Art Selling Myths (And Why not to Believe Them)

Time to talk about a few art selling myths, and why you shouldn’t believe them.

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me about selling art. She wanted to know specifically if I’d noticed oil paintings selling better than colored pencil pieces or vice versa.

That post got me thinking about some of the common myths we artists tend to believe about selling art. Since understanding what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does work, sharing a few art selling myths is a great place to begin a discussion on selling art.

And before you start thinking this is an academic discussion, let me assure you I’ve wrestled will each one of these myths for years. Some of them are still a struggle. So I speak from personal experience.

Why You Shouldn't Believe These Art Selling Myths

There are a lot of art selling myths in circulation, so I’m going to focus on the five that gave me the most trouble.

I’ll also offer a suggestion or two to help you overcome each one.

Art Selling Myths

Myth #1: If you make it, someone will buy it.

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

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

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

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

It still doesn’t work. In most cases, art does not sell itself.

Not even if you put it on social media.

Art Selling Myth #1: If you make it, someone will buy it. Otherwise known as the Field of Dreams mindset.
Image by WhiskerFlowers from Pixabay

What to Do

This is a mindset problem, so the only way to deal with it is changing your mindset.

How do you do that?

Experience changed my mindset. Years of painting without marketing or selling eventually taught me the importance of marketing. That time wasn’t wasted because I continued making art and my art improved.

But if you can sit yourself down and reason out the link between marketing and selling, you’ll be yards ahead of the game. Hopefully a lot sooner than I was!

Myth #2: If my art isn’t selling, it’s because it’s not good enough.

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

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

Even art that’s technically bad—that is, poorly drawn, poorly rendered, created with non-archival materials and so on—can and does often sell. Sometime for a lot of money.

What’s my point? You may not think your artwork is good enough, but someone else will. All you have to do is find them and that’s called marketing!

What to Do

This, too, is a mindset problem. Every artist I know has moments of thinking their work isn’t good enough. Some of us (yes, me) never think our work is good enough.

But we are usually our own worst critic, and the solution is the same as the solution to Myth #1.

Just.

Stop it.

The fact of the matter is that your art IS good enough to sell to someone somewhere.

Myth #3: If I follow the trends, I’ll sell art.

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

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

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

What’s worse, you’ll end up with a collection of art that fits no particular style. Your work will not have a common thread. It will be all over the place.

And that makes marketing very difficult.

What to Do

If you tend to chase trends in art, the first thing to do is stop it!

Figure out what you’re most interested in drawing, how you most enjoy drawing, and what motivates you most.

Then draw those subjects in those ways and have fun. People who see your work will come to recognize it, and sooner or later your work will begin to attract people who like the same type of work.

And if you must dabble with trends, make sure to incorporate something recognizable into the trend-following artwork. Something that connects it to the other pieces.

In other words, stop following the herd.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Myth #4: Marketing takes only a few minutes a day.

Oh, how I wish this was true!

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

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

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

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

What to Do

The best remedy for this myth is intentionally setting aside time to market every week. It doesn’t matter whether you market day-by-day or week-by-week. It is important to get into the marketing habit early.

Also pay attention to the types of marketing that work best for you and spend most of your marketing time there. Take email lists, for example. It’s a proven fact that the people on your mailing list are far more likely to buy from you than almost any other group you might imagine. It makes more sense to work on building your mailing list then your Facebook following.

Know which marketing activities yield the best results, then make those activities priority.

Image by annca from Pixabay

Myth #5: I can market without spending money.

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

Well, yes.

Sort of.

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

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

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

For now.

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

What to Do

If you’re like 99.9% of artists, you’ll be working on a shoestring budget when you begin marketing. That’s normal!

So make use of those “free” marketing tools like social media and word of mouth.

But get rid of the notion that you can market forever without spending money by starting to set aside money for paid marketing opportunities. Start now.

It doesn’t have to be a lot of money either. A few pennies set aside out of every dollar accumulate faster than you might think.

Art Selling Myth #5
Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay

There’s nothing quite so liberating as finding a paid marketing opportunity for which you already have money set aside. Money that doesn’t have to come out of the household budget.

5 Art Selling Myths that Don’t Have to Hold You Captive

Which of those art selling myths is holding you back? Identify it, then overcome it. Start with the solutions I suggested, but don’t stop there.

Work at changing how you deal with any of these problems or any of the many other marketing myths currently in circulation. Yes, it’s hard work, but you won’t be sorry.

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Colored Pencil Workshop for Beginners

Announcing a colored pencil workshop for beginners at the Carriage Factory Art Gallery.

If you’ve never used colored pencil before, but would like to learn more about colored pencils and gain basic skills, this workshop is for you.

If you’re familiar with colored pencils, but want to improve your basic skills, I also welcome you.

Colored Pencil Workshop for Beginners

Colored Pencil Workshop for Beginners

Where: Carriage Factory Art Gallery, Newton, Kansas

When: February 8, 2020 from 10 am to 3 pm

Tuition: $80

What to Bring:

  • Supplies (supply list available from the gallery)
  • A work in progress
  • Reference photos

Workshop Description

The workshop begins with an introduction to colored pencils including basic colored pencil terms, learning about the various grades of pencils, and different types of paper.

I will demonstrate fundamental techniques such as layering, blending, and pencil control, as well as different ways to hold a pencil and put marks on paper.

Students will then practice on a drawing they bring with them.

What to Bring to the Workshop

Supplies. A supply list is available from the gallery.

A drawing to work on. This can be something brand new, or a work in progress to practice the lessons on. A line drawing on drawing paper is preferable, so the student is able to practice layering from the beginning.

