Using a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals

Using a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know one of the drawing methods I use most often is the complementary under drawing method. Several landscape tutorials feature this method. But is that all it’s good for? Can you use a complementary under drawing to draw animals?


I don’t use it very often because I prefer the umber under drawing method for drawing animals. But both methods work, so I thought I’d show you one horse drawing I did using the complementary under drawing method.

Using a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals

Before we visit the tutorial, though, let’s take a quick look at just what the complementary under drawing method is.

What is a Complementary Under Drawing?

An under drawing is the first layers of the drawing. They can be in the same colors as the final drawing (what I refer to as the direct method). They can also be shades of brown (umber under drawing), complementary, or any other single color (monochromatic.)

When you use a complementary under drawing, you draw the first layers with colors opposite the final colors on the color wheel. If you’re drawing a red apple, for example, the first layers are drawn in greens. Green is on the opposite side of the color wheel from red.

The reverse is also true. Use shades of red or earth tones to under draw green subjects. Yes, even landscapes!

Read How to Use a RED Under Drawing to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens with Colored Pencil.

The complementary method works for any subject.

How to Use a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals

NOTE: This drawing is an older project, so there are no step-by-step illustrations available.

Getting Ready to Draw

I used Beach Sand Ivory Strathmore Artagain drawing paper because the color was ideal for this subject and the very vague background I wanted to use. Artagain drawing paper is also smooth enough for drawing details, and sturdy enough to take lots of layers.

The drawing method is based on the Flemish technique normally used with oils.

Drawing the Background

I drew the background by applying several layers of color and blending heavily with a clean tissue between each layer. The result is a look that is “watercolor-like” in appearance.

To create the look of the Arabian horse’s native desert, I used blues at the top and blended into golds at the bottom—the look of sky and sand.

The colors were so soft and subtle, they neither photographed nor scanned very well!

Drawing the Under Drawing

I had to find suitable opposites for horse colors. Namely, the browns, red-browns, and golds in the horse’s coat.

Browns are shades of oranges, so the logical choice was to begin with violets, purples and/or blues. Sometimes, near complements are more useful than direct complements, so I considered a number of colors.

I chose Verithin Parma Violet* because it’s an excellent color with a light value. I didn’t want a strong complementary color presence, so this seemed like the ideal choice.

However, it was much too light to provide the necessary range of values even after several layers.

So I layered Verithin Violet* over the darks and darker middle values.

I worked on the under drawing for two days, reviewing the work at the beginning of each day and making necessary changes or corrections.

TIP: Verithin pencils are a harder version of Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils. They hold a point longer, lay down thinner layers of color, and do not fill up the tooth of the paper as quickly. You can do an entire under drawing with Verithin pencils, then layer softer pencils over them.

Read 2 Ways to Use Bath Tissue with Colored Pencil.

Glazing Color

After a final review of the under drawing, I began glazing color. I applied each color only into the areas where I could see it in the reference photograph or where I remembered seeing it in the horse’s coat.

Working from light to dark, I used Verithin Goldenrod, Verithin Orange*, Verithin Dark Brown, and Verithin Indigo Blue. With every color layer, the goal was to get as seamless and smooth a glaze as possible.

This is what the drawing looked like when I finished the Verithin layer. The complementary under drawing is still very evident. The warmer areas are the first glazes of color.

Complementary Under Drawing - Finished Under Drawing

Glazing Color over a Complementary Under Drawing

As already mentioned, this is an older project, so I don’t have step-by-step photographs of either the under drawing or the glazing process. The photo shown above is the only one, in fact, and I now wish I’d taken more in-progress images (a good reminder to all that you cannot have too many in-progress photographs!).

However, you can see how I outlined the highlights and worked around them with each layer of color.

You can also see how I used purples and lavenders to lay the foundation for the horse’s bay coat. Darker purples in the darker, blacker areas along his neck and lighter purples or lavender (or no purple at all) in the areas where he shows a more golden color.

After this point, I used Prismacolor Thick Lead pencils and continued layering color. I developed color saturation and value through a series of glazes, all applied with light to medium pressure until the drawing was finished.

For the sleek hair on the body, I used short strokes, placed close together. In the illustration below, you can also see that I used the color of the paper for the highlights.

Complementary Under Drawing - Shoulder

I drew the mane and forelock with long, directional strokes, working around the highlights.

By the way, since blacks often show a variety of other colors, I let the under drawing show through around the highlights in the mane.

Complementary Under Drawing - Mane Highlights

This is the finished drawing.

Complementary Under Drawing - Finished Drawing


For a more information on using a complementary under drawing to draw animals, check out the free eBook, The Complementary Method for Colored Pencil. It also features a horse as the subject, but also includes a landscaped background.

*The colors marked with asterisks are not lightfast colors, and I no longer use them. If I’m working with Prismacolor products only, I substitute lightfast blues and/or reds for purples. You can also substitute lightfast purples in other brands of pencils for Prismacolor purples. Faber-Castell Polychromos has a nice selection of lightfast purples.


  1. John P Garrett

    Hi Carrie,

    That’s a beautiful drawing! These days I never know if drawing or painting is the correct term for CP work. :0)
    Thanks for sharing your process and at least you had one WIP shot.
    I noticed you used Artagain paper, how well does that take layering? I have a pad, but it seems fairly smooth and was wondering how it took the CP pigment?


    1. John,

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Thank you for the complimentary words, too.

      Drawing and painting both work. Personally, I refer to the more complex works as paintings. I use a lot of the same techniques.

      But customers expect oils, acrylics, or watercolor when they hear the word “painting”, so that’s the term I use.

      Artagain paper is pretty smooth. It’s been a while since I’ve used it (this drawing is from 2004, when Artagain is about all I used). It’s a pretty tough paper and can withstand a lot of abuse and layers. But it’s been several years since I last used it. The Artagain you can buy now may not be the same as the Artagain I was using back in 2004.

      I’ll have to get some and try it. I did love the colors!

      Thanks again for reading.


  2. John P Garrett


    Thanks for the reply. I have to say there are many things about you I appreciate, your amazing artwork, Equine subject matter, and your demos and tutorials. Mostly though is that you take the time to reply when I realize that time is an important commodity. Most artists won’t take the time.


    1. John,

      Thank you for the very kind words. I’m glad to be of help to you.

      One of the reasons I decided to blog many years ago was to promote conversation. One sided conversation doesn’t last very long!

      I’m always looking for subjects for tutorials and demos, so let me know if there’s something you’d like to see that I haven’t addressed recently or at all.

      Best wishes,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *