How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

Today, I want to show you something fun and helpful: How to draw a sunset sky with watercolor pencils.

Here’s the good news. It’s not as difficult as it may seem (at least not the way I did it!)

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

I used Derwent Watercolour Pencils on Stonehenge 98lb drawing paper in white. I’ll tell you up front that Stonehenge handles water well, but you MUST tape it to a rigid support so it dries flat again.

The sample drawing for this tutorial was 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches in size, so it was difficult to tape down. I set an empty drink bottle on the paper while it was drying and that kept the paper flat, but I do not recommend this method. The bottle I used was very lightweight and clean, so it didn’t leave marks on the paper.

One other note. I didn’t use a reference photo for this piece. Since it’s small (3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches, ) I painted the sky from memory, then drew the branches from life. You can create your own piece the same way, or form a reference photo.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Layer colors on the paper from light to dark.

Use light-medium pressure to layer color on the paper. Create even color layers with whatever method works best for you. I used the sides of well-sharpened pencils to layer each color.

Begin with the lightest color and work through the colors of the prism into the darkest color you want to use.

I used Deep Cadmium, Orange Chrome, Deep Vermilion, Crimson Lake, Imperial Purple, and Prussian Blue. All you really need is yellow, orange, red, purple, and blue so the gradations between colors are smooth and natural looking.

If you want a lighter, brighter sky, skip the purple and blue.

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils Step 1

Step 2: Activate with water.

Blend colors with water. Work from light to dark and stroke across the paper horizontally.

Use a large, soft brush, and try to stroke only once across the paper. The more you stroke over each area, the more likely you’ll end up with streaks. The streaks in this illustration happened because I got too fussy.

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils Step 2

You’ll notice two things immediately when using watercolor pencils. The blended color is darker than the dry color. Derwent’s pencils are very pigmented, so they produce excellent color.

The other thing you’ll notice in this sample is the streakiness in the darker colors. That’s my fault. I used a small brush to blend and didn’t blend fast enough to produce smooth color (in addition to going over the paper too many times!)

At this stage of the process, that’s not a major concern, but it’s still best to avoid whenever possible.

Step 3: Continue to layer and blend with water until you have the color saturation you want.

Continue to add color and activate with water until you have the color and saturation you want.

I did two more rounds of layering and blending. Each round was essentially the same as those described above. Same colors in the same areas, though I faded each color a little more into the adjacent colors.

For the second round, I layered Deep Vermilion over the top third of the sky, then added Orange Chrome over the top two-thirds. Finally, I layered Deep Cadmium over the entire piece. That unified the colors and toned down the blues and purples, which got too dark. I used medium pressure or slightly heavier to put a lot of pigment on the paper.

Then I washed the whole thing with water and a large soft brush to blend the colors.

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils Step 3

Step 4: Draw the basic branch shapes.

Draw the silhouetted trees dry, using watercolor pencils the same way you’d use traditional colored pencils. Use dark colors. I used black and a dark brown mixed to give the branches a warmth that black alone wouldn’t provide.

Then use a very small, round brush (I used a sable) to activate the color. Stroke in the direction the branches grow. From the base up.

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils Step 4

You don’t need to keep the edges crisp or blend the colors uniformly. Having softer edges in places, and having some areas more brown and others blacker gives the branches a sense of movement.

Step 5: Add smaller branches.

With a very sharp pencil, add the smaller branches. If you’re drawing from life, observe the growth patterns and draw them as accurately as you can. Don’t worry about getting every branch and twig in exactly the right place. Instead, focus on the general shapes and patterns.

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils Step 5

You can activate a few of these smaller branches with water if you wish. I didn’t because I lack brushes small enough for that type of detail. I also wanted the bolder look of dry pencil over wet.

Conclusion

I used Derwent Watercolour pencils for this work, but I’m sure you can do the same thing with any artist quality watercolor pencil.

It was a lot of fun to layer dry color over wet, to paint in broad washes, and with more deliberation. It was quite a learning experience.

One thing you can’t do is put watercolor pencils over wax-based or oil-based traditional pencils, then activate them with water.

Well, I guess you could if you really wanted to, but the watercolor will not stick to the wax or oil for very long.

Complementary Under Drawing Email Class – Pilot

You know about the complementary under drawing method from the articles you read here. You love the way my landscapes and horses look when drawn over a complementary under painting, and the method intrigues you.

But you don’t know where—or how—to get started.

My newest email class—about to be launched as a private, pilot class—may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Complementary Under Drawing Email Class

Complementary Under Drawing Email Class Now Forming

For a limited time, I’m offering this class pre-release to twenty artists who are interested not only in taking the class, but assisting in its development. Work through the lessons with me, and offer your feedback on making the class the best it can be.

If you’ve wanted to try using the complementary under drawing method with colored pencils, this is your opportunity to get in on the ground floor, and get personal help from me.

The Details

Weekly lessons featuring detailed instructions and step-by-step illustrations walk you through the process from line drawing to final details.

Students receive a high-resolution reference image, a printable line drawing, and a Get Started Materials List on April 30, 2018. The next day, they’ll receive the first lesson, then receive a new lesson each week until the class concludes.

By the end of the class, you’ll not only have gotten hands-on experience using the complementary under drawing method; you’ll have a completed drawing.

Subject: Drawing a Chestnut Horse using a Complementary Under Drawing

The subject is this chestnut Quarter Horse. We’ll do a blurred background without the fence or other distractions, and draw the horse in glorious detail.

When: April 30, 2018

The class begins on Monday, April 30. Anticipated end date late May to mid-June.

Class Size: 20 Students

Because I’ll be offering personal interaction with every student, this pilot class is limited to 20 students. Openings are still available.

