Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

Today’s question comes from Sally, who needs a few suggestions for restoring tooth to drawing paper that has gotten slick. Most of us have had to work with paper that got slick before we finished the drawing. Yes, even me!

Here’s Sally’s question.

What can you do for more tooth when you need to add more layers to blend the colors softer.

I am working on lightening up my hand, but after the layers, I blend with a colorless blender and there are times that the pencil gets waxy, and will not accept any blending colors to soften up the color changes.

I use the Prismacolor line and different papers, and just bought Strathmore Color Pencil paper and it doesn’t seem to hold any more than the Strathmore sketch or mixed media.

Is there any way to renew the tooth ???

Thank you, Sally

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

Sally’s problem is common, especially for those of us who love softer, waxier colored pencils. It’s such a common problem that before I answer Sally’s question, I’d like to explain why the problem happens.

Why Drawing Paper Becomes Slick

The biggest reason for paper becoming slick is the accumulation of pigment and binding agent. Every colored pencil is made with a binding agent to hold the pigment in lead form. When you draw, you put pigment AND binding agent on the paper.

There is no way to get around this and still create art with colored pencils.

The more layers you do, the more pigment and binding agent works it’s way into the tooth of the paper. Pretty soon, all you have is the slick surface of color layers. All those layers bury the tooth.

All colored pencils contain wax in the binding agent. Wax-based pencils contain more wax than other ingredients, while oil-based pencils contain more oil than wax.

So the waxier your pencils, the more likely you’ll fill the tooth of the paper before you finish. That’s what’s happening to Sally.

Ways to Avoid Getting Slick Paper

It helps to know how to avoid getting slick paper before you finish a drawing. Sally mentioned one: working with a light hand. But that’s not the only way.

Switching to oil-based pencils or combining them with wax-based pencils is another way to avoid making slick paper. Binding agents that are primarily oil don’t clog up the tooth of the paper as much as wax-based binding agents. So whenever you use an oil-based pencil, you put less wax on the paper.

Less wax on the paper, less slickness.

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

For those who don’t like the feel of oil-based pencils, try a toothier paper. The more texture the paper has, the more difficult it is to fill the tooth. You can layer more colors without making the paper slick.

Using colorless blenders sparingly is another way to avoid slick paper. Colorless blenders are essentially a pencil that’s nothing but binding agent. That’s why they blend so well.

But they also fill up the tooth of the paper very quickly.

Since most of us burnish when we use a colorless blender, we’re also crushing the tooth of the paper. Once the tooth has been crushed, restoring tooth is difficult, if not impossible.

It’s okay to use colorless blenders, but save them until the end of your drawing.

The last suggestion is blending with solvent. Solvent breaks down the binding agent so the pigment can be blended. It’s also a great way to fill the tooth with color without filling the tooth with binding agent.

Ways to Restore Tooth to Paper

Most workable fixatives for dry media work on colored pencils. Prismacolor used to make a fixative designed for colored pencils, but that product is no longer available, and if you can find it on a second-hand website, you’ll probably pay a pretty penny for it.

Dick Blick offers a selection of workable fixatives. If you choose to use one, make sure you use one made for dry media.

Since I’ve been working more often on sanded art papers, I’ve started using Brush & Pencil’s ACP Textured Fixative. But that dries to a thin film, so it works best on papers that are thicker like sanded art papers or on rigid supports.

Whatever type of fixative you use, test it on a sample first to make sure it doesn’t discolor the paper or your drawing. Follow the instructions on the can, and work in a well-ventilated area.

I’ve also had limited success cutting through the slickness of too much color and pigment by blending with rubbing alcohol.

Solvents are also sometimes helpful in cutting down slickness.

Rubbing alcohol dissolves the wax binder enough to soften the surface, which sometimes restores a bit of tooth.

Odorless mineral spirits also cut back the binding agent, but they also blend more thoroughly. If you only want to dissolve a little wax without a lot of blending, rubbing alcohol is the best option.

However, neither solvent will completely restore the tooth of the paper, so they may be of limited use.

If you decide to try solvents, test them first on a scrap of the same type of paper with similar applications of color.

Restoring Tooth to Drawing Paper

The way to deal with slick paper is to avoid the slickness. The methods I described above will help you do that.

But even if you take all those precautions, if you like layering lots of layers, you will sooner or later end up with slick paper. When that happens, it pays to know how to restore at least a little bit of tooth so you can finish!

Drawing Rich Black Backgrounds

Drawing Nice Rich Black Backgrounds Featured

Today, I’d like to talk about drawing rich black backgrounds with colored pencils.

I’ve received variations on this question from many readers over the years, and I’ve struggled with it myself.

There are a variety of methods available to colored pencil artists, some of which are simple but take time, and some of which are quick, but require special tools and/or papers.

So rather than give an in-depth answer covering one solution to this problem, I’ll describe four alternatives and provide links to more detailed articles.

Drawing Nice Rich Black Backgrounds

Drawing Rich Black Backgrounds

There are many ways to get rich black backgrounds, so I’ll focus on the four that work best for me.

Let’s begin with the most basic method. Layering.

Layering to Get to Black

Simply putting one layer of color over another is the simplest solution, and the most automatic. You’re layering color anyway, so just keep layering.

However, I can share a two tips to make this process shorter and more productive.

Tip #1: Use More Than One Color

Mix two or more dark colors with black to get rich black colors that don’t look flat. My favorite combination is a dark brown like Prismacolor Dark Brown or Dark Umber and a dark blue like Prismacolor Dark Blue. Brown and blue mixed make a great dark no matter what medium you prefer. I used to make beautiful blacks by mixing brown and blue paint.

I also add a layer of Black now and again to speed up the process. If I want a true black, black will be the final layer. For a cool black, I finish with the blue (or cooler color,) and if I need a warmer black, I finish with the brown (or warmer color.)

