Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Today continues a series of articles on colored pencil basics for those who are either new to colored pencils, or want to try them. Today, we’ll talk about the things you need to get started with colored pencils.

Since this is an article on the basics, I want to keep it simple. But I also I want to answer a few common questions asked by people considering colored pencils.

If that’s you, read on!

Why Colored Pencils?

With so many great mediums available, why should you consider colored pencils?

Reasons are a varied as the artists who use them. I dedicated an entire posts to why I like them and you can read it here.

For the sake of this post, I’ll share the most important reasons I prefer colored pencils.

  1. They’re great for creating detail.
  2. They’re clean. No messy cleanup. No migrating paint.
  3. You can take them anywhere!

Those are the three main reasons I started using colored pencils back in the mid 1990s. I needed a medium I portable medium ideal for producing the same, highly detailed portraits I was doing with oils.

Of course there are all the great colors, ease of use, all the ways you can blend with them, and all the great brands available. If you give them a try, I’m sure you’ll find your own reasons to love colored pencils.

What You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Okay. So I’ve convinced you that you are on the right track in considering colored pencils. Now for the big question. Just what must you have to get started?

But the artists you read about and whose work you admire talk about so many different pencils, tools, accessories, and methods, you can’t help but wonder:

I confess. I’m guilty of the same kind of talk. There are just so many really cool things available!

What do you really need to get started?

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

I was once right where you are now. Wanting to try colored pencils but not sure how to start.

Or what to buy or how much of it.

One of my goals with this blog and with every post is to help artists at all levels avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made. That includes clearing up some of the confusion about basic supplies.

Lets begin with three very simple lists.

I have a basic list, an expanded basic list, and an Everything & The Kitchen Sink List. There are so many useful, fun, and cool things on my to-be-purchased list, that this method is the best way I’ve found to prioritize purchases.

This post covers the first two lists because, quite frankly, I could make two or three posts just on the third list, and still not mention everything.

The Basic List contains the minimum amount of supplies necessary to get started with colored pencils. It is the most simple list, and the least expensive.

In most cases, you can find these items locally. No shipping or handling! If you’ve never tried colored pencils before and you’re not sure how you’ll like them, this is the list for you.

The Expanded Basic List is the Basic List plus a few additional items, as well as different types of some of the same items. Two kinds of paper, for example.

You may still be able to find many of the materials and supplies locally, but you will also probably have to do more searching. Online shopping will generally produce better prices and less footwork. If you’re serious about getting started with colored pencil—and sticking with it—this is your list.

If you want to start with the basic list, then add a few items from the other two lists after you’ve used colored pencils for a while, that’s perfect.

One Additional Word of Advice

It’s advisable to buy the best tools you can afford. A few artist quality pencils give you a better feel for the medium than a large set of student grade pencils. The higher quality pencils usually have less filler and a higher ratio of pigment to binder than less expensive pencils. That makes them easier to use and learn with.

You can buy less expensive pencils, if you wish. That’s how I started. But I wasn’t aware of the differences and soon found that cheap wasn’t always less expensive.

NOTE: I realize that not all of my readers are in the United States. If you are not and cannot get some of these supplies, substitute whatever is available where you live.

Now on to the lists!

The Basic List

Paper

I warned you the list was basic!

But paper can be confusing enough on its own, so here are some ideas to get you started.

One 9×12 pad of Rising Stonehenge paper, either white or toned. I recommend white. It’s easier to see what your pencils can do on white paper.

If you can’t get Rising Stonehenge, get a good, basic drawing paper like Strathmore 400 series paper.

Pencils

One 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils. This set has the basic colors (reds, blues, greens, yellows, black, and white) with enough variety to let you experiment, without burdening you with colors you may not use or unnecessary expense.

And not all of those.

NOTE: Roughly half the colors in the Prismacolor line are not lightfast, meaning they will fade over time or if exposed to direct sunlight. I’ve put together a list of the colors that are top-rated for lightfastness. If you can buy pencils individually and if you’re interested in making fine art, take this list with you when you shop.

Other Tools

Sharpener

A pencil sharpener is a must. A simple, hand-held sharpener is all you need to sharpen pencils. Prismacolor makes a very nice one for a few dollars, but you can also get them anywhere school supplies are sold.

A mechanical pencil sharpener gives you better sharpening with Prismacolor pencils, but I have also used hand-held sharpeners with good results.

The Kum sharpeners are a good value. The Kum wedge sharpener is made with two openings, one for standard size pencils, and one for larger pencils. It’s high quality and inexpensive, though you will probably have to buy it on-line.

Eraser

There are a number of good erasers available for colored pencil work, but I recommend getting a good click eraser, such as shown below. They are a pencil-like tool into which you can insert the eraser. They’re great for fine detail erasing as well as general erasing. The Pentel Clic Eraser is the one I use.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils - Click Erasers

Note: All of these items can be purchased locally most of the time. I can buy them all with a single trip to Hobby Lobby. If there’s an art store, office supply store, or university near where you live, you can probably find them all there.

The Expanded Basic List

These are tools you can add to the previous list or, in some cases, replace similar items on the previous list.

Paper

A pad of Bristol. Bristol paper is heavier than Rising Stonehenge. It’s available in two finishes: Vellum and Regular (or smooth). Regular surface is very smooth. The vellum finish is a little softer, but still not as soft as Stonehenge.

I’ve used both Bienfang and Strathmore. Both are good papers, but they’re so smooth, they don’t work well for my drawing methods. They are ideal for learning, though, and are the go-to papers for a lot of colored pencil artists.

You can also add larger pads of paper. Or smaller, whatever is your preference.

