Simplification in Art (And How to Achieve It)

Dan Miller is the featured artist in the April 2020 issue of CP Magic, and is a great writer as well as artist. So I invited him to write about an art topic close to his art (and heart.) He responded with this article about simplification in art. I know you’ll enjoy hearing his thoughts on this important topic.

Simplification in Art

Simplification in Art

By Dan Miller –

Evergreen, Colorado is that magical place situated over the rainbow. Upon arriving 22 years ago, we discovered a land of silvery aspen where bluebirds fly, red foxes hide and each morning begins with a golden sunrise. Away from the confusion of suburbia, I found more time to simplify my work. The true essence of nature became obvious.

To simplify is difficult.

I like to choose a motif and use all of my senses in a thorough examination. Observe the subject intensely and memorize the attractive, essential features. My camera is an indispensable tool in the process. It’s a digital eye that freezes a fleeting moment in time.

I have deep reverence for nature so when I wander alone into a remote wilderness, it’s a spiritual experience transporting me closer to heaven. In order to create an honest representation of the image fixed in my mind, the scenery is simplified while using bold contours and coloring. My drawings are heartfelt expressions depicting the grandeur of the American West.

Spectacular landscapes are much harder to break down because in my enthusiasm to replicate the scene, the inclination is to include every detail. Unfortunately when that happens, the soul of a place becomes lost and the expression becomes complicated and troublesome to grasp.

When drawing a tree, I try not to reproduce every branch and needle. I employ techniques in regards to pencil pressure and color blending while at the same time stylizing the essence of a solitary pine. I break the tree’s complicated shape down into its basic elements, exaggerate the color and capture its personality in an effort to create a more expressive piece of art.

Simplification in Art
Loveland Pass Lakes

Contrast and Color

If I’m lucky, I’ll dream about a work in progress. Then it’s almost as if the simplification becomes interwoven into the subconscious. In technical terms, the art theory is surprisingly simple. More contrast and colors equals complex, while less contrast and colors equals simple.

I’ve learned much from a deep appreciation of art history. The first cave paintings are sophisticated simplifications that exhibit a graceful elegance. Creating beautiful abstractions by eliminating unnecessary details while preserving the spirit of the whole is something artists have been striving to achieve ever since.

Gore Rage Wildflowers

Stay True to Your Personal Style

The temptation to emulate my artistic heroes is irresistible but my artist-father preached from the pulpit of originality. He urged me to stay true to myself and not be influenced by what others are doing. I was challenged to develop interpretations unspoiled by imitation, criticism and greed.

My approach is not formulaic. It’s been a matter of accepting and embracing my natural style while resisting the ever-changing, fashionable trends. An eternal mystery to me is how an emotion conceived in the heart emanates into an eager left hand where it’s delivered by pencil point for all to see.

Spending many years painting commercially to please a fickle audience, caught me up in the competitive affectations of photorealism. A fascinating movement but if executed improperly yields cold and lifeless results. I chose to follow my heart and returned to a little box of wooden crayons.

Evergreen Lake Fall

Learning from Nature as well as Art History

I’ve spent the past couple of decades laboring to uncover a nice middle ground between photo-realism and abstraction. In order to achieve this, I’ve spent countless hours studying nature, art history, science and religion but mostly I’ve worked on drawings. I’ve experimented with different compositions, color schemes and paper, hoping to arrive at a more personal interpretation.

I began listening to the old masters from the past. Albrecht Durer admitted, “As I grew older, I realized that it was much better to insist on the genuine forms of nature, for simplicity is the greatest adornment of art.”

Hans Hoffman instructed, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

Vincent Van Gogh revealed, “How difficult it is to be simple!”

The simplification of my style has been a gradual, uncalculated transformation. An arduous process chocked full of confusion, doubt and failure but in the end it’s worth it. For a humble truthseeker like me, it’s been a revelation to discover that the simplest things in life are often the truest.

Zion Canyon

How Does Simplification in Art Look?

So how does Dan’s work compare with his source material? Here’s the reference photo he used for his CP Magic tutorial.

Animas Forks. This is the reference photo for Dan’s CP Magic tutorial. A beautiful, but complex scene.

And here’s the finished artwork.

Simplification in art demonstrated in Dan Miller's artwork.
Dan’s finished piece, Animas Forks, demonstrates his unique way of simplifying the complex and creating artwork the embodies the character and spirit of place without drawing every detail.

My thanks to Dan for sharing his thoughts on the importance of simplification in art, and staying true to personal style.

Hopefully you’ve found some encouragement from Dan if you’ve been thinking about simplifying your own work.

Dan is the featured artist in the April issue of CP Magic, where you can read about his artistic journey, life experiences, and see how he creates his beautiful work.

April 2020 CP Magic Magazine

Now available: the April 2020 CP Magic magazine, jam-packed with good information.

CP Magic featured artist is Colorado artist Dan Miller. I’m also delighted to introduce a new, monthly column and a reader gallery this month.

April 2020 CP Magic Magazine

What’s in April 2020 CP Magic

First the artist interview. Featured artist Dan Miller is also an excellent writer, so he tells in his own words about his life as an artist, including how he discovered his favorite subject, and unique style.

After that, Dan walks you step-by-step through a brand new tutorial. He explains how he chooses subjects and creates sparkling landscapes, so you don’t want to miss it.

The tutorial includes full-color illustrations, and clear, easy-to-follow descriptions. Dan also shares tips on how to choose and simplify your subject.

Plus a new column beginning this month. Artist and art coach Carol Bond provides monthly help and encouragement to all of those who need it. I’m certainly looking forward to her words of wisdom.

Dan Miller writes about his life as an artist, how he got where he is is today, and what enlivens his art.
See how Dan creates sparkling, stylized landscapes that maintain the character of his subjects.
Artist & art coach Carol Bond debuts with tips for achieving creative confidence.

