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!

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!

Straight Line Drawing Exercises

straight line drawing exercises

I can’t draw a straight line with a straight edge, and I’m the first to admit it. Horses, yes. Fences, no, in other words. I have to practice drawing straight lines, but really didn’t want to do it until I stumbled upon a few fun and easy straight line drawing exercises.

4 Straight Line Drawing Exercises

People often comment on the time and patience needed for colored pencil work. Some use the word “tedious” in describing the process. My response is that “tedious is in the eye of the beholder.” If you truly enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not tedious.

But there are times when time is of the essence, especially if you do portrait work or are working toward a competition or exhibit. Having a full arsenal of tools helps you make the most of your time. One of those tools is line control.

4 Straight Line Drawing Exercises

Following are four line control exercises that will help you improve pencil control. I used a 6B graphite pencil for each of these because I enjoy the way a soft lead goes onto paper. You can use any hardness of lead you prefer, or any dry medium you prefer. They’re excellent exercises for colored pencil, chalk, charcoal or pastel.

Parallel Line Exercise

Draw a line. Choose any pressure and value.

Draw a series of lines parallel to the first line. Make them as parallel as possible while drawing freehand. Use constant pressure.

Don’t worry if the lines aren’t perfectly straight or perfectly parallel when you begin. None of us start that way unless we use a straight-edge. The more often you do this exercise, the straighter and more parallel your lines will become, so keep practicing and leave the straight-edge in its drawer!

straight line drawing exercises

Gradated Parallel Line Exercise

This exercise is much like the previous one with the added dimension of making each parallel line either lighter or darker than the one before.

Start with a line. Make it either very light or very dark.

Make each stroke lighter or darker than the previous stroke (depending on where you started) and make each new stroke parallel to the previous strokes.

See how much gradation you can create just with lines.

A variation on this exercise would be to see how close together you can make the lines and how smooth the resulting transitions can be made.

For variation, see how close together you can make the lines and how smooth the resulting transitions can be made.

You can also work from one color to the next, varying color and value.

Hatching Line Exercise

Draw a set of parallel lines with even pressure and line weight.

Now draw another set in an opposing direction. Don’t draw through the previous set of lines. Create an edge between the groups by ending each line with the same amount of space between the first group of lines.

straight line drawing exercises

Continue adding new sets of lines in new directions.

The purposes of this exercise are:

  • Learning to draw parallel lines at different angles
  • Consistent pressure control
  • Learning to begin and end strokes precisely and consistently
  • Learning how changes in stroke direction affects the appearance of a drawing

Value Shift Parallel Line Exercise

It never hurts to practice pressure application as well as line drawing. This exercise allows you to do both at the same time.

Start with the lightest pressure possible and increase to the heaviest pressure possible as you draw the line. Do several this way, making them as parallel as possible and getting the widest possible value shift without lifting your pencil from one end of each line to the other, or going over the line a second time.

After you’ve done a few, start with heavy pressure and reduce pressure as you draw the line.

A variation on this exercise is to use a pencil with a slanted point and change the line width by turning the pencil as you draw.

straight line drawing exercises

These Straight Line Drawing Exercises will Get You Started

I highly recommend these straight line drawing exercises, as well as other types of drawing exercises. In the next few weeks, I’ll share a few more drawing exercises you can use to warm up, improve pencil control, or just have fun.

Most of us doodle from time to time. These exercises are ideal for doodling time whether you’re waiting for a doctor’s appointment, on a plane, train, or bus, or walking the pet of your choice.

They’re also a great way to relax for a few minutes.

And all the while, you’ll be improving line control and finding new ways to make every stroke carry it’s full weight with your next pencil project.

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.

Tips for Drawing Animal Portraits

Today, I’d like to share a 5 tips for drawing animal portraits.

Tips for Drawing Animal Portraits

5 Tips for Drawing Animal Portraits

Let me tackle this like a step-by-step tutorial, and lets begin with the reference photo.