This sample shows the progression of layers using Dark Brown, Indigo Blue, and Black (Prismacolor.) The comparison strip along the top is Black applied with very heavy pressure.

I started with light pressure and increased pressure as I filled the tooth of the paper. I burnished the final layer.

But you can use any two dark complementary colors. The final color varies depending on the colors you use, but the end result will be a dark color.

So how many layers should you use?

There is no set number of layers, because a lot depends on the paper and the affect I want to get. The sample above shows eight distinct layers, but I went over the paper several times for each “layer.”

Smooth paper requires fewer layers than toothier papers, but the bottom line is that you need to keep layering until the tooth of the paper is filled.

For more on this method, read How to Draw Rich Black Colors. This isn’t specifically an article on backgrounds, but the principle applies to background drawing.

Tip #2: Blend with Solvent

You can speed up the layering process by blending with solvent every few layers. The solvent breaks down the binding agent in the pigment, allowing the pigments to “flow together” and sink into the tooth of the paper.

It doesn’t take much solvent to smooth out color, but make sure you have enough pigment on the paper for the solvent to blend.

Also make sure you’re using paper that stands up well after being dampened. Stonehenge will dry flat, but only if it’s taped securely to a rigid support before you use solvent on it.

In this illustration, I used solvent on the bottom part of the sample. You can see how much difference it made on some of the lighter layers. It made very little difference on the darkest layers.

NOTE: On the right, I burnished a section with Black (top,) Dark Brown (center,) and Indigo Blue (bottom) to show how much difference the final color makes.

Once the paper is dry, you can add more layers of color and blend again. Continue layering and blending until the background looks the way you want it to look.

How to Blend for Smooth Color describes blending with solvent in more detail.

Use Black or Dark Colored Paper

The easiest (and most difficult) way to get smooth black backgrounds is by drawing on dark paper.

When you use black paper, you can use the color of the paper for the background. You can even layer black over it to make the color a little deeper, depending on the paper you choose.

Drawing on black paper is more difficult because you have to adjust the way you draw everything else. Essentially, you have to draw the highlights and preserve the shadows, instead of preserving the highlights and drawing the shadows, as you do with lighter papers.

But it can be very effective, and is an excellent solution for the problem of smooth, dark backgrounds.

Even dark colors other than black make great backgrounds. I used a dark blue paper for this portrait.

In Tips for Drawing on Black Paper, I describe the basics of drawing effectively on black paper, or any other dark paper.

Mixed Media

Combining media to draw the background is the final option I’ll share today.

You can use any media you prefer from watercolor pencils or watercolor to PanPastels to InkTense pencils or blocks.

If you choose wet media, use a paper made for wet media. 140lb hot pressed watercolor is my recommendation, but any other surface designed for watercolor should also work.

Do all the work with water-based media that you want to do first, and then layer colored pencil over it. The water-based media colors the paper completely without filling up the tooth.

India Ink and Colored Pencils for Dark Backgrounds shows you step-by-step how I used India ink under colored pencils. This method will work with any other water-based media.

You have a little more flexibility if you use PanPastels, but I have no personal experience with them, so cannot offer more specific advice.

4 Ways of Drawing Nice Rich Black Backgrounds

There are many other ways to draw rich black backgrounds, of course. The key is finding the method that works best for you and gives you the results you want.

So if one of these methods doesn’t work for you, keep exploring!

Metallic Colored Pencils: My Thoughts

My Thoughts on Metallic Colored Pencils

Lets talk about specialty pencils today; namely those pencils labeled as metallic colored pencils.

E. Mark Gross will get us started with his question:

I sometimes use pencils with the metallic description.  I’ve seen metallic pencils by Prismacolor, Caran d’Ache, General, Stampin Up.

Do you have any favorite types? Do you have particular situations where you find metallic pencils work well or poorly?

Mark has asked two questions, so I’ll answer in two parts.

My Thoughts on Metallic Colored Pencils

My Thoughts on Metallic Colored Pencils

I don’t really have favorite metallic pencils, so I’ll share a list of those I have. The list isn’t very long.

The Pencils I Have

I’ve purchased full sets of three or four different lines of colored pencils, so I have metallic pencils. Since I’ve purchased more than one set of some lines, I have quite a few metallic pencils!

There is a good representation of Prismacolor Metallic Copper, Metallic Gold, and Metallic Silver in my pencil stash. I also have a metallic green Prismacolor. I think I used that color once to draw trees in the far background for a landscape piece. More on that in a moment.

I have a couple of metallic colors of Prismacolor Verithin pencils.

The full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos includes Copper, Gold and Silver.

And I recently purchased a full set of Blick Studio Colored Pencils, so I have Gold and Silver in that line.

Other than the Prismacolor Soft Core and Prismacolor Verithin, I’ve used none of them.

The Ways I Use Them

When I first started using colored pencils, I tried the metallic colors to draw the metallic parts of horse bridles. That makes sense, but it didn’t work. The bits, buckles, and other details looked flat when I drew them with metallic colors. I got better results using non-metallic colors and focusing on values, edges, and transitions to draw metal and/or reflective objects.

A couple of years ago, I used Prismacolor metallic pencils (gold, silver, and copper) on black paper. I was trying a lot of things at the time, and decided to include the metallic colors in my experiments. The drawings in this post were all drawn with metallic Prismacolor colors.

The colors were fun to work with. Color went down very nicely and surprisingly smooth. On the whole, the sketches turned out well. I liked the results.

As I mentioned above, there’s also a vague memory that I tried Prismacolor Metallic Green in a landscape drawing thinking that muted green would be good for drawing distance. It is a nice color and it may have worked in that drawing, but it apparently didn’t work all that well because I’ve not used it again.

The Problems I Have With Metallic Colors

The biggest problem I see with metallic pencils is that the metallic qualities don’t show up in images of the artwork. You have to be looking at the original to see those qualities.

