How to Draw Cat Eyes with Colored Pencil

Peggy Osborne is back again with a guest tutorial. In today’s post, she’s sharing how to draw cat eyes with colored pencil.

This is Peggy’s reference photo. It comes from Pixabay, but she cropped it to focus on the eyes.

How to Draw Cat Eyes - Reference Photo
Image by natura_photos from Pixabay

She’s working on Robert Bateman Series 110 pound paper with Prismacolor pencils. As I’ve mentioned in other tutorials, you can successfully complete most projects with any good drawing paper and artist quality pencils.

Now, here’s Peggy.

How to Draw Cat Eyes

I think the eyes are one of the most important features in a pet portrait. Once I get the eyes right the rest follows easily. So I’d like to share with you how I draw cat eyes.

While working on the eye, I always look back and forth following my reference photo very carefully.

Step 1: Start by drawing the light and dark areas.

The first thing I do when drawing eyes is draw the highlight with a sharp white pencil so it remains white while I fill in the color. I also add white to the whitest areas of the eye to keep those areas light, as I layer other colors over them.

I lightly draw in the pupil of the eye, being careful not to drag the black into the light colors. (You could draw in the pupil later if it is easier.)

The first color is Cream drawn with a light touch. I use a sharp pencil and draw in tiny circular motions covering the whole eye but the highlights and pupil of course. Then I add a wash of Jade Green to the mid tone areas and the little squiggle lines in the eye.

Step 2: Define the outside of the eye.

The next step is adding an outline with Sepia to define the eye. I go back and redefine this outline as I work the eye. I continue to build up layers with White, Cream, and Jade Green.

Step 3: Darken the areas around the outside of the eye.

Add Marine Green to the darkest shadows under the eyelids and around the outside of the eyes. This helps to give the eye a spherical shape.

I continue to build up the layers using Sand on my mid tones. Then I wash Sap Green over the whole eye avoiding the highlights, followed by a wash of Celadon Green. For both colors, I keep my touch light.

I want to keep the middle of the eye light so that I keep that three dimensional look. So I touch up the very lightest areas of the eye using White with medium pressure. Over this I once again do a light wash with Grey Green. These light washes help to keep everything blended together so the eye looks realistic.

Step 4: Deepen shadows with additional layers of color.

I deepen shadows with 70% French Grey, then continue adding washes of Celadon Green and Jade Green over the whole eye except the highlights.

In the mid tone areas I add Sand with medium pressure.

Then I go back in with black to outline the eye and the pupil again.

Step 5: Draw saturated color with more layers, increased pressure, and circular strokes.

As I get closer to finishing the eye, I add a little bit more pressure but still use tiny circular motions. The eye should have a smooth glossy appearance, so I burnish these areas to fill in the tooth of the paper.

I deepen the shadows under the eyelid a bit more by adding Sepia and Marine Green. I use Marine Green to add more depth around outside of the eye and the area near the pupil.

Again I use Sand in the mid tone areas. I then burnish the whole eye with Jade Green to blend all the colors together. I use either Jade Green or Sepia to place tiny details on the eye to add to the realistic look.

Eyelash reflections on the eye are added with Sepia, then I burnish the lightest areas of the eye with White.

Finally I add slate blue to the white highlight in each eye.

Throughout this process, I follow the reference photo.

I am going to move onto creating the fur around the eyes but will go back to add the final touches and details to the eyes after the fur is completed. Drawing the fur around the eyes helps me judge the values in the eye better.

Step 6: Start drawing the fur by blocking in color.

Since this is an eye tutorial I am not going into a lot of detail on the fur. However I will share some of the steps to create the fur, then I will go back and complete the final details in the eyes.

The fur is built up using layer after layer of colored pencil. I first lay in hair-like strokes following the direction of the fur with 70% French Grey. I do a wash of Cream over this then add more hair-like strokes of 20% French Grey.

That is followed by another wash of Cream, and then more hair-like strokes of 70% French Grey.

These steps build depth to the fur and I continue repeating them until the paper tooth is full and I have the effect I want.

Step 7: Finish drawing the fur with repeated layering.

Building layers and blending is what gives you realistic looking fur. The area between the eyes is a little different than the other areas so to create this, I used a 70% Warm Grey with a sharp point and short hair-like strokes. Then I added a light wash of Peach Beige and more short strokes of 70% Warm Grey.

I burnished this with the blending pencil. The white of the paper shows through as the lightest hairs. The rest of the area I finished using the same colors as mentioned before, following the reference photo closely and building layer after layer, with some burnishing between layers.

I have created a three-dimensional look to the fur. The very darkest points of the fur was completed with Black and Sepia in layers to fill the tooth of the paper.

With my blending pencil I drag the dark color into the light color for a smooth blending look.

The white of the paper shows through as the lightest hairs.

I used Sepia in the darkest points of the fur as a base layer. Here I have completed the fur on the forehead.

Step 8: Draw the nose using the same methods as the rest of the fur.

The nose of a cat has an unusual hair pattern and as always I follow the direction of the fur growth as shown in the reference photo.

I use the same method of layering to draw the nose, but added a bit of Burnt Ochre and Light Umber to the French Greys and Peach Beige.

Step 9: Burnish the layers of color to blend them together.

On the completed drawing, I burnished a lot of the areas to blend the fur throughout the whole picture.

I used Brush & Pencil’s Titanium White mixture to create a few more hairs and highlights throughout the drawing.

Then to finish off the eyes, I added Marine Green in the shadows, a touch of Light Umber in the eye along with Sand, and then burnished the whole eye with Celadon Green, except the lightest highlight.

How to Draw Cat Eyes - The Finished Drawing

Step 10: Compare the drawing to the reference photo

As usual I did a photo comparison with the reference photo and final drawing to check color, likeness, etc.

How to Draw Cat Eyes - Color Side-by-Side Comparison

I also did a side-by-side comparison in black-and-white to check values.

How to Draw Cat Eyes - Black and white Side-by-Side Comparison

That’s how Peggy draws cat eyes.

I hope Peggy has helped you draw cat eyes more realistically.

If you’d like more details on how she draws fur, read How to Draw Black Fur and How to Draw a Long Haired Dog.

If you have questions about this tutorial, leave a comment below. Peggy will stop by and answer your questions.

And if you have a suggestion for a future tutorial from Peggy, leave that in the comments as well.

About Peggy Osborne

Peggy is an accomplished self-taught artist living in Canada specializing in creating beautiful realistic portraits of pets and family members. She’s had an on going love affair with colored pencils, loving their simplicity, for as long as she can remember.

She started out using graphite pencil so it was an easy transition to carry on with colored pencils. Love of animals and art go hand in hand. Peggy is in awe of what can be accomplished with colored pencils.

