We’ve all done it. I’ve done it. As I mentioned above, I sometimes still stop too soon (though I don’t realize it until later.)
This is a piece I did in 2004. It looked finished at the time. I was happy with it.
Actually, I still am happy with it.
But as I look at it now, compared to a portrait finished in 2020 (below,) it looks about three-quarters finished. I see several things I could do to improve it. To make it look more finished.
Does that mean there’s anything wrong with the first portrait?
No. It just means that I had a lot to learn back in 2004.
So the first thing I want to tell Karin and everyone else who struggles with the same problem is to be patient with yourself. Learning any skill takes time, and learning proficiency takes even more time.
Learning all the skills necessary to make great colored pencil art takes a lot of time. The plain truth is that you’ll be learning and improving for as long as you draw!
Don’t give up. Keep drawing and sooner or later, you will get there.
Is Having a Naturally Light Hand the Problem?
I’m not sure having a naturally light hand has anything to do with this particular problem. Artists with a heavy hand also struggle with getting dark values dark enough. The fear of going to far and ruining a piece is pretty much universal.
If anything, I think having a light hand is a good thing for a couple of reasons.
First, artists with light hands have to layer more layers than other artists. That means they make adjustments more slowly. Yes, it takes more time to do all those layers, but they’re less likely to make a big adjustment in just one or two layers.
Artists with a naturally heavy hand, however, tend to put color on the paper in just a few layers. If a drawing gets too dark, it gets too dark very quickly. Because the color is applied heavily, it’s also difficult to correct.
So there are advantages and disadvantages both ways.
Time and Experience will Solve the Problem
Karin asked if time and experience would help her. The short answer is: Yes! Time and experience will help.
The more drawings she does, the better she’ll get at deciding when a piece is finished.
She’ll gain confidence in her ability to darken values enough without going too dark. And if she does go too dark, she’ll learn ways to correct the problem.
How Long Should a Drawing Take?
As for taking months to finish a project, that goes with the territory. Colored pencils are naturally slow. There are ways to speed up the process, but the drawing process is still slow!
So don’t worry over taking months to finish a project. I recently polled newsletter readers about the longest amount of time they’ve put into a project, and some of them said they’d worked on something over a year or more!
The larger your drawing and the more detailed you make it, the longer it will take to finish.
Summer colds. Not much fun. I spent the week feeling like I was wading through tapioca, so I don’t have many sketches for the week of August 9.
The week was also busy with a student for the week, the latest freelance article, and other things going on. A couple of days ended with no energy for even the simplest sketch.
But I did get six sketches for the week; and that’s my weekly goal.
My Sketches for the Week of August 9, 2021
Branch Study in Derwent Drawing on Canson Mi-Teintes
The sketching week got off to a fairly good start given the circumstances. It was late in the day before I got to sketching, and I really didn’t feel like picking up a pencil, but did it anyway.
This branch was sketched with Derwent Drawing Olive Earth on Canson Mi-Teintes Fawn. Not the best color combination, perhaps, but not bad either.
I drew this from memory and imagination, combining interesting twists and turns, and other features seen in real life branches.
Mountain Landscape with Derwent Drawing on Stonehenge
With no particular goal in mind this week other than sketching, I used whatever paper was on the top of the stack. The first sketch for the week was Canson Mi-Teintes. Both of the next two sketches are on Stonehenge Fawn.
It was very hot and humid on Wednesday, so when I sat down to draw, I decided to draw something cool and not so humid. A mountain landscape with a lake in front seemed like the perfect subject.
I drew this scene from memory, but it was heavily influenced by two of my favorite landscape painters. One works in oils, and the other in acrylics, but they both do a lot of mountain landscapes.
So I did one, too!
And I’m very pleased with it.
Blue Mountain on Stonehenge
Derwent Drawing colored pencils are great sketching pencils. They work on every paper I’ve tried, though they’re better on traditional papers.
For this sketch, I chose Derwent Drawing Smoke Blue and focused on drawing space and form with line and limited values.
The mountains are imaginary. I simply sketched and shaded until I thought the sketch was finished.
