Colored Pencil Tips for New Artists

Sometime ago, I wrote a post sharing 8 things I wished I’d known when I started as an artist. Those tips apply to all forms of art, so today, I want to share specific colored pencil tips for new artists.

As with most things, when you first begin, the world is at your feet. The sky’s the limit! Colored pencils are the best art medium ever and you’re going to create great art from the start.

Then reality hits.

You’re much better equipped for that reality if you remember these eight things.

Colored Pencil Tips for New Artists

1. Colored Pencils are S-L-O-W!!!

New products are being developed all the time that can speed up the drawing process for colored pencil artists. Watercolor pencils. Sanded art papers. Great new blending tools.

But colored pencils are still a naturally slow medium, and if you prefer traditional colored pencils on traditional papers, expect to spend hours and hours on each piece.

Colored Pencil Tips for New Artists

Especially if you prefer producing realistic work. Take your time and enjoy the process.

2. Not All Colored Pencils are the Same

Aside from variations in labeling and exterior treatment, most colored pencils look the same. Yes, some are round and some are octagonal. Most are wood-encased, and others have no casing at all. And they all look like pencils!

But they don’t all perform the same way. A set of cheap pencils purchased at the local craft store do not perform the same as a set of high quality pencils purchase from a dedicated art supply store.

To keep frustration levels to a minimum, start with the best pencils you can afford.

3. You Don’t Need a Full Set of Pencils

Despite all those lovely, beautiful, enticing colors, you can make a good start with just a few colors. Small sets force you to learn how to layer colors to mix new colors. You may not like all the new colors you make. I can just about guarantee you’ll hate a lot of them.

But that’s all right. Most artists learn more from their mistakes, than from the things that go right.

Smaller sets are also less expensive. If you make a few drawings, then decide you prefer another medium, you can give that small set away without guilt. Or regret!

4. Sharp is Good, but Not Always Best

You won’t have to watch many videos or do many tutorials to start hearing how important sharp pencils are. For many applications, that is true.

But dull and even blunt pencils are also useful in some applications. Try them for putting thin, nearly transparent color into larger areas.

Colored Pencil Tips for New Artists

5. You Don’t Need Solvents to Get Smooth Color

For years, colored pencil artists created wonderful works of art using nothing but pencils and paper.

Then someone discovered colored pencil layers could be dissolved and blended with solvents. Solvents allowed color to “soak” into the paper and fill in the tooth of the paper without damaging the tooth.

That meant artists could add more layers, get smoother color, finish faster, and even work larger.

That doesn’t mean you have to solvents. A lot of artists prefer the way their work looks if they don’t use solvents.

So if you don’t like the look of solvent-blended color, or are allergic to solvents, don’t worry! You can still make great art the old-fashioned way.

6. You Don’t Need Fancy Tools

There are a lot of new tools, gadgets, devices, and other accessories for the colored pencil artist in today’s market. All of them are useful to someone.

Most of them are fun to try.

Some of them may even help you.

But beginners don’t really need them. As a matter of fact, adding tools to your toolbox before you know how to make the pencils and paper work together causes confusion and maybe frustration.

7. Experiment!

Don’t be afraid to make bad art. All of us have done it!

Colored Pencil Tips for New Artists
File written by Adobe Photoshop? 4.0

When you wonder if two colors work together, the best way to find out is to try them together. If they do, great!

If they don’t, then you’ve learned something not to do.

8. Have fun.

I can’t mention this often enough.

That’s because it’s so easy to get caught up in the creative process that you forget to have fun. Especially after you’ve been drawing for a while and you really want to improve.

The best way to improve is to do a lot of drawings. The best way to do a lot of drawings is to have fun with every drawing.

Those are My Tips Colored Pencil Tips for New Artists

Keep them in mind as you begin exploring your colored pencils and your art journey will get off to a much better start.

They also work for those of us who have been making art for a while.

Sometimes we forget!

How to Draw Plants in Colored Pencil

How to Draw Plants in Colored Pencil

Today’s Q&A Wednesday post includes a mini tutorial on how to draw plants. Here’s the reader’s question to get us started.

Hi, Carrie,

I’ve been wanting to draw some bear cubs I saw playing in a meadow with their mom.  I just can’t figure out how to do this meadow, with all the clover and daisy flowers interspersed. I was working on the little bear, and just sort of gave up because I didn’t know how to do a good job with the plants.

Do you have any advice?  I am getting a lot out of the tutorials, but haven’t seen anything that addressed this problem.

Thanks for any help you can give.

Pam

How to Draw Plants in Colored Pencil

I want to thank Pam, who gave me permission to use her reference photo and drawing to illustrate this post. So let’s begin by taking a look at both.

This is the photograph Pam took and is using for a reference.

Here’s Pam’s drawing so far.

Pam has already made a couple of wise decisions.

First, she cropped the reference photo to focus on the bear cub. By doing so, she removed a lot of area at the top and bottom of the composition.