The Reader’s Gallery makes it’s debut, and the featured photo for you to download and draw for yourself.

And don’t forget the Before-and-After Clinic and Making it Better reader art crit columns.

About CP Magic

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

Each month features an artist interview and a tutorial so you can meet the artist and then see how they work. Other columns are the Before-and-After Clinic and the featured photo.

Back issues are always available.

Get your copy of April 2020 CP Magic magazine here.

Can You Dry Blend on Regular Paper?

Back in December, when we were in the middle of question-and-answer month, a reader asked if it was possible to dry blend on regular paper. I don’t remember the specific question. Nor do I remember my specific answer, but I’m fairly certain I told the reader it wasn’t.

I answered that way because I dry blend on sanded art papers, which produce enough pigment dust to make dry blending effective. Quite frankly, I’d never tried it on traditional paper.

Can You Dry Blend on Regular Paper?

I’m training myself to draw for at least half an hour at the beginning of every day and I’m currently working on a landscape on Canson Mi-Teintes. It’s for myself and is a bit of an experiment, so I’m trying things on this drawing to learn what works (and doesn’t work) on the next drawing on the same paper.

During one morning’s drawing session, I remembered the reader question and thought, What the heck? Lets see if it’s possible to dry blend on regular drawing paper.

I’ll show you the results in a minute, but first, let me explain dry blending.

What is Dry Blending?

Dry blending is a method in which you use a tool other than a pencil to blend. Technically speaking, layering is also dry blending because you’re not using solvent to blend, but when I speak of dry blending, I’m talking about something else.

I use a bristle brush, but you can also dry blend with paper towel, bath tissue, facial tissue (without lotion!) or clean, soft cloth.

After you’ve layered the color, use a bristle brush (as shown below) to rub the color around. I use an old, worn out bristle brush because it was handy and I have more control. The short bristles also allow me to put a lot of pressure on the paper if neceesary.

Dry blending on sanded art paper pushes pigment dust down into the paper. It’s a great way to fill in the tooth of paper and use that dust instead of throwing it away. Win-win!

Use a stiff bristle brush to dry blend on regular paper
Use a stiff bristle brush to dry blend. You can blend with the corner of the brush as shown here, or with the flat.

Dry blending on sanded art paper makes a major difference in color saturation. If you don’t want to use solvents, this is a wonderful alternative.

You don’t need a lot of layers of color to dry blend on sanded art paper.

I used a very well worn #5 bristle brush for blending. I dry blended after just a few layers, and after a lot of layers. For each test, I dry blended between colors, then drew over the dry blend.

Can You Dry Blend on Regular Paper?

Now you know what dry blending is and how I use it on sanded papers like Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Fisher 400, and Uart Sanded Pastel paper.

On to the original question about dry blending on regular paper. I used Prismacolor pencils and blended with the bristle brush as described above.

Here’s what I learned.

Artagain Drawing Paper

Artagain is an archival drawing paper made from recycled paper and produced by Strathmore. It’s smooth like Bristol, but has a bit more velvety feel. I don’t use it very much, but it’s a good paper for drawing detail.

I didn’t know what to expect from dry blending on a paper like this. As you can see from the unblended half on the left below, it’s easy enough to blend by layering.

But I tried dry blending with my trusty brush. It seemed like that removed as much color as it blended, but there was still a noticeable difference.

However, I had to use medium to medium-heavy pressure to get this result. I could have achieved nearly the same results by layering.


Bristol is a very smooth illustration and drawing paper available in two finishes: regular and vellum. Both feel “slick” to me but I keep Bristol vellum in stock because I can’t beat it for some subjects.

After the results with Artagain, I almost didn’t test dry blending on Bristol. It didn’t seem useful and I expected much the same results.

You can dry blend on regular paper like Bristol.

As with the Artagain paper, it is possible to dry blend color, but it requires quite a bit of pressure. It may be easier to dry blend on smoother papers with tissue or a cloth.

Canson Mi-Teintes

Canson Mi-Teintes paper is made for pastels, so it has a lot of tooth, even on the smoother backside. It stands up well to layering, erasing, and solvent blending.

As it happens, it also stands up well under dry blending.

It produces very little pigment dust during drawing, but take a brush to it and you’ll have enough pigment dust to fill the tooth nicely. And quickly.

I tried the front and back, since I’ve used both sides for colored pencil work.

I had to use different strokes and quite a bit of pressure to blend this well. The more color on the paper when you blend, the more effective dry blending might be on the front of the paper.

And here’s what dry blending looks like on the back.

Although Canson Mi-Teintes doesn’t produce pigment dust while you draw, it does produce enough while dry blending to make dry blending effective. It is fairly easy to dry blend; easier than the smoother papers, but experience so far suggests dry blending works best for softening color, value, and edges rather than creating smooth color.

You Can Dry Blend on Regular Paper

I’ve discovered that the more tooth, the better the results. I still get the best results on sanded papers.

But if this method interests you, then by all means give it a try. Just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean you won’t get stunning results.

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How to Draw Rich Black Colors

Lets talk about one way to draw rich black colors.

I recently wrote a post about drawing dark backgrounds and some of that information will help you draw rich black colors, too. But there are times when you need nice, saturated black colors and don’t want use heavy pressure to create them.

How to Draw Rich Black Colors

There are many ways to make a nice, vibrant black. Peggy Osborne wrote a post on this subject a few weeks ago, but she uses a slightly different method than I do. I encourage you to read her tutorial as well as this post, and then do a little experimenting on your own.

Peggy and I agree on one thing, though: The best black colors result from mixing different colors. You can use black—I do—but rarely alone.

But I don’t always use the same methods twice. However, here’s a general rule of thumb method that works every time with only a few adjustments.