See more of Peggy’s work at Pet Portraits by Peggy.

How to Combine Photos in Photoshop

Do you know how to combine photos in PhotoShop or any other photo editor?

Do you know why that knowledge is important to you as an artist?

There is no such thing as the “perfect reference photo.” Close to perfect, yes, but most of us find something that could be better about almost every reference photo we consider.

Even for those of us who do our own photography, there comes a time when the best photograph would be even better—if one thing was changed.

Today, I’m going to walk you through the process of combining photographs in Photoshop.

How to Combine Photos in Photoshop

How to Combine Photos in Photoshop

This demonstration was created using Photoshop 7.0 on a Mac G4. The process may vary depending on the version of Photoshop you’re using and the type of computer.

You can also combine photos with many other photo editors including GIMP and online photo editors, including Photoshop. GIMP is a free download and has a lot of the same features as Photoshop 7. If you’d like to see a tutorial using GIMP, let me know.

Now let’s see how to combine photos in Photoshop.

Step 1: Select the photos you want to combine.

It’s helpful if the light source is the same general location (upper left, upper right, etc.) among all the photographs, but it’s not necessary. If one of the photographs you want to use shows opposite lighting, one easy correction is to flip the photo horizontally to match the rest. Additional corrections can be made at the drawing or painting stage, but aren’t within the scope of this article.

Step 2: Select the image you want to use as the base image.

In most cases, this will be the background image or landscape.

Save it with a new name and put it into a folder labeled with the name of the painting or drawing (or with the working title.)

Step 3: Create a new layer over the base image.

Click on the drop down LAYER menu, and select NEW LAYER. The new layer won’t be visible because it’s transparent. You can “see” it by clicking on the drop down VIEW menu and clicking LAYERS.

You can name the layer if you wish, but don’t have to.

Step 4: Choose an image to combine with the base image.

Select the image you want to combine with the first one to create a new composition.

In the illustration below, I reduced the size of the horse photo, then typed CONTROL+A (you can also choose SELECT ALL from the drop-down EDIT menu) to select the entire image. The dotted line around picture of the horse shows it selected.

Type CONTROL+C to copy or select copy from the drop-down EDIT menu.

Click on the background image to make it active, then paste the copied image into the main image by typing CONTROL+V or choosing PASTE from the drop-down EDIT menu.

The copied image will be pasted into the new layer you created in Step 3. You will be able to move it around, erase part of it, and make other changes without changing the background layer.

Step 5: Erase unnecessary parts of the image.

Erase the larger areas first.

All I want of the smaller image is the white horse. Everything else must be removed. I use the eraser tool to remove unwanted parts of the picture.

In the version of Photoshop I use (7.0), the eraser tool is the sixth tool down on the left side of the tool bar. See the shaded box on the left side of the illustration below.

If you’re using another version of Photoshop, your eraser tool may be in a slightly different location, but the icon will be similar.

Position your cursor over a part of the image you want to remove. Hold down the right mouse button and move the cursor over the image. Everything the cursor moves over is erased.

Combining Photos in PhotoShop 5

While erasing is ideal for small areas and detail work, it can be tedious when removing large areas. In this sample, the sky is a large area with fairly flat color. It’s much easier to remove such areas by selecting the wand tool (second tool from the top on the right side of the tool bar—see the shaded box along the left side of the illustration below.) Click anywhere in the area you want to remove.

Combining Photos in PhotoShop 6

To select multiple areas, as shown above, click on the first area, then hold down the shift key while you click in additional areas.

When you’ve selected all the areas, type CONTROL+X to cut those areas or select CLEAR from the drop down EDIT menu at the top of the screen.

Then erase the smaller areas.

For some of the smaller areas, such as around the horse’s head, I enlarged the image to 50% or larger by highlighting the number in the lower left hand corner and typing in a larger number. This gives me a much larger view of the image. I can scroll side to side or top to bottom to see small portions of the image and erase anything I don’t want in the composition.

This is what the two images look like when I finish cleaning up the photograph of the white horse.

Combining Photos in PhotoShop 7

Step 6: Repeat steps 3, 4 and 5 for each additional photo you want to add.

One horse in a wide open landscape might be interesting, but I want to add a bit more interest. So I copied the second picture of horses and added it to my composition.

But the second picture of horses isn’t where I want it because Photoshop automatically pastes new images into the center of the main image. Each new image automatically covers the last previous one.

To re-order these pictures, click on the LAYER drop down menu and select arrange. This will reveal your options. Moving a layer backward will move it backward one layer. Choosing MOVE TO BACK will move it backward to the first layer over the background (the landscape).

Combining Photos in PhotoShop 8

Step 7: Arrange the images to find a good composition.

You can also move each image around the picture plane by selecting each layer. To do this, open the Window drop down menu and click on LAYERS. This opens the Layers dialogue box, which you can see at the bottom of the illustration below.

Combining Photos in PhotoShop 9

Layer 2 is selected. That’s the layer with the red horses. As long as Layer 2 is selected, I can click anywhere on the image and grab hold of the red horses. By holding down the mouse button and dragging the mouse, I can move those red horses anywhere I want them.

Even up into the sky, where I can get a better look at them, make sure I’ve removed all the stray bits I don’t want, and do whatever other work might be necessary.

Combining Photos in PhotoShop 10

To simplify matters, rename each layer as you create it. In this example, I could have renamed the first layer White Horse and the second layer Red Horses. That eliminates confusion if you add more than one or two layers.

Repeat steps 3-5 for each layer you want to work with.

Step 8: Fine tune your best composition or try new compositions.

Now you have a single image (the landscape) with several other images copied into it (white horse, red horses).

You can now have a little fun and arrange the elements anyway you wish. Obviously, the more elements you add, the more different arrangements you might come up with.

Two possible compositions for this demonstration is with the white horse in front…

Combining Photos in PhotoShop 11

…and with the red horses in front.

Computer Composition Illustration 12

You might also make the horses quite small relative to the landscape or try any of  a number of other things.

Save each composition separately as a .PSD (Photoshop) file. A .psd file preserves the layers and allows you to move them around any time you want.

I also save each file as a .JPG (.JPEG), which is a much smaller file. The illustrations in this article are jpg files.

Step 9: Prepare the best composition.

Before you can save a .psd file as a .jpg file, you need to flatten the layers.

Select the LAYER drop down menu and click on FLATTEN IMAGE at the bottom. All of the layers are combined into a single layer.

Once you do that, you can save your best composition as a jpg file to your digital device and it’s ready for you to draw.

That’s how I combine photos in Photoshop.

For me, this is just the beginning of the process.

I also use photo editors to decide on the best compositions. Sometimes, I save them into my screen saver rotation so I can study them for a while.

After choosing a design, I make a drawing grid on the image for the more traditional steps in making art.

Sign up for Carrie's Free Newsletter

Sanded Art Paper & Drawing Paper: 5 Differences

Have you tried sanded art paper with colored pencil yet?

If you haven’t, you may be wondering why you should. After all, isn’t it just like drawing on sand paper from the local hardware store? (And who wants to do that?)

That’s the way I thought before my first experiments with sanded art paper. I almost didn’t try it, because I just couldn’t see how it would work.

But I’m glad I took the plunge! There are a lot of differences between sanded art paper and traditional drawing paper. Some pretty big—and surprising—differences.

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Traditional Drawing Paper

Now that I’ve created several pieces on sanded art papers, it’s time to share with you what I’ve learned. Both good and bad.

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Drawing Paper

Popular brands are Ampersand Pastelbord, Art Spectrum Colourfix Coated Pastel PaperCanson Mi-Teintes Touch Sanded Papers and Boards, and UArt Sanded Pastel Paper. More recently, Clairefontaine Pastelmat has entered the market.

In another post, I described 6 basics of drawing paper, including the most commonly used papers for colored pencil. A subsequent article listed 3 non-paper, non-traditional drawing surfaces for colored pencil. One of them was sandpaper.

I’ve used only Uart and Fisher 400. Following are five of the biggest differences I discovered.

Paper Strength

This is a good difference.

Sanded papers are much stronger than most traditional papers. The substrate itself is heavier than most drawing paper. Combined with the coating of grit, it’s nearly impossible to accidentally damage the paper, so you can be as aggressive in applying color as you like.

Many sanded art papers are also available mounted to rigid supports for even better durability.

An additional upside to this is that you do not have to frame sanded art paper under glass if you don’t want to. It’s advisable, but not absolutely necessary, as is the case with traditional art papers.

Detailed Line Drawings

Transferring a detailed line drawing is difficult. You can’t use a light box because the paper is so thick. Transfer papers of any type are also unsatisfactory on some of the coarser surfaces.

I’ve found this difference to be less than ideal. I like detailed line drawings when I do portraits. For a while, that made sanded art papers a no-go for me.

But many artists use the grid method or a projector to transfer their drawings. Both are acceptable alternatives to regular transfer papers, and both give great results.

Another alternative is light sketching right on the paper. I usually start landscapes with just a basic sketch, so most of my drawings on sanded art paper have been landscapes.

August Morning in Kansas
Colored Pencil on Sanded Art Paper

August Morning in Kansas (above) is one of the most recent and it’s the best one so far. I’ve started all of them with simple sketches.

Sharp Pencils

You don’t need sharp pencils to work with sanded paper. In fact, sharp pencils can be a detriment. They break easily on the gritty surface, and even if they don’t, you get two or three strokes before they go blunt.

So forget sharpening. Use your pencils more like pastels. It’ll be a lot less frustrating.

Forget preserving your pencils, too. Sanded art paper quite literally “eats them for lunch!”

But that’s not as bad as it sounds, because most of that color is going onto the paper. Yes, pencils wear down more quickly, but you’re building color more quickly, too. The details in the trees in August Morning in Kansas are lighter colors applied over darker colors.

And just in case you’ve heard the rumors about pigment dust when you draw on sanded papers, it’s true. But you probably haven’t heard that you can use a bristle brush to push that dust into the tooth of the paper so it’s not wasted!

Show me another drawing paper you can do that with!

Pigment dust can be dry blended into sanded art paper.
Use brushes like this to dry blend pigment dust into the surface of sanded art paper.

Thick Color Layers

Thick layers of color work better than thin glazes. Even with the smoothest sanded papers, the tooth is such that getting an even color layer is next to impossible without solvent.

And light pressure? Forget it. Medium to medium-heavy pressure is going to be a lot more productive.

The best part? You can absolutely layer light over dark and it will show up. Try that with any traditional drawing paper.

Is this a good difference or a bad one?

I haven’t made up my mind yet. I have a naturally light hand so working on sanded art papers requires a definite adjustment in working methods.

But as I mentioned above, I can add so many layers even with medium pressure or heavier, that working on sanded paper is getting less and less frustrating.

Excellent Tooth

If you’ve ever had trouble getting colored pencil to stick after a certain number of layers, the tooth of sanded art paper is a good difference.

Granted, it will take a lot more layers to get fine detail if that’s what you’re after and you may find the extra layers not to be worth the trouble.

But if you take the time, the tooth will definitely work for you.

This little drawing (3-1/2 by 2-1/2) is the first drawing I did on sanded art paper. I drew it like I always draw and the tooth didn’t help. See all those dots in the sky? Paper holes. I wasn’t able to fill in the tooth at all, and although the result was very painterly, I didn’t like it.

Spring in CP
Spring in Colored Pencil
Colored Pencil on Sanded Paper

It took a long time before I tried colored pencil on sanded paper again, but the results were much more satisfactory. I was already learning how to use sanded art paper.

East of Camp Creek
Colored Pencil on Sanded Art Paper

Conclusion

If you give sanded art papers a try, be prepared to do some bad drawings for the first few. It’s a great drawing surface, but there is a very definite learning curve!

Even so, I recommend it to anyone who wants to try something different.

Interested in reading more? I wrote a good mini clinic for EmptyEasel based on that first, small drawing. I think you’ll find it useful. Read Using a Sandpaper Surface for a Colored Pencil Drawing here.

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See

Dan Duhrkoop, founder of EmptyEasel and author of How to Draw Exactly What You See, asked if I would provide a review of his book if he sent me a copy.

I love books, reading, and art, so I said, “Sure!” (Who doesn’t like free, if it’s something they can use?)

Ordinarily, I don’t accept freebies because it almost always leads to unwanted obligations. But I’ve been freelance writing for EmptyEasel since 2012 and have a good working relationship with the author of this book, who is also the founder of EmptyEasel.

Even so, my review is unbiased. I’d say the same things if I’d purchased the book on my own, and didn’t know Dan!

So let’s get to it, shall we?

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See - Book Cover

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See – My Review

From the Introduction:

Whether you’re a brand-new artist with zero training, or a more experienced artist looking to improve your drawing skills, this guide will teach you everything you need to know to look at a still life scene and draw it EXACTLY as it appears.

I’m not a still life artist. I love looking at well done still life artwork, and I can look at the produce section in the grocery store and see sorts of possible subject. But that’s as far as it usually goes. I have next to no interest in drawing my own. So I wasn’t sure what this book could offer me or how it could help me improve my drawing skills.

One look at the cover, and you may be thinking the same thing. Don’t let that put you off. If you do, you’ll be missing a great opportunity.

And if you do enjoy still life drawing of any kind—in studio or plein air—then you’ll want this book. It covers every step of the process from basic composition and setting up your own still life to sketching what you see and rendering it realistically in graphite.

If you’re just getting started drawing, the book also contains over a dozen high-quality still life images from very easy to quite complex. You’ll start out ahead of the game!

Putting the Draw EXACTLY What You See Method to the Test

As I mentioned, I’m not a still life artist, but I did intend to do some still life drawings just to see how they turned out. A number of things derailed that plan, so my first trial with the author’s drawing method concerned a dog portrait I’d been having fits trying to get right.

That difficult portrait line drawing turned out so well using Dan’s drawing method that I decided to try another one for this review. I am so glad I did!

My Demo Subject

This is the reference photo I chose for this demo. I chose it for two reasons.

The first and most important is that the cat is our oldest cat, Thomas. We’ve had him since mid-2003, when we saw him and a litter mate playing in the gutter while we were out walking. They were our first rescues. Thomas recently died and I wanted to do his portrait.

Second, I have always loved the golden light of late evening and liked this photo of Thomas, taken when he was at his prime. Now that he’s gone, that westward gaze into the sunset seems somehow appropriate.

How to Draw Exactly What You See - The Reference Photo
Thomas, Photo by Carrie L. Lewis

Second, the drawing method described in How to Draw EXACTLY What You See starts with marking off each of the places where the subject leaves the composition. This photo of Thomas focuses so closely on his face and eye that one ear leaves the composition as well as the back of his neck and his upper chest. That made it perfect for this demo.

Preparing the Image

Since I wasn’t working from life, I had to make a few adjustments. But I prepared the reference photo as much according to the steps in the book as possible.

I used GIMP (a free photo editor download) to add a wide white border around the reference photo and then mark with a red line each place where an edge leaves the composition. Edges included Thomas’ markings.

Marked up reference, showing each of the places where an edge goes off the picture.

Then I printed the reference photo above, and the picture plane (below) on a blank sheet to draw on. I was able to do that because I put the border and marks on a separate layer added to the photo in GIMP. All I had to do was hide the image and print the new layer. (If you’d like to see a tutorial on that, let me know.)

Picture plane with edge marks. I don’t have to worry about measuring because the black border and red marks are the same ones I put over the reference photo!

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See

Step 1: Start with negative spaces

The first step is to make a contour drawing of the negative space using the edge markings as a guide. However, I was so focused on drawing Thomas that I totally forgot that step.

Had I remembered, these blue shapes are the shapes I would have drawn. All of the light blue is negative space. Just two large, fairly simple shapes. (That’s another reason I chose this reference photo.

Draw the negative spaces as accurately as you can. According to the author, this is a good way to “trick” your brain into accurately drawing shapes instead of drawing what it thinks it sees.

Don’t be frustrated if it’s difficult at first. Just choose a mark and draw the shape as best you can. Measure and erase if it needs correction.

The negative space in any composition is the space around the subject.

Step 2: Rough in the subject

Next, block in the subject with light pressure and loose lines. I didn’t draw very many interior details and instead focused on the big shapes. The eye, the ear, and the nose and mouth.

I roughed in the dark patches of hair, too, but only because they’re such a big part of the drawing.

Step 3: Start drawing details

When the rough sketch was as accurate as I could make it, I went back over the entire drawing again. I corrected and adjusted lines by measuring the distance between edges on the reference photo, and then on the line drawing.

This step involves a lot of erasing. You can see faint smudges and even a few eraser crumbs around that off-side ear. That’s why I used an ordinary number 2 pencil. I can make light lines to begin with, then draw steadily darker lines, and I can also easily erase mistakes.

Besides, I have a drawer full of ordinary number 2 pencils; why not use them!

Step 4: Fine-tune the drawing

After that round of work was done, I went over the drawing again and fine-tuned it still more. I added interior details like whisker lines, creases in the fur, and other things. The outside lines are darker, but those interior details will help me when I get started with colored pencil work.

How to Draw Exactly What You See--The Finished Line Drawing

It took three days to develop this drawing of Thomas and I confess that when I stepped back and looked at what I’d done, I cried. It looked so much like Thomas.

That’s How to Draw Exactly What You See…

…even if it isn’t a still life!

As I said before, the book focuses on drawing still life subjects, but as you can see here, it can easily be adapted to other subjects. Even portrait work!

Whether you’re new to drawing or just looking for a better way to create line drawings, I recommend this book. You can get the first three chapters of How to Draw Exactly What You See – A Drawing Guide free!

You can also see my first trial with this drawing method.

How to Draw Black Fur with Colored Pencils

Welcome Peggy Osborne back for a step-by-step tutorial showing you how to draw black fur.

Peggy’s tutorial comes in response to discussions about the difficulty of accurately and realistically drawing black fur that she’s seen (and participated in) on social media. As an artist specializing in horses for so many years, I know from personal experience how difficult black can be.

So here’s Peggy to explain how she dos it!

How to Draw Black Fur Step-by-Step

by Peggy Osborne

I hear it all the time.

Drawing black fur is hard. How do I keep from just having 2 eyes floating in a black blob?

Black fur does have variations in shading and can also have a number of other colors in it depending on the lighting. The fur in shadow is very dark while the highlighted fur is lighter. Those highlights are where you see different colors.

If the lighting is warm, you will see tones of peach, golden colors, browns. If the lighting is cool, you will see tones of blue, violet, greens.

In this reference photo, I see a lot of cool colors in the highlights.

The reference photo for How to Draw Black Fur
Image by brandog from Pixabay

I will be drawing this with Prismacolors and a few Polychromos colored pencils on light grey Pastelmat paper. The nice thing about Pastelmat is that you can layer light colors on top of dark colors. Although I usually always work from light to dark, this will help to add more details in the end.

Getting started with the eyes and face

My first step is to draw a detailed map/sketch of the reference.

The line drawing for How to Draw Black Fur

Then I start with the eyes using various brown, orange, and cream tones.

How to Draw Black Fur - Drawing the Eyes

For the black fur, I started out layering White, Light Blue, Greyed Lavender. I gradually add layers of fur-like strokes with darker colors like Cool Grey 20%, Slate Grey, and 50% Cool Grey.

I keep adding darker strokes of Violet and Indigo Blue. In the very darkest areas I use strokes of Black in random areas to give the fur a more realistic texture.

Blocking in and drawing the rest of the head

I start blocking in the rest of the head with initial light layers to show where the darks and lights go. I use a light touch and draw in the direction that the fur grows.

Here I have used White, Light Blue, Greyed Lavender, and Slate Grey.

As you can see these drawings require lots of layers to achieve the realistic look I’m aiming for and the Pastelmat paper is perfect for that as it holds lots and lots of layers.

