drawing paper.

I’ve also observed (in hindsight,) that I don’t notice my hand aching as much. The fact is that my brain and eyes tire faster than my hands when drawing on sanded pastel paper.

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress - Use Sanded Art Paper

The reason is that sanded pastel paper produces an almost pastel-like powder that you can blend into the paper with a paper blending stump or bristle brush. This blending method extends the use of the pencils, and reduces the amount of pressure required to fill the tooth. That reduces the number of pencil strokes you need to finish a drawing and that reduces overall stress to hands and fingers.

Woodless Colored Pencils

Woodless colored pencils are solid sticks of color. There is no wood casing. They can be used and sharpened just the same as regular colored pencils, but you can also use them like pastels and draw with the sides. They’re great for laying down large “washes” of color on sanded pastel paper, and then blending either dry (with a bristle brush) or with a solvent.

Need a fine line? Sharpen the stick with a knife for a chiseled edge.

I use Koh-I-Nor Progresso pencils because most of them are light fast, but Prismacolor also makes a line of woodless pencils called Art Stix.

Brush & Pencil Powder Blender

Brush & Pencil makes an excellent blending product called powder blender. Powder blender blends colored pencil more quickly and completely than anything else I’ve ever seen. You can use it alone, or in combination with Brush & Pencil’s texture fixative.

Products can be purchased individually or as part of a kit from Brush & Pencil. Some of the individual products are also available through Dick Blick.

I have not yet tried either of these products, but have seen them demonstrated and am very impressed. They are definitely on my wish list!

Other Ideas That Might Help

These simple changes in method and technique can also help minimize hand stress, pain, fatigue, and discomfort.

Use Different Types of Strokes

Change up the type of strokes you use. Work with circular strokes for a while, then switch to directional strokes. You’ll still need to take breaks, but changing the type of stroke changes the motions you make with your hand. This simple change in routine helps avoid discomfort.

Also, if you usually stroke with the pencil moving away from you, try stroking with the pencil moving toward you.

Change the Way You Hold the Pencil

Most of us hold the pencil in a normal hand writing position most of the time.

But you can also hold the pencil nearly vertical and make most of the same types of strokes. You’ll also have more control.

Or you can hold the pencil in a more horizontal position and draw with the side of the pencil. This is especially useful if you need to use very light pressure for part of the drawing.

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress - Change How You Hold the Pencil

Change the Angle of Your Desk, Easel, or Drawing Board

If you work at a drawing table, change the angle of the table top if you can. If you work on a drawing board, put it in a different position. You might even try working with a drawing board in your lap.

Work Standing

Working standing up puts you at a different level relative to your drawing table or easel. Consequently, your hands and arms are at a different angle, too.

A standing desk, a drafting table, or an easel are great ways to work on art and stay on your feet.

Bonus: You keep the rest of you in better shape, too, since you move around more when standing. At least I do!

Conclusion

We all need to be more mindful in how we draw. The best way to avoid hand and wrist pain is to find ways to prevent it.

There are many reasons you might be dealing with hand and wrist pain. The best first step is consulting your doctor to find out why, then treating that underlying problem.

I make no claims on medical knowledge. I’m not doctor! These are just a few things I’ve found myself doing to get through long work sessions.

My Colored Pencil Wish List

Let’s have a little fun today. Something totally off topic as far as tutorials, discussions, and techniques. Let’s take a look at my colored pencil wish list.

And yours, too, if you care to share.

Colored Pencil Wish List

Let’s face it. No artist can have too many supplies.

Remember the last time you went to an art or craft store? All those open stock pencils in their nifty display rack. Sheets of paper, and accessories.

Those beautiful colors are enough to make your mouth water (and that’s just the lacquer!) I don’t know about you, but it’s impossible to have too many colors.

Or too many pencils.

My Colored Pencil Wish List - Faber-Castell

But most of us can’t afford to buy every colored pencil we see. The budget just doesn’t allow for that. We begin where we can and wish for others.

That wish list is what this post is all about.

My Colored Pencil Wish List

Here are other pencils on my wish list, in alphabetical order.

Caran d’Ache

Caran d’Ache is a Swiss company producing a range of writing and art supplies. Their colored pencil product line includes Pablo, Luminance, and Supracolor Soft Aquarelle pencils.

Caran d’Ache Luminance are probably the best known, and they are about the best wax-based pencil available, but they are quite expensive at $4.49 (currently at Dick Blick) for single pencils.