Secondly, she started the process of developing those background greens by layering a base green over everything but the cub and the flowers.

So kudos to Pam for getting off to a good start.

As frustrated as she is, what I think Pam really needs is a little encouragement. She’s done a good job starting the flowers around the bear cub, so she doesn’t really need advice about how to draw plants.

But let me make a couple of suggestions that will help Pam finish this piece.

How to Draw Plants in Colored Pencil

In studying Pam’s photo and drawing, it’s easy to see she’s trying to solve two problems. How should she draw the background, and how should she draw the foreground?

Yes, both areas have the same flowers and grass in them. But in order to make the drawing look right, the two areas need to be drawn differently.

The Background

Drawing the background is fairly easy. There isn’t much detail. Your mind tells you there’s a lot because it knows the same flowers and plants are in the background that are in the foreground. The foreground plants look difficult, so the background has got to be difficult, too. Right?

But look at just the background. There really isn’t very much there. Just shades of green and dots of white.

So begin by putting down a base layer of green with a couple of light-medium-value yellowish greens. Pam can continue with the green she started applying in the drawing.

Layer that as smoothly as possible with light pressure, a reasonably sharp pencil, and whatever strokes give you smooth color. But don’t worry about filling every paper hole.

Next, layer a one or two medium-dark value greens over the same area. Use the same pressure.

When you have enough color on the paper, warm up a piece of mounting putty by rolling it between your hands. Then shape it like this or roll a small piece into a ball.

How to Draw Plants

Press the mounting putty onto the background here and there to lift color and create light spots. Those light spots should look like blurry, light-colored flowers.

If you make too many, fill in some of them again. If they don’t look light enough, add a little bit of very light color to them. Don’t add white. That might make them too bright!

My Test Sample

The left side shows two warm, light greens layered one over the other. The right side shows two additional, slightly darker colors layered over them. Then I added more layers of one of the lighter colors.

After that, I used mounting putty to lift color randomly. This is the result.

I discovered you don’t need much of a point on the mounting putty. Using a small piece rolled into a ball also works.

Another discovery was using a small “edge” of mounting putty to make elliptical shapes. Flowers are seen from different angles in nature, so don’t make them all round in your art.

This test is on Bristol paper and is nowhere near finished, but it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about.

If I were doing this for a “real drawing” instead of a test sample, I’d do a few layers of greens, then lift color, then do a few more layers and lift more color. That would create greater variety in the blurred shapes, and result in a more natural appearance.

The Foreground

Here’s the reference photo cropped to show the foreground. I confess that looking just at this gives me pause, too. I can certainly understand Pam’s difficulties!

How to Draw Plants

But is it really that difficult to draw?

Remember, the focus is on the bear cub. The meadow is the “stage” for the bear cub. Unless hyper-realism is your goal, these parts of the composition should not be as crisp and clear as the bear cub.

And look at that crop above. Even in the photograph, the flowers in the foreground are also blurry in appearance.

What does that mean? Drawing them in sharp focus makes more work than is necessary.

Don’t forget that Pam has already made a very good start in this area. She doesn’t have that much more work to do. (That’s why I think Pam really needs a little encouragement and direction.)

So here’s what I’d do.

First, I’d stroke some highlights into the stems and leaves with a very light yellow, cream, or light, warm gray.

Then I’d layer the lightest green Pam has used so far over all of the middle ground and foreground. Use light pressure and sharp pencils with whatever stroke works best. A lot of artists recommend circular strokes, but I also get good results with carefully applied directional strokes. Work around the flowers and the bear, but glaze green over everything else.

Then continue developing the plants that have already been drawn. Darken the shadows, work on the highlights, and pay attention to the edges. Use light pressure and sharp pencils.

The shadows don’t need to be real dark, so alternate the darker green with one of the lighter greens you already used.

Finally, finish the flowers by working on their shadows and highlights.

A Word of Caution

Don’t get too detailed with these parts of the drawing. They should look real, but they shouldn’t draw attention away from the bear cub.

To make sure they don’t, do most of the detailing described above around the bear cub. As you move away from the bear cub, soften the details and don’t add as many.

If the foreground looks too busy after you’ve finished, glaze one of the base greens over it to soften the edges.

There’s One Way to Draw Plants

There are two keys to remember when it comes to deciding how to draw plants in a composition like this.

First, study the reference photo. How do the plants look? Are they in sharp focus or are they blurred? How much detail to do you really see?

Second, decide how you want to draw the scene, and determine how much of the detail you need to draw to get the look you want. In most cases, draw only as much detail as necessary to create the look you want.

Pam made a good start on this by cropping her reference photo first. That left a lot fewer plants to draw.

Now all she needs to do is layer color and add just enough detailing to finish the scene.

My Review of Titanium White

My Review of Titanium White

I mentioned a few posts ago that I’d started experimenting with some of the products by Brush & Pencil. Today, I’d like to offer my review of Titanium White pigment and share one particularly exciting (to me) unexpected benefit.