Mountain Landscape with Derwent Drawing
This is a more complete sketch than what I’ve been doing. I used almost all of my Derwent Drawing pencils (I have about eight colors) to draw this landscape. The paper is Stonehenge Fawn again, which proved not to be a good color for the light blues in the mountains.
It was perfect for the rest of the landscape however.
This sketch is very loosely based on a photograph sent to me by a reader. I started a more “serious” piece late this winter, but have never finished it. So now I can say I’ve done something with that photograph!
Tree Branch with White Derwent Drawing
Back to Canson Mi-Teintes Fawn for this sketch, and back to just one color. Derwent Drawing Chinese White.
Instead of drawing a subject by drawing the shadows, I decided to try drawing just the highlights and reflected light.
It’s not quite as finished as I would have liked, but I was interrupted. One of my rules for this sketching habit is not to go back so something once I’ve put it down (unless I have to sharpen pencils or something like that.)
Still, I’m quite happy with the results.
By the way, I drew this from my imagination.
May in Kansas
The final sketch for the week was drawn with Derwent Drawing Sanguine on Canson Mi-Teintes Fawn paper.
I revisited a scene I drew last week. This week, however, I drew the main tree much as it appears in the reference photo, with leaves.
This is the sort of scene that makes me think I’ll some day do a more serious piece based on it. Neither this sketch nor the previous one shows the atmosphere of this morning time scene.
And atmosphere is one of the things I enjoy about drawing landscapes.
Comparing Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes with Derwent Drawing Colored Pencils
I used either Canson Mi-Teintes or Stonehenge paper for this week’s sketches, and I used Derwent Drawing pencils on all of them.
Derwent Drawing colored pencils are a great sketching pencil. A full set of 24 colors is definitely on my wish list. The earthy colors are great for nature subjects as well as sketching.
And as I mentioned before, they’re ideal for traditional drawing papers.
Both types of papers I used are 98-pound papers, but they feel different. Stonehenge has a sturdier feel, but it’s also much softer. Canson Mi-Teintes is a nice paper for sketching and more serious drawings, but it’s best for colored pencils if you use the back side!
Those are My Sketches for the Week of August 9
And that’s my abbreviated report on my sketches for last week. It was disappointing not to have drawn more, but I’m pleased to have drawn any at all! It was just one of those weeks.
I hope you’re week went more smoothly, and that you were able to do some sketching.
If you have, I hope you’ll join me in developing your own sketching habit. I invite you to share them. I’ll be happy to add them as a reader’s sketch gallery to this post!
Today’s post is about my first attempt at blending backgrounds with Powder Blender.
This is my second attempt using Clairfontaine Pastelmat Sienna colored paper. I described my first experience here. If you’re interested in traditional drawing methods on Pastelmat, then you’ll want to read How to Draw a Blurred Background.
For this piece, I followed Alyona Nickelsen’s method of colored pencil painting, which is based on the Flemish Seven-Step method. I used many of her Brush & Pencil products, including Powder Blender, ACP Textured Fixative, and Titanium White.
The portrait is 6 inches by 8 inches. As mentioned above, I’m using Clairfontaine Pastelmat.
I didn’t want to just practice, though. I wanted to do an actual work. This portrait was ready for background work, so I decided to work on it.
Since this is a teachable moment, I chose one of the tutorials in the book, and followed it step-by-step. Here’s how that worked.
Step 1: Apply Powder Blender to the Paper
Alyona recommends applying Powder Blender to the paper before you add any color. According to the book, you can use sponge applicators, a brush, or even your finger if you wear a cot.
I chose a #6 sable round brush to apply Powder Blender to the background. It’s very easy to do. Simply lightly touch the Powder Blender with the brush, then brush it onto the background.
You don’t need a lot of Powder Blender. A little bit goes a long way, so use it sparingly.
Powder Blender is a white powder, but it disappears on paper. Even on colored paper like this Sienna Pastelmat.
Step 2: Layer Color
Next, I layered Faber-Castell Polychromos Sky Blue over the background with light to medium-light pressure and big, bold strokes.
