How I Usually Start an Animal Drawing

Sometime ago, I answered a reader who wanted to know where they should begin a drawing. In a follow-up post, I also described how I start a landscape drawing. Today, I want to round out the series by telling you how I usually start an animal drawing.

How I Usually Start an Animal Drawing

In the original post, I talked about general starting points like base layers, dark values, and light values. I listed them as three separate options, but they really work together on most projects.

The landscape drawing post described the way I draw most landscapes beginning with an umber under drawing.

At one time, I started most animal drawings that way, too. But over the years, I tried different papers and using more colored papers, so I had to find other ways to begin animal drawings.

How I Usually Start an Animal Drawing

The method I use to draw animals is based on the paper I choose for the project. Traditional papers like Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Teintes require a traditional approach to drawing. Watercolor papers can be used in different ways, and sanded art paper is even more versatile.

Let’s start at the beginning with traditional white drawing paper.

Traditional Drawing Paper in White

I start drawings on traditional white paper with an umber under drawing, and I begin by shading the base color into the darkest areas first. As I continue darkening the shadows, I also add lighter values.

However, it’s important to work with light pressure and build up the values layer by layer. Corrections and adjustments are easier to make this way, and you also avoid getting too dark too quickly in the darkest places.

Once the darkest values are in place, I develop the other values with additional layers.

I also develop the most important details, and then fine tune them.

Traditional Drawing Paper in Colors

An umber under drawing doesn’t work very well on colored paper unless the paper is a very light earth tone. Even then, I have the best success with light-colored papers that are cool in color. Stonehenge Natural is the best color for use with an umber under drawing.

With other light colors, I start an animal drawing by deciding on the base color of the animal. The base color is often the lightest color in the animal’s hair, and is most often (but not always) most evident in the highlights.

This portrait was drawn on a warm, light-value Stonehenge, and the horse was a palomino. The base color was a reddish-gold earth tone.

Then I started shading the same way I start an umber under drawing; by working first in the shadows, and then developing the middle values.

A full-length tutorial on this portrait is available for you to read here.

I also shaded the white blaze on the horse’s face so I wouldn’t work over it. The paper was just dark enough to make that possible. Otherwise, I’d lightly outline the blaze with the base color, and then work around it.

For darker papers, I start with lighter values and essentially draw in reverse by marking out the highlights and lighter middle values first if the paper is very dark.

If the paper is a medium value, such as Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Grey, then I begin with whatever color and value works best with whatever animal I’m drawing.

No matter what color of paper or pencil I use, I almost always start by shading the shadows, and then working into the middle values.

Watercolor Papers

The beauty of watercolor papers is that you can do the base layers with watercolors or watercolor pencils. Those mediums do not fill the tooth of the paper and they fill in paper holes much better.

I don’t usually start with an umber under drawing because reapplying water reactivates the layers underneath. So I choose an overall base color for each area, then apply that with water-based mediums. When that dries, I continue with dry color, layering colors just as I would on regular paper.

In this sample, the background has been developed more completely at this stage than the horse. Part of the reason for that is that I needed to work around the edges of the horses and wanted to do that before working on the horse. Just in case the background didn’t turn out!

I wrote a two-part tutorial based on this drawing for EmptyEasel. You can read more about this method here.

Sanded Art Papers

Sanded art papers are actually more versatile than any other paper I’ve ever used. I’ve started drawings with an umber under drawing, with a more direct method, and using water-soluble media.

The method I use depends on the color of the paper and the color of the animal I’m drawing.

I started this horse portrait with an umber under drawing because it’s on white Clairefontaine Pastelmat.

I’ll use a more direct method with another portrait because I chose Sienna Pastelmat as the support.

There are Other Ways to Start an Animal Drawing

In fact, I sometimes don’t use any of the methods described above. Much depends on the subject, the color of the paper, the type of paper, and how much time I have to finish.

And as I’ve said about so many other topics, there really is no one-size-fits-all way to start a drawing.

But I hope you’ll find a method that works for you among those I described above.

