Correcting an Uneven Color Layer

A reader recently asked for suggestions on correcting an uneven color layer. Since I know from personal experience that drawing smooth color is both important and difficult, I wanted to share a few tips with you.

Here’s the reader’s question summarized:

If the color that you layered isn’t even can one correct it and if so how?

Tips for Correcting an Uneven Color Layer

Learning from My Mistakes

I can speak of uneven color layers from personal experience.

I made mistakes with Afternoon Graze early in drawing the meadow in the background, and I know exactly how they happened.

Getting careless in finishing the first layer in the middle distance was my downfall. This detail reveals my careless drawing. You can see “streaks” of slightly darker color to the right and left of the horses.

Here’s a closer look at the area on the left.

I was drawing on Bristol, a very smooth paper that’s made for smooth color. Imagine how uneven this layer of color would have been on Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Teintes!

Even on Bristol, it took a lot of work to cover the unevenness. However, if you look at that piece now, you can’t see those uneven patches. You’d never know they were there, under all that color, if I didn’t tell you.

Afternoon Graze after Correcting an Uneven Color Layer

The moral to that story is that there is hope for correcting uneven color layers, or at least covering them up. If I can do it, you can too.

Tips for Correcting an Uneven Color Layer

Covering up uneven color will take a little time and effort, as my example proves. But you probably already have all the tools you’ll need to smooth out the color. The six tips that follow require no special skills or purchases. You can implement them right now!

Continue layering color over the uneven color.

Make each additional layer as smooth and even as you can. It will take a lot of layers, but you will eventually cover the uneven areas. Careful stroking is the key.

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

Keep your pencils sharp.

The sharper your pencils are, the more easily the tip goes into the tooth of the paper. The more color you get into the tooth of the paper, the more even the resulting color layer. So sharpen often.

Try holding your pencil in a more vertical position.

Holding the pencil in a more vertical position makes it easier to get the tip of the pencil into the tooth of the paper without damaging the tooth. Especially if your pencil is as sharp as you can make it.

Try a stippling (tapping) stroke with this grip for even better results.

Mix strokes from one layer to the next.

Using different types of strokes helps fill in the uneven color a little more quickly. You might use circular strokes for one layer, then cross hatch for the next, and use directional strokes for the following layer.

If you do mix strokes, keep them all close together and use light pressure so you don’t accidentally make the problem worse. Or create a new one!

Work slowly and carefully.

Perhaps most important of all is to work slowly and carefully. I created my problem by rushing through the work. Had I been more careful in putting color on the paper, I would have avoided the uneven color in the first place.

And I didn’t help myself by trying to hurry through making corrections, either!

So whenever you find yourself hurrying or getting careless in how you draw, take a break! You’ll save time in the long run.

Trust me!

Blending with odorless mineral spirits may help.

Solvents blend color by breaking down the binder and allowing the pigment to flow together. The more fluid the pigments become, the better they sink into the tooth of the paper.

You do need a sufficient amount of pigment on the paper for solvent to work, though. In the case of Afternoon Graze, solvent would not have helped me because there was so little color on the paper.

If your uneven color layer happens after you have a lot of color on the paper, you might try carefully blending that area with solvent before trying any of the previous tips.

However, blending will change the appearance of the color, even if just a little bit. That’s why I mention it last, and why I usually use it as a last resort.

Conclusion

So the next time you discover you’ve drawn an uneven color layer, don’t panic. Take your time. Keep your pencils as sharp as you can, and keep every new layer as smooth as you can.

It will all work out!

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How to Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

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

Here’s the reader question.

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

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

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

How to Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

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

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

Step 1: Draw a Smooth Base Layer

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

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

The base layer should cover every part of each shape.

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

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 1

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Add Darker Values

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

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

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

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

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 2

Step 3: Blend with Base Colors

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

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

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

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 3

Step 4: Continue to Darken Values

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

You can choose a darker shade of the base colors.

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

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

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

You can choose a different color.

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

Why the different colors?

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

Step 5: Blending Layer

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

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

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

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

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 5

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

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

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

Here’s the whole drawing.

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

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

About that Guest Post….

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

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

How to Make Drawings Look Less Flat

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

That was the subject of a recent reader question.

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

Make a Drawing Look Less Flat

How to Make Drawings Look Less Flat

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

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

Following are two suggestions you can put to use immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shading is important to drawings that look less flat.

