How I Finish Colored Pencil Drawings

How I Finish Colored Pencil Drawings

What do you use to finish your colored pencil artwork? Do you use something different if you use a different substrate?

When I first saw this question, I thought the reader wanted to know how I finish drawing colored pencil drawings.

Then I looked at the question again and realized that might not be what the reader wanted to know. Maybe they really wanted to know if I use a final fixative to “finish” a drawing.

After all, the reader mentioned different substrates and that makes more sense if we’re talking about final fixatives. The way I finish drawing a drawing is the same no matter what kind of paper I draw on.

But whether or not I use a final fixative does matter depending on the paper.

So I went back and rethought my answer.

How I Finish Colored Pencil Drawings

Most of the time, I finish drawing colored pencil drawings by making final adjustments. I make a few notes on the back (title, date of completion, type of paper, pencils, and other comments.) Then I slip the drawing into a protective, archival clear plastic envelope and either ship it or store it.

That’s because most of my work was on traditional drawing papers. For years, that’s all I used.

I rarely use final fixatives on artwork created on traditional paper. About the only time I do is when I need to control wax bloom. I see no need to use final fixatives on most other artwork.

However, the type of paper does make a difference and there are some papers that require final fixative.

The Paper Does Matter

When I work on sanded art papers, I use a light coat of final fixative on the finished drawing. That’s because drawing on sanded art papers creates pigment dust. If I don’t use a fixative on work like that, the dust may fall off the drawing.

Many artists remove the dust by blowing the dust off. They might also hold the drawing a bit past vertical and lightly tap it on a hard surface. The dust falls off without damaging the artwork, and can be disposed of. Pastel artists use the same methods because pastels also produce dust. A lot of it.

I prefer dry blending to push the dust down into the grit of the paper during the drawing process.

To keep pigment dust from falling off after the piece is finished, I apply two or three light coats of fixative after the drawing is finished.

The Process Also Matters

I also use a final fixative to finish colored pencil drawings when I use Brush & Pencil’s Powder Blender.

Powder Blender helps you blend colored pencil by acting as a dry lubricant. Apply a little Powder Blender before you start drawing and you’ll be able to blend colors effortlessly. You can add color, blend, add more color, and blend some more.

In fact, you’ll be able to continue blending for an unlimited amount of layers.

You can also lift color too. It’s better than erasing and you can remove color all the way to the paper if you want to. Brush & Pencil designed Textured Fixative to make those layers of color and Powder Blender permanent. It also adds texture to the surface of the paper, allowing you to continue adding color.

It’s important when using these products to use the Final Fixative when you finish a piece. The Final Fixative makes the entire drawing permanent.

It also seals the drawing. That’s important if you want to varnish a finished piece. The varnish can later be removed and replaced without damaging the drawing underneath. Oil painters often use a similar process to protect their paintings and make it possible to clean them later.

That’s How I Finish Colored Pencil Drawings

I don’t always finish colored pencil drawings with final fixative, and I rarely varnish them. My drawing methods simply do not require a final fixative unless I’m working on sanded art paper.

And I prefer not to varnish artwork, but I rarely did that with oil paintings either.

Whether or not you use a final fixative, a varnish, or nothing at all is mostly a personal decision. But I hope describing what I do (and why) helps you decide.

My Favorite Watercolor Papers

My Favorite Watercolor Papers

Time to talk about the art supplies I find the most useful for the type of work I do. Today’s topic is paper; specifically, my favorite watercolor papers.

Here’s the reader question.

Hi Carrie.

I have read a few of your articles on eliminating paper holes showing through colored pencil, but I would like to know which paper you recommend using to apply the water color or Inktense under painting before applying colored pencil. Multi-media, hot or cold pressed watercolor paper, or something else. Some watercolor papers have so much texture they are no fun to use for colored pencil drawings. Thank you.

The Different Types of Watercolor Paper

The reader mentioned the surface texture of some watercolor papers. That is probably the most important thing to consider when choosing watercolor paper for colored pencils.

There are two types of watercolor paper. Hot press and cold press. The type you choose makes a huge difference in how your art looks.

Cold press paper has more texture. The amount of texture differs, but it’s always a bit rougher than hot press watercolor paper and most traditional papers. The texture isn’t gritty; it’s more pebbly, and in my opinion, it’s unsuited to dry colored pencil work.

Hot press paper is smoother, but it’s not as smooth as Bristol. It also has a different feel. Rather than being slick feeling, like Bristol, it’s a bit softer. Almost velvety, sometimes.

So when it comes to choosing the right watercolor paper for your colored pencil work, make sure to look at the differences between cold press and hot press.

For more detailed information, you might want to read The Difference Between Hot Press and Cold Press Watercolor Papers.

Now, to my favorite watercolor papers.