How to Draw Black Fur

This ear was completed with many, many layers of Light Blue, Indigo Blue, Greyed Lavender, Violet, Cool Greys, and Black. I repeated the layers, adding the lighter colors in the highlights and darker colors in the deep shadows.

The first layers are applied with a light touch, and I increase pressure as I build up layers, always looking at the reference photo, and following the way the fur grows.

Trying new tools

With this portrait, I tried a new product, to me, to pull out little hair like textures…. The Slice tool. I’d heard many good things about it and decided to try it for myself.

It works very well. You can see where I used it along the top edge of the ear where I was able to create some little hairs for more texture.

Finishing the head and ears

For the next steps I basically follow the same process as before. Layering the colors following the direction of the fur growth. I use the same colors throughout the dog since he is the same color overall.

I’ve completed the left side of the face and started on the other side and ear. This photo shows about 4 or 5 layers.

How to Draw Black Fur - Drawing the face and head.

This photo shows 4 or 5 more layers.

I will probably add another 4 or 5 layers to complete this section, maybe more. The Pastelmat paper has a different finish than regular paper and it takes many, many layers to fill the tooth of the paper. I like to fill the tooth of my paper when I work, not leaving any little dots of the paper showing through.

Drawing the muzzle

Always make sure to follow the reference photo very closely. I’m layering the same colors I have been using throughout, blues, Greyed Lavender, cool greys, Violet, etc. I use White in the lightest areas.

I’m using a sharp point and a light touch going with the direction of the hair growth.

The next steps on the muzzle are just adding more and more layers, alternating colors and adding the lightest colors to the lighter areas and the darker colors to the darker areas. I continued this process up along the right side of the face and ear finishing off that area.

Once I have as many layers as I need, I use the Slice tool to scrape out some teeny tiny hairs along the muzzle to add more texture.

I also scraped out a few more highlights along the ears and where the light hits the face and bone structure. I use Black along with my darkest cool grey and Indigo Blue to really punch up the darkest shadows.

The nose is basically an extension of the muzzle using all the same colors. I use a circular motion with a light touch when drawing the nose, building up the layers as I work.

The nostril is super dark as it is in shadow and the top of the nose is in highlight. In the end, I take my electric eraser and tap the nose erasing tiny dots from the nose to add texture.

Drawing the Black Fur on the Chest

The next two photos show the chest area. There should be less detail here so the focus on this lovely dog’s face is not lost. I use the same colors but use a looser stroke. I laid out the darkest areas with black and the lightest areas with white. The mid layers are created using violets and blues.

Then I continue adding layers with all the other colors I have used throughout this painting. I still follow the direction of the fur but with a looser stroke.

Here is more done on the chest area, once again just building up those layers.

Making Adjustments and Adding Final Details

At this point I use the reference photo to compare values and color to each other. I can see I need to add more violet to the painting and darken the overall picture.

How to Draw Black Fur - Side by side comparison of the reference photo and portrait help you see where you need to make color and detail adjustments.

So I add a wash of Black Grape throughout the dog, and Black in the darker areas. Then I use solvent to smoothly blend all this together. This gives the more realistic look to the painting and looks more like the reference photo.

TIP: When doing commissions you want to continue to look at the reference photo to get as close a likeness as possible. You aren’t just drawing a dog, you are drawing the client’s dog.

Finishing off the muzzle and chin area with all my blues and cool greys. I used the Slice tool to add the whiskers .

One last step I do to check values is to turn the original and art into black and white.

How to Draw Black Fur - Convert your reference and portrait to black-and-white for a side-by-side comparison of values.

I finished tweaking the portrait by zooming in to areas on the original photo and putting in as many details as I can see on the drawing. Little stray hairs along the ears, (scraped out with the Slice tool) , adjusting the nose just a bit and overall highlights and darkening in areas that need it. And a few more whiskers.

And here is the finished piece.

How to Draw Black Fur - The finished portrait.

Hope you have enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed working on it.

Now you’re seen how to draw black fur using Peggy’s method.

Use the same process to create your own drawings of animals with black fur.

If you missed it, check out Peggy’s previous tutorial, How to Draw a Long Haired Dog.

About Peggy Osborne

Peggy is an accomplished self-taught artist living in Canada specializing in creating beautiful realistic portraits of pets and family members. She’s had an on going love affair with colored pencils, loving their simplicity, for as long as she can remember.

She started out using graphite pencil so it was an easy transition to carry on with colored pencils. Love of animals and art go hand in hand. Peggy is in awe of what can be accomplished with colored pencils.

See more of Peggy’s work at Pet Portraits by Peggy.

Preparing a Reference Photo

Today, I’d like to talk about preparing a reference photo. There are a lot of ways to do this, so I’ll keep it simple and describe some of the things I do almost all the time.

Most of my work in the past was for portraits, but I’ve also used these methods to turn so-so reference photos into great (or at least better) reference photos for my own work. They can help you do the same.

NOTE: This post is not intended to be a step-by-step tutorial. There are too many photo editors on the market to make that possible. I use three different pieces of software as needed, and I will link to them below.

Preparing a Reference Photo for a Portrait

Preparing a Reference Photo

Preparing reference photos is important whether you’re doing a portrait, an exhibit piece, or something for yourself or a friend. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but it should be an important part of your creative process.

My sample was for a portrait, but I’ve also taken the same steps with my own pieces, with animal art, landscapes, and the occasional still life.

I used a photograph taken by photographer Mark Adair, whom I want to thank for allowing me to use his work. Thanks, Mark!

Mark provided a great selection of images, so there was a lot of material at my fingertips. This is the image the client chose.

Preparing a Reference Photo for a Portrait - The Original Reference Photo
Photo by Mark Adair

Composition

The first thing you should always do is start with the most basic stuff: Configuration and composition.

The portrait was 16 inches by 20 inches in size, so the first thing to do was crop the reference photo to the same dimensions as the final portrait. I usually make 8 x 10s of printed reference photos (unless the drawing is complex,) so I cropped this image to 8 x 10 as well.

I used Irfanview for this image. Irfanview is a free down-loadable program. Somewhat limited in scope, it still does almost everything I need to do to prepare digital reference photos.

Since this is a pretty straight forward project, there wasn’t much to do with composing. I placed the horse a little bit to the right of center, so he was trotting into the space. I also placed him a little bit above center. That put his head next to one of the four “sweet spots” according to the rule of thirds (see below.)

You’ll notice that the knee of the raised front leg is also near one of those sweet spots, and a third one falls over the crossed back legs. All three are centers of interest, though the head is the most important of the three.

That wasn’t my intention. I usually focus on the head, even in full body portraits, but this is icing on the cake, so to speak.

