The August 2021 issue of CP Magic! is now available from Colored Pencil Tutorials.
$3.99 (digital download only)
Time for another product review. Today I want to share my experiences using a Slice Tool with colored pencils.
Before I begin, I want to thank Slice Inc. for providing samples of their tools. The tools were sent to me after I contacted the company for more information and product images for the Q&A post, What is a Slice Tool?
I’d never used these tools before, though I’d seen countless videos by artists such as Lisa Ann Watkins and Bonny Snowdon, and have published many tutorials by Peggy Osborne. So I was delighted to get a chance to try them out for myself.
I received three different Slice tools: The Manual Pen Cutter, the Manual Precision Cutter, and the versatile Slice Craft Knife.
All three are ideal for etching out details such as whiskers, flyaway hairs, and other fine details. Slice tools have quickly become a Must-Have tool for pet portrait artists and wildlife artists, but I wanted to see how well they added highlights to grassy areas in landscape art.
I didn’t have time to make a new piece to try these tools on, so I went back to some older art that I thought could be improved with a little etching. The piece I chose was Spring Storm.
Spring Storm was completed in early 2020. It’s on Anthracite (dark gray) Clairefontaine Pastelmat, so scratching out details was more a matter of adding shadows than highlights.
But there is a lot of grass in the foreground that I thought could benefit from a few more details. Here’s what the area looked like before the Slice tool.
I tried all three tools on the drawing. At first, it didn’t look like they were having an affect. But as I continued to scratch out shadows, I began to see the difference.
I used the two larger blades to add shadows to the grass in the foreground and the tall clump on the left.
The smallest blade, the Precision Cutter, was great at adding a few spots of dark foliage around the edges of the trees in the middle ground.
All three knives allowed me to add fine details that would have been next to impossible to recreate with pencils, especially on such a small drawing (about 7 inches by 9 inches.)
Here’s what the same area looked like when I finished. I don’t know if you can really see the differences this way, but in real life, they are quite obvious.
My next experiment was this little piece.
This is one my Sketch Habit sketches. It’s on white Clairfontaine Pastelmat and I wanted to see if I could make sparkles on water.
I layered three or four colors heavily onto the paper in a pattern that looked like water.
Then I used a couple of the Slice tools to etch X shapes in various spots in the drawing. I’d seen an acrylic painter create sparkles on water by painting white shapes like this, and wondered if it would work with colored pencils.
It does, if you scratch color off the paper.
Keep in mind that I made no plans where the sparkles would appear as I was laying down color. This was just a sketch; a experiment.
If I were to do this with a finished piece, I would be more deliberate in where I put and how I put color down. Using brighter colors in some of the areas where I wanted sparkles would help them show up better.
But overall, I’m thrilled with this little test.
I also learned a few things about using Slice tools that are worth sharing.
First is to be careful. It’s difficult to cut your fingers with these blades, but it’s easy to cut paper. Use light or medium-light pressure to gently remove color.
Second, it will probably take more than one “layer” of etching to remove enough color to make a difference. Going over an area a couple of times produced good results. That’s why light pressure is so important.
Third, the scratch marks will be either the color of pencil beneath the layers you’re removing, or it will be the color of the paper. For my test with Spring Storm, I was essentially drawing shadows because the paper was so dark.
On the white Pastelmat, I drew highlights.
Fourth, you get the best results if there’s a clear difference in color or value between the color you scratch off with a Slice tool and the color beneath.
Scratching black layers off dark gray layers makes very little difference. Scratching black layers of light gray or white layers makes a big difference.
If your work is highly detailed and you like precision in your artwork, then consider buying the Slice tools. They’re a great way to get ultra fine details.
You can remove color, add more color, then remove color again to create a depth of detail that is difficult (if not impossible) with just colored pencils.
And you can also bring a little additional life to an older, finished piece, as I’ve shown here.
They’re not for everybody, just as sanded art paper isn’t for everyone.
But if you’re looking for something to add a little spark (or shadow) to your artwork, the Slice tools may be just what you’re looking for.
My thanks again to Slice, Inc. for their generosity in giving me an opportunity to try their tools. I didn’t honestly think I’d have much use for them.
I now know different!
So what do you do when your paper gets slick?
You’re in the zone, adding layer after layer, blending color, creating contrast and harmony. Then it happens. You pick up another pencil, start layering and…
…your pencil skids across the surface without leaving any color.
That happened to Eloise, who asked the following question:
When you have put so many layers on and you can’t get any more down, what do you do?
The best way to deal with slick paper is to avoid it. The best way to avoid slick paper is drawing on sanded art paper.