My understanding was that I didn’t need careful strokes in order to get smooth color with Powder Blender. So I used light pressure, but essentially scribbled color onto the paper in just a few minutes.
I didn’t even bother covering all of the paper, since I want a blurred look for the background.
Step 3: Blend with Powder Blender
Next, I used the same brush to blend the color, which is one of the ways to blend described in Alyona’s book.
Blending with painterly strokes stirred up pigment, but didn’t blend well, so I tried a stippling stroke. Stippling strokes (tapping strokes) pushed pigment down into the tooth of the paper instead of spreading it around.
Most of the strokes blended out nicely, but I wasn’t able to cover all of the paper. That was okay, though. It showed me that I needed more color on the paper for effective blending.
Step 4: Continue Layering Color
I layered more Sky Blue over parts of the background, and then added Earth Green Yellowish in some areas. The additional color will create the look of blurred foliage in the background.
I alternated layering and blending several times without adding more Powder Blender.
The more color on the paper, the more satisfactory the blending process, but you can still see a lot of paper showing through the background. At this stage in the drawing, that doesn’t bother me. I’ll be able to continue layering color until the portrait is complete.
I continued working on the background with Sky Blue and Earth Green Yellowish to build color. I also added Deep Cobalt Green for a darker cooler green, and Dark Indigo to create even darker values. When the greens got too bright, I toned them down with Bistre.
I tried a blending layer with Cinnamon, which is very close to the color of the paper. Blending layers often work on other projects, but I didn’t care for the look of it this time.
When the background was finished, I did a final blend with Powder Blender and the color was ready to be “fixed into place.”
Step 5: Spray with ACP Textured Fixative
After finishing with layering and blending, I lightly sprayed the drawing with ACP Textured Fixative.
Two light coats with half an hour of dry time between the two coats. Then I put the drawing away for the day.
My Thoughts on Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender
So what’s my opinion of Powder Blender? Favorable! I clearly need practice with this new tool, but I need practice with every new tool. We all do.
Overall, I like this background much better than the blurred background I drew on the same paper using traditional methods.
It also took far less time to do this work. Less than two hours total, while it took several hours over a period of days to do the traditional background. Even if the only place you use Powder Blender is the background, it’s well worth the investment.
I blended with a sponge applicator until I noticed spongy part was coming apart due to friction with the paper. Sanded papers are hard on sponges!
So I went back to my sable brush, but wasn’t getting much good out of that. The next brush, a stiff bristle brush, worked so well that I put the sable brush and the sponge applicators away.
Let’s talk about making bright whites pop with colored pencils. That’s the topic for this post, and here’s the reader question to get the discussion started.
Hi Carrie. I need to know how to make bright whites pop with pencils.
This is a big issue for a lot of colored pencil artists because it’s so difficult to add white highlights (or bright highlights of any color) over layers of color. That’s because colored pencils are naturally translucent, so every color you put on the paper changes the look of every other color.
Even the color of the paper affects the way colors look.
But getting bright highlights is vital to realistic art, so what are the best ways to make those bright whites really pop?
Two Easy Ways of Making Bright Whites Pop
Let me make a couple of suggestions that are easy to implement, and a couple of others that require more thought and effort.
First, the easy methods.
The best way to make white areas pop in a drawing is to work on white paper and preserve the white of the paper. No white pencil is as bright white as bright white paper.
Not all white paper is equally white, however. Some whites are warm white, which means they have a bit of yellow tint, while other, cool white papers have a bit of a blue tint. The tints are very minor and may not even be visible, but they do make a difference. If you decide to rely on the white of the paper, then look for a paper that’s “bright white.”
Then mark the highlights before you starting layering color and work around them.
This portrait was drawn on white Stonehenge. All the highlights are either the white of the paper or the white of the paper lightly tinted with color.
For really small areas, like the highlights in eyes, you might also add a layer of white before using any other color. A layer of white color protects paper somewhat, and makes lifting color a bit easier if necessary.
Dark Surrounding Values
Also remember that when the values around a patch of bright color are dark, the light color appears brighter.