My Favorite Watercolor Papers

I prefer 140lb because it’s very tough and thick enough to stand up to many layers of color and some abuse. It needs to be taped to a rigid drawing board of some kind for larger piece, or it will buckle if you get it really wet. But it’s ideal for smaller pieces or for pieces on which I use moderate amounts to moisture.

For a really heavy paper, you could try 300 lb hot press watercolor paper. 300 lb paper is quite thick and stands up very well under lots of water and layering. I used Strathmore 300 lb. watercolor paper for this piece several years ago and it was quite sturdy.

I did not note whether or not the paper was hot press, but in looking at the texture shown in the high resolution image, I think it was probably cold press. So you can do great work on cold press, but it does take more work.

The Brands I Like Most

The watercolor paper I use most is Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press. It has a nice, velvety surface that works as well for completely dry colored pencil, as it does for watercolor and colored pencil mixed.

I’ve used it for larger works (8×10 usually) and for small studies of 6×9 or smaller. It’s very satisfactory for every technique I’ve tried; even some very experimental techniques.

The reason I prefer this paper is that it’s usually available at outlets such as Hobby Lobby, so if I need a pad quickly, and I stop by the store and pick one up. I prefer 9×12 inch pads, but it comes in other sizes, as well.

If you shop online, you can also find it in full sheets.

I’ve also used Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press and it feels almost like regular Stonehenge. It stands up to water extremely well, and you can use regular pencils on it just like on regular Stonehenge.

I got samples of this paper from the Legion company and wrote a review on my experiences here.

The two papers are pretty similar in every way but cost. Stonehenge is a bit more expensive than Canson L’Aquarelle, but I’ve been very happy with both.

Those are My Two Favorite Watercolor Papers

The truth is that almost any watercolor should work, and you can try almost any brand. When you buy paper, keep in mind how you want your finished artwork to look, and choose the paper accordingly.

Also knowing how you plan to use wet and dry media is important. The example I showed above involved a lot of watercolor work. I used colored pencils for glazing and details, so the additional texture was helpful.

If you don’t plan to use wet media for more than tinting the paper, then you may want to consider a hot press paper.

And don’t be afraid to try heavier papers. Sometimes that additional substance in the paper is just what you need; especially for larger works.

How to Draw Thin Fabric with Colored Pencil

How to Draw Thin Fabric

Today’s topic is how to draw thin fabric, but the process I’m about to describe applies to drawing anything that’s transparent or translucent.

To begin, here’s the reader’s question.

I need to know how to make a hazy overlay with a white, like a mist or a thin fabric.

This is a good question, but not because of the specifics. Some time ago, I wrote a post describing one way to draw a foggy morning. That works for mist, too.

I’ve also written about How to Draw Folds of Cloth. The method I described in that post works for any kind of fabric; even sheer fabric.

Now for today’s post.

How to Draw Thin Fabric or Mist

I want to begin with drawing mist because that’s the easiest to draw.

Mist

The first thing to remember when drawing transparent or translucent subjects with colored pencils is that you can’t add the mist or veil after drawing whatever is behind it.

With oils or acrylics, you can paint a landscape, then glaze mist or fog over it. A thin layer of transparent color makes whatever is behind it look dimmer, just like mist or fog does in real life.

Colored pencils don’t work that way. In a lot of situations, you have to draw the mist first, then draw whatever is behind it.

Yes, sometimes you can draw the landscape, then lift enough color to create the look of mist. That’s what I did in this short demonstration.

But most of the time, it’s better to fade the landscape colors into lighter values from the start. If you still need to lift color, the results are likely to be more pleasing.

Thin Fabric

Thin fabric or other similarly see-through things usually can’t be drawn by lifting color. It’s far better to focus on the shapes, values, and colors (in that order) as they appear in the reference photo. Here’s an example.

How to Draw Thin Fabric

Preparing to Draw

The first step is to make an accurate line drawing. Whether you make your line drawing simple or complex is up to you, but include all of the main shapes. The shadows, the gold-colored drape on the left, the window frames visible through the sheer, and even the things you can see through the window if you want to include those details.

In short, your line drawing should contain enough details to provide a good road map for drawing the shapes, adding the values, and shading color. It shouldn’t be so complex that you get lost as you draw.

The next step is drawing the values. It may help you to convert your reference photo to black-and-white so you can see how light and dark things really are when compared to other parts of the image. I used GIMP to convert this photo to black-and-white, but most photo editors can be used this way.

Drawing Thin Fabric

Next, begin adding values layer by layer. You can either work with a single color or with all your colors. I personally prefer using one color at this stage, but use whatever method works best for you. How ever you start, use light pressure and draw what you see.

For example, the drape is clearly visible to the left of the sheer, so you should draw it that way.

But the part that appears through the sheer is visible only as a blotch of color where the light hits it. So don’t draw the same folds you see on the left. Draw the blotch of color.

