Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

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

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

Hi Carrie,

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

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

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

Thank you!

Mirian

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

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

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

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

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Fill in Paper Holes

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

Layering

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

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

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

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

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

Solvents

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

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

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

Burnishing

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

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

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

Mixing Watercolor and Colored Pencils

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

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

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

Paper Holes showing through Colored Pencil

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

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

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

The Bottom Line on Paper Holes and Colored Pencils

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

Some artists like that look. Some do not.

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

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

Economic Colored Pencil Sharpening

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

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

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

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

Kathy

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

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

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

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

A Few Words About Sharpeners

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

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

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

Kathy’s Sharpener

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

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

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

A Sharp Knife Works Wonders

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

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

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

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

How to Hand Sharpen Colored Pencils

Use a knife with a finely sharpened blade.

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

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

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

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

Always stroke away from yourself.

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

Pointing the Pencil

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

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

Economical Ways to Sharpen Pencils

One Word of Caution

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

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

Other Benefits of Hand Sharpening Pencils

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

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

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

Pay Attention to the Length of the Sharpened Point

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Points Sharp While You Draw

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

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

But it doesn’t keep the point sharp.

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

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

Three Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

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

I hope you find them helpful.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

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

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

Thanks, Romona

Romona,

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

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

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

So let me share those.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

Paper

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

But that isn’t the only consideration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

Exceptions to Every Rule

Unfortunately, these principles don’t always apply.

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

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

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

Pencils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Paper and Pencils for Drawing Details

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

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

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

Skill level is easy to improve.

Just keep drawing.

Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

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

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

Thanks,

Romona

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

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

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

What is it?

Training!

Tips for Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

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

Change the Way You Hold Your Pencil

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

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

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

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

Learning to Draw with  Light Hand

Work at an Easel or Standing Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drawing Exercises

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

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

And that WILL help you draw with a lighter hand.

What About a Hand or Wrist Rest?

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

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

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

Learning to Draw with Light Hand

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

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

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

I hope one of them helps you, too!

Overcoming New Artist Fears

Overcoming New Artist Fears

I want to thank the reader who asked the question for today’s post. She wants to know about overcoming new artist fears. Something all of us deal with at one time or another. Here’s her question.

I’m a beginner colored pencil artist stuck in beginner mode mostly due to “beginner fear”. I LOVE horses and landscapes, so I have enjoyed your blog very much.

After many years of owning horses, my body no longer lets me do that kind of activity, so I’ve turned to art. I even purchased your black horse tutorial but I’m terrified to try it. So I practice on things I’m less interested in, if that makes any sense.

I would love to hear from you and learn how to draw horses as well as you. Can you please offer your expertise on learning to draw horses in colored pencil? Did you have this kind of paralyzing fear when you first started? Thanks for any help.

Celeste

Overcoming New Artist Fears

First of all, thank you for your question, Celeste. I understand completely what you’re experiencing. The fact of the matter is that I chuckled out loud when I got to your last question. I STILL sometimes deal with this kind of paralyzing fear!

I actually think this difficulty could more accurately be called “new project fear.” Every artist experiences this moment of doubt or hesitation at least once. Some of us experience more than just once in a while.

Overcoming New Artist Fears

I understand working on “unimportant projects” before doing what I really want to do. Believe it or not, that’s a good way to get started.

You can consider those projects to be basic training if you like. You can also consider them warm-up exercises.

When you do projects like this, you’re getting more familiar with the pencils and paper, you’re learning what layering is all about, and you’re probably even learning what works and what doesn’t work.

After you’ve done a few of these, you’ll find the “real projects” far less scary.

A Personal Example

I recently finished a portrait that took a long time to do. Part of the reason for that was that I was using Pastelmat for the first time for a paid portrait. I didn’t know what to expect.

So I started a second portrait, which was my “test portrait.” Before trying any new technique on the paid portrait, I tried it first on the test portrait. Then, after I gained confidence, I worked on the paid portrait.

When I finished and delivered the paid portrait, I repurposed the test portrait. It will eventually become a landscape.

So keep doing those sorts of projects until you’re comfortable with using colored pencils.