Sanded art paper takes a lot of layers without the tooth filling up. It doesn’t really matter what type of sanded paper you use. I’ve been experimenting with Lux Archival, Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Fisher 400, and Uart. They each have enough tooth to take a practically endless number of layers, but they each have unique characteristics. They behave differently.
It also makes a difference what type of pencil you use, as I’m learning with this week’s sketching habit. Some pencils work better on sanded papers, than other pencils.
Your style of drawing also makes a difference, so you may have to experiment to find the right combination.
If you don’t care for sanded art papers, Canson Mi-Teintes is a more traditional paper that falls somewhere between sanded and traditional papers. I can’t recall ever ending up with a slick drawing surface while using Mi-Teintes.
In fairness, however, I must also mention that most of my work on Canson Mi-Teintes has been vignette-style portraits like Portrait of a Black Horse. I usually use colored paper, and chose a color that works for the background and the middle values.
In other words, I didn’t have to apply a lot of color.
Whatever type of paper you use, you can also avoid (or at least delay) the build up of too much color by applying each layer with the lightest pressure possible. You’ll have to increase pressure slightly during the drawing process, but don’t use heavy pressure until the end.
Also don’t burnish until after the drawing is nearly finished.
Most of the time, paper gets slick when you reach the maximum amount of color the paper will grab onto and hold.
Sometimes, workable fixative made for dry media helps restore a bit of surface texture. A couple of light coats may restore enough tooth for you to finish the piece.
But that’s not guaranteed. I’ve had mixed results with workable fixative.
A light blend with rubbing alcohol could also help. Rubbing alcohol cuts the wax binder in colored pencils a little bit, and that may be enough to allow you to finish a drawing.
It’s also possible to lift enough color with mounting putty to allow you to add more color, but unless you need to change a color or value, lifting color is really a step backward.
If you get the idea that there isn’t much you can do once your paper gets slick, you’re getting the right idea.
That’s why I spent so much time talking about ways to avoid slick paper. In this case, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.
I recently wrote on this same topic for the store blog. You can read When Your Paper Gets Slick here for more information on this topic.
Despite some serious and potentially serious setbacks, my collection of sketches for the week of July 19 is satisfying. It is, in fact, the best group of sketches I’ve finished so far.
Yes. There was a clinker or two, but when you do twelve drawings a week, you’re bound to have a bad day. Right?
Prismacolor Sunburst Yellow, Spring Green, Marine Green, Violet on Stonehenge
Trumpet vines grow on the backyard fence and back of the house. A few ambitious vines have reached the back window of the room where I often sit to read or sketch or just take a few quiet minutes.
It was Monday evening before I got around to sketching. The sun was low enough to be back-lighting the leaves on the window. With the fence in shadow beyond those leaves, I decided to try capturing that almost glowing color.
I started by layering a bright yellow onto the paper, then adding Spring Green over that. That seemed like the logical thing to do, but it didn’t work. Darkening the shadows with Marine Green was an even worse mistake (in my opinion,) but I pushed on long enough to finish the sketch with a violet background and a solvent blend.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but if you really want to improve your work, you need to be prepared to make some bad art.
This sketch falls into that category.
Prismacolor Violet Blue on Canson Mi-Teintes Buff
I sketched this from memory and imagination, but based on an oddly shaped tree that stands at a nearby corner.
When trees grow close together and/or close to buildings, they often grow into interesting shapes as they try to reach the sunlight. Trees that normally grow straight and tall might become bent or twisted.
That idea fascinates me. I often find my gaze turning upward, looking for interesting patterns in the way branches have grown.
I’m not sure I like the combination of Blue Violet on this color of paper. Browns and dark greens work much better. But one of the purposes for this sketching habit is trying different things to see what works and what doesn’t.
Prismacolor Marine Green on Canson Mi-Teintes Moonstone
Yes. You read that right. Drawn with the left hand.
The reason is that I sliced the knuckle on the third finger of my right hand on Tuesday evening. Bled like a stuck pig! I wasn’t sure what to expect the next day. But Neal bandaged me up and we took Tuesday evening easy.
Wednesday, I remembered reading about someone who was learning (or had learned) to draw with their non dominant hand. Since it was a bit painful to draw with my right hand, I decided to try sketching with my left hand.
The result was surprising. I could tell I’d drawn a tree. I had fairly good control of the pencil and managed to get decent values. But the appearance was very loose and sketchy. I didn’t even try to make long, graceful strokes; instead I made short marks with medium-light pressure and layered strokes to darken the values.
As different as this is, I liked it immediately.
I still do!