After most of the layers are in place, darken the areas around the bright white highlights slightly. Darkening surrounding values makes the highlights look brighter.
You don’t want to go too dark, but if you need to punch up a highlight just a little bit, this is a good option.
I used darker values around many of the highlights in this portrait to make the highlights pop. Notice the bright area at the base of the ear and on the leather next to it.
This portrait was drawn on medium-gray paper, so I was able to use heavy pressure and a “star” shape to add the sparkling highlights on the rings of the bit. This doesn’t work for every application, but if you’re adding highlights over colored paper where you haven’t put other colors, it’s very effective.
Two More Complex Methods for Making Bright Whites Pop
These methods also work very well, but they require special tools and a bit of a learning curve.
Sanded Art Papers
Sanded art papers are great surfaces to use if you prefer adding highlights over other colors. Because of the grit of sanded art papers, you can layer colors indefinitely.
You can also layer light colors over dark colors more effectively on sanded papers than on traditional papers. You still get the best results by using white papers and preserving the highlights, but with sanded papers, you can brighten highlights by adding white afterward, too.
I recommend Lux Archival because it’s fully archival and the brightest white sanded art paper I’ve tried.
Titanium White from Brush & Pencil
Brush & Pencil makes a great product called Titanium White. It’s powdered titanium white pigment; the same pigment used in white colored pencils but without the binding agents. It’s more opaque and covers better when mixed with Touch-Up Texture (also from Brush & Pencil.)
Last week, I did all of the sketches for the week on white Clairefontaine Pastelmat. This week, I used the same pencils, but all the sketches for the week of August 2 are on Stonehenge.
Here’s what I thought.
My Sketches for the Week of August 2, 2021
Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils
Green Desert with Koh-I-Nor
I’ve been generally dissatisfied with these pencils for every application, but I haven’t done much drawing with them. So my first sketch for this week was more like a color study than a sketch.
The scene is based on the Flint Hills in Kansas, but it’s totally imaginary.
And not as finished as I’d intended.
That was because I didn’t like the way the pencils were layering on Stonehenge. Stonehenge is super soft, and just was not a good surface for these pencils.
Tree Branch with Koh-I-Nor
So I went back to a more typical sketching style. I like this piece much better, but am still not happy with the pencils. Getting good, dark values was difficult.
However, I do like having the ability to draw broader, softer lines.
Blick Studio Colored Pencils
Elm Tree with Blick Studio
I sat on our back porch Tuesday evening with a few pieces of Stonehenge and my cup of Blick Studio pencils. My intention was to draw from life, but before I did more than choose a subject and rough it in, mosquitoes drove me back inside.
The two knots on the upper left got most of my attention while I was outside, so they became the focus. I filled in the rest after going into the house again.
Those two knots do intrigue me. I may have draw them more specifically later. After a cold snap removes the mosquitoes!
Mountain Landscape with Blick Studio
The idea of line drawing landscapes interests me enough that I decided to give it try this week. I wanted to see if I could draw a complete landscape with distance using only the darkness and thickness of the lines.
That was not only possible; it turned out pretty well.
But I had to press so hard with the Blick Studio pencil to get those dark foreground lines that I felt like I was impressing them into the paper. I don’t think I was, but I didn’t like working that way.
Prismacolor Soft Core Pencils
Mountain Landscape with Prismacolor
The next pencils I used were Prismacolors, and I started with another landscape line drawing. In fact, I redrew the previous sketch, but without looking at the previous sketch.
The Prismacolor I chose was Indigo Blue and it worked extremely well this way. I still had to use heavier pressure and repeated marking to get the dark lines in the foreground, but the overall drawing process was easier and faster.
It also felt more comfortable.
Rotted Plank with Prismacolor
For this drawing, I went back to the back porch. It was earlier in the day and more windy, so the mosquitoes weren’t much of a problem.
But I didn’t want to draw a tree again, so I looked around where I sat and finally settled on this rotted plank. I’d drawn something like it for the original plein air challenge in 2016, so thought it was time to revisit the subject.
