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.
It’s February already, so you know what that means. February 2020 CP Magic is now available.
What’s in the February Issue
First the artist interview.
I had the great pleasure of interviewing John Middick, creator of Sharpened Artist Podcast. You’ll enjoy hearing about John’s artistic journey, how he became a full-time artist involuntarily, and see how he organizes his studio and tools.
After that, John’s step-by-step tutorial. He used Inktense and colored pencils on LuxArchival paper. If you’ve never used this new paper, you’ll want to see how John works with it and what he thinks of it.
The tutorial includes full-color illustrations, and clear, easy-to-follow descriptions. John also included a link to the reference photo so you can follow along if you wish.
This month’s Before-and-After Clinic shows you how much difference an extra hour of work can make on your next (or current!) project.
Finally, I’m including a featured reference photo you can download and draw for yourself.
About CP Magic
CP Magic is a monthly digital publication written by a colored pencil artist—yours truly—for colored pencil artists at all levels. That’s you!
Each month features an artist interview and a tutorial so you can meet the artist and then see how they work. Other columns are the Before-and-After Clinic and the featured photo.
It’s the second Saturday of the month. That means a Peggy Osborne tutorial! This month, she’s drawing vibrant color on black paper and her subject is a beautiful and colorful rooster.
Drawing Vibrant Color on Black Paper
In this tutorial I am going to show you how I draw vibrant color on black paper. This month’s subject is a rooster, but the method works for furry subjects as well. I’ve drawn dogs, cats and horses on black paper using this method.
The first thing to remember about black paper is that the color of the pencils looks different on black paper. To draw bright colors, it’s important to start with a white under drawing.
I’m using Prismacolor pencils which are wax-based, but you can use any brand. I am not sure how the other brands perform on the paper, but everyone has a favorite and you can use what you have. I doubt there would be enough difference to matter.
Also use the colors you have. They don’t have to be the same as I use. The main thing you need to do is layer the lightest colors first, starting with an opaque white, which the white Prismacolor is. It is quite opaque compared to, say the Polychromos White. I don’t know about other brands of white pencil.
I am using a smooth black mat board. If you us a different surface, it may act differently. Familiarize yourself with your own pencils and paper and see what they can do for you. Then dive in!!
This is my reference photo. I found it on Pixabay.
Transferring the Line Drawing to Black Paper
The first thing I do is transfer my line drawing to the paper. I use white transfer paper and trace the image onto the black paper. The white transfer paper can be a bit smudgy, so be careful to not smudge. Use a kneaded eraser to lift any smudged areas.
I work each section to almost completion, then move onto the next section.
To make things easy on myself, I keep the colors I use separate from the rest of my pencils. This way, I know which ones I’ve used and can go back to them as I need them.
Also, I don’t erase much on black paper as the marks can show up more than on white paper. I usually use a kneaded eraser more on black paper than other papers. On other papers, I use my electric eraser more.
Start with the Rooster’s Comb
I started with the comb and began by drawing a few details with a sharp White pencil and medium pressure. Then I hold the pencil a little to the side and with light pressure cover the whole area with a light wash.
As always, I follow my reference photo closely to make sure the drawing is accurate and the feathers are going in the direction they should be going in. But unless I am doing a commission where the image has to be exact, I don’t worry about getting the exact colors or every feather in place.
TIP: Test colors on a scrap piece of paper for opacity before using them on the drawing and chose one that works best.
I started with a light wash of Rose Peach over the comb, then added Raspberry in the shadows.
I used Crimson Lake in the shadows, washed Scarlet Lake overall , then layered Cadmium Orange in the shadows and along the comb. Then another light wash of Rose Peach and White. I used sharp pencils and light pressure with every color.
When doing a wash, lightly use the side of your pencil.
To finish the comb, I layered the previous colors again, mixing them with washes of White now and then. I used reds and Raspberry making squiggly lines to add texture to the comb. Then I went in with White to make more texture lines with a sharp point.
Finishing up the comb, I used Brush and Pencil Titanium White mixture to draw in the very brightest whites. If I go too light, I can always color over the product to tone it down. You want to do this after it is completely dry though so it doesn’t lift.
Drawing the Rooster’s Face
Usually when working on white paper I focus on getting the darks dark enough. But on black paper, I focus on getting the lights light enough.
