Is there a Benefit to Starting with the Subject?

Colored pencils are unlike almost every other artistic medium out there. In a lot of ways, they turn the drawing process upside down. Is there a benefit to starting with the subject, instead of the background?

Here is today’s reader question:

Is there benefit to starting with the subject vs. the background?

Benefit to Starting with the Subject

In the past, there wasn’t much doubt about the answer. But new papers, new tools, and new products have given colored pencil artists brand new ways to use their colored pencils.

Is there Benefit to Starting with the Subject?

So let me answer this reader’s question in two parts.

The Old Way of Using Colored Pencils

I spent 40 years as an oil painter. The first 30 years were exclusively oil painting. It was the medium I learned first and remained my favorite medium all those years.

The advantage to oil painting and most other forms of wet media is that you can paint over the background. That makes it extremely easy to do the background first, and add details over it. I painted horses mostly, so had lots of manes and tails to paint over the background.

For this portrait, I painted the mane two or three times, each time after working on the background. The background was one of the first things I did. The mane was one of the last.

Benefit to Starting with the Subject

You can’t do that so much with colored pencils.

At least not the way I learned them.

Traditional colored pencils used on traditional types of drawing paper eventually make the paper surface slick. When the paper gets too slick, it’s difficult to add color.

If I haven’t yet drawn a windswept mane before my paper gets slick, I’ll have a hard time adding it.

So all those manes and tails I painted so easily over oil backgrounds now have to be worked around with colored pencils.

This colored pencil portrait is similar to the oil portrait above. But in this case, I had to do the horse first, then draw the background around the horse. Yes. Even all that lovely, gorgeous mane.

That’s the biggest benefit to starting with the subject. It’s easier to draw the subject first, and then work around the edges to add the background. Even with more complex subjects.

That’s one reason why I do so many animal drawings with no background!

The New Way of Using Colored Pencils

Thanks to years of research and trial-and-error by Alyona Nickelsen, there is a new way to do colored pencils. Alyona is the artist behind Brush & Pencil.

You’re still using the same pencils. That hasn’t changed.

Alyona developed a line of products she uses with sanded art papers to make colored pencils behave more like wet media. From Powder Blender to ACP Final Fixative, these produces allow artists to use more painterly methods with colored pencils.

Her method, which I’m now learning, allows me to do a background first (working around the subject.) When the background is finished, I seal it with ACP Textured Fixative, then do the subject.

The fixative not only seals the previous layers of color; I can draw over it. So when I draw a horse, I can work around the main edges of the horse with background, seal the background, then add the finer details over the sealed background.

Benefit to Starting with the Subject

This portrait is in-progress. I did the background first, but I didn’t have to work around all of the cat’s hair. Instead, I’ll be able to continue building color saturation and detail step by step by sealing each phase of work before moving on to the next.

The exciting thing is that what works on the edges between background and subject also works within the subject.

So now you have more options.

Is there Benefit to Starting with the Subject?

Starting with the subject still has benefits even when you use Alyona’s methods, but the benefits are not as great.

If nothing else, these new products give you more flexibility and a greater ability to move back and forth between the subject and background.

But if you still prefer traditional methods (and there’s nothing wrong with that,) then the benefits of starting with the subject first are tremendous.

Can Colored Pencils be Erased

Can colored pencils be erased? That’s what Katherine wants to know. Here’s her question.

Hello, Carrie,

Erasing? Is it a reality? I know I drew with too much pressure on my first project and plan to use a lighter touch and layer the colors this time. So will this facilitate erasing at all?

Thank you for offering to help all of us with our art journey,


I want to thank Katherine for this particular question because it’s a subject that arises often.

I think there’s the perception that because colored pencils are pencils, they can be erased just like graphite pencils. How I wish that were true!

Unfortunately, it’s not.

Can Colored Pencils be Erased?

Colored pencils look and behave like regular pencils, but they are very different. Both types of pencils contain a binding agent that allows the manufacturer to form graphite or pigment into a lead.

It’s easy to erase the binding agent in graphite pencils once the graphite is on the paper. Removing the binding agent also removes the graphite. Almost any eraser removes graphite from paper.