Once you have the composition nailed down and the digital image is the same proportions as the your artwork, you can start making smaller adjustments.

Fine-Tuning the Reference Photo

Most photo editors provide the opportunity to adjust photos in dozens of ways from adding special effects to creating halftones or sepia tones (or almost any other tone.)

When you prepare a photo reference for portrait work, you probably won’t care about all those other features. But there are some adjustments you should consider.

Contrast

The key to a successful portrait is contrast. The light values need to be light enough and the dark values need to be dark enough.

If your photo reference doesn’t show clear light and dark values, now is the time to tinker with contrast.

Adjust the contrast and brightness of the photo a little, reviewing the results after each adjustment. Continue to experiment until you either find a contrast setting you like, or decide to go with the original settings.

Changing the contrast even a lot didn’t do much for this photo. The initial adjustment made so little difference that I tried a more dramatic adjustment. Here’s what I ended up with. Can you tell the difference between this and the original reference? I couldn’t.

Color Corrections

Sometimes it helps to adjust the color settings. Most photo editors can adjust each of the three primary colors individually or all of them together. Depending on your software, you may be able to make a lot of complex adjustments, or just a few simple ones. Whatever the case, it’s worthwhile to experiment to see what happens.

Canva is a good online option. Canva is a graphic designer. I use it to create the memes in my posts and to make illustrations that contain more than one image.

But they have a great photo editor and it’s free to use. Just open an account, upload images, and try any number of adjustments without changing the original image.

GIMP is also a good option. It’s a free download and works a lot like Photoshop, but the learning curve is pretty steep. I’m still trying to figure out a lot of the features.

I made color corrections in Irfanview and came up with the photo below. Again, I didn’t see a lot of difference between it and the original image, so I decided I was finished preparing the reference photo. Contrast and color could be adjusted as I worked on the portrait. That’s one of the advantages of drawing horses for over 40 years!

Conclusion

Additional changes to the composition—such as leaving out elements or moving them around—could be done in a photo editor, but I usually prefer to do those things while making the line drawing.

The real secret to this process is taking your own reference photos and making as many of these changes as possible in that process. The better the photographs you take, the fewer adjustments you’ll need to make now!

Sign up for Carrie's Free Newsletter

How to Draw Folds of Cloth

Today’s post is a step-by-step tutorial showing you how to draw folds of cloth.

The cloth in my demonstration is white and somewhat silky, but the basic principles I’m about to describe apply to any type of fabric that folds or drapes.

It also works with any color or method of draping or folding. Just break down the drawing process into these steps and you can’t go far wrong.

How to Draw Folds of Cloth

Tips for Drawing Cloth

Before we get into the tutorial, lets talk a little bit about basic tips on how to draw folds of cloth (or pretty much any subject.)

First of all, take time to look at the cloth you’re drawing. Really study it. What’s the surface texture? Is the cloth lightweight or heavy? Is it soft or silky, smooth or woolly?

If it’s a soft cloth like this t-shirt, the values are likely to fade softly one into another. The only exceptions to this rule are the cast shadows, where one fold of cloth casts a shadow on another part, and where something else casts a shadow on the cloth. Those shadows almost always have hard edges.

Knowing how to draw folds of cloth starts with taking a good look at your subject. What type of cloth is it? How does it reflect light?
Soft cloth, soft shadows and soft edges between values except for the cast shadows.
Photo by Carrie L. Lewis

Shiny cloth like catches and reflects light differently than soft cloth. The transitions between values can be much more dramatic and often have sharper edges.

It’s also more likely to show reflected light and color from the objects around it. This sample shows traces of blue since I photographed it outside on a clear, sunny day.

How to Draw Folds of Cloth: Shiny cloth reflects light differently than soft cloth.
Shiny cloth has sharper transitions between light and dark values, often with more dramatic shifts.
Photo by Carrie L. Lewis

Environmental light has more of an influence on shiny cloth than on soft cloth. Both of the garments shown above are white, but I photographed the silky cloth in the early evening so the white has more of a yellow tint.

Also notice that the middle values look bluer on the silky material than on the t-shirt because they’re reflecting more sky color than the t-shirt would in the same lighting conditions.

How to Draw Folds of Cloth

Project Details

My demo drawing is drawn on Stonehenge 98lb white paper. I used Prismacolor pencils, but you can successfully complete this tutorial with any brand of colored pencils and on any drawing paper.

I also drew it in grayscale, using one gray pencil and black. You can do the same tutorial with other colors if you wish, though drawing in grayscale is a great way to practice drawing values.

This is the reference photo. Feel free to use it for your own practice.

Photo by Carrie L. Lewis

Step 1: Sketch the Folds of Cloth

I started by lightly sketching the cloth with Cold Grey 70%. I didn’t outline many of the shadows, but you’ll notice I did lightly outline the main highlight on the most prominent fold on the left side of the drawing.

This sketch is drawn a little darker than I usually sketch so it shows up in a scan. You’ll want to keep your line drawing quite light so the lines disappear into the drawing as you layer. Sketching or transferring your line drawing with light pressure also avoids indenting the lines into the paper.

Step 2: Begin Shading

I used a combination of strokes and two or three layers of Cold Grey 70% to draw a light value in each of the more clearly defined cast shadows.

First, I blocked in each shadow with light pressure so they were all the same value. Then I went over some parts again to darken the values.

Cast shadows are shadows caused when one object throws (or casts) a shadow on another object. In this case, the cast shadows happen where one part of the cloth throws a shadow on another part.

Form shadows happen where each fold curves away from the light source.

Unlike cast shadows, they usually have softer edges and transition smoothly from light values into dark values. The shapes of form shadows can be indistinct, especially on cloth, but they give shape to the cloth.

I used a couple of different shading methods for the middle values. I started out on the left by shading the darker values first, then the lighter values.

That didn’t produce the softness of value I wanted, so I started shading a light value over each shape, working around the lighter values and highlights. Then I added more layers to draw the darker values.

Also, instead of using a sharp pencil, I worked with a slightly dull one and sharpened it only when it developed a flat wedge angle. A dull pencil covers more paper with each stroke and the marks have softer edges.

About half of the cloth shaded with light values. It’s already beginning to take shape. The contrast I draw, then more three-dimensional it will look.

Step 3: Blend with Paper Towel (optional)

At this point you can lightly blend with paper towel or bath tissue to smooth out the values a little more. A paper towel blend is ideal for softening color or value, but it works best with a little more pigment on the paper.

If you prefer not to blend with paper towel, skip to the next step.

I blended the right fold with paper towel, but left the other side unblended for comparison.

Step 4: Darken the Values

You can continue to darken values with Cold Grey 70% or switch to a darker pencil. It will take more layers with Cold Grey 70% than Cold Grey 90% or even black, and the resulting values will not be quite as dark.

