How to Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

This week, I want to share a few tips about how to make coloring pages look more realistic. The post is the result of a reader question, and an opportunity to guest post for artist, Sarah Renae Clark. I’ll tell you more about that article in a minute.

Here’s the reader question.

I would like to know how to make the subjects in the coloring books come to life using your pencils. I do ceramics so I know dry brushing an blending. But since I do not draw but use the coloring books, which i enjoy just wish i could make them look better.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

I used the same coloring page for this post and for the guest post for Sarah Renae Clark. The page is called Cat Wisdom*, and you can purchase your own coloring page here*.

How to Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

While the bold outlines of coloring pages make it impossible to create truly life-like realism, you can make your coloring pages look more realistic with just a few “tricks.”

The most important of those tips is contrast. The more contrast in your drawing, the less flat it looks. The less flat a drawing looks, the more real it looks.

Step 1: Draw a Smooth Base Layer

Base layers are generally a color that’s similar to the final color, but lighter in value. Something you want to be dark green can begin with a base layer of light green.

The color you choose makes a difference in how something looks finished. Do a base layer of warm green (yellowish-green) on one leaf, and a base layer of cool green (blue-green) on the leaf next to it and you will end up with two slightly different colors if you do all other layers the same.

The base layer should cover every part of each shape.

It should also be smooth, with no visible pencil strokes. The best way to draw smooth color is by using a sharp pencil and light pressure with small, circular strokes.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 1

NOTE: If you’ve been drawing long enough to have found the stroke that gives you the smoothest results, use that stroke. If you’re beginning, the best stroke to learn is the circular stroke.

Shade all the leaves with base color. Then all the flowers. You can do as I did and use different base colors for the flowers, or do them all the same.

I chose to make the background areas very dark. You can leave them white if you prefer.

If you can’t decide on colors for every part, that’s okay. You can leave some of them for later.

Step 2: Add Darker Values

Select colors that are one or two shades darker than the base colors. Layer those colors into the parts of each shape that you want to be darker. Use a sharp pencil and light pressure to draw small, overlapping strokes or short, directional strokes.

For example, I used circular strokes in the blue flowers because those flowers are so small and because I wanted smooth color.

In the longer petals of the purple flowers, I used long, directional strokes that curved slightly to follow the shape of each petal.

When you want smooth color, draw smooth color that shows no pencil strokes. In areas where you want a little texture, use strokes that best create that texture.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 2

Step 3: Blend with Base Colors

Use well-sharpened pencils to blend each shape. Use medium pressure to smoothly blend together the previous layers of color.

Cover every part of each shape EXCEPT the highlights you want to show. Work around those highlights. Keep the edges of the highlights soft by fading color into the highlights.

If you left blank places in your drawing, you should already begin seeing a difference between the blank spaces and the areas you’re shading layer by layer.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 3

Step 4: Continue to Darken Values

The next step is to continue darkening values in the deep shadows and the darker middle value areas. To do that, you can do one of two things.

You can choose a darker shade of the base colors.

That’s what I did with the green leaves. The base color was Chartreuse. Over that, I added a shade of green one or two shades darker. For this step, I layered Olive Green over each of the leaves. I used a sharp pencil and medium pressure for the first layer or two.

Then I increased pressure to heavy pressure to add the darkest shadows.

I did the same thing with the small, blue flowers.

You can choose a different color.

The purple flowers started with a pink base layer (Step 1.) For the second step, I used a medium blue, and for this step, I chose Violet.

Why the different colors?

To add depth of color and increase the value range, as well as to create a new shade of purple. I wanted these flowers to stand out a little more and combining colors was a good way to do that.

Step 5: Blending Layer

This next step also can go in one of two directions. You can either burnish with a colorless blender, or blend with another round of the base colors. How do you know which option to choose?

If you’re finished with your drawing, then burnishing with a colorless blender is the way to go. You won’t change the colors (other than darkening some of them.) The end result will be smooth color and good color saturation.

Blending with the base colors is the better option if you plan to add more detail layers afterward, or if you want to change the color of an area. You will be able to add more layers after blending with the base colors because you’ll be using medium pressure.

If you burnish, you’ll press down the tooth of the paper, and it will be very difficult to make additional color stick.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 5

In my sample, I layered Pink over the pinkish-purple flowers, and Light Cerulean Blue over the blue flowers.

Step 6: Keep Layering and Blending Until the Drawing is Finished

I’m considering my coloring page finished at this stage, but you can continue to layer colors and blend as much as you want or until the paper will take no more color

Here’s the whole drawing.

You’ll notice I didn’t do every flower the same way. One reason for that is to keep the finished drawing from getting too busy. The dark spaces in the background, and the plain flowers give your eye a place to rest.

But another reason was to show you the difference you can make by layering and blending colors instead of using a single color. Even combining just two colors and a couple of blending layers really help you make coloring pages look more realistic.

About that Guest Post….

Sarah Renae Clark asked me to write a post showing her readers how to draw more realistic fur. Since I used the same drawing as the project for this post and Sarah’s, I thought you might like to read How to Draw Fur with Colored Pencils* as well.