If not, I hope you’ve at least discovered some ideas that get you started looking for your own best ways to start your animal drawings.

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Old Prismacolor Colored Pencils

This week’s reader is one fortunate artist. She has in her possession some old Prismacolor colored pencils!

She also had a couple of questions about them. Here’s what she asked.

I found that along with my Prismacolor Premier pencils I also have some odd Prismacolor pencils with other names: Sanford Prismacolor and  Berol Prismacolor. Are these beginner pencils with less permanence than the Premier pencils?


Old Prismacolor Colored Pencils

Old Prismacolor Colored Pencils

I have good news for Dolly and for anyone else who has pencils with these labels.

They are artist grade pencils.

They’re also perfectly good to use, and may actually be of higher quality than the current Prismacolor pencils.

So what are they?

Time for a quick colored pencil history lesson!

In 1856, a man named Daniel Berolzheimer founded the Eagle Pencil Company. He made graphite pencils and other writing tools and accessories.

Colored pencils didn’t come into being until 1938 under the name Eagle Prismacolor pencils. Even then, they came in two forms: The soft core thick lead pencils, and the thinner, harder leaded Verithin pencils.

In 1969, the company adopted the name of Berol Ltd., and renamed the pencils Berol Prismacolor. The company remained family-owned for five generations. Then, the Empire Pencil Company purchased the company and its products. That was in 1986.

In 1995, Sanford LP purchased the Prismacolor line. The name was changed again, this time to Sanford Prismacolor.

Sanford is a subsidiary of the Newell Company. You may be more familiar with some of this company’s other products, including Rubbermaid, Coleman outdoor products, Mr. Coffee, and Yankee Candle, just to name a very few.

Are All Those Pencils of Good Quality?

Factories built by the original owners manufactured Prismacolor pencils until Sanford bought the line. Family-owned companies are often more interested in producing top-quality products because their name is on the line.

After the sale to Sanford, those factories began to close. Manufacture of Prismacolor products was out-sourced when the last factory closed in 2010. Products made by factories not owned by the company sometimes results in lesser quality control.

I looked through my pencils and found a Berol Prismacolor and a Sanford Prismacolor among the colors I rarely use. The pencils are both metallic silver and have the same color number—949, though the Sanford pencil is labeled PC949. I’ve used them both (at least both of them are sharpened,) and recall no difference.

Are They Permanent?

I cannot tell you that because lightfast testing was not done back then. At least I found no evidence of lightfast tests or test results.

I am confident, however, that earth tones (browns,) grays, blacks, and some of the less bright colors are lightfast. The jewel tones (if you have any) are more likely to fade.

You can use all the colors if you’re doing craft art. If you want to use them for fine art for your own display, then make sure to frame them with UV resistant glass and display them where natural sunlight does not reach them.

Old Prismacolor colored pencils

Old Prismacolor Colored Pencils: The Bottom Line

Those Eagle, Berol and Sanford Prismacolor colored pencils are perfectly good for modern day use. They feel about the same as today’s Prismacolor pencils when you draw with them, and they should perform very well.

By the way, you can still buy some of these old Prismacolor pencils if you know where to find them. Hint: Etsy and eBay are both good sources.

Research Sources
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Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing

Last week, I began a step-by-step demonstration showing how to draw a horse as a miniature drawing. This week I’ll demonstrate glazing color on an umber under drawing on the same project.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing

Glazing Background Color Over an Umber Under Drawing

The drawing is an ACEO (Art Cards, Editions and Originals) on white Rising Stonehenge paper.

This is the finished umber under drawing. You can read about drawing the under drawing here.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing -- The finished umber under drawing.

You can finish your under drawing with as much detail as you like. Some artists produce under drawings that look like finished works of art. I admire those artists and their work, but I don’t possess enough patience for such highly detailed under drawings!

My Color List

I used Prismacolor Verithin pencils to preserve as much of the paper’s natural tooth as possible for as long as possible. Finding other ways to preserve tooth is important when you don’t want to use solvents. Verithin pencils include only 36 colors, but there are enough colors to get started.