What to Expect from the Workshop

Expect to have fun while you learn (that is the best way to learn, after all.)

Expect to get personal feedback from me, and to meet other artists interested in colored pencils and colored pencil art.

It is my goal to give you the basic skills to take home and make your own great artwork.

Count Me In! What Do I Do Next?

The Carriage Factory Art Gallery in Newton, Kansas is hosting the workshop and handling all registrations. Students must pre-register. Just click here to register and make payment.

I hope to see you there!

How to Draw a Golden Retriever

Welcome Peggy Osborne back in 2020 for another of her wonderful step-by-step tutorials. This time, she’s showing us how to draw a Golden Retriever.

Here’s Peggy.

How to Draw a Golden Retriever

For this tutorial I decided to draw a golden retriever as I see a lot of people struggle with the coloring of Goldens.

Goldens come in a variety of golden tones from a deep red to a pale, almost white golden color. This Golden Retriever is a mid-range golden color. I chose this reference for his sweet expression, which is common to this breed.

Here is the reference photo from Pixabay. I cropped the original a bit.

How to Draw a Golden Retriever - The Reference Photo
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

I’m drawing this on Strathmore Toned Tan Mixed Media Paper. I thought the color would be a nice background to work on, giving a warm glow to the final drawing.

Start with an Accurate Line Drawing

I start with a sketch showing the details I want to draw and the placement of the important features.

How to draw a Golden Retriever beginning with a detailed line drawing.

Getting the Eyes Right

I usually always start with the eyes. If they are not right then the rest of the drawing won’t be either.

The reference photo shows reflections of the window and shadows in the eye. I want to try to convey this in my drawing, so I start by placing those highlights with White.

Then I start layering Sienna Brown, Chocolate, Light Umber, and Dark Brown into each eye using a sharp point and light pressure to build up the layers slowly. I outline the eye and draw the pupil with Black, and use Blue Slate in the highlights.

How to draw a Golden Retriever. Get the eyes right and the portrait is more likely to succeed.

To finish the eye, I use Greyed Lavender, White, and 70% French Grey around the eye.

Next, Draw the Hair Around the Eyes

Remember to always look closely at the reference photo and observe how the fur is arranged and growing. Start at the root of the hair and draw outward the way the fur grows. This gives you a sharp line at the end of the hairs and makes the hair look more natural.

You don’t need to use the same colors I use, these are just guidelines. I use Prismacolor pencils and if you use different pencils the colors will be slightly different, but you’ll still be able to succssfully draw this portrait.

I use a variety of colors to build up the layers; Cream, Rose Peach, Sienna Brown, Beige, Light Umber, Chocolate, Goldenrod, and Dark Brown.

Drawing the Face & Ears

I continue drawing the hair by marking the lightest areas with White.

Then I begin building up layers with lighter colors such as Light Umber, Beige, Peach, Sand, and Goldenrod, working from light to dark. In the darker areas, I use Light Umber, Chocolate, and Dark brown.

I continue layering those colors, but if I see another color in the reference photo, I add it as I work.

In addition, I keep drawing hair-like strokes in the direction the fur grows.

I lay in the darkest areas in the ear with Sepia and Light Umber. I wash the whole ear with Sand using a light touch.

Next I use White in the highlighted areas of the ear to create depth. Then I use a wash of Beige before going over the ear again with layers of Sepia and Light Umber to create more shadows.

With each layer, I draw more details in the ear, repeating the same process with the colors mentioned until I am finished.

I also added Peach, Sienna Brown, Chocolate, Dark Brown, and Burnt Ochre.

When the ear is finished, I move to the other side of the face and ear using the same method and colors.

Continue checking the reference photo as you work, and look for the color placement and apply colors accordingly.

The Muzzle and Nose

Here I’ve added more details to the far ear, and then started the muzzle. I drew the light and dark areas lightly with White and Light Umber to show the contours of the face.

I finish the muzzle using the same colors as the rest of the fur.

To make things easy on myself, I keep all the colors I use as I work in a separate container so I don’t have to look for them among all my pencils. I can just reach for the one I want and it’s right there.

To start the nose, I mark the highlights with White and the darkest areas with Black. The nose has a fleshy look so I use Rosy Beige, Clay Rose, and Peach as base colors. For the darker areas, I use Sepia and 90% Cool Grey.

Drawing the Neck and Chest

The next area is the fluffy hair beneath the chin and ear. I draw in the area with Light Umber. This area will go fairly quickly as it doesn’t have the details that the face has, and I will use solvent to blend it later.

Using various colors as previously stated, I add several layers of color so I can use the solvent to blend them smoothly. You need 4 to 5 layers to get a smooth blend when using solvent.

I use a light touch and draw lines to show definition in the fur and shadows. Sometimes, I also use the pencil on its side, softly creating a wash over the whole area. I repeated this step until I got the drawing where I wanted it.

Once the main colors are in place, I continue adding more layers and details, still using pretty much the same colors throughout the piece.

For the solvent blend, I apply the solvent with a little brush and make sure to follow the direction of the hair with the brush. This softens the colors without completely blending them and makes them look more natural. The solvent also makes the colors look brighter.

The next step is adding fine hairs and highlights with Brush & Pencil Titanium White Mixture. I apply this with a small brush over the areas I blended with solvent. You can see this in this photo.

The Final Steps

Just before finishing the drawing, I place it in a comparison split photo to see how the colors compare side-by-side.

How to draw a Golden Retriever - comparing the reference photo and portrait in color to check color accuracy.

I needed to add more Goldenrod and Greyed Lavender. I also added Dark Umber in the dark areas and then went in again with the Titanium White mixture to add more depth.