Who: Anyone Interested in Drawing Horses or Using Colored Pencils

If you enjoy drawing with colored pencils, drawing horses, or learning new colored pencil methods or skills, then this class is for you. It covers the basics of color selection, creating a detailed under drawing, and  glazing and layering the over drawing.

That makes it ideal for new artists.

But it’s also a great way to brush up on existing skills or learning new skills for colored pencil artists at any level.

What the Class Includes

A digital reference photo (shown above)

A detailed line drawing

A new lesson each week

Detailed, step-by-step instruction

Full color illustrations

The opportunity to ask questions

Personal feedback from me.

Membership in exclusive Facebook class group (registered Facebook users, only)

Tuition: $175

Enrolling is Easy

Click the PayPal button below, and make your payment.

I’ll add your email address to the class list, and on April 30, you will receive the first email.




The Facebook group is already live and students are chatting. It’s not too late to join us. The enrollment deadline is May 7, 2018. We’ll be delighted to have you join us!

How to Draw Clouds with Colored Pencil

Two of the more popular posts here are How to Draw Thunderhead Clouds in graphite, and How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil. Today, we’ll combine those two subjects with a tutorial showing you how to draw clouds with colored pencil.

In a blue sky, of course!

How to Draw Clouds with Colored Pencil

About the Demonstration Art

The sample study was painted on Canson Mi-Teintes 98lb paper, Azure. If you use Canson Mi-Teintes, make sure to use the smooth side. You can use the front if you wish, but the texture will be more difficult to work with and finishing will take longer.

My cloud study is quite small, 4″ x 2.75″, and is a Drawing of the Week. I used a combination of layering and solvent blending, along with the direct method.

It was also the first time I’d used Canson Mi-Teintes‘ Azure paper, which is a very soft, light shade of blue.

How to Draw Clouds with Colored Pencil

Step 1: Lightly outline the clouds and land and shade the sky.

Use very light pressure to outline the clouds and the horizon. You can use the same color for both, or use a medium blue to outline the clouds and medium gray-green to outline the horizon.

Keep the edges somewhat soft since clouds very rarely have crisp edges.

TIP: Use at least two shades of blue, one medium and one light. The colors you choose should reflect the color of the sky you’re drawing, since skies are not the same shade of blue everywhere.

Next, shade the sky with the same blue you used to outline the clouds. Use light pressure and the stroke that gives you the most even color. Start at the top with a sharp pencil and layer color about three-quarters of the way down the sky. Work carefully around the clouds.

Follow that with a lighter value blue. Start at the top again, but this time, layer blue all the way to the horizon.

If you’re using a very light blue, start at the horizon and layer that upward to a little past the halfway mark.

Use light pressure with all the colors and do at least two layers of each, rotating through the colors as you work. You want smooth gradations in color and value.

How to Draw Clouds Step 1

Step 2: Lift a few more clouds with mounting putty.

Use mounting putty to lift a little color from the sky to create thin, wispy clouds if you wish.

Shape the putty into small shapes, press it lightly against the paper, then reshape it. If you don’t, you may end up with a pattern of lifted color that’s too regular in shape to look like clouds.

How to Draw Clouds Step 2

Step 3: Blend with odorless mineral spirits or other art solvent.

You can use a brush (the most common way.) Dip the brush into a little solvent, then “paint” it over the color. The solvent dissolves the color and allows the different shades of blue to mix almost like paint.

I used a cotton swab instead of a brush. In the blue at the top, I tapped the color repeatedly with the end of the swab. Too many times, as it turned out, because I began lifting color (as you can see below.)

In the rest of the sky, I rolled the side of the cotton along the sky in horizontal strokes. Once to moisten the color, then again to blend it.

If you lifted color to create light, wispy clouds, work around them unless you want to reshape them by blending into them. Don’t wet them completely.

How to Draw Clouds Step 3

TIP: If you need to soften edges, blend over them as shown around the clouds around the center patch of blue sky, and in the clouds leading toward the upper, right corner.

Step 4: Continue layering and blending until the blue sky is finished.

Layer color and blend with solvent, until the sky is finished to your satisfaction.

If you need to, you can also do the final blend with a colorless blender.

How to Draw Clouds Step 4

Step 5: Draw the landscape using the same methods.

Draw the landscape using the same layering and blending method. The landscape is really the stage for the main subject, the clouds, so you don’t need to put a lot of detail into it.

Since this tutorial is about the clouds and not the land, I’ll show the first round of color, and the finished landscape.

How to Draw Clouds Step 5

I did three or four rounds of layering color and blending with solvent to reach this point (below.) The landscape isn’t completely finished, but I’ll do the clouds before making any changes to either the sky or the landscape.

How to Draw Clouds Step 6

Step 6: Shade the dark values in the clouds

Carefully sketch in and shade the darkest values in the clouds with a medium value blue-gray color. Use a sharp pencil and put down multiple layers to create a variety of values.

Pay close attention to the overlap of clouds. Each set of clouds is different, so don’t rush, and don’t draw generic clouds.

How to Draw Clouds Step 7

After you’ve put three or four layers of color into the shadows and darker middle values, blend with solvent.

Step 7: Layer the same blue, a medium gray, and a lighter gray-blue into the shadows and darker values.

Darken the shadows and darker middle values with alternating layers of the same blue you used in Step 6, plus a medium gray, and a gray-blue lighter than the previous blue.

Focus your attention on the shadows, but also layer the two shades of blue into the middle values.

Very lightly layer the lighter blue into the lighter middle values.

How to Draw Clouds Step 8

Step 8: Blend with solvent, and pull dissolved color into the lighter parts of the clouds.

Blend with solvent. Blot the brush before touching the paper to remove excess solvent.

Begin blending in the darkest areas. Observe the edges of those shapes carefully, especially where they overlap lighter areas.

Also pull color from the darker middle values into the lighter middle values to create even lighter middle values. Work around the white areas. They will be the highlights in the clouds, so you need to preserve them.

