How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

Today, I want to show you how to start a miniature horse drawing. That is, a miniature drawing of a horse.

The original drawing is an ACEO, 3-1/2 inches wide by 2-1/2 inches tall.

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

Officially, it also falls into the miniature art category. I’m not certain ACEOs are as popular as they once were, but they’re a great way to practice a new method or technique. If you like finishing artwork quickly with colored pencil, ACEOs are perfect for that, as well.

However, you can download the line drawing here and make this project whatever size you like! I’ve shaded some of the middle values on the head and shoulder to make the highlights easier to see.

You can also download the reference photo here. The photo is a scan from a print photo, so it isn’t the best quality, but it includes all the information you need for this project unless you like hyper-realism!

A Bit about ACEOs

ACEO stands for Art Cards, Editions and Originals, also known as Art Trading Cards (ATCs) because they are the size of a typical trading card.

Size is the only qualification. Artwork must be 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2.

ACEO/ATCs can be created with any medium on any support, and in any style. They can be originals or reproductions. I’ve used oils, colored pencils, ballpoint pen, graphite, and acrylics to make landscape, abstract, and equine-theme ACEOs.

ACEO horse painting in oils.

I like the size because I can use scrap pieces of paper, canvas or other material to paint or draw on. Another benefit is being able to toss a drawing that doesn’t work.

And that makes ACEOs ideal for trying new materials, new mediums, new techniques, or new subjects.

Colored Pencils and Miniature Art

Colored pencils are ideal for miniature art. Their size and shape make them a natural for producing detail in miniature and the size of miniature art is perfect for colored pencil.

Colored pencils are my favorite medium because they allow a high-degree of detail and I can complete some ACEO-sized pieces in an hour or less.

Now, time for the tutorial!

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

This is my reference. I did a lot of composing with the camera, but also began work by cropping the digital image to the proportions of an ACEO.

Start a miniature horse drawing reference photo.

To transfer the line drawing, I coated the back with a graphite pencil. The soft lead I used required some cleanup afterward, but I got a nice, crisp drawing without leaving impressions on the paper. At this size, that’s a plus.

By the way, I’m drawing on Rising Stonehenge 90lb paper in white. You can use your favorite white paper as long as it’s not too toothy.

This week, I’ll show you how to do the umber under drawing, then follow up with the color glazes next week.

The Umber Under Drawing

I chose to start with an umber under drawing because that’s the best way I’ve found to get the shadows, values and details right.

Working without color is also a little bit faster.

The Background

I chose Prismacolor Verithin Dark Umber because that line of pencil has a thinner, harder lead. It covers paper well without filling the tooth. It’s also easier to erase and correct than softer pencils. You can use Prismacolor Premier Dark Umber, or any similar medium-value brown.

Layer color unevenly over the background. The background will be blurry green, so don’t put the same amount of Dark Umber over every part of it. One option is to leave the background lighter around the horse’s head, and darker along the edges, but you can try other backgrounds, too.

Use hatching and cross-hatching strokes and layering to create variations in values.

Since I was creating my own background, I drew a random pattern of light and dark areas, but kept the background around the horse’s head and especially around the ears, light to accent the horse.

The Horse

I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t save the highlights, I tend to work right over them. It’s impossible to recover nice, clean highlights once you’ve shaded over them if you’re using traditional drawing methods.

So the first step to drawing the horse is lightly outlining some of the more prominent highlights (outlines are still visible on the shoulder.)

Use directional strokes that follow the contours of the head and neck everywhere except the eye.

For the eye, use circular strokes to fill in the shape as completely as possible. Work around the lashes and use only a few layers around the lower edge of the eyeball, where there will be reflected light, while adding more layers to darken the rest of the eye.

Start a miniature horse drawing.

Except in the eye, use light pressure. When drawing the eye, begin with light pressure and work up to medium light pressure.

Other Notes

Since this piece is so small, there isn’t much room for fine details. Don’t fret too much over all the details you see in the reference photo.

I used a dry fine point ballpoint pen to impress my signature into the paper before starting to draw. Even with a single color applied with two or three light layers, the signature is quite clear. You don’t have to sign your art, or you can use a light Verithin (or other pencil.)

This is an ideal way to sign small format or miniature drawings, especially if you lay down a lot of color and don’t use solvents. When you use a solvent, the signature will be filled in to some extent, but may still be visible.

