What is the Slice Tool?

Using a Slice Tool with Colored Pencils 2

Liz submitted today’s question, and she asks, “What is the Slice tool?”

She also wants to know where to get one.

The answer to the second part of her question is easy. The Slice tool is available through art supply stores like Dick Blick, Jerry’s Artarama and Jackson’s, as well as directly from Slice, Inc.

Now that we know where we can find them, what exactly is a Slice tool?

What is the Slice Tool?

The Slice Tool Described

The Slice tool is a ceramic knife similar to the X-acto knife.

The X-acto knife is a long-time artist’s tool with stainless steel blades and great cutting ability. I have two in my art tool kit and I use them for a number of things.

Unfortunately, cutting fingers is one of the things in that number. X-acto knifes and other knives with stainless steel blades must be handled with care because they are so sharp. I know of at least one artist who doesn’t use them due to a propensity for cutting herself.

Slice tools were originally developed for fine industrial cutting work because the ceramic blades maintain an edge much longer than steel blades. Slice, Inc. makes a wide variety of cutting tools, including scissors, with ceramic blades used by industries of all types world-wide.

According to the company’s website, ceramic blades cut better, require less force, and last longer than the best stainless steel blades.

But more important to many of us is the fact that they don’t cut human flesh nearly as well as they cut other things. That’s why their official name is Slice Ceramic Safety Knives.

Types of Slice Tools for Artists

It didn’t take artists long to discover the usefulness of these tools. Artists use Many of the Slice tools. Depending on the type of art you make, and what you draw, they may be helpful to you, as well.

Following are two of the most often used tools.

The Manual Pen Cutter

This is the manual pen cutter. It’s the tool I see most often on the videos published by other artists.

The Manual Pen Cutter is ideal for adding whiskers, hair details, and other fine details to colored pencil art. It has quickly become a Must-Have tool for pet portrait artists and wildlife artists, but I can also see that it would be useful for adding highlights to grassy areas in landscape art, as well as highlights and details to floral art and still life art.

The Manual Precision Cutter

The Manual Precision Cutter is also a great fine art tool. It’s used in much the same way the Manual Pen Cutter is used.

But it’s also useful in cutting intricate shapes when necessary. If you do a mix of fine art and craft art, or if you cut small, complex shapes in non-art applications, this is probably the best Slice tool for you.

The blade is smaller, giving the artist more control in every application.

Using a Slice Tool

How to Use a Slice Tool

Artists use the Slice tool the same way they use any type of etching tool: By scratching out details.

A short video on the Slice Company website shows an artist creating hair-like details on a horse.

Peggy Osborne, who has written tutorials for this blog, uses a Slice tool to draw whiskers and other details on her pet portraits. She used it several times in her Irish Setter tutorial.

Other Basic Information

As I mentioned before, I’ve never used a Slice tool, though I have tried scratching out details with an X-acto knife.

Hopefully, between the information I’ve shared here and additional information from the company website and other artists, you’ve learned enough to decide whether or not you want to give them a try.

In closing, I want to thank the Slice, Inc. representative. He not only answered my questions, but provided the product images you see in this post. It’s always good to get information directly from the source, and it’s especially nice when the people with whom I chat by email are friendly in addition to being helpful.

By the way, here’s something else I learned in email correspondence with the Slice, Inc. They offer three Slice Tool kits for colored pencil artists ranging from a basic sketching kit, to the Masterpiece kit that comes with everything. Each kit includes free shipping. If you’re not sure which Slice tool is right for you, you can check out all the details here.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers

Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers

Today, I’d like to share a few basic tips for drawing realistic feathers.

As with many subjects, there seems to be the perception that the process is complex. So complex that it’s difficult to know where or how to begin.

That complexity causes many of us to shy away from subjects like birds, flowers, and the other things we want to draw that are too complicated.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers

Complexity need not keep you from drawing birds if that’s what you really want to draw. Not if you remember the following simple and easy principles.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers

Tip #1: Make Sure the Your Line Drawing is Accurate

The first step in the process is an accurate line drawing. I’m not talking about drawing every feather.

I’m talking about drawing the big shapes. The bird itself, the edges between colors, as well as shadows and highlights.

Something like this.

This is a simple line drawing for me, but it is accurate. I’ve clearly drawn the hard edges of the hummingbird, and suggested the softer edges with dotted or dashed lines. I didn’t draw every detail, but I drew enough detail to provide a good road map for layering color.

Every good piece starts with an accurate drawing, so it’s worth the time and effort to get this step as correct as you can make it.

Tip #2: Make Sure the Values Are Accurate

We love colored pencils because of all those wonderful colors.

But when it comes to actually making drawings, color is not the most important thing. Value is.

“Value” refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. It applies to all colors, even black and white.

No matter what you draw, the subject has form. It takes up space. That means that part of it is in shadow and part of it is in light.

This hummingbird is lighted from the upper right. Take note of the highlight in the eye and on the bill.

The hummingbird’s belly is in shadow and it’s back is lighted.

