How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing

It would be nice to say that every step of every drawing goes smoothly; that I never have to go back and correct an umber under drawing (or any other phase of a drawing.) That an eraser never touches my drawings.

The fact is, nothing could be further from the truth. You know what?

Almost every drawing has a few minor missteps. After all, I’m not perfect and make no claim to be.

Little missteps are easy enough to correct just by adding more layers.

But what happens when you make a big mistake?

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing

I’m no stranger to big mistakes. You probably aren’t either. That’s why you’re still reading, right?

But a few years back, I discovered an almost fatal mistake with a large piece (16 x 20 inches.) A problem big enough to require removing a portion of the drawing and doing it over.

So, just in case you’ve made big mistakes, here’s what I did to correct my umber under drawing.

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing

The first thing I did was open the digital reference image and enlarge it enough to see the details that were either not visible in the smaller printed photo or were hidden under the lines of the grid drawn over the image. I worked directly from the computer.

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing Reference

I don’t like erasing my work any better than any other artist does, so the first thing I tried to do was correct the problem by adding color and covering up the mistake. It didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t going to work. I’d have to lift color and start over.

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing 1
Adding color didn’t help cover the errors in the line drawing.

How to Lift Color

To remove color, I used something called Handi-Tak.

Handi-Tak is a low-tack adhesive product created for hanging posters. Brand names include Blu-Tack, Poster Tack, and by many other names. The common name is mounting putty.

See products at Dick Blick.

Mounting putty is very pliable. Pieces can be broken off the larger piece and worked between your fingers or in your hand. It’s just sticky enough to pick up color when you press it against the paper.

It’s also a self-cleaning product, which means that as you work it in your fingers, the color it lifted off the paper is absorbed into the substance and disappears.

Mounting putty can be rolled into a ball or shaped into points and used to lift color off colored pencil drawings without tearing, scuffing or damaging the paper.

I prefer mounting putty for lifting colored pencil because it doesn’t damage the paper surface and it can be pinched or rolled into sharp edges or points for lifting color in small areas.

Other options are transparent tape, a click eraser, or an electric eraser.

Read more about lifting color on EmptyEasel

What I Did

I warmed the mounting putty by working it in my fingers for a few minutes. Then I pressed it repeatedly against the areas I wanted to lift and rolled it forward while maintaining pressure. Each time, it lifted a little more color.

Another method involves pressing the mounting putty against the paper and turning it. You can also use a blotting motion in which you simply press the mounting putty against the paper and lift it again without any secondary motion.

After every two or three applications, I worked the color out of the mounting putty again. Several cycles of this removed most of the color, allowing me to pinch or press the mounting putty into smaller shapes and fine-tune the amount of color lifted in specific areas.

TIP: It’s next to impossible to lift every bit of color from paper when you’re using wax-based colored pencils. Using a combination of methods and tools can remove most color, but be careful of damaging the surface of your paper in the process.

When I finished lifting color, the head looked like this.

It’s not a pretty sight, but sometimes the best way to cover a mistake is to first remove as much of it as you can. Even if you’re quite a ways into the drawing process.

Redrawing the Image

After that, it was a slow, careful process of applying color and lifting color until I got the head correct.

I began redrawing the features of the horse’s face with Prismacolor Light Umber using the enlarged digital image for reference. I redrew the off side eye and that side of the face, which was the original problem area. That led to redrawing the muzzle and mouth and in doing that work, I also saw some mistakes in the jaw and neck. I corrected all of those areas.

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing 4
Often making corrections in one area reveals problems in adjacent areas. Take your time and fix as many of those problems as you can.

I also started developing values as I worked.

Corrections took about forty-five minutes, and it seemed at first like I was going backward faster than I was going forward.

But the end result was a much better drawing. It was even a little bit further ahead of where I started in spite of the initial backward steps.

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing 5
The corrected drawing. Much better than what I started with!

These corrections not only allowed me to finish the umber under drawing, but set the stage for the color glazes that followed.

It Is Possible to Correct an Umber Under Drawing

Or any drawing, for that matter. The key is not to panic or despair when you discover the mistake. Don’t leap to any hasty solutions either.