My Review of Titanium White

Titanium White is pure, white pigment; the same pigment used in making white pencils. The pigment, which comes in powder form, can be applied dry by brush or sponge applicator. You can also mix it with Touch-Up Texture and paint it onto a work-in-progress.

Since there is no filler in the pigment, it goes onto the paper fairly opaque, but you can spread it thin enough to create varying degrees of translucency.

Titanium White pigment and white colored pencils work extremely well together. Use Titanium White pigment for larger areas, and pencils for smaller areas or details. Alyona Nickelsen uses Titanium White and white colored pencils to lighten parts of her under paintings before the color glazing phase.

Because it’s powder with no filler or binder, you must seal it with ACP Textured Fixative before adding more color.

You can remove Titanium White pigment with mounting putty until it’s sealed. Then it becomes permanent.

My experience with this product is still limited to two experiments. One wet, and one dry.

Titanium White mixed with Touch-Up Texture

My first experiment with Titanium White involved a small landscape called Blazing Sunset. When the landscape looked like this, I thought I’d finished it. It looked complete.

Review of Titanium White mixed with Touch-Up Texture

Then I decided to add a bright gleam of sunlight streaming through the clouds.

I tried layering lighter colors over the sky, but in vain. Even sealing the painting with ACP Textured Fixative didn’t help. Those bright values continued to elude me.

As you can see here, it was a pretty good painting. The additional details added to my overall satisfaction, but it still wasn’t quite right.

So I mixed up a small amount of Titanium White with Touch-Up Texture, then painted that over the sun. It went onto the painting very easily and dried quickly.

And it completely covered up everything underneath.

The illustration above shows the patch of sunshine with traditional color layering. The illustration below shows the Titanium White mixture painted over the area. Quite a significant difference!

Once the surface dried, I glazed color over it to get the right colors for that area and I finished the painting with no further setbacks.

The result was very pleasing. The improvement delighted me to no end.

I was even more delighted with what happened on the next experiment.

Using the Pigment Dry

I recently decided that a horse portrait wasn’t working and set it aside for later work. In the back of my mind, I’d already decided the portrait was a failure, but I lacked the courage to say so out loud. So I tucked it away in a closet with the thought that I’d stumble across it sometime in the future and be able to finish it.

Sometime that night, the thought came to mind that I should try Titanium White pigment on it. I knew the pigment was opaque mixed with Touch-Up Texture. Was it opaque enough dry to cover a failed drawing so I could start over? It was worth a try.

The next day, I started spreading Titanium White pigment over the paper. I tapped a little bit out of the container, then used a sponge applicator to spread it around and blend it into the tooth of the paper (Clairefontaine Pastelmat.)

One application covered the paper. The drawing was still visible, but I could draw over it if I wished.

Review of Titanium White used dry.

I put down a second application and the drawing was even less visible. I knew it was still there and could still see it.

Would it show through a new drawing? I didn’t think so.

I could have added a third application, and I did think about it.

Instead, I sealed the surface with three light coats of ACP Textured Fixative, letting each coat dry completely before applying the next. Three applications completely sealed the Titanium White. I could lift no white pigment by drawing my finger across the surface.

I ended up applying another layer of Titanium White. Once it’s sealed again, it will be ready for a new drawing.

That’s My Review of Titanium White Pigment

For now.

Yes. Only one of my experiments involved using Titanium White pigment the way it’s marketed. But you have to admit that the second experiment opens a lot of doors for saving drawings that might otherwise fail.

Do I recommend Titanium White pigment?

Absolutely.

For my money, this successful experiment makes Titanium White worth its purchase price. I don’t abandon that many works-in-progress anymore, but if I can blot out an entire drawing with this product, then I can certainly cover a small part of a drawing if it goes wrong.

And that does happen more often than I’d like to admit.

CP Magic April 2021 now Available

Announcing CP Magic April 2021, with featured artist Tammy Hoffert.

This issue of CP Magic is 40 pages of great and inspiring information for colored pencil artists at all levels, including two brand new features.

Here’s a peek.

What’s in CP Magic April 2021

The Featured Artist

Tammy Hoffert has been passionate about colored pencils since first trying them. She draws a variety of subjects and gives each one her special attention to detail. But a glance at her gallery of works reveals a special interest in still life and floral subjects.

April Tutorial

Tammy’s tutorial reveals that special passion, combining a beautiful butterfly and flower.

Tammy chose Canson Mi-Teintes paper (Ivy color) for capturing the delicate colors of the butterfly and the vivid pinks of the flower. She’ll show you how to draw the tiniest details in this tutorial, which she wrote with the beginners among us in mind.

CP Magic April 2021

The Great Art Adventure

If you’ve ever purchased brand new paper or the latest pencils, then hesitated to use them, you’ll love this month’s Great Art Adventure. Carrie recently had a similar experience and tells how she overcame that reluctance to “spoil new paper.”

