Old colored pencils. Many of us have a few of them lying around. I have a Spectracolor somewhere, as well as an Eagle. Both are previous incarnations of Prismacolor.
Are those old pencils still usable? That’s the subject of today’s reader question:
My question is: Can coloured pencils deteriorate or get “old” so that they’re no longer as good as when they were new? I use pastel pencils, but also have quite a few coloured pencil sets that I don’t use. I want to learn them but just haven’t taken the time. Do they have a “best before” or “expiry” date?? I hope not!
Thank you for the question, kind Reader. I think I can lay your fears to rest.
Are Old Colored Pencils Still Good?
Colored pencils do get old, just like everything else.
But unlike many mediums, they do not wear out. Twenty-year-old pencils should work just as well now as they did the day they were made. In some cases and depending on the brand, they may actually work better than their modern counterparts!
Wet mediums can dry out with age, especially if the tubes have been opened. Colored pencils are dry, so you don’t have to worry about them drying out.
So far as I know, colored pencils don’t become brittle with age either (at least no more brittle than it might have been when it was new.)
Sometimes a pencil may look like it’s turning gray or fading, but that may just be wax binder rising to the surface of the pigment core. This can be a problem with artwork drawn with wax-based pencils, and it can also be a problem with pencils that don’t get used very often. It’s usually most obvious with dark colors, but it can happen with any color.
Happily, it’s easy to remedy. Just wipe the exposed pigment core with a paper towel and the wax bloom is gone. But the pencil is perfectly usable even if you don’t remove the wax bloom first.
So if you have old pencils, go ahead and use them! They should do fine for you.
And if you don’t have the time to use them right away, don’t worry. They will still be good when you do get to them.
Today’s question is about that mysterious thing called inspiration. Specifically, where do art ideas come from and what inspires me.
I can tell you one thing very easily. It’s not always the same things.
But lets get the question first.
Where do you get your ideas/inspiration? I love drawing landscapes but [don’t always] know what to draw.
I think I’ll tackle this subject in two parts, since ideas and inspiration aren’t always the same thing. Let’s start with inspiration.
Where Does Inspiration Come From?
I get inspiration from a number of places, many of them unexpected.
Movies & Music
For example, I love movies like The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and John Carter of Mars.
Epic movies in which characters face huge challenges, daunting hardships and villains of the worst sort, and still come out victorious. Victories often come with losses, suffering and grief, but in the end, their noble deeds leave me wanting to do noble deeds. Most of the time, that means writing something noble, what I’ve come to think of as The Noble Novel.
But it can also affect artwork. A noble painting? A grand drawing? Something that stands the test of time and moves people decades later. That’s inspiration.
I get the same type of inspiration from music, especially classical music. The William Tell Overture (otherwise known as the Lone Ranger Theme.) The 1812 Overture. Bach. Beethoven. Mannheim Steamroller. The Piano Guys! The kinds of music that make my spirit soar, also tend to make me think about making art that soars, too.
Towering thunderheads provide artistic inspiration. The first snow of the season and also the last, especially if it happens to be that kind of snow that comes down in big, fat flakes that you can hear hitting the ground. Gives me a thrill just to write about it!
Rain. Thunder and lightning. The dramatic and often colorful lighting in the evening (I don’t often see the dawn.) The glisten of street lights on a wet street at nighttime.
As you no doubt can tell, it doesn’t always take much to inspire me.
And the things that inspire can change according to my mood, circumstances, and wellness. But you get the idea, I hope. Inspiration comes from all around.
Where Do Ideas Come From?
Ideas sometimes come from all around, too, but they’re not usually on such a grand scale.
Remember that thunderhead I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago? I have seen clouds that have prompted me to do cloud art. I have drawn clouds both from life and from photographs I’ve taken. At one time, I even thought about doing a series of cloud portraits. I do live in Kansas, after all, and we have thunderstorms as a matter of course. There is no lack of subjects for cloud portraits.
But the Flint Hills also present plenty of ideas for landscape drawings. Believe it or not, the vastness of all that distance with so little evidence of population (not even a glow on the horizon in many places) tempts me to try to capture the same bleak beauty.
Water scenes give me ideas for art. Weather gives me ideas for art. Animals do, too.
So Why Is It Sometimes so Hard to Find the Right Idea?
Now we come to the crux of the matter, don’t we?
After reading the rest of this post, you’d think I never lack for an idea to draw. If that’s what you think, then you’re wrong. I often struggle with finding or settling on the right idea.
Too Many Ideas
Part of the problem is that I frequently have so many ideas that I don’t know which one to do next. They all look so good that it’s difficult to pick one and just do it (which is usually what my husband tells me to do.)
The readers touched on this when she said there are so many beautiful landscapes, she doesn’t know what to draw.
Lack of White Hot Passion
Another part of the problem is that I’m hardly ever aware of the kind of passion I think other artists have when they speak of passion for subject. That white-hot fire in the belly that won’t leave you alone. I don’t remember ever feeling anything to that extent. So I’m thinking, “I don’t feel white-hot passion for this, so it must not be the right thing to draw,” even if it is the right thing to draw.