How to Draw Rich Black Colors

Step 1: Decide What Type of Black You Need to Draw

That may sound like an odd place to begin until you realize that not all black colors are the same. Some blacks are warm, with shades of brown or gold mixed in. Other blacks are cool blacks and tend more toward blue or violet.

The best way to tell the difference is to look at your subject in good, natural light. If the subject is a warm black, you’ll see warm colors mixed in with the brightest highlights. The black may also look a bit brown.

If the subject is a cool black, there will be blues and other cool colors mixed in with the brightest highlights.

You need a very high resolution photograph to see this and even then, it can be a difficult decision to make. That’s why I prefer to see my subjects (usually horses) in person. On a sunny day, you can get a good look at the other colors that appear in the black hair.

One word of caution. On sunny days, there will usually be some blue in the upper highlights—those highlights on the upper surfaces. This could be because the black is cool, but it is always very likely the result of reflected light from the sky. Reflected sky light is always bluish on clear days. Don’t confuse reflected light highlights with other highlights. For the purpose of determining whether or not black is cool or warm, check the highlights other than those on the upper surfaces.

Step 2: Choose the First Color

I usually start a drawing with a light earth tone such as Light Umber Prismacolor or Brown Ochre Polychromos.

Depending on what you’re drawing, you may want to start with another color. I started this drawing with green, believe it or not, then layered many other colors to develop the black. I didn’t use Black until near the end of the drawing. Even then, I added black only to the darkest values.

One way to draw rich black colors is by mixing many different colors with black.

A good rule of thumb is to make the first color warm or cool based on the type of black you need to draw.

What you want to do at this stage is draw the shadows, and begin establishing the middle values. But don’t draw them too dark. Every color you add darkens the values naturally, so draw even the shadows lightly.

Use a sharp pencil with light pressure, and start by carefully outlining the most obvious shadows, then filling in the shapes with the base color.

You may want to do two or three layers with the base color, darkening the shadows each time, but also drawing more middle values with each layer. By the time you complete a few layers, you should have dark values, two or three middle values, and the light values, which have no color at all.

Step 3: Mix Black in With Other Colors

Layer other colors over the black area. Choose those colors based on whether you’re drawing a cool, blue-black, or a warm brown-black. Alternate between the layers as you develop values, colors, and details.

It’s all right to use Black. I use it all the time, but it’s almost always toward the end of a project and I’m using it to darken an area. It can be mixed with the other colors at any stage or the process, however. The decision is based entirely personal preference.

And how much time you have to finish the drawing!

Step 4: Continue Layering Colors

Repeat the colors until you get the black you want, and/or until the paper holes are filled in. Mix Black in with the other colors, but you might also consider adding a complementary color once in a while just to add a little sparkle to whatever you’re drawing.

Step 5: Finishing Layers

You can either do the final layer with Black, or with a dark warm color if the black is warm, or with a dark cool color if the black is cool.

Again, use the colors that give you the result you’re looking for.

Beware Wax Bloom!

Whenever you use wax-based pencils and a lot of dark colors with medium pressure or heavier, you may encounter something called wax bloom. Wax bloom makes a drawing look cloudy or foggy, and it’s especially obvious in dark colors. If you use heavy pressure, wax bloom may appear overnight or even from one session to the next on the same day.

Don’t worry. It’s nothing serious. The wax binder in the pencils is rising to the surface of the color layers. Wipe it off with a clean tissue or cloth and go back to drawing.

When you finish, wipe off the wax bloom, then spray the drawing with a final fixative to keep wax bloom from happening again.

The dark half of this illustration shows the true colors. The “foggy” half shows the affects of wax bloom. Use a clean cloth or paper towel to gently wipe wax bloom off a drawing.

That’s One Way I Draw Rich Black Colors

As I mentioned before, this is just one way to draw rich black colors. There are others.

The best advice I can give you is to recommend you try every method you come across, and see which one works best for you.

And remember that not every method works equally well for every subject. Always look for ways to adjust your favorite methods to get better results.

For more in-depth how-to on this subject, try my Portrait of a Black Horse tutorial.

Colored Pencil Art Galleries at

I’ve doing a lot of updates and behind-the-scenes administrative work this year. You know about some of them already. CP Magic, for instance. Among the many things you haven’t heard about is creating new colored pencil art galleries on my art website.

New Colored Pencil Art Galleries

New Colored Pencil Art Galleries

It’s been a busy time the last few months, both on this blog and in other ways. In the last few weeks, I’ve launched a new monthly magazine, a new series of colored pencil class downloads, and started plans for new tutorials.

But I’ve also re-organized existing galleries and added three new galleries on my art website, where I share my best colored pencil work.

The reorganized website now includes galleries for Kansas, Michigan, the Flint Hills, and Horses. No surprise there.

But I’ve also added a gallery for Miniature Art and ACEOs, for Sketches in Colored Pencil, and for Experimental Art.

Miniature Art/ACEO Gallery

Miniature art, and in particular ACEOs, have intrigued me since I first learned about them over ten years ago. In 2007, I challenged myself to paint one ACEO every day for a year. Some of those pieces will someday appear in this gallery.

But the pieces you’re more likely to find there are more than quick studies. They may be experiments, but they’re also complete pieces in their own right. Small studies of larger landscapes or other subjects, perhaps.

Or a means of using small pieces of expensive drawing paper.

New Art Galleries - The Miniature Art/ACEO gallery.
Flint Hills Study, 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches. One of the new works in the Miniature Art/ACEO Gallery.

Sketches in Colored Pencil Gallery

These works are either life drawings or sketches from a photograph. Sometimes, they even arise from my imagination or memory. They’re meant to be completed in one sitting, so are small, and often use only one or two colors.