You may need a couple of rounds of shading the background and/or the horse to finish the umber under drawing. The key thing to remember is to make sure there is a clear distinction between the horse and the background. If the horse doesn’t stand out at the under drawing stage, it probably won’t stand out even after adding color. Contrast is important. Make sure the dark values are dark enough and the light values are light enough.

Now You Know how to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

If you like, practice on a few more. Or do this one again and save the best one for next week.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can try this method on other subjects. Just remember to have fun!

Next week, we’ll finish with color glazing.

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How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know how to get bright highlights in eyes. This is a great question, because the answer works for any type of bright highlights on any subject.

Here’s the question.

How do you get that realistic look of shiny glaze look in eyes, besides just having a white dot from a jelly roll pen? Please, I’m lost on making the seem real, Thanks.


Thank you for the question!

This post is a followup to last week’s Q&A Wednesday post, in which I talked about using gel pens and other supplies for adding highlights to colored pencil. That method works well for craft uses and other non-archival art forms. If you’re fine artist and want to know whether or not that’s a good idea, take a moment to read that post here. We’ll wait for you.

How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

There are two ways to get bright highlights in eyes—or bright highlights on any subject. The methods are very different, so what I’d like to do is share a few general tips on each subject.

I’ll include links to more in-depth tutorials on this blog when they’re available.

Drawing Highlights on Traditional White Paper

Traditional paper is what most of us think of when we think of drawing paper. Brands like Stonehenge, Strathmore, and Canson Mi-Teintes are examples.

These papers take varying amounts of color, but one thing is fairly standard. You cannot layer light colors over dark colors and get bright values. That has more to do with the pencils than the paper, because the pencils are translucent. But the paper does make a difference.

When you use white paper, you have to preserve the highlights and work around them. The method that works best for me is marking out the highlights on the line drawing, then developing color by starting with the lightest colors and gradually drawing the darker colors and values layer by layer.

Peggy Osborne wrote an excellent tutorial about drawing cat eyes on white paper, which you can read here. She uses a method similar to what I described above. You can draw highlights in any type of eye or on any subject using her method.

Drawing Highlights on Traditional Paper That’s Medium Dark or Darker

Drawing on medium-dark or darker paper has one advantage over white paper. You can actually draw the light values first and see them. You still have to work around them, but at least you can see them more easily.

I wrote a tutorial on this subject, which you can read here. The subject is a cat, but the method I describe works with any type of eye.

Or with any subject on which you need a bright highlight.

Drawing on Abrasive, Non-Absorbent Papers

Uart Premium Sanded Pastel Paper, Fisher 400 Pastel Paper, and Clairfontaine Pastelmat are all abrasive papers. They have obvious texture.

They are also non-absorbent, so they don’t soak up solvents the same way traditional drawing papers do.

While you can use normal drawing methods on them and get good results, they also allow you to use more “painterly” methods of applying color.

I haven’t yet completed a pet portrait on this type of paper, but I did do a landscape in which I added light-value highlights over darker colors. As you can see in this detail, the light greens and whites show up quite well when placed over medium dark and dark greens.

If you have the right tools, you can even isolate layers and add new colors just as though you were drawing on fresh paper.

That means that you can add highlights and lighter values over darker values with much greater success than you could on traditional drawing paper.

You will need special tools for this method. Tools such as Titanium White, Powder Blender, and ACF Texture Fixative from Brush & Pencil. Alyona Nickelsen’s book, Colored Pencil Painting Portraits is a great resource for learning how best to use these tools.

Drawing Those Bright Highlights

As you can see, there are several methods for drawing bright highlights in eyes. It all depends on the paper you use and your preferred drawing style.

If you work on traditional white drawing paper, preserve the white of the paper in the highlight area. You’ll always get brighter highlights if you preserve the white of the paper than if you try to add them over darker colors.

The other methods I described are also very effective once you learn them.

But if you prefer using traditional papers and just colored pencils, then your best option—your only option—is defining the highlights first and working around them from the start.

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Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

Today, I want to show you one of my favorite ways of creating digital line drawings from digital photos using GIMP.

GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, and it’s a free, open source photo editor available for PC and Mac. If you’ve never used GIMP before, prepare for a fairly steep learning curve. Once you grasp the basics, however, GIMP is versatile, powerful, and an excellent alternative for Photoshop. It’s a great app if you prefer downloadable software.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

I’ve already written about how easy it is to square up photos in GIMP. If you have problems getting good, square photos of your artwork, you’ll want to read that.