To add whiskers, I first used White, then went over them with Titanium White mixture to punch them up.

Then I converted the reference photo to black-and-white for a comparison of values without color.

How to draw a Golden Retriever - comparing the reference photo and portrait in black-and-white to check values.

This is the finished piece.

How to Draw a Golden Retriever - The finished portrait.

So Now You’ve Seen How to Draw a Golden Retriever the Way Peggy Does.

My thanks to Peggy for another great tutorial.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and are now ready to try your hand with a Golden Retriever portrait.

Or maybe you’d like to see other tutorials by Peggy, including How to Draw a Long Haired Dog. They’re all packed with good information and beautiful illustrations.

About Peggy Osborne

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.

See more of Peggy’s work at Pet Portraits by Peggy.

New Magazine for Colored Pencil Artists

The first big endeavor for 2020 is a new magazine for colored pencil artists.

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!

Magazine for Colored Pencil Artists CP Magic Magazine Initial Cover

New Magazine for Colored Pencil Artists

Each issue features an artist interview and a tutorial by the same artist, so you can meet the artist, learn something about their work and artistic journey, AND see how they do the art they do.

I’m delighted to feature pet portrait artist Peggy Osborne as my first guest. Her monthly tutorials have rapidly become reader favorites, so it’s a special honor to give her this place of recognition.

I’m also including a featured reference photo with each issue, so readers can practice their drawing skills on something different each month. Subjects will include landscapes, flowers, clouds, and, of course, cats!

CP Magic magazine artist interview
Interview with Peggy Osborne
Magazine for Colored Pencil Artists - CP Magic Tutorial
Peggy’s tutorial of a black horse
Before-and-after clinic

Features I’m hoping to add in the future include a reader question and the answer, and a critique.

There is no subscription plan. Issues will be available for purchase when they publish and afterward.

There’s no way to buy in advance, either. I just wanted to let you know what was ahead. I hope you’re as excited about this new magazine as I am!

Get your copy of CP Magic January Issue here.

Prismacolor Colors I Use Most Often

There’s been a lot of discussion on this blog about the best pencils to use and the best colors to use. Most of the discussion has been about issues with fading. So I thought I’d start 2020 by sharing with you the Prismacolor colors I use and why I use them.

I’m very particular about the colors I use. As a portrait artist and an artist interested in selling my work, I want buyers to get the most for their money. The idea of selling a piece at any price and having it fade away in any length of time is not a pleasant idea.

The Prismacolor Colors I Use (and When I Use Them)

Yes. I know there’s no way to make most things 100% permanent. Even granite wears away.

But I can select supplies to help my work last as long as possible. Consequently, I’m careful about the colors I choose. They must fit my subjects (landscapes and animals,) AND be as lightfast is humanly possible. It doesn’t matter what brand I use, every color must meet these two qualifications.

That usually means I work with a limited palette. That’s definitely the case with Prismacolor pencils.

The Prismacolor Colors I Use (and When I Use Them)

Prismacolor rates their pencils on a scale of 1 to 5 based on American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) D6901 standards. Each pencil is labeled with a Roman numeral to indicate its lightfast rating. Roman Numeral I equals 1, Roman Numeral II equals 2, Roman Numeral III equals 3, Roman Numeral IV equals 4, and Roman Numeral V equals 5.

I (1) is the highest rating. V (5) is the lowest.

I do not use Category III (3), IV (4) or V (5) colors for anything but fun stuff, sketching, blog illustrations, or anything else for which the drawing does not need to be archival.

But this is an entirely personal choice on my part. A lot of artists whose work I respect use every color available to them, so the final choice is yours.

Prismacolor Soft Core Colors Rated I (57 colors)

These are the most lightfast colors Prismacolor produces. They are rated as Excellent and “exhibit no appreciable color change after being exposed to the appropriate equivalence of 100 years of indoor museum lighting.” American Society of Testing and Materials., D6901 Standard

The important phrase is “indoor museum lighting.” It not only includes the type of lighting artwork is exposed to, but the framing materials used. Proper framing, including UV resistant glazing, helps preserve artwork.

It’s also important to let clients and buyers know they should not display artwork in direct sunlight for any length of time.

ASTM D6901 indicates that these colors can be used on artwork meant to be displayed outdoors, but I’m not sure I’d go that far. Any artwork displayed outdoors is more likely to fade more quickly than artwork in museum conditions.

Fifty-seven colors are Category I colors, but I don’t use all of them. My go-to colors are:

Browns

Artichoke, Beige, Bronze, Burnt Ochre, Chocolate, Dark Brown, Dark Umber, Goldenrod, Light Umber, Mineral Orange, Sandbar Brown, Sepia, Sienna Brown, Terra Cotta, and Yellow Ochre.

Greens & Blues

Dark Green, Green Ochre, Jade Green, Kelly Green, Parrot Green, Peacock Green, and Yellow Chartreuse. Powder Blue.

Reds

Black Cherry, Black Raspberry, and Crimson Lake.

Yellows

Lemon Yellow, Nectar, and Spanish Orange.

Pinks

Light Peach.

I also have a full complement of cool greys, warm greys, and French Greys but don’t use them very much.

These colors are used with almost everything I draw. They produce natural looking landscapes and are perfect for drawing realistic scenes and animals.

Category I Prismacolor Colors I Use

I don’t use all of the Category I colors because they don’t fit my palette, but there are several new colors I hope to try this year. Some of the new earth tones are especially tantalizing.

Prismacolor Soft Core Colors Rated II (26 colors)

ASTM D6901 standards categorize these colors as Very Good, and suitable for fine art uses where the artwork will be displayed indoors. They are not suitable for any work displayed outdoors, or anywhere in which exposure to high levels of UV light is possible.