Here I’ve already drawn the face and wattles to almost completion by following the same method and techniques as with the comb. I also added a bit of dark purple in the darkest areas.
TIP: Layer lightest colors, wash with White to keep the colors bright, and follow the reference photo closely.
I created the pointy feathers above the eye by drawing black and white stripes then adding Titanium White mixture to brighten it.
To complete the eye, I started with White, then Canary Yellow and Scarlet Lake followed by a bit of Tuscon Red along the outside of the eyeball. I used Black for the pupil.
I find the black pencil is usually darker than the black paper so I use it a lot depending on the look I am trying to achieve. I’ll add more highlights here and there before completing this area.
The ear lobe is started with White and a dark cool grey for the texture areas.
The Black Feathers
Next I added a few highlights to the wattles and finished the ear lobe. On the ear lobe I used more White, and then finished with Titanium White mixture.
To start the feathered chest, I drew in the directional lines with White.
Next I added more White to the feathered chest. This may seem redundant but it is amazing how much White I use to create black feathers. It makes the black pop on the paper and not just fade into the black paper.
Now I started building up the colors with Slate Grey and Greyed Lavender as a wash overall, using the side of the pencils and very light touch.
I did another light wash, then started drawing between the lines with Black. You can see where I’ve added Black in this photo.
I continued adding White and Black until the feathers looked the way I wanted them to look. But I also added Manganese Violet and Indigo Blue in the areas where I saw those colors in the reference photo. The extra colors add more realism and depth to the drawing than just having a flat black.
In this photo you can almost feel the thickness of the feathers on his chest.
Drawing the White Feathers
I didn’t spend a lot of time on the white feathers, and started with White. Then I layered a little Indigo Blue and Greyed Lavender in the shadows. I went over this a few times with a white wash, then added Titanium White. I also used White with a sharp point to add highlights in the black feathers on the neck.
Drawing the Beak
Here I’ve finished the white feathers with Titanium White mixture, and started the beak.
As usual I used White as a base, then added color, going from light to dark. I used Peach on the lower beak, and Slate Grey, Indigo Blue, and Purple on the top of the beak. I then added texture with Titanium White mixture.
Value & Color Comparisons
Once the drawing was finished, I placed my art piece in a split photo with the original to check likeness, colors and values, and saw that I needed to change the eye just a bit and add a few more darks and color. I used Sepia to darken the creases in the face and wattles, then punched up the reds a bit and did an overall tweak.
Here are the two split photos that I use to check things in color and in black and white. I check with the reference photo frequently while I am working checking for color and likeness.
In this case, because it is not a commission and just for fun, it didn’t have to be as exact as if I were doing a commission. The shape of an eye can change the likeness drastically so it is very important to keep checking the reference photo as you work.
And here is the finished piece.
Are you ready to try drawing vibrant color on black paper?
I’m looking forward to trying Peggy’s method for drawing vibrant color on black paper. Her colors sing!
Do you have an idea for a tutorial from Peggy? Let us know in the comments below.
Peggy is an accomplished self-taught artist living in Canada specializing in creating beautiful realistic portraits of pets and family members. She’s had an on going love affair with colored pencils, loving their simplicity, for as long as she can remember.
She started out using graphite pencil so it was an easy transition to carry on with colored pencils. Love of animals and art go hand in hand. Peggy is in awe of what can be accomplished with colored pencils.
A colored pencil comparison between wax-based and oil-based pencils is the topic for today’s post. It comes in response to the following reader question.
Hi Carrie, Which pencils do you consider best, oil or wax based? I have never used any pencils other than Derwents Coloursoft which I believe are wax based. What are the Pros and Cons of each?
There can be a lot of confusion about the differences and some artists go so far as to discount the distinctions altogether. So what’s truth and what’s hype?
Colored Pencil Comparison: Wax-Based or Oil-Based
Colored pencils are manufactured much the same as oil paints, watercolors, and other mediums. Powdered pigments are mixed with a substance that helps them perform the way artists want them to perform.
With oil paints, that substance is called a vehicle and is usually linseed oil, safflower oil, or walnut oil, although there are other vehicles available. The vehicle makes the pigment brushable and influences how quickly it dries.
Colored pencils use a binder. The binder makes it possible to form powdered pigments into a thin “lead” that can be used in pencil form. It also makes the pigment transfer to paper easily and stick there.