These are the colors I used.

I didn’t use these colors in any particular order beyond working generally from light to dark. Many of them were used several times, alternating colors among the many layers I did throughout the day.

To preserve paper tooth, use harder pencils for the first few layers of color work.

You can successfully complete this project using your favorite colors.

Layering Colors

I started with Prismacolor Verithin pencils, using light pressure and a variety of strokes to layer smooth color.

To keep the green from getting too bright, I sandwiched earth tones (Dark Umber, Terra Cotta, and Goldenrod) between greens (Apple Green, Grass Green, Peacock Green, and True Green.) I further adjusted color and value by mixing in Canary Yellow, True Blue, Non-Photo Blue, and Ultramarine.

No color was applied in an even layer throughout the background. Multiple layers and varying strokes were used to create the look of sun-dappled foliage in soft-focus.

The result is some areas that are more blue than yellow, and some that show a lot of brown.

Since I wanted as many layers and colors as possible without producing the ‘slick’ look of heavy burnishing, I kept pressure light to medium-light for each layer.

Keeping the pencils needle-sharp wasn’t a high priority. With this type of background, a slightly dull or even an angled pencil tip can be advantageous.

Glazing Color on the Horse

I used Verithin pencils to begin glazing color on the horse, beginning with Goldenrod in the lightest values. The medium value base colors were Orange and Orange Ochre, with Indigo Blue as the base color in the mane and forelock.

Developing Color

After the base layers were finished, I added Indigo Blue in the darker shadows to begin developing those shadows.

Then I continued layering with Verithin Terra Cotta, Goldenrod, and Orange Ochre in the red-brown parts of the horse’s coat.

Next, I darkened values with Dark Brown and Crimson Red. With each color, I worked around the highlights.

For the muzzle, eye, mane and forelock, I layered Black in the darkest areas, followed by Indigo Blue in the darkest values and middle values.

I also used some Prismacolor Soft Core pencils (the same colors) to add vibrancy.

Adjusting the Background

Now that the main colors and values were in place on the horse, I felt the need to add more color to the background. For this, I switched to Prismacolor Soft Core pencils.

To begin, I used Dark Green, Olive Green, Indigo Blue, Apple Green, Dark Umber, and Yellow Chartreuse to deepen saturation all around. I applied light colors in light areas and dark colors in dark areas with enough overlap to avoid ”pasted on” value patterns.

Then I used Yellow Chartreuse, Chartreuse, Light Green, Apple Green, Deco Yellow, and French Grey 30% to burnish the background.

The result was a deep and rich color that looked almost like it could have been an oil painting.

Adjusting the Horse

I added Goldenrod, Orange Ochre, and Terra Cotta applied with light to medium pressure and in random order. Mixing colors like this helped create rich, saturated color.

Then I added Orange Ochre, Spanish Orange, Crimson Red, Orange, Peacock Green, Black, Non-Photo Blue, and Goldenrod. In the first pass, I used the colors in the order listed. Later, I used them in random order.

I started with Verithin colors to establish as deep and even a layer of color as possible while filling as little tooth as possible.

When I had done all I could do with those, I switched to Prismacolor Soft Core pencils and used Burnt Ochre, Orange, and Black.

For the most part, I used a medium to heavy pressure, really forcing color down into the tooth of the paper to fill up every last space.

Finishing Touches

I started the final round of work with Verithin Goldenrod, Orange Ochre, Crimson Red, Ultramarine, and Orange. I used Canary Yellow, and White for highlight colors and to burnish where needed.

Then I added Prismacolor Soft Core Burnt Ochre with light to medium pressure to add teh final touches.

And here is the finished portrait.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing -- The finished portrait.

If it were a larger portrait, I’d refine the details further and add more color depth. It looked great as an ACEO.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing is now Complete

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial. You can use this method with success on any subject at any size.

And as I mentioned earlier in this post, you can develop the under drawing as much as you like. The more detail you include in the under drawing, the easier (and less work) glazing color becomes.