No direct sunlight, in other words.

There are 26 Category II colors, but my palette is currently limited to about half that number, as follows:

Browns

Beige Sienna, Chestnut, Cream, Ginger Root, Pumpkin Orange, and Sand.

Greens & Blues

Chartreuse, Grass Green, Kelp Green, Olive Green, and True Green. Indigo Blue, Mediterranean Blue, and Slate Grey.

Reds

Black Grape, Crimson Red, and Scarlet Lake.

Yellows

Jasmine

Pinks

Peach.

Category II Prismacolor Colors I Use

As with Category I colors, there are some Category II colors I don’t use.

And as I add other brands of pencils to my stash, Category II colors will become fewer and fewer. Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils include several good matches for Prismacolor Category II pencils, so I now use those before reaching for any Category II Prismacolor. I can see the day coming when I no longer need Category II colors.

The yellows, greens, and blues are used as needed on landscapes and, less frequently, animal portraits.

The Bottom Line

I’ve discovered over the years that I can do almost everything I want to do with Prismacolor Category I colors. Those generally more muted colors are enough to draw most animals and landscapes.

The Category II colors are a nice supplement, but unless I’m drawing a still life (which doesn’t happen often,) or adding bright accents to a landscape or portrait, I don’t need them. Since most of my subjects don’t require bright colors, there’s simply no need for a lot of bright colors in my pencil box.

When combined with other brands such as Polychromos, Derwent and others, the Prismacolor Category I colors provide an excellent color base.

Does this mean you can’t use all of Prismacolor’s colors? No. Deciding which colors to use and which to avoid is as personal a choice as deciding which brands of pencils to use.

A complete list of Prismacolor Category I and II colors is available as a free, PDF download, so you can print it and take it with you on your next in-store shopping list. The list downloads automatically, so check your download file if it doesn’t open for you when you click on the link.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Colored Pencil Art

Today’s reader question comes from a reader who wants to know the best paper and pencils for colored pencil art. Here’s the question.

Hi Carrie.

In your opinion, which are the best coloured pencils to use for drawing and which is the ideal substrate to use? I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for the question. Other than questions about blending and layering, this is probably one of the more often asked questions asked of artists.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Colored Pencil Art

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer beyond my encouragement that you buy the best of both that you can afford.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Colored Pencil Art

There are so many different drawing methods and styles that what works for me may not work for you. The best paper and pencils for you depends on what gives you the results you want, and what fits your budget.

So I’m going to address it from two points of view: Craft art and fine art. I’ll also offer general suggestions on what to look for and a few things to avoid.

The Best Paper for Craft Art

Craft art includes adult coloring books, greeting cards, art trading cards, stamping, and so on. Short-term art that doesn’t need to be archival in order to be useful or marketable.

I also include artwork from which you make reproductions, but which you have no intention of selling as an original.

Adult coloring books are usually printed on inexpensive drawing paper so you have no choice in the paper unless you print the pages yourself. Coloring books printed on better paper are available, but you will pay for the improved quality.

Blank greeting card stock comes in a variety of qualities. Canson and Strathmore are two well-known paper companies that also sell artist-quality blank card stock. Other companies sell less expensive card stock, so you can pick and choose and try different papers until you find one that works well for you.

Strathmore makes a line of drawing papers ranging from newsprint, which isn’t archival, to high-quality drawing paper. Many other paper manufacturers also make different grades of paper.

Beyond that, any pad of good drawing paper will allow you to do what you need or want to do as far as craft art. I don’t do craft art, so recommend you try a few and see which you like best.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

And there’s absolutely nothing other than price keeping you from using high-quality paper for craft purposes. If your budget is flexible, give those pricey papers a try and see what you think.

The Best Pencils for Craft Art

You can use almost any pencil for craft art, from the most expensive to the least. Look for the best combination of price, color selection, and availability in your area.

In the United States, Prismacolor is probably the best combination of those four features. They have a stunning collection of colors and are a good value. Some quality issues exist, but broken leads, split casing, and warped pencils are sporadic, at worst.

Blick Studio Colored Pencils are also a good brand to consider. High quality, low cost, and color selection are their strongest selling points. They are available only through Dick Blick, but can be purchased online as well as in Blick stores.

If you buy a full set online, buy from a respected and trustworthy outlet such as Dick Blick. You can’t beat Dick Blick for customer service and if you end up with a bad purchase, they will make it right.

After that, you can buy open stock (single pencils) and look for things like warped pencils and split casings if you buy in person.

Image by Hartmut Jaster from Pixabay

Other brands to consider are Bruynzeel Design, and Derwent Coloursoft.

I don’t recommend pencils such as Crayola or any other scholastic pencils. You can do craft art with scholastic pencils, but the colors aren’t usually as bright or the pencils as well pigmented. It takes more effort to get the same results you could get with better pencils.

The Best Paper for Fine Art

Fine art includes portraits and other types of commission art, exhibit art, and art you want to sell. Artwork in this category needs to last a long time without fading or otherwise deteriorating, so you need the most archival paper and pencils you can afford.

Look for papers that are high-quality. Usually that means non-acidic.

You should also opt for papers made from cotton fibers, since those fibers are the strongest and longest lasting. Avoid papers made from cellulose fibers.

I prefer papers that are sturdy. 98lb paper is about the lightest I’ll use for fine art applications. Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes are both 98-pound papers and are sturdy enough to stand up under solvents and watercolor pencils in moderate amounts.

Stonehenge Aqua and Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press papers are also excellent papers. Both are made for watercolor painting, but both have a great texture for dry work, too. The biggest drawback is that they come in white only and cost more than regular drawing paper.