Now on to today’s subject.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

Convert the Image to Gray Scale

Converting an image to grayscale removes all the color and turns the image into a black-and-white image. GIMP refers to this process as desaturation.

Select COLORS from the drop-down menu along the top of the GIMP window. Then choose DESATURATE and DESATURATE as shown below.

A dialog box will open that allows you to adjust the level of de-saturation. I usually click OK.

Here’s my sample image in full, glorious color.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

And here is the fully de-saturated (converted to grayscale) image.

NOTE: Some photo editors automatically remove the color when you do an edge detection. Some do not, so you may or may not need to do this step.

Look for an Edge Detect or Find Edges Option

The next step is to reduce the image to edges.

In GIMP, you do that with the EDGE DETECT tool under the FILTERS drop down menu as shown here. I also use the DIFFERENCE OF GAUSSIANS option, which other photo editors may or may not have. If you don’t have that option, then choose the default. Most of the time, that option works best.

TIP: Set your photo editor up to show a preview of the changes you make, if possible. That way, you can see how the image is going to look before you apply the edge detect tool, and you can make adjustments if necessary.

This is how my image looked after finishing this step.

Adjust Brightness and Contrast

Next, adjust the brightness and contrast of the image. The goal is the best possible level of details with the least amount of distraction.

The BRIGHTNESS-CONTRAST settings in GIMP are under the COLORS drop down menu.

Another way to adjust the brightness and contrast is by selecting LEVELS (just below Brightness-Contrast in this illustration.)

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

There’s so much contrast in my sample image that the Brightness-Contrast setting didn’t help much, so I tried Levels instead.

There is still quite a bit of “noise” (unwanted details) in the background, but that’s easily enough ignored in the drawing process. The level of detail and value gradations in the subject is excellent.

Creating Line Drawings from Digital Photos


Print the resulting image as is, or continue adjusting it until you have the level of detail you want.

You can also print this image and use it as a simplified reference to hand draw your own line drawing if you prefer.

Personally, I would print this image, then transfer only the details I thought absolutely necessary.

This process can be hit-and-miss sometimes. While default settings work most of the time, they may not be satisfactory with some photos. The problem is in the photos themselves. Lighting levels, clarity, and contrast all play a role. The better the photo is in each area, the better results you’ll get.

No matter what photo editor you use, you will have to make adjustments with some photos.

My sample required different settings in Brightness-Contrast, Levels, and in other places, than the last horse image I put through the process.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with a Photo Editor

This is a wonderful way to save time creating line drawings.

But no two photo editors are exactly alike, so explore your favorite photo editor and see what it can do.

After that, practice, practice, practice!

The only easier way to do this is to find someone else to do these conversions for you!

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My Thoughts on Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

Today’s post question comes from a reader who wants to know how to get bright highlights in eyes. The reader also mentions using gel pens to create highlights, so I’ll answer the question with two posts. Today, I’ll share my thoughts on gel pens and acrylic paint.

Next week, I’ll show you how to get bright highlights in eyes using archival materials.

But first, here’s the question.

How do you get that realistic look of a shiny glaze in eyes, besides just having a white dot from a jelly roll pen? Please, I’m lost on making this seem real, Thanks.


Thank you for the question!

Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

My Thoughts on Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

A lot of artists use gel pens, acrylic paint, and other similar tools to add bright highlights to their colored pencil drawings. Many of those artists are artists whose work and talent I respect. They get excellent results, in most cases.

Acrylic paints are another medium I’m often asked about for adding highlights to colored pencil drawings.

Acrylics seemed to make sense when I tried them decades ago. I was a painter, after all, so using a brush and paint came naturally. What better way to add highlights and accents than by brushing them on with acrylic paint?

But unless you’re drawing for your own pleasure, it’s wise to avoid gel pens, acrylic paint, and any similar substances. They look good when you first use them, but they won’t stick well to the colored pencils. Sooner or later, they will flake off.

Why That Doesn’t Work

No matter what brand of colored pencils you use, the pigment is held together in lead form by binders. The binder is made up of a mixture of wax, oil, clay and fillers.

Gel pens and acrylics are water-based.

