How to Draw a Landscape Green that Looks Real

If you’re a landscape artist, one of the most important concerns is getting life-like color. Knowing how to draw a landscape green that looks real—no matter where it appears—can be one of the biggest challenges you face. That is certainly the case with this week’s reader question.

I want to draw landscapes, but my greens never look right and I can’t find the right green colored pencil. How do I make a green that looks real?

This is a great question. No matter what medium you use, creating believable landscape greens is a challenge.

No Perfect Green

Before I say anything further on the subject, let me save you a little time. You can stop looking for the perfect green pencil. There isn’t one. Even if there was just one green that worked for everything that grows, it would be difficult to make an ideal green pencil, because the atmosphere, time of day, and time of year all influence the way landscape greens appear.

How to Draw a Landscape Green That Looks Real - No Perfect Green

Having said that, however, I will add that some brands of pencils have better selections for landscape greens than others. One of the first things I noticed about the Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils was the collection of greens that are ideal for landscape drawing. They still have some of the brighter greens, but those bright colors are well balanced by what I refer to as “natural greens.”

If you’re a landscape artist, it could be worth your time to look at the greens available from different manufacturers. One quick way to compare is by looking at the color charts for colored pencils at Dick Blick.

How to Draw a Landscape Green that Looks Real

Does that mean you’re stuck? Not at all. What it does mean is that you’ll have to rely on mixing colors rather than using a single color.

Here are my favorite methods for creating believable, true to life landscape greens.

How to Draw a Landscape Green that Looks Real

Choose the Best Green

The first step in drawing landscape greens that look real is choosing the green pencils that most closely match your subject.  The best rule of thumb I can offer on this is to use bright colors for spring landscape and duller colors for summer landscapes.

Also select three colors: one light, one dark, and one middle value color. These will be the base colors for the landscape greens.

If your landscape has more than one distinct green, select three colors for each of those greens.

Still not sure which colors are best? Do a test sketch with different combinations. Use the same kind of paper you want to put the drawing on. You don’t need to do a detailed sketch. Just rough in the light, middle, and dark values. That should be enough to show you which colors are best.

You can also use the color picker in your photo editor. The color picker is usually represented by an eye dropper icon. Select that tool, then click on the area you want to draw. A sample of the color will be shown. It’s a great way to isolate individual colors, and it can guide your color selections.

Tone Down Those Vivid Greens With Earth Tones

Even with the best possible greens, you’ll probably still get landscape greens that look artificial. They’re either too flat and lifeless, or they’re way to bright. In fact, you’re almost guaranteed to get an artificial, “painted on” look any time you use just green.

So every few layers of green, add a layer of an earth tone that’s the same value as the greens. For light value greens (or brighter greens), try light umber or beige. For mid-range greens like grass green, burnt sienna or burnt ochre will work better. Dark umber or dark brown are perfect for the shadows or any other place you might have dark greens. Pine trees, for example.

Again, use a little caution and experiment on scrap paper first. Just because a color combination works most of the time doesn’t mean it always works!

You can also add warm tones by mixing yellows in with the green. Adding blues will cool down greens, and if you need to get a really dark green, try layering Indigo Blue and Dark Brown with the greens in the shadows.

Start with an Umber Under Drawing

Try starting with an umber under drawing in earth tones. My favorite colors for umber under drawings are Light Umber and Dark Umber, sometimes alone, and sometimes in combination. Use one or the other or use them in tandem. Develop the drawing as much or as little as you like, then glaze greens over it.

You may still have to add earth tones later in the drawing process, but not as much. It may seem like more work to develop the drawing twice—once in earth tones and once in color—but it’s actually faster because you can work out the shadows and values without also worrying about color.

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

Here’s a landscape I began with an umber under drawing. This is the completed under drawing. As you can see, the most “finished” part of the drawing are the trees in the middle. That’s because they’re the subject of the drawing, with the isolated tree on the left as the primary subject.

How to Draw a Landscape Green that Looks Real - Umber Under Drawing

This is the finished drawing. I glazed color over the under drawing without needing to add a lot of additional detail.

How to Draw a Landscape Green that Looks Real - Umber Final

More about drawing a landscape with an umber under drawing here, on EmptyEasel

Draw Believable Landscape Greens with a Complementary Under Drawing

Another way to draw believable landscape greens is by using a complementary under drawing.

A complementary under drawing is the same basic process as the umber under drawing, but with one important distinction: Rather than choose an earth tone to do all of the under drawing, use a color that complements the final colors.

For this small landscape, I began with an orange red and added a slightly darker red as the under drawing developed. The only places I didn’t do an under drawing was in the sky. I rarely under draw the sky because the sky is usually the brightest, purest color in the landscape. The only time you might consider under drawing the sky is if you’re drawing a cloudy day. Even then, go lightly.

How to Draw a Landscape Green that Looks Real - Complementary Under Drawing

Once the under drawing is finished, the process is the same as for any other under drawing. Glaze colors over the under drawing. The complements in the under drawing will affect the way the greens look even after several layers.

How to Draw a Landscape Green that Looks Real - Complementary Final

More about drawing a complementary under drawing here, on EmptyEasel.


These aren’t the only methods for drawing realistic greens in your landscape, but they’re the three that work best for me.

They should work equally well for you, too.

Read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods for more information on other methods of drawing you can use for drawing landscapes.