Luminance pencils are available in 76 colors that are highly pigmented and can be used with all the same blending methods you might use with Prismacolor. Their pigment core is soft and ideal for layering.

But what sets them apart is their opacity.

Most wax-based colored pencils are translucent in nature. You can see the influence of each layer of color through all the other layers you put over it. That’s why it’s so difficult to make white or light colors show over dark colors.

My Colored Pencil Wish List - Luminance

That is not the case with Luminance. You can draw light over dark for striking results.

The Pablo line is to Luminance with Verithin is to Prismacolor Soft Core. A thinner, harder pigment core that holds a point longer, and is great for fine details.

Derwent Drawing Pencils

Derwent Drawing Pencils have been around since 1986, when Derwent introduced the original line of six colors. Now with 24 colors, they are starting to step onto center stage with colored pencil artists.

Each color is a soft, “earthy” color. The pencils themselves are bigger than most colored pencils. The pigment core is 8mm (Prismacolor is 3.8mm). But they’re also very soft, so they lay down a lot of color quickly.

Colored Pencils 1

What attracts me to these pencils is the muted colors, which are ideal for drawing landscapes or under drawings.

They’re a medium priced pencil, currently listed at $2.02 each in open stock on Dick Blick.

Derwent Lightfast Pencils

Derwent Lightfast Pencils are brand new to the market. They are specifically designed by Derwent to be 100% lightfast; that is, every color in the collection is lightfast.

How lightfast? The company has tested them by ASTM Standards (D-6901 to be specific,) and every color is guaranteed not to fade in 100 years under museum conditions.

They’re an oil-based pencil that performs almost like a wax-based pencil, with smooth lay down and great pigmentation.

Colored Pencils Pencils 2

The downside?

There aren’t many colors, yet. Only 36.

They’re very expensive. The full set is currently $102.56 from Dick Blick. Single pencils are $2.65 each from Dick Blick.

Derwent is planning on introducing 36 more colors in the Lightfast line, but the roll-out date is still unknown.

But they are on my wish list!

Dick Blick Studio Artist’s Colored Pencils

If you’re just getting started with colored pencil drawing and want a high quality pencil for a reasonable price, you can hardly do better than Blick Studio Artist’s Colored Pencils.

The pencils are available in a variety of sets and open stock (91 colors) for about a dollar a pencil. They are a wax-based pencil, with a thick, soft pigment core, and can be used with layering and blending methods.

I’m interested in trying these pencils both because of price, and because they are manufactured by the same company that manufactures Utrecht Premium Colored Pencils. I think of Utrecht as an old, and respected company, so am interested in their colored pencil products.

Colored Pencils

Koh-I-Nor Polycolor Dry Color Drawing Pencils

I can’t say much about the Koh-I-Nor Dry Color Drawing Pencils that I didn’t say about the Koh-I-Nor Woodless Progresso pencils (see below.) I’ve been so happy with the woodless pencils for general drawing and on sanded pastel paper, that I hope the Polycolor pencils live up to the same standard.

Polycolor pencils are oil-based—another advantage as far as I’m concerned—and are moderately priced below a dollar each for the full set of 72.

Colored Pencils on a Diagonal

The only drawback—and it is significant—is that they are not available open stock. For that reason, they wouldn’t be my first choice from this list. But in my opinion, price makes them worth a try.

Someday.

Lyra Rembrandt

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor pencils are also oil-based, so they produce less wax-bloom than wax-based pencils.

The closest I’ve ever come to these pencils is having some how once gotten hold of a Lyra Splender Blender. That was back before I knew the difference between wax-based pencils and oil-based pencils. I used it to blend Prismacolor and it worked great.

They’re available in a wide range of colors open stock and in sets. Open stock price at Dick Blick is $1.72, so they’re a moderately priced pencil.

Colored Pencils in two Rows

Colored Pencils I Wish Were Available

More Colors, Please.

The Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless pencils are fabulous to work with, especially on sanded art surfaces. But they come in only 24 colors, some of which are of no use to an animal or landscape artist! I’d love to see more earth tones, and “earthy” blues, greens, and yellows.

The same goes for the Derwent Drawing Pencils. Those muted tones are said to be beautiful and the pencils themselves a delight to use. I have only the Chinese White, but I definitely plan to buy a set one of these days. Twenty-four colors is a great start, but I’d really love to see a wider range.