You can safely use water-based mediums under oil- or wax-based mediums. Artists have been using acrylics under oils for decades.

Many colored pencil artists use watercolors, watercolor pencils, India ink and even acrylics under colored pencils. In most cases, you can use colored pencil over any water-based medium as long as you use the wet medium as intended, and let the paper dry thoroughly.

But using a water-based medium of any kind over a wax- or oil-based medium of any kind often leads to problems down the road.

That’s because water and oil (or wax) do not mix.

If it helps, try a little experiment. Fill a glass with water, then pour a little vegetable oil into it. You’ll get something that looks like this.

Leave the glass sit for a moment or two and the oil rises to the surface. Once all the oil is on the surface, it’s fairly easy to skim the oil off the water.’s surface If you’re careful, you might even be able to pour most of the water out of the glass and leave most of the oil behind.

The same is true for dry mediums. It takes longer for the separation to happen, but it will happen. Since the pencils are dry and the gel pen or acrylic dries after application, the two will eventually separate cleanly. The gel pen or acrylic flakes off and your drawing is without those lovely highlights.

Is There Ever a time to Use Gel Pens or Acrylic Paints?


If you’re doing artwork in which permanence isn’t important, then you can use whatever tool or material gives you the result you want.

Greeting cards are an excellent example. A lot of people make their own greeting cards with stamping, colored pencils, markers, stickers, and other things. Greeting cards aren’t meant to last for decades, and they’re not usually framed or displayed. So it doesn’t matter if they’re absolutely archival.

Any type of craft use involving colored pencils is also suitable for using gel pens and acrylic paints to create highlights are accents. And, of course, adult coloring books are good places for gel pens.

And as I mentioned at the beginning, if you’re making art for your own pleasure, then by all means make use of those gel pens.

So if you shouldn’t use gel pens, how do you make bright, realistic highlights in eyes? I’ll answer that question next week.

Ask Carrie a Question

CP Magic January 2021 is Here!

CP Magic January 2021 starts the new year off right with versatile colored pencil artist John Stansfield.

And a new look!

CP Magic January 2021

The new cover design is only the beginning, and continues with new features inside, as well as some of your favorite columns.

What’s in CP Magic January 2021

The Featured Artist for This Month

John Stansfield joins CP Magic from the United Kingdom as the first featured artist of 2021. A long-time artist with interests in portraits of all types, and botanical subjects, life-like detail and a depth of realistic color fills John’s work. His artist’s journey is at once unique and common to many other artists.

January Tutorial

A beautiful silver tabby cat named Vinny is John’s subject for the January tutorial. Work with John to draw this lovely fellow. The tutorial includes links to the reference photo and line drawing.

The Great Art Adventure

For many artists, the beginning of the year means goal setting. For a lot of us, goal setting is one of those things that must be done whether we like it or not.

This year, however, Carrie takes a look at goal setting as though it were a journey. A great art journey, with suggestions for identifying your main destination as well as rest stops along the way.

New in This Issue

Nothing But Pencils & Paper

Are you new at colored pencils or do you know someone who is? If so, then this column is for you. The column begins with a list of the three must have things to begin using colored pencils.

The Final Pencil Strokes

Have you ever reached the end of an issue of CP Magic, and wished there was more to read? The Final Pencil Strokes wraps up the January 2021 issue with links to three colored pencil blog posts for further information on the wonderful world of colored pencils.

Also in CP Magic January 2021

Ask Carrie

Featured Photo

About CP Magic

CP Magic is a monthly digital publication written by a colored pencil artist—yours truly—for colored pencil artists at all levels. That’s you!

Each month features an artist interview and tutorial so you can meet the artist and see how they work. Other columns include the Great Art Adventure, CP Clinic, a featured photo, and more.

Get your copy of CP Magic January 2021 today.

New for 2021 at Carrie L. Lewis

Welcome to a new year! My first post of the year is an announcement of something new for 2021.

And a thank you to everyone who submitted a question for Q&A December. I received so many great questions, that I was unable to answer all of them in December.

New for 2021

So I’m going to be answering them this month and for as long as they last. How?

Q&A Wednesday!

New for 2021

Beginning January 6 (the first Wednesday of the year,) I’ll answer a reader question every Wednesday. I’ll finish answering the questions received in response to my call for Q&A month questions back in November 2020.

I also received great questions in response to a recent newsletter survey, and will also answer those questions.