Can colored pencils be erased like graphite?

Colored pencils, on the other hand, are made with a binding agent that includes wax and oil in differing amounts. Wax-based pencils contain more wax than oil. Oil-based pencils contain more oil than wax.

The result is the same, though.

Both oil and wax resist removal once they’re on paper. Try to erase them with a regular eraser, and what happens? You may remove some color, but you’re more likely to smudge and smear it around, making a bigger mess.

But does that mean you can’t remove color once it’s on the paper?

Is Erasing a Reality?

Erasing is a reality if you use the right kind of eraser. Some artists use what they call an ink eraser. I don’t know exactly what that is, but I imagine those old typing erasers that look like a pencil with plastic bristles on the end.

Other artists recommend Tombow Mono erasers.

I have no personal experience with those, so I don’t know how they work on heavily applied color.

I’ve had success lifting color using mounting putty, masking tape, transparent tape, and what I call a click eraser, shown below. But even they do not completely remove heavily applied color.

Can Colored Pencils be Erased

If you work on traditional drawing papers, it doesn’t matter what method you use to lift color. Even combining some of the tools mentioned above removes only a limited amount of color. The more color on the paper, the more difficult removing it becomes.

Yes, applying color with lighter pressure makes lifting color easier. That’s because you don’t press the color so deeply into the tooth of the paper.

Starting with a harder pencil such as Prismacolor Verithin, Faber-Castell Polychromos, or Caran d’Ache Pablo also makes lifting color easier. But even then, it’s next to impossible to get down to bare paper again.

To read more about my experiences removing color, read how to Remove Color from a Colored Pencil Drawing here. You can also read 2 Neat Tricks for Erasing or “Lifting” Color from Colored Pencil Drawings here, published on EmptyEasel.

The Paper Makes a Difference

The difference can be huge!

I described above what happens when you try to erase colored pencils applied to traditional papers.

But apply color to a sanded art paper like Uart, Fisher 400, Pastelmat, or Lux Archival, and it’s a different story. Regular graphite erasers are still a no-no, but you can remove color almost completely from sanded papers with mounting putty, a stiff brush, or other similar tools.

I’ve been experimenting with the Brush & Pencil products lately, and can tell you that when I use Powder Blender before adding color, it’s even easier to remove color.

In fact, Alyona Nickelsen’s “painting with colored pencils” process involves adding color AND removing color. This lifting off method is very much like the wipe-off method oil painters have been using for centuries.

So Can Colored Pencils be Erased?


And no.

It all depends on the paper you use, the tools you use to lift or lighten color, and how you apply the color.

I recommend testing various methods with the paper or papers you use most often to find the method that works best for you.

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

We’ve all heard we should keep our pencils sharp for the best results. Most of the time, that’s true, but today’s reader wants to know about using the side of a colored pencil. Here’s the question.

Hello, Carrie,

Is it more effective to use the side of the pencil and avoid the tip except for making defining lines?

Most of the time, smooth color is vital to smooth color layers and smooth blends. Sharp pencils are usually necessary for both. So it’s understandable that most artists recommend keeping pencils sharp all the time.

the Side of a Colored Pencil

But that’s not to say there’s never a time to use the side of a pencil.

Following are a few examples of using the side of the pencil instead of the tip.

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

Covering Large Areas with Color

Let’s say you need to shade an area that’s fairly large and in which no sharp detail is needed. A distant hill, maybe. Or an under drawing layer. Using the side of your pencil makes perfect sense in those situations.

You can draw smooth color with the side of a pencil, but the color skims across the tooth of the paper without filling the tooth. The resulting color layer will appear lighter in value because more of the paper shows through. This is ideal for showing distance in a landscape, or for drawing mist or fog.

I used the side of a pencil to draw the distant trees in this landscape. The broken color (paper showing through the color layer) helped create to look of far off trees.


When you glaze, you put down just enough color to tint whatever color is already on the paper. With oil painting, you do that by adding painting medium to thin the paint and make it more transparent.

Colored pencils are already translucent, so you don’t need to add anything to them to use them for glazing.