The creases and wrinkles in the sheer also appear over that blotch of color. That looks complicated to draw, but it can be simplified very easily.

Focus on one small area at a time, and pretend you’re drawing an abstract. It works for water, and it works for sheer curtains, mist and anything else that’s translucent.

Put the shadows where the shadows should be, and put the highlights where the highlights should be. Also put the color where it appears.

When you finish an area as much as you want to, move to the next area and do the same thing.

When you’ve covered the entire composition that way, then work on the piece as a whole, and make whatever adjustments are needed.

How to Draw Thin Fabric

Drawing thin fabric—or any see-through subject—doesn’t have to be complicated. Just study your reference photo and draw what you see. If it helps, pretend you’re drawing an abstract collection of shapes, values, and colors.

Take it one step at a time, and don’t rush.

And before you know it, you’ll have a finished piece you can be pleased with!

Today’s topic is how to draw thin fabric, but the process I’m about to describe applies to drawing anything that’s transparent or translucent.

To begin, here’s the reader’s question.

I need to know how to make a hazy overlay with a white, like a mist or a thin fabric.

This is a good question, but not because of the specifics. Some time ago, I wrote a post describing one way to draw a foggy morning. That works for mist, too.

I’ve also written about How to Draw Folds of Cloth. The method I described in that post works for any kind of fabric; even sheer fabric.

Now for today’s post.

How to Draw Thin Fabric or Mist

I want to begin with drawing mist because that’s the easiest to draw.

Mist

The first thing to remember when drawing transparent or translucent subjects with colored pencils is that you can’t add the mist or veil after drawing whatever is behind it.

With oils or acrylics, you can paint a landscape, then glaze mist or fog over it. A thin layer of transparent color makes whatever is behind it look dimmer, just like mist or fog does in real life.

Colored pencils don’t work that way. In a lot of situations, you have to draw the mist first, then draw whatever is behind it.

Yes, sometimes you can draw the landscape, then lift enough color to create the look of mist. That’s what I did in this short demonstration.

But most of the time, it’s better to fade the landscape colors into lighter values from the start. If you still need to lift color, the results are likely to be more pleasing.

Thin Fabric

Thin fabric or other similarly see-through things usually can’t be drawn by lifting color. It’s far better to focus on the shapes, values, and colors (in that order) as they appear in the reference photo. Here’s an example.

How to Draw Thin Fabric

Preparing to Draw

The first step is to make an accurate line drawing. Whether you make your line drawing simple or complex is up to you, but include all of the main shapes. The shadows, the gold-colored drape on the left, the window frames visible through the sheer, and even the things you can see through the window if you want to include those details.

In short, your line drawing should contain enough details to provide a good road map for drawing the shapes, adding the values, and shading color. It shouldn’t be so complex that you get lost as you draw.

The next step is drawing the values. It may help you to convert your reference photo to black-and-white so you can see how light and dark things really are when compared to other parts of the image. I used GIMP to convert this photo to black-and-white, but most photo editors can be used this way.

Drawing Thin Fabric

Next, begin adding values layer by layer. You can either work with a single color or with all your colors. I personally prefer using one color at this stage, but use whatever method works best for you. How ever you start, use light pressure and draw what you see.

For example, the drape is clearly visible to the left of the sheer, so you should draw it that way.

But the part that appears through the sheer is visible only as a blotch of color where the light hits it. So don’t draw the same folds you see on the left. Draw the blotch of color.

The creases and wrinkles in the sheer also appear over that blotch of color. That looks complicated to draw, but it can be simplified very easily.

Focus on one small area at a time, and pretend you’re drawing an abstract. It works for water, and it works for sheer curtains, mist and anything else that’s translucent.

Put the shadows where the shadows should be, and put the highlights where the highlights should be. Also put the color where it appears.

When you finish an area as much as you want to, move to the next area and do the same thing.

When you’ve covered the entire composition that way, then work on the piece as a whole, and make whatever adjustments are needed.

How to Draw Thin Fabric

Drawing thin fabric—or any see-through subject—doesn’t have to be complicated. Just study your reference photo and draw what you see. If it helps, pretend you’re drawing an abstract collection of shapes, values, and colors.

Take it one step at a time, and don’t rush.

And before you know it, you’ll have a finished piece you can be pleased with!

Stopping too Soon on Colored Pencil Art

Stopping too Soon on Colored Pencil Art

How do you know when you’re stopping too soon on colored pencil art and when a piece is finished?

That may sound like an easy question to answer, but even experienced artists (like me) sometimes wrestle with finding the right answer.

The reader who asked the question for this week is certainly struggling. Here’s what she has to say.

I have come to love colored pencil art and am always amazed when something looks pretty good!

But my work is too light overall! I have tried deepening and darkening and seen how it improved the picture, but I stop short because I am afraid I’m going to ruin everything.