To make things look real when you draw this bird, you have to show those variations in value.

Just to show you how important value is, I’ve converted the sample image to black-and-white. The hummingbird still looks real, even without color.

It’s well worth your time to get values right, beginning with the first application of colored pencil.

What does that have to do with feathers?

The principles that apply to large shapes like hummingbirds also apply to smaller shapes, like hummingbird feathers. Some feathers are in shadow and some in light.

Notice also that there are shadows under and between some of the feathers.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers

How to Draw This

First of all, shade the big shape as you see it in your reference photo. Work around the brightest areas, and use short directional strokes to begin creating the texture of the feathers.

Start with the lightest value of the color you need. For example, in the chest, I started with a very light gray because the hummingbird’s chest and belly are white.

Gradually darken the values. Use multiple layers (all applied with light pressure and using directional strokes,) then add the next darkest gray. Refer to your reference photo often.

You don’t have to draw every feather. Instead, add details where values change or where color changes. Those edges will be the places that attract your attention most, so you should put more detail there.

Unless your drawing is very large, you won’t need to add very much detail in the places in deep shadow or in the brightest highlights.

Notice in my sample drawing that I haven’t created even color. I’ve used two colors (Faber-Castell Cold Grey II and III) and several layers to begin drawing the hummingbird.

I also used light pressure and very sharp pencils. Keep your pressure light so you can adjust values as you go.

Tip #3: Layer, Layer, Layer

Most of the time, you can’t get by with just one or two layers of color. It is possible, of course, and lot depends on your preferred drawing style. If you want flat color with just few different values, then you can very effectively do good work with just a few layers of color applied with medium pressure or heavier.

But most of us like a more realistic look for our finished drawings, so that means lots of layers. Using light to medium pressure through several layers allows you to blend colors and create the transitions in value that make your subject look more real.

Tip #4: Match Strokes to the Texture You Want to Draw

Let’s look at that detail photo again, this time in color.

Notice that the feathers on the bird’s chest look almost like hair. They’re very fine.

Now look again at my sample drawing.

I didn’t draw individual feathers. The marks I made are not exact to the marks in the reference photo. But by the time I finish, I will have a drawing that looks like a hummingbird covered with feathers.

Even though the lightest gray was only a shade darker than the paper and difficult to see, I used short, hair-like strokes. You see some of those in the area between the base of the wing and the shadowed belly.

Again, unless the drawing is very large, you shouldn’t need any more detail than that to make the hummingbird look like it has feathers.

Do the same thing for all the other feathers using the colors you see in the reference photo.

Those are My Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers

All complex subjects can be broken down into smaller, simpler shapes. You don’t have to be drawing birds to benefit from these tips. They help me draw horses and landscapes, and they help you draw whatever you want to draw.

You’ll never outgrow them, either.

Master these principles, and you can draw even the most complex of subjects.

The Best Hand Held Sharpeners I’ve Used

The Best Hand Held Sharpeners I've Used

Questions about pencil sharpeners arise regularly. I’m certain that’s because sharpeners are so important to artists (and anyone else) who uses pencils for their work. I’ve tried a lot of sharpeners over the years, and today I’d like to talk about the best hand held sharpeners I’ve used.

But first, here’s the reader’s question to get us started.

I have a question regarding pencil sharpeners. What is the best hand-held sharpener to use for colored pencils?

I’ve tried an electric pencil sharpener, but it eats up too much of the colored pencil. I’ve [also] tried the Prismacolor Premier hand-held sharpener and it works great on Prismacolor pencils, but isn’t strong or durable enough to handle sharpening my heavier and thicker oil-based colored pencils.

The Best Hand Held Sharpeners I've Used

The Best Hand Held Sharpener I’ve Used

The best hand-held pencil sharpeners I’ve ever used were inexpensive sharpeners purchased at a local discount store. Under $5 each, as a matter of fact. I bought one on a whim, took it home and used it a couple of times, then went back and got another.

They sharpen all of my pencils extremely well, even the temperamental Prismacolor pencils. The sharpener has two holes for sharpening all types of pencils, and it also has a container to catch shavings. The sharpener isn’t very big, so if you sharpen a lot or work for hours at a time, you may need to empty it more than once a day, but that’s easy to do.

I’ve found them remarkably durable for their price and size. Drops on floors haven’t scuffed or damaged them. But at that price, I can also replace them as needed.

It’s been about three years since I purchased them and I still use one of them for Prismacolor, Polychromos, graphite, and whatever else I happen to be using. The other one went missing, but at the price, it wasn’t a big loss.

The Best Hand Held Sharpeners I've Used

Five Reasons I Prefer This Sharpener


I simply cannot beat the price on these little sharpeners and on the similar sharpeners I’ve used. It’s no strain on my budget to have multiple sharpeners, so I don’t have to lug a larger sharpener around.

Or worry about finding an electrical outlet or carrying spare batteries!


Of all the sharpeners I’ve used over the years, none have out-performed my favorite hand-held sharpeners.