You can cover more area by using the side of a sharp pencil rather than a dull pencil, as shown in the previous illustration.

Instead, you glaze by using light pressure and not doing more than one or two layers. The sides of pencils are perfect for this because they create a smoother color layer and cover more area without visible pencil strokes.

The resulting color layer is broken. That means that paper holes show through the glazing layer, as shown below. The rougher the paper, the more paper shows through glazed color.

Whatever color is already on the paper, also shows through, and that’s what makes glazing so effective. You can tint previous color layers without completely covering them up.

Too Much Detail

Have you ever realized after finishing an area that you’ve drawn too much detail? Have you ever wished there was a way to reduce the amount of detail without removing color?

Try lightly shading that area with the side of a pencil. You’ll be able to add color without adding detail. That color layer helps “veil” the previous layers. The details still show through, but they’ll be less obvious.

I often use a light gray for such work, but you can use any color. Use a darker color if you need to darken the area; use a lighter color to lighten it slightly.

One Other Reason to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

Over the years, readers have asked how to learn to use lighter pressure when they draw.

The best tool I’ve found for a naturally heavy hand is changing the way you hold the pencil.

Here are two samples of how I hold pencils.

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

On the left is a nearly vertical grip. I use this when drawing tight detail, or when I need to be very precise. It’s also a good way to work on small areas.

When you hold a pencil this way, you’re using only the point of the pencil. You have a lot of control and can put a lot of pressure on the pencil.

On the right is a nearly horizontal grip. With this grip, you’re drawing with all or most of the exposed pigment core, not just the tip. This is perfect for glazing thin layers of color, as I explained above.

But you know what else it’s good for? Decreasing pressure! That’s because you hold the pencil more toward the unsharpened end. That makes it a little more difficult to put a lot of pressure on the pencil as you draw.

(My illustration isn’t perfect because I used a short pencil to show the horizontal grip. No matter the length of the pencil, hold it near the end.)

If you want to draw with very light pressure but have a naturally heavy hand, try holding the pencil near the end of the pencil and drawing with the side of the pencil.


In most cases and with most papers, it is smart to use the tip of a well-sharpened pencil.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when using the side of the pencil is more helpful. I’ve shared a few of the times I’m likely to use the side of the pencil.

Experiment with your next drawing and see when the side of your pencil produces better results than the tip.

The Best Papers for Blending Colored Pencils

Let’s talk about the best papers for blending colored pencils. Are some papers better for blending than others?

Unfortunately, there isn’t one single paper that’s absolutely best for blending colored pencils all the time or for every artist. Blending has more to do with the pencils you use, the way you draw, and the results you want to achieve.

The paper does make a difference, but probably not as much as you might think.

The Best Paper for Blending Colored Pencils

Blending colored pencils is all about smoothing out the color and filling the paper holes. You can do that on almost any paper. For example, I use Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, Bristol Vellum, and Clairefontaine Pastelmat. The techniques vary, but I can fill the paper holes on each paper.

But there are a few general guidelines for selecting papers to make blending easier.

The Best Paper for Blending Colored Pencils

Smooth Papers versus Rougher Papers

As a rule, smoother papers like Bristol Vellum are easier to blend on because they have very little surface texture. Color goes down more smoothly, so there are fewer paper holes to fill in.

Some of the best papers for blending colored pencils are very smooth papers, such as Bristol.

The flip side to smooth papers is sanded art papers, which have a lot of tooth.

It seems like it would be harder to blend colored pencils on sanded art papers, but it’s actually easier. That’s because sanded papers take a lot more layers. You can keep adding color until the tooth is filled.

Another reason is that sanded art papers create pigment dust. That seems like wasted pigment at first glance, but use a stiff brush to push the dust around and into the tooth of the paper, and all of a sudden, you can blend beautiful, smooth color.

The fact of the matter is that you can blend smooth color on any kind of paper.

So let’s talk about the three things I mentioned earlier.

The Pencils You Use

The higher quality pencils you use, the easier it should be to blend, no matter what method you prefer. Better pencils have a higher percentage of pigment to binding agent. That means less binding agent and more pigment ends up on the paper. The more pigment on the paper, the better the colors blend.