Where to Find Advanced Adult Coloring Books

As many of you know, May was Q&A month. I received so many questions on so many topics, that I’ve decided to continue answering reader questions once a week. Today is the first day in what I hope becomes a regular, weekly feature. We’ll get started with a few suggestions on where to find advanced adult coloring books.

Where to Find Advanced Adult Coloring Books

Carol Asks:

I have a lot of coloring books, I recently found a coloring book for ‘experienced colorists’. And it is great, very challenging. Where can I find more?

Where to Find Advanced Adult Coloring Books

I don’t have much time to do coloring books of any type, though I have dabbled with making my own coloring pages now and again.

But I do happen to know coloring books are available in every category from extremely simple to extremely complex. I even saw some “draw by number” coloring books based on the Old Masters in a local store! I was astounded!

Here are few places that offer more advanced adult coloring books.

A Few Suggestions

Amazon is probably the first place most of us look for just about anything. The same is true for advanced adult coloring books. Just search “advanced adult coloring books” and you’ll end up with a collection numbering in the hundreds. Topics are widely varied, but this collection of hyper-realistic wolf drawings* is enough to intrigue me!

Bonus: Search for “color by number” on Amazon and be amazed.

Dover Publications is also a good source for advanced adult coloring books, as well as coloring books in nearly every other category. Make sure to check out their “Build a Poster and Window Collection.”

And of course, there’s always online auction sites such as eBay. Just type in your search terms and browse the results.

For the color theory drawing exercise I posted in April, I went to They have a wide selection of free coloring pages of all levels and in a number of themes from elephants to botanical subjects to landscapes and random patterns.

Pinterest is also a great place to find free coloring pages to download.

Finally, do an internet search for coloring pages and you’ll come up with thousands of results.

Want to Make Your Own Coloring Pages?

Want to make your own coloring pages of some of your own photography? Print the photo you want to use, make a basic line drawing on tracing paper, then transfer the drawing to drawing paper, and color away.

I’ve recommended using adult coloring books as a tool to develop shading and blending skills. Making your own pages is the final step in drawing your own pages and making your own art!

One Caveat

Be careful! Not all of the adult coloring books are nice (or child safe.) Some are downright nasty, so wherever you decide to shop, shop with caution.

An Invitation

As already mentioned, I’m hoping to begin a regular weekly feature of answers to reader questions. My hope is to answer questions that are relevant to whatever the topic may be each month, but as you can see from this post, that’s not a rule I’ll strictly enforce.

If you have a question you’d like answered on the blog, either drop me a line through the contact box at the bottom of this page, or send me an email.

*Affiliate Link

Transitioning from Oil Painting to Colored Pencil Drawing

People come to colored pencil from many different situations. Some artists begin with colored pencils at the beginning. Others add colored pencils to their repertoire after learning other mediums. And sometimes, artists leave a medium they’ve been working with for years and switch to colored pencil. I struggled with transitioning from oil painting to colored pencil drawing, so I could sympathize with the reader who asked the following question.

Transitioning from Oil Painting to Colored Pencil Drawing

Hi Carrie,

[I] have always been a painter using oils and acrylic on canvas for murals; however, I’m bored with it and have been wanting to expand my artistic talent into working with colored pencils. I had no idea pictures could look so real and blend so nicely! I just signed up for your emails and tutorials.

To get started, what mediums work well with colored pencils? What is the best paper to use?

I’m looking forward to this new venture and especially to gaining a contact/friend to assist me along the way. 🙂

Thank you.

Transitioning from Oil Painting to Colored Pencil Drawing

Thank you for joining us, and welcome to colored pencils.

Thank you also for your question. I’ll address it in two parts.

What Mediums Work Well with Colored Pencils

Oil Painting Mediums

If you mean painting mediums (and that’s what I think you mean,) then you can do colored pencils without any painting mediums at all. Most colored pencils are naturally translucent on paper, so they blend beautifully simply by layering one color over another. It takes a lot of layers and time, especially if you’re blending several colors, but the results can be stunning.

Read The Only Blending Methods You’ll Ever Need for Colored Pencil.

When I use solvents, I have a variety of choices. I use rubbing alcohol for a mild blend, turpentine for a more thorough blend, and rubber cement thinner for a deep blend.

Odorless mineral spirits—or any other odorless paint thinner—also work, and performs much like turpentine. Many people recommend either Gamsol (by Gamblin) or Mona Lisa Odorless Paint Thinner, though I’ve used neither.

Try one of these unless you already have a favorite paint thinner. When my current supply of turpentine runs out, I will be getting some Mona Lisa to try.

Read Blend Colored Pencil with Turpentine in 3 Easy Steps.

Other Art Mediums

Maybe you want to know what other art mediums work with colored pencil. If that’s the case, then the answer is pretty much any water-based medium. I’ve used watercolor, water soluble colored pencils, and India ink to create an under drawing.

I’ve even tried using colored pencil over oil painting in order to add fine details. About the only thing I can tell you about that is that it didn’t work the way I tried it! Maybe over thin glazes of oil paint—something I may have to try this summer.

I believe (but have never tried it myself) that acrylics would also work. They have a more plastic surface texture, though, so colored pencil might not stick to acrylics as well as to watercolor.

If you do combine different mediums, make sure to follow the fat over lean rule. Colored pencils will stick to water-based media, but trying to put water-based media over colored pencils will not work.

The Best Papers for Colored Pencil Art

Any high quality, archival drawing paper works with colored pencil. Try several different types and see which ones work the best for you and your drawing style, and which produce the results you want.

If you chose to try wet media, use a heavy paper like watercolor paper.