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

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

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

And that makes it look less flat.

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

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

Make Drawings Look Less Flat - Shading

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

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

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

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

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

And the easiest to implement!

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencils

Whenever new students begin a colored pencil course, whether it’s an online colored pencil course or a basic drawing lesson, there are questions. In this article, I want to address four frequently asked questions about colored pencils from my students.

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencils

Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencils

1. What are the best/top brands for colored pencils?

There really isn’t an easy answer to this question. There are just too many brands of pencils on the market and so many ways to use them. The brands most often named by artists who make at least part of their living from art are:

  • Caran d’Ache Luminance
  • Derwent (a number of different lines in the Derwent collection)
  • Faber-Castell Polychromos
  • Prismacolor

Before you chose a brand, though, there is a more important question to ask and I can answer that question specifically.

Colored Pencil Grades

The grade of the pencils you use is, in most cases, more important than the brand you prefer. Grade refers to the quality of the pencil. The higher grade, the better the quality.

Colored pencils come in three basic grades.

  • Scholastic
  • Student
  • Artist/Professional

Most elementary school students use scholastic pencils. They’re the type of pencil you’re most likely to find at discount stores.

Student grade pencils are middle grade pencils. They’re higher quality than scholastic pencils, but not as good as professional grade pencils. A lot of people who are trying colored pencils or just getting started with them use student grade pencils because they can be significantly less expensive than the best pencils, but are better than scholastic pencils.

The top-of-the-line pencils are artist or professional grade pencils. They handle better and, in most cases, lay down better color and last longer, but they’re also more expensive.

The same manufacturing processes and pigments are used to make all the pencils in all of these grades. The difference is in the ratio of pigment to filler. In the scholastic pencils, there’s less pigment and more filler. In artist grade or professional pencils, there’s very little filler, and more pigment. The student grade pencils are between those two extremes.

Buy the best pencils you can afford. The higher the grade, the better the drawing results. I used cheaper pencils first because of the cost and almost gave up on the medium before upgrading my pencils.

TIP: Learning colored pencil is difficult enough; don’t make it more difficult by using low-quality materials.

2. What is the Difference Between Wax-Based and Oil-Based Pencils?

Wax-based pencils are manufactured with a wax binder that holds the pigment together and allows it to be formed into the pigment core (commonly known as the “lead” of the pencil.) Oil-based pencils use a binder of vegetable oil or some similar form of oil.

Wax-based pencils are generally softer and go onto the paper more smoothly. Oil-based pencils are harder and dryer.

Wax-based pencils can produce something called wax bloom. This happens with all wax-based colored pencils if you apply enough color, but it’s most obvious with dark colors. Wax bloom causes a drawing to look cloudy. It’s easy to remove by lightly wiping the drawing with paper towel. Oil-based pencils do not contain enough wax to cause wax bloom.

You can mix wax-based and oil-based pencils in a single drawing and many artists use both types in most of their work.

3. Does it matter how I hold my pencil?

Yes. Here’s how.

The closer to the tip you hold the pencil, the more pressure you can exert on the paper. Usually, you’re holding the pencil upright, so the tip is the only part of the pigment core that touches the paper, as shown below. You can fill in the paper better this way, you have more control over the amount of pressure you use, and you can draw finer detail holding the pencil this way.

Adding Jade Green to the Distant Trees

When you hold a pencil at the middle or closer to the end, it’s more difficult to exert a lot of pressure on the paper, because you hold the pencil in a more horizontal position.

If the pencil is well-sharpened, you can add color with the side of the exposed pigment core. You can still vary the amount of pressure you use, but not to the same extent. It’s also more difficult to work on detail holding the pencil like this.

Adding Dark Green Colored Pencil to a Green Under Drawing

When you hold a pencil at the very end, you have very little control over the amount of pressure you can use. You’re also drawing with the side of the exposed pigment core, so you can’t draw a lot of detail.

Holding the pencil by the end is best for laying down layers of color over larger areas. If you want to draw with very light pressure but have a naturally heavy hand, try holding the pencil very lightly and near the end of the pencil.

4. How many pencils do I need to get started?

Most artists like to have as many pencils as they can get their hands on. For one thing, there are all those lovely, luscious colors!