All of the illustrations in this post were drawn with Prismacolor metallic colored pencils. The colors look metallic in real life. They have a nice, subtle sheen.

But there’s nothing special about them (other than interesting colors) when you view images of the original drawings. The sheen disappears in digital images, reproductions and all other non-original forms of that art.

Those are My Thoughts on Metallic Colored Pencils

I don’t have much more to say about metallic colored pencils of any type or brand because I don’t use them.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun to draw with or to use as accents.

In the right places and on the right papers.

Got a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

The Drawing Boards I’ve Used

The Drawing Boards I've Used

Today, I’d like to share the drawing boards I’ve used for colored pencil work over the years. They’re so easy (and cheap!) you’ll be amazed you haven’t thought of it yourself.

This post comes in response to a reader question, so let’s take a look at that to get us started.

Hi Carrie,

Could you please tell me what you use under the paper of your colored pencil pieces? My table leaves unwanted marks on the paper.

What a great question! Thank you!

First, I need to explain that I don’t draw at a drawing table very often, and even when I do, I have my drawing mounted to a rigid support for stability. So I don’t have problems with the surface of the table creating unwanted marks in my drawing.

Since I do a lot of work sitting on the couch or standing at a drafting table, I keep works-in-progress mounted on light-weight, portable surfaces.

But you can also use drawing boards this way and they can be very efficient.

The Drawing Boards I’ve Used

I’ve been using colored pencils since the 1990s, and have been using them exclusively since 2017. So I’ve used a lot of different types of drawing boards.

Professional Boards

The first drawing boards were small, 16 x 21 inches. I used them because I had them. As I recall, they were part of the supply list for a correspondence course I took as a teenager. Art Instruction Schools, if anyone is interested. A good course that covers everything. I still have the binders!

Because I bought these boards in the late 70s, they were wood, so they were on the heavy side. But they were very smooth and very well made. It was easy to mount paper to them with ordinary masking tape (I didn’t know any better back then,) and work with them in my lap or propped up on a desk or table. When I wasn’t working, I could lean them against a wall or on an easel and the art was visible, accessible, and out of the way.

I still have one of them, but I no longer use it even though it’s still a good drawing board. The main reason is the weight. It’s just too uncomfortable to sit with it on my lap these days. Age, I guess.

It’s also a bit on the bulky side compared to the types of drawing boards I use now, and it’s nowhere near as portable. So it’s in storage.

This exact drawing board is no longer available, but Dick Blick sells a similar model that’s very lightweight and comes in a variety of sizes.

Richeson Drawing Clip Board

A few years later, I purchased two drawing clip boards, one large and one small. These boards are very light, have very smooth surfaces, and were excellent to draw on. They are fitted with two strong clips on one side, and a grip hole at the top, so you can easily carry them. They also have a strong, wide extra large rubber band to hold paper securely, so you don’t need to tape your paper down if you don’t want to.

I’ve since given the larger one away because it was too big for what I needed. I still use the smaller one, but it’s on my oil painting easel with art clipped onto it. More on that in a moment.

The Drawing Boards I've Used

These are very nice drawing boards, and they’re not that expensive. You can get them from Dick Blick for less than $20 each at the time of this writing.

The reason I no longer use them for drawing is that they just didn’t fit my needs. They may be perfect for you.

Homemade Laptop Drawing Boards

When my main artwork was horse portraits, I went to two big equine trade shows every year, and as many smaller local horse shows as I could manage. I tried to have something to work on at these venues, especially the longer shows. Most drawing boards just didn’t fit into a medium-sized sedan loaded up with artwork, marketing tools, and a complete display system.

So I started looking around for a workable solution.

It didn’t take long to realize I could make my own lightweight, laptop drawing boards for next to no money, and I could make as many as I needed, in whatever size I needed. They worked great! I made them to carry a work-in-progress safely, cleanly, and in a manner that allowed me to work on a piece during lull times at shows, but still display the work on an easel when I wasn’t working.

These are totally hand made, and I describe how I did it in a post titled Build a Lightweight Laptop Drawing Board. If you’re interested, the step-by-step directions will help you build your own.

The great thing about these is that they’re inexpensive, you can create the type of drawing surface you want, and you can display works-in-progress without having to remove it from the drawing board.

My Current Favorite Drawing Boards

Given the shortage of time to draw, I’ve been working small the last several years. The majority of my work is 9×12 or smaller. That size makes it possible to scan pieces if I’m putting together a tutorial. But speed and scanning are not the only benefits.

I buy most papers in 9×12 inch pads. When the pads are empty, I don’t throw them away. I use them for drawing boards for my small pieces if they have rigid backing.

The beauty of using empty drawing pads for drawing boards is that they’re very lightweight. I can take them anywhere, or lean them on a shelf between working sessions. I can also have more than one piece in progress at a time, and each one has it’s own drawing board.

To cover the artwork if necessary, I leave the cover on the pad. And if I want to travel with them, I can easily slide them into a resealable, archival clear plastic envelope, and tuck them into a briefcase, a piece of luggage or a tote bag.

They’re also free. You’ve already paid for the paper and used it up, so the empty pad cover and back is no extra charge. It’s also a great way to reduce the amount of waste that comes with any artistic endeavor.

In other words, they’re perfect!

Subscribers to my newsletter learned how to turn empty drawing pads into nifty, next to no-cost drawing boards. For exclusive how-to articles and other features, subscribe to the newsletter!

Those are the Drawing Boards I’ve Used

Any one of these tools provides a smooth, mark-free drawing surface. Not all of them will suit your drawing preferences or taste, but that’s the beauty of art. There are very few Must Do All The Time answers.

And if you really just need a smooth surface to put between your artwork and your favorite drawing table, get a sheet of good, archival mat board. Cut it to the size you need, then lay it on your table top whenever you want to draw.