Step 1: Use Good Reference Materials

For most of us, our art is no better than the reference materials we use. I have completed portraits from poor reference materials and the client has been happy. But it was a struggle, and not much fun.

And lets face it; unless you know your subject inside and out, you simply cannot draw what you cannot see!

Tips for Drawing Animal Portraits

So the process begins with the best reference photos possible.

Step 2: Start Drawing Detail with the Line Drawing

One thing I learned early on was that I needed to develop details from the beginning. If I didn’t start developing the details with the line drawing, I got to the under drawing or color phase, and was completely lost. And often frustrated.

What held true for oil painting (where I could easily paint over or wipe off mistakes) was even more important with colored pencils.

So over the years, I developed a method of creating line drawings that shows as much detail as possible.

I use a strong, dark line to draw shapes. The outline of the horse, the eye, and the bridle, for example.

I use lighter lines to draw the shapes within those areas. I even mark highlights and some of the more obvious middle values using dotted or dashed lines. So my line drawings often look like complex road maps, as shown below.

Illustration from the Portrait of a Black Horse Tutorial.

I don’t always transfer all those lines, but I do transfer the more important ones. In some way, it helps just to have drawn all those details as a line drawing.

Something else that makes doing a detailed line drawing helpful is that it gives you the opportunity to work out shapes with simple lines. Getting size, shape, and position correct as a line drawing goes a long way toward creating a fabulous portrait.

Step 3: Establish the Most Important Elements Early

When you begin color work, start with the most important part of the portrait. Usually that’s going to be the eye, but not always.

Shadows are a good place to begin, too. They’re what give your portrait form and make it look real. Like your subject takes up space.

I use the umber under drawing method a lot for animal portraits because it allows me to work on the values separate from color.

But you don’t need to start with an under drawing like this one (below) in order to begin developing details early. So carefully place the most important details from the start, then gradually add additional details as needed.

Step 4: Draw Slowly and Carefully

Don’t rush! Nothing derails a portrait more quickly than rushing!

Study your reference photo carefully. Choose colors carefully and make those decisions based on the colors you see in the reference photo. No two animals have exactly the same skin tones or hair colors.

Lighting has as much to do with the colors you’ll draw as the actual skin tones or hair colors. So forget the idea that there’s a “basic set of colors” that works for all subjects.

After you’ve done a few portraits, you’ll no doubt discover that you use some colors for most of them. That’s okay. Those become your go-to colors.

Step 5: Pay Attention to the Details

It’s vital to get the overall shape of your subject correct. That means the proportions need to be correct, as does their position relative to the animal as a whole.

But the smaller details can transform a so-so portrait into a great portrait.

So what kind of details am I talking about?

The direction of hair growth is one key detail that is often overlooked. It may seem minor, but when you shade hair or fur as a solid, it can look flat. Even if the color and values are accurate.

Get the big shapes right, then continue adding smaller and smaller details until your animal portrait looks the way you want it to look.

Illustration from the Portrait of a Black Horse Tutorial.

And this goes back to the line drawing, as I mentioned above.

Those are My Basic Tips for Drawing Animal Portraits

Of all kinds.

These five steps are actually good steps for any subject from still life to complex landscapes.

How I Usually Start an Animal Drawing

Sometime ago, I answered a reader who wanted to know where they should begin a drawing. In a follow-up post, I also described how I start a landscape drawing. Today, I want to round out the series by telling you how I usually start an animal drawing.

How I Usually Start an Animal Drawing

In the original post, I talked about general starting points like base layers, dark values, and light values. I listed them as three separate options, but they really work together on most projects.

The landscape drawing post described the way I draw most landscapes beginning with an umber under drawing.

At one time, I started most animal drawings that way, too. But over the years, I tried different papers and using more colored papers, so I had to find other ways to begin animal drawings.