Prismacolors the way they used to be.

Who wouldn’t want that?

I have a pencil or two dating back to the Eagle days, as well as a few that are newer, but still predate the current Prismacolor. I would dearly love for someone to buy back the brand and get back to manufacturing a colored pencil for artists and by artists.

Colored Pencils in a Circle

That’s My Colored Pencil Wish List

At least at present. Who knows? Something new may come along any day, and merit addition to this list.

But isn’t that the way it is with art supplies? There’s always something new!

What pencils are on your wish list?

How to Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

This week, I want to share a few tips about how to make coloring pages look more realistic. The post is the result of a reader question, and an opportunity to guest post for artist, Sarah Renae Clark. I’ll tell you more about that article in a minute.

Here’s the reader question.

I would like to know how to make the subjects in the coloring books come to life using your pencils. I do ceramics so I know dry brushing an blending. But since I do not draw but use the coloring books, which i enjoy just wish i could make them look better.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

I used the same coloring page for this post and for the guest post for Sarah Renae Clark. The page is called Cat Wisdom*, and you can purchase your own coloring page here*.

How to Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

While the bold outlines of coloring pages make it impossible to create truly life-like realism, you can make your coloring pages look more realistic with just a few “tricks.”

The most important of those tips is contrast. The more contrast in your drawing, the less flat it looks. The less flat a drawing looks, the more real it looks.

Step 1: Draw a Smooth Base Layer

Base layers are generally a color that’s similar to the final color, but lighter in value. Something you want to be dark green can begin with a base layer of light green.

The color you choose makes a difference in how something looks finished. Do a base layer of warm green (yellowish-green) on one leaf, and a base layer of cool green (blue-green) on the leaf next to it and you will end up with two slightly different colors if you do all other layers the same.

The base layer should cover every part of each shape.

It should also be smooth, with no visible pencil strokes. The best way to draw smooth color is by using a sharp pencil and light pressure with small, circular strokes.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 1

NOTE: If you’ve been drawing long enough to have found the stroke that gives you the smoothest results, use that stroke. If you’re beginning, the best stroke to learn is the circular stroke.

Shade all the leaves with base color. Then all the flowers. You can do as I did and use different base colors for the flowers, or do them all the same.

I chose to make the background areas very dark. You can leave them white if you prefer.

If you can’t decide on colors for every part, that’s okay. You can leave some of them for later.

Step 2: Add Darker Values

Select colors that are one or two shades darker than the base colors. Layer those colors into the parts of each shape that you want to be darker. Use a sharp pencil and light pressure to draw small, overlapping strokes or short, directional strokes.

For example, I used circular strokes in the blue flowers because those flowers are so small and because I wanted smooth color.

In the longer petals of the purple flowers, I used long, directional strokes that curved slightly to follow the shape of each petal.

When you want smooth color, draw smooth color that shows no pencil strokes. In areas where you want a little texture, use strokes that best create that texture.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 2

Step 3: Blend with Base Colors

Use well-sharpened pencils to blend each shape. Use medium pressure to smoothly blend together the previous layers of color.

Cover every part of each shape EXCEPT the highlights you want to show. Work around those highlights. Keep the edges of the highlights soft by fading color into the highlights.

If you left blank places in your drawing, you should already begin seeing a difference between the blank spaces and the areas you’re shading layer by layer.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 3

Step 4: Continue to Darken Values

The next step is to continue darkening values in the deep shadows and the darker middle value areas. To do that, you can do one of two things.

You can choose a darker shade of the base colors.

That’s what I did with the green leaves. The base color was Chartreuse. Over that, I added a shade of green one or two shades darker. For this step, I layered Olive Green over each of the leaves. I used a sharp pencil and medium pressure for the first layer or two.

Then I increased pressure to heavy pressure to add the darkest shadows.

I did the same thing with the small, blue flowers.

You can choose a different color.

The purple flowers started with a pink base layer (Step 1.) For the second step, I used a medium blue, and for this step, I chose Violet.

Why the different colors?

To add depth of color and increase the value range, as well as to create a new shade of purple. I wanted these flowers to stand out a little more and combining colors was a good way to do that.

Step 5: Blending Layer

This next step also can go in one of two directions. You can either burnish with a colorless blender, or blend with another round of the base colors. How do you know which option to choose?

If you’re finished with your drawing, then burnishing with a colorless blender is the way to go. You won’t change the colors (other than darkening some of them.) The end result will be smooth color and good color saturation.