Take your time. Assess the amount of damage, decide the best way to correct it, and then proceed carefully. Nine times out of ten, that plan will make it possible to finish the drawing successfully!

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Why Use the Umber Under Drawing Method

Today, I want to talk about using the umber under drawing method. This method of drawing is just one of many, and works for any type of subject. I use it most often for landscape drawing, but I hope you’ll find useful information here even if you’ve never drawn a landscape, or don’t want to!

Why Use the Umber Under Drawing Method

Why You Should Use any Under Drawing Method

The first question most people ask (about art or any other subject) is why.

Why that subject instead or another?

Why did you choose those colors?

Why do an under drawing when you draw over it anyway?

You get the idea!

With most aspects of art, the answers are personal. That applies to drawing methods, too. You can use any drawing method you prefer. You can even use a different method for every drawing or based on you mood when you draw.

But no matter what method you use, you begin with an under drawing of some kind. Why? Because in reality, an under drawing is simply the first layers of color you put on the paper.

So the real question becomes, why use a special kind of under drawing?

Most artists start with under drawings to achieve a certain effect. Most colored pencils are translucent, so every color you put on paper influences every other color. (That’s also why it’s so difficult to cover up mistakes.)

The type of under drawing (umber, complementary, monochromatic) affects the look of the finished artwork.

Subject can also be a determining factor. Landscapes benefit from complementary colors and earth tones, if only to tone down the greens.

Atmospheric drawings benefit from monochromatic under drawings that help create the mood or atmosphere the artist wants to create.

There are other reasons, too. For more in-depth answers to this question, read Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway?.

Why Use the Umber Under Drawing Method?

Answers to this question vary from artist to artist, but here are the biggest reasons I prefer umber under drawings.

1—I do a lot of landscape drawings. For many years, I struggled with greens that were unnaturally bright. The only way to tone down those greens is by adding their compliments. Usually reds, oranges, and earth tones.

You can, of course, add those colors at any time in the process—and I often do. But an umber under drawing has rescued many a drawing. So many that this drawing method has become my favorite.

Why Use the Umber Under Drawing Method - Late Spring in the Flint Hills

2—An umber under drawing is ideal for drawing animals of almost every stripe. It also works for many other subjects.

3—It’s a lot easier for me to work out shapes, values, and details if I’m not also making decisions about colors. When I begin with local colors or with a complementary under drawing, I have to make color choices from the start.

With an umber under drawing, the choice is already made. One light brown, and one dark brown. Sometimes, I even limit myself to one or the other.

4–Quite simply, I like earth tones. There is so much variation in earth tones that I’ve often considered doing sepia studies in nothing but earth tones.

Or those lovely French greys in the Prismacolor line.

So when it comes to choosing under drawing colors, it’s natural to reach for a brown of some kind!

That’s Why I Use the Umber Under Drawing Method

The umber under drawing method isn’t the only method I use, but it is my favorite method.

Want to see how it works in practice? Read my umber under drawing tutorial featuring a dark horse on this blog. For a landscape tutorial, read my first ever series on Both contain step-by-step illustrations and instructions.

Then give it a try if you’ve never used it before. It may become your new favorite drawing method!

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How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

This week brings us to the conclusion of this series. If you’ve been following the series with your own drawing, today is the day I’ll show you how to finish your drawing.

While this series has focused on using the umber under drawing method with colored pencils, the finishing steps apply to any colored pencil drawing using any method.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

By the time you reach this stage in any colored pencil drawing, most of the hard work has been done. Unless you need to make corrections, the majority of work now is adding details and making sure the values and colors are as correct as you can make them.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

Developing Color, Value & Detail

I began by layering Peacock Green over most of the body and neck, working around the highlights. I followed that with Bruynzeel Permanent Orange.

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.

When I’d done everything I could think of to do with 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.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 15

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 17

Then I layered Bruynzeel Permanent Orange over all of the body, neck, and head except the reflected lights and brightest highlights. I worked into some areas of the highlights that had previously been 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. That was followed 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.