Make sure to use the back, because that’s the smoothest side, no matter what type of mat board you use. You can get full sheets at a good frame shop or online, and chances are it will be less expensive than most drawing boards.

Best of all, you can use it on different tables with little or no fuss.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

I’ve talked a lot in the past about Stonehenge paper. More recently, I’ve talked about sanded art papers. So today, I’m comparing Stonehenge and sanded art papers.

Here’s the reader question to start the discussion.

Can you discuss the differences in using Stonehenge 90 or 120lb vs sanded paper for colored pencil portraits?

Several years ago I completed a colored pencil portrait of my son’s family dog using sanded paper. They have asked me to do portraits of the two dogs they now have and want to group the portraits together.

I loved the velvety look of the finished project on sanded paper. However [I] found the paper difficult to work with. I’ve also evolved in my style and technique. While I want them to be somewhat similar in style I would prefer a different paper. I use a lot of layers and prefer color saturation. These two dogs are very light in color where the previous portrait I did was a very dark color. I usually keep my backgrounds very simple and prefer a monochrome color palette.

Your thoughts?

Thank you, Sharon

Before I go any further, I want to thank Sharon for her question, and especially for the background on the question. It’s always helpful to know where a reader is coming from.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

There is a world of difference between sanded art paper and Stonehenge, no matter what the subject.

The most notable difference is the surface texture. Stonehenge is soft and almost velvety in feel, while sanded art paper is gritty.

Consequently, color goes onto each type of paper differently.

In the illustration below, I used a sharp pencil and light pressure to draw each of the lines. The left half is Stonehenge, and the right half is Fisher 400 sanded pastel paper.

The pencil left marks on both papers, but the marks on Stonehenge are much lighter, while the marks on the Fisher 400 are darker, even with light pressure.

The top two lines were drawn with the tip of the pencil. I held the pencil in a more horizontal grip and used the side of the pencil for the bottom two lines.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

It’s easy to develop strong color on sanded papers because the grit of the paper almost seems to “grab” the color from the pencil. This is true with all of the sanded papers and pencils I’ve used.

Pencils layer differently, too.

The samples on top in the illustration below show shading on both papers. The color is not smooth on either paper, but it’s smoother on the Stonehenge than on the Fisher 400.

I shaded the bottom areas with the side of the pencil, then used the tip to draw hair-like strokes. The strokes on the Stonehenge (left) look more like hair than the strokes on the Fisher 400. That’s because the Fisher 400 flattened the tip of the pencil with the first few strokes.

it is possible to layer enough color on both papers to get rich, saturated color. But you can add more layers on sanded art paper than on the Stonehenge.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers

Sturdiness

Sanded art paper is quite solid and gritty. It takes a lot of layers, but it also takes a lot of punishment. You can use any kind of pressure on it without damaging it.

Stonehenge can take a lot of layers, but it’s a soft, velvety paper, so it’s very easy to damage. I’ve often said that looking at it cross-eyed can leave a mark!

Drawing Methods

Many of the same drawing methods can be used on both papers, but their effectiveness varies.

But as you saw above, even light pressure on sanded art papers produces darker color layers than the same amount of pressure on Stonehenge. The first time I used sanded art paper, that seemed like a negative. I have such a naturally light hand and have gotten used to drawing that way that I was put off by the results of the lightest layering on sanded paper.

But I soon learned that I could add so many more layers to the sanded paper that the pressure I used didn’t matter as much.

One thing you can do easily on sanded art papers that you can’t do on Stonehenge is lift color. In some cases, you can also get back to the color of the paper with mounting putty when you draw on sanded art paper.

This piece is an older piece on Fisher 400. One of the first pieces I did on sanded art paper. When I decided to rework it, I needed to lift color. As you can see, repeated use of mounting putty removed a lot of color. The lightest areas in and around the tree are the paper showing through.

I can also lift color on Stonehenge, but I cannot remove color back to the paper. Lighten it, yes. Remove it, not without risk of damaging the paper.

Highlights

You can layer light colors over dark colors on Stonehenge, but all you’ll accomplish is tinting the darker color. It’s next to impossible to create bright highlights over darker colors on Stonehenge or other traditional paper.

But you can add light highlights over darker colors on most sanded art papers. This illustration is on Clairefontaine Pastelmat. I drew these ears by alternating strokes of dark and light colors. That’s pretty much the same method I’d use on Stonehenge.

When I drew the small portion of visible neck, however, I shaded the area with dark colors, then went back and “flicked in” the lighter marks. I was able to do that because there was still plenty of tooth on the paper when I finished shading the base layers.

Layering

Both types of paper take a lot of layers, as already mentioned.

But you can layer with light, medium or heavy pressure throughout the drawing process when you use sanded art papers.

Stonehenge requires light pressure for as long as possible in order to get the maximum number of layers. Of course you can use heavier pressure, but you will fill up the tooth of the paper. You also run the risk of scuffing the paper.

You have no such worries with sanded art papers. I reworked the background on this piece several times. This illustration shows just three phases. I could have worked the background yet again after finishing the horse if I wanted to because there was still plenty of tooth left on this sheet of Pastelmat.

Comparing Stonehenge and Sanded Art Papers: My recommendation for Sharon (and you!)

Sharon is right. Sanded art papers do produce lovely, velvety textures AND they are difficult to work with. I don’t blame her for wanting to try something different.

I encourage Sharon to try Stonehenge, but I also suggest she do something for herself first. Get a feel for it. Push it to its limits and see what kind of results you get.

That’s the best way to try any new paper. If you like what you see and the paper makes your work easier, then by all means use it. If you don’t like it, no harm done. You haven’t ruined a portrait!

I hope that’s helpful. The problem with paper is that no two artists work exactly the same way, and what works for one artist may not work for another.