They also aren’t usually highly detailed, but are still nice pieces deserving of a place in a public gallery.

So I made a gallery just for them!

Tree Study 2019 4, 5 inches by 4 inches. A sample of the images you’ll find in the Sketches in Colored Pencil Gallery.

Experimental Art Gallery

Sometimes, I want to try a new method, technique or tool, but don’t want to try it on a “serious” piece.

Sometimes, I just want to have fun.

In both cases, I use small pieces of paper to conduct my experiments. This gallery is still small, but you may be surprised by what you find there. Even though this gallery features the best of those pieces, they’re not easily recognizable as my work.

At least I don’t think so. You may think differently.

Purple and Blue Landscape 2019 1, 5 inches by 4 inches. One of a series of pieces created while experimenting with watercolor pencils and night-time compositions.

As with all of art, my art galleries are always changing. I’ll be uploading new work and the best of my old work over the course of the year, so I hope you’ll visit often.

Watercolor Pencil Class Download

Announcing a brand new type of class and a new class. The new class is a watercolor pencil download, How to Draw a Tree Branch with Watercolor Pencils.

The new class is a downloadable class similar to the tutorials I’ve been offering for years, but packed with information.

Colored Pencil Class Downloads

About Downloadable Colored Pencil Classes

What separates these classes from traditional email drawing classes?

Easy! You get the first lesson, including everything you need to get started, the moment your payment is complete.

A link to the next lesson is included at the end of the lesson, so you can download the next lesson when you’re ready for it. No waiting for the next weekly email!

Each class lesson is presented in PDF format. You can work from your favorite digital device or print each lesson for future reference.

Unlike the regular tutorials I offer, students also have the opportunity to get email feedback directly from the artist.

About this Watercolor Pencil Class

Beginner & Higher

Ages 12 & Up

How to Draw a Tree Branch with Watercolor Pencils presents a four-step method for painting quick studies with watercolor pencils. It’s easy to learn, and can be used for more complete works with more practice.

The class is designed for beginners, but is also ideal for anyone who wants to learn watercolor pencil techniques.

It’s also suitable for ages 12 and up. This class is appropriate for budding artists younger than 12 with adult supervision.

Students are already achieving success.

This is my first attempt at using watercolor pencils, but it won’t be my last. I had fun doing this. Next I will try something of my own. Thanks!

Lori Willis

Read more about downloadable colored pencil classes or visit the How to Draw a Tree Branch page.

7 Ways to Draw Whiskers for Colored Pencil Artists

Anyone who draws animals has to draw whiskers sooner or later. They’re such a small part of most animal art, but believe it or not, they can make or break a piece. It’s important to get them correct.

Today’s post is a followup to a reader question from December 2019. You can read that post here. That post was specifically about drawing whiskers over watercolor pencil and it’s a helpful article for anyone who combines watercolor and traditional colored pencils.

But I wanted to share a few more general tips for the rest of you.

7 Ways to Draw Whiskers

There are several ways to draw whiskers, but the correct answer for each artist depends on what they want to do with their artwork. Since my focus is creating archival art, I’ll answer this question with methods that are archival.

But there are several other methods that can be very useful if you’re doing adult coloring books, greeting card art, or craft art. I’ll talk about some of those at the end of this article.

4 Ways to Draw Whiskers for Fine Art

The following four ways of drawing whiskers—or any similar small detail—should work with any brand of colored pencils.

They are all archival and are therefore acceptable for portrait work, and other animal art that you want to sell. They don’t all work for every situation, however, so it’s best to practice with each one before trying them on a piece that’s important.

#1: Impressed Lines

I used to always impress lines into the paper before layering color. I impressed lines to highlight hair, draw whiskers, and add other small details that would be difficult to draw over color.

Then I started using impressed lines after putting down a layer or two of color. That way, the line was whatever color I layered first, instead of the bright white of the paper.

This is currently how I most often use impressed lines—to sign pieces. In this case, I impressed my signature after finishing the base layer, so the signature did not show up bright white and fitted into the artwork more naturally.

Impressing lines still has a role in my work, but I no longer use it as often as I once did. Why? Mostly because I usually tended to go overboard with it. You know the idea. If one impressed line is good, two is better, and you can’t go wrong with three. Or four or five or a dozen.

Except that you can go wrong. Used too much, impressed lines become distracting.

When you use impressed lines, remember two things.

Draw whiskers by impressing lines into the paper.
I impressed lines into the paper before adding any color to the mane of this horse. They showed up quite well after I’d layered the darker colors over them, but it was easy to see I’d used them too much and incorrectly.

Tips for Impressing Lines

First, use your impressing tool the same way you use a pencil. That is, vary the amount of pressure you apply. For drawing whiskers, for example, start with heavier pressure at the base of the whisker and decrease the pressure as you draw toward the end of the whisker. That produces a more natural looking whisker.

Second, try impressing with a very sharp pencil. I sometimes use Prismacolor Verithin pencils for impressing lines. They’re a hard pencil and hold a point very well, so they’re perfect as a stylus. You can also add color at the same time, so you can see where your impressed lines are before you start layering color over them. That is always helpful (especially if you tend to go overboard!)

#2: Use a hard pencil to draw whiskers over color layers

The second method is to add them over layers of color by using one of the harder colored pencils. Prismacolor Verithin pencils are just like the regular Prismacolor pencils, except they contain far less wax. The pigment cores are thinner and harder, so the pencils hold a point longer. That’s what makes them excellent styluses, and it also makes them good for drawing over other colors.

What you do is layer all or most of the color you want in the animal’s face. Then sharpen a Verithin of the right color to a very sharp point, and draw whiskers over the other colors. Because the pencils are so hard, they dig into the color somewhat, but they also leave a little color. The resulting marks will not be very bright, but you can add less obvious whiskers this way.