So I hope you’ll tune in on January 6 for the beginning of this new weekly post.

And if you have a question, I hope you’ll ask it! As always, if there’s a quick, brief answer to your question, I’ll answer it immediately by email.

But I’ll also answer it in greater depth with a Q&A Wednesday post.

So if you ask a question, you get two answers!

Do You Have a Question?

Ask it!

Never think your question is too basic. Every artist had to start somewhere and many of us had to figure things out on our own. That was certainly true for me because I started making art before Patreon, YouTube and even PCs! I know what it’s like to stumble through the learning process.

If I can make it easier for you by answering even the simplest question for you, I want to do that!

Questions can be about colored pencils, drawing paper, drawing methods, tools, materials, or anything related to creativity. I’m even happy to answer questions about starting, promoting, or maintaining an art-related business!

So if you have a question, ask it by clicking on this link or on the button below! I hope to hear from you soon.

Ask Carrie a Question

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

What is the best method of transferring drawings to drawing paper? That’s what Kathryn wants to know. Here’s her question.

Hi Carrie

I’ve only started drawing and using coloured pencils in the last 6 years and often have problems transferring my sketch onto good paper.  What is the best method of transferring my sketch onto good paper?

I’ve tried:

  • transfer paper with charcoal on the back (got quite messy)
  • coloured carbon paper (but it didn’t work very well)
  • bought a lightbox which worked well sometimes but a lot of my paper is really thick and doesn’t work with the lightbox

Also I would like to say thank you for all your emails, blogs and encouragement in your articles. I felt like giving up numerous times but would read your weekly emails which would encourage me.  I have made progress over the years and enjoyed your tuition and done a number of your lessons.  I’m emailing from New Zealand so just to let you know you have fans all over the world.



Thank you to Kathryn for her question, and readership. And for her encouragement. One can never get too much encouragement!

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

It would be nice if I could share an answer that works all the time for every artist. The fact of the matter is that there is no such answer. I’ve used four or five different transfer methods over the years. Some worked a lot. Some worked once in a while, and some didn’t work at all.

There are many other transfer methods that I’ve never tried. Some artists swear by those methods, but I can’t personally recommend them.

So I’m going to talk about the three transfer methods that work best for me.

My Best Methods of Transferring Drawings

Light Box

My absolute favorite method of transferring drawings is a light box. In my case, that’s one of two or three large windows.

But Kathryn is right. Some papers are too thick or opaque for this method to work. I can transfer to Bristol and Stonehenge fine with a light box, but need other methods for colored papers, and heavier papers.

Carboning the Back of the Drawing

The easiest way to transfer a line drawing to another surface is to shade graphite directly on the back of the drawing. This process is called “carboning the drawing” and it lets you trace the line drawing onto almost any other drawing or painting surface.

Kathryn has already tried a form of this. But she used charcoal rather than graphite, and that will produce a messier line.

Instead charcoal, try a pencil that’s soft enough to make a nice, clear line, but not so soft that it smudges wherever you happen to rest your hand. A 4B is the best choice if you tend to draw with a light hand. Otherwise, a 2B is probably your best choice.

How to Carbon a Drawing

To carbon a drawing, turn the drawing upside down and shade the back of the paper along the lines. You don’t need to cover the entire piece of paper, but make sure to shade every part of the line drawing.

It doesn’t matter how careful you are in shading. Notice the random patterns in the illustration below. But you MUST cover every part of the line drawing.

This is what my line drawing looked like after I carboned it.

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

You can see the shading on the drawing because my line drawing is on tracing paper.

If your drawing is on drawing paper, so you may not be able to see the shading from the front of the paper. To make sure you’ve shaded behind every line, hold the drawing up to a window or lay it on a light box. Do any additional shading that might be necessary.

When you’ve shaded over every part of the line drawing, mount it to drawing paper and retrace the lines. The graphite transfer to the drawing paper. Clean up as necessary afterward.

Home-Made Graphite Paper

I don’t often carbon the backs of my line drawings because I prefer clean line drawings. In the past, I used commercial carbon paper, usually Saral greaseless. Then I started making my own transfer paper and have never looked back.

It’s fast, easy, and inexpensive. And you can “recharge” the sheet whenever necessary!

Use a 2B or 4B graphite pencil to shade one side of an ordinary piece of paper. I use printer paper, but you can also use any other type of paper that’s heavy enough to stand the abuse.