If it seems like I prefer sanded art papers, it’s because I do. After years of using Stonehenge, I’ve discovered I can produce better work on sanded art papers, no matter what I draw.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the best paper for everyone else.

How to Draw a Flowering Tree

How to Draw a Flowering Tree

The question for today is how to draw a flowering tree. The question comes from Gail, and here’s what she had to say.

Because it is Spring time, I would love to learn how best to do a flowering tree in colored pencil. It may be all one bright color like a pink Peach Tree or with some blossoms and some greenery; like an orange tree with white blossoms.

I would love to know how you would do something like that. I have some photos of small flowering trees if you want to see them.

First of all, I want to thank Gail for her question. I’ve never drawn a tree in bloom, and my experience drawing flowers is extremely limited, so I had to give this some thought.

It didn’t take long to realize that the best way to answer Gail’s question was with a quick tutorial. So I asked to see some of the photos she mentioned. She sent three. This is the one I chose.

I also asked Gail how she wanted to draw a tree, whether as the main subject or in a landscape. That does make a difference. She told me she wanted to know how to add a flowering tree to a landscape drawing.

So that’s what I’ll focus on in this tutorial.

How to Draw a Flowering Tree in Five Steps

Now, drawing a tree like this might look intimidating, but it isn’t really. All you really need to do is draw the general character of the tree. Remember, this is just one element in a landscape. It probably won’t be the center of interest. It also probably won’t be very big, so you don’t need much detail.

My example is 4 inches by 6 inches on Bristol Vellum, but the same method works at any size and on any papers. Be aware that if you choose to use sanded art paper, you’ll have to adjust your drawing method somewhat, but the basics still apply.

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Sketch the “Bare Bones”

I start by sketching out the bare bones of the tree. I begin with a neutral color, usually a medium-light value earth tone like Prismacolor Light Umber or Polychromos Raw Umber, or a medium-light gray. The color is based on the subject. Earth tones for brown branches, grays for gray branches. Whatever color I use, I want a color that blends into the drawing and “disappears.”

That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, though. Sometimes I sketch with whatever color is handy.

Whatever color you choose, keep the lines very soft and light. What you’re creating is a road map and you’ll cover those lines as the drawing progresses.

I’ve darkened this sketch a bit so you could see it. It’s still quite light, but it gives you an idea of what I mean when I say I “lightly sketch” something. The idea is to begin developing the “bare bones” of the subject without using lines so dark or heavy that you can’t cover, change, or erase them.

Remember that you don’t need to draw the tree exactly. Draw the general shapes and character, instead.

Also remember that the smaller the tree is in the landscape, the less detail you need to draw.

Step 2: Sketch the Flowers and Start Shading

Next, I sketched in the flowers. Because this tree is meant to be an accent in a landscape, I blocked in the flowers as general shapes in groups. I used light pressure and circular strokes to sketch overall shapes, along with a few individual flowers. There will be very little detail here, mostly color and value, so it’s not important to get every flower in exactly the right place.

I used a light purplish-pink as the base color, as shown here.

Then I used the same light brown I used to sketch the tree to add shadows. Again, I used circular strokes to rough in the shadows on the trunk and bigger branches. I also added stems to some of the larger individual flowers on the smaller branches and twigs.

Use a light hand with this step. You’re still establishing shapes and placement, so leave room for corrections. It’s also easier to remove color when you use light pressure.

This photo is darkened slightly so it’s easier to see.

Step 3: Continue Adding Color & Value

Once the main shapes are established to your satisfaction, finishing the tree is a matter of layering to develop color and value. As I mentioned before, you don’t need to worry about a lot of detail if your flowering tree is merely an accent in a larger landscape. Getting the main shapes, colors, and values correct will identify the tree.

I went over the trunk and branches with a medium-dark gray to darken the values and tone down the brown. I went over it several times, using light pressure and mostly circular strokes to build color and value. In the smaller branches, I used directional strokes.

Where flowers overlap branches, I worked around the flowers.

The most interesting part of the tree (to me) is the place where three branches twist and overlap near the center, so I put the darkest values and most contrast in that area.

Then I added darker pinks to the flowers. I referred to the reference photo, but only briefly. The number and detail of the flowers can quickly become overwhelming. Unless you’re doing hyper-realism, it’s not necessary. Especially since this little tree is meant for a larger landscape. Too much detail would be distracting.

So I added the darker values on the shadowed sides of the buds, and in random places on the other flowers. Where several flowers overlap, I treated them as a single shape.

Step 4: Finishing the Tree

To finish the branches and trunk, I alternated layers of a medium-dark and light gray, black, and medium brown. I increased the pressure for each layer, then used the light gray as a blending layer.

Then I darkened the shadows with touches of black, applied with medium-heavy pressure.

To keep the focus for this study on the “y” branches, I used the most black there. But I also used the brown in the main parts of the tree, and used only the grays on the smaller branches further from the trunk.

At this point, I wasn’t using the reference photo at all. Instead, I added small details where they seemed necessary to make the tree interesting on its own.

How to Draw a Flowering Tree

Step 5: Finishing a Flowering Tree

The last step was bringing the flowers to the same level of detail as the tree. I used three shades of pinks and purples to add just enough detail to make it clear these were flowers and what color they are.

The final layer was applied with medium heavy pressure to fill in the paper holes and create full color saturation.

I also added more random shapes to suggest more flowers.

To finish this study, I added grass around the tree using two shades of green, and a few strokes of black in the shadow cast by the tree.

How to Draw a Flowering Tree - Finished Study

How to Draw a Flowering Tree

Keep in mind that this little tree is meant for a larger landscape. If I were to draw it as the subject, I’d put a lot more detail into it.

And time, as well.

How you draw a flowering tree depends on how large or small it is in the landscape, and whether or not it’s a main element. The closer to the foreground the tree appears, the more contrast, detail, and color saturation you have to draw.

