How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing

Last week, I showed you how to draw the umber under drawing for a horse portrait. When work concluded, the under drawing had been pushed as far as  I cared to push it. The next step is color, so this week I’ll show you how to glaze color over an umber under drawing.

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing

The first step is always an overall review. Before moving forward, it’s important to make sure the previous work is just the way you want it. I reviewed the drawing in search of areas that needed work. I made a few adjustments and the under drawing was complete.

Starting With Color

I once read a comment from a prominent artist whose advice for beginning work each day struck note. Always start with something you can’t mess up.

It’s a lot easier done with oils than colored pencils, but I often employ that advice in my work. That’s why I began color glazes by glazing blue on the halter. It seemed like the least likely place to cause trouble if I made a mistake!

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing - Blue Halter 1

I used two shades of blue—one light and one dark. The light blue was layered over every part of the halter. The dark blue was used to darken the shadows.

Next, I layered the dark blue into the eye, forelock and mane, and all the darker shadows.

By the way, I continued using Prismacolor Verithin pencils to preserve the tooth of the Stonehenge paper.

Glazing Coat Colors

Now the the first color is on the paper, it’s time to get serious. For the rest of this post, we’ll focus on developing the colors in the horse’s hair.

The process begins with establishing two or three main colors. This subject has dark browns, reddish browns, and a few areas that are golden in color, so a single brown is not going to work. In fact, you’ll need at least three groups of browns—one for each of the colors mentioned above. There will be some overlap, of course, but there should also be some very distinct variations.

The Colors I Used

For the base colors, I chose Goldenrod for the golden areas, Sienna Brown for the reddish-brown areas, and Dark Brown for the darker browns.

I added Pumpkin Orange to the Goldenrod in the golden browns, Pumpkin Orange and Terra Cotta in the reddish brown areas, and Indigo Blue and Peacock Green in the dark browns.

The Glazing Method I Used

I layered each color into the appropriate areas, using light pressure and directional strokes. For smaller areas, such as between the straps, I used the tips of well-sharpened pencils. For the broader areas, I used the sides of the pencils.

While there is variation in color, there are no hard edges between those variations, so I applied colors so that there was overlapping. For example, whenever I layered Pumpkin Orange into a golden brown area, I also layered it into the reddish brown or dark brown areas that were adjacent to the area I was working on. That kept the gradations between colors smooth and natural looking.

To make sure they looked like hair, I used short directional strokes to accent some of the changes in value and color. Those few details were all that were necessary to create the illusion of short hair. I didn’t have to draw every single hair!

The Process Step-by Step

Step 1

Basic colors are glazed over the umber under drawing. While I used some directional strokes to begin developing the look of hair, the primary goal was getting even glazes of color in the right places.

Step 2

Once the first color was on the paper, I continued developing color by layering some of the secondary colors as needed in each areas. For the most part, I added them in the form and cast shadow areas.

I did also start drawing the long hair of the forelock and mane as a means of rewarding myself for some of the more detailed work.

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing - Coat Colors 2

Find ways to work on your drawing that allows you to relax eye and hand and still make progress!

Step 3

I began working on the neck. It’s part of the drawing that is still part of the horse, but services as background. Or maybe backdrop would be a better way to put it. It needs to have some detail, but not as much as the face, the halter or the bridle.

The work shown in this illustration represents several layers of the basic and secondary colors—Sienna Brown and Dark Brown with the shadows darkened with Peacock Green and Indigo Blue (both used sparingly.)

I also used Dark Brown, Indigo Blue and Black to reshape the major hair masses, and add a lot of flying hair to help break up the negative space. I did a similar thing with the mane, changing the top edge of the mane so it was higher and a little more bulky.

Step 4

Still using the same colors, I began developing color and value in the smaller parts of the horse visible between the straps of the halter and bridle.

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing - Coat Colors 4

By the way, it was at this point that I switched from Prismacolor Verithin pencils to Prismacolor Premier pencils. I could still add layers with the harder Verithin pencils, but work was progressing too slowly.

Step 5

As the number of layers increase, so does the amount of pigment on the paper. It become necessary to increase the pressure I put on the pencil, but I do so gradually.

In some of the darker areas, I’ve reached medium pressure, but I’m still also using light pressure wherever possible.


It’s almost always better to draw dark values by layering and blending instead of  using heavy pressure.

No matter what pressure I use, I use directional strokes for he hair, and small circular strokes in the eye and leather.

Work on the bridle began with medium-heavy pressure and a blunt point along the shaded edges of the head stall, then a lighter layer of Dark Brown into the shadows and the darker area of the headstall and throat latch. My goal in these areas was to begin  reducing the emphasis on the leather straps where they either pass behind other design elements or where they exit the composition.

Step 6

Most of the basic colors are now in place, so it as time to begin darkening the darkest shadows. I used Indigo Blue in the darkest parts of the neck, forehead, around the eye, and in and around the ear. I used a very sharp pencil and directional strokes to simulate hair growth.

A layer of Indigo Blue was applied in the darker brown areas of the horse, with fairly open strokes to keep the brown from going too blue. I finished with Indigo Blue by stroking color into some of the darker areas of the forelock.

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing - Coat Colors 6

I then used a sharp pencil and directional strokes to apply Goldenrod to the golden areas around the ear and eye and the lower part of the face near the nose band. With Sienna Brown, I overlapped shadows and middle tones.

Step 7

After a second layer of Goldenrod and Sienna Brown over the golden brown and reddish brown areas, I layered both colors into the leather bridle straps, and the eye.

I balanced those colors by adding black to the forelock, and darkest shadows. This increased the contrast between lights and darks and give the drawing more depth.

The darkest values are inside the ring on the halter and the shape at the bottom of the drawing. These two areas are the benchmark against which I’ll measure other values as work continues.


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