How I Usually Start an Animal Drawing

The method I use to draw animals is based on the paper I choose for the project. Traditional papers like Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Teintes require a traditional approach to drawing. Watercolor papers can be used in different ways, and sanded art paper is even more versatile.

Let’s start at the beginning with traditional white drawing paper.

Traditional Drawing Paper in White

I start drawings on traditional white paper with an umber under drawing, and I begin by shading the base color into the darkest areas first. As I continue darkening the shadows, I also add lighter values.

However, it’s important to work with light pressure and build up the values layer by layer. Corrections and adjustments are easier to make this way, and you also avoid getting too dark too quickly in the darkest places.

Once the darkest values are in place, I develop the other values with additional layers.

I also develop the most important details, and then fine tune them.

Traditional Drawing Paper in Colors

An umber under drawing doesn’t work very well on colored paper unless the paper is a very light earth tone. Even then, I have the best success with light-colored papers that are cool in color. Stonehenge Natural is the best color for use with an umber under drawing.

With other light colors, I start an animal drawing by deciding on the base color of the animal. The base color is often the lightest color in the animal’s hair, and is most often (but not always) most evident in the highlights.

This portrait was drawn on a warm, light-value Stonehenge, and the horse was a palomino. The base color was a reddish-gold earth tone.

Then I started shading the same way I start an umber under drawing; by working first in the shadows, and then developing the middle values.

A full-length tutorial on this portrait is available for you to read here.

I also shaded the white blaze on the horse’s face so I wouldn’t work over it. The paper was just dark enough to make that possible. Otherwise, I’d lightly outline the blaze with the base color, and then work around it.

For darker papers, I start with lighter values and essentially draw in reverse by marking out the highlights and lighter middle values first if the paper is very dark.

If the paper is a medium value, such as Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Grey, then I begin with whatever color and value works best with whatever animal I’m drawing.

No matter what color of paper or pencil I use, I almost always start by shading the shadows, and then working into the middle values.

Watercolor Papers

The beauty of watercolor papers is that you can do the base layers with watercolors or watercolor pencils. Those mediums do not fill the tooth of the paper and they fill in paper holes much better.

I don’t usually start with an umber under drawing because reapplying water reactivates the layers underneath. So I choose an overall base color for each area, then apply that with water-based mediums. When that dries, I continue with dry color, layering colors just as I would on regular paper.

In this sample, the background has been developed more completely at this stage than the horse. Part of the reason for that is that I needed to work around the edges of the horses and wanted to do that before working on the horse. Just in case the background didn’t turn out!

I wrote a two-part tutorial based on this drawing for EmptyEasel. You can read more about this method here.

Sanded Art Papers

Sanded art papers are actually more versatile than any other paper I’ve ever used. I’ve started drawings with an umber under drawing, with a more direct method, and using water-soluble media.

The method I use depends on the color of the paper and the color of the animal I’m drawing.

I started this horse portrait with an umber under drawing because it’s on white Clairefontaine Pastelmat.

I’ll use a more direct method with another portrait because I chose Sienna Pastelmat as the support.

There are Other Ways to Start an Animal Drawing

In fact, I sometimes don’t use any of the methods described above. Much depends on the subject, the color of the paper, the type of paper, and how much time I have to finish.

And as I’ve said about so many other topics, there really is no one-size-fits-all way to start a drawing.

But I hope you’ll find a method that works for you among those I described above.

If not, I hope you’ve at least discovered some ideas that get you started looking for your own best ways to start your animal drawings.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing

Last week, I began a step-by-step demonstration showing how to draw a horse as a miniature drawing. This week I’ll demonstrate glazing color on an umber under drawing on the same project.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing

Glazing Background Color Over an Umber Under Drawing

The drawing is an ACEO (Art Cards, Editions and Originals) on white Rising Stonehenge paper.

This is the finished umber under drawing. You can read about drawing the under drawing here.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing -- The finished umber under drawing.