Transitioning to Tutorials

Once you’ve gained confidence with the pencils, transition into that tutorial by practicing parts of it. I like drawing manes and forelocks, so that’s often what I’d practice. But there is no forelock and not much mane on this tutorial, so you might try some other part of the horse. One of the ears, maybe, or the eye.

That blue ribbon under the head would also be a great practice piece.

If you decide to do practice pieces from the tutorial, do them small. 4×6 inches is a great size for studies. You can finish them more quickly than larger pieces. They’re also easier to let go of if they don’t turn out.

And if they do turn out, you’ve gained confidence!

Learning to Draw Horses & Landscapes

As for learning to draw horses and landscapes like I do, that’s no more complicated than making lots of drawings. My art didn’t always look like it looks now. It took lots of drawings, some of which were downright ugly!

Don’t be afraid to make ugly art. Every piece you finish (whether it turns out or not) helps you improve.

Overcoming Those New Artist Fears

Uncertainty is normal whenever you start something new. Making the first mark on a new piece of paper seems intimidating at first. You will get past that.

Start drawing, then keep drawing. Studies, full images, everything.

When you get ready, you can also study with someone whose work you admire, whether it’s mine or someone else’s. I give one-to-one classes by email (you can learn more about them here.)

A couple of my favorite horse artists teach on Patreon. Bonny Snowdon and Lisa Ann Watkins are excellent horse artists and both teach on Patreon.

The most important part is making the start and you’ve already done that. So sit back and enjoy the process!

You won’t be sorry.

How to Draw Plants in Colored Pencil

How to Draw Plants in Colored Pencil

Today’s Q&A Wednesday post includes a mini tutorial on how to draw plants. Here’s the reader’s question to get us started.

Hi, Carrie,

I’ve been wanting to draw some bear cubs I saw playing in a meadow with their mom.  I just can’t figure out how to do this meadow, with all the clover and daisy flowers interspersed. I was working on the little bear, and just sort of gave up because I didn’t know how to do a good job with the plants.

Do you have any advice?  I am getting a lot out of the tutorials, but haven’t seen anything that addressed this problem.

Thanks for any help you can give.

Pam

How to Draw Plants in Colored Pencil

I want to thank Pam, who gave me permission to use her reference photo and drawing to illustrate this post. So let’s begin by taking a look at both.

This is the photograph Pam took and is using for a reference.

Here’s Pam’s drawing so far.

Pam has already made a couple of wise decisions.

First, she cropped the reference photo to focus on the bear cub. By doing so, she removed a lot of area at the top and bottom of the composition.

Secondly, she started the process of developing those background greens by layering a base green over everything but the cub and the flowers.

So kudos to Pam for getting off to a good start.

As frustrated as she is, what I think Pam really needs is a little encouragement. She’s done a good job starting the flowers around the bear cub, so she doesn’t really need advice about how to draw plants.

But let me make a couple of suggestions that will help Pam finish this piece.

How to Draw Plants in Colored Pencil

In studying Pam’s photo and drawing, it’s easy to see she’s trying to solve two problems. How should she draw the background, and how should she draw the foreground?

Yes, both areas have the same flowers and grass in them. But in order to make the drawing look right, the two areas need to be drawn differently.

The Background

Drawing the background is fairly easy. There isn’t much detail. Your mind tells you there’s a lot because it knows the same flowers and plants are in the background that are in the foreground. The foreground plants look difficult, so the background has got to be difficult, too. Right?

But look at just the background. There really isn’t very much there. Just shades of green and dots of white.

So begin by putting down a base layer of green with a couple of light-medium-value yellowish greens. Pam can continue with the green she started applying in the drawing.

Layer that as smoothly as possible with light pressure, a reasonably sharp pencil, and whatever strokes give you smooth color. But don’t worry about filling every paper hole.

Next, layer a one or two medium-dark value greens over the same area. Use the same pressure.

When you have enough color on the paper, warm up a piece of mounting putty by rolling it between your hands. Then shape it like this or roll a small piece into a ball.

How to Draw Plants

Press the mounting putty onto the background here and there to lift color and create light spots. Those light spots should look like blurry, light-colored flowers.

If you make too many, fill in some of them again. If they don’t look light enough, add a little bit of very light color to them. Don’t add white. That might make them too bright!