A lot of us also like to keep different brands around because even though all the manufacturers use basically the same pigments, no two use the same blend of pigments. So there is a range of colors available to the artist who is able to buy some of every brand that’s not available to the artist who wants to stick with one brand.

But how many pencils do you need to start?

The simple answer is that you don’t really need very many.

I recently purchased a set of Koh-I-Nor woodless pencils that contains 24 colors. That’s the largest set they offer, but many other colors are available as open stock.

Those 24 colors are more than enough to draw almost anything I want to draw. Yes, it takes more layering and mixing of colors to get the colors and values I need for some drawings, but it is possible.

Learning how to mix and blend colors is an important part of learning colored pencil, so rather than buy the largest set you can afford, I recommend you buy a middle-sized set. With wood-encased pencils, that’s usually somewhere between 24 and 48 pencils (numbers vary by manufacturer). Once you’ve mastered blending and mixing colors, then you can add colors—or brands—to your collection.

If you really want to test yourself, try the smallest set available!

Ask Carrie a Question

Can You Photo Copy a Drawing on Colored Paper?

Have you ever wondered if you can photo copy a drawing on colored paper? If so, you’re not alone.

Kerry Hubick wanted to know, too, and her question is the inspiration for today’s post.

Can you photo copy an art picture that has been done on Canson Mi Tientes colored paper? I think the color [of the paper] is called Hemp.

Thank you for the question, Kerry. It’s a great question.

Can You Photo Copy a Drawing On Colored Paper

A Little Background on Art Reproductions

Art reproductions used to be limited to artists who could afford professional photography and printing or who could sign on with professional publishers. In those days, art publishers like The Greenwich Workshop were the go-to sources for high quality art reproductions.

Then along came ink jet printers and archival inks and papers. Suddenly artists no longer needed an art publisher to produce art reproductions.

The next logical step was affordable, high-quality printers that allowed artists to produce their own reproductions in the studio.

Of course, with all those advances come a lot of questions. Questions about what paper to print on, the size of the reproduction, the number of reproductions printed, and so on.

Can You Photo Copy a Drawing on Colored Paper?

I want to answer the question from two perspectives. Printing drawings drawn on colored paper, and printing on colored paper.

Photo Copying Drawings Drawn on Colored Paper

Yes. You can photocopy a drawing on colored paper. Any drawing on any type of paper (or other support) can be reproduced. The results may vary, but reproduction is most certainly possible.

The color of the paper will be printed with the artwork, so the reproductions should look like the original art.

For the best results, check with a printing company that routinely does high-quality printing. I’ve had reproductions made of line drawings and oil paintings at a local blue print company. They’re able to do high-quality, low-cost images directly from the art work or from high-resolution digital images.

I’ve also had line drawings copied full size (24×36) to send to portrait clients for approval. The same company has also printed 8×10 color reproductions of paintings from a high-resolution digital image.

In every case, I’ve been happy with the reproduction and with the cost, which has been very low.

The reason I suggest a local company first is accessibility and promptness. It’s much more convenient to be able to visit a brick-and-mortar business, hand over the artwork or image on CD, and wait while they do the printing. With the line drawing, we saved a lot of time by waiting to approve the final reproduction.

But that’s not the only option.

If you have high-resolution digital images of the artwork, you can also upload the image to an on-line company. Companies like Fine Art America provide not only printing, but order fulfillment.

You can open a Fine Art America account for free and list up to 30 images. Those images will then be available for purchase world-wide. They offer a wide variety of supports from basic paper to canvas to metal and acrylic. You can also market reproductions in a number of sizes.

Any other on-line printing company may also be a good resource. If you’ve had business cards, or post cards printed on-line, check that supplier to see if they do larger jobs. If they do, the advantage is lower cost. The disadvantage is that you may very well need to place a minimum order.

With any online option, you also have to pay for shipping, but if there isn’t a local printer capable of doing the work, an online company may be your best solution.

Should You Print on Colored Paper or White?

So what about printing on colored paper?

Again, the answer is, Yes, you can print any artwork on a paper that’s a different color than the original paper.

But the color of the paper you print on affect the way the reproductions look. Printer inks aren’t usually opaque, so it will be very difficult to get a reproduction to match the original if you used white paper for the original and print on a different color of paper.

The advantage to that is that you could do a series of images printed on different papers and possibly appeal to different types of collectors.