What Do You Do When You Can’t Decide What to Draw?
This is where the rubber meets the road. You can have all the great art ideas in the world and still feel stumped.
I don’t know if these things will help you because they don’t always help me, but I offer them anyway.
Pick Something and Draw It
When you can’t decide what to draw, but you have lots of ideas, just pick a photo and draw it. If the ideas are all about equal, this is a good way to get started.
Combine Two or More Ideas
You might also try combining the best parts of several photos into your own composition. That’s perfectly all right, even if you are drawing a specific location. If you don’t want to do that, try drawing the most significant part of the landscape. A tree, maybe, or a pond.
Do a Series of Small Studies
Something I like to do is small studies. One or two colors of pencil on colored paper keeps me from getting bogged down in detail. If you sketch fairly quickly, you can work your way through a collection of photos in a few days. It’s entirely possible that one will grab your attention enough for a more complete drawing.
And even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll have a nice collection of sketches when you finish!
Don’t Focus on Passion
If you have the “passion problem” that I described, then the best thing to do is ignore the idea of passion in art. Draw whatever appeals to you and call it good. We’re not all made the same. There are different levels of passion and some feel it hotly and some feel it temperately. I, for one, have an easier time feeling compelled to do something than feeling passion to do that thing. Maybe compulsion is some form of passion. I’ve been told it is.
Whatever the case, don’t let the way other people react to their work dictate how you react to yours. If that’s what you’re doing, it’s sure to stifle your natural creativity.
I hope I’ve answered this reader’s question (and that of anyone else dealing with the same issues.) Art ideas and inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere. At least for me.
I feel like I’ve gotten a bit off track, but this is something I wrestle with on a regular basis, and I can tell you from experience that there have been times when it totally shut down the creativity.
Whatever else you do, don’t let that happen to you!
CK provides the question for today’s post. Her question is about how to draw textures with colored pencils, but it’s more than that, so here’s CK to speak for herself.
First, I’d like to thank you for creating this website. You have helped me come so far in my colored pencil work, and I’d like to formally thank you.
Now, onto the more interesting topic: my questions on texture. In my opinion, texture is both one of the easiest and one of the hardest techniques to master. While I have only been working with colored pencil for two years, I find creating those realistic textures one of the hardest things to do with colored pencil.
I can say, however, that I have had one or two projects where I managed to create decent textures, the first being a pug and the second a pomegranate. The pug, I noticed, required lots of strokes to accomplish, while with the pomegranate, I utilized the tooth of the paper.
These are probably the few times where the texture of the subjects have really come to life. Other than that, I have tried and tried to recreate it or even create something relatively similar. I’m thinking it has something to do with the pressure or how fast I am trying to create the project.
If you have anything you think can help with creating realistic textures (fruit specifically, if you don’t mind), I would love to hear your thoughts and tips on textures.
I have already written posts on drawing some types of texture, including grass, dirt, stone, and even carpet, so what I’ll do today is share basic tips that you can use for drawing any type of texture.
Let’s get started.
How to Draw Textures with Colored Pencils
There are essentially two parts to drawing texture, no matter what type of texture you want to draw.
Laying down the base color or colors, and adding texture over that.
My first demo is cat hair and the second is a rug, but the same method can also be used for other types of texture.
Step 1: Draw a Base Layer
The base color should usually be a light middle-value or lighter color.
You can begin by laying down smooth color with light pressure with a single, “generic” color if you wish. This is the best way to begin with smoother textures. I sometimes do that when drawing landscapes, then I build texture on top of that. I did that for the eyes and nose on this cat.
In the hair, I drew the base layer with hair-like strokes, mixing colors stroke by stroke in the brown hair. I used three colors for this piece. A very light cream, a medium value earth tone, and a dark earth tone in the hair.
Stroke in the direction of the texture, whether you’re drawing hair, grass, foliage, or any other strongly textured surface.
Step 2: Use Strokes that Mimic the Texture
Use pencil strokes that mimic the texture you’re drawing. Grass or fur are both fairly easy and use similar strokes. Short (or long,) slightly curving strokes in which you start at the bottom of the hair or grass and stroke upward. The primary difference—other than color—is that fur is usually fairly uniform, especially with short haired animals. Grass, on the other hand, can be tall and unruly.
(I know. There is such a thing as unruly hair, too) but that’s almost a topic for another post.
You can create texture by hatching and cross-hatching, stippling (tapping), circular strokes, and random strokes.
Continue layering colors using those strokes. Each layer of color adds depth to the texture, creating patterns of light and dark that mimic the texture of your subject.
It’s important to follow your reference photo closely to make sure you’re stroking in the right direction. It’s also important to get the light and dark values in the right places. They’re more important than the colors you use.
Step 3: Blending Layer
A blending layer is a layer of color meant to smooth out strokes. A lot of artists use a light-value warm gray to smooth out strokes when drawing animal hair, for example.
The blending layer is applied with light or medium-light pressure and a sharp pencil so that the resulting color is smooth. It doesn’t completely hide the texture, but it does subdue it.
Step 4: Repeat
Follow steps 1 through 3 again, and as many times as you need to get the color, values, and saturation you want for your finished piece.