My Test Sample

The left side shows two warm, light greens layered one over the other. The right side shows two additional, slightly darker colors layered over them. Then I added more layers of one of the lighter colors.

After that, I used mounting putty to lift color randomly. This is the result.

I discovered you don’t need much of a point on the mounting putty. Using a small piece rolled into a ball also works.

Another discovery was using a small “edge” of mounting putty to make elliptical shapes. Flowers are seen from different angles in nature, so don’t make them all round in your art.

This test is on Bristol paper and is nowhere near finished, but it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about.

If I were doing this for a “real drawing” instead of a test sample, I’d do a few layers of greens, then lift color, then do a few more layers and lift more color. That would create greater variety in the blurred shapes, and result in a more natural appearance.

The Foreground

Here’s the reference photo cropped to show the foreground. I confess that looking just at this gives me pause, too. I can certainly understand Pam’s difficulties!

How to Draw Plants

But is it really that difficult to draw?

Remember, the focus is on the bear cub. The meadow is the “stage” for the bear cub. Unless hyper-realism is your goal, these parts of the composition should not be as crisp and clear as the bear cub.

And look at that crop above. Even in the photograph, the flowers in the foreground are also blurry in appearance.

What does that mean? Drawing them in sharp focus makes more work than is necessary.

Don’t forget that Pam has already made a very good start in this area. She doesn’t have that much more work to do. (That’s why I think Pam really needs a little encouragement and direction.)

So here’s what I’d do.

First, I’d stroke some highlights into the stems and leaves with a very light yellow, cream, or light, warm gray.

Then I’d layer the lightest green Pam has used so far over all of the middle ground and foreground. Use light pressure and sharp pencils with whatever stroke works best. A lot of artists recommend circular strokes, but I also get good results with carefully applied directional strokes. Work around the flowers and the bear, but glaze green over everything else.

Then continue developing the plants that have already been drawn. Darken the shadows, work on the highlights, and pay attention to the edges. Use light pressure and sharp pencils.

The shadows don’t need to be real dark, so alternate the darker green with one of the lighter greens you already used.

Finally, finish the flowers by working on their shadows and highlights.

A Word of Caution

Don’t get too detailed with these parts of the drawing. They should look real, but they shouldn’t draw attention away from the bear cub.

To make sure they don’t, do most of the detailing described above around the bear cub. As you move away from the bear cub, soften the details and don’t add as many.

If the foreground looks too busy after you’ve finished, glaze one of the base greens over it to soften the edges.

There’s One Way to Draw Plants

There are two keys to remember when it comes to deciding how to draw plants in a composition like this.

First, study the reference photo. How do the plants look? Are they in sharp focus or are they blurred? How much detail to do you really see?

Second, decide how you want to draw the scene, and determine how much of the detail you need to draw to get the look you want. In most cases, draw only as much detail as necessary to create the look you want.

Pam made a good start on this by cropping her reference photo first. That left a lot fewer plants to draw.

Now all she needs to do is layer color and add just enough detailing to finish the scene.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Today’s Reader Q&A is a request for information on glazing colored pencils. Since that’s a phrase I use a lot, but really haven’t clearly defined, I thought it was time for an article about glazing colored pencils for beginners.

But first, here’s the original question.

Just starting out in pencil. What or how do you glaze in pencil? Thank you in advance.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Let’s begin with a basic definition of glazing and an example from my oil painting days.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Glazing Defined

The term “glazing” comes from the world of oil painting. It refers to the application of thin, transparent color over whatever color is already on the canvas.

In oil painting, the artist thins the paint with linseed oil, walnut oil, or another painting medium to thin the paint and make it transparent. The thin color is then applied over part of a painting to add color without hiding or covering up the details underneath.

The Old Masters used this method frequently to make adjustments or corrections. The Flemish method of oil painting relies heavily on glazing color over a half-tone under painting.

I used a variation on this method for a few years before putting my oil paints away. The slide show below shows one of those old portraits, beginning with the finished under painting.

As you scroll through the images, you’ll see a progression of glazing until the portrait is finished. The original details are visible through layers of transparent color.

Glazing with Colored Pencils

The same thing happens with colored pencils.

But with colored pencils, you don’t need to add medium because colored pencils are naturally translucent. When you layer one color over another using light pressure, the top color alters the colors underneath without covering the details. That’s why I say that most of my colored pencil work is glazing.