My hand is naturally very light and this seems to compound the situation.  Does drawing darker just come with time and experience?  It takes me months to complete a project!! Karin

Karin asks a couple of very good questions. Let me answer them in order.

Stopping too Soon on Colored Pencil Art

Stopping too soon with a colored pencil drawing seems to be something every artist goes through.

The reasons vary, but being afraid to ruin a drawing certainly is one of the biggest. Especially when you’re relatively new to colored pencil.

When you’re new, knowing whether a piece is finished or not is especially difficult. Even if you don’t think a piece is finished, you may not know how to finish it. In either case, the result is the same.

You stop too soon.

We’ve all done it. I’ve done it. As I mentioned above, I sometimes still stop too soon (though I don’t realize it until later.)

This is a piece I did in 2004. It looked finished at the time. I was happy with it.

Stopping too Soon on Colored Pencil Art

Actually, I still am happy with it.

But as I look at it now, compared to a portrait finished in 2020 (below,) it looks about three-quarters finished. I see several things I could do to improve it. To make it look more finished.

Does that mean there’s anything wrong with the first portrait?

No. It just means that I had a lot to learn back in 2004.

So the first thing I want to tell Karin and everyone else who struggles with the same problem is to be patient with yourself. Learning any skill takes time, and learning proficiency takes even more time.

Learning all the skills necessary to make great colored pencil art takes a lot of time. The plain truth is that you’ll be learning and improving for as long as you draw!

Don’t give up. Keep drawing and sooner or later, you will get there.

Is Having a Naturally Light Hand the Problem?

I’m not sure having a naturally light hand has anything to do with this particular problem. Artists with a heavy hand also struggle with getting dark values dark enough. The fear of going to far and ruining a piece is pretty much universal.

If anything, I think having a light hand is a good thing for a couple of reasons.

First, artists with light hands have to layer more layers than other artists. That means they make adjustments more slowly. Yes, it takes more time to do all those layers, but they’re less likely to make a big adjustment in just one or two layers.

That means they’re less likely to ruin a piece, or to make a mistake that can’t be fixed.

Artists with a naturally heavy hand, however, tend to put color on the paper in just a few layers. If a drawing gets too dark, it gets too dark very quickly. Because the color is applied heavily, it’s also difficult to correct.

So there are advantages and disadvantages both ways.

Time and Experience will Solve the Problem

Karin asked if time and experience would help her. The short answer is: Yes! Time and experience will help.

The more drawings she does, the better she’ll get at deciding when a piece is finished.

She’ll gain confidence in her ability to darken values enough without going too dark. And if she does go too dark, she’ll learn ways to correct the problem.

How Long Should a Drawing Take?

As for taking months to finish a project, that goes with the territory. Colored pencils are naturally slow. There are ways to speed up the process, but the drawing process is still slow!

So don’t worry over taking months to finish a project. I recently polled newsletter readers about the longest amount of time they’ve put into a project, and some of them said they’d worked on something over a year or more!

The larger your drawing and the more detailed you make it, the longer it will take to finish.

I’ve also written on this topic previously, and you can read that post here.

Are You Stopping too Soon on Your Colored Pencil Art?

If you are, I suggest that you focus on your technique.

Don’t rush it. Rushing usually doesn’t turn out well.

When you reach the point at which you don’t know if a piece is finished or not, set it aside for a day or two, then review it again.

When you get discouraged over your progress, compare some of your recent pieces to an early piece. That may very well be all the encouragement you need.

And above all, enjoy the process.

Making Bright Whites Pop with Colored Pencils

Making Bright Whites Pop with Colored Pencils

Let’s talk about making bright whites pop with colored pencils. That’s the topic for this post, and here’s the reader question to get the discussion started.

Hi Carrie. I need to know how to make bright whites pop with pencils.

This is a big issue for a lot of colored pencil artists because it’s so difficult to add white highlights (or bright highlights of any color) over layers of color. That’s because colored pencils are naturally translucent, so every color you put on the paper changes the look of every other color.

Making Bright Whites Pop with Colored Pencils

Even the color of the paper affects the way colors look.

But getting bright highlights is vital to realistic art, so what are the best ways to make those bright whites really pop?

Two Easy Ways of Making Bright Whites Pop

Let me make a couple of suggestions that are easy to implement, and a couple of others that require more thought and effort.

First, the easy methods.

White Paper

The best way to make white areas pop in a drawing is to work on white paper and preserve the white of the paper. No white pencil is as bright white as bright white paper.

Not all white paper is equally white, however. Some whites are warm white, which means they have a bit of yellow tint, while other, cool white papers have a bit of a blue tint. The tints are very minor and may not even be visible, but they do make a difference. If you decide to rely on the white of the paper, then look for a paper that’s “bright white.”

Then mark the highlights before you starting layering color and work around them.