The more distant it is, the less of each you need to worry about. And if it’s just a small shape, get the vague shapes and colors correct and you’ve nailed it.

The amount of detail you include also depends on your particular style. If you draw in a more detailed style, then every part of your landscape will be more detailed.

And if you prefer a looser style, then you’ll want to draw this flowering tree with less detail than I have.

I hope this tutorial has been helpful, and enjoyable!

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

Are paper holes showing through colored pencil layers a problem area for you? You’re not alone!

Today’s question comes from an artist who asked about that very thing. Here’s her question.

Hi Carrie,

I’m painting a subject in CP that I first planned to paint in WC, and it was drawn on a paper that is very textured. I only realized my error when I started the very dark parts. I’ve tried sharp pencils, burnishing, solvent, but nothing changed. I don’t mind the white showing through, but I don’t know if it’s acceptable.

And thank you for the tips on plants. My photo has lots of grass and I didn’t know how to approach it.

By the way, may I mix watercolor and colored pencils for the grass?

Thank you!

Mirian

Thank you for your question, Mirian. Your project sounds quite intriguing!

Personally, I usually don’t like paper holes showing through colored pencil in my finished art.

However, there have been times when it can be a great tool, especially in landscape drawings. Letting a bit of paper show through the color can help create the illusion of distance in a landscape. It’s also good for drawing fog or mist, or for creating texture.

In the end, it’s an entirely personal choice.

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

Most colored pencil artists seem to prefer full color saturation (no paper showing through,) but it’s perfectly acceptable to have paper showing through the color.

Back when colored pencils first started coming into their own as a fine art medium, a lot of works had that sort of “grainy” look. That seemed to be the standard for colored pencil art.

I don’t know if artists consciously made that decision, or if it was due to the newness of the medium and the tools being used.

This is one of my first colored pencil horse portraits. The color is not at all as saturated as I now prefer it, but it’s what I knew to do (and what I knew HOW to do at the time.)

As I look at this again, I wonder what it would look like if I were to do it over.

You have to admit colored pencils, colored pencil artists, and colored pencil art has come a long way in the last few decades.

So if having a bit of paper showing through the color layers gives you the result you want, then use it.

Otherwise, keep layering and blending until you fill in those paper holes.

How to Fill in Paper Holes

There are several ways to fill in all the paper holes (also known as saturated color.)

Layering

My preferred method is simply adding color until the combination of layers covers the paper completely.

I used light pressure for this test sample, building up value and filling paper holes with several layers of blue. I used heavier pressure in the darkest area, but only after putting down quite a few layers with light pressure.

I did this sample on Bristol, which is a very smooth paper, but I could get similar results on toothier papers or even sanded papers. It just takes more layers.

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

Now, I have a naturally light hand, so I can add dozens of layers if I want to. That helps fill in paper holes. But that’s not the only method out there.

Solvents

Blending periodically with solvent is a great way to blend smooth color and fill in paper holes. Make sure you have enough color on the paper to be blended, then use solvent sparingly. Don’t soak the paper! That could actually remove color.

If necessary, layer more color, then blend with solvent until the paper tooth is filled.

I’m surprised solvent didn’t work on the paper Mirian is using. It must be very toothy. But she should be able to alternate between laying and blending until the tooth is filled.

Burnishing

Burnishing is also a good way to fill paper holes. I burnished the salmon colored leaf in the upper left, and the three purple or pink leaves in the lower right.

Burnish sparingly and toward the end of the drawing process. Once you burnish, it’s difficult to layer more color over the top.

It’s possible that Mirian needs to use all three methods together, alternating between layering followed by solvent blending and layering followed by burnishing. I’ve never burnished and then blended with solvent, but it’s possible that might also help fill in the paper holes on Mirian’s drawing.

Mixing Watercolor and Colored Pencils

Another alternative is starting with water soluble media to lay down base colors, then applying colored pencil over the top.

This works with watercolors and watercolor pencils. Many artists also use inks or Derwent Inktense for base layers.

How to do a Water Soluble Under Drawing for a Landscape shows you one way to use water-based media under colored pencils for a landscape.

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

Just make sure to do all the watercolor work first. Then let the paper dry completely and you can layer colored pencil over that.

You can use the same methods to combine watercolor paint and colored pencils. Watercolors and watercolor pencils are a great way to lay down base colors quickly and fill all the paper holes.

You will probably want to use a paper made for wet media, though. Otherwise you’ll have problems with the paper warping, buckling, and possibly falling apart!

The Bottom Line on Paper Holes and Colored Pencils

Whether or not you allow paper holes to show through layers of colored pencil in your finished work is up to you.

Some artists like that look. Some do not.

If you prefer smooth, saturated color, the tips I’ve shared will help you achieve it.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

Economic Colored Pencil Sharpening

Sharpeners are one of the more frequently discussed topics here, and I continue to get questions about them. Today, let’s take a look at the subject from a different angle: let’s talk about a few economical ways to sharpen colored pencils.

But first, since this is Q&A Wednesday, here’s the reader’s question.

What is the best – and most economical – way to sharpen colored pencils, particularly the softer ones?

I use an electric sharpener for graphite but it seems to “eat” colored pencils quite rapidly. Thank you.

Kathy

I want to thank Kathy for asking this question. Most people want to know the best sharpeners. That’s an impossible question to answer because there are so many factors to consider.

But very few people ask economical ways to sharpen colored pencils. And there is a difference.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

But before we get started, let’s consider sharpeners.

A Few Words About Sharpeners

The purpose of pencil sharpeners is eating pencils. Whenever you sharpen a pencil with a mechanical sharpener, the sharpener has to chew up enough of the lead to make a sharp point.

That’s true for graphite pencils, and it’s true for colored pencils.

But there are ways to sharpen pencils so less of the pigment is wasted.