Would I recommend printing fine art reproductions on colored paper? No. It’s better in most cases to print your artwork on white paper, no matter what color of paper it was drawn on.

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil?

Colored pencils are ideal for mixed media work of all types, but can you use oil paint over colored pencil?

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know I’ve experimented with combining colored pencils and a number of different mediums, including watercolor, India ink, and graphite.

But what about oil paints?  Will that work?

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil

As a former oil painter, I admit the question is intriguing. Think how much more quickly you could finish a piece if you could paint over colored pencil (or use colored pencil over oil paint.) The possibilities seem endless.

And on the surface, it does seem like oil paints and colored pencils should work well together. Especially if your colored pencils are oil-based.

But Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil?

Back in my oil painting days, I tried adding details to oil paintings with colored pencils. I wanted a way to paint things like long hair, stitching in leather, and tiny highlights that was better than oil painting, and didn’t need to dry.

Colored pencils looked like the answer, but I didn’t care for the results. The surface of the paint wasn’t smooth enough even in the super smooth areas. I just couldn’t get very fine details.

What’s more, none of the colors I tried would stick to the slick surface of dry oil paint. I couldn’t even make a decent mark!

It would be my guess that oil paint wouldn’t stick to colored pencils very well, either. You might have better results if you’re using oil-based colored pencils, but even then, I wouldn’t guarantee the archival qualities of such a combination.

There is also the problem of the oils in oil paints discoloring the paper you’re drawing on.

And unless you draw on a surface like canvas or gessoed paper, you run the risk of having the oils in oil paints damage or destroy the paper over time.

So I don’t recommend using oil paints and colored pencils together in any way.

If you just want to do something fun and different, then go ahead. But if you’re hoping to make something that will stand the test of time, then it’s probably better not to mix oil paints and colored pencils.

The Best Way to Answer Your Question…

The best way to find out if you can use colored pencils under oil paint is to do a test painting on the paper you want to use. It doesn’t need to be a detailed painting. Just layer colored pencil on the paper, then stroke a little paint over it.

See what happens.

Things you’ll want to check are:

How well did the oil paint dry?

Did it soak through the paper, even through heavy layers of colored pencil?

Does the paint stick to the colored pencil, or does it flake off?

Is the paper (or the colored pencils) discolored in any way?

Did the paint dry lighter or darker than it looked wet?

Did it fade at all in comparison to the colored pencil?

For the best results, be prepared to keep the test painting for up to a year, since some of these issues may take that long to appear.

Two Test Paintings

I did a couple of tests on my own, one on Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper, and another on Canson L’Aquarelle watercolor paper.

Oil Paint under Colored Pencil on Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel Paper

The colored pencil portion of this experimental drawing was put down with heavy pressure. All I wanted was a lot of pigment on the paper. I used Prismacolor because they’re wax-based and would be a good test of how well oil paints stick.

I added oil paint by spattering, and with a brush. Some of the paint is on top of colored pencil, but I also painted over bare paper.

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil - Experimental Painting 1 Front

The paint dried surprisingly quickly, probably due to the absorbent nature of the paper, so that wasn’t the problem I expected.

However, the oil binder in the paint did soak through the paper, even through the colored pencil. The spattered color didn’t soak through as much, but there are a few stains on the back of the paper.

The brushed-on paint, however, did soak through. The staining would be more pronounced had I thinned the paint with a medium or solvent.

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil - Experimental Painting 1 Back

I also wanted to see how well the paint stuck to the colored pencil. Answer? Not at all.

I couldn’t scratch oil paint off the paper, but it came right off the colored pencil. Part of the reason for that is that scratching also removed some of the colored pencil.

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil - Experimental Painting 1 Detail

Will the paint flake off on its own over time? That’s possible.

Oil Paint under Colored Pencil on Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press Watercolor Paper

The next test was on 140lb watercolor paper. Since watercolor paper is made for wet media, it seemed like it should work with oil paint, too.

I spattered and washed watercolor pencil over the paper, then let that  dry and dry brushed the tree. As with the first test, I used paint straight out of the tube, without solvent or painting medium.

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil - Experimental Painting 2 Front

Again, the paint dried more quickly than expected.

Also as before, there was staining on the back, but it was very faint and only where I’d used the most paint. I’m not sure you’ll be able to see it in the illustration below. I had to look very closely to see it in real life.

