How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil

This week’s Tuesday Tutorial picks up where last week’s left off. Last week, we drew a gray sky. This week I’ll show you how to finish a sky in colored pencil, and why that was necessary.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored PencilThe drawing for this tutorial was drawn on sanded art paper, but most of the methods can be used on most other drawing papers and supports.

I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

When I concluded the previous post in this series, I thought the sky was finished. I was ready to move on to the landscape itself.

So I established the horizon and began shading the distant hills.

But sometimes, an area looks finished until you add color next to it. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it did happen with this drawing.

All of a sudden, I realized the sky wasn’t finished.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil

Step 1: Lighten the sky with additional color.

Layer a light color over the lower part of the sky. Use the lightest color you used to draw the sky, but if that isn’t light enough, chose a slightly lighter color. Chose a color that matches the previous sky colors in color temperature. I used Ivory to lighten and warm up the sky in the first post, so that’s what I used this time. Had I needed to lighten it further, I would have used a warm color with a lighter value.

Use medium-heavy to heavy pressure (not quite burnishing) to fill in as much of the paper’s tooth as possible.

You can also cross hatch strokes to fill in the paper tooth more completely. Use as many layers as you need or want. I did three, stroking from lower left to upper right with the first layer, and lower right to upper left on the next layer.

The last layer was vertical strokes. For those, I started each stroke at the horizon and stroked upward so the heaviest color was at the horizon and tapered off as I drew upward.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 1

Step 2: Smooth the colors in the sky with odorless mineral spirits.

The overall result was much more satisfactory, but still not what I wanted, so I decided to use a solvent blend on the sky.

I used a small round sable so I would have more control over where I applied solvent.

I also held the brush in a more upright position, and used a stippling stroke to tap solvent onto the paper. This type of stroke is better than any other type of stroke for blending on sanded paper, because the pigment dissolves quickly and almost completely. It’s far too easy to lift or move pigment, especially if you use horizontal or circular strokes.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2a

I worked in a horizontal pattern, starting at one side of the paper, and tapping solvent into the color layer all the way across to the other side. Then I moved up and repeated the process.

This illustration shows the lower half blended with solvent, while the upper half is still dry.

I went over the entire sky this way, then blended it again.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2b

It took quite a bit of solvent to get the color to dissolve, but once it did, it dissolved almost completely. The stippling stroke proved beneficial once the color was dissolved, because it didn’t move color around too much.

However, solvent did tend to puddle and created small bubbles in some places.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2c

The bubbles disappeared as the solvent dried, and the areas where solvent puddled weren’t noticeably different than the rest of the sky.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2d

Step 3: Add more color, but use heavier pressure to smooth out the sky.

After the paper dried completely, I used heavy (but not burnishing pressure) to apply Ivory to the lower half of the sky and Cold Grey I to the upper half.

At the top and bottom, I held the pencils in a normal position and used a combination of strokes to cover the paper. In the center portion, I used the sides of the pencils to lay down thinner layers of color.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 3

Is the Sky Finished Now?

I don’t know.

I like the faint, horizontal patterns in the sky, but also wanted smoother color. Should I blend again and add more color, or leave the sky alone for now?

I decided to leave it alone for the time being and continue drawing the landscape. Adjustments can always be made later, but it’s difficult to undo something once it’s done.

If you want to push color saturation a little further, continue layering the same colors and blending between layers.

Next week, we’ll go back and finish drawing those most distant hills.

2 Replies to “How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil”

  1. Greetings, Carrie,
    I do believe that Spring has actually made it to Maritime Canada. However, I’m not putting my parka away just yet! 😉

    Tried out this lesson, on sanded art paper— and can’t say I’m very impressed. I worked on it for about 10 days (off & on) and that was just the sky!! Aarrggh! ! I can’t get the depth of color I’d like, the little bits still show through even after many layers and many applications of OMS.
    Glad I only bought one sheet (small one) and think I’ll go back to my Bristol Vellum or my Drafting Film. Guess I’m not ready for the painterly look! lol!

    Love all your tutorials. . . .keep ’em coming!
    Cheers, Bev

    1. Bev,

      Sanded art paper is definitely not for everyone! I didn’t like it much when I first tried it years ago, either.

      Now that I’ve gained a little more experience with it, I like it much better, but it’s still third or fourth on my list of favorite papers!

      Carrie

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