You can finish your under drawing with as much detail as you like. Some artists produce under drawings that look like finished works of art. I admire those artists and their work, but I don’t possess enough patience for such highly detailed under drawings!

My Color List

I used Prismacolor Verithin pencils to preserve as much of the paper’s natural tooth as possible for as long as possible. Finding other ways to preserve tooth is important when you don’t want to use solvents. Verithin pencils include only 36 colors, but there are enough colors to get started.

These are the colors I used.

I didn’t use these colors in any particular order beyond working generally from light to dark. Many of them were used several times, alternating colors among the many layers I did throughout the day.

To preserve paper tooth, use harder pencils for the first few layers of color work.

You can successfully complete this project using your favorite colors.

Layering Colors

I started with Prismacolor Verithin pencils, using light pressure and a variety of strokes to layer smooth color.

To keep the green from getting too bright, I sandwiched earth tones (Dark Umber, Terra Cotta, and Goldenrod) between greens (Apple Green, Grass Green, Peacock Green, and True Green.) I further adjusted color and value by mixing in Canary Yellow, True Blue, Non-Photo Blue, and Ultramarine.

No color was applied in an even layer throughout the background. Multiple layers and varying strokes were used to create the look of sun-dappled foliage in soft-focus.

The result is some areas that are more blue than yellow, and some that show a lot of brown.

Since I wanted as many layers and colors as possible without producing the ‘slick’ look of heavy burnishing, I kept pressure light to medium-light for each layer.

Keeping the pencils needle-sharp wasn’t a high priority. With this type of background, a slightly dull or even an angled pencil tip can be advantageous.

Glazing Color on the Horse

I used Verithin pencils to begin glazing color on the horse, beginning with Goldenrod in the lightest values. The medium value base colors were Orange and Orange Ochre, with Indigo Blue as the base color in the mane and forelock.

Developing Color

After the base layers were finished, I added Indigo Blue in the darker shadows to begin developing those shadows.

Then I continued layering with Verithin Terra Cotta, Goldenrod, and Orange Ochre in the red-brown parts of the horse’s coat.

Next, I darkened values with Dark Brown and Crimson Red. With each color, I worked around the highlights.

For the muzzle, eye, mane and forelock, I layered Black in the darkest areas, followed by Indigo Blue in the darkest values and middle values.

I also used some Prismacolor Soft Core pencils (the same colors) to add vibrancy.

Adjusting the Background

Now that the main colors and values were in place on the horse, I felt the need to add more color to the background. For this, I switched to Prismacolor Soft Core pencils.

To begin, I used Dark Green, Olive Green, Indigo Blue, Apple Green, Dark Umber, and Yellow Chartreuse to deepen saturation all around. I applied light colors in light areas and dark colors in dark areas with enough overlap to avoid ”pasted on” value patterns.

Then I used Yellow Chartreuse, Chartreuse, Light Green, Apple Green, Deco Yellow, and French Grey 30% to burnish the background.

The result was a deep and rich color that looked almost like it could have been an oil painting.

Adjusting the Horse

I added Goldenrod, Orange Ochre, and Terra Cotta applied with light to medium pressure and in random order. Mixing colors like this helped create rich, saturated color.

Then I added Orange Ochre, Spanish Orange, Crimson Red, Orange, Peacock Green, Black, Non-Photo Blue, and Goldenrod. In the first pass, I used the colors in the order listed. Later, I used them in random order.

I started with Verithin colors to establish as deep and even a layer of color as possible while filling as little tooth as possible.

When I had done all I could do with those, I switched to Prismacolor Soft Core pencils and used Burnt Ochre, Orange, and Black.

For the most part, I used a medium to heavy pressure, really forcing color down into the tooth of the paper to fill up every last space.

Finishing Touches

I started the final round of work with Verithin Goldenrod, Orange Ochre, Crimson Red, Ultramarine, and Orange. I used Canary Yellow, and White for highlight colors and to burnish where needed.