All colored pencils use a combination of some form of wax and oil as the binder. Wax-based pencils have more wax than oil. Oil-based pencils have more oil than wax.
The amount of wax compared to oil affects the way the pencils behave, as does the type of wax used in the binder.
Colored Pencil Comparison: Which is Best?
I don’t really consider one type of pencil better than the other. They’re just different.
Wax-based pencils are generally softer than oil-based pencils. They go onto paper more smoothly and blend extremely well by layering, burnishing, or with solvents.
Because they’re softer, they don’t hold a point very long and can be difficult to draw details with. I’ve used Prismacolor Soft Core pencils for decades and have been able to get wonderful detail, but it requires a lot of sharpening.
The pigment cores also are more apt to break if you use heavy pressure or sharpen them to too long a point. In addition, they can be susceptible to breakage if you drop them on a hard surface.
Finally, wax-based pencils can produce wax bloom, a misty sort of film that happens when the wax in the pigment rises to the surface of the drawing. It can easily be wiped away, but it can also be a nuisance. Especially if you use a lot of pressure or dark colors.
Oil-based pencils are generally harder than wax-based pencils. They hold a point longer and are excellent for drawing details. They’re not as likely to break while you’re drawing or if you drop them.
Oil-based pencils don’t produce wax bloom because they contain less wax.
They also erase or lift more easily if you make a mistake.
But they don’t always layer color as smoothly, so drawing even color requires either heavier pressure or more layers. I recommend more layers.
Using Wax- and Oil-Based Pencils Together
You can use both types together. That’s what I do.
Most of the time, I start with Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils (oil-based) and do as much layering as I can.
Toward the end of the process, I switch to Prismacolors(wax-based) where I need more color saturation.
But you don’t have to do it that way. You can intermix them at any point in a drawing.
The Colored Pencil Comparison that Really Matters
The much more important comparison is the grade of the pencil; the quality.
Scholar or student-grade pencils contain more binder (whatever it may be,) less pigment, and sometimes inferior pigment. You can create good art with them and if you’re on a budget, it’s better to start with student-grade pencils than not start at all.
But don’t go cheap. Always buy the highest quality pencils your budget allows. Select wax-based or oil-based pencils based on your personal preferences and you’ll be ahead of the game.
Today’s post is the result of one of those reader questions that’s too good not to publish. Chris wrote to me and asked a couple of excellent questions, including is using only one art medium limiting for the artist.
I’m an artist who mostly works on realism with ballpoint pen on paper. I’ve seen you’ve worked with oils alongside your colored-pencils. Do you see a bias towards your oil work versus your colored-pencil work? Do your clients prefer works on canvas as opposed to your works on paper?
I’ve been thinking about establishing myself as a portrait artist and wonder if I should be taking on a different medium (oil painting?) instead of sticking to pen on paper. Am I limiting myself? Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Thank you for your email and for your question. You presented more than one good question, so I’m going to answer them individually.
Is Using Only One Art Medium Limiting?
A lot of artists work their entire in one medium and/or one subject. A lot of other artists work in a lot of different mediums and paint whatever draws their attention.
There are “limitations” to both choices.
The artist who works in only one medium is limited in that he or she has decided not to take advantage of some of the benefits of other mediums. However, there’s lots of time learn everything there is to learn about their chosen medium and to get the most out of it.
The artist who works in more than one medium has the opportunity to learn about more than one medium and to take advantage of the benefits of each medium, but they may not have the time to explore each medium to it’s fullest.
In other words, there is no right or wrong answer to your question.
How you decide the answer to this question for yourself is by finding the things you most enjoy drawing and the medium that gives you the most satisfaction.
If you enjoy drawing portraits with pen and ink, then that’s what you should do. Explore the medium as much as you can and find out what’s possible with it. Look for pen-and-ink artists on YouTube and see what they’re doing that could improve your work.
The only thing I suggest is that if you’re planning to sell your work, find inks that are archival. I don’t honestly know how long-lasting the inks used in ball point pens are. My gut reaction is that they’re not archival, so that’s something you’d need to find out.
Also use the best paper you can afford. Using an archival medium on paper that yellows over time is also damaging to your work.
Bias Between Oils and Colored Pencils
You also asked about biases toward one medium or the other.
Some of my portrait clients liked oil portraits better and some liked colored pencil portraits. The bulk of portrait work was in oils, but I used oils exclusively for twenty years. Once I added colored pencil work, I did a lot of portraits both mediums.