Prismacolor Copenhagen Blue on Canson Mi-Teintes Moonstone
I liked the tree study drawn with my left hand so much that I immediately did another sketch with that hand.
I used the same short strokes in multiple layers in the shadows. This kind of short stroke overlapping in uneven patterns really were useful in drawing these two mountains.
I even got a bit daring and added birds!
Prismacolor Peacock Blue on Canson Mi-Teintes Moonstone
All I can say about this sketch is that there are some things you should never try to draw without a reference photo.
I was trying to figure out how I would draw long, curly hair. I thought I knew what to do. Everybody knows what long, curly hair looks like, right?
The sketching went well, but before I finished, I realized that I hadn’t drawn long, curly hair; I had drawn long, wavy hair.
It’s a nice sketch.
Prismacolor Indigo Blue on Strathmore Artagain Paper Flannel Grey
Beyond those trumpet vines I sketched at the beginning of the week there are several huge trees. Earlier this spring, property was sold in that area, and the trees at the back of the property were stripped of dead wood and low branches.
Usually, I see these trees in the afternoon, when these branches are deep in shadow.
Today, I saw them in the morning. Those brightly lighted stubs of branches caught my eye. So did the way these three huge, vertical branches are growing.
Derwent Drawing Sepia (Red) on Strathmore Artagain Beachsand Ivory
Late in the week, after my injury had healed enough for right-handed drawing again, I found myself bored with the whole process. Nothing looked interesting out the back window or from the front porch. I was too lazy to search through my photo files for something to draw. So I just sat for a while, waiting for an idea.
The idea was to draw left-handed again; to see what happened. Could I duplicate what I’d done earlier in the week?
The answer was yes.
This time, I got out my half-dozen or so Derwent Drawing pencils. I’ve had them quite a while, but haven’t done much with them. That was certainly my loss, because they’re great for sketching! They go onto the paper so smoothly and nicely.
This sepia color is also perfect for this color of paper.
And I’m really starting to like this bolder style of sketching!
Derwent Drawing Chocolate on Strathmore Artagain Beachsand Ivory
We took an elderly friend and one of her pets to a vet this afternoon. The news was not good and the pet was euthanized. I wasn’t attached to the pet, but I have lost pets to which I was attached.
When I got home, I drew this sketch as a way of processing what had happened: A routine vet visit with unexpected results.
Once again, I used my left hand because for some reason, that seemed appropriate.
Derwent Drawing Ivory Black on Canson Mi-Teintes Moonstone
The idea of branches and trees standing against the elements while they have been hollowed out fascinates me. I’ve seen more than one huge branch that looked solid brought down in a storm, or cut down . It’s only when you see the branch severed like this that you realize the interior damage.
I drew this from memory and imagination. My main goal was creating a wide range of values while using mainly lines. I did shade the darkness inside the hollowed out branch stub, but everything else is line work.
Derwent Drawing Chinese White on Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Grey
With this sketch, I wanted to try drawing something that looked three dimensional while using white on darker paper. The results would have been better with a darker paper, but this still turned out well.
Derwent Drawing Chocolate on Canson Mi-Teintes Buff
I see this telephone pole almost every time I look out a certain window. We pass it every time we drive away from the house or return.
But I’m rarely looking at it.
Today, the sun was shining on it and it caught my eye.
After I’d drawn it, I looked at what I’d drawn, and thought, “Aren’t telephone poles usually round?”
I’m going to have to walk out some time and take a look at this one.
Derwent Drawing Olive Green on Canson Mi-Teintes Light Grey
This concludes the collection of sketches for the week of July 19. I returned to the cat’s indoor scratching branch as the subject.
I have nothing special to say about this beyond my attempt to be a little more careful in drawing it accurately. I tend to embellish when drawing trees and branches like this, just to play with line and value.
This week was good for sketching despite all the setbacks and unusual events. I’m quite pleased with these sketches.
I’m also quite pleased with the realization that my sketching abilities have improved since I began this challenge on July 3. It’s even more satisfying to realize that when I take the time to sketch more carefully, the results are even better.
I just wish I was better at sketching in full color!
I hope you’ll join me in developing your own sketching habit.
And if you’ve created some sketches during the week of July 19, I invite you to share them. I’ll be happy to add them as a reader’s sketch gallery to this post!
I have a confession to make. I was a long time fully understanding the importance of pencil strokes to the artwork I created. For the longest time, I was more concerned with just getting color on the paper than with how I put it there.
So I’m delighted to have received this question from Arthur.
A question for you. How important are the pencil strokes we use, and what do you recommend?