I also use Uart Sanded Pastel Paper, Bienfang Bristol Vellum, and Strathmore Artagain recycled paper. All are worth trying if you haven’t yet found a favorite paper.

The Best Pencils for Fine Art

Pencils should be lightfast tested and rated. The best pencils usually have a somewhat limited selection of colors because the companies have opted not to include fugitive (fading) colors in their selection.

Caran d’Ache Luminance and Pablos, for example, are about the best pencils on the market and come in only 76 or 80 colors. They have a good color selection, but lack many of the bright, jewel-tone colors that tend to fade the most.

Other high-quality brands are Faber-Castell Polychromos and Derwent Lightfast.

My Favorite Paper

This is a close call, since I use a variety of papers ranging from very smooth Bristol Vellum to sanded art paper. But the paper I use most often (by a narrow margin) is Canson Mi-Teintes. Why? Mostly the colors. Canson Mi-Teintes comes in a rainbow of colors that are perfect when I want to do a portrait-style drawing with a plain background.

Portrait of a Black Horse is drawn on Steel Gray Canson Mi-Teintes paper. The paper has enough tooth for lots of layering, and the color was the perfect middle value.

Stonehenge and Stonehenge Aqua are the next favorite papers. The 140lb hot press Stonehenge Aqua looks and feels like white Stonehenge regular paper, but handles wet media better. Dry media works extremely well on it, so I can see the day coming when I no longer use regular Stonehenge.

After that, it’s a toss up and I often choose papers based on what I have in stock most of the time when I don’t want to work on either of those listed above.

The papers I currently have in stock are:

My Favorite Pencils

At present, I have only two brands of pencils. A full set of Prismacolor pencils (with all the non-lightfast colors removed) and a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos.

Wax-based Prismacolor pencils are quite soft. They lay down easily and are capable of a high degree of blending with or without solvent. They can be sharpened well enough to draw a lot of detail, but tend to break if you apply too much pressure.

The best paper and pencils for Afternoon Graze was Prismacolor pencils on Bristol Vellum paper.
Afternoon Graze was drawn entirely with Prismacolor Premier pencils on Bristol vellum 146lb paper. The combination of soft, wax-based pencils and smooth paper helped me draw detail with a minimum of effort.

Oil-based Polychromos are harder, so they resist breaking even when sharpened to a sharper point. They don’t create wax bloom, but they also don’t burnish quite as well as the softer Prismacolor pencils.

I use both brands in most drawings. Usually, I start with Polychromos, then switch to Prismacolor when I need to lay down more color or want to burnish.

But I also mix them if I need a color that’s only available in one brand.

I used Prismacolor and Polychromos for this drawing, also on Bristol Vellum.

Pencils I’d recommend for the serious fine artist (or anyone who wants to become a serious fine artist) include:

I don’t currently use and never used any of these brands, but they come from companies with a good name in the industry and with a proven customer-service track record. I trust them to provide a quality product.

The list includes hard and soft pencils, wax-based and oil-based. Buy a few colors in open stock and try them to find those you like best.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Your Art

Those are my recommendations for the best paper and pencils for colored pencil art.

As mentioned before, it’s difficult to do more than make general recommendations and share my favorites because there are so many ways to make art.

So my best advice is to find an artist creating the type of artwork you want to create and see what paper and pencils they use.

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How to Decide the Order of Colors when Layering

How do you decide the order of colors to get the right color, values, or appearance? There are so many options, how do you decide?

That’s what Catherine wants to know. Here’s her question:

How do you determine the order of layers of different colors? I spend a lot of time testing the order of laying down color on the outer edges of my drawings, is there a quicker or better way?

This is a great question, Catherine. Thank you for asking it.

How to Decide the Order of Colors when Layering

One of the joys of colored pencils is the ability to layer multiple colors to create new colors. You also have a wonderful selection of colors to use. So you have to decide which colors to use when, and I confess that decision can look mind-boggling.

So how do you decide the order of colors? Is there a simple method or technique?

I’m afraid the answer is no. In fact, the best answer is one most of us prefer not to hear. Practice and experience.

Lots of both.

But there are few basic principles that may help you make those decisions more easily.

How to Decide the Order of Colors

I once read about an oil painter who used only seven or eight colors and mixed everything else. Obviously, his techniques won’t work with colored pencils, but his method of deciding which colors to mix, what colors to start with, and adjusting colors as he painted can be applied to colored pencils.

The following tips are based on personal experience and the oil painter’s methods.

Study the Colors in Your Reference Photo

The first step is to study the color of whatever you’re drawing. What’s the main color and to what color family does it belong?

This horse, for example, is yellow-gold in overall color. The color family is brown tending toward yellow or golden.

This color family provides the foundation colors for this portrait. The main color family provides the foundation colors for whatever you want to draw.

So determine the main color family for your drawing. Not every color will be appropriate, but identifying the main color family will ultimately help you decide the order in which you apply colors.

Start with a Base Color

The base color comes from the main color family.

The base color should be a medium-light or lighter value. Ideally, as close to the color of the highlights as you can get. If you have to use a color darker than the highlights in your subject, work around the highlights.

This is the first color you’ll put on paper, and it’s also one of the colors you’ll use most often. Set it aside.

This is the base color for Portrait of a Palomino Filly (read the full tutorial.) The paper is a light eggshell color just a little darker than the highlights, so I chose a base color that was a little darker than the paper. This color was used throughout the completion of the drawing.

Choosing the Next Color

After you’ve layered the base color, compare your drawing to your reference. Chances are excellent the base color isn’t exactly the same as the colors in the photo.