New This Month: The Landscape Artist

Carrie launches the first of two new features with a column dedicated to landscape artists. The debut column shares tips for creating your own beautiful landscape art.

Even if you’ve never before drawn a landscape.

Also New This Month: Reader Gallery

The most exciting rollout is the Reader Gallery. This five-page gallery is reserved for the work of CP Magic readers. Each month will feature four or five pages of reader art.

But every reader who submits work is included in the online CP Magic Reader Gallery. Take a peak at the April collection here, then learn how you can submit your latest finished colored pencil artwork.

Also in CP Magic April 2021

Nothing But Pencils & Paper for Beginners

Just getting started with colored pencils? Then this monthly column is for you!

Then & Now

Every artist started somewhere. Even your favorite artists. Then & Now features “then” and “now” works to encourage all of us to keep drawing when we fell like we’ll never improve!

The Final Pencil Strokes

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

Ask Carrie

Featured Photo

About CP Magic

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

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

Get your copy of CP Magic April 2021 today.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Today’s Reader Q&A is a request for information on glazing colored pencils. Since that’s a phrase I use a lot, but really haven’t clearly defined, I thought it was time for an article about glazing colored pencils for beginners.

But first, here’s the original question.

Just starting out in pencil. What or how do you glaze in pencil? Thank you in advance.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Let’s begin with a basic definition of glazing and an example from my oil painting days.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Glazing Defined

The term “glazing” comes from the world of oil painting. It refers to the application of thin, transparent color over whatever color is already on the canvas.

In oil painting, the artist thins the paint with linseed oil, walnut oil, or another painting medium to thin the paint and make it transparent. The thin color is then applied over part of a painting to add color without hiding or covering up the details underneath.

The Old Masters used this method frequently to make adjustments or corrections. The Flemish method of oil painting relies heavily on glazing color over a half-tone under painting.

I used a variation on this method for a few years before putting my oil paints away. The slide show below shows one of those old portraits, beginning with the finished under painting.

As you scroll through the images, you’ll see a progression of glazing until the portrait is finished. The original details are visible through layers of transparent color.

Glazing with Colored Pencils

The same thing happens with colored pencils.

But with colored pencils, you don’t need to add medium because colored pencils are naturally translucent. When you layer one color over another using light pressure, the top color alters the colors underneath without covering the details. That’s why I say that most of my colored pencil work is glazing.

If you use heavier pressure to layer color, you lose a lot of the glazing properties that come naturally with colored pencils. But you can still glaze to adjust or change colors.

When Glazing is Useful

Some artists glaze color in almost every project. I tend to do that because I like starting with an umber under drawing. Once the under drawing is finished, I add colors by glazing layer by layer.

But even if you don’t start with an umber under drawing, glazing can be helpful in the following ways.

Correcting color is one instance when glazing is a valuable tool. If you need to lighten a color slightly, glaze a color of lighter value but similar color over the color already on the paper. A very light warm yellow over a darker warm yellow, for example. Such a glaze lightens the color slightly without changing the color temperature.

You can do the same to darken colors. Glazing a warm medium-value yellow over a lighter warm yellow darkens the yellow already on the paper without changing the color temperature.

Glazing is ideal for changing color. If you need to change a blue area so it’s a little greener, glaze yellow over it, for example.

You can also adjust color temperature by glazing. You have to be bit more careful, because its easy to create muddy color. Especially if you happen to use a complementary color as the glazing color.

Toning down colors by glazing a complimentary color has been helpful to me in drawing realistic landscape greens.

Glazing is also perfect for creating depth of color. I drew the red horse in the illustration below with alternating glazes of red-browns, browns, various shades of oranges and yellows, and even blues. The result was much more satisfactory than doing just a few layers of colors that closely matched the actual color of the horse.

Tips for Successful Glazes

Glazing with colored pencils involves using very light pressure to put color over what is already on the paper. If you have a naturally light hand, then you don’t need special techniques in order to glaze color.

But if you have a naturally heavy hand and you want to glaze, look for ways to apply light, thin layers of color.

Following are two things I do when I need to glaze, and that will help you.

Use the Side of a Well-Sharpened Pencil

I usually use the side of a well-sharpened pencil to glaze when I want to alter or adjust the color in an area.

I hold the pencil nearly horizontal to the paper, and let it “glide” over the paper. It is possible to apply pressure this way, but I rarely do. Instead, I use the weight of the pencil. That produces a nice, broad stroke of broken color as shown here. This is perfect for glazing.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners
Using the side of a pencil as shown here creates “broken” color. The paper or the colors already on the paper show through the glazing color, but the glazing color alters the way they look.

Use a Very Blunt Pencil

For small areas, I like using a blunt pencil such as shown below. The flattened tip works the same as the side of a well-sharpened pencil, but gives me more control.