Kathy’s Sharpener

I also suggest that Kathy find out if her electric sharpener is an auto-stop model. Sharpeners with an auto-stop feature automatically stop sharpening when the pencil is sharp.

Other types of electric sharpeners continue sharpening until you remove the pencil. It’s very easy to sharpen a pencil to a nub quickly if you don’t pay attention to the sharpener while you’re sharpening.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

A Sharp Knife Works Wonders

The absolute best way to sharpen pencils with minimum waste is by sharpening them with a knife.

I use an X-acto knife, but any knife sharp enough to cut through the wood casing is suitable.

Sharpening pencils with an X-acto knife is also a great way to sharpen a pencil that’s prone to breaking. You can whittle away the wood casing with very little pressure on the pigment core itself.

This method requires extreme caution! It’s easy to cut yourself while sharpening pencils, and we most certainly do not want that!

How to Hand Sharpen Colored Pencils

Use a knife with a finely sharpened blade.

Hold the pencil in your non-dominant hand with the exposed pigment core facing away from you.

Hold the knife in your dominant hand, with the blade at a slight angle to the pencil. As you can see in the illustration below, the knife blade is nearly lying on the sharpened wood casing. This keeps you from gouging too much of the wood casing with each stroke.

Push the blade downward along the pencil with your thumb. Use light pressure and make as thin a cut as you can.

Hold the knife at a slight angle to the pencil and stroke away from yourself. Turn the pencil after each cutting stroke.

Always stroke away from yourself.

Turn the pencil between strokes and work around the pencil two or three times or until the sharpened end is as smooth or even as you prefer or until as much pigment core is exposed as you need.

Pointing the Pencil

To get a needle-sharp point, rub the pencil on an emery board. Roll the pencil as you stroke it along the emery board until the point is as sharp as you want it to be.

A sanding block or sand paper (not sanded art paper) also works for fine tuning a newly sharpened pencil.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Pencils

One Word of Caution

Hand sharpening with a knife is a very economical way to sharpen pencils. But it’s not a fast method. For the best results, work slowly and carefully. Always stroke away from yourself, and always keep your knife sharp.

It also requires practice, just like drawing. So be patient. Injuries happen when you rush, so go slow and be careful.

Other Benefits of Hand Sharpening Pencils

Sharpening pencils with a knife allows you to more easily save pigment shavings. You can then soften them with solvent or Brush & Pencil’s Touch-Up Texture and use them like paint.

If you decide to use this sharpening method, get several small containers with screw-on caps to store the pigment. Label each one with the color and brand of pencil (if you use more than one type of pencil.) Then, when you need that color to “paint” with, you can mix a small amount of solvent or Touch-Up Texture and make use of this otherwise wasted pigment.

I found this very helpful article on sharpening pencils with a knife. The demonstration is with a graphite pencil, but the process is the same.

Pay Attention to the Length of the Sharpened Point

The length of the exposed pigment core on a freshly sharpened pencil also makes a difference.

The longer the tip, the more pigment has been left in the pencil sharpener.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils
The length of the exposed pigment core makes a difference in how much pigment is wasted in sharpening. As a rule, the longer the point, the more pigment is left in the sharpener.

There are times when you want a longer tip. Glazing with the side of the pencil works best if the exposed pigment is quite long.

But you really don’t need a long pigment core for most work, so look for a sharpener that doesn’t sharpen this way.

Keep Points Sharp While You Draw

One way I keep sharp tips on pencils is by alternating glazing with other types of layering.

I always turn my pencil in my fingers as I draw. I don’t know when or how I developed that habit, but I do it even when writing longhand with a pen. Turning your pencil helps keep the tip from getting flat on one side.

But it doesn’t keep the point sharp.

If, however, you do a little layering with the side of the pencil AND you turn the pencil as you draw, the tip will stay sharper longer.

And that pigment ends up on the paper, not in the sharpener!

Three Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

And there you have it. Two suggestions for economical colored pencil sharpening, and a bonus suggestion for maintaining sharper points.

I hope you find them helpful.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know the best paper and pencils for drawing details. Here’s her question.

Can you share a table or grid, anything, that would match the best pencil(s) and best surface combinations for artwork type, e.g. portraits (in hyper realism or whimsical. Landscapes, still life, etc)? I have learned mainly portraits on Stonehenge and I never get the effect I hope for.

Thanks, Romona

Romona,

Thank you for your questions. The short answer is no. I don’t have a list of the best surface and pencil combinations for every subject and every type of drawing. Nor do I know of one.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

What I do have are a few basic principles from years of using colored pencils on different types of papers and other surfaces.

So let me share those.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

Paper

As a rule, the more detail you want in your art, the smoother paper you probably need. It’s easier to draw details and create smooth color on smoother papers, because they have less tooth.

But that isn’t the only consideration.

Stonehenge is fairly smooth, but it’s also soft. It takes a lot of layers, but it’s easily scuffed. The last portrait I did failed on Stonehenge because I couldn’t get enough layers without scuffing the paper.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details
This is Stonehenge paper. The blue in the middle is color layered over a piece of Stonehenge. The deckle edge is the type of edge on full sheets.

Bristol is a good, smooth paper with a somewhat harder surface. You can draw a lot of detail on it, but may have problems layering. Because Bristol has so little tooth, it sometimes doesn’t take very many layers.

Canson Mi-Teintes is a pastel paper that can also be used for colored pencil. The front and back are two different textures, so you get two surfaces with each sheet.

When I first tried it, I didn’t think it would be any good for drawing details, even if I used the back. But I soon learned differently and now prefer it to Stonehenge. For me, it’s the best combination of smoothness and strength.

140lb hot press watercolor paper is great for drawing details. It takes moisture very well, so you can use it with water-based media and colored pencils combined. It also handles solvent blending very well.