TIP: I try never to make a decision like this without giving myself time to consider options. Once a drawing is burnished, it can’t be unburnished. Fixative cannot be removed, either, so it’s generally better not to rush a decision like this.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 18

Final Detailing

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

I began detailing with the muzzle using Dark Brown and Black to draw lights and darks, then burnishing with the 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. There would also be the appearance of faster progress as more and more surface was covered. That can be a major encouragement!

To get the best possible look at details, I worked from the computer and enlarged the reference photo to focus on each area. If a photo is not high-resolution, you may find that enlarging the image too much doesn’t help. Find the best balance of clarity and enlargement to help you see the details you want to draw.

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

After I determined the drawing was, indeed, finished, I sprayed it with two coats of workable fixative and it was ready for framing.

You don’t have to spray a finished colored pencil drawing with fixative or varnish if you don’t wish to. There are advantages to a light coat of fixative, including keeping wax bloom in check, but it really is a personal preference.

That completes this series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

For personal, one-on-one instruction in this method of drawing, you might consider the online colored pencil course. You can opt to complete one drawing or two and the course is work at your own pace. More information is available on the online colored pencil course page or you can drop me an email.

How to Add Color to a Horse Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

The last two posts in this series involved adding color to the landscape for a large colored pencil pastoral. It was a two-step process in which I established the basic colors, then enhanced the color and developed details.

I also did a little work on the mane and tail of the horse to avoid losing those areas to the background. This is how the drawing looked when I finished with the landscape.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 10


How to Add Color to an Umber Under Drawing – The Horse

As with the landscape, adding color to the horse involved two steps: establishing the base colors and details and developing color and value ranges.

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

How to Add Color to a Horse Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

Establishing Base Colors and Details

The base color for the horse was drawn with a combination of 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. Each color was applied 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.

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.

Adding Color to Umber Under 1rawing Step 11


Once the overall color was in place, I used Slate Gray in the light areas and Black in the shadows of the muzzle and black areas. Color was applied with tiny, circular strokes to the muzzle and with directional strokes in the forelock.Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 13


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

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

For this round of color, I again worked throughout the horse with light pressure.

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!

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 14


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. Limepeel was used to draw reflected light on the under sides of the belly, chest, and legs.

Next, I added Orange throughout the horse, shading over some of the highlights that had been protected up to that point and working around others. I used my computer 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 using broad strokes and 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.

At that point, my goal shifted to building up color and value as quickly as possible toward a finish. Toward that end, I layered:

  • Tuscan Red over all of the horse but the brightest highlights and the reflected light areas
  • Ultramarine on the legs and in the darker shadows in the head and body
  • Dark Brown over almost all the horse
  • Bruynzeel Full Color* Permanent Orange over all of the browns

All colors were applied in medium length parallel strokes except in the tighter, smaller areas and when I needed to create a directional pattern.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 15

That concluded work on the first round of work. The basic colors and details are now in place. It’s time to finish. We’ll tackle that all important step in the next post.

*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.

Previous Posts in this Series

  • Creating a Landscaped Drawing Using the Umber Under Drawing Method
  • How to Start an Umber Under Layer
  • How to Finish an Umber Under Layer
  • How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing
  • How to Add Color to an Umber Under Drawing – The First Landscape Layers
  • How to Add Color to an Umber Under Drawing – The Second Landscape Layers


How to Start a Colored Pencil Umber Under Drawing

Welcome back to my series featuring my favorite drawing method, the colored pencil umber under drawing method. If you missed the previous post in the series, here is the link.

  • Creating a Landscaped Drawing Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

In that post, I showed you how to create the line drawing, prepare the drawing paper, and transfer the drawing.

Today, we begin the umber under drawing.

How to Start an Umber Under Drawing

The Process in General

Throughout this part of the drawing process, I used Prismacolor Light Umber. I almost always use this color because it’s a medium value color that is fairly neutral. It produces the darkest values necessary, but it’s also light enough to erase fairly well if I make a mistake.

The entire drawing should be built layer by layer to avoid getting too dark too quickly. The larger the drawing—this one is 16×20—the more time it takes. The more tempting it is to develop each area to completion before moving onto the next. For balanced values, it’s best to resist that temptation.

However, with a large work, it will be easier to work in segments. I layered enough color in each area to establish the shapes before moving to the next area. In addition, I developed each area to the same degree before moving to the next step.