For a paper with more tooth, try a pad of Canson Mi-Tientes. They come in pads of assorted colors, earth tone colors, and grays. I’d suggest a pad of assorted colors, which includes white.

Pencils

Replace the 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier pencils with a 36-pencil or 48-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier pencils OR a small set of some other brand, such as Faber-Castell Polychromos, Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor or Caran d’Ache Luminance. Be prepared to pay more for these, but better performance and more lightfast colors are worth the expense.

A colorless blender is also a handy tool to have. A colorless blender is essentially a colored pencil without pigment. It’s made with the same wax binder the colored pencils are and it’s used to blend colors. Use it just like a regular colored pencil to blend without adding additional color.

Get Started with Colored Pencils - Colorless Blender

Other Tools

Sharpener

Get a good, low cost electric sharpener instead of a hand-held sharpener. They’re usually available starting at around $30.

Erasers

One package of mounting putty. Look for Hand-Tak, Poster-Tack, Blu-Tack or similar. Handi-Tak or similar brands. Mounting putty is a soft, moldable substance most commonly used to hang posters. Tear off a piece, shape it however you want, stick it to the back of a poster and press the poster against the wall.

But it’s also very useful in lifting color from a drawing. You can make it whatever shape you need to lift color. It’s also self-cleaning. Work it in your fingers and the color disappears!

Brush

A large brush is handy for sweeping away eraser crumbs. You can use your hand, but doing so runs the risk of accidentally marking your drawing. You can also blow the crumbs away, but a brush is easier to use. Look for  a large brush with soft bristles. Drafting brushes are ideal.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils - Drafting Brush & Erasing Shield

Erasing Shield

This is a handy template—usually very thin metal—with a variety of standard shapes cut into it. To use it, lay it over your drawing and erase through one of the openings. The result will be that shape on your drawing.

You can also add color using an erasing shield.

A Note on Solvents

You’ll notice I didn’t mention solvents. That’s because there’s enough to be said about them that they require their own post. You can, of course, use solvents with colored pencils. Many of us do. I do, in limited form.

Solvents are liquid tools that allow you to blend colored pencil. Standard solvents are odorless paint thinner, turpentine, rubber cement thinner, and rubbing alcohol. They can speed the drawing process, but you also need to use them with care.

That’s why I don’t include them on the Basic List or the Expanded Basic List. Better to find out first if you like drawing with colored pencils enough to invest in additional tools.

Are you ready to get started with colored pencils?

I’ve put together a PDF download shopping list that includes all three of my shopping categories.

Click Here to Download Your Own Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils Shopping Lists

Click here to get my Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils shopping lists.

Free Color Wheel & Value Scale Templates

Time to share a favorite freebie with you—a free color wheel template.

Free Color Wheel & Value Scale Templates

Every time I talk about using the complementary method of drawing, color wheels come up. If you’ve been an artist for a while, you probably know what a color is.

But maybe you’ve never made one of your own.

Now’s the time!

To get you started, I decided to offer you a tool you might not have, but do need: A free color wheel. While I’m at it, I’m also including a free value scale template.

Free Color Wheel Template

This is the same template used in the EmptyEasel.com article, Making a Color Wheel with Colored Pencil, but with a few improvements. It can be used for a standard color wheel or as a project-specific color wheel.

Free Downloadable Color Wheel

The template is a jpg file and should be accessible through any photo manipulation program. All you have to do is open it, print it, and start filling in the slices.

Click here to get your color wheel template.

Free Value Scale Template

The value scale is a 10-part scale that can be used to create gray scale or color values. It can also be used to create a palette for two colors. My sample shows blue, but you can use any colors or color combinations with this template.

This is a great tool for practicing pencil control and pressure levels. It also is ideal for deciding how light or dark to make something. Just lay it over your reference photo to see how light or dark an area is, then shade your drawing until it matches.

The download includes instructions.

The template is a doc file and should be accessible through most Microsoft Word versions or any word processing software that can translate Microsoft Word.

Click here to get a value scale template.

Both templates are free downloads.

Questions?

Leave your question in the comment box below and I’ll answer them as quickly as possible.

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Drawing a Landscape in Gray Light Class

I’m delighted to announce a brand new email drawing class: Drawing a Landscape in Gray Light.

Based on my original drawing, Late Spring in the Flint Hills, Gray Light officially launches May 1, 2019.

Drawing a Landscape in Gray Light—The Details

Each lesson is a complete mini-tutorial with illustrations and instructions, as well as special tips unique to the subject, the paper, the lesson, and other details.

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Late Spring in the Flint Hills is the subject of Drawing a Landscape in Gray Light

Individual lessons cover:

  • Sketching a composition freehand
  • Drawing an umber under drawing
  • Glazing color
  • Solvent blending
  • And much more

Students will also see how to improve on the color of a reference photo that isn’t ideal.

Skill Level

Intermediate and Higher

The class requires basic freehand drawing skills. Beginners can take this class and do well, but it may be more of a challenge for them.

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Two Levels of Learning

For the first time, I’m offering students two choices with email drawing classes. Not all students want the same things from the classes they take.

Some prefer independent study. They want the lessons, but either don’t need or don’t want feedback from the artist. Their way of learning is to just do the lessons and learn.

For these students, the Basic Level is just right. Averaging $5 per lesson, the Basic Level provides all the written material. Students receive regular lessons, but work at their own pace and do their problem solving.

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Other students want to do a tutorial, but also want one-on-one help from Carrie.

For those students, the Premium Level is ideal.