I addressed the issue of pencils and blending in a recent post.

The Way You Draw

The way your draw is probably the most significant factor. If you like drawing with just a few layers of color applied with medium pressure or heavier, than you’re probably going to get the best results with a paper like Bristol. It’s smoother, and tougher. You can get good color saturation with a softer paper like Stonehenge, but you will crush the tooth of a softer paper.

Afternoon Graze is drawn on Bristol vellum. I was able to get rich color and good coverage by careful layering with light pressure.

If you draw with a light hand and like lots of layers, then the only papers you probably will not want to use are the smooth papers like Bristol. You’ll need something with enough tooth to hold multiple layers of color. Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes would be good papers to try.

And for those who like a more painterly look, sanded art papers are perfect.

Spring Storm is an original colored pencil on Pastelmat. Color saturation is good. There are no paper holes showing through, but the overall appearance is more painterly; less finely detailed.

The Results You Want to Achieve

Some artists like doing hyper-realistic art, in which you can’t tell the difference between their art and their reference photo.

Other artists prefer a sketchier style, and still others prefer a more painterly look.

The type of blending you need to do depends on the type of work you like. That in turn may determine the type of paper you use.

The Best Papers for Blending Colored Pencils

The best papers for blending are different for each artist. Some artists can get similar results on whatever paper they use, and they try lots of different papers.

Others find a paper they like and stick with it.

In either case, they’re able to blend effectively.

If you’re not satisfied with the way your blending looks on the paper you’re using, using another paper might be the solution. The best option is to try as many papers as you can afford to try until you find one that works for you.

However, I also challenge you to continue improving blending skills. The better you get at layering and blending colors, the happier you’ll be with the results.

No matter what paper you use.

Suede Board and Colored Pencils

Today’s question comes for a reader who is interested in using suede board with colored pencils, but has a question. Here’s her question.


I was wondering if coloured pencils work well on suede board, and is there a special technique that should be used?


Thank you for the question, Dianne!

Suede board and Colored Pencils

Colored pencils work very well on suede board, and yes, you do have to adjust the technique somewhat.

But I think it’s mostly a matter of adding more layers.

I’ve never used suede board myself, so I couldn’t personally answer Dianne’s question. But I do know of several artists who use it, and one of them, Peggy Osborne, has written tutorials for this blog and for Colored Pencil Tutorials. So I asked her to share a few tips for using colored pencils on suede board.

Here’s what she had to say.

Tips for Using Suede Mat Board with Colored Pencils

I think suede mat board is a wonderful support for colored pencil, and love how the suede board works with the colored pencils.

Suede Board Advantages

I use Prismacolor over Polychromos on the suede. Polys are too hard for my liking, and they didn’t work as well.

You can add highlights on top of the dark pencil and it shows up nicely.

I like the softness you can achieve with suede; it’s perfect for furry animals. 

I don’t have to keep my pencils super sharp, either. In fact it works best for some applications if you save the sharp pencil for fine details. 

Although I have done complete backgrounds on suede, I normally do not draw over the whole board. Instead, I do a head/shoulder portrait and leave the board for the background. Since it comes in a variety of colors, and has a mottled look, it’s ideal for a background that looks rich and exquisite without having to draw in a background.  People ask me all the time how I drew that mottled background!

Denali, Colored Pencil Portrait on Suede Board by Peggy Osborne. Peggy has written a tutorial on this portrait, which is currently available on Colored Pencil Tutorials.

Suede Board Disadvantages

But there are also a few negatives about the board.

It tends to absorb the pencil, especially light colors. You have to keep penciling in the color until it’s saturated. I tend to save the board for drawing darker colored animals. 

I’ve used Prismacolor markers along with the colored pencils on the board with success. Be careful to blend them without leaving a definite edge where the marker ends and begins.

Another downfall is that the suede does not erase. You can gently lift some color with the scotch tape method but that is about it for making serious corrections. 

There is definitely a learning curve to using the suede board but it feels so good when you complete your first successful piece on suede board.