*All links to Sarah’s website and store contain affiliate links.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

In this post, I’ll show you how to finish a drawing started with water soluble colored pencils.

Last week, I shared the method I used to create an under drawing using water soluble colored pencils. While I focused on water soluble colored pencils in that post, the technique applies to any type of water soluble media with the possible exception of water miscible oils. I’ve never tried that combination, so cannot tell you whether or not it would work.

Before adding dry color, make sure the under drawing and the paper are completely dry. If there’s any residual dampness, you risk damaging the paper. I usually allow paper to dry over night, just to be on the safe side.  I also usually allow papers to air dry by natural evaporation. Even on the hottest days, this process is less likely to cause warping or buckling.

But you can dry paper with a hand-held hair dryer if you need to finish it quickly. Use a low heat setting and don’t get the dryer too close to the paper to keep the color from running before it dries.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Unless otherwise noted, the colors listed in this article are Prismacolor Soft Core colors. Any colored pencils work over watercolor pencils.

Step 1: Start dry drawing with the base colors.

When the paper is ready for dry color, use the same methods of choosing colors you use for any other technique. Start with the lightest colors and build toward the darks layer by layer.

In this illustration, I’ve added a very light earth tone that’s also a warm color. Burnt Ochre was lightly shaded over the darker area behind the ears and in front of the ears. I used light pressure with a very sharp pencil to draw an even color layer.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 1

Next, layer Burnt Ochre over the rest of the horse except the highlights. I always work around highlights so they don’t become muddy or—even worse—disappear. This is the best way to get sparkling highlights when you work on white or light colored paper.

On the horse’s head and neck, use a sharp pencil to draw a smooth, even color layer.

In the mane, stroke with the growth of the hair, starting at the bottom edge of the highlight and stroking downward to the ends of the hair groups.

Use light or very light pressure on the head, neck, and ears. For the mane, use light to medium-light pressure.

Begin drawing the muzzle with a light layer of pink at the chin and light gray in and around the nostril.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 1b

Step 2: Glaze color over the base layers.

With the base color in place, begin developing deeper values and richer colors.

For this demo, I used Sienna Brown and Mineral Orange in the middle values, a light glaze of Light Umber and Goldenrod to the lighter values, and Dark Brown to the shadows. However, getting the values right is more important than correct color. Since we don’t all see color the same way, select colors based on what you see in your reference.

Continue working around the brightest highlights.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2a

For each round of work, add more of each color. Getting good coverage (filling all of the paper holes) requires multiple layers. For the best color, alternate between two or more colors.

Continue using light pressure and sharp pencils to draw smooth color. Stroke in the direction of hair growth in the mane and forelock.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2b

Step 3: Add finishing details to complete your drawing.

When the drawing nears completion, begin working on the highlights. Leave the brightest highlights alone. The highlight along the top of the crest, for example, is whatever color shows through from the under drawing.

For the others, add Spanish Orange, Orange, or Yellow Ochre if the highlight is warm in color (the highlight along the cheek). If the highlight is more neutral, use Sand or Cream (behind the eye).

Most of the highlights are then burnished with a color like Beige or Cream to keep them unified with the coat colors around them.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 3

Conclusion

Using water media or water soluble colored pencils to draw the under drawing is a great way to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a colored pencil work. It’s also a good way to cover the paper without filling in the tooth of the paper.

I probably won’t be using this combination very often because it doesn’t work very well on my favorite papers. They just don’t handle moisture well and I don’t care for the texture of watercolor papers that are heavy enough to take the moisture.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a viable—and valuable—alternative to using only traditional, dry colored pencils.

As I mentioned in the previous post, if you hope to enter your artwork in shows that are exclusively colored pencil, stick with water soluble colored pencils.

If that doesn’t matter, then experiment and have fun!

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Making art with colored pencils is time-consuming. If you like detail and want to do anything larger than 11×14, you should plan on spending hours in the process.

It could take weeks.

Or months.

Solvents are one way to save time, but there are other ways. Using a traditional colored pencils over water soluble colored pencils is one of them.

That’s also our topic today.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

About the Drawing

The art work is small. About 5×7.

I used a combination of Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle and Prismacolor pencils on a scrap of watercolor paper. Unfortunately, I don’t know what type of paper beyond the fact that it was not very smooth, and it was heavy enough to withstand repeated wetting.

I wanted to learn what I could do with water soluble colored pencils, so I used an old drawing from another project.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Step 1: Getting ready to paint (and deciding how to start)

There are several ways to create color washes with water soluble colored pencils.

To create strong color, use dry pencils to layer color, then wet the color with a brush. Colors “melt” and flow together just like traditional watercolors.

Or dip a sharpened pencil into water and draw while it’s wet. This works especially well in small areas, but requires frequent dipping..

If you want softer color, dampen a soft brush with clean water, then stroke the exposed core of the pencil to pick up color. Usually one or two strokes against the pencil is sufficient to produce good color.