Whenever you decide to use two or more mediums, it’s inevitable that you’ll gain fans of each medium. Most of them appreciate all of your work, but when it comes time to buy, most people have favorites.
The most obvious bias was either internal (I considered my colored pencil work to be less valuable than my oil paintings) or in the art world. Some galleries still will not accept colored pencil artwork under any circumstances, but I believe they are getting fewer and fewer in number.
I hope that answers your questions. Thank you again for writing, and for your great questions!
Today, I’d like to share a few tips for drawing clouds.
Clouds can be majestic and towering, thin and wispy. Peaceful. Threatening. Calm. Stormy.
They are almost always intimidating to draw, and drawing them accurately takes time and patience. But it is possible to draw any type of cloud realistically if you follow these basic principles.
Tips for Drawing Clouds in Colored Pencils
The following tips are universal to all clouds, no matter what tools you use, your favorite drawing method, or even your preferred artistic style. Master these four simple principles and you’ll find you can draw any cloud.
And almost anything else you want to draw.
Tip #1: Don’t Let the Scope of the Subject Intimidate You
Of all the tips for drawing clouds that I might offer, this is the most important, because it’s such a problem for so many.
You want to draw a cloud, but you look up in the sky or find a beautiful photo and are scared to death! Clouds are so big and awesome. There are so many details to get right, and all those colors. Especially in the morning or evening.
And for most of us that’s all the further the idea gets. We embrace the desire to draw clouds, but never follow through.
That’s a mistake! Clouds don’t have to be difficult to draw, and I discovered that lesson by trial and error.
Instead of focusing on all those details, focus on the overall shape and character of the cloud. Is it big and towering? Is it short and fat? Does it lean a little bit one direction or another?
Even slow moving clouds change constantly. By the time you do a quick sketch, the cloud you’re drawing will have changed, so let go of the idea that you have to get every detail right.
Adapt the same mindset when drawing from reference photos. The only way to get a 100% accurate drawing is by tracing it. There’s nothing wrong with tracing, but you still have to shade the drawing afterward.
So go for character. Forget all those intimidating details.
At least until you’ve drawn a few clouds.
Tip #2: Look at the Colors
Clouds are not always white. Let me rephrase that.
Clouds are hardly ever white. At least not just white.
In the middle of the day, with the sun on them, they can be full of shadow, half shadow, full light, and reflected light. Depending on where you live (it does make a difference) and what time of year it is, you could see grays, blues, yellows, and mixtures.
Before you start layering color, take a good look at the cloud you want to draw. Identify the main colors you see, then the secondary colors. You can add other colors as you draw, but having the main colors handy will help you draw more quickly if you’re drawing from life.
And even if you’re not drawing for life, it’s helpful if you don’t have to search through your pencil box every time you need to change colors. Some of us even prefer the “handful of pencils” method in which we keep our pencils firmly gripped in one hand!
Tip #3: Light Pressure, Sharp Pencils, Smooth Color
Smooth color is key to drawing realistic clouds. Even dark, stormy clouds require smooth layers of color and soft, sometimes subtle shading.
The best way to achieve that is by drawing several layers with light pressure and very sharp pencils.
If you’re still learning about pencil strokes, I suggest you make circular strokes your go-to stroke. The reason is that you can overlap layers without creating unwanted edges where strokes begin and end as might happen with back-and-forth strokes.
That’s not to say you can’t draw smooth color with other types of strokes, but it can be easier with circular strokes. If you’ve learned to make other strokes work for you, use them.
It’s important to keep your pencils sharp, too. Sharp pencils get into the nooks and crannies of paper tooth better than blunt pencils. The more you fill in the tooth of the paper, the smoother your color layers will be.
Tip #4: Don’t Quit Too Soon
The biggest mistake most artists (myself included) make with colored pencils is thinking a drawing is finished when there’s color all over the paper. That is so not true!
Most subjects benefit from vibrant color and clouds are certainly no different. Especially those colorful clouds that happen around sunrise or sunset. The best way to get vibrant color is with enough layers of color to fill in the tooth of the paper.
When you think a drawing is done, set it aside for a day or two, then evaluate it honestly. Start by asking the following questions:
What areas can I improve on?
Are the dark values dark enough?
Are the colors rich enough?