Shade the paper as much or as little as you like. This sample shows two or three layers applied in one direction, with two or three additional layers applied in a different direction.

All you need is enough graphite on the paper to transfer a drawing, so two or three layers with a soft graphite pencil will probably be enough.

You can also shade all or part of the paper. I do a lot of smaller drawings, so this partial sheet is sufficient. If I need something for a larger drawing, I shade more of the sheet.

When I was oil painting, I even had a legal sheet fully carboned for those larger oil portraits.

The Best Method of Transferring Drawings

Some artists stabilize the graphite with a light coat of workable fixative. That also keeps the transferred lines from being too dark. I’ve never sprayed my graphite paper with anything, so can’t say from experience how it works.

Graphite transfers easily and clearly. If you used a very soft pencil (4B or softer,) it also smudges, but smudges can be easily removed with mounting putty or an eraser.

One Precaution

If you carbon the back of your drawing or make your own graphite transfer paper, make sure to use a bit of mounting putty on the transferred drawing. That lifts excess graphite from your drawing paper, and keeps it from muddying the colored pencil. This is especially important if you’ll be using a lot of lighter colors.

So What’s The Best Method of Transferring Drawings?

For me, it’s a light box, with my home-made transfer paper a close second.

Those methods may or may not work for you. If they don’t, there are other ways to transfer drawings, such as projectors and copying gadgets.

Whether you begin with my favorite methods or explore on your own, deciding on the best method of transferring drawings is really a personal choice.

And you may find as I did, that you’ll need more than one transfer method for the different types of paper you use.

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Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

Lets talk about choosing papers for colored pencils. There are a lot of options, and today’s reader wants to know about suitable papers.

Hi Carrie,

Could you please share your knowledge on suitable papers for different projects?

You may like to cover points such as what would be the best papers for portraits, paper with tooth or smoother papers, vellum, & what grades, etc.

It’s just so confusing and there is so much out there.

Thanks so much for your valued help.

Kind regards,


Suzanne, what a great question and great discussion points. Thank you!

Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

As Suzanne mentioned, there are a lot of papers on the market. Especially if you’re new to colored pencils, making the right choice can be intimidating.

Let me remove some of the pressure. There is no Right Answer to this question. I will tell you what papers I like for portraits, and other projects, but my choices are based on my drawing style. They may not work for you.

It’s perfectly all right to try different types of paper. That’s what I did. But hopefully I’ll give you a place to begin with my recommendations.

Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

Let me answer the easy question first. Suzanne mentions grades of paper. By that, I’m assuming she means quality. Always, always, always use the best paper you can afford. Unless you’re doodling or sketching, you’re likely to put a lot of time and effort into your work, so it deserves the best paper.

If Suzanne means the weight of the paper rather than the quality, then consider heavier papers. Canson makes two papers that are very similar. Canson Ingres paper and Mi-Teintes paper. They are very similar in surface texture and come in similar colors.

But the Ingres is only 27lb in weight (100gsm) while Mi-Teintes is 98lb in weight. That’s a significant difference. I have used both and was so dissatisfied with the feel of the Ingres that I almost didn’t try the Mi-Teintes.

You may not care for heavier paper, but they will stand up better under lots of layers. Most of them can also stand up under some solvent blending and erasing.

High quality is always best. Heavier weight is usually best.

The Way You Draw Makes a Difference

I have a naturally light hand and my drawings are developed through multiple layers. I don’t keep track of that information but would guess that the average is 20 to 40 layers to finish a drawing. Maybe more.

So I need a paper with enough tooth for all those layers. I like Stonehenge, but prefer Canson Mi-Teintes and I’m growing quite fond of Pastelmat. They all take a lot of color and still allow me to draw realistic pieces.

Someone who uses heavier pressure might prefer a toothy paper, but they could also use a smoother paper, since they wouldn’t need as many layers of color.

Suggestions for Different Types of Projects

Because drawing methods and styles differ so much, I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. But I will tell you how I choose papers for various projects.

Smooth or Reflective Subjects

In general, I use smoother papers like Bristol Vellum or Strathmore Artagain for subjects that need a polished look. Metallic, shiny things, for example. I used Bristol Vellum for this piece.

My preferred Bristol is Bienfang because it’s heavier than most Bristol in pads.