Here’s another section from the same project. This is a fluffy white rug the cat was lying on.
First the reference photo.
Then the base layer of color (white.) I added a lot of white in the foreground, where sunlight falls across the run. The shadows are the paper color showing through.
In the shadowed area, I used a dark medium gray to add shadows.
Notice how the shape and placement of the strokes creates the look of a fluffy rug. Is it exact? No, but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to look like a fluffy rug, and even with just a layer or two of color, it does.
I continued layering white and a variety of grays over the rug until it looked the way I wanted it to look. For each layer, I used the same kinds of strokes to add depth to the pile of the rug.
I didn’t put a lot of detail into this area because I didn’t want it to distract from the cat. But I still matched the type of pencil stroke to the area I was drawing, then let the light and dark values do the rest.
Here’s the finished piece. I don’t know about you, but I like the rug better than that cat!
Yes, We Have No Bananas Today
I apologize for the lack of fruit in this post, but the closest I could come was these two textures, and basic tips that can be applied to any texture.
The main thing is to study your subject, look at the colors and the type of surface, then match the type of strokes you use to draw that subject. The smoother the surface texture, the smoother you color layers should be.
For example, if I were to draw this composition, I’d start with a base layer of yellow over all of the pomegranate, then layer red or red-orange in the darkest or brightest areas. Sharp pencil, light pressure, and work around the highlights with each layer.
Always pay attention to the edges of the highlights, since highlights often indicate the nature of the surface texture, no matter what you draw.
Then I’d continue to layer color until the paper tooth was filled in, and add those red spots with a stippling (tapping) stroke. The end result should be a nice smooth texture
One Way to Draw Textures with Colored Pencils
The method I’ve described in this post is my favorite way to draw texture, but it’s not the only way. If it works for you, wonderful!
If not, then the best thing I suggest is to experiment with different types of strokes to duplicate different types of textures.
No matter what texture you’re drawing, the real secret is to look at your subject in sections, like a mosaic or abstract, and draw exactly what you see (or as close as you want to get.)
Today’s question comes from a reader looking for help using colored pencils on drafting film. Here’s the question:
I need instruction on handling Dura-lar drafting film. Do you know of any books or articles regarding this ground?
Thank you for your question. Drafting film is popular now, so there’s a lot of information available.
While I have yet to try drafting film personally, I am always watching videos and participating in discussions, so I can point you in the right direction! Following are a few of the better sources I’ve discovered.
Where to Find Help Using Colored Pencils on Drafting Film
Since there are so many resources available, let me share a few videos, then a few books and printed material, and finally social media resources. Some of them will deal specifically with Dura-Lar.
Videos about Drafting Film
Lisa Add Watkins (Animal Art by LAW) uses drafting film for some of her colored pencil work. She has three or four videos about drafting film on her YouTube channel. The best place to start is her Introduction to Drafting Film video.
Bonny Snowdon also uses drafting film for many of her pet portraits. She has a very good real-time video on drafting film, Drawing Dog Eyes on Drafting Film.
One is a drawing tutorial featuring peppers drawn on drafting film. Plenty O’ Peppers* is by Gretchen Evans Parker, and Gretchen walks you step-by-step through her drawing process.
There are also a couple other kits for beginners on drafting film.
All three come in a digital format you can download today, or in print. Plenty O’ Peppers also comes in a bundle that includes the printed tutorial and a few sheets of drafting film.
CP Surfaces: Drafting Film* is a book published by Ann. It contains several projects on drafting film by Gretchen Evans Parker. The book features five full demos ranging from marbles and abstract glass, to a duck on water.
Colored Pencil Art Groups
There are several good colored pencil groups on Facebook.
Participation is free, but you will have to apply to each group and be juried in. Colored Pencil Pushers is a group specifically for experienced and advanced artists, but go ahead and apply. No matter what level you think you may be currently, your work will have to speak for you, and it may be accepted!
Drafting film is currently a favorite support in all three groups. They’re free to join, though you need to apply, and the beginner’s group is especially helpful if you’re new to colored pencils.
Those are just a few places to find help if you want to use colored pencils on drafting film.
There are a lot more videos, tutorials, and other resources available, but you will find something in this selection to get you started!
Today’s subject is how to draw a blurry background. Here is the reader question.
I would like to know how muted backgrounds are done. It’s where all the background looks like it’s melted. No specific item is clear. Please help.
I am understanding the question to refer to soft focus, blurred, or bokeh backgrounds. If I’m in error, please correct me, Mardy.
I’ve already written on drawing a bokeh background, which is one form of a blurry or muted background. So I’ll talk about soft-focus or blurry backgrounds in this post.
What Makes a Blurry Background Blurry
The edges you draw determines blurriness. The softer the edges, the blurrier the drawing looks. Whether you draw intentional edges that are crisp, or whether they just happen due to overlapping strokes, the sharper and clearer the edges are, the less blurry the area looks. That’s because sharp focus brings things forward, and softer focus pushes things into the background.
Here’s a landscape photo. I cropped it but that’s all.
This is the same photo, but after I’ve used a blur filter on it in a photo editor.
This version shows a little bit more blurring.