So what color do you need to add to make the color on the paper more like the color in the reference photo?

For my horse portrait, I decided the base color needed to be warmed up, so I chose a warm, light-value color that was about the same color as the highlights, and layered that over the horse.

After I finished that layer, I compared drawing and photo again, and chose a reddish earth tone to add more color and value.

The color selection process continued that way until I’d used five or six colors, then I began layering them over and over.

Do the same thing with your work. Compare your drawing and reference photo after you’ve layered each color. Decide how your drawing differs from the reference, and what color you need to use to make the drawing more like the reference.

Keep making those decisions layer by layer, color by color, until you finish.

How to Decide the Order of Colors when Layering
The final color or colors are adjustment colors. They add value (darken dark values) or tint the colors already on the paper. Sometimes they do both.

That’s the Easiest Way I Know to Decide the Order of Colors

Don’t fret too much over deciding what order you should apply colors. You will make mistakes. That’s part of the learning process. Be bold and courageous! Learn from those mistakes.

Catherine says she spends a lot of time testing colors before using them on a drawing. That’s a good idea and a lot of artists swear by it. It’s a good way to gain the experience necessary to know instinctively what colors to use when.

The other option—the one I used when I began—was simple trial and error. Mostly error, sometimes (or so it seemed.)

But knowledge acquired by experience often sticks with me more quickly and longer than what I see or hear by example.

Image by husnil khawatim from Pixabay

My Advice for Deciding the Order of Color Application

Don’t worry too much about getting the order of color application correct right from the start. Unless you’re a highly analytical artist (yes, there are some of those,) it will be more frustrating than helpful to try to plan so carefully. You’re far more likely to frustrate yourself into not drawing at all. At least that’s what happens when I try to plan too far ahead.

The fact of the matter is that one layer of color could totally upset all those carefully laid plans.

So work one color at a time. Do those test swatches if they help you, but don’t try to swatch out the entire drawing before you start drawing.

Instead, choose the base color and put that on the paper.

Then compare what you’ve drawn with your reference photo to decide on the next color. Keep track of the colors you use and the order in which you use them if you like, but work step by step through the drawing until it’s finished.

I guarantee you’ll have more fun drawing and finish more drawings that way.

Unless you are an analytical sort of artist!

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Why I Switched from Oils to Colored Pencils

Jana wants to know why I switched from oils to colored pencils, and if I’ve noticed one sells better than the other? Here are Jana’s questions.

Hi Carrie, 

These are business related questions instead of technical ones, so if you choose not to use them on your December questions posts, I will understand. 

1. Why did you switch to colored pencil from oils? I ask this because I went the opposite direction.

2. Do your colored pencil pieces sell as well as your oils did? 

Your blog with all its tips and helps is so interesting to me because you reinforce much of what I tell my drawing students. Since I teach primarily how to draw with pencil, it is only my more advanced students who go to colored pencil, so I read your blog to be sure I am not leading anyone astray. (It has been about 15 years since I was active in the CPSA or used colored pencils other than as accents to my graphite.)

Thank you for your thoroughness and clarity. 

Blessings, Jana

Thank you for your question, Jana. I don’t mind answering business questions at all.

Why I Switched from Oils to Colored Pencils

Why I Switched from Oils to Colored Pencils

I’ve addressed this subject more than once in the past, including a similar question earlier this month. But I wanted to answer this question because it also includes a question about sales.

And every artist trying to turn their artwork into money wants to know about sales!

I switched from oil painting to colored pencils for two main reasons, with about twenty years between the the first reason and the second.

Chapter 1: Convenience

For over forty years, I painted portraits of horses. I was an oil painter because that’s the medium I learned as a preteen and teen. By the time I sold my first portrait at 17-years-old, I’d already been painting for several years. Continuing to oil paint was never a question. I often told people I’d retire when I fell face down in my palette!

Image by Katya36 from Pixabay

Part of my marketing strategy (if you care to use such lofty terms) was attending horse shows and trade shows. Michigan hosted two big shows every year. The Lansing Stallion Expo in March and the North American Horse Spectacular in Novi every November. For many years, I attended both with a collection of paintings and drawings, but my primary goal was lining up portrait work.

I saw artists working at those shows and thought it would be cool, but oil paints are such a nuisance to travel with. They pack all right if you don’t take everything in the studio, but working on a painting in public is risky, and getting wet paintings home safely is no picnic either.

So in the 1990s I started looking for another medium that traveled better. I wanted something that could produce oil painting-like results, high levels of detail, gorgeous color, AND was easy to transport and use on location. Pastels were out because I’d already tried those and disliked them, so colored pencils were the only choice.

I intended to continue oil painting. Colored pencils gave me a second medium to offer clients, but I really preferred to work in oils.

Most clients chose oils, but some preferred colored pencils. One couple even opted for watercolor colored pencils. Talk about a step outside my comfort zone!

Chapter 2: Changing Focus

Eventually, portrait work tailed off. I think the move to Kansas had a lot to do with that. Most of my clients were from Michigan and I had been active with the Michigan Harness Horseman’s Association since the second year it hosted a benefit art auction. Many clients purchased their first portraits there and some of them became repeat customers.

Kansas isn’t that far away from Michigan, but it was too far to make the trip to the MHHA auction every January. I continued participating, but by long distance. Then they canceled the auction.

After that, it didn’t seem to matter what I did, I couldn’t sell a portrait to save my life. The last portrait was completed in 2016. An oil portrait for which there’s a moving story. But still the last portrait.

Back then, colored pencils were just starting to catch on, thanks to adult coloring books. I enjoyed them. They were a lot easier to manage in my studio (which is one corner of what should be the dining room,) and they were still portable. My husband played in the Wichita Community Band and I could take pieces to work on during weekly practices.