Are you interested in more information on this method? I’ve published a subject study tutorial that’s currently available on Colored Pencil Tutorials and you can read more about that here.

Other Articles in This Series

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

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Drawing on Drafting Film with Peggy Osborne

If you’re like me, you’ve seen a lot of artists drawing on drafting film with colored pencils. You love the work they’re doing and, maybe (like me,) you’ve also wondered what that’s all about.

I haven’t yet tried drafting film. I’m having too much fun with Pastelmat and have some of the new Lux Archival to play with, so drafting film is way down my list.

Even so, I’m thrilled to let you know that if you want to try drafting film and are waiting for the right tutorial, you’re in luck. Peggy Osborne tried drafting film and wrote her January tutorial about her experiences.

Drawing on Drafting Film

Drawing on Drafting Film

In short, she loves it!

Peggy’s new tutorial tackles a favorite subject by drawing cat eyes. The perfect subject to show you how much color and life you can put into a drawing when you draw on both sides of drafting film.

Drafting film is not your typical drawing surface, however, and Peggy also shares valuable tips for selecting colors and layering for maximum impact.

The tutorial includes a full supply list, a color chart so you can match colors if you don’t have Prismacolor pencils, and a line drawing. A full-size reference photo is also included. No additional downloads after you purchase the tutorial. It’s all included!

Are You Ready to Draw on Drafting Film?

This tutorial is perfect if you’ve never tried drafting film but are ready to try it out. You can’t do better than Peggy’s easy-to-read and follow instructions and beautiful illustrations.

And if you’re just looking for a new project to draw, then why not give this tutorial a try?

Click here to buy your copy of Peggy’s Cat Eyes on Drafting Film tutorial.

About Peggy Osborne

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

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

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

Want to see a free sample of Peggy’s dog portrait tutorials and writing style first? Read How to Draw a Golden Retriever on this blog.

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

Today, I want to show you how to start a miniature horse drawing. That is, a miniature drawing of a horse.

The original drawing is an ACEO, 3-1/2 inches wide by 2-1/2 inches tall.

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

Officially, it also falls into the miniature art category. I’m not certain ACEOs are as popular as they once were, but they’re a great way to practice a new method or technique. If you like finishing artwork quickly with colored pencil, ACEOs are perfect for that, as well.

However, you can download the line drawing here and make this project whatever size you like! I’ve shaded some of the middle values on the head and shoulder to make the highlights easier to see.

You can also download the reference photo here. The photo is a scan from a print photo, so it isn’t the best quality, but it includes all the information you need for this project unless you like hyper-realism!

A Bit about ACEOs

ACEO stands for Art Cards, Editions and Originals, also known as Art Trading Cards (ATCs) because they are the size of a typical trading card.

Size is the only qualification. Artwork must be 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2.

ACEO/ATCs can be created with any medium on any support, and in any style. They can be originals or reproductions. I’ve used oils, colored pencils, ballpoint pen, graphite, and acrylics to make landscape, abstract, and equine-theme ACEOs.

ACEO horse painting in oils.

I like the size because I can use scrap pieces of paper, canvas or other material to paint or draw on. Another benefit is being able to toss a drawing that doesn’t work.

And that makes ACEOs ideal for trying new materials, new mediums, new techniques, or new subjects.

Colored Pencils and Miniature Art

Colored pencils are ideal for miniature art. Their size and shape make them a natural for producing detail in miniature and the size of miniature art is perfect for colored pencil.

Colored pencils are my favorite medium because they allow a high-degree of detail and I can complete some ACEO-sized pieces in an hour or less.

Now, time for the tutorial!

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

This is my reference. I did a lot of composing with the camera, but also began work by cropping the digital image to the proportions of an ACEO.

Start a miniature horse drawing reference photo.

To transfer the line drawing, I coated the back with a graphite pencil. The soft lead I used required some cleanup afterward, but I got a nice, crisp drawing without leaving impressions on the paper. At this size, that’s a plus.