Stonehenge Aqua feels like regular Stonehenge and can be drawn on much the same, but it’s much sturdier than regular Stonehenge.

I’ve also used Canson’s L’Aquarelle watercolor paper and it performs very well with colored pencils wet or dry.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

Exceptions to Every Rule

Unfortunately, these principles don’t always apply.

Remember that failed portrait I mentioned above? The one that failed on Stonehenge? I completed it successfully on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, which is a sand paper-like surface. Sanded art papers are fast becoming my go-to papers for portraits and landscapes.

The bottom line on the question of paper is that you need to try several different papers of the type you think will work for you based on the principles above.

But also be prepared to discover that the unexpected surface may be the right one for you.

Pencils

As for the pencils, what I’ve found is that a combination of pencils works best for me.

In the past, I used Prismacolor Verithin pencils for under drawings because they’re thinner and harder than regular Prismacolor pencils. They are not as saturated as regular Prismacolor pencils, but I don’t need saturation for under drawings. I needed a pencil that allowed me to draw values and details without leaving much wax on the paper. Verithin pencils do that.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details
The two pencils at the top are Prismacolor Soft Core pencils. They are what most artists think of when they think of Prismacolor pencils. The two bottom pencils are Prismacolor Verithin pencils. You can see how much thinner they are than the soft core pencils. This makes them great for drawing details.

These days, I use Faber-Castell Polychromos more than Verithin. They’re harder than regular Prismacolors so they give me much the same result as Verithin pencils, but they have a far superior color selection.

Then I layer softer pencils over the under drawing. Usually a mix of Polychromos and Prismacolor regular.

The basic rule of thumb with pencils is that harder pencils are better for drawing detail and softer pencils are better for layering color.

However, artists of all types use one type or the other exclusively to make great art.

In other words, there is no hard-and-fast rule for pencils any more than there is for paper.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

If you have a pencil that you like, then stick with that for now. Try different papers until you find one that works with the pencils you have and that gives you the results you’re looking for.

You might also search for videos of colored pencil artists who use the same pencils you use, and see what paper they’re using. That can be a good place to begin your search, and can save time and money in the long-run.

But I also want to suggest that you keep drawing. The difficulty may not be with the pencils and paper themselves, but with your skill level. Especially if you’re still relatively new to colored pencils.

Skill level is easy to improve.

Just keep drawing.

Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

For most artists, learning to draw with a light hand is an important part of the artistic journey. I’ve heard from many readers who complain of having a heavy hand, so I wasn’t surprised to receive the following appeal.

What can you do if you have not been able to overcome the dreaded heavy-hand?

Thanks,

Romona

Romona’s email conveyed not only her struggle with a heavy hand, but her emotional response. How many of us haven’t struggled with the dreaded heavy hand?

I have the opposite problem. My hand is so light that I have to increase pressure to reach what other artists consider light pressure. If you have a heavier hand, you may see no problem with a light hand, but it’s sometimes frustrating when I have to do several layers of light work just to get the same amount of color saturation other artists get with one or two layers!

The interesting thing is that what works for me in learning to draw with a heavier hand also works for those who want to learn how to draw with a lighter hand.

What is it?

Training!

Tips for Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

Here are a few of the training exercises I use, and that will also help you.

Change the Way You Hold Your Pencil

When you need to draw with a lighter hand, change the way you hold your pencil. Instead of holding it in a normal way, try holding it at the back.

Holding the pencil at the back reduces the amount of pressure you can exert on the pencil.

You will also be holding the pencil in a more horizontal position, which means you’re drawing with the side of the pencil more than with the tip. That means the pencil is skimming across the surface of the paper, hitting the high spots. Less color gets into the tooth of the paper and that produces a lighter value.

It also keeps the tooth of the paper from filling up so quickly, so you can add more layers.

Learning to Draw with  Light Hand

Work at an Easel or Standing Table

Have you ever tried drawing while standing? If not, give it a try.

Working at an easel or drafting table changes the way you approach the paper, especially if the paper is in a vertical or nearly vertical position.

I was an oil painter for over 40 years, and while I usually worked with the painting lying on a drafting table, I did notice a difference on those occasions when I worked with the painting on an easel.

I have done some colored pencil work on an easel and can say that it changes the dynamics between my pencil and my hand, and between the pencil and the paper.

You don’t need a big, fancy easel like this one. A simple table-top model that’s properly anchored so it won’t move as you draw will let you know whether or not this way of drawing helps you.

Give it a couple of weeks, though. It will be uncomfortable at first.

If you try this, you might also want to experiment with working a little further away from your paper. Oil painters often work with the brush held in their extended arm. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work for colored pencils, too.

Keep in mind that you will lose a lot of control, so you’ll have to find the right balance between light-handedness and control.

Drawing Exercises

You might also try some simple drawing exercises, such as those described in Straight Line Drawing Exercises.

Not all of these are designed to help you lighten your hand, but they are all helpful in gaining better control of your pencil. That, in turn, gives you a better ability to control the amount of pressure you use when you draw.

And that WILL help you draw with a lighter hand.

What About a Hand or Wrist Rest?

Typists use rests on their keyboards quite frequently. The rest is only an inch or so thick and you rest your wrist on it. It changes the angle between your hand and your drawing paper, and that might help.

It also takes some of the stress off your hand, and that is always a benefit.

I haven’t tried this myself, but it just might work.

Learning to Draw with Light Hand

Learning to draw with a light hand is a matter of being conscious of how you’re pressing your pencil against the paper all the time. That sounds tedious, I know. It’s so easy to get caught up in the process of creating that we forget how we’re creating.

That’s why I recommend the drawing exercises. You can do those in a drawing pad or on scraps of paper and I believe that if you do them regularly, you will see an improvement in your ability to draw with a lighter hand.

But I’ve used most of these tips myself and they have all helped me control how much pressure I use.

I hope one of them helps you, too!