To use a blunt or very blunt pencil, hold it in a normal position, but with the blunt side on the paper. Then make directional, circular or other strokes to glaze the area.

If you need to clean up or sharpen an edge, turn the pencil until the sharp edge is on the paper.

The pencils on the right and left are blunt. The tips are flat. The pencil in the center is well-sharpened.

In each of these situations, the part of the pencil touching the paper is bigger. That means the pencil doesn’t get very deep into the tooth of the paper. The color stays mostly on top of the tooth, and the color that’s already on the paper shows through. When you look closely at a drawing, you can see that “broken color.”

But when you view the drawing from a normal viewing distance, your eye blends the two colors.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners (in a nutshell)

You can keep glazing simple or get as involved as you wish. After all, some of the Old Masters glazed their paintings extensively and others rarely glazed color.

Whether or not you glaze is a personal choice. Your personal preferences, how you work, and how often you need to make the kinds of adjustments described above all determine how often you need to glaze.

But it can be a very useful skill, so I encourage you to experiment with it, at least a little.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

Do you have to draw under drawings when you draw with colored pencil? It seems like a lot of work for something you’re going to cover up anyway.

A reader once asked that question and I had to admit it seemed to make sense. They were right. The first layers of color on the paper are always covered up (unless you work with single layers and no blending.)

So why bother with an under drawing?

Why not go straight for the color?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

Before I go any further, let me say there is no Right Way to draw. I dare say there are as many ways to draw—and draw well—as there are artists.

There is no One Way that I use every time, either. A lot depends on what I’m drawing, why I’m drawing it, and whether or not a due date is attached to the artwork.

But the method I use most involves adding color over an umber under drawing. I’ve had great results with direct color drawing, but I still prefer working over an under drawing.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

There are a lot of reasons for choosing a drawing method. Even if you use an under drawing method—as I do—your reasons for making that decision may not be the same as mine.

So I’ll tell you up front that the advantages and disadvantages I’m about to list are in no way universal. We’re all individuals and even if we use the same tools and the same methods to draw the same subjects, our work and our motivations will be different.

Finished complementary under drawing (left) and finished landscape.

But if you’re considering trying one of the under drawing methods I’m about to describe, then I hope I can shed some light on the process so you can make an educated decision.

Or at least an advised decision!

3 Advantages to Working with Under Drawings

You can work out the values first, without having to make color decisions.

There are a lot of decisions to make with every drawing. Contour. Perspective. Value. Composition. Color.

When you start with an under drawing, you don’t have to make color decisions, too. That reduces the number of decisions to be made up front and focuses attention on what’s important—making the best drawing possible.

It also allows you to draw the strongest values possible. Why is that important?

A sample of an umber under drawing.

The basic line drawing and the values are like the foundation on a magnificent building. You can build a building—and create a piece of art—without a strong foundation, but it won’t be the best it can be. And it may not last very long either.

Take the time to develop the foundation of your next drawing and the end result will be noticeably better.

Can you draw values and color at the same time? Absolutely. I just find it easier to develop values first, then glaze color over that.

You may, too.

It’s easier to find and fix mistakes in the under drawing phase.

You can find mistakes in your drawing at any stage of the process no matter how you draw. But I find it’s easier to spot problem areas if no color is involved. Since under drawing layers are also generally applied with light pressure and with harder pencils—I recommend Prismacolor Verithin pencils—it’s easier to erase and correct those mistakes.

Let’s face it. The sooner you find and correct mistakes, the easier it is to conceal them!

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings
I was able to remove enough color from this umber under drawing to redraw the horse’s face and save the drawing.

Using an under drawing method forces you to slow down and take your time with each drawing.

I tend to work slowly no matter how I draw, but an under drawing seems to slow me down even further. In the early stages of a project, that’s a good thing. It allows me to find and fix errors and helps keep me from making errors.

Or making existing errors worse before I realize what I’m doing.

One thing I’ve learned about colored pencils is that they are a naturally slow method.

Another thing I’ve learned is that I tend to get lazy, careless, and in search of shortcuts. Those things do not mix well with colored pencils.

If forcing myself to take the process more slowly was the only reason to use under drawings, I would still use them.

3 Disadvantages to Working with Under Drawings

Are there disadvantages to using an under drawing? There sure are.

Any under drawing method adds time to the drawing process.

Doing an under drawing first—especially a detailed under drawing—takes time. If the artwork is very big, it can take a lot of time. You essentially do the drawing twice: once without color and once with color.

But in all honesty, I use the direct color method the same way I use the umber under drawing or complementary under drawing methods. One layer of limited value color, then another layer that develops values and colors more completely. I still do two rounds of work, but the perception is that it takes less time to work directly with color.

A mind game, you say? Quite likely, but if I need to finish something fast or am doing studies, the direct drawing method is better.

The more layers you add, the more you fill the tooth of the paper.

The more color you use, the more you fill the tooth of the paper, and the more difficult it gets to add more color.