Blending with the base colors is the better option if you plan to add more detail layers afterward, or if you want to change the color of an area. You will be able to add more layers after blending with the base colors because you’ll be using medium pressure.

If you burnish, you’ll press down the tooth of the paper, and it will be very difficult to make additional color stick.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 5

In my sample, I layered Pink over the pinkish-purple flowers, and Light Cerulean Blue over the blue flowers.

Step 6: Keep Layering and Blending Until the Drawing is Finished

I’m considering my coloring page finished at this stage, but you can continue to layer colors and blend as much as you want or until the paper will take no more color

Here’s the whole drawing.

You’ll notice I didn’t do every flower the same way. One reason for that is to keep the finished drawing from getting too busy. The dark spaces in the background, and the plain flowers give your eye a place to rest.

But another reason was to show you the difference you can make by layering and blending colors instead of using a single color. Even combining just two colors and a couple of blending layers really help you make coloring pages look more realistic.

About that Guest Post….

Sarah Renae Clark asked me to write a post showing her readers how to draw more realistic fur. Since I used the same drawing as the project for this post and Sarah’s, I thought you might like to read How to Draw Fur with Colored Pencils* as well.

*All links to Sarah’s website and store contain affiliate links.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

In this post, I’ll show you how to finish a drawing started with water soluble colored pencils.

Last week, I shared the method I used to create an under drawing using water soluble colored pencils. While I focused on water soluble colored pencils in that post, the technique applies to any type of water soluble media with the possible exception of water miscible oils. I’ve never tried that combination, so cannot tell you whether or not it would work.

Before adding dry color, make sure the under drawing and the paper are completely dry. If there’s any residual dampness, you risk damaging the paper. I usually allow paper to dry over night, just to be on the safe side.  I also usually allow papers to air dry by natural evaporation. Even on the hottest days, this process is less likely to cause warping or buckling.

But you can dry paper with a hand-held hair dryer if you need to finish it quickly. Use a low heat setting and don’t get the dryer too close to the paper to keep the color from running before it dries.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Unless otherwise noted, the colors listed in this article are Prismacolor Soft Core colors. Any colored pencils work over watercolor pencils.

Step 1: Start dry drawing with the base colors.

When the paper is ready for dry color, use the same methods of choosing colors you use for any other technique. Start with the lightest colors and build toward the darks layer by layer.

In this illustration, I’ve added a very light earth tone that’s also a warm color. Burnt Ochre was lightly shaded over the darker area behind the ears and in front of the ears. I used light pressure with a very sharp pencil to draw an even color layer.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 1

Next, layer Burnt Ochre over the rest of the horse except the highlights. I always work around highlights so they don’t become muddy or—even worse—disappear. This is the best way to get sparkling highlights when you work on white or light colored paper.

On the horse’s head and neck, use a sharp pencil to draw a smooth, even color layer.

In the mane, stroke with the growth of the hair, starting at the bottom edge of the highlight and stroking downward to the ends of the hair groups.

Use light or very light pressure on the head, neck, and ears. For the mane, use light to medium-light pressure.

Begin drawing the muzzle with a light layer of pink at the chin and light gray in and around the nostril.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 1b

Step 2: Glaze color over the base layers.

With the base color in place, begin developing deeper values and richer colors.

For this demo, I used Sienna Brown and Mineral Orange in the middle values, a light glaze of Light Umber and Goldenrod to the lighter values, and Dark Brown to the shadows. However, getting the values right is more important than correct color. Since we don’t all see color the same way, select colors based on what you see in your reference.

Continue working around the brightest highlights.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2a

For each round of work, add more of each color. Getting good coverage (filling all of the paper holes) requires multiple layers. For the best color, alternate between two or more colors.

Continue using light pressure and sharp pencils to draw smooth color. Stroke in the direction of hair growth in the mane and forelock.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2b

Step 3: Add finishing details to complete your drawing.

When the drawing nears completion, begin working on the highlights. Leave the brightest highlights alone. The highlight along the top of the crest, for example, is whatever color shows through from the under drawing.

For the others, add Spanish Orange, Orange, or Yellow Ochre if the highlight is warm in color (the highlight along the cheek). If the highlight is more neutral, use Sand or Cream (behind the eye).