Does one area look more finished (or less finished) than the rest of the drawing?
Work on the drawing until you can honestly say it’s as good as you can make it. Even if all you end up doing is one more hour of work, you will be able to see the difference. Especially if you scan or photograph the drawing before and after you make those changes.
Which, by the way, I highly recommend.
These Tips for Drawing Clouds are Great, But is That All?
The reader who asked about drawing clouds actually asked specifically for help drawing the clouds of evening or morning. That sounded a lot like a tutorial to me and that was beyond the scope of a question-and-answer post.
So I’m planning a tutorial post with evening clouds as the subject. Probably a series of posts. So watch for that.
In the meantime, if you enjoyed these tips for drawing clouds and would like to read more, sign up for my free weekly newsletter. Click on the group labeled “Weekly Newsletter” in the “I’m Interested In” section of the sign up form to get the newsletter of new posts.
The first big endeavor for 2020 is a new magazine for colored pencil artists.
CP Magic is a monthly digital publication written by a colored pencil artist—yours truly—for colored pencil artists at all levels. That’s you!
New Magazine for Colored Pencil Artists
Each issue features an artist interview and a tutorial by the same artist, so you can meet the artist, learn something about their work and artistic journey, AND see how they do the art they do.
I’m delighted to feature pet portrait artist Peggy Osborne as my first guest. Her monthly tutorials have rapidly become reader favorites, so it’s a special honor to give her this place of recognition.
I’m also including a featured reference photo with each issue, so readers can practice their drawing skills on something different each month. Subjects will include landscapes, flowers, clouds, and, of course, cats!
Features I’m hoping to add in the future include a reader question and the answer, and a critique.
There is no subscription plan. Issues will be available for purchase when they publish and afterward.
There’s no way to buy in advance, either. I just wanted to let you know what was ahead. I hope you’re as excited about this new magazine as I am!
There’s been a lot of discussion on this blog about the best pencils to use and the best colors to use. Most of the discussion has been about issues with fading. So I thought I’d start 2020 by sharing with you the Prismacolor colors I use and why I use them.
I’m very particular about the colors I use. As a portrait artist and an artist interested in selling my work, I want buyers to get the most for their money. The idea of selling a piece at any price and having it fade away in any length of time is not a pleasant idea.
Yes. I know there’s no way to make most things 100% permanent. Even granite wears away.
But I can select supplies to help my work last as long as possible. Consequently, I’m careful about the colors I choose. They must fit my subjects (landscapes and animals,) AND be as lightfast is humanly possible. It doesn’t matter what brand I use, every color must meet these two qualifications.
That usually means I work with a limited palette. That’s definitely the case with Prismacolor pencils.
The Prismacolor Colors I Use (and When I Use Them)
Prismacolor rates their pencils on a scale of 1 to 5 based on American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) D6901 standards. Each pencil is labeled with a Roman numeral to indicate its lightfast rating. Roman Numeral I equals 1, Roman Numeral II equals 2, Roman Numeral III equals 3, Roman Numeral IV equals 4, and Roman Numeral V equals 5.
I (1) is the highest rating. V (5) is the lowest.
I do not use Category III (3), IV (4) or V (5) colors for anything but fun stuff, sketching, blog illustrations, or anything else for which the drawing does not need to be archival.
But this is an entirely personal choice on my part. A lot of artists whose work I respect use every color available to them, so the final choice is yours.
Prismacolor Soft Core Colors Rated I (57 colors)
These are the most lightfast colors Prismacolor produces. They are rated as Excellent and “exhibit no appreciable color change after being exposed to the appropriate equivalence of 100 years of indoor museum lighting.” American Society of Testing and Materials., D6901 Standard
The important phrase is “indoor museum lighting.” It not only includes the type of lighting artwork is exposed to, but the framing materials used. Proper framing, including UV resistant glazing, helps preserve artwork.
It’s also important to let clients and buyers know they should not display artwork in direct sunlight for any length of time.
ASTM D6901 indicates that these colors can be used on artwork meant to be displayed outdoors, but I’m not sure I’d go that far. Any artwork displayed outdoors is more likely to fade more quickly than artwork in museum conditions.
Fifty-seven colors are Category I colors, but I don’t use all of them. My go-to colors are:
Artichoke, Beige, Bronze, Burnt Ochre, Chocolate, Dark Brown, Dark Umber, Goldenrod, Light Umber, Mineral Orange, Sandbar Brown, Sepia, Sienna Brown, Terra Cotta, and Yellow Ochre.