I did a little bit of shading in the darkest values, but used mostly lines to suggest the weather-worn wood.
I’ve used Polychromos pencils for a lot of sketches since starting this sketching habit, so I did only two this week.
Flint Hills with Polychromos
Another line drawing landscape. I really enjoy sketching like this!
This sketch is drawn from an old, poor quality photo I took of the Flint Hills many years ago. I did a little more shading with this one than with the other line drawings. But I still relied on line thickness and darkness to convey the look of distance.
Tree Branch with Polychromos
Another sketch from one of my photos. This tree is near a local business and has interesting lighter patterns in the bark. Those light patches are what I wanted to capture, since they really defined the twisting and turning of each of the three large branches.
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor
This is my Lyra Polycolor sketch for the week. It, too, is based on one of a collection of images I took a couple of years ago. I simplified the landscape quite a bit, and drew the main tree without leaves so it stood out even more from the clumps of trees in the background.
Caran d’Ache Pablo
The last sketch for the week was this tree trunk study with Caran d’Ache Pablo.
I liked the tree in the previous sketch so much that I decided to do it again with much background.
Crayola Colored Pencils
I got an opportunity to try a brand of pencils I would not be likely to ever purchase: Crayola colored pencils.
I love their crayons. The smell of Crayola crayons is one of my all-time favorite non-food scents. The colored pencils are made for the same artists for whom the crayons are made. Grade school students.
So I had no interest in purchasing them, even just to test them.
But this week, I came into possession of a large collection of them. Since a reader asked about them, I decided to do a little work with them, just to see how they measured up to my expectations.
One of my tests was a sketch on Stonehenge.
This sketch is called The Moor, and I drew it one evening while watching The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The moor shares some characteristics with the Flint Hills and I love drawing the Flint hills, so I decided to try sketching the moor.
I would have made more progress with a better pencil, but I’m still pleased with the way this turned out.
How I Rate these Pencils
I made some interesting (and surprising) discoveries this week.
As I mentioned last week, I have only one each of the Caran d’Ache Pablo and Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor pencils, but they turned out to be my favorites on Stonehenge paper. They both performed very well and I didn’t feel like I had to press very hard to get the darker values. I rate them about equal in ease of use and overall performance.
After that, my favorites, Polychromos and Prismacolor, tied for second. That’s not surprising. The really good pencils general perform well on most surfaces. And they weren’t that far behind the first two.
The Blick Studio pencils were okay with Stonehenge. I think if I had no other pencils, I could get used to them easily. But they are better suited for sanded surfaces in my opinion.
Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils are still at the bottom of the list, but this week they’re joined by Crayola colored pencils. I won’t be doing anymore tests with Crayola, but I’m not yet ready to give up entirely on the Koh-I-Nor Progresso pencils.
The most interesting discovery this week was the fact that Stonehenge has fallen from favor with me. It just seemed too soft and spongy after all the work I’ve done on the sanded art papers. In fact, by mid-week, I realized that my problems with the pencils were really problems with the paper.
And to think that Stonehenge was once my go-to paper!
Those are My Sketches for the Week of August 2
Another interesting sampling of different types of pencils on Stonehenge paper. I hope you enjoyed the results as much as I did.
I also hope you’ll join me in developing your own sketching habit.
And if you’ve created some sketches during the week of August 2, I invite you to share them. I’ll be happy to add them as a reader’s sketch gallery to this post!
Sometime ago, a reader asked how to find a printing company to make reproductions of her work. She wasn’t asking about printing machines; she wanted to know where to send digital images to have reproductions made.
Let’s let her explain.
How do you find a printer who can make quality prints of your work? I’m not talking a machine, though if there are reasonably priced ones, that would be good info. I’m talking about a service that specializes in reproducing art.
Thanks so much for your great information!
Artists these days have a couple of very good options available. Let’s talk about them.
Once you make that decision, you need to decide how you want to print your reproductions—by print-on-demand or in bulk.
One of the more popular ways for artists to enter the print market is through print-on-demand. Companies such as Fine Art America, and Gelato are only two of the many options.