Premium Level students get everything the Basic Level students get, but they also get personal feedback from Carrie upon request. They can ask questions, and also have their work critiqued at any time during the class and as many times as they wish.

For more information on this class and to enroll, visit the class page.

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress

Today, I want to address a topic that’s near and dear to all artists, regardless of age, or type of art: our hands and ways to minimize hand stress. The article is prompted by the following question.

Carrie,
Boy, do I love coloring with my pencils…but I can get a sore right hand. Especially since I have Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome. Besides setting myself time limits, what else helps, in your experience?
Thanks Much, Denise

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress

Denise asks a great question. Even if you don’t have Carpal-Tunnel Syndrome, there will be times when the repetitive nature of drawing causes hand and wrist fatigue, discomfort or pain.

But there are ways to manage those symptoms and possibly prevent them altogether.

Drawing Tips to Help Minimize Hand Stress

The best way to minimize hand stress is to take breaks. If you can draw comfortably for half an hour, then start to feel stress or discomfort, take a break from drawing every 25 minutes. It’s best if you leave your drawing table or easel and walk or do something else for five or ten minutes because that gives the rest of you a break, as well as your hands.

But just putting down the pencils and doing some simple hand exercises at your drawing table or easel helps strengthen your hands, improves flexibility, and relieves fatigue.

Beyond that, here are some drawing tips that may also help.

Solvent Blending

Using solvent to blend colored pencil allows you to continue drawing with colored pencil, but reduces the amount of time you need to spend on each drawing, and reduces the number of strokes.

If you blend by burnishing, you’re exerting a lot of pressure on the pencil. That usually also means you’re holding the pencil more tightly. Both things cause stress to the muscles of your hands and fingers. Solvent blending eliminates much of that pressure.

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress - Blend with Solvent

Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Try using water soluble and traditional colored pencils together. Draw with them dry or use them like watercolor to do as much of the work as possible, then add details with traditional colored pencils.

You won’t need to work as long on a drawing, and can cover more area more easily with a brush than with individual strokes no matter how you use water soluble colored pencils.

Mixed Media

Watercolors, inks, markers, and even acrylic paints make great under drawings for colored pencils. Just make sure to use them for the first portion of the work, then add traditional colored pencil over them (none of these mediums stick very well to colored pencils because of the wax or oil binders in colored pencils.)

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress - Watercolor Pencils

Art Products that Help Minimize Hand Stress

Sanded Pastel Paper

I know what you’re thinking: Sanded pastel paper will make drawing more difficult.

That’s what I used to think, too, but it isn’t true. Believe it or not, the drawings I’ve completed on sanded pastel paper have been finished more quickly and with less stress than similar drawings on regular drawing paper.

I’ve also observed (in hindsight,) that I don’t notice my hand aching as much. The fact is that my brain and eyes tire faster than my hands when drawing on sanded pastel paper.

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress - Use Sanded Art Paper

The reason is that sanded pastel paper produces an almost pastel-like powder that you can blend into the paper with a paper blending stump or bristle brush. This blending method extends the use of the pencils, and reduces the amount of pressure required to fill the tooth. That reduces the number of pencil strokes you need to finish a drawing and that reduces overall stress to hands and fingers.

Woodless Colored Pencils

Woodless colored pencils are solid sticks of color. There is no wood casing. They can be used and sharpened just the same as regular colored pencils, but you can also use them like pastels and draw with the sides. They’re great for laying down large “washes” of color on sanded pastel paper, and then blending either dry (with a bristle brush) or with a solvent.

Need a fine line? Sharpen the stick with a knife for a chiseled edge.

I use Koh-I-Nor Progresso pencils because most of them are light fast, but Prismacolor also makes a line of woodless pencils called Art Stix.

Brush & Pencil Powder Blender

Brush & Pencil makes an excellent blending product called powder blender. Powder blender blends colored pencil more quickly and completely than anything else I’ve ever seen. You can use it alone, or in combination with Brush & Pencil’s texture fixative.

Products can be purchased individually or as part of a kit from Brush & Pencil. Some of the individual products are also available through Dick Blick.

I have not yet tried either of these products, but have seen them demonstrated and am very impressed. They are definitely on my wish list!

Other Ideas That Might Help

These simple changes in method and technique can also help minimize hand stress, pain, fatigue, and discomfort.

Use Different Types of Strokes

Change up the type of strokes you use. Work with circular strokes for a while, then switch to directional strokes. You’ll still need to take breaks, but changing the type of stroke changes the motions you make with your hand. This simple change in routine helps avoid discomfort.

Also, if you usually stroke with the pencil moving away from you, try stroking with the pencil moving toward you.

Change the Way You Hold the Pencil

Most of us hold the pencil in a normal hand writing position most of the time.

But you can also hold the pencil nearly vertical and make most of the same types of strokes. You’ll also have more control.

Or you can hold the pencil in a more horizontal position and draw with the side of the pencil. This is especially useful if you need to use very light pressure for part of the drawing.

Drawing Tips to Minimize Hand Stress - Change How You Hold the Pencil

Change the Angle of Your Desk, Easel, or Drawing Board

If you work at a drawing table, change the angle of the table top if you can. If you work on a drawing board, put it in a different position. You might even try working with a drawing board in your lap.

Work Standing

Working standing up puts you at a different level relative to your drawing table or easel. Consequently, your hands and arms are at a different angle, too.

A standing desk, a drafting table, or an easel are great ways to work on art and stay on your feet.

Bonus: You keep the rest of you in better shape, too, since you move around more when standing. At least I do!

Conclusion

We all need to be more mindful in how we draw. The best way to avoid hand and wrist pain is to find ways to prevent it.