If you plan to use water soluble colored pencils for most of the drawing, create a palette by making heavy layers of the main colors on a scrap of watercolor paper.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Color Palette

Several heavy applications are necessary, but when you finish, you can use this palette as you would use a watercolor painting palette. Dampen your brushes, pick up color from the palette, and brush it onto the paper. When the palette begins to look used, simply recharge it by layering more color on the palette.

Step 2: Toning the background

Mark the borders of the drawing, leaving ample margins to allow me to wash color beyond the edge of the drawing.

Create a pink wash with Rose Carmine (124) and a yellow wash with Cadmium Yellow (107).

For this piece, I dampened a brush and stroked it against the exposed cores of each pencil to pick up color, then added a band of pink and a band of yellow. I also blended a tint of pink wet-into-wet into part of the yellow.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 1

Step 2: Toning the Subject

For this demonstration, I under painted the horse in complementary colors, which are greens. To make the green, wash Emerald Green (163) over part of the background and part of the horse using the same method described above.

For the mane, use a small, round sable. Stroke color into the shadows that break the mane into hair masses.

For stronger color,wet the brush, then blot it before touching it to the pencil. The resulting color is less diluted and, therefore, darker.

One thing to remember when using colored pencil in this way is that you have one or two strokes—at most—to get the look you want. The more strokes you do and the more water you add, the more you’ll dilute the color. Limit yourself to one stroke for the darkest values. 

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2a

After the previous work dries, add a very thin wash of cadmium yellow over the horse. Use a larger brush for more even color. Once again, limit yourself to one or two strokes. Load the brush with water, then touch it to the sharpened pencil.

For brighter color along the top of the crest and in the mane, use a smaller brush and a more dry-brush method to stroke color into the still wet wash. The new color dissolves slightly into the wash, creating darker accents with soft edges.

Notice how fresh dampness affects the dry color on the mane (the green). Working with water soluble color requires a different working mindset than using dry color.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2b

Parting Thoughts

Using watercolor-like washes to start a colored pencil drawing is a great way to get a lot done in a short amount of time. You can use water soluble colored pencils (as I did here), watercolor, acrylic (thinned to tint strength,) or any other medium that can be thinned with water in used in this way.

Keep in mind that if you use water soluble colored pencil, the work is still considered colored pencil. Using any of the other mediums makes your drawing a mixed media. If you want to exhibit in exclusively colored pencil shows, this is important to keep in mind.

If this is the first time you’ve used water soluble methods, practice first. It doesn’t matter how you practice. This piece was my test piece, but you could also do random color swatches or just play with color to see how it responds.

Wet media colors interact differently than dry media. Some of them also dry darker or lighter than they appear when wet. Doing a few test pieces will show you what to expect from the medium you’re using.

But you also need to know how traditional colored pencils react with a wet medium under drawing. Next week, I’ll show you how I finished this piece with traditional, wax-based pencils.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll take time to experiment with water soluble colored pencils yourself.

Oh, and have fun!

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Colored Pencil Email Drawing Classes

Ideas for new colored pencil email drawing classes are constantly taking shape. Everywhere I look, I see potential subjects.

Holiday candies (if I can keep from eating all my subjects!)

Christmas lights and outdoor decorations.

Ribbons and bows and colorful gift wrapping.

Snowy landscapes, and kittens, and bare trees….

The potential is endless!

Believe it or not, I’ve even considered an afternoon or weekend class on blending and hyping up contrast!

New Colored Pencil Email Drawing Classes

To top it all off, some of you have asked about new classes, and some have even suggested topics (I love the wrinkled aluminum foil idea!)

What Email Drawing Classes Include

This past Fall, students walked with me through the process of drawing clouds, drawing from life, drawing a kitten, and drawing a red Christmas ornament. Each class presented specific challenges and rewards.

Each class included:

Reference photo and line drawing where necessary

Complete lessons

Full-color illustrations

Feedback from me

Lots of tips

A free ebook based on the class

Classes were designed for beginning artists and intermediate artists, and lasted a month or less.

What Makes These Classes Unique from My Other Email Drawing Classes

Limited in length. The longest class lasts only five weeks. Most will be four weeks or less.

Low cost. Only $20 per class (for 30-day classes).

No limit on the number of students. That’s why the tuition is so low.

Possible Class Projects

Drawing a landscape using the umber under drawing method

Using  French Greys for a cat portait

Drawing candy or some other food item

Colored pencil blending methods

Hyping up contrast

Drawing a still life with glass

When Does All this Start?

The class schedule is still very tentative, though I hope to begin this summer.

But I want to give you the opportunity to get the latest news on these classes, and all other courses upcoming in 2019 and beyond.

How?

Simple! Sign up for my free New Colored Pencil Email Drawing Class mailing list.

Not only will you get the latest news before everyone else; you’ll get early-bird discounts, possibly multi-class discounts, and other special offers. Just click the button below, fill out the form, and confirm your wish to receive news, and you’re in.

New Colored Pencil Email Drawing Class List

How to Draw Cat Eyes with Colored Pencils

Our subject for today is one of the Kitten Posse. I want to show you how to draw cat eyes with Bob as our model.