When you start with a detailed under drawing, you’ve already used up some of the paper tooth. That tooth is no longer available for color glazing. That can be a problem toward the end of a complex drawing.

It’s so boring to do all those layers!

I really hate to use this word but I can’t think of a better one.

One of the biggest disadvantages to drawing under drawings first, is getting tired of working large projects or projects that take a long time. I like starting things. That’s fun.

Finishing can be a nuisance.

And if I’ve spent all my enthusiasm working out a great under drawing, it can be a challenge to finish the drawing.

Conclusion

There is no clear-cut, right-all-the-time answer to the which-method-is-best question. The disadvantages of using an under drawing appear equal to the  advantages.

I still prefer developing drawings stage by stage through an under drawing, then subsequent color layers. It pleases my spirit to see a drawing come to life first as a half-tone (no matter the color), then as I add color.

And enjoying what you do is the bottom line.

After all, if you don’t enjoy making art—or the way you’re making art now—you should find something else to do.

Right?

Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.

Is There Still a Market for Portraits?

Is There Still a Market for Portraits

Today’s question is one I’ve asked myself many times over the years. Is there still a market for portraits?

That was important to me because my studio was a portrait studio. “Fun art” wasn’t my focus for over forty years. I really wanted to be a portrait artist and studio time was limited. I had no time for fun art.

My focus has changed since then, but the question is still valid.

First, here’s the reader question.

Carrie,

Just wondering, what do you think the market is today for commissioned painted/drawn portraits. Everyone has access to pretty good photography wouldn’t that satisfy the need?

Liz

Is there still a market for portraits?

Is There Still a Market for Portraits?

The short answer to Liz’s question is yes. There is still a market for portraits. Dog and cat portraits seem especially popular right now, but most animal portrait artists still get commissions.

But she also asks another question that I’ve considered more than once. Why would anyone want an art portrait when photography is so available?

Both questions deserve more than just a short answer, so let me talk about both. First, photography.

Why Not a Photographic Portrait?

For the most part, people who prefer photographic portraits and people who prefer art portraits are two different groups of people. There is some overlap, of course. I have drawn portraits for people who also had professional photographic portraits of their horses.

But my experience over the years has been that people who commissioned art portraits wanted something more than a photograph. They wanted my view of their horse or other animal. Call it “artistic vision.” More than just a likeness.

Photographers are artists. There’s no question about that. The more I learn about improving, enhancing, and combining photos in a good photo editor, the more convinced I become that photographers put just as much care into their work as I put into mine.

But for a lot of portrait clients, the artistic vision goes beyond a photograph.

A lot is involved. The artistic style of the artist is important. Some people want a hyper-realistic portrait (one in which you can’t tell the difference between the reference photo and finished piece when they’re side by side.)

Other clients prefer a more stylistic portrait or even abstract. It is possible to get a lot of that now with photo editors, but it’s still not the same.

My Personal Opinion

My personal opinion is that a lot of art portrait clients also like the idea that their chosen artist actually spent time on their portrait. Time designing the portrait, time rendering it, time framing it (if that’s part of the project.) The hands-on thought plays a major role, I think.

You know. Pencils in hand and touching paper. That is an important factor (in my opinion.)

That’s not to say that photographers and digital artists don’t also put a lot of time into their work. They do! The work they produce is no less a work of art than what I do.

But as old-fashioned as it seems, there is a lot to be said for the idea of physically making marks on paper or canvas. That is important to a lot of portrait clients.

In my opinion.

Is There a Market for Portraits?

Absolutely!

Just look at all the great artists out there doing portrait work. Those who have taken the time to hone their skills and improve their expertise stay busy.

Given the situation over the last several months, it may look more difficult to make a living as a portrait artist, but there is still a market.

While it’s true that national and global circumstances have changed the economies in a lot of places, it is still be possible to successfully market portraits.

I began painting portraits in the 1970s. If you’re old enough to remember, you’ll remember that things weren’t great back then, either. In addition to a sluggish economy, there was no such thing as the internet. At least not on a wide-spread basis. I marketed portrait work locally with flyers and by word-of-mouth.

I wasn’t constantly busy with portraits, but I sold enough to get started. One thing led to another, and I spent the next 40 years painting portraits.

The advantage now is that you can get your work into the market without printing flyers, traveling to shows, or spending next month’s budget on advertising. So in that regard, it’s easier than ever to market portrait work.

Do You Want to do Portraits?

Then follow your dream. Maybe it will be a rough journey.

But maybe it will be a raging success. The only way to find out is to try it.

My First Impressions of Lux Archival Paper

Trying new pencils and papers is always fun, even if the projects don’t turn out. I’ve been doing some experimenting this winter, and I’d like to share my first impressions of Lux Archival paper.

I’m especially happy with this report, because all three projects so far have turned out!