There are many reasons you might be dealing with hand and wrist pain. The best first step is consulting your doctor to find out why, then treating that underlying problem.

I make no claims on medical knowledge. I’m not doctor! These are just a few things I’ve found myself doing to get through long work sessions.

My Colored Pencil Wish List

Let’s have a little fun today. Something totally off topic as far as tutorials, discussions, and techniques. Let’s take a look at my colored pencil wish list.

And yours, too, if you care to share.

Colored Pencil Wish List

Let’s face it. No artist can have too many supplies.

Remember the last time you went to an art or craft store? All those open stock pencils in their nifty display rack. Sheets of paper, and accessories.

Those beautiful colors are enough to make your mouth water (and that’s just the lacquer!) I don’t know about you, but it’s impossible to have too many colors.

Or too many pencils.

My Colored Pencil Wish List - Faber-Castell

But most of us can’t afford to buy every colored pencil we see. The budget just doesn’t allow for that. We begin where we can and wish for others.

That wish list is what this post is all about.

My Colored Pencil Wish List

Here are other pencils on my wish list, in alphabetical order.

Caran d’Ache

Caran d’Ache is a Swiss company producing a range of writing and art supplies. Their colored pencil product line includes Pablo, Luminance, and Supracolor Soft Aquarelle pencils.

Caran d’Ache Luminance are probably the best known, and they are about the best wax-based pencil available, but they are quite expensive at $4.49 (currently at Dick Blick) for single pencils.

Luminance pencils are available in 76 colors that are highly pigmented and can be used with all the same blending methods you might use with Prismacolor. Their pigment core is soft and ideal for layering.

But what sets them apart is their opacity.

Most wax-based colored pencils are translucent in nature. You can see the influence of each layer of color through all the other layers you put over it. That’s why it’s so difficult to make white or light colors show over dark colors.

My Colored Pencil Wish List - Luminance

That is not the case with Luminance. You can draw light over dark for striking results.

The Pablo line is to Luminance with Verithin is to Prismacolor Soft Core. A thinner, harder pigment core that holds a point longer, and is great for fine details.

Derwent Drawing Pencils

Derwent Drawing Pencils have been around since 1986, when Derwent introduced the original line of six colors. Now with 24 colors, they are starting to step onto center stage with colored pencil artists.

Each color is a soft, “earthy” color. The pencils themselves are bigger than most colored pencils. The pigment core is 8mm (Prismacolor is 3.8mm). But they’re also very soft, so they lay down a lot of color quickly.

Colored Pencils 1

What attracts me to these pencils is the muted colors, which are ideal for drawing landscapes or under drawings.

They’re a medium priced pencil, currently listed at $2.02 each in open stock on Dick Blick.

Derwent Lightfast Pencils

Derwent Lightfast Pencils are brand new to the market. They are specifically designed by Derwent to be 100% lightfast; that is, every color in the collection is lightfast.

How lightfast? The company has tested them by ASTM Standards (D-6901 to be specific,) and every color is guaranteed not to fade in 100 years under museum conditions.

They’re an oil-based pencil that performs almost like a wax-based pencil, with smooth lay down and great pigmentation.

Colored Pencils Pencils 2

The downside?

There aren’t many colors, yet. Only 36.

They’re very expensive. The full set is currently $102.56 from Dick Blick. Single pencils are $2.65 each from Dick Blick.

Derwent is planning on introducing 36 more colors in the Lightfast line, but the roll-out date is still unknown.

But they are on my wish list!

Dick Blick Studio Artist’s Colored Pencils

If you’re just getting started with colored pencil drawing and want a high quality pencil for a reasonable price, you can hardly do better than Blick Studio Artist’s Colored Pencils.

The pencils are available in a variety of sets and open stock (91 colors) for about a dollar a pencil. They are a wax-based pencil, with a thick, soft pigment core, and can be used with layering and blending methods.

I’m interested in trying these pencils both because of price, and because they are manufactured by the same company that manufactures Utrecht Premium Colored Pencils. I think of Utrecht as an old, and respected company, so am interested in their colored pencil products.

Colored Pencils

Koh-I-Nor Polycolor Dry Color Drawing Pencils

I can’t say much about the Koh-I-Nor Dry Color Drawing Pencils that I didn’t say about the Koh-I-Nor Woodless Progresso pencils (see below.) I’ve been so happy with the woodless pencils for general drawing and on sanded pastel paper, that I hope the Polycolor pencils live up to the same standard.

Polycolor pencils are oil-based—another advantage as far as I’m concerned—and are moderately priced below a dollar each for the full set of 72.

Colored Pencils on a Diagonal

The only drawback—and it is significant—is that they are not available open stock. For that reason, they wouldn’t be my first choice from this list. But in my opinion, price makes them worth a try.

Someday.

Lyra Rembrandt

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor pencils are also oil-based, so they produce less wax-bloom than wax-based pencils.

The closest I’ve ever come to these pencils is having some how once gotten hold of a Lyra Splender Blender. That was back before I knew the difference between wax-based pencils and oil-based pencils. I used it to blend Prismacolor and it worked great.

They’re available in a wide range of colors open stock and in sets. Open stock price at Dick Blick is $1.72, so they’re a moderately priced pencil.

Colored Pencils in two Rows

Colored Pencils I Wish Were Available

More Colors, Please.

The Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless pencils are fabulous to work with, especially on sanded art surfaces. But they come in only 24 colors, some of which are of no use to an animal or landscape artist! I’d love to see more earth tones, and “earthy” blues, greens, and yellows.