Then I added Prismacolor Soft Core Burnt Ochre with light to medium pressure to add teh final touches.

And here is the finished portrait.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing -- The finished portrait.

If it were a larger portrait, I’d refine the details further and add more color depth. It looked great as an ACEO.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing is now Complete

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial. You can use this method with success on any subject at any size.

And as I mentioned earlier in this post, you can develop the under drawing as much as you like. The more detail you include in the under drawing, the easier (and less work) glazing color becomes.

Are you interested in more information on this method? I’ve published a subject study tutorial that’s currently available on Colored Pencil Tutorials and you can read more about that here.

Other Articles in This Series

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

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.

Danny,

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.

Tips for Drawing on Black Paper

Today’s topic is one a lot of colored pencil artists can never learn enough about. Drawing on black paper is something most of us want to try at least once, but it’s also something we have questions about. Here’s today’s question to get us started.

Hi Carrie,

One of the things that intrigues me about colored pencils is eventually working on black paper. My question is this.

How do I know which colors are going to be the most vibrant on black?

Also, is there anything different in technique about working on black paper vs white paper?  Am especially wondering about bright highlights on black.

Gail

Thank you for a great question, Gail. The old adage that if one person asks a question, dozens of other people also want to know is definitely proven with this question!

Tips for Drawing on Black Paper

Gail has actually asked two questions. Both are important, so I’ll answer each one in turn.

Tips for Drawing on Black Paper

Looking for Vibrant Colors

No color looks as vibrant on black paper as it looks on white paper. Colored pencils are translucent by nature, so unless you apply color with very heavy pressure, the color of the paper affects the color layers.

But you can look for colors that are high contrast to black. A bright, medium value or lighter red looks more vibrant on black paper than a darker red, for example. I used Prismacolor Scarlet Lake on the left and Prismacolor Raspberry on the right. The more layers and heavier pressure I used with each color, the brighter the color is. But burnishing the Raspberry will never make it as bright as the Scarlet Lake.

Also, choose lighter colors than the colors you see in the reference photo. The color that looks perfect when you compare it to your reference photo may be too dark when you put it on black paper. So look for a lighter version of that color for your drawing.

This takes some practice, so I suggest you keep a scrap of black paper handy to test colors. That saves you using the wrong colors on your drawing. It also saves a lot of headaches.

And if you plan to use black paper often, save those color swatches for future reference! Labeled by color, of course!

Adjusting Your Drawing Technique

Start with a White Under Drawing

Whether you start with an under drawing or not with white paper, consider doing an under drawing on black or dark-colored papers.

And you’ll probably want to consider using white for the under drawing (although Helen Carter did a great tutorial with a yellow under painting in the June 2020 issue of CP Magic.)

This sample shows Scarlet Lake and Raspberry layered over White. I applied all three colors with varying pressure and numbers of layers.

A white or light-colored under drawing acts as a buffer between the paper and color layers. The black of the paper doesn’t dim the color layers quite as much if you put color over a white under drawing.

This isn’t absolute, of course. I didn’t use an under drawing for this horse drawing. But I also wasn’t doing a “finished portrait.” As I recall, I did this head study in a single day, and was basically just playing around with colored pencils and dark paper.

But it shows that you can start with local colors on black paper. You don’t need an under drawing.

Light Values First

The most important thing to remember about working on black paper is that you need to work in reverse. Instead of establishing the dark values and working toward the light values, establish the lightest values first and work toward the dark values.

It’s still important to create a good range of values, with dark darks and light lights. But instead of shading the dark values, shade the light values.

When working on white paper, I start by establishing the shadows, because they give my subject form. But I have to start by shading the highlights when I draw on black paper.

With this little study, for example, I began by lightly sketching the large branches, and then continued to brighten them as I drew. I increased the brightness by adding more layers of white or by increasing the pressure. Sometimes both.

The darkest shadows are the black of the paper.