Greens & Blues
Dark Green, Green Ochre, Jade Green, Kelly Green, Parrot Green, Peacock Green, and Yellow Chartreuse. Powder Blue.
Black Cherry, Black Raspberry, and Crimson Lake.
Lemon Yellow, Nectar, and Spanish Orange.
I also have a full complement of cool greys, warm greys, and French Greys but don’t use them very much.
These colors are used with almost everything I draw. They produce natural looking landscapes and are perfect for drawing realistic scenes and animals.
I don’t use all of the Category I colors because they don’t fit my palette, but there are several new colors I hope to try this year. Some of the new earth tones are especially tantalizing.
Prismacolor Soft Core Colors Rated II (26 colors)
ASTM D6901 standards categorize these colors as Very Good, and suitable for fine art uses where the artwork will be displayed indoors. They are not suitable for any work displayed outdoors, or anywhere in which exposure to high levels of UV light is possible.
No direct sunlight, in other words.
There are 26 Category II colors, but my palette is currently limited to about half that number, as follows:
Beige Sienna, Chestnut, Cream, Ginger Root, Pumpkin Orange, and Sand.
Greens & Blues
Chartreuse, Grass Green, Kelp Green, Olive Green, and True Green. Indigo Blue, Mediterranean Blue, and Slate Grey.
Black Grape, Crimson Red, and Scarlet Lake.
As with Category I colors, there are some Category II colors I don’t use.
And as I add other brands of pencils to my stash, Category II colors will become fewer and fewer. Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils include several good matches for Prismacolor Category II pencils, so I now use those before reaching for any Category II Prismacolor. I can see the day coming when I no longer need Category II colors.
The yellows, greens, and blues are used as needed on landscapes and, less frequently, animal portraits.
The Bottom Line
I’ve discovered over the years that I can do almost everything I want to do with Prismacolor Category I colors. Those generally more muted colors are enough to draw most animals and landscapes.
The Category II colors are a nice supplement, but unless I’m drawing a still life (which doesn’t happen often,) or adding bright accents to a landscape or portrait, I don’t need them. Since most of my subjects don’t require bright colors, there’s simply no need for a lot of bright colors in my pencil box.
When combined with other brands such as Polychromos, Derwent and others, the Prismacolor Category I colors provide an excellent color base.
Does this mean you can’t use all of Prismacolor’s colors? No. Deciding which colors to use and which to avoid is as personal a choice as deciding which brands of pencils to use.
A complete list of Prismacolor Category I and II colors is available as a free, PDF download, so you can print it and take it with you on your next in-store shopping list. The list downloads automatically, so check your download file if it doesn’t open for you when you click on the link.
Today’s reader question comes from a reader who wants to know the best paper and pencils for colored pencil art. Here’s the question.
In your opinion, which are the best coloured pencils to use for drawing and which is the ideal substrate to use? I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for the question. Other than questions about blending and layering, this is probably one of the more often asked questions asked of artists.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer beyond my encouragement that you buy the best of both that you can afford.
The Best Paper and Pencils for Colored Pencil Art
There are so many different drawing methods and styles that what works for me may not work for you. The best paper and pencils for you depends on what gives you the results you want, and what fits your budget.
So I’m going to address it from two points of view: Craft art and fine art. I’ll also offer general suggestions on what to look for and a few things to avoid.
The Best Paper for Craft Art
Craft art includes adult coloring books, greeting cards, art trading cards, stamping, and so on. Short-term art that doesn’t need to be archival in order to be useful or marketable.
I also include artwork from which you make reproductions, but which you have no intention of selling as an original.
Adult coloring books are usually printed on inexpensive drawing paper so you have no choice in the paper unless you print the pages yourself. Coloring books printed on better paper are available, but you will pay for the improved quality.
Blank greeting card stock comes in a variety of qualities. Canson and Strathmore are two well-known paper companies that also sell artist-quality blank card stock. Other companies sell less expensive card stock, so you can pick and choose and try different papers until you find one that works well for you.
Strathmore makes a line of drawing papers ranging from newsprint, which isn’t archival, to high-quality drawing paper. Many other paper manufacturers also make different grades of paper.