If you use heavier pressure to layer color, you lose a lot of the glazing properties that come naturally with colored pencils. But you can still glaze to adjust or change colors.

When Glazing is Useful

Some artists glaze color in almost every project. I tend to do that because I like starting with an umber under drawing. Once the under drawing is finished, I add colors by glazing layer by layer.

But even if you don’t start with an umber under drawing, glazing can be helpful in the following ways.

Correcting color is one instance when glazing is a valuable tool. If you need to lighten a color slightly, glaze a color of lighter value but similar color over the color already on the paper. A very light warm yellow over a darker warm yellow, for example. Such a glaze lightens the color slightly without changing the color temperature.

You can do the same to darken colors. Glazing a warm medium-value yellow over a lighter warm yellow darkens the yellow already on the paper without changing the color temperature.

Glazing is ideal for changing color. If you need to change a blue area so it’s a little greener, glaze yellow over it, for example.

You can also adjust color temperature by glazing. You have to be bit more careful, because its easy to create muddy color. Especially if you happen to use a complementary color as the glazing color.

Toning down colors by glazing a complimentary color has been helpful to me in drawing realistic landscape greens.

Glazing is also perfect for creating depth of color. I drew the red horse in the illustration below with alternating glazes of red-browns, browns, various shades of oranges and yellows, and even blues. The result was much more satisfactory than doing just a few layers of colors that closely matched the actual color of the horse.

Tips for Successful Glazes

Glazing with colored pencils involves using very light pressure to put color over what is already on the paper. If you have a naturally light hand, then you don’t need special techniques in order to glaze color.

But if you have a naturally heavy hand and you want to glaze, look for ways to apply light, thin layers of color.

Following are two things I do when I need to glaze, and that will help you.

Use the Side of a Well-Sharpened Pencil

I usually use the side of a well-sharpened pencil to glaze when I want to alter or adjust the color in an area.

I hold the pencil nearly horizontal to the paper, and let it “glide” over the paper. It is possible to apply pressure this way, but I rarely do. Instead, I use the weight of the pencil. That produces a nice, broad stroke of broken color as shown here. This is perfect for glazing.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners
Using the side of a pencil as shown here creates “broken” color. The paper or the colors already on the paper show through the glazing color, but the glazing color alters the way they look.

Use a Very Blunt Pencil

For small areas, I like using a blunt pencil such as shown below. The flattened tip works the same as the side of a well-sharpened pencil, but gives me more control.

To use a blunt or very blunt pencil, hold it in a normal position, but with the blunt side on the paper. Then make directional, circular or other strokes to glaze the area.

If you need to clean up or sharpen an edge, turn the pencil until the sharp edge is on the paper.

The pencils on the right and left are blunt. The tips are flat. The pencil in the center is well-sharpened.

In each of these situations, the part of the pencil touching the paper is bigger. That means the pencil doesn’t get very deep into the tooth of the paper. The color stays mostly on top of the tooth, and the color that’s already on the paper shows through. When you look closely at a drawing, you can see that “broken color.”

But when you view the drawing from a normal viewing distance, your eye blends the two colors.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners (in a nutshell)

You can keep glazing simple or get as involved as you wish. After all, some of the Old Masters glazed their paintings extensively and others rarely glazed color.

Whether or not you glaze is a personal choice. Your personal preferences, how you work, and how often you need to make the kinds of adjustments described above all determine how often you need to glaze.

But it can be a very useful skill, so I encourage you to experiment with it, at least a little.

Is There Still a Market for Portraits?

Is There Still a Market for Portraits

Today’s question is one I’ve asked myself many times over the years. Is there still a market for portraits?

That was important to me because my studio was a portrait studio. “Fun art” wasn’t my focus for over forty years. I really wanted to be a portrait artist and studio time was limited. I had no time for fun art.

My focus has changed since then, but the question is still valid.

First, here’s the reader question.

Carrie,

Just wondering, what do you think the market is today for commissioned painted/drawn portraits. Everyone has access to pretty good photography wouldn’t that satisfy the need?

Liz

Is there still a market for portraits?

Is There Still a Market for Portraits?