And in this one, I used a different filter to totally “explode” the shapes.
How to Draw a Blurry Background
The same principles apply to drawing a blurry background. The more you soften the edges of shapes, the blurrier those shapes appear. So when you want to draw a blurry background, avoid creating sharp edges either between colors or values.
How do you do that?
By overlapping the light and dark areas in the background, and fading one color into another.
One Way I Draw a Blurry background
Here’s a quick demo of one way I draw blurry backgrounds. In fact, it’s my favorite “blurry background” drawing method.
I usually begin with a medium- or light-value color as a base. I use light pressure and a sharp pencil to layer color randomly, leaving some areas untouched while others have multiple layers.
Repeat the process with the next color.
If there’s a pattern in your background, such as vague shapes of trees, you can follow that pattern, but don’t make it too obvious.
Apply colors in multiple layers. If I’m using four colors for a background, for example, I’ll go through all four colors two or three times, always with light pressure, often in the same order. That’s not a hard and fast rule, by any means, but it’s a place to start.
And don’t repeat edges. Overlap them enough to keep them from getting too crisp.
Continue layering one color over another until the background is the way you want it.
After a few layers, use a neutral color as a blending layer. If I’m using Faber-Castell Polychromos, I often use Warm Grey II for blending. If Prismacolor, French Grey 20% is a good blending color.
The blending layer smooths out the previous layers of color. Use light pressure and draw even color. You want all the layers to be smooth, but this layer should be especially smooth.
If, after you’ve put all the layers you want on the paper, it still doesn’t look right, try burnishing.
When you burnish, you use heavy pressure to grind the colors together. You can use a colorless blender for this, but I usually prefer to use a light color. My favorite burnishing colors are light neutrals such as Cream or Light Umber, but use a color that goes with the colors you’ve already used.
I hope that explains how to draw a blurry background.
Drawing a blurry background may look intimidating at first, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Don’t worry too much about duplicating your reference photo exactly or getting everything perfect, and it will be much easier!
Is it possible to use oil painting mediums with colored pencils? That’s what Lorraine is asking. Here’s her question.
I’ve read of several different solvents that are used with coloured pencils but are worried about the archival quality of some of them on paper. Which are archival? Also are different solvents used with oil-based and wax-based pencils?
There are a lot of oil painting mediums on the market today, and a lot of opinions about their usefulness with colored pencils.
So to keep this discussion on course, I’m tackling each of Lorraine’s questions in turn.
Oil Painting Mediums with Colored Pencils
Let’s break this up into two parts, because there are so many painting mediums available. First, those mediums that do work well with colored pencils, then those you should probably stay away from.
Oil Painting Mediums You can Use with Colored Pencils
The mediums used most by colored pencil artists and oil painters are the basic mediums. Turpentine and odorless mineral spirits.
Most artists opt for odorless mineral spirits whether they use oil paints or colored pencils because turpentine has such a strong odor. It’s simply not advisable for use by people with sensitivities, or if you have to work in small, enclosed spaces. Even with proper ventilation, the smell lingers in the air, and if you’ve used a lot of it to blend colored pencils, the smell can also cling to the paper.
But both turpentine and odorless mineral spirits are as archival with colored pencils as with oil paints. If you use them correctly, you should have no problems with fading color or deteriorating paper.
Don’t use ordinary paint thinner from the lumber yard or hardware store. Yes, it is the same basic solvent as artist quality solvents, but without the additional refining. Cheaper, yes. Archival? No.
Oil Painting Mediums You can’t Use with Colored Pencils
Some of the other oil painting mediums might not transition from oil painting to colored pencil work quite as well.
For example, my favorite oil paints are M. Graham Oils. M. Graham Oils uses walnut oil as the vehicle for their paints instead of linseed oil or safflower oil.
They also produce walnut oil and an alkyd/walnut oil blend for thinning oils. Both would probably blend colored pencil to some degree, but neither is archival because they discolor paper, and perhaps damage it in other ways.
None of the other oils commonly used with oil paints would be suitable, and for the same reasons.
Liquin is another popular oil painting medium. It’s a glazing medium. My guess is that Liquin might blend colored pencils, but also would not be archival for use with colored pencils.
So my advice is to stick with the basics, and forget the more modern, specialty oil painting mediums when you use colored pencils.
Different Mediums with Oil-Based and Wax-Based Pencils
All colored pencils are made with a binder that allows the pigment to be rolled into pencil shapes. All binders contain some wax and some oil.
Wax-based colored pencils contain more wax than oil. They are usually softer, often slightly thicker, and put color onto the paper more easily.
Oil-based colored pencils contain more wax than oil. They are usually harder, often slightly thinner, and put color on the paper a little less easily.
Turpentine and odorless mineral spirits work equally well with both. You may need to adjust the amount of solvent you use with one type of pencil over the other, but you can use the same solvent for both.
I hope that information helps you, Lorraine.
A lot of natural and synthetic mediums are available for oil painters. Since turpentine and odorless mineral spirits are archival with colored pencils, it seems to make sense that all the other mediums are, too.
A good rule of thumb to remember is that if the medium contains any kind of oil or varnish, it’s probably not going to work well either with colored pencils or paper.