The papers I use most often are Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Tientes pastel paper (the back of the sheet.) Upon occasion, I also use Strathmore Artagain art paper. I’ve also used UArt Sanded Pastel paper and enjoyed that quite a bit.

But there are literally hundreds of good drawing papers available for use with colored pencil. Your best bet is to try different papers until you find two or three that fit your drawing methods.

Read Which Paper is Best for Colored Pencils.

I’ve written quite a bit about some of these topics and have assembled the most helpful articles here.

How to Adapt the Flemish Painting Method to Colored Pencil

Today’s topic covers one of my favorite subjects: How to adapt the Flemish painting method to colored pencil.

I spent several years experimenting with and learning the Flemish painting method in oils. There were more than a few missteps along the way, but there were also some great results. I describe the oil painting process step-by-step on EmptyEasel.

When I started doing more colored pencil, it was natural to adapt the Flemish painting method to colored pencil.

How to Adapt the Flemish Painting Method to Colored Pencil

Can You Do Just a Dead Layer?

Since it’s not possible to do both the umber layer and the dead layer, is it possible to substitute the latter if the subject hues are cooler?

You can substitute the umber layer and the dead layer with a single layer, then select the color temperature of that under drawing based on the final colors of the drawing.

The final drawing won’t show the full effects of a drawing incorporating all seven layers, but you will have more paper tooth available for later layers by combining the umber and dead layers, or by doing only one or the other.

Restoring Tooth to the Paper

Does use of a workable fixative restore enough tooth on the paper to add detail with colored pencil?

This has been the biggest challenge of using the Flemish method with colored pencil: The need to do at least seven distinct layers. The problem is with wax buildup. The more layers, the more wax on the paper. The more wax on the paper, the more difficult to add more layers.

I’ve used retouch varnish to restore the tooth to paper and have been able to draw over it, but it’s effectiveness is limited. At most, you can probably add three or four more layers. You can spray the drawing again, but each time you do that, the result is less satisfactory, so I don’t recommend it.

I’ve also tried workable fixative, but it’s even less helpful than retouch varnish.

One thing you don’t want to try is the final finish made for oil paintings. Not only may that flake off a waxy drawing, it may also discolor the paper and the drawing.

Alternatives to Restoring Paper Tooth

Rather than restoring tooth to the paper, it’s better to work in a way that preserves the tooth as long as possible.

Use Verithin pencils (or similar) in the early stages. These are harder versions of Prismacolor Premier. The pigment cores are harder and thinner, and contain less wax binder. You can develop an umber layer completely with them, and still have plenty of paper tooth left.

The purpose of the imprimatura step in the Flemish method is to tone the canvas, so you’re not painting on a white surface. If you want to work on a toned surface with colored pencil, use a light-colored paper. Using a colored paper eliminates the need to shade an imprimatura and thus preserves the natural tooth of the paper.

You can also tone white paper by rubbing color onto it with paper towel or bath tissue. That’s a time consuming task though. You can get wonderful, soft color so if that’s what you need, give it a try.

A third way to tone the paper is by using water soluble colored pencils, then drawing over them with regular pencils.

Texture Fixative

To truly restore the tooth of the paper after you’ve started drawing, about the only thing you can use is Brush & Pencil’s texture fixative. This spray-on product restores texture over colored pencil so you can continue to layer color as much as you wish. Here’s a great video on using texture fixative and companion products with a method similar to the Flemish method.

I have yet to try this product, but confess that it intrigues me!

How to Layer Color and Get Soft Colors

This week’s reader question is from Gina, who wants to know how to layer color and get soft colors. Here’s her question.

Hi Carrie,

On most of my drawings, the subject calls for color that has been layered with pretty hard pressure. The result is a solid color with depth. Landscape and horses and things are examples.

I would like to know how to still incorporate all the layers and yet end up with a soft look, such as in some portraits that I have seen. My portraits usually have an aged look about the persons, especially the children. I think it comes from too much pressure. Is it just practice, practice, practice?



Thank you for your question, Gina. You’ve addressed an issue that a lot of colored pencil artists wrestle with.

How to Layer Color and Get Soft Colors with Colored Pencil

There are a lot of ways to get good color with a soft look, including blending solvents and special tools. I’ll include links to some of the articles I’ve written on those subject below.

But I want to answer this question from the point-of-view of someone who doesn’t want to or is not able to use solvents or doesn’t have some of those special tools, by providing tips and suggestions that work with just pencils and paper.

How to Layer Color and Get Soft Colors

Lots of Layers

You can get depth of color and good color saturation with lots of layers. The fact is, combining layers of different colors is the best way to get color saturation with colored pencil.

Every layer of color you put on the paper fills in the tooth of the paper a little. Put just a few layers on, and you fill up only a small portion of the tooth. There are still a lot of paper holes showing through.

Put down a lot of layers, and you eventually fill in every bit of tooth. No more paper holes showing!

The fewer paper holes show through, the more saturated your final color.

Light Pressure

Getting good color saturation doesn’t require heavy pressure.

Begin with the lightest possible pressure you can—I often refer to it as “whisper soft” pressure—and continue to keep the pressure light throughout as much of the drawing as you can.

If you have difficulty getting light pressure, try changing the way you hold the pencil. Most of us hold a drawing pencil the same way we hold a writing pen. This kind of grip gives us good control of the pencil, but may make it difficult to draw with very light pressure.