Colored pencils with thinner, harder cores like Prismacolor Verithin pencils or many oil-based pencils can be used to draw subdued whiskers over other color. You can also use them to “dig into” the color a little, scratching out whisker shapes.

The biggest advantage is that you can add whiskers of different colors, so not all the whiskers look the same.

I’ve used this method in the past, but the results have never been what I was looking for. However, it is worth a try. It may just work for you!

#3: Scratch out whiskers with a knife

Probably the best way to add whiskers is to use a sharp tool like the Slice ceramic blade or an X-acto knife. Use the knife the same way you would a pencil, but scratch out color after you’ve finished the rest of the drawing. You can scratch a few marks into the drawing, then layer more color over it and scratch out a few more lines.

Be very careful, though. It’s frightfully easy to cut into or even through the paper if you tend to have a heavy hand. This method definitely requires practice before you use it on finished or nearly finished art.

#4: Brush & Pencil’s Touch Up Texture and Titanium White

Finally, there is Brush & Pencil’s Touch Up Texture and Titanium White. Titanium White can be painted right over colored pencil, then drawn over with more colored pencil. It was developed specifically for use with colored pencils, so there’s no worry about damaging a drawing or the white flaking off, as may happen with gel pens or acrylic paint.

Use a very small brush to paint the whiskers, then shade them as necessary with color with they come out too white.

Peggy Osborne uses these tools in most of her pet and animal tutorials. Take a look at one of those to see just how effective these tools are.

3 Non-Archival Methods to Draw Whiskers

The following three methods of drawing whiskers will work, but some of them work for very limited periods of time. They’re not suitable for artwork you plan to exhibit or sell, but if you do crafts, greeting cards, or create art from which to make reproductions and you don’t sell the originals, they will work.

Acrylic Paint

When I was first getting started with colored pencils, I could never get bright enough highlights. So I bought a tube of white acrylic paint to add highlights. It looked great at first, but after the paint dried, it seemed to fade into the colored pencil. The result was so displeasing that I used it only a couple of times.

I’m glad that happened, because I’ve since learned that acrylic paint doesn’t stick to colored pencils very well for very long. It’s just like trying to get water to stick to oil. The wax in the pencils keeps the water-based acrylics from sticking.

You can add whiskers and other details to colored pencil artwork, but chances are it will not stick to the colored pencil for very long.

Gel Pens

I’ve never used gel pens with colored pencils, and probably never will because they behave in pretty much the same way acrylic paint. They may last for a while, but sooner or later the bond between the colored pencil and the gel pen will break down and the accents added with gel pen will flake off.

That won’t happen quickly enough to make a difference with greeting cards, adult coloring books, or craft art, but for portrait work and other drawings I want to last decades, it would be a problem.

Gel pans are another popular option for adding colorful details like whiskers to colored pencil work. They look good for a time, but may not stick to the artwork very long.

Oil Paint

I haven’t tried this, either, though I did once try adding details to an oil painting with a colored pencil. That didn’t work very well, and I don’t expect oil paint on colored pencil would, either.

But the biggest potential problem with this combination is not with the colored pencils. It’s with the paper. Oil paints are made with an oil vehicle to make them useful. That oil could soak through the layers of colored pencil and stain the paper beneath. It could even discolor the colored pencil.

The idea is interesting enough to have me thinking about trying it someday, but not interesting enough to try it on a finished drawing. Especially not one I like! If I do try it, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Those are My Tips for Drawing Whiskers

They’re not the only methods by any means, so if none of these fit your drawing style or give you the look you want, keep looking.

And try new things. You never know which method will be your best solution.

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My Recommended Paper and Colored Pencils

Yesterday, I received a question from a reader who wanted to know my recommended paper and colored pencils. Since that’s one of the questions I frequently receive, I thought I’d share my answer today.

Here’s the question.

What brands are recommending for paper and pencils? Do you use different types of paper with different techniques?

My Recommended Paper and Colored Pencils

I can only specifically recommend the brands I use or have tried for both paper and pencils. However, I am happy to provide information on both.

My Go-To Pencils

My go-to pencils are Faber-Castell Polychromos and Prismacolor (the lightfast colors only.)

I’ve used Prismacolor pencils from the beginning. I started with them because they were pretty much the only colored pencil available when I started back in the 1990s. They have always done what I wanted to do. The only changes I’ve made is in how I buy them (open stock and in-person only) and the colors I use (lightfast only.)

I use Prismacolor pencils on almost every drawing, but limit myself to only the lightfast colors. The top-rated colors are shown here, the I category. I also use category II colors as needed. Read the specific list of colors here.

My husband bought me a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos a couple of years ago and I use them on every drawing. Usually in combination with Prismacolor. The two brands compliment one another beautifully.

Pencils I’ve Tried and Liked

I have tried and liked Derwent Drawing pencils and Derwent Lightfast pencils, but in a limited fashion, since both pencils are pricy.

I have no fear of recommending either type, but would suggest you buy a few of your favorite colors to try before buying a full set of either.

My Go-To Papers

For paper, I most often use either Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper (the back side) or Stonehenge.

I also like Strathmore Artagain Drawing Paper and am learning my way around Clairefontaine Pastelmat.

I also sometimes use Bristol vellum, but it’s not really a go-to paper for me.

Papers I’ve Tried and Liked

I’ve tried a lot of papers over the years and have liked many of them.

One of those is Strathmore’s Artagain Drawing Paper. This paper is made from about 30% post-consumer waste paper and it’s a delight to draw on. It’s almost like a combination of Bristol and Stonehenge. It takes quite a few layers of color like Stonehenge, but is smoother than Stonehenge.

