How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil

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.

The Problem

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

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

This is the end result.

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.

And that process is the subject of this post.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil

Step 1: Hiding Unwanted Elements

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

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

I used Verithin pencils because they have harder leads and are excellent ‘blending’ tools. They also layer quite well over waxier Prismacolor Soft Core pencils, even with this much color on the paper.

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

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 them. 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

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

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

I was working on Stonehenge, so the first step in correcting the shadows was lifting color from most of the halter with mounting putty. This the result.

I hoped to get most of the color removed but soon found that some of the colors had stained the paper.

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

I also discovered that using mounting putty wasn’t the best choice. It removed color well, but left the paper surface the slightest bit slick. That made further color application problematic.

In hindsight, 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.

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

Step 3: Adding Color

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

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 scrubbed the paper just a bit to further blur the remaining edges, then set the drawing aside to dry.

Step 4: Adding Color

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

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.

Step 5: Adding More Color

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

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.

And that proves my point that mistakes made (or discovered) at the end of a tiring work session often disappear by the next work session!

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 mounting putty to remove that color.

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.


  1. Helene Leclerc

    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. Kathe Lewis

    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.


  3. Toni Boyce

    Hi Carrie, youare my guardiatn Angel,i was just abouto throw my Horse Painting in the Bin it is the work of Peggy Osbourne,the Magnificent Black Horse from Karen Broemmelsick,lots and lots of colour,i have left it alone for a few months,picked it up and work ed on it this week.Worked on it used lots of powder blender,pencil touch up, sprayed it,and you guessed it will not accept any more pencil.I am half way through it,i was interested with the last Lady you suggested rubber cement thinner my Husband was in the Building trade so we no about it.Anyway i am going to throw myself into Bed.Can’t wait to hear from you. PS I used Bristol Vellum Paper. Regards Toni Boyce.

    1. Toni,

      Thank you for your comment and very kind words. I lay no claim to being a guardian angel, but I am always happy to help in any way that I can.

      Since you started out on Bristol Vellum, you probably won’t be able to add any new texture to it. Bristol has a very limited capacity to accept layers of color. I’m not sure that the Brush & Pencil products would be of much use to you.

      I took a look at that tutorial and see that Peggy did use a vellum, but she used Bee Heavyweight Vellum. I have no experience with that, so I’ll ask Peggy to read your comment and offer suggestions.

  4. Hi Toni, Peggy Osborne here. It has been a while since I did the black horse but I remember that it was so much fun. I did not have an issue with the tooth of the paper filling up and not taking more layers because of the way I worked it. I see that you used the Powder Blender and sprayed it between layers and since I did not use that method it is hard for me to say how to fix it. My method was slightly different than yours. I added light layers of pencil then blended them with Gamsol then was able to add more layers over that. I also used the Titanium White/Touch-up Texture mixture. I might suggest that if you are wanting to add more layers, try the Touch-Up texture alone on a small area. It does add a bit more texture to the paper and you an draw over it. I hope this helps.

  5. Toni Boyce

    Thank you Peggy and Carrie,i realise now that no1 i used the wrong paper,hadn,t heard of the B/Vellum.no2 i have been to heavy handed with all the products we use. The Paper couldn’t hold all the solvents,powders,blenders,i noticed that i have even gone through to the wrong side of the paper.I have a lot going on in my life at the concentration ect,i guess that is no 3. At the moment i dislike the work its ugly,whichis a shame Peggy has such a lovely Horse.I have another stint in Hospital so i will ponder on the problem.Thank you Carrie for the genuine advice you give. Many Thanks. Toni.

    1. Toni,

      I’m glad Peggy and I have been able to help you.

      Your project hasn’t been a waste of time. You’ve learned three important lessons and that’s progress. Sometimes learning what not to do is just as important than learning what to do!

      Best wishes on the hospital stay.


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