TIP: I’m describing the process that works best for me most of the time. While I believe it will work for most of us, I also realize that we’re all different. Take what you can use of this process and adapt to fit your needs and working style. Above all, have fun!

The First Umber Layer

After transferring the drawing to Rising Stonehenge paper, I outlined the top rail of the fence.  I added shading with horizontal strokes using very light pressure and a sharp pencil held in normal writing position. The strokes mimicked wood grain and didn’t cover all the area.

I started drawing the background trees with hatching, crosshatching, and other types of strokes designed to create a large area of light value first. Once that was complete, I layered strokes to vary the values and duplicate the look of distant foliage.

I outlined some of the more prominent trunks and worked around those, as well as around the outside edges of the fence.

Umber Under Drawing Step 1

That corner became the benchmark for the drawing. I compared everything else to that area for type of stroke and value.

I used loose, vertical strokes to shade the rest of the background trees. Most of the strokes were applied with the side of the pencil rather than the point, but I did use the point to do the detail work around the horse, the fence and in smaller areas.

I also outlined the ears, head, forelock, and mane as I worked the background in those areas to preserve those areas and to begin establishing the horse’s presence. I also did a little shading in those areas, paying special attention to the horse’s eyes and one hoof. That was the fun part with which I rewarded myself toward the end of the drawing session.

Umber Under Drawing Step 2

The Second Umber Under Drawing Layer

After completing the first umber layer, I added the second layer. Again, I used light umber, light pressure and loose vertical strokes, but I worked over some of the areas I’d worked around last time and worked around some new areas to begin creating the sense of depth and of trees visible deeper within the stand.

Here is a detail of the head and the area around it. Even though there are very few ‘lines’ drawn, the edges are beginning to take shape.

Notice also the vertical shapes in the background. I didn’t outline those, but worked around some of them in both layers and around some of them for one layer. Already, there’s a sense of depth in the background.

Umber Under Drawing Step 2 Detail

I want soft edges where necessary, so that means proceeding carefully and thoughtfully as I continue building value in the background.

Some areas will need to be ‘lined’ in. The mane and forelock, for example. In those areas, I outline each detail area, then fill it in with equal value, but the goal is to create edges without drawing lines.

I see that the ears aren’t the same size in this image. That means the first thing I’ll have to do in the next session is determine whether the off side ear is too large (I think it is) or the near side ear is too small.

Umber Under Drawing Step 3

I continued darkening the background behind the horse and fence. I carefully outlined each area, then filled in the outlines. For everything else, I applied color in long, broad strokes with medium to light pressure. I don’t want an even color layer, but I wanted to darken it more quickly.

Next, I layered vertical strokes over all of the background, working around tree trunks and other background features. Then I applied looser, more random horizontal strokes to fill the space a little more. When I finished, the area was about as dark as I want to go without working up some of the other areas, too.

The last thing I did for this session was lay a t-square along the bottom of the drawing and use it as a bumper against which to define the bottom edge using Light Umber and very loose vertical strokes to apply the first color in that area.

I also worked on the tail a little bit and on the second hoof, but mostly to bring those two areas out of the background somewhat.

Umber Under Drawing Step 4

I worked on the foliage and grass this afternoon, still using Light Umber, but focused more on smoothing the color and shaping the values.

Correcting an Error in Values

Later I noticed that the left and right sides of the background are not the same value (a common error in working a large piece in short work sessions.) At first, I added color in horizontal strokes in an effort to even up the two sides.

That didn’t work, so I tried lifting color with the click eraser. That didn’t work, so I got out the sticky stuff and dabbled around with that. That lifted color very well if I kept it carefully kneaded. I was able to lift some of the heavy darks just above the top rail in the background on the right and I liked that so well that I repeated the process on the left side. The result was very nice, so I think the first thing I’ll do tomorrow is lift addition color and see if I can create some tree trunks on the right with this method.

Umber Under Drawing Step 5

The background is now as complete as I want to make it without finishing the horse. I worked on the horse a little, but need to finish it to the same level as the background. Only then can I tell if the under drawing is finished.

We’ll tackle the horse next week.