This series will show you how to draw a horse’s face in colored pencil using the umber under drawing method.
It is a long demonstration, but it covers the process start to finish, includes changes and, problem solving. All, good things to share.
About the Subject
Here’s the reference photo.
The level of detail is the sort of thing I love drawing. The crop is up-close-and-personal. There’s lots of detail. And, it’s a horse! It even has good lighting.
About the Drawing
I’m using 90 pound Stonehenge drawing paper in Pearl Grey with the colored pencil variation of the Classical painting technique, the Flemish method. I’ll also be using Prismacolor Verithin and Premier pencils, unless otherwise noted. You can use this method for any subject, on any good drawing paper, and using the pencils of your choice. The results may vary.
How to Draw a Horse’s Face in Colored Pencil
There was a drawing already in existence for an 11×14 oil painting that never got off the ground, so all I had to do was transfer the drawing to paper, clean it up a little bit, then assemble the working mat, and it was ready to go. This is the transferred drawing.
I used studio-made transfer paper to transfer the drawing. Soft graphite layered with heavy pressure over a piece of 8.5×11 typing paper. I’ve been using this type of transfer paper for years because it’s easy to recharge, it’s a lot cleaner than some commercially produced transfer papers, I can make any size sheet I wish. Of course, it’s also inexpensive.
Because the drawing was so complicated, I took my time transferring it. The details need to be as complete as possible from the beginning when I’m working with colored pencils, so I transferred highlights and shadows, as well as all the major shapes. Taking a couple of working sessions to do the transfer was worth the time and reduces the risk of agonizing over missed details late in the process.
The working mat assembly is a combination of two layers of mat board and a layer or two of corrugated cardboard. I cut each piece and the drawing paper to the outside dimension of the mat. Then the layers are placed together and bound to a mat with binder clips. It makes for a solid, stable, and lightweight working surface that protects the paper and serves very well as a ‘laptop’ drawing table.
Blocking in the Dark Values
The color I’ve chosen is Dark Brown and I’m starting with Verithin pencils because of their harder lead. I can impress lines with Verithin pencils, they are great for tiny details and small spaces, and they also erase more easily than Prismacolor Premier pencils. They don’t lay down color as quickly, though, so patience is required.
For the first couple of layers, I focused on placing the darkest shadows and establishing a sense of three dimensional mass to the line drawing. I began with the eye, which is typical in a project like this, but most of my attention was with the complicated arrangement of buckles and belts on the nylon halter and leather bridle.
For fun, I drew some long hair with several layers of long, flowing strokes applied with medium light pressure.
Adding Middle Values
Detail work continued on the leather straps. Again using the Verithin Dark Brown, I added stitching. Rather than just add the marks, I used heavy pressure and pressed them into the paper. Subsequent layers should gradually create the look of dark stitching in the leather.
I also darkened the eye to bring out the reflected highlight a little and used a Zebra fine point ball point pen (a dried out pen) to impress eyelashes that will be lighted by the sun.
Next, I drew middle tones in the neck, face and ears, and I played with the mane and forelock a little more.
Once the main shapes and shadows are established, I darkened all of the shadows and reinforced the stitching on the bridle. I’m still suing Verithin Dark Brown and developing dark values layer by layer using medium light pressure.
For the most part, I work throughout the drawing each day, though I may focus on tack one day and on the horse another.
The purpose at this stage is to bring the umber under drawing as close to looking like a stand-alone drawing as possible. Ideally, the under drawing that could be considered finished artwork in its own right.
I also am working on developing highlights in the under drawing without the use of lighter colors or white. That will allow me to preserve the brightest highlights for addition late in the drawing process, when I can balance highlights and shadows.
The best way to accomplish that is by gradually building dark and mid-tone areas around the highlights. That is part of the reason I begin with the darkest areas first and work toward the light areas.
More Layers, More Detail
I continued to use Verithin Dark Brown, but began laying in color with the tip of the pencil instead of the side. I also began stroking in the direction of hair growth or muscle structure where appropriate. A lot of this work involved going over specific areas multiple times.
The bridge of the nose is a good example. Short, directional strokes applied with a needle-sharp pencil, and a repeating pattern. I didn’t copy each stroke—there’s no need to draw every hair. Instead, I replicated the groups of hair by emphasizing the shadows in the gaps.
The same goes for the outside surface of the ear, the orbital structures around the eye, and the shadows of the forehead on the eye on the far side of the face.
I used the same technique, but with less detail in the jugular groove, throat and cheek. The further from the center of interest (the combination of the eye and buckles) each area is, the less detailed it should be. That reduction in definition is accomplished either by working with an increasingly blunt pencil or by alternating layers of pencil tip work with a layer of work applied with the side of the pencil.
Darkening the Shadows
To create a wide value range, I continued darkening shadows and developing middle values. The shadow under the ear is a good example. This shadow goes through a variety of values, including reflected light.
That area is also a study in color variation. There are dark browns, golden browns, red browns and golds throughout the shadow and adjacent areas. That’s what makes working the under drawing with a single color so efficient and valuable to this type of work.
The Finished Under Drawing
This is how the drawing looked at the end of the week. It’s really coming together and I’m loving that eye!
It took nine days to finish the umber under drawing, working between one and two hours each of those days. It may seem like wasted time, when nine hours of color work would have produced a much more complete drawing. But it’s not wasted time to me. Discovering how to work out the values without also having to make color choices was a game-changer for me.
So was learning how to use Prismacolor Verithin pencils for the under drawing. I’m still a very careful drawer, but knowing I can erase a mistake lets me be a bit more bold.
Next week, color!