The same goes for the Derwent Drawing Pencils. Those muted tones are said to be beautiful and the pencils themselves a delight to use. I have only the Chinese White, but I definitely plan to buy a set one of these days. Twenty-four colors is a great start, but I’d really love to see a wider range.

Prismacolors the way they used to be.

Who wouldn’t want that?

I have a pencil or two dating back to the Eagle days, as well as a few that are newer, but still predate the current Prismacolor. I would dearly love for someone to buy back the brand and get back to manufacturing a colored pencil for artists and by artists.

Colored Pencils in a Circle

That’s My Colored Pencil Wish List

At least at present. Who knows? Something new may come along any day, and merit addition to this list.

But isn’t that the way it is with art supplies? There’s always something new!

What pencils are on your wish list?

Drawing Studies For a Large Portrait

Master artists and others have been drawing studies to work out more complex compositions for centuries. It’s one of the most basic, most important, and most often neglected tool in the artist’s toolbox.

I should know, because it’s the tool I ignore more often. Why?

Because it takes time to draw studies, studies usually focused on parts of the composition I didn’t want to draw, and because I never thought I was that good at drawing studies.

NOTE: This post is based on my experiences with one of the last portraits in oils I did, but the lessons I learned apply to all mediums. In the years since, I’ve learned to draw from life, which improves my artwork at all levels.

It will yours, too. So read on!

Drawing Studies for Large Portraits

But you know what? It turns out drawing studies aren’t all that difficult.

What’s even better? The more studies you draw, the better you get (and the faster.)

Why I Started Drawing Studies Again

Some time ago, I did something I never thought I’d do: Accept a commission of a personal portrait in oils. A large portrait.

It was a full figure portrait that included lots of flowers, an outdoor setting, and, well, a real live human being. Nary a horse in sight.

Like I said, something I never thought I’d do.

Because it was a long distance portrait, I worked from photographs. The photographs were high-resolution, and the work of a professional photographer. In other words, excellent references.

But that didn’t diminish the scale or scope of the portrait. Or the Fright Factor. (The Fright Factor, by the way, was huge!)

To prepare, I looked online for anything I could find relative to doing human portraits in oils. Among the things I found were a series of videos that were not only very helpful, but also motivating.

One of them was a Russian artist, Igor Kazarin. He works in oils and one of his videos features a head and shoulders portrait.

I’ve also found the tutorial videos of David Gray. He uses a technique similar to mine, so watching his videos was also helpful, and encouraging.

I watched at least one video every work day I had the time. Especially the drawing videos as I worked my way through the new commission.

Drawing Studies Help You Get Familiar With Your Subject

Those videos motivated me to start drawing studies of my subject. My hope was to get comfortable drawing these parts of the portrait, and gain confidence in my drawing skills. I wanted to get familiar enough to be able to paint with confidence.

So I started drawing some of the less scary things.

I chose this study of the subject’s handbag because I’ve discovered I can draw almost anything that’s organic, but give me something man-made and it’s a nightmare!

Drawing Studies - Handbag Study

Once I got comfortable with the handbag, I also drew studies of the subjects eyes, and of other parts of the portrait.

Drawing Studies - Eyes

Drawing studies came into play at all phases of this project, and even while I worked out the overall composition on gridded paper. If I had doubts about an area, I developed it as a more complete study.

Drawing Studies - Foot & Sandal

Most of the studies involved unusual parts of the composition, such as the foot and sandal above. But I also worked out the details of more familiar, but complex areas, such as the palm fronds shown below.

Drawing Studies - Palm Leaves Study

Most of the studies were drawn while I was working on the line drawing, but I also did a few studies during the painting process.

You Can Do Drawing Studies to Improve Your Drawing Skills and Confidence

It’s not that difficult to get started drawing studies, as you’ve seen in my example.

Are you working on a drawing that has some difficult parts? Draw a few studies of those areas before you tackle them on the finished piece. You can do graphite studies like I did, or use colored pencils.

Maybe your next project is a portrait or commissioned piece that has you worried. Identify the parts that have you most concerned, and draw a few studies.

You don’t need to do large studies, or get fancy. The study of the eyes I shared above were all drawn on the same sheet of paper. And you don’t even need a lot of expensive supplies. A small sketch pad or inexpensive paper is sufficient. After all, these studies don’t need to be archival.

“But I’m not working on a complex drawing right now,” you say.

That’s okay.  Do a few life studies instead. The drawing will do you good. If you need a little motivation, you might check out the plein air drawing in colored pencil group on Facebook.

So how did the portrait turn out? Here’s the finished painting. All 24 by 36 inches of it!

Drawing Studies - Finished Portrait

Taking the time to draw studies of the parts I wasn’t sure about took a lot of time at the beginning of the process, but ended up saving time overall. The details I’d drawn studies for proved easier to paint than other areas.

It all contributes to improving your drawing skills, and that increases your confidence.

Both prepare you for the next big challenge on your colored pencil journey.

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How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos on PhotoShop

Today, I want to show you how to find the best composition from digital photos on PhotoShop. You know what? It’s probably a lot easier than you think!

Almost every artist who has ever wielded brush or pencil has also explored compositional ideas when deciding what to paint. Thumbnail sketches, color studies, even framing a composition with your hands if you’re working outside are all good methods for finding the best composition before you start drawing or painting.

In this age of technology, artists have a few new tools to aid them in composing artwork. The process can begin with your camera, but it doesn’t end there.

I used a Macintosh G4 and Photoshop 7.0 for this demonstration, but you can do pretty much the same thing with any photo editor on any computer. The steps may be different, but the results will be the same.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos on PhotoShop

The Reference Photo

Reference photos should be the best possible. Good lighting. Good contrast. Sharpness of image.