This portrait was drawn on white Stonehenge. All the highlights are either the white of the paper or the white of the paper lightly tinted with color.

For really small areas, like the highlights in eyes, you might also add a layer of white before using any other color. A layer of white color protects paper somewhat, and makes lifting color a bit easier if necessary.

Dark Surrounding Values

Also remember that when the values around a patch of bright color are dark, the light color appears brighter.

After most of the layers are in place, darken the areas around the bright white highlights slightly. Darkening surrounding values makes the highlights look brighter.

You don’t want to go too dark, but if you need to punch up a highlight just a little bit, this is a good option.

I used darker values around many of the highlights in this portrait to make the highlights pop. Notice the bright area at the base of the ear and on the leather next to it.

Making Bright Whites Pop

This portrait was drawn on medium-gray paper, so I was able to use heavy pressure and a “star” shape to add the sparkling highlights on the rings of the bit. This doesn’t work for every application, but if you’re adding highlights over colored paper where you haven’t put other colors, it’s very effective.

Two More Complex Methods for Making Bright Whites Pop

These methods also work very well, but they require special tools and a bit of a learning curve.

Sanded Art Papers

Sanded art papers are great surfaces to use if you prefer adding highlights over other colors. Because of the grit of sanded art papers, you can layer colors indefinitely.

You can also layer light colors over dark colors more effectively on sanded papers than on traditional papers. You still get the best results by using white papers and preserving the highlights, but with sanded papers, you can brighten highlights by adding white afterward, too.

I recommend Lux Archival because it’s fully archival and the brightest white sanded art paper I’ve tried.

Titanium White from Brush & Pencil

Brush & Pencil makes a great product called Titanium White. It’s powdered titanium white pigment; the same pigment used in white colored pencils but without the binding agents. It’s more opaque and covers better when mixed with Touch-Up Texture (also from Brush & Pencil.)

It’s also easy to use. Mix a small amount of Titanium White into Touch-Up Texture, brush or dab it onto the highlight, and let it dry. Once it’s dry, you can easily draw over it to tone it down or tint it.

I used Titanium White and Touch-Up Texture to add the sun in this piece, then lightly tinted it with colored pencil.

Making Bright Whites Pop

By the way, I used Lux Archival paper for this piece.

Making Bright Whites Pop

Those are my top four suggestions for getting white highlights that really pop. You can use them all together, one at a time, or in various combinations.

They are also archival, so you have no worries about the integrity of your work if you use them.

Are they the only methods? By no means. But they are the most effective for me.

I hope they also work for you.

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers

This week’s Q&A question comes from a reader who is having problems blending smooth color with alcohol markers. Here is the question.

I’m having trouble when I try to blend large areas of colour with the colourless (alcohol based) blenders. I’ve tried Prismacolor and Winsor & Newton blending pens and different papers, but the backgrounds come out blotchy.

I want to blend that way because the colours come out more vibrant, plus I want to be able to add additional layers without filling up the tooth of the paper.

I have tried blending on Fabriano Artistico 140 lb hot press, and Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Vellum 100 lb. Both seem to turn out poorly.

What am I doing wrong?

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers

I have used blending markers, but it’s been years. I think I used one marker and decided they weren’t for me for a number of reasons.

First, I had a lot of the same problems this reader is having.

Second, the markers tended to get dirty quickly. That makes sense, because any time you use solvent on colored pencil, you remove some color.

But the biggest reason I didn’t buy another blending marker was that the first one dried out too quickly. It just wasn’t cost-effective or convenient.

Having said all that, let’s talk about how to use alcohol markers more efficiently.

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers

So what is this reader doing wrong?

I strongly suspect the answer is attempting to blend large areas with a tool designed for small areas.

Markers are, by nature, designed for small areas. The marker I used had two tips: one small and round, the other wedge-shaped. But even the wedge-shaped edge was no more than an inch wide and probably not even that big.

Alcohol also evaporates very quickly; sometimes almost instantly. It’s very difficult to get smooth blends when the surface dries from one stroke to the next. Even overlapping strokes and working quickly isn’t always the solution.

How Do You Blend Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers?

Save the blending pens for those small areas that can be blended quickly. If your marker has two tips, use the largest tip that will fit the area you want to blend.

Blend the entire area as quickly as you can, and overlap strokes. Then let the paper dry.

If the color looks good after it’s dry, you’re finished.

If it needs more work, add more layers of color, then blend again. The beauty of alcohol markers is that they don’t fill the tooth of the paper, so you can layer and blend almost indefinitely.

What about Blending Larger Areas?

For larger areas, try ordinary rubbing alcohol.

Rubbing alcohol is not the same type of alcohol found in alcohol markers, but it behaves in much the same way. It breaks down the binding agent that holds the pigment together, allowing you to blend color. It does evaporate quickly, but not as quickly as an alcohol marker.