The short answer to Liz’s question is yes. There is still a market for portraits. Dog and cat portraits seem especially popular right now, but most animal portrait artists still get commissions.

But she also asks another question that I’ve considered more than once. Why would anyone want an art portrait when photography is so available?

Both questions deserve more than just a short answer, so let me talk about both. First, photography.

Why Not a Photographic Portrait?

For the most part, people who prefer photographic portraits and people who prefer art portraits are two different groups of people. There is some overlap, of course. I have drawn portraits for people who also had professional photographic portraits of their horses.

But my experience over the years has been that people who commissioned art portraits wanted something more than a photograph. They wanted my view of their horse or other animal. Call it “artistic vision.” More than just a likeness.

Photographers are artists. There’s no question about that. The more I learn about improving, enhancing, and combining photos in a good photo editor, the more convinced I become that photographers put just as much care into their work as I put into mine.

But for a lot of portrait clients, the artistic vision goes beyond a photograph.

A lot is involved. The artistic style of the artist is important. Some people want a hyper-realistic portrait (one in which you can’t tell the difference between the reference photo and finished piece when they’re side by side.)

Other clients prefer a more stylistic portrait or even abstract. It is possible to get a lot of that now with photo editors, but it’s still not the same.

My Personal Opinion

My personal opinion is that a lot of art portrait clients also like the idea that their chosen artist actually spent time on their portrait. Time designing the portrait, time rendering it, time framing it (if that’s part of the project.) The hands-on thought plays a major role, I think.

You know. Pencils in hand and touching paper. That is an important factor (in my opinion.)

That’s not to say that photographers and digital artists don’t also put a lot of time into their work. They do! The work they produce is no less a work of art than what I do.

But as old-fashioned as it seems, there is a lot to be said for the idea of physically making marks on paper or canvas. That is important to a lot of portrait clients.

In my opinion.

Is There a Market for Portraits?

Absolutely!

Just look at all the great artists out there doing portrait work. Those who have taken the time to hone their skills and improve their expertise stay busy.

Given the situation over the last several months, it may look more difficult to make a living as a portrait artist, but there is still a market.

While it’s true that national and global circumstances have changed the economies in a lot of places, it is still be possible to successfully market portraits.

I began painting portraits in the 1970s. If you’re old enough to remember, you’ll remember that things weren’t great back then, either. In addition to a sluggish economy, there was no such thing as the internet. At least not on a wide-spread basis. I marketed portrait work locally with flyers and by word-of-mouth.

I wasn’t constantly busy with portraits, but I sold enough to get started. One thing led to another, and I spent the next 40 years painting portraits.

The advantage now is that you can get your work into the market without printing flyers, traveling to shows, or spending next month’s budget on advertising. So in that regard, it’s easier than ever to market portrait work.

Do You Want to do Portraits?

Then follow your dream. Maybe it will be a rough journey.

But maybe it will be a raging success. The only way to find out is to try it.

Varnishing Colored Pencil Art

Is varnishing colored pencil art necessary?

There is a lot of debate about this issue, so it’s no surprise I get questions on this topic on a fairly regular basis. Here’s today’s reader question.

Hi Carrie,

Firstly may I say how informative and helpful your tutorials are.

I am currently working on my first art drawing with Prismacolor pencils, it’s a picture of my daughter’s Beagle which I hope to have finished in time for her birthday next month.

What I wanted to ask is do you recommend spraying the picture with a fixative spray before framing?

Kind regards,

Dave

This is an important question for a couple of reasons. First, it gives me the opportunity to talk about why varnishing could be important.

It also gives me the opportunity to talk about when and how you might want to varnish.

Varnishing Colored Pencil Art

Varnishing Colored Pencil Art

Why Varnishing Artwork is Important

Some time ago, I wrote a couple of articles on varnishing colored pencils. Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art discussed the advantages and disadvantages to varnishing colored pencil art. In brief, the primary reasons to varnish colored pencil artwork are controlling wax bloom, protecting the surface of the artwork, and restoring tooth.

Since Dave is talking about finished work, the third reason doesn’t apply. So let’s look at the other two.

Oil painters have varnished their work for centuries. A good coat of varnish on an oil painting seals the surface of the painting and keeps dust, dirt and grime off it. All that dust, dirt, and grime settles on the coat of varnish. When a painting needs to be cleaned, the varnish is carefully stripped away and replaced with fresh varnish. The painting itself is not damaged.