Can You Oil Paint Over Colored Pencil - Experimental Painting 2 Back

The biggest difference between the two papers was that I couldn’t scratch oil paint off the colored pencil or the paper. Not even where the paint was the heaviest. No matter how hard I tried.

Is the paint sticking better to the watercolor pencil or the watercolor paper or both?

I can’t answer that without conducting more tests. Nor can I say whether or not there will be more damage as time passes. The results may very well end up being the same as with the Canson Mi-Teintes, but just take longer to appear.

The Bottom Line

Can you use oil paint over colored pencil? You can, if you exercise care in choosing paper and layering color.

Would I do it on a portrait or exhibit piece? No.

But the decision is yours. As I mentioned above, it’s always worthwhile to experiment on your own, using your own supplies and methods to see what happens.

 

Ask Carrie a Question

Finding Your Artistic Style

Let’s talk about style today. More specifically, finding your artistic style.

Have you ever wondered how to find your artistic style? Maybe the following reader question echoes your own.

I am 67 and my life became so much more adventurous due to colored pencils.

I would very much like to develop my own style, but I hope I am not too old to do so, because I think it needs a lot of time and patience to develop a personal style. What are your thoughts about developing your own style?

Finding Your Artistic Style

This reader is right in one respect. It does take time.

But I would replace the word “develop” with the word “find,” because I think that’s how most artists come by their style. They find it.

Or have it pointed out to them by other people.

What is Artistic Style, Anyway?

An artistic style is the style of an artist’s body of work. There are literally hundreds of different things that go into an artist’s style, but the main ones may include the subjects they prefer, the colors they use (also known as their “palette”,) how they combine the colors, the drawing methods they use, and even their favorite drawing sizes.

All of those things and more contribute to the overall look of each piece.

Style happens when a large collection of pieces all look similar, even if the subjects are different.

Most artists don’t deliberately set out to develop a style. It just happens as they create. Given enough time and enough artworks, style emerges.

How I Found My Artistic Style

I know from personal experience this is true.

After years of painting horses and showing art at local county fairs, I missed a year. Later, a neighbor asked why I didn’t have anything at the fair. I asked how she knew I didn’t and she said, “I didn’t see anything that was your style.”

Up to that point, I hadn’t thought about style and didn’t know I had one. I just liked painting horses.

So it’s likely that your style has already begun taking shape, and you just don’t realize it.

Finding Your Artistic Style

Yes, it will take time and probably dozens of finished pieces.

But it will happen.

When you create consistently and over time, people will recognize your art without having to see your name on it.

And it’s quite likely that other people can already see it.

Is It Ever Too Late to Find Your Artistic Style?

No! So long as you have breath in you and the desire to make art, you will develop an artistic style. It’s bound to happen. In fact, you won’t be able to keep it from happening!

Unless, of course, you focus so much on style that you don’t draw.

Can You Use Graphite Under Colored Pencil?

Can you use graphite under colored pencil? Does graphite work as an under drawing for colored pencil work?

There are a lot of ways to draw an under drawing for colored pencils. Umber under drawings. Complementary under drawings. Monochromatic under drawings. The fact of the matter is that you can use any of these or combine them almost any way you want.

But what about using graphite for the under drawing?

Can You Use Graphite Under Colored Pencil

The most obvious reason many artists think graphite and colored pencils are compatible is that they’re both pencils. They’re also both dry mediums and you apply them in many of the same ways.

But you really mix them with success?

Can You Use Graphite Under Colored Pencil?

The short answer is, yes, you can. But there are some unique qualities to each that make them not entirely compatible.

The biggest difference is that colored pencils are made by mixing pigment with wax and/or oil and a small amount of clay so the pigment can be formed into a core.

Wax and/or oil holds the color together within the pencil, and also allows it to be put onto paper. It’s fairly resistant to smearing or erasing.

The core of a graphite pencil is made by mixing graphite powder with a clay-based binder. This binder holds the graphite together inside the pencil, and also allows the graphite to be easily transferred to paper.

However, it is not permanent, and is easily erased or smeared (blended.)

So if you plan to try graphite with colored pencil, you need to observe two very important things.

Always use graphite first, then colored pencil.

Always, always, always use the graphite first and the colored pencil second. Colored pencil will stick to paper that has graphite on it, but it will be very difficult to get graphite to stick to colored pencil. The heavier the layers of colored pencil, the less likely graphite will stick to it.