You can make changes in contrast or brightness, and even adjust color. Since I do a lot of composing through the lens of the camera, most of the images I use for reference already have the best available lighting, contrast, and color. It just saves time.

This image was taken on a cloudy day with relatively flat light. The lighting and color saturation are part of the appeal.

But it’s a pretty boring composition, with the house almost dead center.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Reference Photo

Before You Begin Editing

Before doing anything else, save the image with a new name by selecting SAVE AS and giving it whatever name you want. This protects the original photograph so if you mess up, you can start over with the original. Choose a name and naming system that makes sense to you, is easy to file, AND easy to find and retrieve later.

I named this one Old Stone House Reference.jpg and put it into a separate file dedicated to this project.

Cropping the Image

The best first step is usually cropping the original image to focus on the subject.  Creating three or four—or half a dozen—different crops may be all it takes to find the best composition.

Choose the SELECTION tool from the toolbox on the left of this screen shot. In most versions of PhotoShop, this will be the tool at the upper left of the toolbox. (See the gray box in the toolbox).

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 1

Select the area you want by placing your cursor at one corner of the desired area and dragging it downward and across the part you want to crop. The result will be a dotted line outline as shown above. The area inside the box is your selection.

Next, select the IMAGE drop down menu and choose CROP.

Your image now looks like this. Save it using the SAVE AS function and give it a new name. This is now old-stone-house-comp-01.jpg but you can choose any name and numbering system that works for you.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 2

You can make as many compositions as you like by repeating the steps above. Begin with the reference photo each time. I ended up with five different options for this image. Two of the others are shown here.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 3

As you can see, the only limitation is your imagination.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 4

Resizing Compositions

Once you’ve selected your favorite compositions, you can resize them to suit the needs of your drawing or painting.

Under the IMAGE drop down menu, click on IMAGE SIZE.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 5

That will bring up this dialogue box.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 6

Set the size by pixel in the top two boxes. You can also set size in the next two boxes.

Multiple measuring systems are available under DOCUMENT SIZE, including inches, picas, metric, and columns.

Changing Resolution

You can also change the pixel density in the image by changing the resolution. The higher the number, the finer the resolution and the larger the file.

Most cameras automatically capture images at a low resolution, but offer ways to increase resolution. It is better to take pictures with a higher resolution, because you’ll capture more detail. But those files will require more memory on your camera.

In other words, you’ll have higher quality images, but will be able to take fewer of them. Especially if you’re limited to a memory card or an older camera.

Make Sure to Keep Proper Porportions

The last thing I’ll mention in this dialogue box is the option to CONSTRAIN PROPORTIONS. When you choose this option, the enlarged or reduced image has the same proportions as the original. If you don’t check this box, you can change one dimension without changing the other and the result will be a distorted image. For the majority of work, you’ll want to check this box.

Once you’ve made your selections, click OK.

Repeat these steps for each of the compositions you’ve created.

If you compose intuitively or by eye, you’ll be able to tell which compositions are working and which aren’t.

If you need more concrete tools for evaluating the compositions, continue reading.

Evaluating the Compositions

The two best tools I know of for evaluating or fine tuning compositions is the Rule of Thirds, and the Golden Mean.

The Rule of Thirds divides a compostion into even thirds vertically and horizontally.

The Golden Mean also divides a composition into thirds, but along the Golden mean.

In both cases, the idea is to place the main points of interest in the composition on one of the four places where two lines intersect.

It’s much easier to calculate even thirds than the Golden Mean, so that’s what I’ll show you.

How to Draw the Rule of Thirds

However, some photo editors have preset grids that allow you to crop by the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Mean. Irfanview is one such photo editor.

Chose the drop down menu labeled LAYER and select NEW, then select LAYER.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 7

On this new layer, place a line one-third of the way across the top and another line at two-thirds. Lines should also be drawn at one-third and two-thirds along the side as well.

Hold down the shift key as you draw the line to keep the line straight and on the square.

To make this easier, I set the size of the image to a number divisible by three. By setting the width of the image at 30, for example, I can easily place a line at 10 and another at 20 and have the image divided into thirds.

Change the height to a number divisible by three and place the lines.

TIP: Select a color for the lines that does not blend into the image. My favorite color for this process is red because it’s easy to see and I rarely use red for any other part of the digital composition process.

Below is the first composition with the one-third grid in place.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 8

And here is the panorama composition with the one-third grid in place. It, too, could do with just a bit of tweaking to get the subject in one of the sweet spots.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 9

The sweet spots in the composition are where two lines meet. It applies to the one-third rule, which I’m using here, and to the Golden Mean, which also divides a composition into thirds, but not equal thirds.

Conclusion

This is one way to find the best composition from digital images. As I mentioned at the beginning, you can use the same basic procedure with any photo editor. I’ve used IrfanView and GIMP in the same way. Both are free to download.

Tips for New Artists

I know from reading emails and answering your questions that there are a lot of new artists in my audience. So I thought it would be a good idea to share a few basic tips for new artists; the sort of things I wish someone had told me decades ago!

Tips for New Artists

Tips for New Artists

1. Be prepared to persevere.

The real secret to success is getting up one more time than you’re knocked down, plain and simple.

The world doesn’t owe you a living.

Neither do the people around you. You may be the most talented artist since Rembrandt, but even he had to persevere.

2. Develop a thick skin.

From the first piece of art you make to the last, there will be critics.

You have to learn to deal with people who criticize your work, your methods, your marketing… probably even you. They are as much a fact of life as the sun rising in the east. Learn not to internalize it.