How to Draw Cat Eyes

About This Tutorial

Bob the Kitten was originally the subject for one of my short-term email drawing classes the Fall of 2018. In this tutorial, I focus on drawing Bob’s eyes.

The eyes are the most important part of any portrait, especially portraits that focus on the subject’s face. Get the eyes right, and you’re almost guaranteed success.

The eyes need to look smooth as glass and wet. Those sound like daunting tasks, but they’re not if you work slowly and carefully, and if you refer to your reference photo often.

How to Draw Cat Eyes Step-by-Step

I used Faber-Castell Polychromos under Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils on Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Grey paper. The steps I’m about to describe can be used with any good colored pencils on any good drawing paper.

Step 1: Begin with a Base Layer Warm Grey I

Begin by layering Warm Grey I all of the iris, including the shadowed areas, and the highlighted areas. Use a very sharp pencil with light pressure. The eye needs to be absolutely smooth, so use the stroke gives you the smoothest color. Small, circular strokes are usually recommended.

Work around the pupils.

Go back over the highlighted areas one or two more times. Continue using light pressure for each layer, and keep your pencil sharp.

How to Draw Cat Eyes - Step 1

Step 2: Add Smooth Layers of Cream

Begin adding iris color with the lightest color in the iris, Cream. Use a sharp pencil, very light pressure, and small circular strokes to draw smooth color. Layer Cream over all parts of both eyes except the pupil.

How to Draw Cat Eyes - Step 2


Step 3: Add Darker Values with Nougat

Add one layer of Nougat throughout the iris except the pupil and the highlights. Use a very sharp pencil and light pressure to “tint” and darken the eye color where the sun falls on it.

In the shadows, add two or three layers—all with light pressure—to begin establishing the shadows.

How to Draw Cat Eyes - Step 3

Step 4: Start Working in Other Colors to Get the Right Eye Color

Use light pressure and curving, directional strokes to add Walnut Brown to shade the shadow under the right eye lid, and the smaller shadow along the lower, outside lid.

There are actually fewer dark values in the left eye. It’s darker overall because there are no direct highlights. Use Walnut Brown around the outside edges of the iris and around the pupil.

Use short, linear strokes to draw “linear” shapes radiating outward from the pupils, and inward from the outside edges of the iris.

In shadow areas other than under the lids, continue to draw smooth color.

How to Draw Cat Eyes - Step 4a

Next, use a sharp pencil and directional or circular strokes to add Earth Green to some parts of each eye. Also add one or two layers of lightly applied Earth Green to the reflected light highlights in the right eye.

The results are very subtle, even in real life. You don’t need—or want—obvious color. Just subtle transitions.

How to Draw Cat Eyes - Step 4b

Layer Pine Green over parts of both eyes. Go around the outsides of both irises using a sharp pencil and short, directional strokes to enhance the lines radiating in toward the pupils.

How to Draw Cat Eyes - Step 4c

When you finish layering color, use White to lightly “burnish” some of the lighter areas in each eye (marked in the illustration below.)

How to Draw Cat Eyes - Step 4d

This isn’t true burnishing because you use medium pressure instead of heavy pressure. Also use a dull pencil to blend the colors already on the paper, and make them smoother.

Step 5: Shading the Highlights

Because they’re round and wet, eyes pick up more reflected light than other types of surfaces. Reflected highlights are also often brighter in eyes than on other surfaces.

Bob’s right eye has a large area of reflected highlight in the lower, inside surface, near the corner of the eye. Nearly all of the lower half of the left eye shows reflected light, broken into three separate shapes in two main areas.

The brightest highlight comes directly from the sun and it appears in only two places in the right eye.

Drawing the Direct Highlights

Using a very sharp pencil, carefully outline and fill in the two direct highlights. The eye is wet, so the edges should be sharp and crisp. Get the shape of each highlight and the placement as accurate as possible, since both shape and placement give the eye a round look, like a marble.

Use light to medium-light pressure.

How to Draw Cat Eyes - Step 5a

This is a perfect place to use Prismacolor White. Prismacolors are wax-based so they’re softer than Faber-Castell Polychromos (which are oil-based.) The white goes onto the paper more easily and brightly.

But because they are softer, you may have problems with the tip chipping (my pencil chipped twice.) Polychromos White also works for these highlights. It will take more layers to get the same look, but you’re less likely to have problems with chipping. I used a combination of both brands.

Drawing the Reflected Highlights

Layer White very lightly over each reflected highlight. Follow the reference photo as closely as you can. Fade the white out to soft edges where the reference photo shows that, and draw clearer edges and brighter white where that’s what appears in the reference photo.

As with the direct highlights, get the shape and placement of each reflected highlight as accurate as possible.

How to Draw Cat Eyes - Step 5b

Step 6: Finishing the Eyes

From this point on, it’s a delicate balance of adding colors to get the right values and colors. Darken the shadows as needed, brighten the parts of the iris that aren’t affected by highlights, and adjust edges.

Add additional layers of Cream, Nougat, Walnut Brown, Earth Green, and Pine Green as needed to each area. You can also add other colors if you wish, depending on your sense of adventure and how the reference photo looks on your digital device!