You can also use cotton swabs, cotton balls or brushes to blend, so you can more quickly and easily blend larger areas.

Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers
Using a flat bristle brush instead of an alcohol blending pen to blend a background with rubbing alcohol.

What to Remember when Blending with Alcohol Markers

They are made for small areas, so save them for blending those small areas.

Try rubbing alcohol to blend larger areas.

Don’t be afraid to layer color, blend, then layer again.

For more specific information on blending colored pencil with rubbing alcohol, read How to Blend Colored Pencil Drawings with Rubbing Alcohol, which I wrote for EmptyEasel.

What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick

What to Do When Your Paper Gets Slick

So what do you do when your paper gets slick?

You’re in the zone, adding layer after layer, blending color, creating contrast and harmony. Then it happens. You pick up another pencil, start layering and…

…your pencil skids across the surface without leaving any color.

That happened to Eloise, who asked the following question:

When you have put so many layers on and you can’t get any more down, what do you do?

What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick

What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick

Prevention is the Best Cure

The best way to deal with slick paper is to avoid it. The best way to avoid slick paper is drawing on sanded art paper.

Sanded art paper takes a lot of layers without the tooth filling up. It doesn’t really matter what type of sanded paper you use. I’ve been experimenting with Lux Archival, Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Fisher 400, and Uart. They each have enough tooth to take a practically endless number of layers, but they each have unique characteristics. They behave differently.

It also makes a difference what type of pencil you use, as I’m learning with this week’s sketching habit. Some pencils work better on sanded papers, than other pencils.

Your style of drawing also makes a difference, so you may have to experiment to find the right combination.

What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick

If you don’t care for sanded art papers, Canson Mi-Teintes is a more traditional paper that falls somewhere between sanded and traditional papers. I can’t recall ever ending up with a slick drawing surface while using Mi-Teintes.

In fairness, however, I must also mention that most of my work on Canson Mi-Teintes has been vignette-style portraits like Portrait of a Black Horse. I usually use colored paper, and chose a color that works for the background and the middle values.

In other words, I didn’t have to apply a lot of color.

Whatever type of paper you use, you can also avoid (or at least delay) the build up of too much color by applying each layer with the lightest pressure possible. You’ll have to increase pressure slightly during the drawing process, but don’t use heavy pressure until the end.

Also don’t burnish until after the drawing is nearly finished.

Cures for Slick Paper

Most of the time, paper gets slick when you reach the maximum amount of color the paper will grab onto and hold.

What to Do When Your Paper Gets Slick

Sometimes, workable fixative made for dry media helps restore a bit of surface texture. A couple of light coats may restore enough tooth for you to finish the piece.

But that’s not guaranteed. I’ve had mixed results with workable fixative.

A light blend with rubbing alcohol could also help. Rubbing alcohol cuts the wax binder in colored pencils a little bit, and that may be enough to allow you to finish a drawing.

It’s also possible to lift enough color with mounting putty to allow you to add more color, but unless you need to change a color or value, lifting color is really a step backward.

If you get the idea that there isn’t much you can do once your paper gets slick, you’re getting the right idea.

That’s why I spent so much time talking about ways to avoid slick paper. In this case, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

I recently wrote on this same topic for the store blog. You can read When Your Paper Gets Slick here for more information on this topic.

The Importance of Pencil Strokes

I have a confession to make. I was a long time fully understanding the importance of pencil strokes to the artwork I created. For the longest time, I was more concerned with just getting color on the paper than with how I put it there.

So I’m delighted to have received this question from Arthur.

Hi Carrie,

A question for you. How important are the pencil strokes we use, and what do you recommend?

Cheers, Arthur.

If you’ve listened to art-talk long enough, you’ve no doubt heard the phrase “brush work.” Brush work refers to the way an oil painter (or acrylic painter) uses his or her brush to put paint on the canvas.

Brush strokes can be very fine or quite heavy. They can leave no mark at all in the paint or they can make paint very thick and textured.

The artist decides what type of stroke to use based on the affect he or she wants to create.

The Importance of Pencil Strokes

The same holds true for colored pencil work.

No. You don’t create physical texture with colored pencils like you could with oil paints or acrylics.

But you do create the appearance of texture, and how you put the color onto the paper is just as important to you as brush work is to an oil painter.

The Importance of Pencil Strokes

Some artists always use the same type of stroke no matter what they draw, and they get excellent results.

I prefer to match the type of stroke to whatever I’m drawing, because that works best for me.

When drawing hair or grass, I use curving, directional strokes. For trees, I use a squiggly stroke and tap in accents or details with a stippling stroke. Base layers are often applied with parallel or cross-hatching strokes, and I sometimes even use the side of a pencil. All of those pencil strokes are important to my drawing methods and style.