Tips for Drawing on Black Paper

Yes, I used only one color on this study, but the process is the same when I use a full palette.

Layer, Layer, Layer

This isn’t any different than working on white or light-colored paper, except that you need to add light values and colors over and over.

Light colors sometimes seem to seep into dark-colored paper. At least that’s the way it seems to me. So every time I work on a more complex piece like this one, I have to redo the light colors.

That’s also often the last thing I do to finish a piece.

A lot depends on the paper you use, of course. Toothy papers like Canson Mi-Teintes take more layers to fill, so you have to add lighter colors again and again.

Smoother papers like Strathmore Artagain have less tooth to fill. Artagain comes in a very lovely black that’s fairly easy to work with. I prefer their black paper to the much softer Stonehenge, as a matter of fact, but I’ve had success with all of them.

The Four Most Important Tips for Drawing on Black Paper

In most other ways, drawing on black paper is no different than drawing on any other color of paper. Pay attention to how you put the color on the paper, the strokes you use, and so on, and you’ll do fine.

Glazing Color over an Umber Under Drawing

Today, I want to talk about glazing color over an umber under drawing.

The umber under drawing method is one of my favorite drawing methods. I first started using it with oil paints, but it works just as well with colored pencils.

It’s good for animals, landscapes, and most subjects.

Some of you have asked about the umber under drawing method in general, so I thought it was time to share a tutorial.

This one features a horse in a landscape. I’ve finished (or nearly finished) everything but the horse. The horse is still at the umber under drawing stage, and I’ll show you how to glaze color over it.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 10

Glazing Color over an Umber Under Drawing

Glazing color over an umber under drawing involves two steps: establishing the base colors and details, and developing color and value ranges. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, you get the best results by following these two basic steps.

The final step with every drawing is reviewing it as a whole and making whatever adjustments to color, value, and detail may become apparent.

NOTE: This is an older drawing. I used some fugitive (fading) colors that I no longer use. Those colors are marked with an asterisk (*). You can use those colors if you wish, or find lightfast replacements.

Step 1: Establishing Base Colors and Details

I used four colors for the base layers. Yellow Ochre in the lighter mid-tones, Pumpkin Orange* in the mid-tones, Dark Umber in the shadows, and Cloud Blue* in the reflected highlights. It isn’t always necessary to use more than one base color. But choosing base colors that represent the final color helps establish contrast and color variations more quickly.

I applied each color with light pressure and a sharp pencil. Wherever possible, I stroked in the direction of hair growth. When that wasn’t possible, I worked around the contours of the horse’s body.

Adding Color to Umber Under 1rawing Step 11

TIP: The base color is the foundation for everything else. Use small strokes placed close together or the side of a well-sharpened pencil to create smooth, even color.

You want smooth color and even application, so use sharp pencils and light pressure. Add more layers in areas where you need darker values. Work around the highlights as much as possible to avoid losing them.

Step 2: Glazing Color over the Base Layers

Over the base colors, I layered Slate Gray in the light areas and Black in the shadows of the muzzle and black areas. I applied color with tiny, circular strokes to the muzzle and directional strokes in the forelock.

Next, I worked on the legs and muzzle with Black and Slate Blue, darkening values and drawing detail.

Mineral Orange, Dark Umber, and Red Ochre were used in the body, neck and head.

(Red Ochre is not a Prismacolor color.)

For this round of color, I continued working throughout the horse with light pressure and sharp pencils.

TIP: At some phases of a drawing, you can spend a couple of hours working without appearing to make much progress. Be patient! Your work will be rewarded if you stick with it!

Add More Color Layers

I layered Mineral Orange, Sienna Brown, and Burnt Umber over the body, legs, and neck, then added Black to the legs and darkest shadows of the body. I shaded reflected light on the under sides of the belly, chest, and legs with Limepeel*.