Most of the highlights are then burnished with a color like Beige or Cream to keep them unified with the coat colors around them.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 3

Conclusion

Using water media or water soluble colored pencils to draw the under drawing is a great way to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a colored pencil work. It’s also a good way to cover the paper without filling in the tooth of the paper.

I probably won’t be using this combination very often because it doesn’t work very well on my favorite papers. They just don’t handle moisture well and I don’t care for the texture of watercolor papers that are heavy enough to take the moisture.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a viable—and valuable—alternative to using only traditional, dry colored pencils.

As I mentioned in the previous post, if you hope to enter your artwork in shows that are exclusively colored pencil, stick with water soluble colored pencils.

If that doesn’t matter, then experiment and have fun!

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Making art with colored pencils is time-consuming. If you like detail and want to do anything larger than 11×14, you should plan on spending hours in the process.

It could take weeks.

Or months.

Solvents are one way to save time, but there are other ways. Using a traditional colored pencils over water soluble colored pencils is one of them.

That’s also our topic today.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

About the Drawing

The art work is small. About 5×7.

I used a combination of Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle and Prismacolor pencils on a scrap of watercolor paper. Unfortunately, I don’t know what type of paper beyond the fact that it was not very smooth, and it was heavy enough to withstand repeated wetting.

I wanted to learn what I could do with water soluble colored pencils, so I used an old drawing from another project.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Step 1: Getting ready to paint (and deciding how to start)

There are several ways to create color washes with water soluble colored pencils.

To create strong color, use dry pencils to layer color, then wet the color with a brush. Colors “melt” and flow together just like traditional watercolors.

Or dip a sharpened pencil into water and draw while it’s wet. This works especially well in small areas, but requires frequent dipping..

If you want softer color, dampen a soft brush with clean water, then stroke the exposed core of the pencil to pick up color. Usually one or two strokes against the pencil is sufficient to produce good color.

If you plan to use water soluble colored pencils for most of the drawing, create a palette by making heavy layers of the main colors on a scrap of watercolor paper.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Color Palette

Several heavy applications are necessary, but when you finish, you can use this palette as you would use a watercolor painting palette. Dampen your brushes, pick up color from the palette, and brush it onto the paper. When the palette begins to look used, simply recharge it by layering more color on the palette.

Step 2: Toning the background

Mark the borders of the drawing, leaving ample margins to allow me to wash color beyond the edge of the drawing.

Create a pink wash with Rose Carmine (124) and a yellow wash with Cadmium Yellow (107).

For this piece, I dampened a brush and stroked it against the exposed cores of each pencil to pick up color, then added a band of pink and a band of yellow. I also blended a tint of pink wet-into-wet into part of the yellow.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 1

Step 2: Toning the Subject

For this demonstration, I under painted the horse in complementary colors, which are greens. To make the green, wash Emerald Green (163) over part of the background and part of the horse using the same method described above.

For the mane, use a small, round sable. Stroke color into the shadows that break the mane into hair masses.

For stronger color,wet the brush, then blot it before touching it to the pencil. The resulting color is less diluted and, therefore, darker.

One thing to remember when using colored pencil in this way is that you have one or two strokes—at most—to get the look you want. The more strokes you do and the more water you add, the more you’ll dilute the color. Limit yourself to one stroke for the darkest values. 

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2a

After the previous work dries, add a very thin wash of cadmium yellow over the horse. Use a larger brush for more even color. Once again, limit yourself to one or two strokes. Load the brush with water, then touch it to the sharpened pencil.

For brighter color along the top of the crest and in the mane, use a smaller brush and a more dry-brush method to stroke color into the still wet wash. The new color dissolves slightly into the wash, creating darker accents with soft edges.

Notice how fresh dampness affects the dry color on the mane (the green). Working with water soluble color requires a different working mindset than using dry color.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2b

Parting Thoughts

Using watercolor-like washes to start a colored pencil drawing is a great way to get a lot done in a short amount of time. You can use water soluble colored pencils (as I did here), watercolor, acrylic (thinned to tint strength,) or any other medium that can be thinned with water in used in this way.

Keep in mind that if you use water soluble colored pencil, the work is still considered colored pencil. Using any of the other mediums makes your drawing a mixed media. If you want to exhibit in exclusively colored pencil shows, this is important to keep in mind.

If this is the first time you’ve used water soluble methods, practice first. It doesn’t matter how you practice. This piece was my test piece, but you could also do random color swatches or just play with color to see how it responds.