Add as many layers of color as you need to get the look you want. Work slowly and carefully to build color and saturation, so the colors are smooth and none of the paper shows through.

Add Walnut Brown in the shadows and darker middle values. Keep the color layer smooth, but use slightly heavier pressure if necessary.

Add Pine Green in many of the same areas. The two colors—dark brown and dark green—blend to create nice, rich shadows.

Next, add Earth Green into some of the lighter middle values. The left eye (the eye in shadow,) isn’t that dark in value, but it has a bluer cast than the right eye because it’s entirely in shadow. Layer Earth Green over most of it, including parts of the reflected eye light to create those cooler tones.

Layer Cream and Ivory into some of the lighter middle values with medium pressure or a little lighter. You’re still drawing smooth color, so use small strokes, and work slowly and carefully.

Don’t layer each color over all of the lighted parts of the iris, but mix and match them so they blend in some areas, lie side-by-side in others, and aren’t applied at all to still other areas.

Step 7: Finish with Prismacolor

Darken the pupils and parts of the outer edges of the irises with Black, and go over some of the reflected highlights with Warm Grey I.

Switch to Prismacolor Soft Core to layer additional color over the Polychromos. They’re ideal for filling in the last paper holes, and creating eyes that look like wet glass.

That’s How to Draw Cat Eyes

I hope it helps you the next time you draw cat eyes.

Or any other type of eyes, since the method I’ve shown you here works for dog’s eyes, horse’s eyes, and even human eyes.

If you enjoyed this tutorial and want to see more tutorials on eyes, cats, or any other subject, use the contact form below to let me know. Tell me what kinds of tutorials you’re most interested in.

How to Make Drawings Look Less Flat

New artists constantly confront a handful of challenges, no matter what medium they use. For those who like their work to look realistic, the biggest challenge is learning to make drawings look less flat.

That was the subject of a recent reader question.

Carrie, I have attached my drawing of a horse’s head. I am probably my own worst critic as I do strive for perfection. The drawing was done on white paper, Bockingford 120 gsm. It was extremely hard to fill the tooth and put on probably 20 layers in places. I had to burnish very hard to get the fill. I found it difficult to get a clean edge but think this is not keeping the pencil sharp or upright enough. Also found it more difficult than graphite to show the contours. Bill Bayne

Make a Drawing Look Less Flat

How to Make Drawings Look Less Flat

Bill raised several topics worthy of discussion, but since his primary concern was making his lovely horse look more real, let’s address that issue in this post.

Bill provided a drawing of a horse and gave me permission to share them with you. Thank you, Bill!

Following are two suggestions you can put to use immediately.

Contrast is vital to creating realistic drawings or paintings in any medium.

Color is important in realism, but contrast is more important.

Contrast is what happens when you have very light colors and very dark colors in the same drawing. Every drawing should have dark values and light values, and those values should not be limited to a white part (such as the horse’s marking) and a black area (such as the bridle.)

When a drawing has good contrast, each area also has good contrast. Sometimes the transitions from one value to the next are subtle, but there are transitions.

Take a look at this side-by-side comparison. The left image is the original image. I increased the contrast using a photo editor to make the image on the right. I made the light values lighter and the dark values darker. There have been no other changes, yet you can see the difference.

So the first thing to check whenever your drawing looks flat is the contrast. Are your darks dark enough? Are your lights light enough?

It can be intimidating to made dark values darker, so photograph your drawing and play with it in a photo editor. Seeing how it looks with stronger values gives you the confidence to make those changes on the draining.

When you do begin darkening values, do so gradually. One layer at a time. Use light pressure and fade the new, darker color into the other colors. Review your drawing after each layer, so you don’t go too dark.

Shading is important to drawings that look less flat.

Shading is the process of adding shades of color to the shape you’ve drawn. These “shades” are known as modeling.

Modeling represents the way light illuminates the object, and it’s done by drawing a smooth transition of values from light to dark. The lighter the value, the more light on the object it represents. The darker the value, the less light—the deeper the shadows.

When you shade a shape, you make it look like light is striking different parts of it to different degrees, and that creates the illusion that the object has form or mass; that it takes up space.

And that makes it look less flat.

There is no shading on the first circle. It’s just green. The middle circle shows a medium amount of shading. There are lights and darks, but neither is pushed as far as it could go.

(I spent a lot of years doing art that looked like the middle circle!)

Make Drawings Look Less Flat - Shading

The third circle has very dark shadows and very bright highlights. It is no longer a circle; it’s a ball.

The same principle holds true with every subject. Take note of where the shadows are in your reference photo, and make them dark enough on your drawing.

It may be easier to see where you need to darken shadows and lighten highlights by looking at a gray scale version of your artwork next to a gray scale version of the reference photo. You can convert an image to gray scale in a photo editor.

Use modeling and contrast to make drawings look less flat and more life-like.

There are other tips and techniques to make drawings look less flat (things like reflected light and aerial perspective,) but improving contrast and modeling are usually the best places to begin.

And the easiest to implement!

How to Draw Gold in Three Steps

Today, I want to show you how to draw gold.