How to Layer Color and Get Soft Colors - Normal Grip

So try holding the pencil at the back, and in a more horizontal position, so you draw more with the side of the exposed pigment core than with the tip. You have less control of the pencil, but you’re also able to exert less pressure on the pencil.

Sometimes, I use this grip with the pencil held loosely in my fingers and let the weight of the pencil apply the pressure to the paper.

How to Layer Color and Get Soft Colors - Horizontal Grip

You will not be able to draw details or shade small areas with a horizontal grip, so practice developing a lighter hand with simple drawing exercises. Try writing your name repeatedly, using less pressure each time until you can barely see what you’ve written.

You can also shade a mark starting with regular pressure, then decrease the pressure you draw until the mark “disappears.”

How to Layer Color and Get Soft Colors - Value Bar

Sharp Pencils

Sharpen your pencils often. Getting good color saturation with many layers and light pressure requires very sharp pencils, because the sharper the pencil, the more easily you can get color into the deeper tooth of the paper.

How to Layer Color and Get Soft Colors with Colored Pencil - Sharp Pencils

Selective Strokes

Use a stroke that helps you draw even color layers by either mimicking the surface texture of whatever you’re drawing or by leaving no visible stroke at all. Most artists recommend a tight, circular stroke such as is shown below. This type of stroke doesn’t create edges where the stroke stops or changes direction, and it allows you to move over larger areas of color without creating “edges” where you don’t want them.

But it’s also acceptable to use other strokes if they help you draw whatever you’re trying to draw.

Read Let Your Pencils Do More of the Work, With These 3 Advanced Pencil Strokes on EmptyEasel.

Proper Paper

I’ve saved this tip for last because although your choice of paper will affect the final look of your art, it will have a little bit less influence than any of the previous tips. In other words, the previous tips will work on almost any type of paper to some degree.

But it is still important to choose the right paper for the drawing methods you use.

More Tooth, More Layers

The more tooth the paper has, the more layers you can put on it. The more layers, the better the color saturation, and the more opportunity you have to blend by combining layers of different colors.

The ideal paper is one that’s heavy enough to take a lot of color, smooth enough to allow you to draw detail, but also has enough tooth to accept a lot of layers.

Your choices may vary, but I suggest papers like Stonehenge, Strathmore Artagain, or Canson Mi-Tientes. Those are the papers I use most often, so if you want results similar to mine, try those three papers.

I used to use Bristol 145lb board for most of my work because I could buy it locally and it has a beautiful, smooth surface.

But it has very little tooth, so layering becomes difficult after a few layers. I’m finishing what will probably be my last project on this paper as I write this post. I recommend it only if you usually work with half a dozen layers or less.

Old Looking Portraits

You also mentioned your portraits looking older than they should, and you wondered if that’s the result of applying too much pressure during drawing. It could be, but it’s more likely that color choice and the way you’re drawing values has more to do with the end result.

One thing I can suggest is that you keep the gradations between values very soft when drawing children. They generally have smoother skin and a lot less wrinkles than older people. I’m putting together a tutorial on this subject, so stay tuned.

Additional Reading

The Only Methods You’ll Even Need for Blending Colored Pencil

Blending Colored Pencil with Painting Solvents

Blending Colored Pencil with Rubbing Alcohol

Unusual Blending Methods for Colored Pencil

2 Colored Pencil Questions and 1 Tech Question

Q&A Month continues with 2 colored pencil questions and 1 tech question. Let’s get straight to the questions.

2 Colored Pencil Questions and 1 Tech Question

Making the Transition from Graphite to Colored Pencils

I am a beginner to sketching and creating art. So far I have been practicing sketching with pencils and some charcoal. I can see improvement in my sketches however, I really want to try coloured pencils and thus far, it has been frustrating with little success. Somehow what I have learned in graphite does not transfer to the coloured pencil medium. Any suggestions?

Although both come in pencil form, there aren’t many similarities between drawing with graphite or charcoal and colored pencils. The biggest reason is that they use different types of binders.

Graphite pencils are made by mixing dry graphite with a clay binder that makes it possible to form the graphite into a lead core, then draw or write with it. The clay binder is easily erased and blended.

Colored pencils also contain clay in the binder, but the clay is mixed with wax and, in some cases, oil. The binder allows the pigment to be molded into pencil form, and allows it to be transferred to paper and blended during drawing, just like the binder in graphite pencils.

But graphite doesn’t work well under pencil because the wax binder picks the graphite up and smears it into the color. Remember I said the clay binder can be easily blended or erased? That means it can also be easily picked up by colored pencil.

Graphite cannot be layered over colored pencil because it will not stick to the waxy surface that colored pencils leave on the paper.

So most of the methods you use with graphite are not very helpful with colored pencil.

One Thing That Does Transition from Graphite to Colored Pencil

But one thing that does transfer is knowing how to use values in drawing. A good graphite artist knows all about using value to create from in their drawings, so once you’ve mastered that, you know the most important thing you need to know about making good colored pencil drawings.

Start learning colored pencil by working with just one or two colors. Get a feel for how they layer and blend, and see what you can draw. Once you get comfortable with that, trying drawing an under drawing, then practice glazing color over that. I explain how I use an umber under drawing in this tutorial.

Gradually add more colors to your palette and you’ll become as good with colored pencils as you were with graphite.

How To Get a Shine on Colored Pencil Drawings

Could you please help … me to get a shine to my coloured pencil drawings? I still have a lot to learn so would appreciate your advice. Many thanks

The best way to get a shine on your drawings is by using wax-based pencils and heavy pressure in the final layers. No matter what method of drawing you use, using heavy pressure with a wax-based pencil will create a shine, as well as blending colors together, and filling in paper holes.