The blades have remained sharp through the years, but if they start feeling gummy or dull, I sharpen a graphite pencil. The graphite cleans the blades and the sharpener is good as new.


These sharpeners are so lightweight and small, they’re easy to travel with. You can stash one in your field kit, pencil box, and tool kit and be ready to go.

And if you work in different places as I do, or if you have different kits, you can keep one in each of those if you have more than one.

Ease of Use

They fit easily in my hand and are easy to empty. Simply remove the top, empty the shavings and snap them back together. Even though I’ve used this particular sharpener for several years, it still fits together quite snugly and sharpens very well.

It’s also easy to sharpen with in a couple of ways.

The normal way to sharpen is by holding the sharpener in my right hand and turning the pencil with my left hand.

But for pencils that break easily, it’s just as easy to hold the pencil in my right hand and turn the sharpener with my left hand. Believe it or not, that does help prevent breakage during sharpening.

Sharp, Medium-Length Points

Finally, I like this sharpener because it sharpens pencils to a needle-sharp tip that’s of medium length.

That’s important, because a medium-length point is less likely to break under pressure. It also means less pigment ends up in the sharpener. If you use expensive pencils, that’s less money wasted.

The Second Best Hand Held Sharpener

Many years ago, I conducted an an-person, weekly class. Part of the process was assembling a low-cost supply list I could purchase and offer to students. The list included pencils and a sharpener.

The best deals were from Dick Blick and the sharpener I choose was the one shown here. I still have this sharpener and it still works nearly as well as it did when I bought it.

Dick Blick still offers a wide selection of hand held pencil sharpeners, though the model shown above is no longer available. That’s why it’s the second best sharpener. In reality, it works just as well as the I Magine sharpener, but it’s no longer replaceable.

Are any of these sharpeners the best on the market?

Probably not, but they sharpen my pencils extremely well, and they were low cost.

Take a look at your local stores and see what they might have. You could very well be as surprised as I was by the usefulness of such inexpensive sharpeners!

How to Know What Colors to Layer

How to Know What Colors to Layer

Hello I really enjoy your posts. How do you layer colors to add depth to a picture. For example instead of using black use dark brown and indigo blue. I guess I’m asking how do you know what colors to layer when looking at a reference photo. Paula


Thank you for your question. This is a great question and gets right down to the heart of colored pencil work.

How to Know What Colors to Layer

Learning which colors to mix to get certain results is a long-term process that involves experimentation and reading (or watching) what other artists do.

But there are a few things you can do to make those decisions easier until they become natural to you.

How to Know What Colors to Layer

Following are three things you can do to learn color mixing more quickly.

Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

Experimenting with color is the best way for a lot of us because we can see first hand what happens when we layer two or more colors. I’ve heard of artists who sit down with new pencils and make color swatches for every single color.

You don’t have to do that if you don’t want to, but the best way to learn which colors to mix to get new colors is by trying different combinations. Here’s an easy way to do that.

Take out a sheet of paper and start by making color swatches something like this.

The bottom row shows the first color I used.

The middle row shows that color with another color layered on top of it, and the top row shows both colors with a third color added to them.

I was testing colors for grass with this sample. You could make solid blocks of color or use whatever stroke strikes your fancy. Just put color on the paper.

This is a great way to see how each color affects all the others. If you keep these swatches in a binder, notebook or drawing pad, you’ll eventually have a very good catalog of color mixes. Of course, you need to name the colors for future reference.

Other artists make mixing palettes in which they have sheets of paper with nothing but various mixes of different colors on each sheet.

Physical Comparison

If you work from printed reference photos, you can compare your pencils with the reference photo as shown here.

In this sample, none of the three colors I thought were closest to the greens in the photo were exact.

But I could see that I needed to add other colors to get a closer match.

For example, if I used the pencil in the left, I’d have to add a cooler, bluish color to tone down the warmth of that green.

If I used the pencil on the right, I’d have to layer a warmer, yellowish color because this green is very cool and blue.

Reading and Watching

Another way to get the basic knowledge is by reading good art books or watching videos.

In my opinion, the best art book on color mixing with colored pencils is Amy Lindenberger’s book, COLORS: A Workbook. I bought that book when it first came out and did most of the exercises. I’d been using colored pencils for years by then, and I still learned a lot.

Whatever book you buy or video you watch, don’t just read or watch. Do the exercises. Doing the exercises helps imprint the information on your brain in a practical fashion.

It’s also a great way to add to your color chart or swatch collection!

Knowing What Colors to Layer for Specific Results

There are no short-cuts. It’s all about drawing often enough to learn which colors to mix for whatever new color you want.

Remember, you don’t have to do all this drawing on actual artwork, although there’s nothing wrong with that.

Find a method that is enjoyable enough that you want to do it, then practice that method diligently.

Then apply what you learn to your artwork.

It won’t be very long before you discover that making the right choices is happening almost without thinking about it!

I hope that helps. This subject is pretty involved, and difficult to give a short answer for!

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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


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.


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.


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!