Wet media colors interact differently than dry media. Some of them also dry darker or lighter than they appear when wet. Doing a few test pieces will show you what to expect from the medium you’re using.

But you also need to know how traditional colored pencils react with a wet medium under drawing. Next week, I’ll show you how I finished this piece with traditional, wax-based pencils.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll take time to experiment with water soluble colored pencils yourself.

Oh, and have fun!

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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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Colored Pencil Email Drawing Classes

Ideas for new colored pencil email drawing classes are constantly taking shape. Everywhere I look, I see potential subjects.

Holiday candies (if I can keep from eating all my subjects!)

Christmas lights and outdoor decorations.

Ribbons and bows and colorful gift wrapping.

Snowy landscapes, and kittens, and bare trees….

The potential is endless!

Believe it or not, I’ve even considered an afternoon or weekend class on blending and hyping up contrast!

New Colored Pencil Email Drawing Classes

To top it all off, some of you have asked about new classes, and some have even suggested topics (I love the wrinkled aluminum foil idea!)

What Email Drawing Classes Include

This past Fall, students walked with me through the process of drawing clouds, drawing from life, drawing a kitten, and drawing a red Christmas ornament. Each class presented specific challenges and rewards.

Each class included:

Reference photo and line drawing where necessary

Complete lessons

Full-color illustrations

Feedback from me

Lots of tips

A free ebook based on the class

Classes were designed for beginning artists and intermediate artists, and lasted a month or less.

What Makes These Classes Unique from My Other Email Drawing Classes

Limited in length. The longest class lasts only five weeks. Most will be four weeks or less.

Low cost. Only $20 per class (for 30-day classes).

No limit on the number of students. That’s why the tuition is so low.

Possible Class Projects

Drawing a landscape using the umber under drawing method

Using  French Greys for a cat portait

Drawing candy or some other food item

Colored pencil blending methods

Hyping up contrast

Drawing a still life with glass

When Does All this Start?

The class schedule is still very tentative, though I hope to begin this summer.

But I want to give you the opportunity to get the latest news on these classes, and all other courses upcoming in 2019 and beyond.

How?

Simple! Sign up for my free New Colored Pencil Email Drawing Class mailing list.

Not only will you get the latest news before everyone else; you’ll get early-bird discounts, possibly multi-class discounts, and other special offers. Just click the button below, fill out the form, and confirm your wish to receive news, and you’re in.

New Colored Pencil Email Drawing Class List

How to Make Drawings Look Less Flat

New artists constantly confront a handful of challenges, no matter what medium they use. For those who like their work to look realistic, the biggest challenge is learning to make drawings look less flat.

That was the subject of a recent reader question.

Carrie, I have attached my drawing of a horse’s head. I am probably my own worst critic as I do strive for perfection. The drawing was done on white paper, Bockingford 120 gsm. It was extremely hard to fill the tooth and put on probably 20 layers in places. I had to burnish very hard to get the fill. I found it difficult to get a clean edge but think this is not keeping the pencil sharp or upright enough. Also found it more difficult than graphite to show the contours. Bill Bayne

Make a Drawing Look Less Flat

How to Make Drawings Look Less Flat

Bill raised several topics worthy of discussion, but since his primary concern was making his lovely horse look more real, let’s address that issue in this post.

Bill provided a drawing of a horse and gave me permission to share them with you. Thank you, Bill!

Following are two suggestions you can put to use immediately.

Contrast is vital to creating realistic drawings or paintings in any medium.

Color is important in realism, but contrast is more important.

Contrast is what happens when you have very light colors and very dark colors in the same drawing. Every drawing should have dark values and light values, and those values should not be limited to a white part (such as the horse’s marking) and a black area (such as the bridle.)

When a drawing has good contrast, each area also has good contrast. Sometimes the transitions from one value to the next are subtle, but there are transitions.

Take a look at this side-by-side comparison. The left image is the original image. I increased the contrast using a photo editor to make the image on the right. I made the light values lighter and the dark values darker. There have been no other changes, yet you can see the difference.

So the first thing to check whenever your drawing looks flat is the contrast. Are your darks dark enough? Are your lights light enough?

It can be intimidating to made dark values darker, so photograph your drawing and play with it in a photo editor. Seeing how it looks with stronger values gives you the confidence to make those changes on the draining.

When you do begin darkening values, do so gradually. One layer at a time. Use light pressure and fade the new, darker color into the other colors. Review your drawing after each layer, so you don’t go too dark.