The reason is that the heavier pressure you put on your pencil, the more wax binder you also put on the paper. Wax creates a smooth surface that gets very slick, and that will make your drawing look shiny.

You will want to protect the drawing from wax bloom, though, because the more wax on the paper, the more wax bloom you’ll have. Use a good final finish to spray the drawing when it’s finished to help prevent wax bloom.

Can I Get Lessons on Portable Devices?

I love this site, however, I am an older woman and only have the use of the library computers once a week. Is there anyway to copy the lessons to a portable source such as a jump drive so I can view them at home on my computer (I cannot afford internet, that’s why I have to go to the library) Thank you.

An excellent question, and one I hadn’t considered before you asked!

There are several ways to deliver content that do not involve the internet. Lessons and ebooks can easily be made available on CD, flash or jump drives.

Is anyone else interested in being able to get lessons or tutorials on either CD or flash drives? Let me know. The more CDs and flash drives I buy in bulk, and the less expensive they are.

If this is something you want, now’s the time to tell me. Leave a comment below or using the contact form at the bottom of the page to send me an email.

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who asked a question for Q&A Month. The questions have all been good questions. I promise I’ll get to every question, but if you don’t see your question answered this month, let me know. It may have gotten lost in the shuffle.

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Methods

Some time ago, I asked and answered a selection of questions frequently asked by readers and students about colored pencils. Since this is Q&A Month, I’d like to tackle another set of reader questions: questions about colored pencil methods.

Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Methods

1. What Are Your Favorite Colored Pencil Methods?

For most of my drawings, I draw an umber under drawing first, then layer color over that. This is what I call the umber under drawing method, and it allows me to develop details and values without having to make color choices.

Colored Pencil Methods - Umber Under Drawing for a Landscape

The complementary method is similar, but instead of using an earth tone for the under drawing, the under drawing is drawn with the complementary colors of the finishing drawing. An orange under drawing for a blue object, for example.

Colored Pencil Methods - Complementary Under Drawing for a Landscape

I also use a direct method in which I begin with color and simply build color layer by layer. This illustration shows the initial color lay in with the direct method.

Colored Pencil Methods - Direct Drawing Under Drawing for a Landscape

As with choosing pencils, finding the method that works best for you is a matter of experimentation. You may find you like to vary the method from one drawing to the next. It’s just as likely your favorite method will end up being a combination of methods used by other artists.

In other words, there is no Right Way to Draw.

Read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

2. What Are the Best Ways to Blend Colored Pencils?

How you blend depends on whether or not you want to use solvents.

For most of my work, I blend by layering one color over another and letting the colors blend visually. I also burnish (drawing with very heavy pressure) with either a colorless blender (a colored pencil without color) or a light color of pencil.

When I want to use a solvent, I use rubbing alcohol for a light blend, or rubber cement thinner or turpentine for a deeper, more complete blend.


I really prefer staying away from solvents, though. I like the look of colored pencil without solvent blending better in most cases.

3. Is layering the colors from light to dark generally better or does it depend on the look you want to achieve?

For most colored pencils, working from light to dark is the best way. The reason is that most colored pencils are translucent to some extent, so you can’t completely cover up colors with other colors. You can, of course, tint a darker color with a lighter color, but it’s impossible to cover it completely.

That’s also why I work around highlights at the beginning of a drawing instead of drawing over them. The only highlights drawn in this drawing are the reflected lights along the horse’s back.

Colored Pencil Methods - I worked around the highlights.

Caran d’Ache Luminance colors are opaque, however. You can draw with white over darker colors and it shows up pretty much like painting white oil over darker oils shows up.

Many artists begin by drawing the darkest dark areas first, then working around them. There is nothing wrong with that method of working, so long as you remember to preserve the highlights.

4. Can Regular Colored Pencils be Mixed with Wet Media?

Yes. You can combine regular colored pencils with a variety of water media from water soluble colored pencils to watercolor, acrylics, and ink.

The only thing you need to remember is that the water soluble media should be used first. Colored pencils will work very nicely over watercolor, water soluble colored pencils, thin applications of acrylic paint or any other water soluble media. I’ve even used them over ink. I used brown India ink for this project, but any color would work.

Colored Pencil Methods - Ink Under Painting

Read Drawing with Colored Pencil over India Ink on EmptyEasel.

Colored Pencil Methods - Colored Pencil Over Drawing

Read Using Prismacolor Pencils over India Ink on EmptyEasel.

The best way to discover what works for you is to try it. There is no rule that says every piece of art you draw has to succeed or has to be for sale. You can experiment and have fun!

So have fun!

Where to Start with Colored Pencils

Today’s question for Q&A Month appears in my inbox in various forms on a regular basis. In short, the question is this: I don’t know where to start with colored pencils, but I want to learn.

Here’s the latest incarnation.


Hello. My problem is “I am a want to be”. I want to draw, paint and be creative. But it just isn’t in my head to get started. I love [colored] pencil works of others..and painting on rocks..even dotting.

But where do I start? I take good photos..even entered them in fairs…

I am sure you must have hundreds of “want to bes ” out there..

Thank you

Margaret ( age 70yo). lol

Where to Start With Colored Pencils

Margaret, that’s a fantastic question and I’m thrilled you asked it! Too many people reach a certain age and think it’s too late to learn something new. I have news for you and everyone else: It’s never too late!