If you’ve listened to art-talk long enough, you’ve no doubt heard the phrase “brush work.” Brush work refers to the way an oil painter (or acrylic painter) uses his or her brush to put paint on the canvas.
Brush strokes can be very fine or quite heavy. They can leave no mark at all in the paint or they can make paint very thick and textured.
The artist decides what type of stroke to use based on the affect he or she wants to create.
The same holds true for colored pencil work.
No. You don’t create physical texture with colored pencils like you could with oil paints or acrylics.
But you do create the appearance of texture, and how you put the color onto the paper is just as important to you as brush work is to an oil painter.
Some artists always use the same type of stroke no matter what they draw, and they get excellent results.
I prefer to match the type of stroke to whatever I’m drawing, because that works best for me.
When drawing hair or grass, I use curving, directional strokes. For trees, I use a squiggly stroke and tap in accents or details with a stippling stroke. Base layers are often applied with parallel or cross-hatching strokes, and I sometimes even use the side of a pencil. All of those pencil strokes are important to my drawing methods and style.
Let’s look at some examples of how I use pencil strokes for different applications. I chose each of the following sketches because they show stroke work more clearly than more finished work.
Blick Studio on Fisher 400 sanded Paper.
I wanted to capture to the look and texture of a dead branch that still has some bark. I used long, steady strokes for the smaller branches, but used mostly short strokes for the main branch.
Combined with differing values and overlapping, the shorter strokes produced a much more realistic bark look.
Derwent Lightfast pencils on Lux Archival sanded paper.
I had more time when I drew Three Trees, but I still matched pencil strokes to different parts of the composition.
For example, the fine branches at the top of the drawing were drawn with short, broken strokes. That was the only way I could produce fine lines with such soft pencils.
For the larger branches and trunks, I used a mix of long and short strokes, but blended them together to “shade” color.
In the grass, I combined short, directional strokes with stippling (tapping) strokes. That was the only way to get a grassy look.
Blick Studio on Stonehenge.
This is an example of all directional strokes.
This is the tail of one of our long-haired cats. She lay still just about long enough for me to sketch this. Using this type of stroke helped me get as much of her drawn as I was able to in the amount of time available. In this case, the importance of my pencil strokes cannot be ignored!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, some artists use the same stroke all the time or use a limited variety of strokes to create stunning works of art. Other artists such as myself prefer to use different strokes to create visual textures.
There is no right or wrong way to draw, in other words.
What it all comes down to in the end is what works best for you. I encourage you to practice using different types of strokes to create different affects, then use those that work best for you.
Some time ago, I wrote an article for EmptyEasel on different types of pencil strokes. You can read The Five Basic Colored Pencil Strokes here for more information.
The weekly sketch along continues. I didn’t get quite as much sketching time in this week, but I still finished several sketches for the week of July 12.
We live across from a historic home that has become a local museum. The house was built by a prosperous business man in the 1800s, and it has two stone hitching posts at the curb. One on each side of the front walk.
I’ve sketched them more than once and have referred to them many more times. The most recent appearance of them here on this blog was as the subject for a tutorial on using GIMP to create digital line drawings.
I started the sketching week by sketching one of the posts with the evening sunlight striking it.
I believe the paper is Strathmore Artagain. It’s too smooth to be Canson Mi-Teintes, and too “hard” to be Stonehenge. It also has a faint fiber-like pattern embedded in the paper. That’s standard with Artagain.
I used Blick Studio White for most of the sketching and I sketched the highlights first. It was my intention to use just white, but the paper really wasn’t dark enough for that, so I used Blick Studio Black in the shadows.
Blick Studio Scarlet Red, Vermillion, and Dark Grass Green on Bristol vellum.
This one is from my imagination. It’s also a lesson in discipline.
I didn’t feel like sketching all day and it was evening before I picked up a pencil and piece of paper. I’d had a headache all day, and just wanted to quit for the day.
But I sat down in the window seat in the room that used to be my studio, looked up at the White pine I sketched so many times last week, and decided to draw a flower instead.
I don’t know if there’s a real flower that looks like this, but that doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that the day didn’t end without a sketch of some type.
One thing I’m learning is that when I sketch something that isn’t a tree, I have a difficult time placing it on the piece of paper.
The first two sketches above would have easily fit on a 4-inch square piece of paper. I didn’t size them properly or place them very well.
Actually, I didn’t do that with this sketch, either. But that was easy to compensate for with a little background shading.
This is part of a dried up tree branch that I brought into the house in 2018 for the cats to claw and play on. It’s really served it’s purpose well.
It’s also a great subject for sketching!