My subject is the gold cap on a Christmas ornament, but you can draw any type of reflective gold object using this method.

In fact, you can draw any reflective object using this method.

How to Draw Gold in Three Steps

How to Draw Gold in Three Steps

The method is a three-step method starting with an under drawing and finishing up with detailing.

I used Bristol vellum paper because of its smoothness and ability to take color. This three-step method is also suitable for other papers, but the more tooth in the paper, the more layers you need to get full, rich color.

One other note on materials. I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils for the first two steps, then switched to Prismacolor Soft Core for the final step.

Polychromos pencils are oil-based, so they’re harder than Prismacolor. They do lay down smooth color on Bristol, but you have to work slowly and carefully.

Prismacolor are wax-based and are much softer. That makes them ideal for the final layers, for burnishing, and for filling in the last paper holes.

NOTE: You can get the same results with any artist grade colored pencils.

Now, for the tutorial.

Step 1: The Under Drawing

The under drawing is not the local color of the gold cap. It’s not gold or even yellow; it’s all the colors reflected in the gold. You have to look deep to see the other colors in each area. Those are the colors for the under drawing.

Use a very sharp Burnt Sienna pencil and light pressure to shade the darker reflections.

Since reflections are usually hard-edged, it’s a good idea to outline each shape then shade it. Since there’s a lot of detail in this area, it’s also a good idea to work slowly. Spend more time studying the reference photo than drawing.

Smooth color is key, so use whatever stroke works best in allowing you to draw smooth color. Add layers to get darker shadows and use only one or two layers in the lighter shadows. Fade Burnt Sienna into the white of the paper where the edges are softer.

The shadows around the bottom of the gold cap should also be under drawn with Burnt Sienna.

The next color is Scarlet red. Layer red in two or more light layers on the left side of the gold cap. Lightly outline the shapes, then lightly fill them in. Use more layers to increase the value and saturation.

Finally, light layer Cream over the remaining parts of the gold cap. Work around the white highlights! Once again, draw the smoothest possible color.

Step 2: Glazing Color

Darken the shadows with Walnut Brown. Use medium or medium-heavy pressure with a very sharp pencil to draw smooth color.

Add gold reflections with Cream and the red reflections with Scarlet Red. Blunt pencils are ideal for this. Use heavy pressure, but don’t burnish.

Then glaze Scarlet Red over the parts of the gold cap that reflect red. Layer Cream over the rest. Work around the bright white highlight.

Step 3: Detailing

Burnish the gold cap with Poppy Red in the areas that reflect red, and with Dark Umber in the areas that reflect a brownish color.

Then burnish both red and brownish reflections with Yellow Ochre.

Also burnish the yellow parts of the gold cap with Yellow Ochre, working around the bright highlights.

How to Rework a Background

Can I rework a background? I’ve tried erasing at least a little bit without much success…Thank you so much. Have a beautiful holiday season. Mirian Bertaska

Mirian asks a great question. I’ve wrestled with this very thing many times, so let’s take a look at a few possible answers to Mirian’s question.

How to Rework a Background

Mirian very kindly included her drawing and gave me permission to share it with you, so you could “see” what we’re talking about.

Mirian has good color saturation in her drawing. Her color choices make the bird stand out from the background.

But she is right about the background. It doesn’t convey enough distance. It looks like the bird and the background are all at the same distance.

Kudos to Mirian for seeing that. Knowing what’s not working in your art is key to improving.

Suggestions about How to Rework a Background

Whether or not you can rework a background depends on how much color you already have on the paper, what type of paper you’re using, and whether or not you’ve burnished or blended with solvent.

Mirian’s drawing is on Bristol. Bristol is excellent for colored pencils, but it is limited on the number of layers you can put down. However, it’s also very good for lifting color if the color has been applied in layers with light pressure.

Try lifting color to push the background into the distance.

Scotch tape is probably the best way to lift a little color. Lightly press a small piece of tape to the drawing, then carefully pull it up again.

Mounting putty is another good way to lift color, especially if you want a blurry look.

For small areas or detailing, an eraser may also help lift color. The ideal place for eraser work is around the bird.

Read Two Neat Tricks for Erasing or “Lifting” Color from Colored Pencil Drawings at EmptyEasel.com.

Add lighter colors to lighten the background.

Softening the colors with a light blue or cool gray is a good way to push the background further into the distance. Color can either be added over the existing background, or after the background has been lightened by lifting color, as described above.

Use sharp pencils and light pressure to layer lighter colors. Choose colors that are not only lighter, but cooler (tending toward blues and greens, rather than reds and yellows.) Try combining a couple of colors, too, so the background doesn’t become too uniform in value or color.

Add color one layer at a time, then review the drawing. Keep adding layers until the drawing looks the way you want it to look.

Try a soft blend to dissolve wax binder and “sink” color into the tooth of the paper.

If you’re willing to experiment a little, try a soft blend with odorless mineral spirits. Use a soft brush and blot the brush after you dip it in odorless mineral spirits. You don’t need a lot of solvent for this type of blend.