How to Draw Clouds Step 9

Step 10: Continue layering and blending until you get the color, values, and saturation you want.

Since this small piece was a study and a Drawing of the Week, I didn’t push the details. The finished study, below, represents two more rounds of layering color and blending with solvent.

I finished by burnishing the clouds with a light blue Prismacolor pencil. Prismacolor because they’re wax-based, and good for burnishing. Light blue to unify the values in the clouds and because the color was just the right touch for the hint of shadow in the brightest part of the clouds.

How to Draw Clouds Finished

As already mentioned, this is only a color study, so isn’t as detailed as a larger painting.

But it is enough to tell me this type of painting is not only fun to do, but worth expanding into a larger, more complex piece.

Conclusion

Learning how to draw clouds is a challenging, but satisfying process. You’ll have an endless variety of subjects, even with the same cloud, since they change so quickly.

It’s also an excellent way to improve your powers of observation, and you ability to sketch and draw quickly.

In other words, it’s well worth the time!

 

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do Next

Sooner or later, every piece reaches a moment of decision (or possibly indecision.) Maybe it doesn’t look finished, but you don’t know what more to do. Or maybe you know it’s not finished, but the next step is unclear. You wish like anything you knew what to do when you don’t know what to do.

You may not think of it this way, but this is a form of artist’s block. Probably the most common form.

What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do Next

Every one of my paintings reaches this point of momentary artist’s block.  Usually, it’s late in the process, when I think the painting is unfinished, but I can’t think what more to do with it.

But sometimes I can clearly see the painting isn’t finished. It’s just as clear that I have no idea what to do next.

This is Afternoon Graze at that point. The landscape looks good. Even the dark horse looks pretty good. But that chestnut! Yikes! There was still a lot to do, but for some reason or another, I couldn’t decide the next step.

What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do - Afternoon Graze

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do Next

Here are a few things I do to counter this type of momentary artist’s block.

Take a break and do something that’s not art.

A lot of times, the problem with artist’s block is fatigue. You’ve been working on that piece for so long, you’ve squeezed the last bit of creative juice out of yourself.

That was the case with Afternoon Graze. It took a lot of hours stretched over about six weeks to finish. I was about four weeks into the process when momentary artist’s block struck.

What do you do at a time like that?

Something that’s not art or art-related. Something relaxing. I find doing dishes by hand relaxes both my hands and my mind. It’s the sort of physical activity that doesn’t require a great deal of concentration, so it’s an ideal brain break.

What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do - Take a Short Break

Gardening might be your thing, or going for a walk, and spending time with a pet.

The goal is to step away from art for ten or fifteen minutes, then return to it.

Set the work aside for an extended time.

Quite often, it’s helpful to take more than just a short break.

Sometimes you may need to put that piece away for the day, and look at it again with fresh eyes the next day. Or the next week if you happen to be stopping on a Friday.

More often than not, I’m tired physically, mentally or creatively when I encounter these sorts of momentary artist’s block. After sufficient rest, the problems are either far less intimidating, or non-existent.

When I sit down to work the next day, my mind is fresh and I can look at the piece more like someone seeing it for the first time. A lot of times, I can’t find anything wrong with it. The problem was all in my imagination.

If there are still problems, they may not look so terrifying, or I may know what to do next.

Find something small and easy to fix.

Sometimes, there’s more than one problem to correct. Look for something you can fix fairly quickly and easily. Something you know how to fix.

If there aren’t any specific problems with the piece beyond that big one, then make some little adjustment.

In other words, look for a place to begin. Once you begin, it’s likely you’ll fall into the rhythm of creation, and when it comes time to tackle that big problem, you’ll know instinctively what to do.

Stop thinking and just do.

When it comes time to tackle that big problem, don’t over think it. Quite often, I discover that when I have a gut instinct to use a certain color, but I think about it long enough to choose a different color, I’ve thought too much.

And I’ve made a mistake that needs to be corrected.

With Afternoon Graze, my gut instinct was to add another layer of orange to the chestnut horse. For some reason, I didn’t want to do that, but I didn’t know what to do instead, and everything came to a screeching halt.

When I stopped resisting that gut instinct, the momentary artist’s block disappeared.

So How Did Afternoon Graze Turn Out?

I think it looks pretty good.

What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do - Afternoon Graze 4

Conclusion

Most of the time, overcoming momentary artist’s block has more to do with what’s going on inside you, than on the paper. In times like those, the best thing to do is give yourself permission to lay the pencils down.

Even when there are problems with the art, there are usually ways to overcome them.

One thing you must never do is allow it to hinder you permanently.

A full-length tutorial based on Afternoon Graze is available as a downloadable PDF, a print book, and an in-depth tutorial from Ann Kullberg*.

*Affiliate link.

Umber Under Painting Landscape Tutorial

This week, I’m taking a break from the usual Tuesday Tutorial to announce a new, full-length umber under painting landscape tutorial.

Umber Under Painting Tutorial – Cloudy Landscape shows you step-by-step how to paint a landscape on Stonehenge paper, using colored pencils and the umber under painting method.

Umber Under Painting Landscape TutorialOne of the most popular full-length tutorials on this blog has been the Umber Under Drawing Tutorial featuring a dark horse as the subject. It’s been a long time coming, but now you can see the same method used to paint a landscape.

Umber Under Painting Landscape Tutorial

See how I painted a landscape on colored paper from the initial sketch to the finishing touches.

The tutorial includes tips on composing your landscape, picking colors, and painting the umber under painting.

Umber Under Painting Landscape Tutorial - Umber Under Painting

You’ll also see in detail how to choose colors, layer color over the finished under painting, how to lift color if necessary, and how to blend with odorless mineral spirits.

Umber Under Painting Landscape Tutorial - Color Glaze 1

Even if you don’t enjoy drawing or painting landscapes, I hope you’ll enjoy this free tutorial, and maybe even pick up a few tips along the way!