So colored pencils became my primary medium.

Long Story Short

(I know. Too late for that, isn’t it?)

A decision that began as a matter of convenience became a matter of finding a marketing niche twenty years later. Simple as that.

I haven’t completely given up on oil painting. I still love the process, the colors, the results, and even the smells. But let’s be honest. With cats and kittens in the house, it just doesn’t make sense to try oil painting!

Maybe some day I’ll get back to it.

That’s why I switched from oils to colored pencils. Now about selling original art….

Oil Painting Versus Colored Pencils in Art Sales

The other part of Jana’s question is about sales. Have I noticed one medium outselling the other?

The cold hard truth is that my originals aren’t selling. At all. Any of them.

It’s been a couple of years since I sold original work and those were mostly ACEOs through eBay. Most of those were oil paintings, but mostly because that’s what most of my ACEOs were.

Why I switched from oils to colored pencils.
Even though my primary focus is now teaching colored pencils, I do have a website dedicated to marketing original artwork and promoting portrait work. In both oils and colored pencils.

Now, before you begin feeling sad for me, let me add that my work doesn’t sell because, quite frankly, I don’t market it!

Yes, I have a website dedicated to my original art, but the main focus of my studio business is teaching and that’s the bulk of marketing energies go.

If I spent just half the time marketing original art that I do marketing this blog, I’d probably have sales.

And then I could answer your question more positively!

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How to Keep Track of Colors for Complex Drawings

Toni wants to know how to keep track of colors and order of application.

Hi Carrie,

Just read your post about getting out of your comfort zone/challenges.  Read minds much? I’m bored with myself.  But I may have bitten off way more than I can do.

I’m working on a red/yellow pix of an African Bush Viper snake.  I am trying to do one scale at a time and it’s sorta working.  It’s VERY confusing trying to make sure that I’m on the right scale in the right row etc.  I’ve crossed out the scales as I go but …. good thing no one knows the snake personally!

How do you keep track of the colors you’re using, in what order you lay them down or blend.  This guy has lots of reds, dark reds, pinks, oranges, lemon yellow, light yellow, cream, and some in between.  The colors repeat (sorta) down a section of the body.  I get so involved trying to get the part I’m working on right that by the time I need to repeat it, I don’t know exactly what I did.

I feel like there is a logical answer but I can’t see it.

Sorry this is so convoluted.  You should see my rant on Flicker about POLKA DOTS😶

Toni

LOL Toni!

No, I don’t read minds at all (I don’t always know my own, let alone messing with other people’s!)

I’ve learned after so many years of blogging that if something affects me personally, it affects others. Those sorts of posts resonate.

How to Keep Track of Colors for Complex Drawings

I know exactly what you mean about repeating patterns. I did one of those a year ago. A red Christmas ornament with a braided cord of yellow, green, and red. Not quite on the scale of what you’re doing, but very close.

How to Keep Track of Colors that Repeat

Here’s the finished drawing.

When it came time to draw the cord, I thought I had it pretty well taped, because I’d drawn everything out carefully. Except I hadn’t been as careful as I thought and I didn’t get more than two or three of those repeating patterns done before I realized I’d made a mistake in the line drawing.

Time for a rethink.

The first order of business? Scrapping the line drawing and just laying down color, blocking in each color from one end of the cord to the other. I don’t remember the order I worked in, but would guess it was probably yellow, then green then red (light to dark.) I put flat color in each area using light or medium pressure and a sharp pencil.

After blocking in the cord, I went back and add shadows and middle values to create highlights.

I used only six colors total. A light or medium value yellow, green and red, a dark value green and red, and a light golden brown. The blocking in was with the lighter colors and I did all of each color in that round. So there was no need to remember the order.

Then I went back and did the same thing with the darker colors. Again, there was no need to really remember the order of each color because I worked the entire area with each color.

When I did the final round and added details, then I worked back and forth between lights and darks and may have even added other colors to get darker values.

For the most part, I either laid the pencils to one side of my working area, or held them in my left hand. A method known fondly as the handful of pencils method.

But that method works best if you’re using only a few pencils on a small drawing (or a small area.) I used six or seven over a small area. The entire drawing was only 8 x 10 inches.

So probably doesn’t help you with your African Bush Viper, since you’ve already done some of the scales.

Two More Ways to Keep Track of Repeating Colors

There are a couple of ways to keep track of colors in complex pieces.

Make Swatches as You Work

The easiest method is to make a mark somewhere along the edge of the drawing or on a piece of scrap paper as you use each pencil. Either before or after you layer that color, do a little swatch or even just a mark or two. You don’t even need to label them, because you can compare pencils to the marks.

Do the same thing with the next color and the next and the next and so on. If you repeat a color, make another mark, so you have every layer documented, as well as every color.

I made these color swatches for the red Christmas ornament project above. This more of a color selection tool than anything, but it gives you an idea of color swatching. I have made marks along the margins of drawings before and found that useful. It may also work for you.

This will be easier if you keep the pencils you’re using separated from the rest of your pencils. Hold them in your hand if they’re just a few, or put them in a cup or jar, or just lay them to one side. Quite often, I take them out of the box and then keep the box a little bit apart from where I’m working. Handy, but not so handy I’m likely to put a pencil back into it without thinking.

Mind, the difficult part is going to be remembering to make that mark. If you draw anything like I do, you get so involved in the process that everything else ceases to exist. You’ll have to train yourself to make this part of the process, so it becomes automatic.