And if you decide to try one of them, don’t try it on a drawing. Test it first on scrap paper!
Blending colored pencils with OMS (odorless mineral spirits) is one of my three most frequently used blending methods. In today’s reader question, Patsy asks how to use odorless mineral spirits. Here’s the question:
I would like to know more about using OMS. I seem to make mud. I try using less, smaller brush, maybe not enough layers? Help!
Thank you, Patsy. How-to questions are always good questions. If one person asks, there are usually dozens of others who want to know the same thing, but haven’t asked. Well done!
There’s more than one way to blend with odorless mineral spirits (OMS,) and I’ve already written a tutorial on the subject. You can read that here.
I don’t think the problem is with the size of brush you use, although it is usually a good idea to use the largest brush possible for whatever area you want to blend. The reason is that you can cover the area more quickly, and that’s important because solvents can dry so quickly.
Tips for Blending Colored Pencils with OMS
Let me start with a few general suggestions for blending colored pencils with OMS, and then I’ll address the issue of mud.
Tip #1: Use the Right Paper
Any time you use odorless mineral spirits to blend colored pencil, you need to make sure you’re using a paper that can stand up to the moisture.
That doesn’t have to mean you use watercolor paper, but watercolor papers—and especially hot press watercolor papers—are great for blending colored pencils with odorless mineral spirits.
So are sanded art papers, although you need to adjust how to you blend when you use any sanded art paper.
Rigid supports (papers mounted to a rigid support) are also usually okay to use with odorless mineral spirits.
Believe it or not, regular Stonehenge papers perform well with limited amounts of wet blending. I’ve even used watercolor pencils on Stonehenge. Tape it securely to a rigid backboard first and it dries perfectly flat.
Tip #2: Put Enough Pigment on the Paper
Odorless mineral spirits work by breaking down the binder in colored pencil. The binder is what holds the pigment together, so when it’s broken down, the pigments can be blended almost just like mixing paint.
But you must have enough pigment on the paper before you blend. There isn’t a certain number of layers because a lot depends on how heavily you apply the color in the first place. If you use light pressure, you’ll probably need five or six layers before odorless mineral spirits will do any good.
If you tend to draw with heavier pressure, you can blend after fewer layers.
Tip #3: Use Less Odorless Mineral Spirits Each Time You Blend
The standard procedure with solvent blending is to do the first blend with a wet brush, then use a slightly drier brush with each successive blend.
Each subsequent time you blend an area, use less odorless mineral spirits. That way you’re not blending down to the paper each time (which can cause mud.) Keep a paper towel handy and after the second or third blending, blot your brush after picking up OMS and before touching it to paper.
In other words, the more often you blend a particular area, the less odorless mineral spirits you should need.
Now, to the matter of mud!
How to Avoid Mud when Blending Colored Pencils with OMS
All artists who have made art for any length of time have experienced mud. Mud is what happens when your beautiful colors suddenly lose all that vibrancy and turn into some colorless, dull, drab thing. It’s called mud for the very simple reason that the resulting color so often is mud-colored!
How to Make Mud
Mud often happens when complementary colors are mixed together. Complementary colors are those colors that appear opposite one another on the color wheel. Yellow and purple are complements. So are red and green, and blue and orange.
Complementary colors tone down each other. They’re a great way to keep a color from getting too vivid. If you want to tone down greens in a landscape, add a touch of red.
But usually, you need only a little bit of the complement to tone down the color. A little bit of red in a landscape green is good. A lot of red in a landscape green and you end up with mud.
Mud also happens when you mix too many colors together. That happened to me a lot when I was oil painting because it’s so frightfully easy to keep adding different colors on a mixing palette.
But you can do it with colored pencils, too.
How to Avoid Mud
Without knowing specifics about what is happening to with your blending, Patsy, my guess is that you’re blending too many different colors together or that you’re blending complementary colors.
Try layering a few layers of one color, then blending with odorless mineral spirits. After that’s dry, layer the next color, then blend that. Remember to use less solvent with each blend, so you don’t also blend the colors underneath. This should give you more of a glazing effect, and should result in cleaner color so long as you avoid complements or near-complements and layering too many colors.
One other thing to watch for is a dirty brush. Rinse your brush between uses by blotting it on a clean paper towel until it no longer leaves color no the paper towel. Any color on the brush when you blend will dirty the color already on the paper.
And finally, don’t use dirty solvent. You can use solvent if there is sediment on the bottom of the container; just don’t stir it up. If there is sediment at the bottom, it’s better to carefully pour off the clean solvent, then dispose of the remainder.
Today’s question comes from Carol, a Facebook follower, who asked how hard it is to transition from oil painting to colored pencils. Here’s her question:
How hard is it to transition from oil paints to using pencils and where do you start? Guess that’s two questions and you could probably write a book on both.
You know me too well, Carol. I could write a book on just about anything!
People have asked before about my transition from oil painting to colored pencils, but the focus was painting mediums and paper. More about supplies than motives. So thank you for providing the opportunity to address the question from a different point of view.
I’ll break the question up into two parts and address each part separately.