Even if you used oil-based colored pencils.

Consider sealing the graphite before adding colored pencil.

Graphite muddies colored pencil if you don’t seal it before adding the colored pencils. This may not be a concern if you’re making a dark background, but it will damage or darken lighter colors immediately. Once that happens, it’s difficult to correct the problem.

Graphite also gets shiny if you apply it too heavily. Since the purpose for using graphite is creating a dark value, and since you achieve dark values with lots of layers, or heavier pressure, you may very well have to deal with a shiny surface by the time you get to the colored pencil stage.

One way to seal a graphite under drawing before adding colored pencil.

The easiest way to prepare a graphite drawing for colored pencil work is to seal it with a couple of layers of fixative. You may have to try more than one brand to find one that works best for your uses.

Spray the drawing at least twice, by holding the can upright and about twelve inches from the drawing.

Start at one side of the drawing and move across the drawing to the other side. Begin and end off the edge of the paper to avoid excess fixative along the edges of the drawing.

If the paper is very large, move down and repeat.

NOTE: I always spray a drawing the same way I read a page, starting at the upper left corner and moving left to right, and down. You don’t have to do it this way if another process is more comfortable.

Let the paper dry for at least 30 minutes, then repeat.

WARNING: Work in a well-ventilated area. I prefer to do this kind of work outside, but any room with good ventilation is acceptable. You may also want to consider using some kind of respiratory protection.

How to Use Graphite Under Colored Pencil Step-by-Step

An Optional First Step

Use masking film or masking fluid to protect the subject. They both work by covering the parts of the paper you want to be white, but each one works best in different ways.

Masking fluid is a liquid mask you brush onto the paper. When it dries, you can work over it carefully, then peel it off. Just make sure not to leave it on the paper too long, or it may discolor the paper.

Fluid is good for protecting small areas or details because you can apply it with a brush. You will ruin the brush, so don’t use expensive brushes.

Masking film comes in sheets, which you can cut to shape, then press onto your paper. It’s ideal for larger areas or for shapes that have smooth edges.

You can use both forms together.

Since my demo drawing was small, I didn’t mask out the main subject.

Step 1: Shade the background with graphite

This step will take several layers, even if you use a very soft graphite pencil. I used a 6B pencil to shade this drawing on Stonehenge paper.

Graphite Under Colored Pencil Step 1

TIP: Graphite pencils are graded by softness. HB is about in the middle. Harder pencils are labeled with an H; softer pencils with a B. The higher the number, the harder or softer the pencil. 6B is softer than 2B. 6H is harder than 2H, and so on.

After shading, blend the graphite with a tortillion, paper towel, bath tissue or cotton ball. The fact of the matter is that you can blend with almost anything soft. Brushes are even good blending tools.

Here’s the previous layer of graphite blended.

Graphite Under Colored Pencil Step 2

Continue to layer and blend until the background is as dark as you want it (and can get it with graphite.) I did three rounds of layering and blending to get the result below.

Graphite Under Colored Pencil Step 3

Step 2: Seal the graphite

When the background is finished to your satisfaction, seal it as described above.

Step 3: Add Color

Start layering color over the background.

You may need to adjust the amount of pressure you use when you work over graphite. I ordinarily begin with very light pressure, but that made no impact at all on the graphite background. So I increased pressure until I was almost burnishing.

Graphite Under Colored Pencil - Adding Color

You will probably want to add more than one color. I used only a dark green for this demonstration and it worked, but adding blue, brown, or even red makes for a much richer dark value.

For comparison, I also shaded the tree with the same green. I used a variety of pressures, including heavy pressure, so you could see how much darker the graphite made the background.

Graphite Under Colored Pencil - Adding More Color

Conclusion

Personally, I very rarely mix graphite and colored pencil. This method didn’t produce the results I hoped for, nor was it any faster than drawing a background with colored pencils alone.

For the ways I work, simply layering colored pencil and blending with sovlent produce better results more quickly.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. Graphite can produce some very interesting and unique effects if used properly. And you can lift highlights with an eraser or sticky stuff, so long as you do it before sealing the drawing.

So if you’re looking for a different way or a different look, give graphite and colored pencil a try.

For information on using graphite under colored pencil, read How to Use Graphite Under a Colored Pencil Drawing, which I wrote for EmptyEasel.