Another paper I’ve tried and liked but haven’t used much is Uart sanded pastel paper. I’ve drawn on grits ranging from 240 grit (coarse) to 800 grit (fine.) It’s a great paper for layering and they now have a dark gray version if you like to work on dark paper.

My Recommended Paper and Colored Pencils - Uart 800 Grit Sanded Pastel Paper
This ACEO landscape study was painted with watercolor pencils on Uart 800 grit sanded pastel paper. It took less than an hour to create and the fine grit worked unexpectedly well with watercolor pencils.

Choosing the Right Paper and Pencils

The paper and pencils that work for you depend a lot on your drawing methods and your goals for your artwork.

In general, if you like a more painterly look, papers with more tooth will suit you better. You might want to try Canson Mi-Teintes or a sanded art paper.

Spring II is another ACEO landscape on Uart Sanded Pastel Paper. This time I used Prismacolor pencils on 240 grit. The result is a more painterly look, with a lot of the paper still showing through the layers of color.

If you like drawings with a lot of fine detail, try something smoother like Stonehenge, Artagain, or Bristol

I choose the paper based on the subject more than method. I especially like the Pastelmat for landscapes, but also use both Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes for landscapes.

I’ve not yet tried drawing an animal on Pastelmat, but have had good success on Canson Mi-Teintes, Stonehenge, and Bristol.

So try a few combinations and see what works best for you.

Want more Specific Advice on My Recommended Paper and Colored Pencils?

I answered a similar question during December 2019 Q&A month. Read The Best Paper and Pencils for Colored Pencil Art.

How to Draw an Irish Setter

Peggy Osborne joins us again this month to show us how to draw an Irish Setter. Let’s get right to it.

How to Draw an Irish Setter

Hi all, welcome to another tutorial.

This month I’m showing you how I draw an Irish Setter pup. The reference photo is from Wet Canvas. (You must be a registered Wet Canvas user to see the photo.)

The Irish Setter is known for its rich red color, but I didn’t use red in this tutorial. Instead, I used the following Prismacolor colors:

Burnt Ochre
Clay Rose
Dark Brown
Terra Rose
Sienna Brown
Mineral Orange
Seashell Pink
Greyed Lavender
Rosy Beige
Mahogany Red

A Tip for Picking Colors

Sometimes I use a free color picker app called Just Color Picker to help choose colors. I placed the picker tool onto the original photo, and can clearly see the color. When I can’t decide if an area is cool or warm or if I need an orange or brown color, this tool isolates the color. That makes it easier to see.

I chose this photo, because I love drawing “cute” pets. It also shows a wide range of red from the very dark shadow areas to light apricot in the ears.

How to Draw an Irish Setter - The reference photo

I’m using Heavyweight Vellum Drawing paper by Bee Company. Heavyweight Vellum is a white paper and has enough tooth to be able to add several layers of pencil.

I’m also using Prismacolor pencils but you can use whatever paper and pencils you have available. This should be a fun project.

The Line Drawing

My first step was to trace an outline of the dog onto the paper. Add as much detail as you like when you make your tracing.

The line drawing for how to draw an Irish Setter

Start with the Eyes

I always start a portrait with the eyes. I love looking into the dog’s eyes as I work. When I get them right, the rest just falls into place for me.

I studied the reference photo closely when looking for the colors I needed. Then I drew around the eyes with Dark Sepia and used White in the highlights.

For the color of the eyes, I layered first with Cream, then Light Umber. I went around the outside of the eyeball with Dark Brown as shown in the reference photo. To redefine the shape of the eye and pupil I outlined them with Black. Then I added a touch of Mineral Orange to the eye for more depth of color.

Draw the Fur around the Eyes

I usually work with a light touch with every color and carefully follow the reference photo.

Working from light to dark around the eyes, I used Cream, Mineral Orange, Burnt Ochre, Sienna Brown, Chocolate, Dark Brown , Sepia and Black.

When working on white paper, I use the Slice tool to create fine hairs by removing color back to the white of the paper. You cannot get that effect on dark paper or if you start out by using the darker colors first. The dark colors have to be on the top of the layers.

On the forehead, I layered Cream and Seashell Pink in the highlighted areas.

For the rest of the hair, I used Mineral Orange, Burnt Ochre, Sienna Brown, and Chocolate. I’ll be using all the colors I mentioned at the beginning, but at different times and in different areas depending on the affect I want.

I continued adding the colors to fill the tooth of the paper using the colors I mentioned previously in addition to Terra Rose, Mahogany Red and Rosy Beige.

I look at my reference photo continuously while working and follow the direction of the fur. When drawing fur, I draw from the root of the hair out to make it look more realistic.

Once I have the layers of color in place, I use the colorless blender to blend them together seamlessly and fill the tooth of the paper.

Drawing the Far Ear

Knowing ahead of time that I’d be using my Slice tool to scrape out tiny hairs, I worked from light to dark. Once again following the photo, I drew in directional strokes of fur with layers of Seashell Pink and Eggshell along with Dark Brown, Mineral Orange and Burnt Ochre.

To finish the ear, I added the same colors along with other colors like Sienna Brown and Sepia for depth. I also used Black Grape in a few areas.

Throughout this area, I continued looking at the reference photo and drew the colors I saw. Once the tooth of the paper was filled, I used the Slice tool to scrape out some fine hairs all over the ear.

Now on to work on the muzzle.

For the base colors of the muzzle I used Seashell Pink, Cream, Mineral Orange, Terra Rose, Sienna Brown and Light Umber. I layered these with directional strokes showing the direction the hair grows on the muzzle.

The first color I I layered on the nose was Black in the nostril, around the nose, and the crease in the nose. I used light pressure in each area.

Then I added a light wash of Black in the darkest areas and a wash of White in the lightest areas. Next I washed Blue Slate over the entire nose, and washed Sepia on the lower part of the nose. Then I used my colorless blender to blend these colors together.