How Hard is It to Switch from Oil Painting to Colored Pencils?
For me the transition wasn’t difficult at all, but there is a simple reason for that.
It didn’t happen overnight.
I had no intention of making colored pencils my go-to medium when I began using them back in the 1990s. I’ve always oil painted, and thought I always would. I loved everything about oils. The way they blended, went on the canvas, and all those lovely, lovely brushes. I even liked the smell!
Why I Switched from Oil Painting to Colored Pencils
But I exhibited horse paintings at equine trade shows and discovered that even at busy shows there were lull times. Times when it would have been nice to have art to work on, even if it didn’t draw people into my booth (which it almost always does, by the way.)
Oil paints are not nice to travel with. Yes they box up nicely and you can package them quite compactly if you don’t take every color, brush or tool with you.
But wet paint and lots of people—and lots of little people—are not a good mix. Even if no one (myself included) brushed up against a painting I was working on, there was the problem of getting a wet painting home again. It was just more risk and trouble than I wanted to deal with.
And I didn’t want to sacrifice the ability to do detail work for the ease of doing dry media work. I didn’t care for oil pastels and had never tried dry pastels, but they had their own set of challenges. Graphite was an option, I suppose, but another thing I loved about oils was the color. The solution? Colored pencils!
Colored pencils weren’t yet popular so I bought the only thing on the market in my area. Prismacolor. That was okay, because they were still well-made in those days. I bought a full set, mat board to draw on, and started drawing.
I did a few portraits, too, but colored pencils did not replace oil paints. Oils were still my primary medium. I just added colored pencils to them for the sake of portability.
So the transition was painless.
Where (and How) to Begin Transitioning from Oil Paints to Colored Pencils
If I were to transition from oil paints to colored pencils all at once, here is what I think I would do. (This advice comes from the experience of having used colored pencils and oils together for several years.)
One Thing Not to Do
The first I would do is NOT rush out and buy a full set of any brand of colored pencils. Instead, look at the colors of oil paint you use most frequently, then find an outlet that sells pencils individually and buy similar colors of colored pencils. For example, I relied on earth tones in oil painting, so those are the colors of pencils I’d buy first.
I’d do the same thing with paper. Select a full sheet of one or two types or colors of paper, cut them down to small sizes, and see how I liked them.
I can sum up the reason in one word. Cost.
You probably didn’t buy every color of oil paint when you started, right? I know I didn’t. I bought the colors I thought I’d need, then added to them as necessary.
Do the same thing with pencils.
Adapt Painting Methods to Drawing
When it comes time to use them, try adaptations of your painting method with the pencils. Oils are wet and colored pencils are dry, so there is not an exact comparison. But it’s surprising how many painting methods can be easily adapted to colored pencil work.
The Flemish (Seven-Step) method is very easily adapted to colored pencil work. I used a variation on it for oil painting then, and now I use a variation of it for colored pencil work.
Stick with Familiar Subjects
The third recommendation is to start by drawing subjects you’re already familiar with. You’re learning a new medium and new support. Why further confuse matters by doing a new subject?
In fact, I’d probably take that one step further and do one of my oil paintings over in colored pencil for a more direct comparison. That’s a great way to see just how close you can get to your oil painting work with colored pencils.
Start with Small Pieces
Also start with smaller pieces. The biggest difference between oils and colored pencils isn’t the difference between wet and dry. It’s the difference between fast and slow. To keep the frustration to a minimum, do small pieces.
I like 9 x 12 and smaller, but colored pencils work great for art trading cards (2-1/2 inches by 3-1/2 inches.) You can do several quick sketches in an hour at that size or more detailed work in an afternoon or two.
Making the Change from Oil Painting to Colored Pencils Doesn’t Need to be Difficult
Start with a few pencils and a little paper, then see what you can do. If you decide they’re not for you, you haven’t spent a lot of money on tools you’ll never use again.
And if you do like them, you’ll have a better idea what pencils and papers to get to make the most of your new favorite medium!
This reader wants to know how to draw the blackest black in colored pencils, but that’s not all. Here’s the question:
I was wondering what formula you use to get the blackest black you can get?
I have tried indigo with magenta with black on top and it comes out more purplish than black. I might be doing something wrong.
I tried spraying it with textured fixative and going on top of it with a different black pencil. I started with Prismacolor and ended up going over it with Faber-Castell Polychromos, and still have a purplish hue.
How many layers can you get once you spray your project with textured fixative?
Thank you for your questions!
Is There a Formula to Draw the Blackest Black Possible with Colored Pencil?
I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t have a formula for drawing the blackest possible blacks with colored pencils. I’ve drawn several black horses over the years, and also tried my hand at drawing black backgrounds, and I don’t think I’ve used the same method twice for any o them!
That method probably won’t work as well if you doing a portrait, or adding black to a part of your drawing that isn’t the background.
Nor does it specifically answer the questions asked here, so I’ll refer you again to that post, then answer your questions below. Deal?
Indigo Blue, Magenta and Black
I’m not familiar with the idea of mixing Indigo Blue and Magenta with Black to get a darker black, so I tried it for myself. But I’m always looking for ways to do things better, and that includes drawing the blackest black I can.