5 Colored Pencil Questions

Today’s colored pencil questions concern blending, color matching, and Prismacolor alternatives.

5 Colored Pencil Questions

Following are today’s questions.

Remember that if you have a question, you can always email it to me. I try to answer every email I get personally. Your question could be the inspiration for a blog post!

Answers to 5 Colored Pencil Questions

I’m not sure which pencils are blend-able, and don’t want to keep buying pencils that don’t achieve this. Help!

Most colored pencils are blendable, even if all you can do is layer them.

But the better the pencil, the more likely it is to be blend-able in ways other than by layering.

Most pencils can be blended with solvents such as odorless mineral spirits or turpentine. Different brands—and sometimes different colors—may react differently, so you need to test them on scrap paper first.

Most pencils can also be blended by burnishing.  You can use either a colored pencil or a colorless blender (a colored pencil without color) to burnish, and most of the pencils I’ve used can be burnished. It’s just takes more effort with some brands than others.

Is there a solution blender available that doesn’t have fumes? I’m asthmatic and very sensitive to odors.

Fumes and odors are not always the same thing. All odors are detectable by your nose. You can smell them.

But there are fumes that are odorless. So you can have an odorless solvent, and still have fumes. That’s why it’s so important to use any solvent with caution. Be smart!

Odorless mineral spirits and similar solvents are free from odors. Some are natural solvents, and some are not.

I’m not asthmatic or sensitive to odors, so can’t advise you from personal experience. So I suggest is you speak with other artists who are sensitive to odors and see what they recommend. Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art is one such artist, and I know from listening to her live streams, that many in her audience also use odorless solvents.

You might also contact Lisa and John at Sharpened Artist Podcast. They’re always looking for topics for their weekly podcast about all things colored pencil. If they haven’t already talked about solvents, you may provide the topic for the next podcast!

Beyond that, consult your doctor or healthcare provider.

I am tired of the Prismacolor Premier because of their fragility and high waxy content. Just too many problems to justify the expense. How are Derwent, Faber Castell in this regard?

If you want pencils that aren’t waxy, you may want to take a look at oil-based pencils. There aren’t as many brands to choose from, but there are three that I recommend. Faber-Castell Polychromos, Lyra Rembrandt, and Koh-I-Nor Polycolor. I do use Faber-Castell Polychromos, and have a set of Koh-I-Nor Progresso, and believe other Koh-I-Nor products are also high quality.

As for the two brands you named specifically:

Faber-Castell Polychromos

Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils are oil-based. They do contain a limited amount of wax, but the primary binder is oil. Usually vegetable oil. You will have no problems (or very few) with wax bloom or wax build up with these pencils.

I’m very happy with the Polychromos, and find myself reaching for them more than the Prismacolor pencils. They don’t have quite as many earth tones as I’d like (brown is my favorite color,) but most of the blues and greens are perfect for animals and landscapes.

They can be pricey unless you buy them from Dick Blick or some other online supplier, but the price is well worth it, in my opinion.

Derwent

Derwent are wax-based, but not as waxy as Prismacolor pencils. I’ve heard very good reports about the Derwent Coloursoft and Procolour pencils, as well as the Artists line of colored pencils.

At the moment, the only Derwent’s I use are the watercolor pencils, so they may not be of any help to you.

However, they draw very well dry, so they’re good for traditional drawing methods. I’m very pleased with the set I have, which is only 12 colors. They’re well-made and feel solid in my hand. I’ve used them dry, and with water, and have been very happy with them.

They’re reasonably priced, too. I paid a little under $20 for a set of 12 at Hobby Lobby. Use the 40% off coupon, and they’re a great value.

My recommendation? If you can find any of these (or other pencils) in open stock in stores, buy a few and try them. What works for me and my methods may not work for you and your methods. So try as many as you can.

I have just started using pencils after years with oils. I like dramatic pictures so I’m using black paper. Once I’ve put in a starter coat of white for flower petals I’m getting resistance to later coats. I’m using Caran D’ache supracolour.

I can’t speak about Caran d’Ache Supracolour pencils, since I’ve never used them.

But the problem sounds more like a paper problem. If the paper is too smooth or slick, it will not take very many layers of color before you start to experience the type of resistance described in the question.