By the way, I’m drawing on Rising Stonehenge 90lb paper in white. You can use your favorite white paper as long as it’s not too toothy.

This week, I’ll show you how to do the umber under drawing, then follow up with the color glazes next week.

The Umber Under Drawing

I chose to start with an umber under drawing because that’s the best way I’ve found to get the shadows, values and details right.

Working without color is also a little bit faster.

The Background

I chose Prismacolor Verithin Dark Umber because that line of pencil has a thinner, harder lead. It covers paper well without filling the tooth. It’s also easier to erase and correct than softer pencils. You can use Prismacolor Premier Dark Umber, or any similar medium-value brown.

Layer color unevenly over the background. The background will be blurry green, so don’t put the same amount of Dark Umber over every part of it. One option is to leave the background lighter around the horse’s head, and darker along the edges, but you can try other backgrounds, too.

Use hatching and cross-hatching strokes and layering to create variations in values.

Since I was creating my own background, I drew a random pattern of light and dark areas, but kept the background around the horse’s head and especially around the ears, light to accent the horse.

The Horse

I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t save the highlights, I tend to work right over them. It’s impossible to recover nice, clean highlights once you’ve shaded over them if you’re using traditional drawing methods.

So the first step to drawing the horse is lightly outlining some of the more prominent highlights (outlines are still visible on the shoulder.)

Use directional strokes that follow the contours of the head and neck everywhere except the eye.

For the eye, use circular strokes to fill in the shape as completely as possible. Work around the lashes and use only a few layers around the lower edge of the eyeball, where there will be reflected light, while adding more layers to darken the rest of the eye.

Start a miniature horse drawing.

Except in the eye, use light pressure. When drawing the eye, begin with light pressure and work up to medium light pressure.

Other Notes

Since this piece is so small, there isn’t much room for fine details. Don’t fret too much over all the details you see in the reference photo.

I used a dry fine point ballpoint pen to impress my signature into the paper before starting to draw. Even with a single color applied with two or three light layers, the signature is quite clear. You don’t have to sign your art, or you can use a light Verithin (or other pencil.)

This is an ideal way to sign small format or miniature drawings, especially if you lay down a lot of color and don’t use solvents. When you use a solvent, the signature will be filled in to some extent, but may still be visible.

You may need a couple of rounds of shading the background and/or the horse to finish the umber under drawing. The key thing to remember is to make sure there is a clear distinction between the horse and the background. If the horse doesn’t stand out at the under drawing stage, it probably won’t stand out even after adding color. Contrast is important. Make sure the dark values are dark enough and the light values are light enough.

Now You Know how to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

If you like, practice on a few more. Or do this one again and save the best one for next week.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can try this method on other subjects. Just remember to have fun!

Next week, we’ll finish with color glazing.

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How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know how to get bright highlights in eyes. This is a great question, because the answer works for any type of bright highlights on any subject.

Here’s the question.

How do you get that realistic look of shiny glaze look in eyes, besides just having a white dot from a jelly roll pen? Please, I’m lost on making the seem real, Thanks.


Thank you for the question!

This post is a followup to last week’s Q&A Wednesday post, in which I talked about using gel pens and other supplies for adding highlights to colored pencil. That method works well for craft uses and other non-archival art forms. If you’re fine artist and want to know whether or not that’s a good idea, take a moment to read that post here. We’ll wait for you.

How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

There are two ways to get bright highlights in eyes—or bright highlights on any subject. The methods are very different, so what I’d like to do is share a few general tips on each subject.

I’ll include links to more in-depth tutorials on this blog when they’re available.

Drawing Highlights on Traditional White Paper

Traditional paper is what most of us think of when we think of drawing paper. Brands like Stonehenge, Strathmore, and Canson Mi-Teintes are examples.

These papers take varying amounts of color, but one thing is fairly standard. You cannot layer light colors over dark colors and get bright values. That has more to do with the pencils than the paper, because the pencils are translucent. But the paper does make a difference.