So I did a quick sample combining Prismacolor Indigo Blue, Magenta, and Black, layering each color in that order with medium pressure. I did two layers of each color before adding the next. The result is on the left of the sample below.
Then I repeated the process, adding two more layers of Indigo Blue followed by Magenta and ending with Black. Once again, I used medium pressure. The center part (between the blue and magenta lines) of the illustration shows two rounds of color.
For both rounds, I used the same stroke, a back-and-forth horizontal stroke. The resulting coverage was good, but not perfect. So for the third round, I used circular strokes, heavier pressure (though not yet burnishing) and added two more layers of each color in the same order. I had to burnish the black in order to make it stick, but that did produce a nice, solid black color.
So the best way to draw the blackest black color may be as simple as adding more layers. I know I stopped on drawings way too soon when I was learning colored pencils. Try another round of color and see what happens.
Why Even the Blackest Black Sometimes Looks Purple
The reason you get a purplish-black when you layer Indigo Blue, Magenta, and Black is that red and blue make purple. It doesn’t matter how you layer them—blue first then magenta, or magenta first, then blue—they will create some shade of purple. The Black doesn’t change that; it merely darkens it.
I can see the usefulness of a nice, deep purple black, but since that’s not what you want, let’s look at ways to correct that.
Indigo Blue and Black; Magenta and Black
I did the next two samples differently.
For the first one, I layered Black with heavy pressure, then layered Indigo Blue over that with heavy pressure. I didn’t use Magenta because I wanted to see what sort of Black resulted with just two colors.
The second sample combined Black and Magenta, with Black under the Magenta. It too produced a nice black, but with more of a pink cast.
Finally, for the sake of comparison, here’s a swatch of just black.
The blue-black is much nicer and more satisfying than the pink black. So the easiest way to neutralize the purple in your black is to simply not use Magenta. Layer Indigo Blue and Black until you have fully saturated color.
Another way to neutralize the purple is to add a complementary color to the three colors you use to make black. Orange is the complement of purple, but orange is a pretty strong color, so I think I’d try an earth tone. Burnt Sienna, maybe, or Terra Cotta. A color that’s already fairly low in brightness.
Using a Different Black
You mentioned using Black from different brands of pencils (at least that’s how I understand your comments.)
This is a good idea, since some companies have more than one shade of black. The Derwent Lightfast line, for example, has two blacks with slightly different tints.
Derwent Drawing Pencils also have a nice black and they’re a soft pencil that would layer over other pencils quite well.
Companies don’t always use the same manufacturing formulas, either, so it’s possible one company’s black covers better than another.
I’ve had success mixing brands of pencils and have no problem buying one color from a particular brand if I think it might help me do whatever I need to do. For example, I bought a Luminance White and Derwent Drawing Chinese White because I thought they might be more opaque than either Prismacolor or Polychromos. They weren’t significantly more opaque, but I now have two nice white pencils to add to my full sets of other brands.
So by all means, try black pencils from other sets.
How Many Layers Can You Draw Over Texture Fixative?
Everything I’ve seen and heard about this product indicates that you can alternate between colored pencil and Texture Fixative indefinitely. The Brush & Pencil website says, “virtually unlimited colored pencil layering.”
A lot depends on the paper you’re working on, though. Texture Fixative is made for use on heavy, non-absorbent papers like sanded art papers. You can use it on heavy watercolor paper (140lb or more) but you have to gesso the paper before starting to draw.
Texture Fixative adds texture to a drawing, and it’s made for colored pencil, so it bonds well and remains archival. I don’t know from personal experience how many times you can add Texture Fixative and draw over it, but it’s much more versatile than anything else currently on the market.
Those are My Thoughts on How to Draw the Blackest Black in Colored Pencils
I hope I’ve helped you with new ideas for drawing the blackest blacks possible with colored pencils.
Try these ideas and if they don’t work for you, don’t use them again. Hopefully you’ll find exactly what you need among them.
Today Rhonda asks how to transfer a drawing to black paper. Here’s her question:
What is the best way to transfer an image onto black or other dark colored paper?
Thank you for your question, Rhonda.
Most of us prefer not to make a line drawing on the paper on which we want to put our final artwork. It’s easier to develop a line drawing on other, less expensive paper until it’s the way we want it. Then the finished line drawing can be transferred to more expensive paper without worry.
Using black paper with colored pencils is both fun and frustrating from the very start. What works so well with white or light-colored papers works poorly or not at all with black paper.
Transferring a drawing is one of those things that’s more frustration than fun. But there are ways to transfer line drawings.
4 Ways to Transfer a Line Drawing to Black Paper
I’d like to share four ways to transfer line drawings to black paper, but I need to start by saying I’ve only used two of them. The other two are intriguing ideas suggested by artists who work with colored pencils and pastels. I believe they are reliable, but have no first-hand experience with them.
So let me begin with the two methods I have used.
Personally Proven Transfer Methods
#1: Light-Colored Greaseless Transfer Paper
The best transfer method for almost any paper is greaseless transfer paper.
Transfer paper (in the art-sense) is paper made with a coating on one side that can be moved from the transfer paper to another piece of paper with very little pressure. Saral is probably the most recognizable name in transfer papers, but there are others.
