Drawing a Sky on Sanded Paper

Drawing a Sky on Sanded Paper

Some time ago, I wrote a post describing how to draw a clear sky with colored pencils. That tutorial was on Bristol Vellum and I mentioned in that post that Bristol Vellum wasn’t my favorite surface. I also mentioned using sanded art papers, so I decided to write a followup on drawing a sky on sanded paper.

Drawing a sky on sanded art paper of any kind sounds impossible, doesn’t it? After all, skies require smooth color, and smooth color on sanded papers sounds like a contradiction in terms.

But the truth is that the grittiness of sanded papers allows you to layer and blend endlessly. That makes smooth color not only possible, but easier than you might think.

Drawing a Sky on Sanded Paper

About the Paper

UART Premium Pastel Paper was the first sanded art paper I tried. I tried it with oils and with colored pencils, and while I liked the initial results with oils far better, I discovered many years later that the oil paint did not adhere to the paper very well.

The colored pencil, on the other hand, is still solid.

Since then, I’ve tried Fisher 400, Clairefontaine Pastelmat, and Lux Archival from Brush & Pencil. Each type of sanded surface has advantages and disadvantages. Pastelmat comes in many different colors, so if you like working on colored supports, this is a good option.

Lux Archival is fully archival. Even the backing is archival, so if that’s important to you, try Lux Archival. In addition, drawing on it is almost effortless. It’s a great surface.

I still had one sample piece of UART left from that first sample set; a 6-inch by 9-inch piece of 240 grit. That was coarser than I wanted to use, but it was available, so that’s my support for this project. You can use any grit of UART, or any other type of sanded art paper to complete this project.

About the Drawing Process

The process I used for this landscape is very similar to oil painting in that I plan to complete the piece in three clearly defined steps.

The first step is roughing in or blocking in. In this step, my primary concern is big shapes and general color. Since I didn’t begin with an umber under painting (which I often do with landscapes,) I will rough in each of the big areas with the local colors.

The second step is modeling. I’ll go back over the entire painting again, adding detail, increasing the range of values, and improving color saturation in each area.

The third step is detailing. The detailing step is exactly what it sounds like: going through the landscape again and adding the finer details that bring the landscape to life.

If you want to see how this works with oil painting, I recommend Andrew Tischler’s YouTube channel. I’ve been watching his videos for years and although there are a lot of differences between oils and colored pencils, much of his methodology applies to the way I’m using colored pencils in this piece.

On to the tutorial!

Step 1: The Block In

The Initial Color Layers

I started with Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils because they’re a little harder and dryer than Prismacolors, so they don’t leave quite as much wax on the paper. That’s not as much of a problem with sanded paper as it is with traditional papers, but I still prefer starting with Polychromos.

As always when doing landscapes on sanded papers, the first area I worked on was the sky. Granted, I’m focusing on the sky for this tutorial, but I’ll work through the entire landscape at each stage.

A bit of color matching showed that Sky Blue was the closest match, so I sketched the sky line, then shaded the sky.

Drawing a Sky on Sanded Paper

The method I’ve found to apply broad areas of color is as follows:

First, I applied color in short, horizontal strokes. I used firm pressure and placed the strokes very close together. (See #1)

Then I went over sky again, but this time I stroked vertically. I still used firm pressure and placed my strokes close together. Adding the second layer of color filled a lot more tooth, but it still wasn’t smooth. (2)

Drawing on sanded paper produces a lot of pigment dust. I don’t want to waste that pigment, so I blended it into the surface with a bristle brush. Don’t stroke with the brush! Just press it against the color, then lift it again. That pushes the pigment dust down into the grit of the paper, and that fills the tooth more completely. (3)

I finished the sky with Sky Blue, then blended it.

The Second Color Layers

Next, I matched colors with the upper portion of the sky. I wanted to use Prismacolor, but didn’t have a dark enough blue, so I used Polychromos Ultramarine. I applied Ultramarine to the upper part of the sky with firm pressure and vertical strokes, then blended with the bristle brush.

After that, I layered Prismacolor Powder Blue over all of the sky, starting at the top and working downward. I used vertical strokes again and placed them close together, but I used lighter pressure because the pencil seemed to be lifting color.

I did one layer vertically, then added a second layer with horizontal strokes. This time, I used a bit heavier pressure and applied color with short, back-and-forth strokes. Starting at the horizon, I added color all the way to the top of the sky.

Then I blended with the dry bristle brush until the sky looked pretty smooth. It needs further adjustment once the mountains are in place, but for now, I considered it finished.

Drawing a Sky on Sanded Paper

Step 2: Modeling: Round 1

Since the sky in this scene is absolutely cloudless, there wasn’t a lot of modeling to do. But a close look at the reference photo revealed that the blues are darker and more vibrant at the top of the image than along the mountains. I needed to emphasize that difference.

The blocking-in phase also left plenty of paper showing through the color. For a truly realistic looking sky, those “paper holes” had to disappear! So I had two main things to work on in the modeling phase.

I started modeling the sky with Polychromos Sky Blue. I applied color with normal pressure using closely spaced vertical strokes. For each stroke, I started at the top of the sky and stroked almost down to the mountains from one side of the drawing to the other.

The next layer was applied with the same pressure, but in horizontal strokes. Once again, I started at the top of the sky and worked my way toward the horizon. I did not add color all the way to the horizon. Instead, I let the paper show through in that area.

Note the mountains and hills, which are in the blocking in phase here.

Then I blended the sky with a sponge applicator in two steps.

For the first step, I blended from the top of the sky all the way to the mountains. The sponge applicator pulled color from the rest of the sky into the lower parts of the sky. I stroked past the edges of the mountains so that there wasn’t a “halo” hovering over the mountains.

For the second step, I blended horizontally, stroking from one side of the sky to the other. I blended all the way down to the mountains.

Modeling: Round 2

Then I added Ultramarine to the very top part of the sky, no more than one half to one inch down from the top. The sky doesn’t need to be very dark, but it did need a bit of darkening at the top. I used normal pressure and applied color rather loosely, letting some of the previous color show through the strokes.

Then I blended with the sponge applicator from Brush & Pencil and used the color picked up from the previous blend to blend this slightly darker color.

This detail shows the softening of the edge where I pulled sky color over the mountains. That softening helps create the illusion of great distance. I’ll sharpen those edges again when I work on the mountains, but this shows you one example of muting colors and softening edges by pulling one color over another. It works with any paper, but is especially effective with sanded papers.

It also shows how even the color is. Even on 240 grit UART, there is now no paper showing through the color in the sky. That’s exactly what I wanted!

Step 3: Detailing

There wasn’t much to do in the detailing phase for this particular composition. The sky was clear blue in the reference photo, and I wanted it to be clear blue in the final drawing.

But I did want to set the sky and mountains apart a bit more and that will require making the lowest parts of the sky just a tiny bit lighter.

However, that will have to wait until the drawing is almost completed.

Drawing a Sky on Sanded Paper

There really isn’t much more to do with this sky. The truth is that I like it the way it is. For now.

I’ll work my way through the landscape following the same process. When every part of the drawing has been blocked in and modeled, I can do all the detailing in one or two sessions.

So stay tuned for the finished product!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial on drawing a sky on sanded paper. I also hope you’re encouraged to give sanded art papers a try if you haven’t already!

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One comment

  1. Patricia E Wilson

    I never even knew there was sanded paper but I am not an artist, just crafty and can be somewhat artistic. This was so interesting and found it fascinating. The card you recommend is used by allot of card makers for water coloring. I don’t think it is sanded paper though just that name brand.

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