Tips for New Artists - Develop a Thick Skin

3. Learn to learn from criticism.

Some of the criticism may be warranted, so you can’t automatically discard it all, but learn to be gracious.

Analyze criticism at face value and glean the comments that will improve your skills as an artist, and in dealing with people (and let’s face it, most of us like nothing better than to shut ourselves up and make art!)

4. Draw (or paint) every day.

Don’t fall into the habit of thinking you need to wait for inspiration to strike before you make art.

Don’t accept the lie that you need large chunks of time, either.

I’ve lived both and know they are not true.

The best way to be an artist is to make art. Every day. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether you have the time or not. Even if it’s just a few minutes to doodle on a napkin, make use of it. Nothing is more discouraging than waking up one morning and realizing it’s been a year since the last time you made art.

5. Set goals.

You’re probably as tired of hearing this as I used to be. Get over it. I had to and when I did, I learned just how valuable goals can be. And easy.

Start small. A sketch a day, maybe.

If a time goal works better, set a time goal. Just make sure you’re drawing for that five or ten or 60 minutes each day and not doing Facebook or the on-line crossword puzzle. They DO NOT count as making art.

I’m sorry to report that one of my favorite activities (browsing Pixabay) also doesn’t count as making art!

Tips for New Artists - Set Goals

6. Develop a system to monitor goals.

Try a calendar with big squares. Jot a few words about what you did each day.

Or try a white board list, or even a text document or piece of paper.

Decide on your goal for the week or month, then decide what you need to do each day to reach that goal. For each day you make art, record the amount of time you spent or what you drew. You’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up.

7. Don’t let your goals rule you.

You may be thinking this is a contradiction. It’s not. Life happens. There will be some days when, despite your best planning and intentions, you just can’t draw or paint. Don’t let it stress you out. That’s part of the reason I like weekly and monthly goals in addition to daily goals. If you miss a day, you can make it up somewhere else and the weekly or monthly goals provide the incentive to do so.

8. Have fun.

Whether you make art for personal pleasure or as a livelihood, have fun.

For some, making art will become like a job and will require you treat it like a job, maintaining regular hours and behaving like your own employee. Try not to lose sight of the joy of art. The reason it drew you in the first place. Take time to nurture that, to grow it as you grow your career or hobby.

You won’t regret it.

Those are my tips for new artists. What can you add to the list?

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How to Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

This week, I want to share a few tips about how to make coloring pages look more realistic. The post is the result of a reader question, and an opportunity to guest post for artist, Sarah Renae Clark. I’ll tell you more about that article in a minute.

Here’s the reader question.

I would like to know how to make the subjects in the coloring books come to life using your pencils. I do ceramics so I know dry brushing an blending. But since I do not draw but use the coloring books, which i enjoy just wish i could make them look better.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

I used the same coloring page for this post and for the guest post for Sarah Renae Clark. The page is called Cat Wisdom*, and you can purchase your own coloring page here*.

How to Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

While the bold outlines of coloring pages make it impossible to create truly life-like realism, you can make your coloring pages look more realistic with just a few “tricks.”

The most important of those tips is contrast. The more contrast in your drawing, the less flat it looks. The less flat a drawing looks, the more real it looks.

Step 1: Draw a Smooth Base Layer

Base layers are generally a color that’s similar to the final color, but lighter in value. Something you want to be dark green can begin with a base layer of light green.

The color you choose makes a difference in how something looks finished. Do a base layer of warm green (yellowish-green) on one leaf, and a base layer of cool green (blue-green) on the leaf next to it and you will end up with two slightly different colors if you do all other layers the same.

The base layer should cover every part of each shape.

It should also be smooth, with no visible pencil strokes. The best way to draw smooth color is by using a sharp pencil and light pressure with small, circular strokes.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 1

NOTE: If you’ve been drawing long enough to have found the stroke that gives you the smoothest results, use that stroke. If you’re beginning, the best stroke to learn is the circular stroke.

Shade all the leaves with base color. Then all the flowers. You can do as I did and use different base colors for the flowers, or do them all the same.

I chose to make the background areas very dark. You can leave them white if you prefer.

If you can’t decide on colors for every part, that’s okay. You can leave some of them for later.

Step 2: Add Darker Values

Select colors that are one or two shades darker than the base colors. Layer those colors into the parts of each shape that you want to be darker. Use a sharp pencil and light pressure to draw small, overlapping strokes or short, directional strokes.

For example, I used circular strokes in the blue flowers because those flowers are so small and because I wanted smooth color.

In the longer petals of the purple flowers, I used long, directional strokes that curved slightly to follow the shape of each petal.

When you want smooth color, draw smooth color that shows no pencil strokes. In areas where you want a little texture, use strokes that best create that texture.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 2

Step 3: Blend with Base Colors

Use well-sharpened pencils to blend each shape. Use medium pressure to smoothly blend together the previous layers of color.

Cover every part of each shape EXCEPT the highlights you want to show. Work around those highlights. Keep the edges of the highlights soft by fading color into the highlights.

If you left blank places in your drawing, you should already begin seeing a difference between the blank spaces and the areas you’re shading layer by layer.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 3

Step 4: Continue to Darken Values

The next step is to continue darkening values in the deep shadows and the darker middle value areas. To do that, you can do one of two things.

You can choose a darker shade of the base colors.

That’s what I did with the green leaves. The base color was Chartreuse. Over that, I added a shade of green one or two shades darker. For this step, I layered Olive Green over each of the leaves. I used a sharp pencil and medium pressure for the first layer or two.

Then I increased pressure to heavy pressure to add the darkest shadows.