When you use white paper, you have to preserve the highlights and work around them. The method that works best for me is marking out the highlights on the line drawing, then developing color by starting with the lightest colors and gradually drawing the darker colors and values layer by layer.

Peggy Osborne wrote an excellent tutorial about drawing cat eyes on white paper, which you can read here. She uses a method similar to what I described above. You can draw highlights in any type of eye or on any subject using her method.

Drawing Highlights on Traditional Paper That’s Medium Dark or Darker

Drawing on medium-dark or darker paper has one advantage over white paper. You can actually draw the light values first and see them. You still have to work around them, but at least you can see them more easily.

I wrote a tutorial on this subject, which you can read here. The subject is a cat, but the method I describe works with any type of eye.

Or with any subject on which you need a bright highlight.

Drawing on Abrasive, Non-Absorbent Papers

Uart Premium Sanded Pastel Paper, Fisher 400 Pastel Paper, and Clairfontaine Pastelmat are all abrasive papers. They have obvious texture.

They are also non-absorbent, so they don’t soak up solvents the same way traditional drawing papers do.

While you can use normal drawing methods on them and get good results, they also allow you to use more “painterly” methods of applying color.

I haven’t yet completed a pet portrait on this type of paper, but I did do a landscape in which I added light-value highlights over darker colors. As you can see in this detail, the light greens and whites show up quite well when placed over medium dark and dark greens.

If you have the right tools, you can even isolate layers and add new colors just as though you were drawing on fresh paper.

That means that you can add highlights and lighter values over darker values with much greater success than you could on traditional drawing paper.

You will need special tools for this method. Tools such as Titanium White, Powder Blender, and ACF Texture Fixative from Brush & Pencil. Alyona Nickelsen’s book, Colored Pencil Painting Portraits is a great resource for learning how best to use these tools.

Drawing Those Bright Highlights

As you can see, there are several methods for drawing bright highlights in eyes. It all depends on the paper you use and your preferred drawing style.

If you work on traditional white drawing paper, preserve the white of the paper in the highlight area. You’ll always get brighter highlights if you preserve the white of the paper than if you try to add them over darker colors.

The other methods I described are also very effective once you learn them.

But if you prefer using traditional papers and just colored pencils, then your best option—your only option—is defining the highlights first and working around them from the start.

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Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

Today, I want to show you one of my favorite ways of creating digital line drawings from digital photos using GIMP.

GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, and it’s a free, open source photo editor available for PC and Mac. If you’ve never used GIMP before, prepare for a fairly steep learning curve. Once you grasp the basics, however, GIMP is versatile, powerful, and an excellent alternative for Photoshop. It’s a great app if you prefer downloadable software.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

I’ve already written about how easy it is to square up photos in GIMP. If you have problems getting good, square photos of your artwork, you’ll want to read that.

Now on to today’s subject.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

Convert the Image to Gray Scale

Converting an image to grayscale removes all the color and turns the image into a black-and-white image. GIMP refers to this process as desaturation.

Select COLORS from the drop-down menu along the top of the GIMP window. Then choose DESATURATE and DESATURATE as shown below.

A dialog box will open that allows you to adjust the level of de-saturation. I usually click OK.

Here’s my sample image in full, glorious color.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

And here is the fully de-saturated (converted to grayscale) image.

NOTE: Some photo editors automatically remove the color when you do an edge detection. Some do not, so you may or may not need to do this step.

Look for an Edge Detect or Find Edges Option

The next step is to reduce the image to edges.

In GIMP, you do that with the EDGE DETECT tool under the FILTERS drop down menu as shown here. I also use the DIFFERENCE OF GAUSSIANS option, which other photo editors may or may not have. If you don’t have that option, then choose the default. Most of the time, that option works best.

TIP: Set your photo editor up to show a preview of the changes you make, if possible. That way, you can see how the image is going to look before you apply the edge detect tool, and you can make adjustments if necessary.

This is how my image looked after finishing this step.

Adjust Brightness and Contrast

Next, adjust the brightness and contrast of the image. The goal is the best possible level of details with the least amount of distraction.