Some of things you’ve said you already do—including photography—indicate you’re already creative.

But you want to know where to start specifically with colored pencils.

Where to Start With Colored Pencils

The easiest answer is to start where you are. I’m not being flippant, by any means, but I always thought I needed to “be at a certain level” or “needed to know” certain things before I could start something new. That’s simply not true.

Case in point. I taught myself how to oil paint by painting every paint-by-number set I could get my hands on. I got them for Christmas, and bought them myself. Most of them were horses, but I also did a few landscapes, and then tried a paint-by-number on velvet, and an acrylic paint-by-number.

When I’d done every horse painting I could find, I started doing them over, but with changes. I experimented with backgrounds, changing the colors of the horses, and even changing leg positions.

That soon got old. One day when I bemoaned the lack of new sets, my mother said, “Why don’t you draw your own drawing and paint it?”

Talk about a light bulb moment.

Where to Start With Colored Pencils Light Bulb Moment

What That Has to Do With Margaret’s Question

I started learning how to paint by painting something someone else designed.

You can do the same thing with adult coloring books.

The beauty of adult coloring books is that you don’t have to worry about the drawing part for now. You can concentrate on how the pencils feel, and how to blend color, and layer and all the rest. It’s sort of like enjoying the icing without having to eat the cake (if you like icing as much as I do, that’s a big deal! Especially the home-made kind!)

If I were in your shoes, I’d look for a coloring book in a subject I liked. Horses, other animals, or landscapes for me. Keep the designs simple to begin with. Those complex designs are gorgeous to look at after someone else has finished them, but they’re not a good learning tool, if you’re just getting started.

You can find coloring books almost anywhere these days. Wal-Mart is as good a place to start, as is Amazon. The point is to find something you want to color, then practice coloring.

What You Can Learn

After you’ve colored a page or two just for fun, start practicing some of the basic drawing skills.

Create new colors by layering two colors together, one over another.

Practice drawing values by drawing shadows. See how three-dimensional you can make that page look.

If at all possible, try different brands of pencils. Prismacolor is a good place to start, but it’s not the only artist grade colored pencil out there. Try whatever brands catch your eye.

After The Coloring Books

After you’ve done a few pages (or a few books), try drawing something around you. A ball, a box or bowl, an egg or apple. You’ll already have a general idea of how to shade and layer; now’s the time to practice drawing or sketching.

It’s also a good idea to spend time looking at what other artists are doing, particularly those whose work you admire. If they have books or videos, read or watch. Learn how they do things and then try those methods yourself. If they work for you, great! You have a new tool to put into your artist’s toolbox.

If they don’t work for you, no harm done. Try the next thing.

And if they sort of work, adjust them so they do work.

Another Place to Start

You can also begin by drawing things that interest you. That’s what I did once I left the paint-by-number sets behind. I drew horses all the time and learned how to paint them by painting them!

Sketch with colored pencils. Shade your sketches. Practice layering color and blending. Quite honestly, the more you draw, the more quickly you’re drawing skills improve.

Those are my tips for getting started, but I’m not the only colored pencil artist with advice to offer. Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art recently released a video on this topic, and has some excellent additional tips.

A Few Additional Tips

So now you have some ideas about where to start with colored pencils. Here are a few additional tips to get you going.

Don’t think you have to have all the tools and every color in the rainbow before you begin. You can actually begin learning colored pencil with a good drawing pad such as the Strathmore 400 Series and a couple of colored pencils.

Buy the best you can afford. Believe it or not, it’s far better to have a few colors of a top-of-the-line pencil than a full set of a student or scholastic grade pencils. The better pencils contain more pigment and perform better than their less expensive counterparts. Those pencils that didn’t cost very much may be so difficult to use that you give up on the medium as a whole, and that would be a shame.

Learn the basics first, beginning with value. Drawing dark darks and light lights is more important than getting color right, so practice shading and layering techniques that help you develop values. You can do this with two or three pencils—or even just one.

Find an artist whose work you admire, whose teaching technique works with your personality, and learn everything they can teach you. You can teach yourself, but you have to make a lot of mistakes on your own. Finding the right teacher is a good way to avoid a lot of those mistakes!

Give yourself permission to draw ugly drawings! Aspire to make great art, but understand it’s going to take time to get there. In the meantime, try different things, draw as much as you can, and have fun with it.

Additional Reading

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Getting Started with Colored Pencils

How to Draw Vibrant Color with Colored Pencil

Learning how to draw vibrant color with colored pencil can be one of the most difficult things for any artist new to colored pencil to learn. Especially for an artist accustomed to painting or using pastels. In today’s post, I share a few reasons why you might be getting pale color, and tips for getting richly saturated color.

How to Draw Vibrant Color with Colored Pencil

I am hoping that this will help me get vibrant results with my colour pencil art. I love them but always seems wishy washy. I am excited about your site and can’t wait to do it.

Thank you for the question!

I could better answer this question after seeing samples of work, since the “wishy-washiness” could be the result of a several factors, including method, paper, and the quality of the pencils you’re using. But I can share a couple of basic suggestions that should help no matter what method you’re using.

How to Draw Vibrant Color with Colored Pencil

Not Enough Layers

One common reason for wishy-washy color is that there are not enough layers of color on the paper. Most artists, particularly those new to colored pencil, stop when their drawing starts to look finished. Unfortunately, they stop too soon. Here’s an example.

How to Draw Vibrant Color with Colored Pencil - Wishy Washy Color

This is Afternoon Graze the first time I “finished” it.