Many of these print-on-demand providers offer ways to get started at no cost. All you have to do is open an account, upload high-resolution images of the artwork you want to market, and decide what sizes and types of reproductions you want to sell.
Some of them offer different printing surfaces from paper to canvas to wood, metal and acrylic.
Many also give you the opportunity to market merchandise such as mugs, tote bags, and decor items if you’re of a mind to do that.
These companies take care of shipping orders and handling returns as well as printing. They will take a sizeable commission off each sale, but that’s how they make their money.
You don’t earn anything until you sell something, but unless you open a premium account, you also won’t pay anything until you sell something.
You also don’t need to worry about stocking inventory.
Selling Print on Demand
As good as some of these companies are, they do have some disadvantages.
For one thing, unless you order a sample of each item you market, you have no way of knowing how good the printing work is.
They also do very little marketing for you. Yes, they promote the company as a whole, but there are thousands of artists with accounts, trying to sell things, so you need to promote your “store” just as much as you would promote anything else. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a nice web space, but no visitors.
Print in Bulk Options
I just ordered a small batch of print copies of the June 2021 issue of CP Magic. They arrived this week and they look great. What’s more, the cost of printing was such that I was able to get a small order (10 copies,) at an affordable price. I won’t make a lot of money, but I didn’t pay an arm and a leg either.
The ordering process was easy once I got a handle on it, the printing was fast, and so was delivery.
A company called Mixam did the printing for me and on the basis of this one order, I’m not at all hesitant in recommending them.
They do printing of all types, including brochures, business cards, post cards and…
Keep in mind with orders like this, the more copies you buy, the less you pay per copy.
You also need a clean, dry place to store the reproductions flat until you sell them.
My personal advice on bulk reproductions is to market them in advance. Promote the piece you want to market and give people the opportunity to buy in advance.
Then order enough to fill those orders and a few extra to continue to market. You could very well get enough advance sales to pay for the printing. The more copies you sell in advance, the fewer you have to store.
If you decide to purchase only enough to fill the orders you get, you don’t need storage space.
So What’s the Bottom Line on Finding a Printing Company?
This is a two-step process. Decide what you want to have reproduced, then decide how you want to reproduce it.
Keep in mind that there are advantages and disadvantages to both methods I’ve discussed here.
It’s also important to take your schedule into consideration. If you really want to enter the print market, but you don’t have time to package and ship orders or deal with customers, then print-on-demand is the best option.
The choice is yours. Selling reproductions of your best work can generate a good income, but it’s not easy. Nor is it pain free.
So consider all the options, then choose wisely, and you’ll be ahead a step or two from the start.
This week’s Q&A question comes from a reader who is having problems blending smooth color with alcohol markers. Here is the question.
I’m having trouble when I try to blend large areas of colour with the colourless (alcohol based) blenders. I’ve tried Prismacolor and Winsor & Newton blending pens and different papers, but the backgrounds come out blotchy.
I want to blend that way because the colours come out more vibrant, plus I want to be able to add additional layers without filling up the tooth of the paper.
I have tried blending on Fabriano Artistico 140 lb hot press, and Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Vellum 100 lb. Both seem to turn out poorly.
What am I doing wrong?
I have used blending markers, but it’s been years. I think I used one marker and decided they weren’t for me for a number of reasons.
First, I had a lot of the same problems this reader is having.
Second, the markers tended to get dirty quickly. That makes sense, because any time you use solvent on colored pencil, you remove some color.
But the biggest reason I didn’t buy another blending marker was that the first one dried out too quickly. It just wasn’t cost-effective or convenient.
Having said all that, let’s talk about how to use alcohol markers more efficiently.
Blending Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers
So what is this reader doing wrong?
I strongly suspect the answer is attempting to blend large areas with a tool designed for small areas.
Markers are, by nature, designed for small areas. The marker I used had two tips: one small and round, the other wedge-shaped. But even the wedge-shaped edge was no more than an inch wide and probably not even that big.
Alcohol also evaporates very quickly; sometimes almost instantly. It’s very difficult to get smooth blends when the surface dries from one stroke to the next. Even overlapping strokes and working quickly isn’t always the solution.