Try a Color Recipe Sheet

The second way I’ll describe is to make a “recipe sheet” before you start. Use the same type of paper you plan to do the drawing on, and make a small study. In the case of your African Bush Viper, you might draw a few scales in full, glorious color. After you’ve seen which combination of colors works the best, make either a swatch or a written list of the colors you’ve used and the order in which you used them.

Keep that sheet handy as you work through your drawing.

Of course this method also works best if you keep the pencils you’re using separated from the others.

One Thing to Keep in Mind

Even on an African Bush Viper, the scales that are the same colors and have the same patterns will look different depending on where they are along the body, and whether they’re in light and shadow.

It may be frustrating—maybe very frustrating—not to know the exact order of color application, but it probably won’t make that much difference in the finished piece.

I’ve never drawn a snake before, and I don’t know if I will. But I venture to guess those subtle variations that happen when the same colors are applied in different order might produce a more realistic and natural drawing. Get the light values light enough and the dark values dark enough.

Thanks for the question, though. It brought a smile to my face and that’s always a good thing!

PS: I’d love to see your African Bush Viper when it’s finished, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one (reading minds, again!)

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Layering and Blending Colored Pencils

Today’s question is a two-part question from Pat, who wants to know more about layering and blending colored pencils. Here’s the question:

Hello,

You say that you like to keep your pencils very sharp.  Do you do most of the layering with the point or the side of the pencil?

Do you also use mineral spirits on all your pictures?

In advance, thank you for reading my requests. Pat

Thank you for your questions, Pat.

Layering and Blending Colored Pencils

You’ve touched on two of the most basic skills necessary to using colored pencils successfully. Master layering and blending, and everything else is icing on the cake!

Layering and Blending with Colored Pencils

Of all the ways to blend colored pencils, the best, most natural, and easiest way is layering. Every time you lay one color over another, you’re blending. The light moves through the different colors and mixes them so your eye sees a new color.

But you can layer with the tip of sharp pencils or with the side. There is a time and place for both.

Layering and Blending with Sharp Pencils

Most of the time, smooth color is vital to smooth blends, and sharp pencils are usually necessary for smooth color. So I use the tip of a well-sharpened pencil most of the time. And because I have a naturally light hand, I use light pressure for all beginning layers and as many others as possible.

But that’s not to say there’s never a time to use the side of a pencil. The side of a pencil is perfect for laying down thin layers of color over larger areas and for glazing. The sharper the pencil (and the longer the exposed pigment core,) the better.

In this illustration, for example, I wanted to draw a meadow seen from a distance. No sharp detail. Not much variation in values. So I used the side of the pencil to layer green, and let the paper show through help suggest the haziness of distance.

Layering and Blending with the side of a pencil
You can layer color with the side of a pencil instead of the point. When you use the side, the pencil can either be dull (as shown here) or well sharpened.

Another time when I’m likely to use the side of the pencil is to glaze one color over other colors.

Layering and Blending with Glazes

Glazing is a term that refers to adding very thin, transparent layers of color over color already on the paper. It’s an oil painting term and you create a glaze in oil painting by thinning paint so it’s very fluid and thin. It tints the colors under it, but doesn’t hide any of the details.

Obviously you can’t do the same thing with a colored pencil, because it’s a dry medium. But you can apply color so lightly that all it does is tint whatever colors are underneath. That’s what I mean by glazing.

I glazed yellow-green over the grass and a combination of greens over the umber under drawing of this portrait. The colors glazed change the color of the under under drawing without covering it completely.

A colored pencil glaze needs to be applied with light pressure. But broken color (when some of what’s underneath shows through) is also good for glazing with colored pencils. The side of a well-sharpened pencil is perfect for this, too.

Layering and Blending with Dull Pencils

There are also times when using a dull pencil is the best choice. I wrote about that a few days ago and you can read that post here. I mention it here because using sharp pencils sometimes isn’t the best—or fastest—way to layer or blend colored pencils.

Blending with Odorless Mineral Spirits

Now, about odorless mineral spirits.

Odorless mineral spirits (OMS) are a solvent designed to “melt” or liquefy the binder in colored pencils. While the binder is liquefied, the pigment can be moved around on the paper, smoothed out, and if you’re blending more than one color, the different colors can be blended together almost like paint.

There are a number of reasons to use odorless mineral spirits or any other solvent for blending.

Speed

Solvent blending is faster than blending by layering. You do need to have enough pigment on the paper for the solvent to work with, but that usually requires only three or four layers.

Saturation

Solvent blending fills the tooth of the paper more completely and more quickly. Pigment soaks into the tooth of the paper better when wet than when dry.

Pain

If you have arthritis in your hands or wrists, or have some other painful condition, solvent blending may very well be the only way you can use colored pencils. Blending with solvent on a brush is a lot easier on your hands than blending by layering, especially in the later layers, when you have to apply more pressure.

So there are good reasons to use solvent blending.

Do I Use Solvent on All of My Work?

No.

Although I have mineral spirits in my colored pencil toolbox, the truth is that I don’t use it very often. When I do use it, it’s usually because I want some kind of special effect that’s attainable only with solvents, or I’m on a short deadline and need to complete something quickly.

There’s nothing wrong with using solvents for blending. I used turpentine and other solvents for years with oil painting.

But I prefer the look of colored pencils blended without solvents. Layering and blending different colors or different shades of the same colors to get the effects I want is more enjoyable than using solvents.

What Matters Most When with Layering and Blending

What really matters most with layering and blending is what works best for you. If solvent blending gives you the look you want for you art, then use it.

If you prefer to blend by layering, that’s what you should do.

Investigating how other artists work is always a good idea. You never know when you’ll learn something that takes your art to the next level.

But don’t feel obligated to use every method you see demonstrated.