I used Blick Studio Brown to draw this on Bristol vellum.
I must confess that I really like the Blick Studio pencils on more textured paper. They’re an absolute delight on sanded art papers and they work pretty well on Canson Mi-Teintes and even Stonehenge.
But they are a struggle on Bristol Vellum. On a smoother paper like this, I got the best results drawing with heavier pressure. That’s what I did in the background. It worked well, but it feels so unnatural.
This is another sketch using Blick Studio on Bristol Vellum. This time, I used medium heavy pressure and bold strokes to draw a tree branch by shading the negative spaces.
This piece was inspired by a view of tree branches against a night sky late one night. At that time, I thought about drawing the branches on black paper by shading the night sky. This experiment on white paper proved one thing: It can be done.
On Thursday, we drove to El Dorado, Kansas. It rained part way there and all the way back. Sometimes the rain was quite heavy.
One of the things I like about the Flint Hills is the vastness. All that space and distance is a delight to behold and something I really think about drawing a lot.
Throw in gray light, rain, and mist and the vastness takes on a totally different appearance.
When we got home again, I tried to capture what I’d seen with pencil and paper. Bristol Vellum and Blick Studio again. Cold Grey this time.
This isn’t very dark and it isn’t as complete as I’d hoped, but one of my rules for this sketch habit is to never return to a sketch once I set it aside.
One of the neatest things about sketching like this is trying new pencils and paper. This sketch was drawn with the only Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor pencil I own. True Blue. I used it on Bristol Vellum to draw these trees from imagination.
I wanted to see how I liked the Polycolor. It was a delight to use.
I also wanted to see if I could shade by using nothing but lines. So I used different types of lines from very thick to very thin, different values, and overlapping lines to draw these trees.
Yes, I did catch myself shading once or twice, but for the most part, the illusion of space in this sketch was done with nothing but lines.
Even the light, broad strokes in the background are lines drawn with the side of the pencil and light pressure.
Back to the cat’s scratching branch!
This time, I paired Canson Mi-Teintes Pearl Grey paper with a Caran d’Ache Pablo pencil (Flame Red.) This is another type of pencil I’ve not used before. I have only one or two colors.
I’ve heard that Pablos are to Luminance with Verithins are to Prismacolor. A harder, thinner form of the same basic pencil.
But I found this Pablo pencil to be much softer than the Verithin. It was very easy to get nice, dark values even with this color.
Once again, I failed to place this sketch very well on the paper. I really need to work on that. But I kept drawing until it looked pretty good.
At least to me.
The last two sketches are Saturday sketches. Both are based on a towering elm in front of our house.
This one is of a group of dead branches several feet up. I used Derwent Lightfast on white Stonehenge.
I like the Derwent Lightfast pencils. I’ve sketched with them quite a bit this year. But they’re quite soft and aren’t a very good pencil for drawing crisp lines unless you keep a sharpener handy.
I don’t sharpen pencils when I sketch. I try to start with sharp pencils, then work with what I have until I finish. Since most sketches are 30 minutes or less, that works fine.
Unless I’m using a very soft pencil.
The last sketch for this week is also based on that elm tree, but at some point in the future. I simply drew the bottom of the trunk, then turned it into a stump.
I’m not sure why other than the fact that stumps are part of the legacy of trees that fascinate me.
This sketch is on Stonehenge White and I used Derwent Drawing Sanquine.
Despite what seemed to me like a slow start, I ended up with nine sketches.
What’s even more impressive to me is that I now have a collection of 27 4×6 inch sketches when I include the five I did early this year.
I’m really liking this new sketching habit!
I hope you’ll join me in developing your own sketching habit.
And if you’ve created some sketches during the week of July 12, I invite you to share them. I’ll be happy to add them as a reader’s sketch gallery to this post!
Today, I want to talk about how I store my colored pencils. To begin, here’s the reader question.
Is it best to keep pencils in medal tray in which they were purchased or do you put in a container that allows pencils to stand up? Thanks
Since those beautiful colored pencils can be expensive, it’s important to know how to keep them safe and useful when we’re not drawing.
Now I know every artist is different, and we all have our preferences about storage. So the best way to tackle this topic is to tell you what I do. If that works for you, great.
If not, that’s okay too.
I use a variety of methods for storing colored pencils. How do I decide when method to use? There are a couple of factors.
My first choice is to keep new pencils in the tins in which they arrived. What’s my thinking on that?
First, if a tin is sturdy enough to keep the pencils safe during shipping, then the tin is probably sturdy enough to keep the pencils safe on my shelf. Even if a cat happens to knock the tin to the floor.
