My Colored Pencil Painting Process: An Overview

Today I’d like share an overview of my colored pencil painting process. This topic was suggested by a reader who wanted to see the steps I follow to do a colored pencil painting.

The problem is that I use more than one drawing method. There are similarities between them, but also enough differences that describing every step in each process would result in a book!

So I’ll present a “big picture” view of the general process for the methods I use most. I’ll link to other posts that describe the process in more detail.

Also, as it happens, the newsletter article is a detailed step-by-step of my colored pencil painting process. Last week started with how I make an accurate line drawing, and this week (July 3 newsletter,) I’ll describe how I transfer the line drawing.

I’m not following a specific piece with this series, but I will describe each step in the process. So if you’d like to join us for that discussion, sign up for the free weekly newsletter here. You won’t get the previously published articles, but you will get the future articles.

Now back to the post.

Colored Pencil Painting Process

My Colored Pencil Painting Process: An Overview

I’ve used several different painting methods over the years. Some were good for one or two projects; some are favorites.

To keep this post from getting unbearably long, I’ll talk in brief about the two methods I use most often.

The Umber Under Drawing Method

The umber under painting method is a method I first used as an oil painter. It begins with an umber under painting and finishes with color glazes.

It doesn’t work exactly the same with colored pencils, but I have adapted it for use with colored pencils.

I start with one or two browns and go over the entire drawing shading values.

The amount of details in the under painting is also determined by the paper. If the paper is smooth like Bristol, I tend to skimp on details so there’s enough surface texture left to add color glazes. With papers like sanded art papers, I might add more details in the under painting.

This drawing is on Stonehenge so there was plenty of texture for a detailed under painting and color glazes.

When the under drawing is finished, I glaze color over each part of the composition. I continue layering until the drawing looks the way I want it.

I’ve used this method on pets and landscapes, and for drawing animals in the landscape, as shown in this example.

This method allows me to work out details and values without having to make color decisions at the same time. That simplifies the process, and works well with my painting style.

Second, earth tones naturally subdue many other colors. Greens can easily become too bright in most landscapes, and starting with an under painting in earth tones is the perfect way to keep them toned down and looking natural.

Here’s a link to a more detailed article on this process. The subject for this article was a horse. If you’d like to see the process with a landscape, here’s a two-part tutorial I wrote for Empty Easel: Part 1 and Part 2.

The Direct Method

I also use what I call a direct method.

With this method, I begin with the lightest values for each color in the composition. I develop the under painting with base colors of each part of the composition, then finish by adding more color to build color saturation (no paper holes showing through) and detail.

For example, this shows the under painting for the landscape portion of Afternoon Graze.

The base color is always the lightest color, usually decided by the highlights. For Afternoon Graze, I started with yellows and light yellow greens in the grass, and blue greens in the trees.

There is no clear division between the under painting and the next phase. The transition is much more gradual.

As happened with Afternoon Graze, I also tend to work from one area into the next with each layer, so the painting develops in stages. The image above shows the foreground more developed than the middle ground and the distant trees are still at the base layer stage.

I like this method because I can finish a composition area by area.

Progress is more obvious this way and with a piece that’s very large, it’s easier to maintain momentum by working on small sections.

It also gets to color more quickly. For some project’s that’s the best way to proceed.

Here’s a link to a longer article on this method.

Overviews of My Colored Pencil Painting Process with Two Methods

As you can see, the process is basically the same for both of these methods. I start with light pressure and light values and gradually develop detail, color and value layer by layer.

The two examples I’ve chosen also prove that successful pieces can be finished using both methods. My primary guideline in the method I choose is the paper. The first example was drawn on Stonehenge, as I mentioned earlier.

Afternoon Graze is on Bristol Vellum.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this overview of my colored pencil painting process!

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