A Couple of Examples

Let’s look at some examples of how I use pencil strokes for different applications. I chose each of the following sketches because they show stroke work more clearly than more finished work.

The Dead Tree Branch

Blick Studio on Fisher 400 sanded Paper.

I wanted to capture to the look and texture of a dead branch that still has some bark. I used long, steady strokes for the smaller branches, but used mostly short strokes for the main branch.

Combined with differing values and overlapping, the shorter strokes produced a much more realistic bark look.

The Importance of Pencil Strokes

Three Trees

Derwent Lightfast pencils on Lux Archival sanded paper.

I had more time when I drew Three Trees, but I still matched pencil strokes to different parts of the composition.

For example, the fine branches at the top of the drawing were drawn with short, broken strokes. That was the only way I could produce fine lines with such soft pencils.

For the larger branches and trunks, I used a mix of long and short strokes, but blended them together to “shade” color.

In the grass, I combined short, directional strokes with stippling (tapping) strokes. That was the only way to get a grassy look.

Sasha’s Tail

Blick Studio on Stonehenge.

This is an example of all directional strokes.

This is the tail of one of our long-haired cats. She lay still just about long enough for me to sketch this. Using this type of stroke helped me get as much of her drawn as I was able to in the amount of time available. In this case, the importance of my pencil strokes cannot be ignored!

So How Important are Pencil Strokes?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, some artists use the same stroke all the time or use a limited variety of strokes to create stunning works of art. Other artists such as myself prefer to use different strokes to create visual textures.

There is no right or wrong way to draw, in other words.

What it all comes down to in the end is what works best for you. I encourage you to practice using different types of strokes to create different affects, then use those that work best for you.

Some time ago, I wrote an article for EmptyEasel on different types of pencil strokes. You can read The Five Basic Colored Pencil Strokes here for more information.

How I Store My Colored Pencils

Today, I want to talk about how I store my colored pencils. To begin, here’s the reader question.

Is it best to keep pencils in medal tray in which they were purchased or do you put in a container that allows pencils to stand up? Thanks

Since those beautiful colored pencils can be expensive, it’s important to know how to keep them safe and useful when we’re not drawing.

Now I know every artist is different, and we all have our preferences about storage. So the best way to tackle this topic is to tell you what I do. If that works for you, great.

If not, that’s okay too.

How I Store My Colored Pencils

I use a variety of methods for storing colored pencils. How do I decide when method to use? There are a couple of factors.

Original Packaging

My first choice is to keep new pencils in the tins in which they arrived. What’s my thinking on that?

First, if a tin is sturdy enough to keep the pencils safe during shipping, then the tin is probably sturdy enough to keep the pencils safe on my shelf. Even if a cat happens to knock the tin to the floor.

How I Store My Colored Pencils

Second, many tins also include slotted plastic trays, with a slot for each pencil. Faber-Castell does this and it’s a great way to keep pencils from rolling around if the tin gets jostled.

It’s also a great way to keep pencils from rolling off a desk or table while I’m working. But now I digress.

Third, tins are compact and stream-lined. I can slide them into a tote or carry case so I can take pencils when I go traveling.

Fourth—and this may really be a stretch for a lot of you—I arrange my pencils according to height in the tin. It’s easy to see what colors I need to restock.

(Yes. I really do this with the Polychromos pencils. It’s the best way I’ve found to easily manage inventory and re-ordering.)

Tackle Boxes

When I started taking art supplies to horse shows, I bought a couple of plastic lure boxes designed for fishermen. I actually found them in the sporting goods section of Wal-Mart.

Two of them handled a full set of Prismacolor pencils back then (there were only 96 colors, if I remember correctly.) I sort pencils by color, with the most often used pencils in one box and others in the second box.

Those Prismacolor pencils are still in those trays and, although the trays are starting to show wear-and-tear after thirty years or so, they’re still very solid and sturdy.

They’re not as compact to pack for travel as the pencil tins, but I can get both of them into a laptop carrier along with a couple of pads of paper, a working in progress if it’s in a working mat assembly, and even my trusty mechanical sharpener.

Cups & Jars

Now sometimes, I don’t buy new pencils by the set. For example, I’ve been collecting Derwent Lightfast pencils and Caran d’Ache Luminance one or two colors at a time. Obviously, there are no tins to store them in.

I also don’t want to put them into the trays with the Prismacolor pencils, so I keep them in ceramic mugs or glass cups. The cups are on a shelf along with the tins of Polychromos and other pencils. I admit that they’re not as secure as the pencils in the tins. If they fall, they scatter.

But I have put them high enough that even the adult cats are wary of jumping up there.

I also recently purchased a set of Blick Studio pencils, and while I like the pencils quite a bit, the tin was less than ideal for storage. The pencils arrived in good shape, but I put them all in a big coffee mug. The mug is easy to carry to my front porch or back yard for sketching.