For portraits, I use something that’s not too toothy but that can handle layers. I’ve done portraits on Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, and Strathmore Artagain. This portrait was on Canson Mi-Teintes.

At present, I’m also doing one portrait on Bristol Vellum and another on Pastelmat.


For landscapes, I prefer Pastelmat, but can also do landscapes on Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes.

I’ve also done some wonderful work on 140lb hot pressed watercolor paper. My favorite is Stonehenge Aqua (which feels just like regular Stonehenge) and Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press. Whatever brand of watercolor paper I use, I choose hot press because it’s smooth. 140lb watercolor paper is the lightest paper I trust.

This is my most recent landscape. I used dark gray Pastelmat.

To Recap Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

In general, smoother papers are better for drawings that require a high level of detail and/or for artists who prefer drawing with fewer layers. They’re also good for mixed media with watercolor, watercolor pencils, or markers if they’re made to handle moisture.

Toothier papers are good for artists who do a lot of layering, want a more painterly look, or don’t require a lot of detail.

But tastes change.

You’ll probably find that your preferences change as you gain skills or experiment with new papers. That’s okay.

In fact, it’s part of the process of growing as an artist. So don’t be afraid to try new papers. You never know where you may find your next favorite paper!

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How to Get Dark Backgrounds with Colored Pencils

Nothing looks more dramatic than a luminous subject against a dark or black background. But what’s the best way to get dark backgrounds with colored pencils?

A reader asked that very question.

How to Get Dark Backgrounds with Colored Pencils

Because the question was general, I’ll answer by sharing three ways to get dark backgrounds based on personal experience.

How to Get Dark Backgrounds with Colored Pencils

The best way I’ve found to get really dark backgrounds is by layering several dark colors one after another. I include black, but also use dark blues, dark greens, dark purples, and dark browns. The colors I choose affect the final color, but I always end up with a dark background.

I also build up color through multiple layers, and use light pressure for as many of those layers as possible.

Sometimes, I blend with solvent, but I almost always layer more color over the top of the blended color. I simply prefer the look of colored pencil over the look of solvent blended colored pencil.

You can, of course, use just black for the background and get good results.

Now, for a couple of examples using other methods.

How I Made a Dark Background with Colored Paper

The fastest way to make dark backgrounds is to use a dark or black paper. That’s what i did with this portrait.

Dark Backgrounds with Colored Pencils

But I also shaded some of the background with black to deepen the darkness and add emphasis to the portrait.

Black paper comes with its own challenges, though. It can be difficult to get bright brights because the color often seems to disappear. That’s because colored pencils are translucent. The color of the paper shows through the color on the paper, sometimes even after you fill in all the paper holes.

This problem can be overcome with sufficient layers of color. But it’s still difficult to get the same results on black or dark paper you get by drawing a dark background on white paper.

How I Made a Dark Background with Mixed Media

I under painted this portrait with brown India ink. India ink is not opaque, so I let it dry, then added another layer, and went through that process two or three times.

When I couldn’t get the ink any darker, then I layered colored pencil over it. But I didn’t use just black. Instead, I mixed Indigo Blue, Black, then Sienna Brown.

Dark Backgrounds with Colored Pencils

This method is faster than doing the background with colored pencils, but I haven’t used it again. Mostly, I suppose, because I prefer colored pencils.

If I were to use India again, however, I’d mix colors the same way I mix colors of colored pencils. India ink comes in enough colors to mix a dark that’s dark enough to stand on it’s own.

If you decide to try this, either layer individual colors one over another, or try mixing ink as you might mix paint. Let the paper dry completely between layers.

How I Drew a Dark Background with Nothing But Colored Pencils on White Paper

In 2019, I drew outside often, drawing from life any subject that happened to catch my attention. One of those things was a plain, yellow utility flag.

I was drawing on white paper, so after I drew the yellow flag, I decided to add a dark background to create contrast with the flag. What’s more, I used only two colors—black and dark purple. This is the result.

When you make a dark background with just colored pencils, you have a couple of choices.

First, you can use only black and layer color until the paper is completely filled in. If you use light pressure, it takes a lot of layers to build up color. But if you carefully mark off the subject, you can use heavy pressure to apply a couple of layers of black and fill in the tooth of the paper quickly.

As mentioned above, I prefer using more than one color, and often choose three or four colors to mix by layering until I have a nice, dark background. You can do the same thing when drawing your dark backgrounds.