Since more colored pencil works are framed under glass, the glass keeps the dust, dirt, and grime from reaching the surface of the artwork. So in one way, the glass serves the same purpose as the varnish. You don’t need varnish to protect the surface of colored pencil art framed under glass.

A light coat of varnish is also helpful in controlling wax bloom. But the only time wax bloom is really a problem is when you apply color with heavy pressure and/or when you use a lot of dark colors.

Wax bloom happens when the wax binder in colored pencils rises to the surface of a drawing. In the illustration below, the misty looking section on the right is wax bloom.

Wax bloom is easy to remove. Just wipe the drawing lightly with paper towel. For a finished drawing, a light coat or two of varnish helps prevent wax bloom.

So Should You Varnish Your Colored Pencil Art?

Yes. Sometimes.

If you draw with a naturally heavy hand, or a piece has a lot of dark colors, then you may want to consider varnishing the finished piece. You’ll still want to frame it under glass if you used traditional drawing papers, because the glass protects the paper from damage. The varnish will help keep wax bloom to a minimum.

Varnishing works on non-absorbent papers like sanded pastel papers, Pastelmat or Lux Archival is a good idea, especially if framed without glass. For that type of work, varnish serves the same purpose that it serves for oil paintings. Varnish keeps dirt off the artwork and can be removed and replaced if necessary.

If you do decide to varnish a drawing on sanded art paper, make sure you seal the drawing first with something like ACP Textured Fixative so removing the varnish doesn’t damage the art.

Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art Before Framing It?

The answer depends on the type of paper you use and how you intend to frame the work.

Varnishing is one of those issues that some artists swear by and others avoid at all costs. So the best advice I can offer is to consider the way you work in general, and then evaluate each piece.

You may find that varnishing is helpful on some pieces and unnecessary on others.

When to Use Prismacolor Grays

Have you ever noticed how many gray pencils there are in most full sets of pencils? Have you ever wondered when to use grays? You’re not alone. Today’s reader question comes from Rice, who asked when to use Prismacolor grays.

There are so many Greys in my Prismacolor set. French Grey, Warm Grey, and Cool Grey. When do I use them, and how do I decide which ones to use?

I don’t use gray pencils very often, even when drawing gray subjects. But gray colors are useful, so let me share a few tips.

When to Use Prismacolor Grays

When to Use Prismacolor Grays

Since there are a lot of Prismacolor grays, how do you decide when and how to use them?

Color Temperature

A good rule of thumb is to use the cool grays when the gray you want to draw is a cooler gray. (Cool grays are a little blue than the warm grays.)

If you’re drawing a landscape or a subject with a background, use cool grays. Layering a cool gray over the background makes it look further away.

Warm grays are a little yellower than cool grays. They work best for drawing grays that lean a little bit toward yellow or that are in the foreground.

French Greys are an odd sort of color. They’re definitely warm, but they’re more brown than gray. They work very well for skin tones with animals. Dark horses, cats or dogs often have darker grays around their eyes, noses, and mouths, and French greys work very well in these areas.

I’ve seen stunning art finished using nothing but French Grey colors. Using the full range of French Greys can be very effective for half-tone art.

Tone Down Colors That Get Too Bright

Sometimes, you may find the colors you’ve put on the paper are too bright. They’re the right color; they’re just too obvious.

Grays are a perfect way to tone down too-bright colors. Match the type of gray with the type of color, though. Mix warm grays with other warm colors to tone those colors down. Mix cool grays with cool colors.

Match the value of the gray to the value of the other color whether you use cool or warm gray.

Blending

Some artists alternate several layers of color with what they call a blending layer. They layer a warm gray that’s a light value over the work they’ve already done to smooth out the color and develop saturation. I have tried this technique a couple of times and it does work.

Apply blending layers with light pressure and careful stroking. Use a sharp pencil, too.

Three Ways to Use Prismacolor Grays

These three tips for using gray colors should help you find a use for them. But even if you don’t, don’t worry about it. I have so many gray Prismacolor pencils in my stash, that I’ll never use them all!

Because I don’t use grays very often.

I hope that helps.