Umber Under Painting Landscape Tutorial - Color Glaze 2

Read the new tutorial, Umber Under Painting Method Tutorial – Cloudy Landscape.

Read Umber Under Drawing Tutorial – Dark Horse.

NOTE on TERMINOLOGY

Colored pencil pieces can be called either drawings or paintings. Many non-artists think of any work on paper as a drawing unless the medium is fluid, such as watercolor.

Many artists also consider any work in colored pencil a “drawing,” while others consider their colored pencil works as paintings.

In the past, I called my colored pencil works drawings to set them apart from my oil paintings. I put the same amount of time and effort into both mediums, and the results were similar. Terminology was one easy way to distinguish between the mediums for students and buyers.

Since I’m no longer using oils, I’m referring to pieces such as this one as paintings. I’ll be updating old posts, articles, and tutorials accordingly.

What you call your colored pencil pieces is a matter of personal preference. Either way is correct, so long as you’re consistent.

How to Sell Art – The Basics

It’s doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, someone asks a question about selling art. More specifically, how to sell art.

Most of the time, the questioner is doing fine making art. Selling is the problem.

I know all about that! Art doesn’t sell itself, after all (sad to say.)

How to Sell Art - The Basics

So that’s my topic for today. But before I share basic tips on how to sell art, I need to dispel a few myths.

How to Sell Art – Myths

If you make it, someone will buy it.

This is the field of dreams syndrome. Remember that movie? Throughout the story, the lead character, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) was told all he had to do was build a ball field, and players would come.

He did and they did, stepping out from rows of field corn like magic.

A lot of artists seem to be of the same mindset. I know I thought that way for years. All I had to do was make art and people would flock to buy it.

The problem is, it never worked. It didn’t matter how many paintings I painted, most of them languished in the studio (or under the bed, since I painted in a corner of my bedroom for years.)

Art does NOT sell itself.

If my art isn’t selling, it’s because it’s not good enough.

I suppose it’s natural to reach this conclusion if you believe the first myth. After all, if art sells itself and your art isn’t selling, it must be because it isn’t good enough.

It makes sense, but it isn’t true. All you have to do is look at the sales records for places like Christy’s to see that art that looks bad to you (meaning you don’t like it,) sells all the time. Sometimes for a ton of money.

Even art that’s technically bad—that is, poorly drawn, poorly rendered, created with non-archival materials—can and does often sell.

So stop thinking that you’re not selling because you’re not good enough. The fact of the matter is that your art IS good enough to sell to someone somewhere.

If I follow the trends, I’ll sell art.

No, no, no, no, a thousand times, no.

Unless you can create complete works of art in a day (or perhaps several of them a day,) you’ll never be able to take advantage of trends. You just won’t be fast enough.

How to Sell Art - Trends

Sure, you’ll gain skills you wouldn’t have otherwise gained, but you’ll also gain a ton of art that can’t be given away.

Marketing takes only a few minutes a day.

Oh, how I wish this was true!

Do you know, when I’m doing marketing right, I spend at least half of my day marketing?

The percentage is actually higher, because there’s a lot more to marketing than just, well, marketing. There’s all the business administration that goes with it.

So when I consider bookkeeping, order fulfillment, correspondence, inventory control (someone has to buy art supplies,) and all the rest, it’s more likely that 80-90% of my time is spent doing marketing or marketing-related things.

How to Sell Art - A Few Minutes a Day

Granted, not all those things are directly related to marketing, and you might not consider some of them “business” because they’re fun. But they still factor into the equation on some level, so must be considered.

I can market without spending money.

Isn’t that what social media is for? Free marketing?

Well, yes.

Sort of.

You can promote your work on social media and get sales. But if your percentages are the same as general percentages, you won’t make many sales.

According to the studies I’ve read, only about 1% of your social media followers actually buy something from you. Of the people who make purchases through social media, they appear to be more likely to buy small things or services. Things like coloring pages, collectibles, or courses.

There are also services you can use with a blog or website that allow you to sell without spending money. I use the free version of Easy Digital Downloads to sell and deliver ebooks, for example. It does what I need it to do.

For now.

How to Sell Art - It Takes Money to Make Money

But it does take money to make money, and if you really want to do marketing right, you will need to spend money sooner or later.

How to Sell Art – Marketing Tips

So now that I’ve burst several of your favorite bubbles, lets talk about a few basic marketing tips to get you started.

(And don’t feel bad about those burst bubbles. Some of them were particular favorites of mine, too!)

To make things easy, I’ll replace each of the myths above with a tip.

If I make it, it will sell… if you get it in front of the right people

The secret to selling art isn’t making art. Yes you have to make art in order to have something to sell, but the real secret is getting your art in front of the right people.

Who are the right people?

People who like your favorite subjects rendered the way you render them

People who like art enough to want to spend money on it

People who have money to spend on art

All three factors are important. After all, a person who likes what you do, but doesn’t have the money to spend on art is not going to buy art.

On the other hand, a person who likes what you do and has money to spend, but isn’t interested buying art also is not going to buy your art.

They all work together.

If I’m not selling, I’m not good enough

We all can improve as artists. Part of the artistic journey is learning new skills and improving old ones.

But if you’re not selling your work, the reason is probably that you’re not getting it out there. If people don’t know you make art, or don’t know what kind of art you make, how will they buy it?

So if you’re not selling, getting better at marketing is the solution.

Don’t follow trends, set them

This was big for me. Why?

Because I knew from the start that I wanted to paint portraits of horses that looked like the horses I was painting.

The reason this was such valuable knowledge is that I began getting serious about art just before abstract art became the big thing. When I went to school, most of the students were more interested in painting abstract than representational art. It was an uphill battle, and many’s the time I wondered if I had a future.

Then I made a simple decision.