How to Draw Vibrant Color with Colored Pencil - Saturated Color

And this is what it looked like after a few more layers.

The biggest difference was made on the horses, but the benefit of a few additional layers to the drawing are clear throughout the composition.

So if your colors seem wishy-washy when you finish, it’s possible that you just aren’t finished yet. Try a few more layers and see what happens.

The Wrong Type of Paper

It’s also possible you’re using the wrong paper for your methods. If you like to do lots of layers and are using a smooth paper, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You can get rich saturated colors with a paper like Bristol vellum (the drawing above is on Bristol vellum), but it’s a lot more difficult. Toothier papers like Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Tientes, and Strathmore Artagain are much better for doing lots of layers.

Get a few sheets of different types of paper and try each one. You can either just do test swatches of color, or do a complete drawing.

You can buy paper online, but for something like this, it’s probably better to buy paper in person, where you can see and touch the paper before you buy. This is also a good idea because you can buy a single sheet, and many online art suppliers require a minimum purchase of paper and do not usually allow mixing between brands and types.

What papers do I recommend? The papers I use most often are:

  • Stonehenge
  • Canson Mi-Tientes
  • Strathmore ArtAgain

Canson and ArtAgain are available through Hobby Lobby. Stonehenge may also be available in some locations. Don’t forget that 40% off coupon!

Don’t be afraid to try other kinds of paper, though. Something that works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.

The Wrong Color of Paper

I’m assuming you’re using white paper and getting faded colors, but that may not be true. You may be using a colored paper.

If you are—and especially if you’re drawing on a dark paper—it will be very difficult to get the same vibrant colors that are possible on white paper. Why?

Colored pencils are translucent to some degree. You can see through the layers of color. Every color you put down affects every other color you put down.

The color of the paper also affects the way the colors look. White paper is the least noticeable, but try drawing some on colored paper and you’ll see a difference. Even with lighter colors.

Dark papers seem to absorb the colors you put on them. It doesn’t matter how many layers you put down or how hard you press on the pencil, the color of the paper will make the colors appear somewhat dull in comparison to the way they look on white paper.

It is possible to get bright colors on dark backgrounds, but most of the artists who are doing this are working on white paper and coloring the backgrounds. Cecile Baird is one who works this way. Most of her work—if not all—is drawn on white paper, so when you see one of her colored pencil drawings with a black background, you know she drew those dark darks.

Read How to Choose the Right Color of Paper for Your Next Drawing.

The Wrong Pencils

Another possible problem is the quality of pencils. Inexpensive pencils do not perform the same as higher quality pencils. They are not as heavily pigmented, and do not layer the same. In many cases, it’s quite simply impossible to get vibrant color with low-quality pencils.

You may be able to do a lot of layers with them, but the percentage of pigment to binder is usually lower with inexpensive pencils than with better pencils, so you’re putting more wax binder than pigment on the paper. That makes the colors look wishy-washy.

If the pencils you’re using are either “scholastic” or “student,” you could benefit from better pencils. Buy a few higher quality pencils and try them to see which ones will work best with your paper and methods.

Read What Are the Best Colored Pencils for Fine Art.

Wax Bloom

Finally, your problem may be wax bloom. If the drawing looks okay for a day or two, then begins to “fade”, that’s because of wax bloom.

Wax bloom happens when the wax binder rises to the surface of the pigment layers. It’s a natural process and won’t hurt the drawing, but you need to control it or prevent it to keep the drawing looking vibrant.

The best way to prevent wax bloom is to use oil-based colored pencils, or wax-based colored pencils that aren’t quite as waxy. Prismacolor pencils are well-known for their smoothness, but they are that way because of the type of wax they contain. That wax makes them prone to wax bloom. Try a different type of wax-based pencil or an oil-based pencil and see what happens.

Also use light pressure and several layers to build color. That will reduce the wax bloom.

You can also spray your drawings with a final fixative to prevent wax bloom. Just make sure to use one designed for colored pencil work. If your drawing is already showing wax bloom, use a clean paper towel to lightly wipe the drawing. That will remove the bloom, and you can then apply the final fixative. Make sure to follow the instructions carefully.

Read So You Want to Varnish Colored Pencil Art. What Should You Use.

For more answers to frequently asked colored pencil questions, read My Answers to 3 Very Common Colored Pencil Questions on EmptyEasel.

How to Draw Carpet with Colored Pencil

I have learned so much from you in my learning of art work with colored pencils over the past few months, and I thank you for that. I’ve been searching for something lately and not really finding good answers. I need to figure out how to draw/color carpet with colored pencil for a portrait of a cat lying on carpet.

Thanks again, Carrie. I, and many other beginning artists, are benefiting greatly from your tutorials.


Thank you for your very kind words, Vickie. Thank you also for such a great question. The best way to answer your question is to show you how I’d draw carpet.

But first, a few guidelines that apply to almost every kind of colored pencil drawing.

Colored Pencil Guidelines

Use light pressure as long as possible. Using heavy pressure not only fills the tooth of the paper more quickly; it also presses it down. Both make it more difficult to add layers. In most cases, it’s better to work with light to medium pressure until the very end.

Don’t worry about getting everything exact. For those of us who love detail, it’s a constant struggle to avoid fixating on the details. I know I want everything perfect, but that’s a sure road to frustration. Instead, focus on capturing the character of the background. Color is a primary factor, but so is value. You can also add a few accents that hint at the details without emphasizing them.