Second, many tins also include slotted plastic trays, with a slot for each pencil. Faber-Castell does this and it’s a great way to keep pencils from rolling around if the tin gets jostled.
It’s also a great way to keep pencils from rolling off a desk or table while I’m working. But now I digress.
Third, tins are compact and stream-lined. I can slide them into a tote or carry case so I can take pencils when I go traveling.
Fourth—and this may really be a stretch for a lot of you—I arrange my pencils according to height in the tin. It’s easy to see what colors I need to restock.
(Yes. I really do this with the Polychromos pencils. It’s the best way I’ve found to easily manage inventory and re-ordering.)
When I started taking art supplies to horse shows, I bought a couple of plastic lure boxes designed for fishermen. I actually found them in the sporting goods section of Wal-Mart.
Two of them handled a full set of Prismacolor pencils back then (there were only 96 colors, if I remember correctly.) I sort pencils by color, with the most often used pencils in one box and others in the second box.
Those Prismacolor pencils are still in those trays and, although the trays are starting to show wear-and-tear after thirty years or so, they’re still very solid and sturdy.
They’re not as compact to pack for travel as the pencil tins, but I can get both of them into a laptop carrier along with a couple of pads of paper, a working in progress if it’s in a working mat assembly, and even my trusty mechanical sharpener.
Now sometimes, I don’t buy new pencils by the set. For example, I’ve been collecting Derwent Lightfast pencils and Caran d’Ache Luminance one or two colors at a time. Obviously, there are no tins to store them in.
I also don’t want to put them into the trays with the Prismacolor pencils, so I keep them in ceramic mugs or glass cups. The cups are on a shelf along with the tins of Polychromos and other pencils. I admit that they’re not as secure as the pencils in the tins. If they fall, they scatter.
But I have put them high enough that even the adult cats are wary of jumping up there.
I also recently purchased a set of Blick Studio pencils, and while I like the pencils quite a bit, the tin was less than ideal for storage. The pencils arrived in good shape, but I put them all in a big coffee mug. The mug is easy to carry to my front porch or back yard for sketching.
And I like the message. Not bad advice!
Open stock replacement pencils and Prismacolor Verithin pencils are also in cups.
I also keep a few select pencils in a light-weight plastic sleeve. I can easily grab them for short trips, along with my package of 4×6 sketching papers.
Short answer, I store my colored pencils in whatever way is the most secure, and the most convenient.
That’s what I recommend for you. If you have a permanent studio space and rarely travel with pencils, then storage cabinets and shelving are probably the better solution for you.
But maybe you’re like me. You don’t have a permanent studio space and you like to travel with pencils and paper.
In that case, then you might do better with some of my storage solutions.
I’d like to introduce you to a new art habit I’m attempting to develop. A weekly sketch along.
And I invite you to join me!
This idea has been a long time coming, and I didn’t think of it on my own; I had help. A lot of help.
I don’t know if you’re aware of it or not, but John Middick started a weekly colored pencil podcast several years ago. He and a variety of guests talk about all things colored pencil.
I listen as often as possible, but usually as time allows. When I heard the topic for this podcast, I knew I had to MAKE time to listen.
The truth is that I’ve had a terrible time making time for art for the last year and half. It took six months to finish a portrait that should have take three, and the last two pieces I started (both early this year) are still unfinished.
I enjoy drawing once I start, and that portrait was the best portrait I’ve ever done, but it was still a struggle to make myself go to the easel. Goals weren’t working. Self-talks weren’t working. Even the disappointment of getting through another day (or another week) without picking up a pencil didn’t help.
I had no idea why.
But something told me I needed to hear this podcast. So when I got notice that the early version was available to Monthly Sharpener members, I sat down on Saturday and listened.
I’m glad I did.
Afterward, I decided to stop trying to make everything I do a “finished piece.” Instead, I grabbed pencils and paper, sat on my front porch, and dashed off five 4×6 inch sketches of one of my favorite things. Tree branches! It was great.
And they all turned out! That was even better.
Because of that, I changed my weekly art goal from three hours of drawing a week to six 4×6 sketches a week. That may seem like a small thing, but I can tell you it made a difference. The first week, I missed sketching only one day and I still ended up with fifteen sketches. (That doesn’t include an illustration I made for one of this past week’s blog posts.)
It turned out so well, I decided to sketch on a regular basis.
I also decided to sketch from life as much as possible, and to make a personal art challenge.
Here’s the collection of sketches from the first week.
What I’ve found from sketching and life drawing is that it’s easier to loosen up and just draw what I see, then let it go and move on. Limiting myself to one color or to a limited number of colors has also helped.