To finish the nose, I continued adding these colors until the tooth of the paper was filled. Then I used my electric eraser to tap out little spots on the nose, and used the Slice tool to add more texture to the nose.

Then I went back in with Black and lightly circled some of the spots for a more complete look.

I always follow the color pattern I see in the reference photo and constantly look at my reference photo.

Finishing the Face

The darkest shadows are darkened with Sepia, then the next colors are Mahogany Red and Terra Rosa and Chocolate for the next darker values. For the light values, I used Seashell Pink, Beige, Mineral Orange and Light Umber.

How to Draw an Irish Setter

For the cheek, I used the same colors and added layers to fill in the tooth of the paper. This is pretty much my whole technique throughout a drawing; layers and more layers.

Drawing the Mouth

For the mouth, I used my white pencil to draw highlights on the lip and teeth. There is a lot of lavender color in the mouth area since it is in shadow, so I used Greyed Lavender, Rosy Beige, Black Grape, Blue Slate, White and a touch of Eggshell on the teeth.

Below the lips where the hair is, I used Dark Brown , Eggshell, Burnt Ochre, Sienna Brown, Chocolate, Sepia and Dark Brown. Then I used my Slice tool to pull out some color and added white for the light hairs on the chin.

Next I finished the muzzle and cheek with the same colors, but watched closely where to place the lighter colors and the darker colors according to the reference photo.

When I finished adding color, I used the Slice tool to scrape out tiny hairs under the nose.

How to Draw an Irish Setter

Drawing the Near Ear

The near ear has an overall lighter appearance than the other ear due to the light source. I used the same colors, but focused on the lighter tones.

I started by drawing hairs in a directional stroke with Clay Rose followed by a wash of Cream and Nectar. Then another round of directional strokes with Chocolate and a wash of Seashell Pink with touches of Mineral Orange here and there.

Additional layers followed the same pattern—directional strokes and washes. I used Burnt Ochre on the top and front area of the ear, and Sienna Brown on the back area. Then I washed Greyed Lavender on the back area of the ear and Eggshell on the top and front.

More light falls on the top and front of the ear, so the colors are slightly different.

How to Draw an Irish Setter

In additional layers, I used Beige as a wash overall, then Burnt Ochre on the front and top of the ears. I then used Cream to lightly burnish the whole ear.

I finished the ear by adding more layers of the same colors to fill the tooth of the paper.

In the dark areas, I added dark colors based on the reference photo. I did the same thing in the light areas, adding White to keep them bright.

I put sepia under the ear to define the darkest shadows on the neck, then topped the ear off with a touch of titanium white mixture to show some light feathery hairs.

How to Draw an Irish Setter

Drawing the Neck and Shoulder

I’ll describe this fairly quickly because it’s just following the same method of layering and using all the same colors throughout.

The neck and shoulder also don’t have the same level of detail as the face with the eyes and nose being the focal point of a portrait.

I started by leaving the lightest areas white and drawing all the layers of colors I saw in the reference photo. I continued referring to my reference photo, sometimes zooming in to get a closer look at an area.

To finish, I layered colors to fill the tooth of the paper. It’s a process of looking at the colors and applying with a directional stroke to get the depth and realism you want.

I filled in the lightest areas with a white pencil, and then dragged darker colors over and through the lightest areas to blend them.

How to Draw an Irish Setter - Nearly finished

Finishing the Portrait

I completed this piece by scraping fine whiskers with the Slice tool, and adding more highlights with Brush and Pencil titanium mixture.

As always I used a comparison photo to check colors and likeness. First the color version and then the black-and-white version.

The black-and-white version helped me see if the values were close. I actually do this comparison throughout the process. It helps me catch something early in case I need to make a change.

How to Draw an Irish Setter - Check values by converting the drawing and reference photo to black and white and then comparing them.

So that’s how to draw an Irish Setter. Here’s the finished piece.

How to Draw an Irish Setter - The Finished portrait.

The Tools I Used to Draw an Irish Setter

Just for fun, I wanted to share a picture of the pencils I used. Remember this is a solid color dog and it’s amazing how many colors went into creating it. I think there are about 30 different pencils.

You’ll also see the electric eraser and Slice tool. I used the little paint brush for applying titanium white mixture.

The tools used in the How to Draw an Irish Setter tutorial.

Are You Ready to Draw an Irish Setter?

You can follow the steps in Peggy’s tutorial with any Irish Setter. Remember, you don’t have to use the same pencils or paper Peggy uses to get good results. It’s all about following the reference photo and drawing what you see.

About Peggy Osborne

See more of Peggy’s work at Pet Portraits by Peggy. You can also meet Peggy in the January issue of CP Magic.

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

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

Review of Clairefontaine Pastelmat

Today, a product review! I’ve finished one drawing and made enough mistakes on another to write a thorough review of Clairefontaine Pastelmat. So let’s get to it!

Review of Clairefontaine Pastelmat by Carrie Lewis

What I Bought

There’s no doubt about it, Pastelmat is expensive. That’s why I first got a sample piece to try.

But the color I received was the Sienna color, which is close to Prismacolor Yellow Ochre. I wanted something different, so purchased the smallest pad available (7×9.5 inches) in an assortment of colors. Three sheets each of white, sienna, brown and anthracite. The price from Dick Blick was $36 including shipping.

The pad has a rigid back board, with each sheet protected by glassine-like paper to keep it fresh and clean. Those cover sheets also come in handy while I’m drawing.

Pastelmat is 170lb paper, so is quite substantial. Personally, I like the additional heftiness, but I do enough layering that a paper with a bit of weight is better.