I’ll paint what I like to paint in a way I like to paint, and will look for people who like my work.

I stopped fretting over what everyone else was doing, and found the market that fit my work.

That’s what you should do, too.

Stop following art trends, and create your own art trend. Even if it’s a very narrow niche market, there will be others who like what you do enough to buy it. All you have to do is find them! (See Point #1)

Set aside time to market, then use that time wisely

Finding the people interested enough in your work to buy it means intentionally spending time on marketing. How much? That depends on your daily schedule.

If you’re a full time artist, you may need to start spending 3 or 4 hours a day doing marketing in some form.

If you’re part-time, as I know many of you are, then an evening, or maybe part of a weekend.

What you do depends in large part on the type of art you do and your target audience. It’s really a discussion for another time. Suffice it to say you have to start somewhere and it will take time. Even if it’s just an hour a week.

Set aside funding, then use that funding wisely

As I mentioned above, there are ways to start marketing without spending a lot (or any) money. Social media is pretty much free, after all.

Email is much more effective, and you can start an email mailing list for free with many providers. I use MailChimp because it was the best rated service when I got started. It’s also free for up to 2,000 subscribers.

I also use some marketing plugins with this blog that are currently free, but that I’ll one day upgrade.

The best advice I can offer you on this topic is that if money is tight, start where you can, but plan for the day when you have to pay for marketing. Make the best use of those funds when necessary.

Conclusion

I’ve barely scratched the surface on this marketing thing, but I hope I’ve dispelled some myths and given you hope enough to get started on your own marketing.

Because selling art is not a hopeless proposition. Nor need it be as complicated as it sometimes looks.

I’m hoping today’s post is the beginning of a regular monthly series. The plan is to expand on some of these topics in future posts, but if you have a specific question you’d like to ask, send me an email.

The Importance of Drawing From Life

Let’s talk about something most artists don’t appear to give much thought to these days: the importance of drawing from life.

I know this topic is put on a back burner for most artists because I gave it little or no thought for most of my artistic life. My focus for nearly 40 years was portrait work, and I had a full-time job, drawing time was dedicated to portrait work. It never seemed important that I draw from life or do any art that wasn’t directly related to whatever portrait I was working on at the time.

The Importance of Drawing from LifeBut I was in error thinking that way. I short-changed myself by focusing so tightly on art for business, and may have actually hindered my progress as an artist.

Then came the acceptance of a large portrait in which the subject is human in 2013.

With a lot of flowers (hundreds of white roses.)

And a lot of palm fronds.

And a beautiful porcelain vase, a banner, bows, and…. (You get the idea.)

I did a lot of study sketches for that portrait. Mostly facial features, which had to be spot-on accurate. Those studies are all from reference photographs provided for the project, and they were invaluable (a topic for another post.)

But they didn’t quite get the job done. I needed something more. Something that stretched my ability to see what I wanted to draw, and to draw it more accurately.

So I turned to drawing from life.

The Importance of Drawing From Life

Since the portrait subject lived hundreds of miles away, I found other things for life drawing. Things not related directly to the portrait, but that would improve my ability to see, as well as my eye-hand coordination.

I learned valuable lessons through that experience. Here are a few of them.

Drawing from life develops observation skills.

This drawing is a life drawing. It’s not complete because I was walking the cat when I drew it (yes, on a leash). Thomas decided to lie in the shade, so I took advantage of the half hour to draw.

Importance of Drawing from Life - Leaf Study

This particular drawing shows the growth end of one of the branches of a Mock Apple. I’d never before noticed the leaflets at the base of each leaf. Now I notice them all the time.

And that’s part of the reason for doing life drawings. Observation. You can see things in life—little details like leaflets, or color gradations—that are often vague or missing in photographs.

Learning to see and accurately draw values is also a reason to draw from life.

I drew the Mock Apple in strong light. I drew many other things in strong light, too, as well as in filtered and flat light.

If your subject is in strong light, it’s easy to see not only highlights and shadows, but middle values and reflected light. We all know about drawing accurate shadows and highlights, but the middle values and reflected light really bring a subject to life.

There is no better way to view how light illuminates objects than in real life.

Importance of Drawing from Life - Value Studies

But you don’t have to go outside to see strong light. I drew this egg indoors. I arranged it under a single bulb lamp and positioned it on a white cloth, so there was plenty of light bouncing around.  Not only was it a great study of drawing white objects on white paper; it was an ideal light study.

It gets you out of your usual art routine.

Drawing from life is perfect for forcing you out of your usual art habits.

Some of you know that I’ve been an equine portrait artist since high school. Suffice it to say a long time. Since art time was such a premium most of those decades, I did very little art that wasn’t equine in nature.

I live in a residential area where dogs and cats are the most common animals, followed by birds and other small wildlife.

So when I started drawing from life, I was forced to draw something other than horses. Things like utility flags, the end of the porch railing, wood planks, and a loop of orange extension cord lying on the ground.

Here’s a bonus for many of us. Drawing from life means getting outside. Away from technology and into the fresh air and sunshine. I don’t know about you, but that’s reason enough for a 20 to 30-minute break most days.

How to Fit Drawing from Life into Your Art Routine

Draw outside once a week (or as often as possible)

Now that you know why I think drawing from life is so important, let me share a few ways I’ve found to fit it into my art routine.

A couple of autumns ago, I started a plein drawing challenge. I took myself outside each week for two months to draw. The goal was to produce one plein drawing a week.

I did it again last year, and I plan to do it this year.

After last year’s challenge ended, I decided to continue through the end of the year.

I’ve fallen down on the plein air challenge this year, but I do still draw outdoor subjects as often as possible. Even when I have to do it through a window!

Importance of Drawing from Life - Plein Air

Even when I haven’t been able to get outside every week, the motivation still exists. The fact of the matter is, I now see potential drawings almost everywhere I look!