Next, I added Orange* throughout the horse, shading over some of the highlights that had been protected up to that point while working around others. I used reading glasses for the work so the work was slightly out of focus. That helped me avoid getting too detailed too quickly. I also applied color mostly with the side of the pencil.

Then I layered Sienna Brown and Henna over the brown parts of the horse following the contours of the horse. Except for the smaller areas or tighter details, I used the side of the pencils.

The browns were getting a little too bold, so I toned them down with a layer of Peacock Green, which I also used on the black areas.

To darken the blacks and darker shadows, I next used medium pressure to apply Copenhagen Blue*, then glazed Henna over all of the horse except the blacks.

Step 3: Developing Depth of Color

At this point, my goal shifted to building up color and value toward a finish.

I layered Tuscan Red* over all of the horse but the brightest highlights and the reflected light areas, followed by Ultramarine* on the legs and in the darker shadows in the head and body. Over almost all of the horse, I layered Dark Brown, then Bruynzeel Full Color** Permanent Orange over all of the browns

**The Full Color line of Bruynzeel pencils is no longer available. I’ve read that the Design line is the same basic pencil and that the colors are the same, but I have yet to give them a try.

I applied all colors with medium length, parallel strokes except in the tighter, smaller areas or when I needed to create a directional pattern.

The Legs

Next, I used Black, Blue Slate*, Powder Blue, White, and Limepeel* (in that order) to draw the legs. First, I layered Black over all four legs.

Then I singled out the flexed front leg and concentrated on that. I alternated among the colors and, when the leg was nearly complete, began working the grass and fence, so I could adjust edges.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 17

When I finished that leg, I worked on the off side hind leg using the same method. In that manner, I worked from leg to leg until they were all finished.

Still More Color Layers

When I finished the legs, I started on the body, again, layering Bruynzeel Permanent Orange** over all of the body, neck, and head except the reflected lights and brightest highlights. I worked into some of the highlights I’d previously worked around, but only very lightly. I used the side of the pencil and stroked in several different directions to get even color.

Then I used True Blue* and the side of the pencil to layer color into the reflected highlights along the back, top of the neck, and rump, as well as on the off side of the shoulder and the front leg. I followed that by layering the same color throughout the body to gray and darken the orange.

When I finished, I used Dark Brown to deepen the shadows on the chest and neck.

By the time I finished, the paper was losing tooth and burnishing the drawing or spraying it with fixative were possibilities.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 18

TIP: I try never to make a decision like this without giving myself time to consider options. You can’t unburnish a drawing. Nor can you remove fixative, so it’s better not to rush these decisions.

Final Detailing

When I reviewed the drawing later, I decided against using fixative at least long enough to try burnishing.

Detailing began with the muzzle, where I used Dark Brown and Black to darken values, then burnished with White. I worked up into the head, brightening highlights and darkening darks as I went, adjusting edges and shapes, and burnishing area by area. I finished the head and ears, then worked down the neck toward the shoulders.

TIP: With larger drawings, it can be better to work section by section when doing final details. This method produces a sharper, clearer image more quickly. It also looks like you’re making faster progress as more and more surface was covered. That can be a major encouragement!

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 19

The final layers on the neck, shoulders, chest, body, and rump were Bruynzeel Permanent Orange**, Sienna Brown, Dark Brown, Dark Green, Deco Blue*, Tuscan Red*, and Cream.

When I finished adding color, I blended with rubbing alcohol applied with a cotton swab. Rubbing alcohol “melted” the wax binder enough for the colors to blend slightly. It also restores some of the paper tooth, so after the paper is dry, I can add more color if necessary.

When I finished, I set the drawing aside for a few days, so I could review it with a fresh eye.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 20

There was nothing more to do when I reviewed it later. Finished!

That Concludes this Quick Lesson on Glazing Color over an Umber Under Drawing

I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the umber under drawing method is useful for many subjects. That includes another favorite subject, landscapes. You can read a full landscape tutorial right here.