So the first thing I’d suggest is to try a different paper. I like Canson Mi-Teintes for colored pencil, but make sure to use the back. It’s the smoothest and behaves best with colored pencil unless you want a lot of texture.

Second, I’d ordinarily suggest that you use a harder pencil like Caran d’Ache Pablo or Prismacolor Verithin for the white under drawing. But Supracolour are a watercolor pencil, so they are going to be harder than other pencils.

In addition, you won’t want to layer Supracolour (or any watercolor pencil) over a traditional colored pencil, because it may not stick.

There are a couple of other things you might try.

Draw the Black Background

Since you’re using a watercolor pencil, paint the background with a combination of black and other dark colors. You’ll get a black background that’s richer than plain black paper.

Canson Mi-Teintes and Stonehenge papers both stand up well to limited amounts of water.

You might also try painting the white under drawing with white watercolor pencil. That will preserve the tooth, and that may solve your problem.

So the only other thing I can suggest is to try a very light coat of a workable fixative made for colored pencils over the under drawing, then try layering color over that. This, however, is a last resort.

I am a brand new color pencil person and have been working with Darrel Tank’s online classes. He does not offer much as regards color pencils and uses Prismacolor Col-erase. Is there a good tool for matching between brands?

Many manufacturers offer color charts for their colored pencil lines. You should be able to match colors with reasonable accuracy by comparing color charts.

Beyond that, my best suggestion is to find a store that carries open stock and physically compare the colors.

Conclusion

I hope my answers to these colored pencil questions have helped you. Or at least pointed you in the right direction.

Of course, the real answer to most questions about colored pencils (or any art medium,) is experimentation. Even if the experiments don’t work, the answers are much more likely to “stick” in your mind if you try for yourself.

At least that’s the way it works for me.

Want to learn more?

I also recently answered four reader questions in an EmptyEasel post.

Readers wanted to know whether or not they could use White Out or correction tape on colored pencil pieces, suggestions on the best illustration board, information on white specks left after spraying with fixative, and how to draw like an expert.

The Biggest Mistake I Made as a Beginning Artist

So what’s the biggest mistake I made as  a beginning artist?

I cannot tell a lie; I made a LOT of mistakes as a beginning artist.

Some of the mistakes were the normal trial-and-error stuff every self-taught artist encounters. After all, if someone isn’t teaching you, helping you avoid certain pitfalls, you have to find them for yourself.

Things like learning that you always paint fat over lean with oils, and that if you don’t let paint dry thoroughly, it may not stick to the canvas.

And things like its okay to use oils over acrylics, but never use acrylics over oils.

Some of my mistakes were pretty big, and a lot of them were pretty tough to swallow. Red face and apology sort of mistakes.

The Biggest Mistake I Made as a Beginning Artist

Then there are the big mistakes.

The kind of mistakes that hindered my progress as an artist and could have torpedoed my chances of success altogether.

The Biggest Mistake I Made as a Beginning Artist

The biggest mistake I made as a beginning artist was wanting to be the next Somebody.

I admired Fred Stone‘s stunning racehorse art and thought if I could be just like him, I’d have it made.

Guy Coheleach was another. Back in the 70s, I came across a two-fold, full sheet brochure filled with images of his wildlife work. I carried that thing around for years, poring over those beautiful paintings and wishing I could paint like that.

There were other artists, too. They all inspired me to create great art, but they also tempted me to create art just like they were creating.

Is there anything wrong with admiring the work of more established artists?

Absolutely not. Established artists give new artists a visible goal to work toward. That’s always a good thing.

Established artists also have a lot to teach those coming along behind them (something I’m learning more about every day.)

The fact of the matter is that I often recommend to new artists that they find an artist working in the same medium, the same style, and producing the kind of work the new artist wants to produce. Students should then learn how that artist works, what tools they use, their methods, and everything else there is to learn.

So what’s the problem?

The problem for most beginning artists—yes, including me—is that they start wanting to be the next Fred Stone, Guy Coheleach, or whomever.

There will only ever be one Fred Stone or Guy Coheleach. No matter how good I get, it will not be me!

So instead of working to become the next incarnation of the artist you most admire, strive to become the best YOU you can be. Learn everything you can from your role model, but work toward developing your own style.

No, that won’t guarantee success, but you have a great opportunity to become the best you the world’s ever seen.

Try to be someone else, and the best you can hope for is second-best.