Beyond that, any pad of good drawing paper will allow you to do what you need or want to do as far as craft art. I don’t do craft art, so recommend you try a few and see which you like best.
And there’s absolutely nothing other than price keeping you from using high-quality paper for craft purposes. If your budget is flexible, give those pricey papers a try and see what you think.
The Best Pencils for Craft Art
You can use almost any pencil for craft art, from the most expensive to the least. Look for the best combination of price, color selection, and availability in your area.
In the United States, Prismacolor is probably the best combination of those four features. They have a stunning collection of colors and are a good value. Some quality issues exist, but broken leads, split casing, and warped pencils are sporadic, at worst.
Blick Studio Colored Pencils are also a good brand to consider. High quality, low cost, and color selection are their strongest selling points. They are available only through Dick Blick, but can be purchased online as well as in Blick stores.
If you buy a full set online, buy from a respected and trustworthy outlet such as Dick Blick. You can’t beat Dick Blick for customer service and if you end up with a bad purchase, they will make it right.
After that, you can buy open stock (single pencils) and look for things like warped pencils and split casings if you buy in person.
Other brands to consider are Bruynzeel Design, and Derwent Coloursoft.
I don’t recommend pencils such as Crayola or any other scholastic pencils. You can do craft art with scholastic pencils, but the colors aren’t usually as bright or the pencils as well pigmented. It takes more effort to get the same results you could get with better pencils.
The Best Paper for Fine Art
Fine art includes portraits and other types of commission art, exhibit art, and art you want to sell. Artwork in this category needs to last a long time without fading or otherwise deteriorating, so you need the most archival paper and pencils you can afford.
Look for papers that are high-quality. Usually that means non-acidic.
You should also opt for papers made from cotton fibers, since those fibers are the strongest and longest lasting. Avoid papers made from cellulose fibers.
I prefer papers that are sturdy. 98lb paper is about the lightest I’ll use for fine art applications. Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes are both 98-pound papers and are sturdy enough to stand up under solvents and watercolor pencils in moderate amounts.
Stonehenge Aqua and Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press papers are also excellent papers. Both are made for watercolor painting, but both have a great texture for dry work, too. The biggest drawback is that they come in white only and cost more than regular drawing paper.
I also use Uart Sanded Pastel Paper, Bienfang Bristol Vellum, and Strathmore Artagain recycled paper. All are worth trying if you haven’t yet found a favorite paper.
The Best Pencils for Fine Art
Pencils should be lightfast tested and rated. The best pencils usually have a somewhat limited selection of colors because the companies have opted not to include fugitive (fading) colors in their selection.
Caran d’Ache Luminance and Pablos, for example, are about the best pencils on the market and come in only 76 or 80 colors. They have a good color selection, but lack many of the bright, jewel-tone colors that tend to fade the most.
Other high-quality brands are Faber-Castell Polychromos and Derwent Lightfast.
My Favorite Paper
This is a close call, since I use a variety of papers ranging from very smooth Bristol Vellum to sanded art paper. But the paper I use most often (by a narrow margin) is Canson Mi-Teintes. Why? Mostly the colors. Canson Mi-Teintes comes in a rainbow of colors that are perfect when I want to do a portrait-style drawing with a plain background.
Stonehenge and Stonehenge Aqua are the next favorite papers. The 140lb hot press Stonehenge Aqua looks and feels like white Stonehenge regular paper, but handles wet media better. Dry media works extremely well on it, so I can see the day coming when I no longer use regular Stonehenge.
After that, it’s a toss up and I often choose papers based on what I have in stock most of the time when I don’t want to work on either of those listed above.
At present, I have only two brands of pencils. A full set of Prismacolor pencils (with all the non-lightfast colors removed) and a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos.
Wax-based Prismacolor pencils are quite soft. They lay down easily and are capable of a high degree of blending with or without solvent. They can be sharpened well enough to draw a lot of detail, but tend to break if you apply too much pressure.
Oil-based Polychromos are harder, so they resist breaking even when sharpened to a sharper point. They don’t create wax bloom, but they also don’t burnish quite as well as the softer Prismacolor pencils.
I use both brands in most drawings. Usually, I start with Polychromos, then switch to Prismacolor when I need to lay down more color or want to burnish.
But I also mix them if I need a color that’s only available in one brand.