My First Impressions of Lux Archival Paper

About Lux Archival

Lux Archival is a non-absorbent, sanded paper created by Alyona Nickelsen of Brush & Pencil. She wanted a toothy paper that was completely archival, front to back. Unable to find one already on the market, she developed her own.

It’s available in packs of 8×10, 11×14, 16×20 and 24×36 or in a 48-inch by 5-yard roll. In the smaller sizes, it’s quite sturdy and didn’t curl or buckle even when I worked on it without taping it to a rigid support.

Lux Archival is designed for dry media, but also handles wet media. I have yet to use watercolor pencils or solvent blending, but I understand it stands up under both.

White is the only color available, but you don’t really need any other color, since it’s so easy to shade backgrounds in any color you like.

The surface is gritty but very fine with an even texture that’s very easy to draw on and that takes color easily.

Lux Archival is a bit on the expensive side, but if you’re doing client work or work designed for sale, then it’s well worth the expense. But then I spent years buying canvases for oil paintings. A good sanded paper is still inexpensive by comparison.

My First Impressions of Lux Archival Paper

It wasn’t my intention to try Lux Archival. I really wanted Alyona’s book, Colored Pencil Painting Portraits. My intention was to learn her methods more completely so I could finish a horse portrait I’d taken on and was struggling with.

The book came with several samples, including pencils, small packets of Powder Blender and Titanium White, and a 4-inch by 6-inch sample of Lux Archival.

I’d heard so much about this paper that I was reluctant to try it before finishing the portrait. The portrait was on it’s second incarnation after a switch from Stonehenge to Pastelmat. I like Pastelmat but was having difficulty with this particular piece. So I was afraid that finding I liked Lux Archival better would make me want to start the portrait over again.

So I waited. The wait was worth it!

My First Two Projects

My first projects were two small sketches, one plein air, and one from memory. I used a limited palette for both. I also tried new pencils, Derwent Lightfast pencils, with the first one, shown here.

Derwent Lightfast pencils are quite soft, so they put color on the Lux Archival very well. I loved the way they felt on this paper. It was easy to layer color and build values just by adding layers.

However, the combination of sanded paper and soft pencils made it difficult to get fine marks. I was able to draw some of those small twigs by “striking” the paper with short strokes and light pressure. The “stop-start” nature of those strokes mimicked the affects of fine lines to draw twigs.

Overall, I was quite happy with the results of this plein air piece, even with a very limited palette (only three colors.)

For the second test, I used Faber-Castell Polychromos Crimson. Polychromos pencils are harder pencils, so it was a bit easier to get fine marks. But the paper still “grabbed” color very easily.

I was able to get a good range of values even using only one color because the paper takes so many layers of color.

The harder pencils allowed me to draw finer lines, but getting a good, crisp line with so few layers was a challenge.

Even so, I was very pleased with these two sketches. Each one took 20 minutes or less to finish, and there was still enough tooth left to do much more.

A Full Up Drawing

The third drawing was a full up landscape based on a photograph supplied to me by fellow artist Carol Leather. A stunning sunset seen through a stand of bare trees, this was exactly the type of project I wanted to try on Lux Archival. The colorful sky was the real test.

I also used some of the other Brush & Pencil products such as Powder Blender, ACP Textured Fixative, Touch-Up Texture, and Titanium White. So this was a test of all the products, not just the paper.

My First Impressions of Lux Archival Paper

Lux Archival was sheer joy to work with!

Especially the smooth colors of the sky. I was able to do in less than an hour what it would take hours to do on regular paper. Combining Lux Archival with Powder Blender, ACP Textured Fixative, and ACP Final Fixative further improved the drawing experience.

This small piece was finished in six hours, which included preparing the paper and spray room time applying Textured Fixative or Final Fixative.

A Couple of Warnings

Like any sanded support, Lux Archival produces a lot of pigment dust. It’s easy to blend that dust into the tooth of the paper, however, so it’s not wasted.

But you will need to seal your artwork at some point. I sealed Blazing Sunset with ACP Textured Fixative several times during the drawing process. That keeps the pigment in place, and allowed me to draw over previous layers without disturbing them.

When the piece was finished, I sealed it again, then used ACP Final Fixative on it.

I don’t recommend using only ACP Final Fixative. When I tried that with the first sketch, the wet spray blotched pigment in one place. Not seriously, but noticeably.

Those are my first impressions of Lux Archival Paper.

So do I recommend Lux Archival?

Absolutely and without hesitation!

I look forward to doing larger work on this paper in the near future. I also hope to try it with animal art when time allows.

If you’re doing work for clients, exhibit, or sale, this is a beautiful paper for smooth color and for detail.

Is it worth the price? A pack of ten 8-inch by 10-inch sheets is only $30 or $3 per sheet. For a professional artist—or any artist who wants to be a professional—that is not a bad price.

Customer service is also top notch when you buy directly from Brush & Pencil.

Whether you use it regularly or not, I hope you’ll give Lux Archival a try.