If you don’t want to try odorless mineral spirits, or don’t have any, but you want to try blending, try rubbing alcohol. Dampen a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol, then rub it on a corner of the piece. That should give you a nice, soft blend that pushes the background further into the background.

Even if that doesn’t work, the rubbing alcohol could break down the binder in the pencils enough to allow you to add a little bit more color.

Don’t get your paper too wet or it could buckle.

TIP: Layer color onto a scrap piece of Bristol until you have a similar look, then try blending that first. If it works, great! You can blend your drawing. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t damaged the drawing.

How that Worked for Mirian

I asked Mirian if she would let me know how her experiments turned out. Here’s what she had to say.

Hi Carrie,

The painting wasn’t accepting more color, so I … layered violet blue on a little piece of each, and the alcohol one looks better in my opinion.

Mirian layered Violet Blue on the left side of the illustration below. The rubbing alcohol blend is on the right side.

The portion above the line is the original drawing.

How to Rework a Background - Rubbing Alcohol

Neither solution is ideal, but Mirian was satisfied with the rubbing alcohol blend.

Leave the background alone and work on the bird to bring it forward.

The final possible solution is to leave the background as it is, and increase the values on the bird. Make the highlights brighter and darken the darks.

One of the things that gives a picture “depth” is the value range. The greater the contrast between the lightest lights and the darkest darks, the closer the object looks.

Here’s Mirian’s drawing in black-and-white.

How to Rework a Background - Original Drawing in Gray Scale

As you can see, the value range is fairly close. When the background and the subject have pretty much the same values, the result is a background that’s not in the background.

I used GIMP (free photo editing software) to select the bird, then increased the contrast. The bird now “leaps” forward in the drawing.

How to Rework a Background - Gray Scale with Contrast

This tip doesn’t apply to reworking a background, but sometimes the solution involves the subject, not the background!

Thank you to Mirian, who was willing to share not only her question, but her artwork.

Thanks, Mirian!

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How to Draw Leather with Colored Pencils

Today, I’d like to show you how to draw leather with colored pencils. The project for this tutorial was drawn on gray paper, which gave me a head start on establishing values.

But this method of drawing will work on any color of paper. Yes, even white!

How to Draw Leather with Colored Pencils

How to Draw Leather with Colored Pencils

Pencils: Prismacolor Premier

Paper: Canson Mi-Teintes 98lb pastel paper, Steel Grey. (If you use Mi-Teintes, make sure to use the back, which is much smoother and more suitable for colored pencils.)

Step 1: Add basic colors to begin developing values.

Begin drawing the leather by working on an isolated piece, as I did here, or by layering each color over all parts of the bridle. I tend to work section by section, but either way works.

Ordinarily, it’s best to begin with lighter colors, but since we’re working on a medium gray paper, you can begin with darker values first.

Use a sharp pencils and light pressure to layer Dark Brown over the middle and dark values. Start with the darkest area first, then put a second layer over that area plus the middle values. Work around the two bright highlights at the top and bottom of the leather strap (also known as the headstall.)

Next, layer Mediterranean Blue with light pressure between the lightest area and the darkest value, then layer White over the lightest area at the top of the headstall.

Also layer White over the highlight near the bottom of the strap. To warm up the color, layer Spanish Orange over the browns.

How to Draw Leather - Step 1

Step 2: Layer colors again to create saturation and color depth.

The texture of Canson Mi-Teintes paper helps establish the “feel” of the leather without much effort. The appearance of color on the paper gives the leather a finished appearance after only one round of color. For some kinds of leather, that would be appropriate.

This leather is very smooth, though. Almost polished in appearance. So add a couple more layers of Dark Brown alternating with White in the lighter areas along the side of the head.

Mix Dark Brown and Indigo Blue over the top of the head. Use slightly heavier pressure to create smooth color, but don’t burnish.

At the top of the head, darken the shadow with Indigo Blue, then punch up the reflected light highlight with a little bit of White.

Also layer White over the lower part of the strap and burnish the brightest part of the highlight with White.

How to Draw Leather - Step 2

Step 3: Fine-tune highlights, shadows, and reflected light.

Next, I fine-tuned the headstall by re-enforcing the reflected light with a stroke or two of Cool Grey 20% and adding a form shadow on the back edge of the strap with Indigo Blue.

How to Draw Leather - Step 3

Step 4:

Continue drawing the leather parts of the bridle and reins by using Sienna Brown as the base color, and mixing Dark Brown and Indigo Blue in the shadows and darker areas.

Draw the lighter middle values by mixing Goldenrod and Sienna Brown, then add highlights with a mix of White and Powder Blue.

Use light pressure and circular strokes for the first layers of color in each strap. Add additional layers with medium pressure and the highlights with heavy pressure.

The primary goal is filling in all of the paper holes, so after the colors are established, continue layering with a variety of strokes, gradually increasing pressure with each layer.

Add touches of Black in some of the darker shadows.

How to Draw Leather - Step 4

Step 5: Add detailing.