I did the same thing with the small, blue flowers.

You can choose a different color.

The purple flowers started with a pink base layer (Step 1.) For the second step, I used a medium blue, and for this step, I chose Violet.

Why the different colors?

To add depth of color and increase the value range, as well as to create a new shade of purple. I wanted these flowers to stand out a little more and combining colors was a good way to do that.

Step 5: Blending Layer

This next step also can go in one of two directions. You can either burnish with a colorless blender, or blend with another round of the base colors. How do you know which option to choose?

If you’re finished with your drawing, then burnishing with a colorless blender is the way to go. You won’t change the colors (other than darkening some of them.) The end result will be smooth color and good color saturation.

Blending with the base colors is the better option if you plan to add more detail layers afterward, or if you want to change the color of an area. You will be able to add more layers after blending with the base colors because you’ll be using medium pressure.

If you burnish, you’ll press down the tooth of the paper, and it will be very difficult to make additional color stick.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 5

In my sample, I layered Pink over the pinkish-purple flowers, and Light Cerulean Blue over the blue flowers.

Step 6: Keep Layering and Blending Until the Drawing is Finished

I’m considering my coloring page finished at this stage, but you can continue to layer colors and blend as much as you want or until the paper will take no more color

Here’s the whole drawing.

You’ll notice I didn’t do every flower the same way. One reason for that is to keep the finished drawing from getting too busy. The dark spaces in the background, and the plain flowers give your eye a place to rest.

But another reason was to show you the difference you can make by layering and blending colors instead of using a single color. Even combining just two colors and a couple of blending layers really help you make coloring pages look more realistic.

About that Guest Post….

Sarah Renae Clark asked me to write a post showing her readers how to draw more realistic fur. Since I used the same drawing as the project for this post and Sarah’s, I thought you might like to read How to Draw Fur with Colored Pencils* as well.

*All links to Sarah’s website and store contain affiliate links.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

In this post, I’ll show you how to finish a drawing started with water soluble colored pencils.

Last week, I shared the method I used to create an under drawing using water soluble colored pencils. While I focused on water soluble colored pencils in that post, the technique applies to any type of water soluble media with the possible exception of water miscible oils. I’ve never tried that combination, so cannot tell you whether or not it would work.

Before adding dry color, make sure the under drawing and the paper are completely dry. If there’s any residual dampness, you risk damaging the paper. I usually allow paper to dry over night, just to be on the safe side.  I also usually allow papers to air dry by natural evaporation. Even on the hottest days, this process is less likely to cause warping or buckling.

But you can dry paper with a hand-held hair dryer if you need to finish it quickly. Use a low heat setting and don’t get the dryer too close to the paper to keep the color from running before it dries.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Unless otherwise noted, the colors listed in this article are Prismacolor Soft Core colors. Any colored pencils work over watercolor pencils.

Step 1: Start dry drawing with the base colors.

When the paper is ready for dry color, use the same methods of choosing colors you use for any other technique. Start with the lightest colors and build toward the darks layer by layer.

In this illustration, I’ve added a very light earth tone that’s also a warm color. Burnt Ochre was lightly shaded over the darker area behind the ears and in front of the ears. I used light pressure with a very sharp pencil to draw an even color layer.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 1

Next, layer Burnt Ochre over the rest of the horse except the highlights. I always work around highlights so they don’t become muddy or—even worse—disappear. This is the best way to get sparkling highlights when you work on white or light colored paper.

On the horse’s head and neck, use a sharp pencil to draw a smooth, even color layer.

In the mane, stroke with the growth of the hair, starting at the bottom edge of the highlight and stroking downward to the ends of the hair groups.

Use light or very light pressure on the head, neck, and ears. For the mane, use light to medium-light pressure.

Begin drawing the muzzle with a light layer of pink at the chin and light gray in and around the nostril.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 1b

Step 2: Glaze color over the base layers.

With the base color in place, begin developing deeper values and richer colors.

For this demo, I used Sienna Brown and Mineral Orange in the middle values, a light glaze of Light Umber and Goldenrod to the lighter values, and Dark Brown to the shadows. However, getting the values right is more important than correct color. Since we don’t all see color the same way, select colors based on what you see in your reference.

Continue working around the brightest highlights.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2a

For each round of work, add more of each color. Getting good coverage (filling all of the paper holes) requires multiple layers. For the best color, alternate between two or more colors.

Continue using light pressure and sharp pencils to draw smooth color. Stroke in the direction of hair growth in the mane and forelock.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2b

Step 3: Add finishing details to complete your drawing.

When the drawing nears completion, begin working on the highlights. Leave the brightest highlights alone. The highlight along the top of the crest, for example, is whatever color shows through from the under drawing.

For the others, add Spanish Orange, Orange, or Yellow Ochre if the highlight is warm in color (the highlight along the cheek). If the highlight is more neutral, use Sand or Cream (behind the eye).

Most of the highlights are then burnished with a color like Beige or Cream to keep them unified with the coat colors around them.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 3

Conclusion

Using water media or water soluble colored pencils to draw the under drawing is a great way to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a colored pencil work. It’s also a good way to cover the paper without filling in the tooth of the paper.

I probably won’t be using this combination very often because it doesn’t work very well on my favorite papers. They just don’t handle moisture well and I don’t care for the texture of watercolor papers that are heavy enough to take the moisture.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a viable—and valuable—alternative to using only traditional, dry colored pencils.

As I mentioned in the previous post, if you hope to enter your artwork in shows that are exclusively colored pencil, stick with water soluble colored pencils.

If that doesn’t matter, then experiment and have fun!