Do small studies whenever (and wherever) you can

At the beginning of this year, I decided to finish one small piece every week this year. Most of those pieces have been smaller than the maximum of 4 x 6 inches I set for myself. The fact is, most of them have been ACEOs (3-1/2 x 2-1/2 inches.)

But most of them have also been life drawings.

The personal challenge and the small size make it easy to dash off a drawing—even a detailed drawing—in 30 minutes or less.

Importance of Drawing from Life - Small Drawings

Collect interesting potential subjects

A reader asking how to draw wet stones led me to collecting stones. I had to have a subject for that post, after all.

Once I got started, I looked for stones every time I went out walking. I even went out a time or two just to look for stones.

As I write this, I have a collection of seven stones of various sizes, shapes, colors, and textures to one side of my drawing desk. So now I don’t need to leave the house or the drawing desk in order to draw something from life.

Importance of Drawing from Life - Collect Interesting Objects

But I still do. I’ve found several places around the neighborhood where there are plenty of stones to pick up! I would never have noticed them in the past.

Look for interesting subjects all around you.

You don’t have to leave the house to find interesting subjects. You don’t even have to start a collection.

Just look around you!

For instance, I look around where I sit at this moment and I see my pencils (some in interesting containers) and the old crank sharpener I use. There’s the computer mouse, a brick (yes, an actual brick,) a coffee cup with a spoon in it, those stones, a piece of cloth, a power strip, the modem and router for the computer, the computer itself, some paper, and some power cords and internet cables on the floor.

The Importance of Drawing From Life - New Subjects

In other words, I don’t have to go anywhere, or even move out of this chair, to draw something from life.

Conclusion

Drawing from life is an important part of the artist’s life. Or it should be. It’s perfect for honing skills, exploring new or potential subjects, and just having fun.

And as you’ve seen, it’s easy to fit into your schedule whether you’re a full- or part-time artist.

What are you going to draw from life this week?

For more tips, read Three Ways to Draw Plein Air on EmptyEasel.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper

This week’s Tuesday Tutorial is the final tutorial in this series. We’ll be finishing a landscape on sanded paper.

The focus for today is drawing the center of interest, but I’ll also touch on the final stages of the drawing.

In case you missed them, links to the previous posts in this series are below.

Draw a Gray Sky with Colored Pencils

Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil

Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper

How to Draw Realistic Trees on Sanded Art Paper with Colored Pencil (on EmptyEasel).

Fixing a Colored Pencil Mistake on Sanded Paper

How to Draw Grassy Hills

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper

Now for this week’s tutorial.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper

Drawing the Center of Interest

Step 1: Block in the basic shadows within the tree.

The trees that are the center of interest are closer than any of the other trees, and they’re also more lacy in appearance, so use squiggly or stippling strokes (or a combination) to draw the shadows with Olive Green.

Also “sketch” in the trunks.

Make sure to leave lots of openings in this layer of color. Some of it will be the background showing through the tree when the tree is finished. Other parts will be highlights in the tree.

Work over the background as well as within the tree itself.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 1

Step 2: Darken the shadows within the tree.

Next, dot Marine Green into the shadows of the tree, and also around the edges, overlapping the background on the shadowed side of the tree.

Use medium pressure or slightly heavier, and a blunt pencil held in a more vertical position.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 2

Step 3: Add the middle values.

Add another layer of Olive Green over all of the trees, including the shadows.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 3

Step 4: Add a lighter color in the lighter middle values and highlights.

Layer Jasmine over every part of the trees except the shadows to lighten the green. Use a sharp pencil with medium pressure or lighter, and a squiggly or stippling stroke (or whatever stroke works best for you.)

Don’t layer Jasmine over everything. Leave Olive Green showing through some areas to create more subtle variations in color and value.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 4

Step 5: Darken the shadows.

Add a few darker accents to these trees with a mix of Olive Green, Marine Green, and Indigo Blue.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 5

TIP: If the foreground trees get too dark, lighten them by lifting color or adding more Jasmine (or other lighter color.) You may also darken the background trees.

Step 6: Begin adjusting color and value in the foreground hills.

Layer Sepia very lightly over the shadows in the hill with medium pressure and horizontal oval-shaped strokes.

Follow up with Jade Green, also applied with small, horizontal ovals and medium pressure. Shade all of the shadow and work into the lighted hilltop slightly to soften that edge.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 6

Step 7: Tone down the greens with an earth tone.

Tone the base greens with a layer of Sepia. Use short horizontal strokes in the more distant hills and vertical, grass-like strokes in the foreground.

Next, add a layer of Chartreuse, then Olive Green. Layer a little further out of the shadows and into the highlights with each color to create middle values. Don’t put every color in every place so to create variations of color and value.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 8

Step 8: Dry blend with a stiff brush.

Next, dry blend the colors with a stiff bristle brush. Stroke in the same direction as you applied color, over the contours of the hill. You can scrub a little bit if you wish.

The sanded art paper will take heavy pressure and you don’t need to worry about removing color by blending with heavy pressure. If you want very smooth, blended edges, then blend with heavy pressure.

If you want to preserve some of the edges, blend with lighter pressure.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 9

Step 9: Repeat steps 6 – 8 on the rest of the foreground.

Repeat the process for each of the hills. Continue adding color, then dry blending until each part of the foreground looks the way you want it. Work from background forward, from the tree line to the bottom of the drawing.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 10

Step 10: Draw tall grass in the extreme foreground.

Before drawing tall grass all the way across the front hill, add or finish any trees that the taller blades of grass will overlap.

Then use long, directional strokes to draw tall grass, overlapping the hills in the back. Use a variety of greens, dark blues, and dark browns. I used Prismacolor Verithin Olive Green, and Dark Umber for most of the tall grass, and added strokes of Indigo Blue in the darkest shadows on the left.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 11

My favorite way to draw tall grass.