Saral makes four different colors. Basic graphite gray is great for white paper and most light colored papers. Cream is ideal for darker papers. They also make yellow and red. I haven’t found much need for red or yellow transfer paper, but that may be exactly what you need.
To use transfer paper, mount your drawing to the drawing paper, then slip a piece of transfer paper in between. The transferring surface must face down, and be against the paper onto which you want to transfer your drawing.
This is my favorite transfer method because it’s the easiest, fastest, and cleanest. Transfer paper doesn’t usually leave smudges even if you rest your hand on it while transferring your drawing.
It also makes a clear, crisp line that doesn’t smudge, and it’s archival.
Transfer paper can be used several times. It’s also less expensive than a projector, although you will eventually have to buy more paper.
#2: Carboning the Back of the Drawing
Carboning a drawing is shading the back of the drawing with graphite. The name comes from the graphite, which is really a form of carbon ground into powder, then bound together to form lead. Carboning works extremely well with white papers, and most light- and medium-dark papers.
When you want to transfer a drawing to black paper, however, carboning with graphite isn’t quite as useful unless you’re able to see the shine of the graphite against the black of the paper. You will have to be extremely careful in handling the paper after the drawing has been transferred, however, or you risk losing the lines.
But you can still carbon the back of your drawing a light-colored colored pencil, white charcoal or a dry pastel in a light color. You have to be careful with the charcoal and pastel because they do not stick as well as graphite or colored pencil, and may smudge your drawing paper. However, a little mounting putty easily removes most of the smudges.
I recently read the comments of someone who lightly sprayed their carboned drawing with workable fixative to stabilize the graphite somewhat. That may also work with white charcoal or dry pastel.
Carboning the back of the drawing is one of my go-to transfer methods and I use it whenever I work on a drawing paper that’s too opaque to use on a light box. I always use graphite as the transfer method.
But I have no personal experience using white charcoal or dry pastel with this method, so experiment before using it on a good drawing. Do a test transfer or two and see if it works for you before you carbon the back of your drawing.
I do have limited experience using colored pencils as the transfer medium. The results were adequate, but not such that I’ve used the method a lot. The transferred lines weren’t always very clear, and sometimes the colored pencil with which I shaded the back of the paper left crumbs sticking to the good drawing paper. Being colored pencil, they were often difficult to remove and sometimes difficult to draw over, as well.
The transfer lines won’t smudge, but you won’t be able to remove them, either, so use a color that blends into your drawing as you finish it.
If you choose to use a colored pencil, a soft pencil will be the best transfer medium. Prismacolor Soft Core would be a good choice, but any soft pencil will also work. And once again, it’s important to experiment first. If colored pencil as a transfer medium doesn’t work for you, it’s far better to find that out on scrap paper!
Transfer Methods I Haven’t Used
#3: Projector and a Light Colored Pencil
Projectors are one of the more popular methods of transferring line drawings. The projector projects your line drawing onto paper and all you have to do is trace the drawing. You’ll have to use a light colored pencil for tracing on dark or black papers, and you also have to make absolutely certain the paper and projector are parallel. Otherwise, you could end up with a distorted drawing.
I’ve never used a project for this particular task, so cannot offer a personal recommendation. However, several artists whose YouTube channels I follow use projectors, and they swear by the process. Some of them have published videos on the process. If you’re interested, a quick search will produce dozens of results.
If you have a projector, or you have the money to buy one, this might be your best long-term option. But don’t buy the first projector you find. Do a little research to find the best projector for your needs. Personally, I would begin with some of the on-line art supplies like Dick Blick and Jerry’s Artarama. Even if you don’t buy from them, you can get a good idea about the projectors considered to be “art projectors.” Then you can look for those elsewhere.
Perhaps you don’t have the money for a projector though, or you don’t have the time to do the research, wait for delivery, then learn how to use one. You’re looking for quick and not necessarily pretty. Consider this idea.
#4: Impressed Lines
I heard someone somewhere say they transfer their drawings by impressed lines. I wish I could remember where I heard it, but I think the artist was using Clairefontaine Pastelmat.
I’ve never used this method to transfer a drawing, but in a pinch, I think transferring a line drawing by impressing is workable. Here’s how I would do it.
First, put your line drawing on tracing paper, then mount it to the drawing paper and lightly trace it again. Use a sharp pencil or stylus and medium-light pressure or lighter. Lines need to be clear enough to see, but you don’t want them so deep, you can’t fill them in.
Next, I’d go over the drawing again and outline those shapes with a colored pencil. Use a color that fits each part of the drawing whenever possible. That way, you won’t have so much difficulty concealing the impressed lines.
I have a piece of black paper that needs the drawing transferred and I’m giving serious thought to trying this method to see what happens. If it works, I’ll let you know.
Actually, if it doesn’t work, I’ll let you know that too!
There are Four Ways to Transfer a Line Drawing to Black Paper
Two personally proven, two unproven (so far as I’m concerned.)
They aren’t the only ways to transfer a line drawing to black paper, but they will get you started. I hope you find one of them helpful.