Pencils I’d recommend for the serious fine artist (or anyone who wants to become a serious fine artist) include:
I don’t currently use and never used any of these brands, but they come from companies with a good name in the industry and with a proven customer-service track record. I trust them to provide a quality product.
The list includes hard and soft pencils, wax-based and oil-based. Buy a few colors in open stock and try them to find those you like best.
The Best Paper and Pencils for Your Art
Those are my recommendations for the best paper and pencils for colored pencil art.
As mentioned before, it’s difficult to do more than make general recommendations and share my favorites because there are so many ways to make art.
So my best advice is to find an artist creating the type of artwork you want to create and see what paper and pencils they use.
How do you decide the order of colors to get the right color, values, or appearance? There are so many options, how do you decide?
That’s what Catherine wants to know. Here’s her question:
How do you determine the order of layers of different colors? I spend a lot of time testing the order of laying down color on the outer edges of my drawings, is there a quicker or better way?
This is a great question, Catherine. Thank you for asking it.
One of the joys of colored pencils is the ability to layer multiple colors to create new colors. You also have a wonderful selection of colors to use. So you have to decide which colors to use when, and I confess that decision can look mind-boggling.
So how do you decide the order of colors? Is there a simple method or technique?
I’m afraid the answer is no. In fact, the best answer is one most of us prefer not to hear. Practice and experience.
Lots of both.
But there are few basic principles that may help you make those decisions more easily.
How to Decide the Order of Colors
I once read about an oil painter who used only seven or eight colors and mixed everything else. Obviously, his techniques won’t work with colored pencils, but his method of deciding which colors to mix, what colors to start with, and adjusting colors as he painted can be applied to colored pencils.
The following tips are based on personal experience and the oil painter’s methods.
Study the Colors in Your Reference Photo
The first step is to study the color of whatever you’re drawing. What’s the main color and to what color family does it belong?
This horse, for example, is yellow-gold in overall color. The color family is brown tending toward yellow or golden.
This color family provides the foundation colors for this portrait. The main color family provides the foundation colors for whatever you want to draw.
So determine the main color family for your drawing. Not every color will be appropriate, but identifying the main color family will ultimately help you decide the order in which you apply colors.
Start with a Base Color
The base color comes from the main color family.
The base color should be a medium-light or lighter value. Ideally, as close to the color of the highlights as you can get. If you have to use a color darker than the highlights in your subject, work around the highlights.
This is the first color you’ll put on paper, and it’s also one of the colors you’ll use most often. Set it aside.
Choosing the Next Color
After you’ve layered the base color, compare your drawing to your reference. Chances are excellent the base color isn’t exactly the same as the colors in the photo.
So what color do you need to add to make the color on the paper more like the color in the reference photo?
For my horse portrait, I decided the base color needed to be warmed up, so I chose a warm, light-value color that was about the same color as the highlights, and layered that over the horse.
After I finished that layer, I compared drawing and photo again, and chose a reddish earth tone to add more color and value.
The color selection process continued that way until I’d used five or six colors, then I began layering them over and over.
Do the same thing with your work. Compare your drawing and reference photo after you’ve layered each color. Decide how your drawing differs from the reference, and what color you need to use to make the drawing more like the reference.
Keep making those decisions layer by layer, color by color, until you finish.
That’s the Easiest Way I Know to Decide the Order of Colors
Don’t fret too much over deciding what order you should apply colors. You will make mistakes. That’s part of the learning process. Be bold and courageous! Learn from those mistakes.
Catherine says she spends a lot of time testing colors before using them on a drawing. That’s a good idea and a lot of artists swear by it. It’s a good way to gain the experience necessary to know instinctively what colors to use when.
The other option—the one I used when I began—was simple trial and error. Mostly error, sometimes (or so it seemed.)
But knowledge acquired by experience often sticks with me more quickly and longer than what I see or hear by example.
My Advice for Deciding the Order of Color Application
Don’t worry too much about getting the order of color application correct right from the start. Unless you’re a highly analytical artist (yes, there are some of those,) it will be more frustrating than helpful to try to plan so carefully. You’re far more likely to frustrate yourself into not drawing at all. At least that’s what happens when I try to plan too far ahead.
The fact of the matter is that one layer of color could totally upset all those carefully laid plans.
So work one color at a time. Do those test swatches if they help you, but don’t try to swatch out the entire drawing before you start drawing.
Instead, choose the base color and put that on the paper.