To give the bridle an extra look of realism, use a light and dark color to add shadows and highlights around the holes in the straps, the stitching in some of the straps, and on and around the restraints holding the ends of the straps. A stroke or two in most of these areas makes a big difference.

How to Draw Leather - Step 5

Step 6: Draw the reins using the same colors and layering process.

Finish the reins in the same way and using the same colors.

How to Draw Leather - Step 6

This illustration shows the finished bridle.

How to Draw Leather - Bridle Finished

Conclusion

Drawing leather doesn’t have to be complicated. If you follow the steps described here, you can draw even the most complex bridle or harness. Take your time, keep your pencils sharp, and work from one strap to the next.

This tutorial is excerpted from the email drawing class, Black Tennessee Walking Horse. The class covers all parts of drawing this horse from transferring the line drawing to making final adjustments. In addition to drawing leather, you’ll learn how to draw metal, ribbons, hair, and eyes.

Want to learn more about the class? Click the button below.

Black Tennessee Walking Horse Email Drawing Class

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

Today, I want to show you something fun and helpful: How to draw a sunset sky with watercolor pencils.

Here’s the good news. It’s not as difficult as it may seem (at least not the way I did it!)

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

I used Derwent Watercolour Pencils on Stonehenge 98lb drawing paper in white. I’ll tell you up front that Stonehenge handles water well, but you MUST tape it to a rigid support so it dries flat again.

The sample drawing for this tutorial was 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches in size, so it was difficult to tape down. I set an empty drink bottle on the paper while it was drying and that kept the paper flat, but I do not recommend this method. The bottle I used was very lightweight and clean, so it didn’t leave marks on the paper.

One other note. I didn’t use a reference photo for this piece. Since it’s small (3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches, ) I painted the sky from memory, then drew the branches from life. You can create your own piece the same way, or form a reference photo.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Layer colors on the paper from light to dark.

Use light-medium pressure to layer color on the paper. Create even color layers with whatever method works best for you. I used the sides of well-sharpened pencils to layer each color.

Begin with the lightest color and work through the colors of the prism into the darkest color you want to use.

I used Deep Cadmium, Orange Chrome, Deep Vermilion, Crimson Lake, Imperial Purple, and Prussian Blue. All you really need is yellow, orange, red, purple, and blue so the gradations between colors are smooth and natural looking.

If you want a lighter, brighter sky, skip the purple and blue.

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils Step 1

Step 2: Activate with water.

Blend colors with water. Work from light to dark and stroke across the paper horizontally.

Use a large, soft brush, and try to stroke only once across the paper. The more you stroke over each area, the more likely you’ll end up with streaks. The streaks in this illustration happened because I got too fussy.

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils Step 2

You’ll notice two things immediately when using watercolor pencils. The blended color is darker than the dry color. Derwent’s pencils are very pigmented, so they produce excellent color.

The other thing you’ll notice in this sample is the streakiness in the darker colors. That’s my fault. I used a small brush to blend and didn’t blend fast enough to produce smooth color (in addition to going over the paper too many times!)

At this stage of the process, that’s not a major concern, but it’s still best to avoid whenever possible.

Step 3: Continue to layer and blend with water until you have the color saturation you want.

Continue to add color and activate with water until you have the color and saturation you want.

I did two more rounds of layering and blending. Each round was essentially the same as those described above. Same colors in the same areas, though I faded each color a little more into the adjacent colors.

For the second round, I layered Deep Vermilion over the top third of the sky, then added Orange Chrome over the top two-thirds. Finally, I layered Deep Cadmium over the entire piece. That unified the colors and toned down the blues and purples, which got too dark. I used medium pressure or slightly heavier to put a lot of pigment on the paper.

Then I washed the whole thing with water and a large soft brush to blend the colors.

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils Step 3

Step 4: Draw the basic branch shapes.

Draw the silhouetted trees dry, using watercolor pencils the same way you’d use traditional colored pencils. Use dark colors. I used black and a dark brown mixed to give the branches a warmth that black alone wouldn’t provide.

Then use a very small, round brush (I used a sable) to activate the color. Stroke in the direction the branches grow. From the base up.

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils Step 4

You don’t need to keep the edges crisp or blend the colors uniformly. Having softer edges in places, and having some areas more brown and others blacker gives the branches a sense of movement.

Step 5: Add smaller branches.

With a very sharp pencil, add the smaller branches. If you’re drawing from life, observe the growth patterns and draw them as accurately as you can. Don’t worry about getting every branch and twig in exactly the right place. Instead, focus on the general shapes and patterns.

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils Step 5

You can activate a few of these smaller branches with water if you wish. I didn’t because I lack brushes small enough for that type of detail. I also wanted the bolder look of dry pencil over wet.

Conclusion

I used Derwent Watercolour pencils for this work, but I’m sure you can do the same thing with any artist quality watercolor pencil.

It was a lot of fun to layer dry color over wet, to paint in broad washes, and with more deliberation. It was quite a learning experience.

One thing you can’t do is put watercolor pencils over wax-based or oil-based traditional pencils, then activate them with water.

Well, I guess you could if you really wanted to, but the watercolor will not stick to the wax or oil for very long.