The BRIGHTNESS-CONTRAST settings in GIMP are under the COLORS drop down menu.

Another way to adjust the brightness and contrast is by selecting LEVELS (just below Brightness-Contrast in this illustration.)

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

There’s so much contrast in my sample image that the Brightness-Contrast setting didn’t help much, so I tried Levels instead.

There is still quite a bit of “noise” (unwanted details) in the background, but that’s easily enough ignored in the drawing process. The level of detail and value gradations in the subject is excellent.

Creating Line Drawings from Digital Photos


Print the resulting image as is, or continue adjusting it until you have the level of detail you want.

You can also print this image and use it as a simplified reference to hand draw your own line drawing if you prefer.

Personally, I would print this image, then transfer only the details I thought absolutely necessary.

This process can be hit-and-miss sometimes. While default settings work most of the time, they may not be satisfactory with some photos. The problem is in the photos themselves. Lighting levels, clarity, and contrast all play a role. The better the photo is in each area, the better results you’ll get.

No matter what photo editor you use, you will have to make adjustments with some photos.

My sample required different settings in Brightness-Contrast, Levels, and in other places, than the last horse image I put through the process.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with a Photo Editor

This is a wonderful way to save time creating line drawings.

But no two photo editors are exactly alike, so explore your favorite photo editor and see what it can do.

After that, practice, practice, practice!

The only easier way to do this is to find someone else to do these conversions for you!

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My Thoughts on Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

Today’s post question comes from a reader who wants to know how to get bright highlights in eyes. The reader also mentions using gel pens to create highlights, so I’ll answer the question with two posts. Today, I’ll share my thoughts on gel pens and acrylic paint.

Next week, I’ll show you how to get bright highlights in eyes using archival materials.

But first, here’s the question.

How do you get that realistic look of a shiny glaze in eyes, besides just having a white dot from a jelly roll pen? Please, I’m lost on making this seem real, Thanks.


Thank you for the question!

Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

My Thoughts on Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

A lot of artists use gel pens, acrylic paint, and other similar tools to add bright highlights to their colored pencil drawings. Many of those artists are artists whose work and talent I respect. They get excellent results, in most cases.

Acrylic paints are another medium I’m often asked about for adding highlights to colored pencil drawings.

Acrylics seemed to make sense when I tried them decades ago. I was a painter, after all, so using a brush and paint came naturally. What better way to add highlights and accents than by brushing them on with acrylic paint?

But unless you’re drawing for your own pleasure, it’s wise to avoid gel pens, acrylic paint, and any similar substances. They look good when you first use them, but they won’t stick well to the colored pencils. Sooner or later, they will flake off.

Why That Doesn’t Work

No matter what brand of colored pencils you use, the pigment is held together in lead form by binders. The binder is made up of a mixture of wax, oil, clay and fillers.

Gel pens and acrylics are water-based.

You can safely use water-based mediums under oil- or wax-based mediums. Artists have been using acrylics under oils for decades.

Many colored pencil artists use watercolors, watercolor pencils, India ink and even acrylics under colored pencils. In most cases, you can use colored pencil over any water-based medium as long as you use the wet medium as intended, and let the paper dry thoroughly.

But using a water-based medium of any kind over a wax- or oil-based medium of any kind often leads to problems down the road.

That’s because water and oil (or wax) do not mix.

If it helps, try a little experiment. Fill a glass with water, then pour a little vegetable oil into it. You’ll get something that looks like this.

Leave the glass sit for a moment or two and the oil rises to the surface. Once all the oil is on the surface, it’s fairly easy to skim the oil off the water.’s surface If you’re careful, you might even be able to pour most of the water out of the glass and leave most of the oil behind.

The same is true for dry mediums. It takes longer for the separation to happen, but it will happen. Since the pencils are dry and the gel pen or acrylic dries after application, the two will eventually separate cleanly. The gel pen or acrylic flakes off and your drawing is without those lovely highlights.

Is There Ever a time to Use Gel Pens or Acrylic Paints?