If you’re having trouble getting motivated to draw, maybe this is the solution.
Would you like to join me in this weekly sketch along? I hope so.
Your sketches can be any size you like. They don’t have to be finished or perfect, but I suggest you not work on a sketch more than one work session. I refrained from working on one or two two days in a row, though I really wanted to. The idea is to start and finish without fretting over perfection.
You don’t have to post anything if you prefer not to, but I’d be delighted to see your sketch (or sketches) for the week.
Today’s post is all about comparing colored pencil methods.
Choosing between colored pencil methods can be a challenge. For one thing, there are nearly as many methods of drawing with colored pencils as there are artists using colored pencils.
And even though two artists may produce similar styles and types of work, the methods they use differ widely.
So how do you know which method is best for you?
As universal as drawing with colored pencils seems, the method you use depends largely on three things:
Believe it or not, some methods work better on smooth paper than on rough. Some methods also work best with high-quality pencils, and sometimes, the method that’s best for you is dependent on your artistic temperament: How you like to put color on the paper.
Choose the wrong method for your tools and personality, and you may very well give up on colored pencils before finishing your second piece.
But find the right method, and you can draw for years and enjoy almost every minute of it!
That’s why it’s important to know the basics of various colored pencil drawing methods. If nothing else, you can rule out those methods that don’t appeal to you at all!
Before we get started, let me briefly explain terms.
Regardless of the way you draw, you’re likely to work in two basic phases.
The first phase is what I call an under drawing. It’s the first layers of color you put on the paper no matter what method of drawing you use. The under drawing may consist of just a couple of layers or it may involve as many as six to ten layers.
It doesn’t matter what colors you use in the under drawing. It’s still an under drawing.
The second phase is the over drawing. In this phase, you’re developing the colors, values, and details you established in the first phase.
For the purposes of this article, I’ll be comparing different methods for drawing the under drawing, since the over drawing is fairly consistent no matter which method you prefer.
To keep the discussion brief, I’m limiting it to the methods I use most often: Complementary, direct, and umber under drawing method.
As mentioned above, these names refer to the way I draw the under drawing. Once I have a complete under drawing, the over drawing is pretty much the same from one method to the next.
With this method, the under drawing is drawn in colors that are opposite the the color wheel from the final colors of the drawing.
In the color wheel shown here, I’ve circled two complements; red and green. If you wanted to draw something green using this method of drawing, you’d begin by drawing the under drawing in shades of red.
The drawing, Green Pastures, was drawn over a complementary under drawing. The illustration below shows the finished under drawing (top) and the finished drawing.
Local color (the finished colors) were glazed over the under drawing.
Tips for Using the Complementary Drawing Method
Take careful note of the local colors of your subject. A blue-green object requires a different complement (red-orange) than a yellow-green object (red-blue). The more precisely you identify the local colors and their complements, the better this method works.
For environmental greens, consider using earth tones as the complements. A grassy field on a sunny day benefits from an under drawing in cool browns, for example.
This piece also began with a complementary under drawing, with different colors for each area.
Download my free color wheel template and make your own color wheel. Instructions are included.
Direct drawing is probably the most popular method of drawing with colored pencils because it’s natural. You draw the under drawing with the same colors with which you draw the over drawing. There usually isn’t a moment when you say to yourself, “The under drawing is done.” Instead, you continue layering until you finish the drawing.
This illustration shows the under drawing stage of a drawing in which I used the direct method.
With this method, you develop detail and value—just as you do with the other methods. But you also make color choices. The drawing develops at all three levels at the same pace.
The drawing moves without notice from the under drawing phase to the over drawing phase.
Tips for Using the Direct Drawing Method
Start with light colors and light pressure. Use lighter values of the local color if you wish, or simply start with very light pressure and increase the amount of pressure layer by layer.
Build color and value slowly. It’s easier to increase vibrant color and strong values than it is to decrease it.
Expect to mix colors to get the exact color you want. I didn’t have one color that was an exact match for the palomino color of the horse in this example, so I combined several shades of yellow- and red-browns.
This is my preferred method; the method I use to draw horses, landscapes, and almost anything else I want to draw. That doesn’t make it better than any of the others. It just means it works best for me.
With this method, I always start with a medium-value earth tone such as Prismacolor Light Umber. I develop the values, shapes, and many details using this color.
I layer color over the finished under drawing.
This is a horse portrait using an umber under drawing.