There Are Many Ways to Get Dark Backgrounds with Colored Pencil

I’ve listed only a few of those I’ve used successfully. But you can solvent blend, use other mediums like watercolors, pan pastels, or markers to make dark backgrounds.

Will these samples I’ve described work for you? Absolutely.

Will they be your favorite method for drawing dark backgrounds? That depends on your usual drawing methods.

One thing will always work and that’s to experiment, whether you experiment with these methods or others!

Ask Carrie a Question

Filling in Paper Holes on Stonehenge Paper

If you’ve ever had problems filling paper holes, you’ll be interested in today’s question. A reader asked about filling in paper holes on Stonehenge paper. Here’s the question.

What is the best paper to use for blending colored pencils?

I have tried Stonehenge which takes a lot layers but I find it difficult to fill in the pin holes that the colored pencil doesn’t cover.

Best Regards,


Thank you for your question, Dean.

Unfortunately, there isn’t one single paper that’s absolutely best for blending colored pencils all the time or for every artist.

Filling in Paper Holes on Stonehenge Paper

So rather than talk about papers, let’s talk about filling in those paper holes on Stonehenge paper.

Filling in Paper Holes on Stonehenge Paper

Blending is all about smoothing out the color and filling the paper holes. You can do that on almost any paper. I use Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, Bristol Vellum, and Clairefontaine Pastelmat paper, just to name a few. The techniques vary, but I can fill the paper holes on each paper.

So there are ways to fill in the paper holes on Stonehenge paper, beginning with the pencils you use.

The Pencils You Use

The higher quality pencils you use, the easier it should be to blend, no matter what blending method you prefer. Better pencils put more pigment on the paper. The more pigment on the paper, the easier it is to blend, and the more paper holes you fill in.

I use a combination of Prismacolor and Faber-Castell Polychromos on Stonehenge with good results.

The Way You Draw

What I’m talking about here is the pressure you put on the pencil when you draw. If you draw with light pressure, you can put more layers on the paper. If you draw with heavy pressure, you limit the number of layers you can add.

That’s because you’re putting more binding agent as well as pigment on the paper. The binding agent fills the tooth of the paper without adding color, so it can hinder you. Especially if you use waxy pencils like Prismacolor.

I mentioned earlier the pencils I use on Stonehenge. I also have a very light hand and begin drawings with light pressure, and use the lightest possible pressure as long as possible.


Simple layering is the best—and easiest—way to fill in paper holes. At least for me. The more layers you add, the more the paper holes you fill in, especially when you keep your pencils sharp.

Use light pressure for as many layers as possible as described above. Gradually increase pressure as needed. Make each layer as smooth as you can.

Blending Between Layers

One thing that really helps me blend smooth color on Stonehenge is blending between layers. I use a variety of blending methods and tools depending on the result I want. Here are a few of my favorites.

Dry Blending with Paper Towel or Bath Tissue

Dry blending with paper towel or bath tissue is especially effective with Stonehenge paper because Stonehenge is so soft. It’s easy to do, too. Fold a piece of paper towel or bath tissue into a small square, then rub the part of the drawing you want to blend.

Blending with a Light Value Neutral Color to Blend

You can blend by blending with a light value neutral color. Use light or medium pressure to add a light color over a few layers of the other colors you’ve been using. The lighter color smooths out pencil strokes and unifies the previous layers of color.

I recommend a color similar to the color of your paper if you’re not using white paper. If you are using white paper, then a light gray is probably your best choice.


Burnishing is using heavy pressure to “press” the layers of color together. It’s best to burnish toward the end of the drawing process, because burnishing flattens the paper and makes it difficult to add more color.

I hesitate to recommend burnishing because it’s easy to scuff the surface of Stonehenge, even with a lot of color on the paper. But it is effective if you don’t burnish a lot and are careful.

My Best Tips for Filling in Paper Tooth on Stonehenge Paper

I get the feeling that Dean really likes drawing on Stonehenge paper, but is discouraged about the difficulty of filling in those pesky paper holes. If that’s the case, then these tips should help him.

They’ll help you, too, if you also have problems filling in paper holes. And they work on most art papers.

With enough layers or with the use of blending methods like burnishing and solvent blends, it is possible to fill in all the paper holes on Stonehenge and other papers.

It just takes more layers and more time.

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