How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil

My last post on this project ended with a decision that necessitated damage control. A lot of it! Bad for me, but good for you because I decided to show you how to fix a BIG mistake in colored pencil.

So we’ll take a break from the regular tutorial, so you can see how I fixed the self-inflicted problems.

Let’s begin with the problem.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil

The Problem

As you will recall, I decided to remove the nose band on the blue halter for compositional reasons. You can read about that here. Below is the end result.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - The Mistake

The composition seemed much improved, but I couldn’t let well enough alone. The process went so well that I decided to remove the rest of the halter.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil

Step 1: Hiding Unwanted Elements

I began by layering Verithin Goldenrod, Pumpkin Orange, Terra Cotta, Peacock Green, Indigo Blue, Dark Brown, Orange*, and Tuscan Red* over the areas I wanted to conceal. I applied one layer of each color in the order listed over the cheek strap.

Then I used Verithin pencils because they have harder leads and are excellent ‘blending’ tools.

Next, I layered colors in random order, gradually darkening the area until it blended in with the rest of the horse.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - Step 1

The work went very well, but a couple of potential problems were revealed. Namely, the cast shadow across the cheek and the apparent ‘deformity’ at the place where the cheek and neck meet. I hadn’t taken those things into account and wasn’t sure how best to deal with it. Since it was the end of the drawing session, anyway, I decided to sleep on the problem.

TIP: Be prepared for unexpected problems whenever you try to correct a mistake. Also be ready to press on. Very few mistakes are drawing killers.

Step 2: Removing Color with Sticky Stuff

Anyone who has used colored pencils for any length of time knows it’s next to impossible to cover dark colors with light colors. You can alter the darkness of the darks by glazing a lighter color over it, but you cannot cover it.

So the first step in correcting the shadows was lifting color from most of the halter with sticky stuff. I hoped to get most of the color removed but soon found that some of the colors had stained the paper.

I also discovered that using sticky stuff wasn’t the best choice. It did remove color well, but it left the paper surface the slightest bit slick and made further color application problematic. It would have been much better to have removed color with tape (very carefully) or with an eraser. The best course of action would probably have been an electric eraser and a very light touch.

But the decision was made and the work done. This is what I ended up with.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - Step 2

Read 2 Neat Tricks for Erasing or “Lifting” Color from Colored Pencil Drawings on EmptyEasel.

Here’s a closer look.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - Step 2 Detail

Step 3: Adding Color

I attempted to replace the cast shadow across the cheek and redraw the throatlatch (the strap that goes under the throat,) then outlined the cast shadow. I had to move the cast shadow a couple of times before it looked correct.

My intention was to layer color with Verithin pencils, but the paper was so slick that Verithin pencils made very little impact. Reluctantly, I switched to Prismacolor. Beginning with Dark Brown, Indigo Blue and Dark Green, I darkened the cast shadow and layered Goldenrod over the cheek and top of the neck.

Then I layered Dark Brown, Dark Green, Indigo Blue and Black Cherry over the area that was once the cheek strap in an effort to more completely blend remaining edges.

I then used rubbing alcohol to blend the colors. I used an old toothbrush to apply the alcohol and scrub a little to further blur the remaining edges, then set the drawing aside to dry.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - Step 3

Step 4: Adding Color

Once the alcohol blend dried, I discovered with some disappointment that it, too, had been a poor decision. I was well past regret by this point and thinking about a drastic crop.

Sometimes, though, a drawing gets to the point at which I think I can do no further damage, and that I may as well try one more thing. If the one more thing fails, I can consider a crop. So I picked up a pencil and began another round of color application.

I layered Prismacolor Yellow Ochre, Goldenrod, Mineral Orange, Pumpkin Orange, Dark Umber, Indigo Blue, Tuscan Red*, Sienna Brown, and Black in random order above and below the bridle. My goal at this point was to restore the natural color of the horse’s coat. I hoped to completely conceal the edges of the now absent halter, but didn’t get that far before deciding I’d ruined the drawing.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - Step 4

Step 5: Adding More Color

I expected to see ruin and disaster when I looked at the drawing the next time.

I was disappointed! There was none!

The drawing looked pretty good in person and when I photographed it, the digital image looked good, too.

TIP: Never make major decisions about your artwork when you’re tired, overworked, or frustrated. Give yourself a break—24 hours if you can—and you might find the problem resolves itself.

I needed additional reference materials, so I retrieved photographs of heads, necks, and shoulders to supplement the primary reference photo.

I worked mostly on the cheek, but also all the areas around the bridle and now-absent halter. Each layer improved color, value, and saturation as I corrected remaining problems.

Because I was working over previous work, I used heavier pressure. I was able to get away with lighter pressure on the neck because I hadn’t used the sticky stuff to remove that color.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - Step 5

No More Mistake!

In the end, the drawing looked at least as good as it did before I made that fateful error in judgment. If you look closely, you can see the edges of the side strap, but that will be completely concealed as I finish the drawing. I’ll show you how that worked out in next Tuesday’s tutorial.

If you take anything away from my experience, let it be this:

No matter how bad they look, most mistakes (yes, even in colored pencil drawings) can be corrected with time and patience. All you need is an adventurous spirit and a willingness to try things.

Plenty of sleep helps, too!

For other methods of correcting colored pencil mistakes, read How to Fix Colored Pencil Mistakes by Blending with Rubber Cement Thinner and How to Fix Mistakes Made with Water Soluble Colored Pencils on EmptyEasel.

*Orange and Tuscan Red are fugitive colors. They have a tendency to fade. I didn’t know that when I did this drawing back in 2012. Since then, I’ve removed those colors, and either use similar colors in other brands, or substitute other colors of Prismacolor.

4 Replies to “How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil”

  1. Very intéresting how you solved your problem.
    Il also learned that if you wait before taking action on a drawing, the problem you tought you had Is not such à big one.
    Thank you for sharing your experience as an artist with us.Hélène

  2. Hi Carrie, I live in Denmark and don’t know what rubber cement thinner is. Can you tell me what is the content? Acetone for instance? I can’t order online, flammable solvent do not travel overseas!
    Normally I use Zest-it for colored pencils, will that do?

    1. Kathe,

      The rubber cement thinner I used is called Bestine (brand name,) and it contains Heptane and is extremely flammable. It’s been recognized for decades as a an excellent solvent for removing labels, cleaning grease spots, and other uses.

      It can be used as a blending agent for colored pencils, but you’re better off using Zest-It, or odorless mineral spirits. They’re generally less flammable, though you still need to follow the directions on the bottles when using them.

      Carrie

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