Old Prismacolor Colored Pencils

This week’s reader is one fortunate artist. She has in her possession some old Prismacolor colored pencils!

She also had a couple of questions about them. Here’s what she asked.

I found that along with my Prismacolor Premier pencils I also have some odd Prismacolor pencils with other names: Sanford Prismacolor and  Berol Prismacolor. Are these beginner pencils with less permanence than the Premier pencils?


Old Prismacolor Colored Pencils

Old Prismacolor Colored Pencils

I have good news for Dolly and for anyone else who has pencils with these labels.

They are artist grade pencils.

They’re also perfectly good to use, and may actually be of higher quality than the current Prismacolor pencils.

So what are they?

Time for a quick colored pencil history lesson!

In 1856, a man named Daniel Berolzheimer founded the Eagle Pencil Company. He made graphite pencils and other writing tools and accessories.

Colored pencils didn’t come into being until 1938 under the name Eagle Prismacolor pencils. Even then, they came in two forms: The soft core thick lead pencils, and the thinner, harder leaded Verithin pencils.

In 1969, the company adopted the name of Berol Ltd., and renamed the pencils Berol Prismacolor. The company remained family-owned for five generations. Then, the Empire Pencil Company purchased the company and its products. That was in 1986.

In 1995, Sanford LP purchased the Prismacolor line. The name was changed again, this time to Sanford Prismacolor.

Sanford is a subsidiary of the Newell Company. You may be more familiar with some of this company’s other products, including Rubbermaid, Coleman outdoor products, Mr. Coffee, and Yankee Candle, just to name a very few.

Are All Those Pencils of Good Quality?

Factories built by the original owners manufactured Prismacolor pencils until Sanford bought the line. Family-owned companies are often more interested in producing top-quality products because their name is on the line.

After the sale to Sanford, those factories began to close. Manufacture of Prismacolor products was out-sourced when the last factory closed in 2010. Products made by factories not owned by the company sometimes results in lesser quality control.

I looked through my pencils and found a Berol Prismacolor and a Sanford Prismacolor among the colors I rarely use. The pencils are both metallic silver and have the same color number—949, though the Sanford pencil is labeled PC949. I’ve used them both (at least both of them are sharpened,) and recall no difference.

Are They Permanent?

I cannot tell you that because lightfast testing was not done back then. At least I found no evidence of lightfast tests or test results.

I am confident, however, that earth tones (browns,) grays, blacks, and some of the less bright colors are lightfast. The jewel tones (if you have any) are more likely to fade.

You can use all the colors if you’re doing craft art. If you want to use them for fine art for your own display, then make sure to frame them with UV resistant glass and display them where natural sunlight does not reach them.

Old Prismacolor colored pencils

Old Prismacolor Colored Pencils: The Bottom Line

Those Eagle, Berol and Sanford Prismacolor colored pencils are perfectly good for modern day use. They feel about the same as today’s Prismacolor pencils when you draw with them, and they should perform very well.

By the way, you can still buy some of these old Prismacolor pencils if you know where to find them. Hint: Etsy and eBay are both good sources.

Research Sources

How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know how to get bright highlights in eyes. This is a great question, because the answer works for any type of bright highlights on any subject.

Here’s the question.

How do you get that realistic look of shiny glaze look in eyes, besides just having a white dot from a jelly roll pen? Please, I’m lost on making the seem real, Thanks.


Thank you for the question!

This post is a followup to last week’s Q&A Wednesday post, in which I talked about using gel pens and other supplies for adding highlights to colored pencil. That method works well for craft uses and other non-archival art forms. If you’re fine artist and want to know whether or not that’s a good idea, take a moment to read that post here. We’ll wait for you.

How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

There are two ways to get bright highlights in eyes—or bright highlights on any subject. The methods are very different, so what I’d like to do is share a few general tips on each subject.

I’ll include links to more in-depth tutorials on this blog when they’re available.

Drawing Highlights on Traditional White Paper

Traditional paper is what most of us think of when we think of drawing paper. Brands like Stonehenge, Strathmore, and Canson Mi-Teintes are examples.

