Completing a Plein Air Colored Pencil Drawing in the Studio

Completing a Plein Air Colored Pencil Drawing in the Studio

Not many artists who use colored pencils do plein air colored pencil work. Is it the idea that you must complete a plein air piece on location?

Completing a plein air painting in the studio is an accepted practice. A lot of artists, yes, even watercolor artists and oil painters, finish their plein air paintings in the studio.

So completing a plein air colored pencil drawing in the studio is ideal for us. We all know how slow our favorite medium is!

Guest blogger Jana Botkin is back this week to tell how she finished a plein air experiment in her studio.

Completing a Plein Air Colored Pencil Drawing in the Studio

by Jana Botkin

Last summer I tried plein air drawing with a set of 12 Polychromos colored pencils. I got it this far while on location and decided it wasn’t worth finishing.

Then a commenter said she hoped that I would finish it to give other plein artists hope that such a thing could be accomplished. (I am paraphrasing.) That was all the push needed to get me to revisit the drawing.

With 31,000 photos on my laptop, it was a challenge to locate the photo, in spite of knowing approximately when I took the picture. Eventually I figured out that I deleted the photo in a fit of defiance against completing the drawing.

Fortunately, I was able to rescue a version of it off of my previous post on Carrie’s blog.

Completing a Plein Air Colored Pencil 1
Studio Work on a Plein Air Drawing

In addition to being incomplete, many of the finished places also needed work. I quickly saw that my colors in the drawing were wrong. So this time I had the entire 120 set of Polychromos pencils at my disposal.

The distant peak is bluer now. If I had taken a larger set of pencils with me to the scene, I could have been more accurate.

Next, I beefed up the greens, and worked to make the shapes more accurate, because this is a well-known scene. If it isn’t right, people will know. I am held to a high standard of accuracy because of my style, and my knowledge of the area.

That’s enough of the distant peak. I moved into the greens, layered on the distant grasses and trees, along with the closer shrubs.

Even more greens went on the shrubs, a little more shaping on the rocks. When I felt stuck, I worked on the sky.

I used two colors of light blue on the sky. One is called Light Blue, but the other pencil is too short to read the name any more.

Completing a Plein Air Colored Pencil

The distant mountains are still too dark, so I used “sticky stuff” (poster putty) to lift off a few layers. That pushed them back into the distance a bit more.

I replaced that general darkness with a medium blue. Then I worked on the forests, the shrubs and the water. I just scribbled, trying different colors, too many to keep track of.

I also added another layer to the sky.

Time for Review

I set it aside for awhile again, and when I started up, I just layered without any plan. In general, my colored pencil drawings tend to look weak because I stop too soon.

Finally I just decided it is time to straighten the edges, sign it and be done.

Most likely, I will revisit it yet again, to strengthen the colors, tighten up some shapes, add to the textures.

Completing a Plein Air Colored Pencil

Thank you, Jana!

My thanks to Jana for taking the time to finish this piece, and to the reader who prompted her!

I hope she’s encouraged you to try drawing outside with your colored pencils. After all, you now know you don’t need to finish what you start in one sitting.

About Jana

Jana credits her 6th grade teacher at Ivanhoe Elementary School with teaching her to draw. She spent several years in college in San Diego, changing schools and changing majors, until she realized she belonged back in her native Tulare County. After drawing her future husband’s cabin, he told her that other cabin owners would also love drawings of their cabins. That was the beginning of Cabin Art. Now she also paints in oils, paints indoor and outdoor murals, and teaches people how to draw, with hundreds of happy students since 1994. Jana works from her studio at home in Three Rivers, with her 3 cats stopping by for occasional visits. You see her work and browse her lessons on her website and read more of her articles on her blog.


  1. Gail Jones

    This is a great article and a beautiful drawing! Plein Air drawing intimidates me but that is because free handing stuff in general still intimidates me. Next year…. Lord willing, I intend to work on my freehand skills. Then I can give Plein Air a go just like Jana did here. This is inspiring.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Gail. When you feel intimidated, remind yourself, “It’s only paper”. Then you can give plein air a go any time it strikes your fancy, because it’s only paper! Practice where no one is looking, use crummy paper, and then toss it when you are finished. It is akin to someone practicing scales on the piano; that is not meant to be listened to, and it certainly isn’t meant to be recorded.

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