And I like the message. Not bad advice!

Open stock replacement pencils and Prismacolor Verithin pencils are also in cups.

I also keep a few select pencils in a light-weight plastic sleeve. I can easily grab them for short trips, along with my package of 4×6 sketching papers.

So How do I Store My Pencils?

Short answer, I store my colored pencils in whatever way is the most secure, and the most convenient.

That’s what I recommend for you. If you have a permanent studio space and rarely travel with pencils, then storage cabinets and shelving are probably the better solution for you.

But maybe you’re like me. You don’t have a permanent studio space and you like to travel with pencils and paper.

In that case, then you might do better with some of my storage solutions.

How to Mix Colors for Color Matching

How to Mix Colors for Color Matching 4

A few weeks back, I answered a reader question about knowing how to choose colors for layering. That reader wanted to know how to create color depth by layering. Today’s reader is asking a similar question, but wants to know how to mix colors for color matching.

Here’s her question.

Dear Carrie,

I am taking some drawing and painting classes online through the Continuing Education for older adults. In the portrait class, I try to use colored pencils.

Should I use an available color according to the area of the skin tone, or mix the colors as a wet paint artists do? To mix or not to mix, that is the question!

Thank you for your very helpful emails, which I enjoy reading like short novels.

Your invisible student, Natalka

In a perfect world, every line of pencils would include perfect color matches for whatever you want to draw.

In the real world, however, that’s simply not possible. There are so many variations in every color that exact matches are impossible.

Even the color white has so many nuances based on surface texture, lighting, and other things that you could have a full set of pencils of nothing but shades of white, and still have to mix colors.

Most colored pencil artists have to mix most of the colors they need to create their art work.

But don’t let that scare you. Here’s what to do.

How to Mix Colors for Color Matching

This is a potentially complex subject. For the best results, you need a basic understanding of the nature of colored pencils and of color theory. For good information on that, I recommend Amy Lindenberger’s excellent book, Colors: A Workbook.

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I bought the book when it first came out, did the exercises, and learned a lot about color mixing with colored pencils. I still have the tools from those exercises, and I still use them.

The principles Amy discusses in this book apply to every subject. Yes. Even portraits!

So this is a great first step in understanding how better to mix colors for color matching, no matter what your favorite subject is.

Now, back to the post….

How to Mix Colors for Color Matching in Three Steps

I recently wrote a tutorial describing a three-step process for choosing colors that I learned as an oil painter. You can read that tutorial here. In short, it goes something like this:

Find the Color that Matches Your Subject the Best

Determine the main (or base) color of the area.

For example, what is the main color of the skin in your portrait? Is it more pink or does it lean toward brown? Maybe it’s more cream-colored or even some other color.

Consider the overall face, not the differences between light and dark. Most of the time, when you’re beginning, you’re not drawing a subject with complex lighting. The light is usually pretty direct from one light source, like the lighting on this plaster bust.

how to mix colors for color matching

For most subjects that are lighted with one light source, you’ll be able to create the differences in light and shadow by choosing the influencing color (step 2.)

Later, after you’ve learned how to choose colors to mix, you’ll be able to refine the color selection method for specific areas.

Find the Influencing Color

Now decide what color you need to add to the main color to get closer to the colors on your model or in the reference photo. On a skin tone, this could be a brown, a pink, some shade of red, or even a hint of green or blue.

You may have to do a little experimenting to get the best influencing color. If so, use the same kind of paper you’re drawing on, and make color swatches. Each swatch should start with the main color, then layer other colors over it.

I rested my left hand beside a piece of white paper and did a color matching exercise.

First, I determined that the closest match of the colors I had with me was Beige, so I made three boxes with Beige across the top.

Next, I compared my skin color with the beige boxes and selected two other colors as possible influencing colors. They were Raw Umber and Ice Blue. The first box in the second row shows Raw Umber layered over Beige. The middle box shows Ice Blue layered over Beige.

Then I added Pink to the third box in the bottom row, just to see what it looked like and because most people think skin tones have to have pink in them.

Some skin tones do, but the closest match to my skin tone was Beige mixed with Raw Umber.

Find the Tinting Color

Most of the time, you’ll also need one or two other colors to tint each area. These colors will be the subtle colors that give your portrait life.

Make more color swatches and test the colors you think will tint your layers to right shade.

I described this process in more detail here. The sample in that post is a rose, but this color selection and mixing process works the same for anything you want to draw.

Learning how to Mix Colors for Color Matching is an On-going Process

Since it’s impossible to find exact matches for all the colors you’re likely to draw, you will be doing a lot of color mixing. That’s just the nature of the drawing (or painting) process.

And it will never end. You’ll always find a need for a subtle color shift that’s unique to a project.

So be prepared to practice, experiment, and, yes, make mistakes.