Keep the background in the background. This is important. The background must stay in the background, or the drawing becomes too busy. Ways to do this are softening edges, muting colors, and minimizing details. It will matter less in a drawing such as this, where the background is limited to the pattern, color, and texture of the carpet, but it is still important.

Go slow. Every part of the drawing deserves your best work. It’s counter productive to rush through the background, because it is the background. Yes, it needs to be less important than the subject, but that doesn’t mean you skimp on time or effort. The subject and the background should work together. They should look like parts of the same drawing, rather than having a well drawn subject with a slapped together background. I did that in my younger days and it wasn’t helpful!

Let the paper work for you. There are times when the texture of the paper you’re using can help you draw your subject. I discovered that using light pressure with Stonehenge paper allows the texture of the paper to assist in creating the look of carpet. I hadn’t expected that.

Now you have a few basic guidelines for drawing this sort of background. Lets get to the tutorial.

How to Draw Carpet

Here’s a detail of the reference photo Vickie supplied. As you can see, it’s mostly blue, but there are different blues as well as a few bits of oranges and reds.

How to Draw Carpet - Reference Photo

Vickie is working on tan suede mat board. I’m doing the following tutorial on Fawn Stonehenge. The steps will work with any good drawing paper, though the results will vary depending on the tooth and color of paper you draw on.

By the way, I’m using Prismacolor pencils, but am using only colors with the best lightfast rating, so you don’t have to worry about fading if you use the same colors.

Step 1: Establish the Basic Color

Chose a good, middle value color for the carpet you’re drawing. With this dark blue carpet, I chose Mediterranean Blue, which I layered over the carpet with circular strokes and light pressure.

In this illustration, I drew horizontal strips across the sample, then worked my way back across the sample. The area on the left shows a couple of layers, while the area on the right shows one layer.

I also worked in columns, as shown in the lower left corner.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 1

Do three or four layers, and stagger the layers so you don’t cover the entire area with any one layer. The resulting variation in values will begin establishing the look of a fabric. You can follow the pattern of light and dark in your reference photo, or let the layers overlap in a totally random manner.

The following illustration shows my sample after two or three additional layers.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 1b

TIP: If you want to create the look of carpet without adding additional colors, you can work entirely with one or two colors, and continue layering until you have the color saturation you want. You could even do it with just one color, but I strongly recommend against that, since using a single color could result in a flat looking area of color.

Step 2: Add a Second Color to Create Color Depth

Layer a second shade of the blue to the carpet. Use the same layering method. I chose Indigo Blue, which I applied with light pressure in a random pattern. I didn’t want to totally cover up the Mediterranean Blue, but did want darker variations in the carpet.

This illustration shows two or three layers of Indigo Blue. Again, I overlapped layers so that some areas are darker than others.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 2

Step 3: Darken the Values

Next, I darkened the overall values with two layers of Black. The first layer was applied over all of the blue with light pressure and circular strokes. The second layer was applied only in the darker areas, and mostly at the bottom.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 3

Step 4: Add a Complement

To keep the blues from looking too flat or vibrant, I layered Henna over all of the area twice. I used light pressure and circular strokes for both layers.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 4

Step 5: Repeat

If the carpet were a solid, slate gray or blue-gray color, this would be a sufficient treatment for background purposes.

But the carpet in the reference is quite a bit darker, so I’ve added more layers of Indigo Blue, Black, and Mediterranean Blue to darken the overall color.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 5

I also drew a cast shadow in the upper right corner, and began establishing the diagonal pattern in the carpet’s weave.

TIP: The carpet in the reference photo shows the weave on the diagonal. If that works all right with the coverall composition, it’s okay to draw the weave on the diagonal. I couldn’t help feeling my sample looked a little off balance with the diagonal detailing. I kept wanting to make it horizontal, but my sample is taken out of context. Do whatever works best with your composition and subject.

SUGGESTION: Save the next two steps until after the drawing is completely finished, then do only as much of each step as you need.

Step 6: Add a Few Details

Finally, add a few details to suggest the surface color and texture. I used Powder Blue, Mineral Orange, and Beige to burnish small circular spots over the blue of the carpet.

You don’t need a lot of these. Cluster them in a random pattern near the cat. As you move away from the cat, reduce the number of accents, and also make their edges softer and more blurry.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 6

Step 7: Add Highlights

This step is optional. If you like the way the carpet looks after step 6, you’re good. If you don’t then consider adding a few overall highlights. Chose a color that’s lighter than the main colors to burnish a few highlights. You can also use a colorless blender if you have one. This will blend the areas you burnish without changing the color.

If you chose to burnish highlights, wait until the drawing is completely finished. It’s quite possible you’ll discover you don’t need to do Step 4 after the rest of the drawing is finished.

DEFINITION: Burnishing is pressing very hard on the paper with your pencil, to “grind” colors together. It works best after you’ve applied all the other colors, usually late in the drawing, or just before you finish an area. Burnishing does press down the paper tooth, and also lays down a lot of wax, so it can be difficult to add more color over an area you’ve burnished.

I went ahead and burnished my sample just so you could see the difference. On the left, I used a colorless blender, the center is unburnished, and on the right, I used Powder Blue. In both cases, I used circular strokes drawn either on the diagonal or horizontally and large enough so that not every inch of the sample was covered.

How to Draw Carpet - Step 7

I’m not sure which option I like best. It really depends on the overall drawing.


And that’s how I’d draw carpet.

If you’ve ever drawn carpet, how what method did you use?