But it is good practice to push values as much as you can with a single pencil.

Because time was of the essence for me, I switched to Prismacolor Black, and repeated the same process already described.

I used a sharp pencil and small, controlled strokes with medium pressure to draw the cast shadows along the hem of the fabric.

The goal was to begin defining the subtle variations in values in these shadows, so I worked slowly and carefully from one section of shadow to the next.

Then I continued layering Black with light pressure and a sharp pencil to add more definition and volume to the folds of cloth.

Darken the values in the cast shadow layer by layer. You may have to increase the pressure somewhat, but always use the lightest pressure possible.

Next, I continued using Black and light pressure to darken the values in the form shadows, especially around the darkest cast shadow near the center of the drawing. I followed the same process here: Starting with a single lightly applied layer to darken each form shadow, then adding more layers as needed to create more variations.

Form shadows generally have smoother transitions from one value to another. The more the object–in this case cloth–is curved, the sharper the edges are more likely to be. Notice the difference between the large fold on the right and the smaller folds on the left.

Finishing the Drawing

From this point on, finishing the drawing is mostly a matter of adjusting values, refining details, and bringing the drawing as close to the reference as you want.

At this stage, I continue to refer to my reference photo, but less and less. Instead, my focus is on balancing the values in the cast shadows and form shadows so they relate correctly to one another.

I’m also paying closer attention to the edges and transitions between values, especially around the highlights.

As mentioned above, I chose to do this using only two colors: Cold Grey 70% and Black. But it could easily have been turned into a color piece by glazing blues over the drawing. The fabric in the reference photo shows a lot of blue because it reflected that color from the sky.

Here’s the finished demo piece.

How to Draw Folds of Cloth - The Finished Drawing

That’s How to Draw Folds of Cloth

That’s how I drew this piece of smooth, silky cloth. As I mentioned above you can take the same steps to draw any type of cloth.

In fact, if you really want to learn how to draw folds of cloth, the best thing you can do is draw lots of it. Draw different types of cloth and different cloths of cloth either from life (if you can set up a still life in strong light) or from reference photos. Pixabay is a great place to find all sorts of fabrics and you can download images for free.

Sign up for Carrie's Free Newsletter

Colors for Under Drawing Waves

What are the best colors for under drawing waves?

Should you use the umber under drawing method that’s so good for landscapes or would some other color work better?

I get a lot of questions about drawing water, and it’s no surprise. Water is beautiful to look at but difficult to draw.

But the following question is unique in that the reader wanted to know, well…. Let her tell you.

Really got a lot out of your articles on under drawings for landscapes and understand why you would go with an earth color such as light umber for all that green

I love seascapes so I’ve been thinking that if it’s going to be a “cold” ocean then perhaps a 50% cool gray would be appropriate, but if it’s going to be a warmly lit ocean then maybe a 50% French or warm gray would be better for the under drawing. I’ll remember to leave the lightest areas blank on the under drawing.

What do you think? I’m a relative newcomer to colored pencil, just a few months of working on small pieces. I have lots of Prismacolor Premier and Verithins as well as the three trays of Polychromos.

Thank you so much!

Thank you to my reader for her question, which I answered personally and directly.

However, after sending her answer, I thought the question was well worth answering publicly, as well. After all, this reader isn’t the only artist interested in drawing waves!

Colors for Under Drawing Waves

A public response also gives me an opportunity to expand on my personal answer and to provide a few examples for everyone.

Colors for Under Drawing Waves

Colors Not to Use

I almost always start with an umber under drawing. That’s my favorite drawing method because it works so well with animals and landscapes.

But there some instances in which an umber under drawing probably isn’t the best choice. For example, I never under draw a clear sky with an earth tone. The reason is that the colors in the sky should be pure and don’t need to be toned down.

So my first inclination would be not to go with an earth tone to under draw water. Especially translucent water like a wave. Earth tones (and complements) tend to tone down the final color. That’s why they work so well with a landscape, where you don’t want brilliant color.

You wouldn’t want to use a complementary under drawing either, and for the same reasons. Complementary colors naturally neutralize each other. Perfect for a landscapes.

Not great for waves.

Waves need to look like light is coming through them and an earth tone or complementary color could make it more difficult to achieve that look.

The Color of Waves

Something else to keep in mind is that water is highly reflective. It “assumes” the color of the light around it.

Water looks blue under a blue sky because it reflects the color of the sky. The same water at sunset takes on the colors of the evening sky.

Waves emphasize that because the light shines through them. The time of day and the location of the light source determine what colors you’ll see in a wave.

A wave on a clear day.

This wave is lighted from the upper right (notice where the wave is shadowed) on a sunny day. The sand or rocks in the lower left give it a yellow look, but the main colors are blues. The dark blue is reflected by the light from the sky. The light blue is the result of light shining through the water.

The first colors I’d use to draw the wave above are shades of blue. Probably very light blue with a slight greenish tint, such as the color you see in the crest of the wave. Prismacolor Light Aqua or Faber-Castell Polychromos Light Phthalo Green would be good choices.

For the flatter water in back, I’d choose a darker blue. Maybe Prismacolor True Blue or Polychromos Cobalt Blue.

A wave lighted from behind on a cloudy day.

Here’s a wave lighted from behind. The yellow light of the sun gives the wave a green tint. Notice that even the white foam is really a yellow color. Perhaps even yellow-green.

The first colors you put on this drawing should reflect those local colors. Prismacolor Olive Green or Polychromos Permanent Olive Green in the darkest areas of the wave and Prismacolor Chartreuse or Yellow Chartreuse or Polychromos Light Green in the brightest areas.

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

A wave lighted from behind at sunset.

The lighting and color on this wave is totally different than any of the others in this post. This is the only one I would even think about using an earth tone for and that’s because it’s such a golden-brown color to begin with.

I’d start a drawing of this wave with Prismacolor Yellow Ochre, Spanish Orange, or Golden rod or Polychromos Dark Naples Ochre where the light shines through the water. In the darker areas, Prismacolor Burnt Ochre or Sienna Brown or Polychromos Brown Ochre or Raw Sienna would be good choices.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

How to Choose Colors for Under Drawing a Wave

Choosing colors for under drawing waves doesn’t have to be complicated. The key to success is studying your reference photo to see what colors you see. Remember that no two artists see color the exact same way, so trust yourself.

Then start with the lightest shade of the local (final) colors you see and gradually build the values through layering different colors and values together.

Work around the highlights in each area, especially if you’re working on white paper.

If you’re still not sure about color selection, the best option is to do some swatches first. Select the colors you think you’ll use for the final colors, then try layering them over different colors (earth tones, grays, lighter shades of the same colors,) and see which combinations give you the best results.