Watercolor Pencil Landscape for Beginners

Watercolor Pencil Landscape for Beginners

Announcing my first new tutorial for 2021. Watercolor Pencil Landscape for Beginners.

Landscapes are one of the most difficult subjects for many artists to capture. They have been for me. There’s simply so many possibilities in every scene, that an artist can quickly become overwhelmed.

I didn’t start doing serious landscapes until after I started using colored pencils. My skills have improved over the years, but one thing remains the same.

It still takes a long time to finish a landscape! Especially a big one.

So I started looking for other ways to draw and that’s how I discovered the usefulness of watercolor pencils.

Watercolor Pencil Landscape for Beginners

And that led to this tutorial.

Watercolor Pencil Landscape for Beginners

In this tutorial, I share some of the lessons I learned about combining water and traditional colored pencils.

You’ll learn how to start your landscape with watercolor pencils, using them wet and dry.

Then you’ll see how to layer traditional colored pencils over the under painting. I’ll show you how to create the illusion of distance and draw trees that look like trees.

The tutorial includes a full supply list, a color chart so you can match colors if you don’t have Prismacolor pencils, and a line drawing. It also includes a full-size reference photo!

A page from the tutorial. Click on this image to buy your copy.

Are You Ready for Something Fun?

If you’re ready to dive into watercolor pencils, I hope you’ll give this tutorial a try. It’s written so you can do this project, then follow the same steps for your own landscape.

Or for most other projects you want to try.

And if you’re just looking for a new project to draw, then why not give this tutorial a try?

Click here to buy your copy of the Watercolor Pencil Landscape for Beginner’s tutorial.

Varnishing Colored Pencil Art

Is varnishing colored pencil art necessary?

There is a lot of debate about this issue, so it’s no surprise I get questions on this topic on a fairly regular basis. Here’s today’s reader question.

Hi Carrie,

Firstly may I say how informative and helpful your tutorials are.

I am currently working on my first art drawing with Prismacolor pencils, it’s a picture of my daughter’s Beagle which I hope to have finished in time for her birthday next month.

What I wanted to ask is do you recommend spraying the picture with a fixative spray before framing?

Kind regards,

Dave

This is an important question for a couple of reasons. First, it gives me the opportunity to talk about why varnishing could be important.

It also gives me the opportunity to talk about when and how you might want to varnish.

Varnishing Colored Pencil Art

Varnishing Colored Pencil Art

Why Varnishing Artwork is Important

Some time ago, I wrote a couple of articles on varnishing colored pencils. Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art discussed the advantages and disadvantages to varnishing colored pencil art. In brief, the primary reasons to varnish colored pencil artwork are controlling wax bloom, protecting the surface of the artwork, and restoring tooth.

Since Dave is talking about finished work, the third reason doesn’t apply. So let’s look at the other two.

Oil painters have varnished their work for centuries. A good coat of varnish on an oil painting seals the surface of the painting and keeps dust, dirt and grime off it. All that dust, dirt, and grime settles on the coat of varnish. When a painting needs to be cleaned, the varnish is carefully stripped away and replaced with fresh varnish. The painting itself is not damaged.

Since more colored pencil works are framed under glass, the glass keeps the dust, dirt, and grime from reaching the surface of the artwork. So in one way, the glass serves the same purpose as the varnish. You don’t need varnish to protect the surface of colored pencil art framed under glass.

A light coat of varnish is also helpful in controlling wax bloom. But the only time wax bloom is really a problem is when you apply color with heavy pressure and/or when you use a lot of dark colors.

Wax bloom happens when the wax binder in colored pencils rises to the surface of a drawing. In the illustration below, the misty looking section on the right is wax bloom.

Wax bloom is easy to remove. Just wipe the drawing lightly with paper towel. For a finished drawing, a light coat or two of varnish helps prevent wax bloom.

So Should You Varnish Your Colored Pencil Art?

Yes. Sometimes.

If you draw with a naturally heavy hand, or a piece has a lot of dark colors, then you may want to consider varnishing the finished piece. You’ll still want to frame it under glass if you used traditional drawing papers, because the glass protects the paper from damage. The varnish will help keep wax bloom to a minimum.

Varnishing works on non-absorbent papers like sanded pastel papers, Pastelmat or Lux Archival is a good idea, especially if framed without glass. For that type of work, varnish serves the same purpose that it serves for oil paintings. Varnish keeps dirt off the artwork and can be removed and replaced if necessary.

If you do decide to varnish a drawing on sanded art paper, make sure you seal the drawing first with something like ACP Textured Fixative so removing the varnish doesn’t damage the art.

Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art Before Framing It?

The answer depends on the type of paper you use and how you intend to frame the work.

Varnishing is one of those issues that some artists swear by and others avoid at all costs. So the best advice I can offer is to consider the way you work in general, and then evaluate each piece.

You may find that varnishing is helpful on some pieces and unnecessary on others.