Use different shades of green, dark blue, and dark brown to draw layer after layer of overlapping, directional strokes, as I’ve done on the left of the illustration below.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 12

A faster way to draw tall grass.

Begin by shading a base of green over the paper. Dry blend that color, then apply more color and repeat the blending until the base color is the way you want it.

Then use curving, directional strokes to add enough detail to make the area look like grass.

Both methods work very well.

Step 11: Final review and adjustments.

At this stage in the process, the look of your landscape becomes a matter of personal preference. I like to get as realistic a drawing as possible, but you may want a less detailed landscape. There is no right or wrong way to finish your drawing. Work on each area to your satisfaction.

You will also want to set the drawing aside over night when you think it’s finished. This will allow you to review the drawing with a fresh eye the next day, and you’ll be better able to see what adjustments need to be made.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 13

Is it finished or isn’t it?

After letting the drawing sit a couple of days, I reviewed it again and decided all it needed was the usual final-round touchups.

I emphasized the tall grass in the foreground, then deepened the shadows in the trees, added some low scrub brush on the hills.

Finishing a Landscape on Sanded Paper 14

Conclusion

Those are the steps for finishing a landscape on sanded paper, and that’s the conclusion of this series.

Drawing on sanded art paper is almost like learning a new medium. It’s close enough to using colored pencils on regular drawing paper to provide a relatively easy transition.

But it’s enough different to give you a challenge and make you stretch your skills.

It’s well worth the effort to master though, and I’m looking forward to doing many more landscapes on sanded art paper. Maybe even painting some portraits on it!

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway?

Here’s a question I’ll bet every colored pencil artist—beginner and advanced—has asked at one time or another. Why do every layer if you draw over them anyway? What’s the point?

Am I right?

Colored pencils are such a slow medium to begin with. Yes, there are ways to speed up the process. Blending with solvent, using watercolor pencils, drawing on colored papers, or sanded art paper, for example. But no matter what methods you use, it still takes time to finish a colored pencil piece.

Wouldn’t it be faster to just put down one or two layers and be done with it?

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway

We’ve all heard about the layering process. Even if your “main thing” is adult coloring books, you’ve read countless articles on the importance of layering colored pencils. Still, you sometimes wonder.

Are all those layers really necessary?

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway?

Here’s the truth.

Colored pencils are a translucent medium. Because so few of them are truly opaque, every color you put on the paper affects the colors you layer over it. They all influence each other.

So if you drew the same painting once with many layers of different colors and drew another version of it skipping or combining some layers, there would be differences. Even if the end result was similar, the two paintings would not be identical.

What’s more, most people would most likely prefer the layered version, even if they didn’t know why.

Yes, you can leave layers out or combine them to finish faster, but you will lose something in the process. In some cases, the trade-off may be worth it, but the best paintings are usually created without shortcuts.

Why All Those Layers Matter for Color

Remember I said most colored pencils are translucent? That means you can layer five different colors, one over another, and all five will influence the look of the last color. They all contribute something to the final color.

Let me show you what I mean.

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway - Blending Colors

From left to right, I layered Canary Yellow, Limepeel, Grass Green, Peacock Blue, and Light Umber, then a second layer of Canary Yellow, and Grass Green.

I used light pressure for each of the first five layers, and medium pressure for the last two.

On the far right is only Grass Green, applied with heavy pressure and two or three layers.

Layering the grass green with heavy pressure was faster, but the green created by using five colors is a more realistic green. If your subjects are landscapes or florals, this blended green is the one you want.

Does that mean it’s never good to do a single color with just a few layers? Not at all. There are times when that’s your best choice. A clear blue sky is often best drawn with a few layers of one or two shades of blue.

Why All Those Layers Matter for Blending

The illustration above also shows how layering colors lets you create new colors. Every color layered over existing color changed the existing color in some way. Sometimes subtly; sometimes dramatically.

In the sample below, I layered pink and blue with very light pressure to create a shade of purple.

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway - Blending

You can create even more subtle color gradations by changing the order in which you layer. Blue over pink produces a blue-ish purple, while pink over blue creates a purple that’s a little more pink.

What this means is that even if you’re limited by cost to a small set of colored pencils, you’re not limited to the number of colors you can create.

Why All Those Layers Matter for Value

The same principle applies for drawing values. You can choose a darker color or press harder on your pencil to get a darker value, but building value layer-by-layer is the preferred method. Even if you don’t use different colors and even if you use light pressure for every layer, every layer you add makes the value darker.

I shaded each of these squares with the same color. The square on the extreme right was shaded with one or two layers applied with heavy pressure. The others were shaded with multiple layers applied with light or medium pressure.

Why does that matter?

Not everything you draw will be equally dark. Let’s say you want to draw this blue jar. Look at all the values! They range from almost white in the brightest highlights, to very dark.

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway - Values

Even though the blue is the same all over the jar, there’s a full range of values.

You can draw the shadows with a layer or two applied with heavy pressure, but you need many layers applied with lighter pressure to draw all the gradations between the lightest light and the darkest dark.

Using light and dark blue pencils may help you, but not as much as multiple layers of the right blue (or the closest blue you have.)

Why All Those Layers Matter in Finishing Pieces

This is Afternoon Graze on the day before it was finished (top) and on the day it was finished.

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway - Afternoon Graze

It’s not difficult to see the difference, especially in the horses.

What did I do to get from the top sample to the bottom one? Added more layers over the horses and parts of the background.

Was that necessary? That depends. When I first started doing colored pencil work, I probably would have been content with the piece the day before it was finished.

But I’ve learned the hard way that skipping the last few layers decreases color vibrancy, value depth, and generally results a flat-looking piece.

Most of the time, I now give a piece I think is finished one more day’s worth of work. Very rarely do I regret that extra day.

Does the Order in Which I Add Colors Matter?