These papers take varying amounts of color, but one thing is fairly standard. You cannot layer light colors over dark colors and get bright values. That has more to do with the pencils than the paper, because the pencils are translucent. But the paper does make a difference.

When you use white paper, you have to preserve the highlights and work around them. The method that works best for me is marking out the highlights on the line drawing, then developing color by starting with the lightest colors and gradually drawing the darker colors and values layer by layer.

Peggy Osborne wrote an excellent tutorial about drawing cat eyes on white paper, which you can read here. She uses a method similar to what I described above. You can draw highlights in any type of eye or on any subject using her method.

Drawing Highlights on Traditional Paper That’s Medium Dark or Darker

Drawing on medium-dark or darker paper has one advantage over white paper. You can actually draw the light values first and see them. You still have to work around them, but at least you can see them more easily.

I wrote a tutorial on this subject, which you can read here. The subject is a cat, but the method I describe works with any type of eye.

Or with any subject on which you need a bright highlight.

Drawing on Abrasive, Non-Absorbent Papers

Uart Premium Sanded Pastel Paper, Fisher 400 Pastel Paper, and Clairfontaine Pastelmat are all abrasive papers. They have obvious texture.

They are also non-absorbent, so they don’t soak up solvents the same way traditional drawing papers do.

While you can use normal drawing methods on them and get good results, they also allow you to use more “painterly” methods of applying color.

I haven’t yet completed a pet portrait on this type of paper, but I did do a landscape in which I added light-value highlights over darker colors. As you can see in this detail, the light greens and whites show up quite well when placed over medium dark and dark greens.

If you have the right tools, you can even isolate layers and add new colors just as though you were drawing on fresh paper.

That means that you can add highlights and lighter values over darker values with much greater success than you could on traditional drawing paper.

You will need special tools for this method. Tools such as Titanium White, Powder Blender, and ACF Texture Fixative from Brush & Pencil. Alyona Nickelsen’s book, Colored Pencil Painting Portraits is a great resource for learning how best to use these tools.

Drawing Those Bright Highlights

As you can see, there are several methods for drawing bright highlights in eyes. It all depends on the paper you use and your preferred drawing style.

If you work on traditional white drawing paper, preserve the white of the paper in the highlight area. You’ll always get brighter highlights if you preserve the white of the paper than if you try to add them over darker colors.

The other methods I described are also very effective once you learn them.

But if you prefer using traditional papers and just colored pencils, then your best option—your only option—is defining the highlights first and working around them from the start.

My Thoughts on Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

Today’s post question comes from a reader who wants to know how to get bright highlights in eyes. The reader also mentions using gel pens to create highlights, so I’ll answer the question with two posts. Today, I’ll share my thoughts on gel pens and acrylic paint.

Next week, I’ll show you how to get bright highlights in eyes using archival materials.

But first, here’s the question.

How do you get that realistic look of a shiny glaze in eyes, besides just having a white dot from a jelly roll pen? Please, I’m lost on making this seem real, Thanks.


Thank you for the question!

Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

My Thoughts on Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

A lot of artists use gel pens, acrylic paint, and other similar tools to add bright highlights to their colored pencil drawings. Many of those artists are artists whose work and talent I respect. They get excellent results, in most cases.

Acrylic paints are another medium I’m often asked about for adding highlights to colored pencil drawings.

Acrylics seemed to make sense when I tried them decades ago. I was a painter, after all, so using a brush and paint came naturally. What better way to add highlights and accents than by brushing them on with acrylic paint?

But unless you’re drawing for your own pleasure, it’s wise to avoid gel pens, acrylic paint, and any similar substances. They look good when you first use them, but they won’t stick well to the colored pencils. Sooner or later, they will flake off.

Why That Doesn’t Work

No matter what brand of colored pencils you use, the pigment is held together in lead form by binders. The binder is made up of a mixture of wax, oil, clay and fillers.

Gel pens and acrylics are water-based.

You can safely use water-based mediums under oil- or wax-based mediums. Artists have been using acrylics under oils for decades.