Shading is important to drawings that look less flat.

Shading is the process of adding shades of color to the shape you’ve drawn. These “shades” are known as modeling.

Modeling represents the way light illuminates the object, and it’s done by drawing a smooth transition of values from light to dark. The lighter the value, the more light on the object it represents. The darker the value, the less light—the deeper the shadows.

When you shade a shape, you make it look like light is striking different parts of it to different degrees, and that creates the illusion that the object has form or mass; that it takes up space.

And that makes it look less flat.

There is no shading on the first circle. It’s just green. The middle circle shows a medium amount of shading. There are lights and darks, but neither is pushed as far as it could go.

(I spent a lot of years doing art that looked like the middle circle!)

Make Drawings Look Less Flat - Shading

The third circle has very dark shadows and very bright highlights. It is no longer a circle; it’s a ball.

The same principle holds true with every subject. Take note of where the shadows are in your reference photo, and make them dark enough on your drawing.

It may be easier to see where you need to darken shadows and lighten highlights by looking at a gray scale version of your artwork next to a gray scale version of the reference photo. You can convert an image to gray scale in a photo editor.

Use modeling and contrast to make drawings look less flat and more life-like.

There are other tips and techniques to make drawings look less flat (things like reflected light and aerial perspective,) but improving contrast and modeling are usually the best places to begin.

And the easiest to implement!

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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Why Use the Umber Under Drawing Method

Today, I want to talk about using the umber under drawing method. This method of drawing is just one of many, and works for any type of subject. I use it most often for landscape drawing, but I hope you’ll find useful information here even if you’ve never drawn a landscape, or don’t want to!

Why Use the Umber Under Drawing Method

Why You Should Use any Under Drawing Method

The first question most people ask (about art or any other subject) is why.

Why that subject instead or another?

Why did you choose those colors?

Why do an under drawing when you draw over it anyway?

You get the idea!

With most aspects of art, the answers are personal. That applies to drawing methods, too. You can use any drawing method you prefer. You can even use a different method for every drawing or based on you mood when you draw.

But no matter what method you use, you begin with an under drawing of some kind. Why? Because in reality, an under drawing is simply the first layers of color you put on the paper.

So the real question becomes, why use a special kind of under drawing?

Most artists start with under drawings to achieve a certain effect. Most colored pencils are translucent, so every color you put on paper influences every other color. (That’s also why it’s so difficult to cover up mistakes.)

The type of under drawing (umber, complementary, monochromatic) affects the look of the finished artwork.

Subject can also be a determining factor. Landscapes benefit from complementary colors and earth tones, if only to tone down the greens.

Atmospheric drawings benefit from monochromatic under drawings that help create the mood or atmosphere the artist wants to create.

There are other reasons, too. For more in-depth answers to this question, read Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway?.

Why Use the Umber Under Drawing Method?

Answers to this question vary from artist to artist, but here are the biggest reasons I prefer umber under drawings.

1—I do a lot of landscape drawings. For many years, I struggled with greens that were unnaturally bright. The only way to tone down those greens is by adding their compliments. Usually reds, oranges, and earth tones.

You can, of course, add those colors at any time in the process—and I often do. But an umber under drawing has rescued many a drawing. So many that this drawing method has become my favorite.

Why Use the Umber Under Drawing Method - Late Spring in the Flint Hills

2—An umber under drawing is ideal for drawing animals of almost every stripe. It also works for many other subjects.

3—It’s a lot easier for me to work out shapes, values, and details if I’m not also making decisions about colors. When I begin with local colors or with a complementary under drawing, I have to make color choices from the start.

With an umber under drawing, the choice is already made. One light brown, and one dark brown. Sometimes, I even limit myself to one or the other.

4–Quite simply, I like earth tones. There is so much variation in earth tones that I’ve often considered doing sepia studies in nothing but earth tones.

Or those lovely French greys in the Prismacolor line.

So when it comes to choosing under drawing colors, it’s natural to reach for a brown of some kind!

That’s Why I Use the Umber Under Drawing Method

The umber under drawing method isn’t the only method I use, but it is my favorite method.

Want to see how it works in practice? Read my umber under drawing tutorial featuring a dark horse on this blog. For a landscape tutorial, read my first ever series on EmptyEasel.com. Both contain step-by-step illustrations and instructions.

Then give it a try if you’ve never used it before. It may become your new favorite drawing method!

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