Tips for Using the Umber Under Drawing Method
Use an earth tone that’s either neutral in color (not too blue or too yellow) or that is the complement of the final color. I use a light umber most of the time, because it’s a light brown that’s still dark enough to draw nice dark values. But it’s a little on the warm side, so if I’m drawing a subject that will feature warm colors in the over drawing, I might switch to a darker shade, which is slightly bluer in color.
There is no easy way to categorize drawing methods. The methods I described above are not isolated. You can combine various aspects of them as you like, so they’re more like points on a line.
Begin with light pressure and build value slowly, layer by layer.
Choose middle value colors. The color needs to be dark enough to impact the over drawing, but light enough that it doesn’t overwhelm the over drawing.
Work around the highlights. It’s much easier to preserve the highlights than to restore them.
When drawing landscapes, don’t under draw the sky unless there are clouds. A clear, blue sky should be the purest color in your landscape, so it doesn’t need an under drawing.
A few weeks back, I answered a reader question about knowing how to choose colors for layering. That reader wanted to know how to create color depth by layering. Today’s reader is asking a similar question, but wants to know how to mix colors for color matching.
Here’s her question.
I am taking some drawing and painting classes online through the Continuing Education for older adults. In the portrait class, I try to use colored pencils.
Should I use an available color according to the area of the skin tone, or mix the colors as a wet paint artists do? To mix or not to mix, that is the question!
Thank you for your very helpful emails, which I enjoy reading like short novels.
Your invisible student, Natalka
In a perfect world, every line of pencils would include perfect color matches for whatever you want to draw.
In the real world, however, that’s simply not possible. There are so many variations in every color that exact matches are impossible.
Even the color white has so many nuances based on surface texture, lighting, and other things that you could have a full set of pencils of nothing but shades of white, and still have to mix colors.
Most colored pencil artists have to mix most of the colors they need to create their art work.
But don’t let that scare you. Here’s what to do.
This is a potentially complex subject. For the best results, you need a basic understanding of the nature of colored pencils and of color theory. For good information on that, I recommend Amy Lindenberger’s excellent book, Colors: A Workbook.
I bought the book when it first came out, did the exercises, and learned a lot about color mixing with colored pencils. I still have the tools from those exercises, and I still use them.
The principles Amy discusses in this book apply to every subject. Yes. Even portraits!
So this is a great first step in understanding how better to mix colors for color matching, no matter what your favorite subject is.
Contains an affiliate link.
Now, back to the post….
I recently wrote a tutorial describing a three-step process for choosing colors that I learned as an oil painter. You can read that tutorial here. In short, it goes something like this:
Determine the main (or base) color of the area.
For example, what is the main color of the skin in your portrait? Is it more pink or does it lean toward brown? Maybe it’s more cream-colored or even some other color.
Consider the overall face, not the differences between light and dark. Most of the time, when you’re beginning, you’re not drawing a subject with complex lighting. The light is usually pretty direct from one light source, like the lighting on this plaster bust.
For most subjects that are lighted with one light source, you’ll be able to create the differences in light and shadow by choosing the influencing color (step 2.)
Later, after you’ve learned how to choose colors to mix, you’ll be able to refine the color selection method for specific areas.
Now decide what color you need to add to the main color to get closer to the colors on your model or in the reference photo. On a skin tone, this could be a brown, a pink, some shade of red, or even a hint of green or blue.
You may have to do a little experimenting to get the best influencing color. If so, use the same kind of paper you’re drawing on, and make color swatches. Each swatch should start with the main color, then layer other colors over it.
I rested my left hand beside a piece of white paper and did a color matching exercise.
First, I determined that the closest match of the colors I had with me was Beige, so I made three boxes with Beige across the top.
Next, I compared my skin color with the beige boxes and selected two other colors as possible influencing colors. They were Raw Umber and Ice Blue. The first box in the second row shows Raw Umber layered over Beige. The middle box shows Ice Blue layered over Beige.
Then I added Pink to the third box in the bottom row, just to see what it looked like and because most people think skin tones have to have pink in them.
Some skin tones do, but the closest match to my skin tone was Beige mixed with Raw Umber.
Most of the time, you’ll also need one or two other colors to tint each area. These colors will be the subtle colors that give your portrait life.
Make more color swatches and test the colors you think will tint your layers to right shade.
I described this process in more detail here. The sample in that post is a rose, but this color selection and mixing process works the same for anything you want to draw.
Since it’s impossible to find exact matches for all the colors you’re likely to draw, you will be doing a lot of color mixing. That’s just the nature of the drawing (or painting) process.
And it will never end. You’ll always find a need for a subtle color shift that’s unique to a project.
So be prepared to practice, experiment, and, yes, make mistakes.