Many colored pencil artists use watercolors, watercolor pencils, India ink and even acrylics under colored pencils. In most cases, you can use colored pencil over any water-based medium as long as you use the wet medium as intended, and let the paper dry thoroughly.

But using a water-based medium of any kind over a wax- or oil-based medium of any kind often leads to problems down the road.

That’s because water and oil (or wax) do not mix.

If it helps, try a little experiment. Fill a glass with water, then pour a little vegetable oil into it. You’ll get something that looks like this.

Leave the glass sit for a moment or two and the oil rises to the surface. Once all the oil is on the surface, it’s fairly easy to skim the oil off the water.’s surface If you’re careful, you might even be able to pour most of the water out of the glass and leave most of the oil behind.

The same is true for dry mediums. It takes longer for the separation to happen, but it will happen. Since the pencils are dry and the gel pen or acrylic dries after application, the two will eventually separate cleanly. The gel pen or acrylic flakes off and your drawing is without those lovely highlights.

Is There Ever a time to Use Gel Pens or Acrylic Paints?


If you’re doing artwork in which permanence isn’t important, then you can use whatever tool or material gives you the result you want.

Greeting cards are an excellent example. A lot of people make their own greeting cards with stamping, colored pencils, markers, stickers, and other things. Greeting cards aren’t meant to last for decades, and they’re not usually framed or displayed. So it doesn’t matter if they’re absolutely archival.

Any type of craft use involving colored pencils is also suitable for using gel pens and acrylic paints to create highlights are accents. And, of course, adult coloring books are good places for gel pens.

And as I mentioned at the beginning, if you’re making art for your own pleasure, then by all means make use of those gel pens.

So if you shouldn’t use gel pens, how do you make bright, realistic highlights in eyes? I’ll answer that question next week.

New for 2021 at Carrie L. Lewis

Welcome to a new year! My first post of the year is an announcement of something new for 2021.

And a thank you to everyone who submitted a question for Q&A December. I received so many great questions, that I was unable to answer all of them in December.

New for 2021

So I’m going to be answering them this month and for as long as they last. How?

Q&A Wednesday!

New for 2021

Beginning January 6 (the first Wednesday of the year,) I’ll answer a reader question every Wednesday. I’ll finish answering the questions received in response to my call for Q&A month questions back in November 2020.

I also received great questions in response to a recent newsletter survey, and will also answer those questions.

So I hope you’ll tune in on January 6 for the beginning of this new weekly post.

And if you have a question, I hope you’ll ask it! As always, if there’s a quick, brief answer to your question, I’ll answer it immediately by email.

But I’ll also answer it in greater depth with a Q&A Wednesday post.

So if you ask a question, you get two answers!

Do You Have a Question?

Ask it!

Never think your question is too basic. Every artist had to start somewhere and many of us had to figure things out on our own. That was certainly true for me because I started making art before Patreon, YouTube and even PCs! I know what it’s like to stumble through the learning process.

If I can make it easier for you by answering even the simplest question for you, I want to do that!

Questions can be about colored pencils, drawing paper, drawing methods, tools, materials, or anything related to creativity. I’m even happy to answer questions about starting, promoting, or maintaining an art-related business!

So if you have a question, ask it by clicking on this link or on the button below! I hope to hear from you soon.

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

What is the best method of transferring drawings to drawing paper? That’s what Kathryn wants to know. Here’s her question.

Hi Carrie

I’ve only started drawing and using coloured pencils in the last 6 years and often have problems transferring my sketch onto good paper.  What is the best method of transferring my sketch onto good paper?

I’ve tried:

  • transfer paper with charcoal on the back (got quite messy)
  • coloured carbon paper (but it didn’t work very well)
  • bought a lightbox which worked well sometimes but a lot of my paper is really thick and doesn’t work with the lightbox

Also I would like to say thank you for all your emails, blogs and encouragement in your articles. I felt like giving up numerous times but would read your weekly emails which would encourage me.  I have made progress over the years and enjoyed your tuition and done a number of your lessons.  I’m emailing from New Zealand so just to let you know you have fans all over the world.



Thank you to Kathryn for her question, and readership. And for her encouragement. One can never get too much encouragement!