If you’re doing artwork in which permanence isn’t important, then you can use whatever tool or material gives you the result you want.

Greeting cards are an excellent example. A lot of people make their own greeting cards with stamping, colored pencils, markers, stickers, and other things. Greeting cards aren’t meant to last for decades, and they’re not usually framed or displayed. So it doesn’t matter if they’re absolutely archival.

Any type of craft use involving colored pencils is also suitable for using gel pens and acrylic paints to create highlights are accents. And, of course, adult coloring books are good places for gel pens.

And as I mentioned at the beginning, if you’re making art for your own pleasure, then by all means make use of those gel pens.

So if you shouldn’t use gel pens, how do you make bright, realistic highlights in eyes? I’ll answer that question next week.

Ask Carrie a Question

CP Magic January 2021 is Here!

CP Magic January 2021 starts the new year off right with versatile colored pencil artist John Stansfield.

And a new look!

CP Magic January 2021

The new cover design is only the beginning, and continues with new features inside, as well as some of your favorite columns.

What’s in CP Magic January 2021

The Featured Artist for This Month

John Stansfield joins CP Magic from the United Kingdom as the first featured artist of 2021. A long-time artist with interests in portraits of all types, and botanical subjects, life-like detail and a depth of realistic color fills John’s work. His artist’s journey is at once unique and common to many other artists.

January Tutorial

A beautiful silver tabby cat named Vinny is John’s subject for the January tutorial. Work with John to draw this lovely fellow. The tutorial includes links to the reference photo and line drawing.

The Great Art Adventure

For many artists, the beginning of the year means goal setting. For a lot of us, goal setting is one of those things that must be done whether we like it or not.

This year, however, Carrie takes a look at goal setting as though it were a journey. A great art journey, with suggestions for identifying your main destination as well as rest stops along the way.

New in This Issue

Nothing But Pencils & Paper

Are you new at colored pencils or do you know someone who is? If so, then this column is for you. The column begins with a list of the three must have things to begin using colored pencils.

The Final Pencil Strokes

Have you ever reached the end of an issue of CP Magic, and wished there was more to read? The Final Pencil Strokes wraps up the January 2021 issue with links to three colored pencil blog posts for further information on the wonderful world of colored pencils.

Also in CP Magic January 2021

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Featured Photo

About CP Magic

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

Each month features an artist interview and tutorial so you can meet the artist and see how they work. Other columns include the Great Art Adventure, CP Clinic, a featured photo, and more.

Get your copy of CP Magic January 2021 today.

New for 2021 at Carrie L. Lewis

Welcome to a new year! My first post of the year is an announcement of something new for 2021.

And a thank you to everyone who submitted a question for Q&A December. I received so many great questions, that I was unable to answer all of them in December.

New for 2021

So I’m going to be answering them this month and for as long as they last. How?

Q&A Wednesday!

New for 2021

Beginning January 6 (the first Wednesday of the year,) I’ll answer a reader question every Wednesday. I’ll finish answering the questions received in response to my call for Q&A month questions back in November 2020.

I also received great questions in response to a recent newsletter survey, and will also answer those questions.

So I hope you’ll tune in on January 6 for the beginning of this new weekly post.

And if you have a question, I hope you’ll ask it! As always, if there’s a quick, brief answer to your question, I’ll answer it immediately by email.

But I’ll also answer it in greater depth with a Q&A Wednesday post.

So if you ask a question, you get two answers!

Do You Have a Question?

Ask it!

Never think your question is too basic. Every artist had to start somewhere and many of us had to figure things out on our own. That was certainly true for me because I started making art before Patreon, YouTube and even PCs! I know what it’s like to stumble through the learning process.

If I can make it easier for you by answering even the simplest question for you, I want to do that!

Questions can be about colored pencils, drawing paper, drawing methods, tools, materials, or anything related to creativity. I’m even happy to answer questions about starting, promoting, or maintaining an art-related business!

So if you have a question, ask it by clicking on this link or on the button below! I hope to hear from you soon.

Ask Carrie a Question