I like the feel of pencil on this paper. The better the pencil, the nicer the feel. Soft and waxy Prismacolor pencils have a good feel. Color goes down quickly and with good coverage. Derwent Drawing pencils layer nicely on bare paper or over other color. Derwent Lightfast glide onto it like a dream, while Koh-I-Nor Progresso pencils didn’t perform very well over or under other color.

Now for the details.

Review of Clairefontaine Pastelmat

I’ll talk first about the things I like about this paper, then about the things I didn’t care for, and wrap up my review with a general recommendation.

What I Liked About Pastelmat

It Takes a Lot of Color

For artists like me who like to work with lots of layering, Clairefontaine Pastelmat is ideal. I used countless layers of color on both pieces and was still able to add more on my finished piece.

I didn’t count layers on either of the pieces I’ve worked on, but it was a lot. I’m confident I could have added still more layers even on the finished landscape.

It doesn’t matter whether you blend with solvent or not (I did,) or whether you use any other drawing tool. Pastelmat simply takes a lot of color.

You Can Add Light Colors Over Dark

Yes. It’s true! You can add light colors over dark for bright accents and details.

Add middle values over dark values by glazing color, or add accents and details by stippling. Both methods work with sharp or dull pencils.

Here, for example, I layered a light-medium value green evenly over the bushes, and then stippled white highlights. After that, I stippled light yellow or green accents, and you can see the greens even over that dark, dark sky. I was delighted!

Review of Clairefontaine Pastelmat. You can layer light colors over dark.

You Can Do Smooth Blends

Even light blending produces soft looking transitions. You can easily blend just a few layers of color, but the more color on the paper, the better and softer the blend.

This illustration shows a dry blend after just a few layers of color. Note the softness in the two brown shapes. The blue background is also fairly soft looking even with fewer layers of color and less blending. Adding and blending more layers continued producing soft color and value transitions.

Corrections are Easy on Pastelmat

It’s easy to correct mistakes.

Mistakes on traditional paper often mean starting over from scratch or living with a partially corrected mistake. Not so with Pastelmat!

It’s easy to sketch changes over existing color, shade the shapes, and end up with a drawing in which such corrections are not obvious. Try that with most traditional drawing papers!

You can Remove Color Totally

In cases where a simple correction isn’t possible, you can make major changes by removing color. A little bit of odorless mineral spirits, a bristle brush, and paper towel is all you need.

This is a drawing I didn’t like. In fact, I was pretty sure I’d ruined it. Not a pleasant thought.

After a few days of indecision, I tried softening those background shapes by blending with solvent and a stiff brush.

That resulted in a mess, so I wiped the drawing a couple of times with paper towel.

It’s still not pretty, but most of the mistakes are now gone and the paper dried as flat and fresh as the day I transferred the line drawing. I may need to freshen up the line drawing, but I’m confident I can redraw the background with no harm done to the paper.

Paper Colors

Pastelmat comes in fourteen colors, with pads available in white and anthracite, and four different assortments. Most of those colors are ideal for nature subjects, pets and human portraits.

So those are some of the things I liked about Pastelmat. Were there things I didn’t like? Yes.

What I Didn’t Like About Pastelmat

Pastelmat is not very good for dry blending.

This may surprise many of you, but one of the things I didn’t like about Pastelmat is that it’s more difficult to dry blend color.

I’ve gotten used to sanded art papers producing enough pigment dust for effective dry blending with a bristle brush. In fact, I’ve found ways to make good use of that pigment dust.

So I was disappointed to discover that Clairefontaine Pastelmat doesn’t produce the same amount of pigment dust produced by other sanded art papers. The first few layers produced no dust at all, and I had to put down several layers of color to get enough dust for dry blending.

I was able to do some dry blending toward the end, but not as much as I usually do. I could have left my bristle brush in the tool box and gotten the same effects with other methods.

It takes a lot of layers to fill in the tooth of the paper.

The number of layers you can put on Pastelmat is a disadvantage as well as an advantage.

While I liked the ability to continue adding layers well into the final stages of the drawing, there were times when I just wanted the paper holes to be gone! I finally resorted to solvent in some areas, just be done with it.

(An approaching deadline had a lot to do with my impatience. It will be interesting to see if I experience the same impatience to finish when I can work on a piece without a deadline!)

Pastelmat seems to eat pencils for lunch.

If you’re a sharp pencil fanatic, you’re not going appreciate Pastelmat all that much. Two strokes and that nice, needle-sharp tip is history. You’ll feel like you’re sharpening pencils a lot more, and that will leave you thinking you’re burning through the pencils.

But wait a minute! That is an illusion for the most part. A lot of color is going onto the paper, so it builds up faster. You’re not wasting color, you’re using it.

And Pastelmat is ideal for dull or blunt pencil methods. You can use a pencil down to the wood and still cover the paper as well as with a sharp pencil. So in the long run, you’re saving time (fewer sharpenings) and pencil (less pencil ending up in the sharpener.)

Should You Try Clairefontaine Pastelmat?

My overall recommendation of this paper is favorable. It comes in a nice variety of colors. It’s very sturdy, so it stands up well under heavy pressure, tons of layers, and solvent blending.

And you can layer light colors over dark colors with more ease than most other papers.

But it does take a lot of layers to fill in the tooth of the paper, and there is a bit of a learning curve in using it.

If you have an adventurous spirit, like trying new things, and are patient, then give Pastelmat a try.

If you don’t, then you may want to skip it.

Personally Speaking…

My overall impressions of Clairefontaine Pastelmat are good, but I probably won’t make it my preferred paper without more work on it. I’ve learned a lot, but there’s still a lot to learn.

The full tutorial on the landscape drawing featured in this post is available in the March 2020 issue of CP Magic. It includes more in-depth information on my experiences with this paper.

Last week’s post also features work on Pastelmat. Read How to Draw a Blurred Background.