Sign up for Carrie's Free Newsletter

1 Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

Is there a sure-fire way to draw realistic landscape greens most of the time?

Short answer, yes.

The question is, what’s the best solution for you?

I can’t answer that question for anyone but myself, but I can share with you the method that helps me draw landscapes that look like landscapes, no matter what shades of green, what time of year, or what the lighting conditions.

1 Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

Landscape greens can be the most difficult colors to get right in any medium. Most of us have drawn landscapes in which the greens are too soft and muted or are way too bold and artificial.

My Favorite Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

Over the years, I’ve used several methods to draw landscapes. My favorite method to draw realistic landscape greens is beginning with an umber under drawing, then glazing color.

The first few layers of color you put on the paper are called the under drawing. An under drawing can be a single color, two or three colors, a limited palette, or lighter shades of the final colors.

When the under drawing is in earth tones, it’s called an umber under drawing. You can use any earth tone, but the best choices are generally medium-value, neutral colors like Prismacolor Light Umber or Polychromos Nougat or Raw Umber. Once I discovered umber under drawing, my landscapes began to look like they were supposed to look.

Learn how the umber under drawing method compares to other colored pencil drawing methods.

Step 1: How to Begin an Umber Under Drawing

The process is simple. Develop your landscape first in all earth tones. Choose one or two browns—three at most—and draw the entire landscape with those colors.

I prefer Prismacolor Light or Dark Umber, usually use just Light Umber. It’s possible to get a nice value range with Light Umber simply by adding layers. The more layers, the darker the value.

You don’t want to get too dark too quickly, and you also want to avoid developing details too quickly, so draw the under drawing with several layers applied with light pressure.

You can also use a tinted paper, as I did with the drawing below. The paper is Rising Stonehenge in a very light tan color. The color of the paper provided the lightest values for the drawing.

Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Step 1
Use light pressure and a sharp pencil to begin shading values. Start with the shadows, then gradually darken values and add middle values layer by layer.

Step 2: Develop Detail & Values

Use a variety of strokes to mimic each element of the landscape. Short vertical strokes with a sharp pencil for grass, stippling (dotted) or circular strokes with a sharp to slightly blunt pencil for trees (use a sharper pencil in trees close to the foreground and a blunter pencil for more distant trees), and the sides of the pencil to lay down even color in the distance.

Define the center of interest early by drawing the darkest shapes near the center of interest or in the foreground and keeping other parts of the drawing more subdued.

Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Step 2
Keep the darkest values and sharpest details in and around the center of interest (the tree on the left.)

Step 3: Finishing the Umber Under Drawing

You can make the under drawing as detailed as you like. When I draw horses, I generally draw a more detailed under drawing, because I want the under drawing to look like a finished drawing on its own.

But with landscapes, I develop just enough light and shadow to define the landscape elements and to begin depicting the sense of space (pictorial depth or aerial perspective).

Glaze color over the finished under drawing layer by layer with light pressure. Most colored pencils are translucent by nature, so the umber under drawing tones down the greens you glaze over it. Even if you appear to totally cover all of the under drawing, its influence is still present.

draw realistic landscape greens
Spring 2012, 4×6 Colored Pencil on Stonehenge Paper

Want to See How I Drew Realistic Landscape Greens Step-by-Step?

I drew this landscape as a demonstration piece for EmptyEasel.com. To see the full, step-by-step demonstration on EmptyEasel.

How to Create a Colored Pencil Landscape Underpainting

Color Glazing a Landscape Painting with Colored Pencils

The Basics of Reflected Light

Let’s talk a little bit about reflected light basics today. You’ve probably heard me mention reflected light in various tutorials and maybe even in a class if you’ve taken one of those. It’s time to define what I’m talking about.

The Basics of Reflected Light

What is Reflected Light?

Reflected light is light that comes from a source other than the primary light source. The light of the moon is sunlight reflecting off the moon and back to us.

Reflected light in art is the light that bounces off one object and strikes another object.

No matter what subjects you draw or paint or how you draw or paint them, you’re working with light. How well you draw light determines how three-dimensional your drawing turns out.

How well you draw reflected light determines how strong the illusion of three-dimensions is.

So it’s important to know and understand just how reflected light works.

The Basics of Reflected Light

Inanimate Objects

A natural light source (the sun) in an outdoor setting, illuminates these books and their surroundings. The light source is strong and direct.

Reflected Light on Books

The light source is from the upper right and almost directly to the right of the books.

The Merck Manual gets the most direct light, but since the brightest light is on a side that isn’t visible, you can’t see the brightest highlights anywhere but along the edge where the spine curves around to meet the front cover.

But there is plenty of reflected light. The black arrows below mark light reflected onto the books from other books or from the floor.

But do you see the red-tinted area on the white bricks? That’s light bouncing off the front of the Merck Manual, and illuminating the wall. In other words, reflected light.

Reflected Light on Books 2

If the light source is strong enough and the object off which light is being reflected is close enough to the object onto which light is being reflected, the second object reflects color as well as light.

Horses and Other Animals

Reflected light affects more than smooth or shiny objects. It affects all subjects, animate and inanimate. Take a look at this photo, for example.

Reflected light and animate objects.

The primary light source is the sun, and comes from the upper right. The cast shadow is directly beneath the horse and stretches out behind. The shadows are all exactly where you expect them to be.

But note that his belly and the downward facing planes of the chest are light. The darkest part of the shadows is not on those surfaces—where you expected them—but partway up the horse’s side and chest.

Light bounces off the sandy ground and illuminates the underside of the horse. The affect is especially noticeable because the primary light source is so strong, the horse’s coat is smooth, and the ground is flat, bare, and reflective.

Reflected light on a wet horse is also quite noticeable. That’s what makes “bath shots” so appealing.

Dimmer primary light (as in a cloudy day or indoor light) creates less reflected light. Longer hair also produces less reflected light, as would mud or grassy ground cover.

Also take a look at the top slope of the horse’s rump. The rump is well lighted even though it doesn’t face the light source. Compare it to the shadow on the ground.

The light across the top of the rump is another form of reflected light. This time, the reflect light comes from the sky, hence the bluish tint.

Just to show you reflected light does appear on long haired animals, here’s Max. Asleep in a patch of sun falling on a pink towel.


Pink reflects up onto Max between his eyes, on the underside of his outstretched paw, and in the fur around his neck. It appears in shadows and in mid-tones.

 Conclusion

Not drawing or painting reflected won’t make your art bad. I painted portraits for years without understanding or using reflected light.

But a good understanding of the basics of reflected light, and knowing how to draw or paint it will make the subjects you paint or draw look more three-dimensional. It is a valuable addition in your art toolbox no matter what your preferred subject.

Sign up for Carrie's Free Newsletter