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

It would be nice if I could share an answer that works all the time for every artist. The fact of the matter is that there is no such answer. I’ve used four or five different transfer methods over the years. Some worked a lot. Some worked once in a while, and some didn’t work at all.

There are many other transfer methods that I’ve never tried. Some artists swear by those methods, but I can’t personally recommend them.

So I’m going to talk about the three transfer methods that work best for me.

My Best Methods of Transferring Drawings

Light Box

My absolute favorite method of transferring drawings is a light box. In my case, that’s one of two or three large windows.

But Kathryn is right. Some papers are too thick or opaque for this method to work. I can transfer to Bristol and Stonehenge fine with a light box, but need other methods for colored papers, and heavier papers.

Carboning the Back of the Drawing

The easiest way to transfer a line drawing to another surface is to shade graphite directly on the back of the drawing. This process is called “carboning the drawing” and it lets you trace the line drawing onto almost any other drawing or painting surface.

Kathryn has already tried a form of this. But she used charcoal rather than graphite, and that will produce a messier line.

Instead charcoal, try a pencil that’s soft enough to make a nice, clear line, but not so soft that it smudges wherever you happen to rest your hand. A 4B is the best choice if you tend to draw with a light hand. Otherwise, a 2B is probably your best choice.

How to Carbon a Drawing

To carbon a drawing, turn the drawing upside down and shade the back of the paper along the lines. You don’t need to cover the entire piece of paper, but make sure to shade every part of the line drawing.

It doesn’t matter how careful you are in shading. Notice the random patterns in the illustration below. But you MUST cover every part of the line drawing.

This is what my line drawing looked like after I carboned it.

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

You can see the shading on the drawing because my line drawing is on tracing paper.

If your drawing is on drawing paper, so you may not be able to see the shading from the front of the paper. To make sure you’ve shaded behind every line, hold the drawing up to a window or lay it on a light box. Do any additional shading that might be necessary.

When you’ve shaded over every part of the line drawing, mount it to drawing paper and retrace the lines. The graphite transfer to the drawing paper. Clean up as necessary afterward.

Home-Made Graphite Paper

I don’t often carbon the backs of my line drawings because I prefer clean line drawings. In the past, I used commercial carbon paper, usually Saral greaseless. Then I started making my own transfer paper and have never looked back.

It’s fast, easy, and inexpensive. And you can “recharge” the sheet whenever necessary!

Use a 2B or 4B graphite pencil to shade one side of an ordinary piece of paper. I use printer paper, but you can also use any other type of paper that’s heavy enough to stand the abuse.

Shade the paper as much or as little as you like. This sample shows two or three layers applied in one direction, with two or three additional layers applied in a different direction.

All you need is enough graphite on the paper to transfer a drawing, so two or three layers with a soft graphite pencil will probably be enough.

You can also shade all or part of the paper. I do a lot of smaller drawings, so this partial sheet is sufficient. If I need something for a larger drawing, I shade more of the sheet.

When I was oil painting, I even had a legal sheet fully carboned for those larger oil portraits.

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

Some artists stabilize the graphite with a light coat of workable fixative. That also keeps the transferred lines from being too dark. I’ve never sprayed my graphite paper with anything, so can’t say from experience how it works.

Graphite transfers easily and clearly. If you used a very soft pencil (4B or softer,) it also smudges, but smudges can be easily removed with mounting putty or an eraser.

One Precaution

If you carbon the back of your drawing or make your own graphite transfer paper, make sure to use a bit of mounting putty on the transferred drawing. That lifts excess graphite from your drawing paper, and keeps it from muddying the colored pencil. This is especially important if you’ll be using a lot of lighter colors.

So What’s The Best Method of Transferring Drawings?

For me, it’s a light box, with my home-made transfer paper a close second.

Those methods may or may not work for you. If they don’t, there are other ways to transfer drawings, such as projectors and copying gadgets.

Whether you begin with my favorite methods or explore on your own, deciding on the best method of transferring drawings is really a personal choice.

And you may find as I did, that you’ll need more than one transfer method for the different types of paper you use.