Now that I’ve explained why you should do all those layers, let me address another issue. The order in which you put color on the paper.

It does matter what order you add colors. The color with the most influence will be the last color you use. Layer yellow over green, for example, and bright, yellow-green is the result. Layer green over yellow, and you’ll get a green that’s more green than yellow.

Burnishing with a color changes the final look even more, but even burnishing (which is applying color with the heaviest possible pressure) doesn’t completely cover up what’s underneath.

That’s why it’s important to consider the last color you use.

In the following illustration, I’ve drawn six boxes with a medium value red, then layered other colors over most of them. The first box (on the left) is just red.

I burnished the rest of the boxes as follows:

A colorless blender in the second box

Yellow in the third box

Dark blue in the fourth box

White in the fifth box

Red in the sixth box

 

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway - Order

It’s easy to see the differences wit burnishing. Layering with light or medium pressure also produces differences in color and value.

Conclusion

And that’s why you have to draw every layer even though you draw over them. They all matter!

If you’ve been creating work with just a few layers, try doing a small piece with more layers. Even if you layer the same selection of colors the second time around that you used the first time, I guarantee you will see a difference.

As I mentioned before, it is possible to create beautiful art with just a few layers. Many artists do it.

But for most of us, the more careful layering we do, the better our work is. At least, that’s been my experience.

Drawing on Colored Papers to Finish Faster

Looking for an easy way to complete colored pencil work faster? Have you considered drawing on colored papers?

If not, you should.

Drawing on Colored Papers to Finish Faster

One of the most frequent complaints about colored pencil as a medium is the amount of time needed to finish a piece. If the drawing is very large or if you work in a representational style, you can easily spend weeks on a single project.

Maybe even months.

Blending with rubbing alcohol or turpentine are two ways to create layers of vibrant, saturated color quickly, but there’s an even more basic method you might want to consider.

Drawing on Colored Papers to Reduce Drawing Time

Using a colored support is a great way to jump start your next colored pencil project. If you choose a color that provides a base color or a base complementary color to most of the drawing, you won’t need to draw that base as you would if you were to do the same drawing on white paper.

Art papers and museum quality mat boards are available in an array of colors from pastel tints to bright primaries.

An artist with an adventurous streak could spend a year doing the same drawing over and over on different colors and never use the same color twice.

Those two factors alone give you an idea of how  much time you can save by drawing on colored paper. Let’s take a look at a few more.

Drawing on colored papers is a great way to set a mood from the start.

Let’s say you want to depict a landscape on a rainy day. You love the light of a gray day and those deeply saturated colors make you itch to draw them.

If you work on white paper, you’ll use a lot of grays and spend a lot of time creating the atmosphere of your subject on a gray day.

Choose light gray or light gray-green paper, on the other hand, and more than half the work is done before you put pencil to paper. Gray paper provides an excellent base for a gray sky or misty air with very little work. Gray-green paper is a good base for the greens in a landscape. Either way, you can skip most of the grays in your pencil box and focus on the subject.

Add a little texture to make color even more time saving.

If you choose a surface with a bit of texture as I did for West of Bazaar below, you can save even more time and still get great results by letting the tooth do some of the work for you. Especially if you’re drawing a rainy landscape or other subject with a soft focus look.

Drawing on Colored Papers - West of Bazaar

The same scene drawn on white paper, blue paper, or even a brighter paper, would produce different results, and create different moods.

August Morning in Kansas (below) was drawn on sanded art paper. Most sanded art papers are some shade of tan, though Uart now makes a dark gray version, as well.

The tooth of the paper and the color perfectly suited my idea for the hazy, hot August morning I wanted to draw. I could have gotten much the same results with a cream, gray or white paper, but it would have taken more time and effort.

Drawing on Colored Papers - August Morning in Kansas

August Morning in Kansas was my contribution to Ann Kullberg’s DRAW Landscapes book*. The book includes a step-by-step tutorial on this piece.

Colored paper can provide a base color or middle values.

This drawing of Blizzard Babe was drawn on light gray mat board. The gray color provided an ideal foundation for this light gray filly and her black gear.

It also worked very well with the blue accents, and was a good foil for the flesh tones.

But the real time saver came in painting the blanket. Or rather, what I didn’t have to paint. Most of the work necessary involved adding highlights and reflected light, and the blue trim. Everything else? That’s the color of the mat board!

Drawing on Colored Papers Blizzard Babe

For Buckles & Belts in Colored Pencil, I chose light brown mat board with a neutral tint. The color provided a natural highlight color for the horse. It was also a great base color for all of the other colors in the horse’s coat.

I had to draw the facial marking and accent the eye and buckles, but did very little with the background. A light glaze of light blue to create the cool tint of a distant sky and it was done.

Since I painted this piece using the umber under drawing method, beginning with a surface that was already close to the middle values allowed me to concentrate on the shadows and darker middle values. A considerable time-saver for a complex subject like this.

Drawing on Colored Papers Buckles & Belts

Colored papers improve sketching speed by providing a second (or third color) for limited palette sketches or studies.

I’ve been drawing outside a lot.

Or looking through a window to draw something outside.

Many of my sketching happens while in the car, when I don’t have all of my pencils. Most of the time, I grab a handful of pencils when I leave the house and do limited-palette sketches and studies.

But even with just one or two pencils, I can make a realistic sketch in much less time by working on colored paper.

This drawing, for example. I used one brown pencil on Fawn Stonehenge paper to create this tree study in 30 minutes or less. I could have added a white pencil to draw highlights and made the drawing even more three-dimensional.

Drawing on Colored Papers - Plein Air Drawing

Drawing on Colored Papers is A Great Time Saver

No matter how you work or what you prefer to draw, drawing on colored papers can save you a ton of time and help you finish each piece faster. And you know what that means.

You can finish more pieces!

And isn’t that a goal to which we all aspire?

*Affiliate Link