How Do You Blend Smooth Color with Alcohol Markers?
Save the blending pens for those small areas that can be blended quickly. If your marker has two tips, use the largest tip that will fit the area you want to blend.
Blend the entire area as quickly as you can, and overlap strokes. Then let the paper dry.
If the color looks good after it’s dry, you’re finished.
If it needs more work, add more layers of color, then blend again. The beauty of alcohol markers is that they don’t fill the tooth of the paper, so you can layer and blend almost indefinitely.
What about Blending Larger Areas?
For larger areas, try ordinary rubbing alcohol.
Rubbing alcohol is not the same type of alcohol found in alcohol markers, but it behaves in much the same way. It breaks down the binding agent that holds the pigment together, allowing you to blend color. It does evaporate quickly, but not as quickly as an alcohol marker.
You can also use cotton swabs, cotton balls or brushes to blend, so you can more quickly and easily blend larger areas.
What to Remember when Blending with Alcohol Markers
They are made for small areas, so save them for blending those small areas.
Try rubbing alcohol to blend larger areas.
Don’t be afraid to layer color, blend, then layer again.
Before I picked up a pencil to sketch this week, I decided to be a bit more deliberate. I’d still draw whatever struck my fancy, but I’d do all the sketches for the week of July 26 on the same paper.
I cut a full sheet of white Clairefontaine Pastelmat into 4×6 pieces (sixteen of them, plus a few smaller pieces.) My intention from the start was to try different pencils on Pastelmat just to see how they performed in a week-long comparison.
So hold on. This week’s sketching report is also a review of several types of pencils on Pastelmat!
My Sketches for the Week of July 26, 2021
Since this is a more “disciplined” sketching week, with a specific purpose in mind, I’m still listing sketches in chronological order. But I’m also doing a sketch or more with each type of pencil before moving to the next type.
So the sketches will be categorized by pencil, beginning with Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless.
Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils
I originally bought these pencils for use in laying down broad applications of color. At one time, I had Prismacolor Art Stix, which are Prismacolor pencils in a chalk-like shape. I never developed a taste for the Art Stix. After some early success with the Progresso, I decided they weren’t for me, either.
But I haven’t tried them very much on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, so they were the first pencils to come off the shelf this week.
Tree Study with Koh-I-Nor Progresso #1
I mentioned last week that I wished I was better at sketching in color, so I tried a color sketch first the the woodless pencils. I used Brown, Sap Green, Light Ochre, and a touch of Black.
These pencils are about the size of a standard colored pencil, so they’re easy to handle.
But they’re all pigment, so it can be difficult to get fine lines with them. I knew that when I started, so I kept my sketching loose in style.
The first layer or two went well. But then I remembered why I didn’t use the Progresso pencils more. They just don’t layer very well on sanded paper. It’s as if the pigment clogs up the tooth of the paper without filling the tooth; almost like all the pigment stays on the top of the grit.
Adding more layers just adds to the clogging.
It’s possible that using a solvent to blend would smooth out the color and sink the pigment down into the tooth, but for straight sketching or drawing, I’m not happy with them.
Tree Study with Koh-I-Nor Progresso #2
For the second Progresso sketch, I drew a similar subject, but limited myself to one color: Brown. I also chose not to layer color, but to use line to create value. I handled the pencil more like a graphite pencil, using directional lines, hatching and cross-hatching lines, and light pressure start to finish.
The results are better, but I still found the Progresso pencils a bit clumsy. I have no doubt that I could learn to create smooth, subtle color and value transitions with them if I continue using them.
I’m just not sure I like them enough to put in that kind of drawing time!
Blick Studio Colored Pencils
Cloud Study with Blick Studio Pencils
I was feeling a bit unfocused Tuesday morning, so after doing the second of the sketches above, I got out the Blick Studio pencils and started sketching. The sky I could see out the window was clear, but a nice blue. I decided to sketch clouds against a blue sky by shading the sky.
I used only two colors for this sketch: Ice Blue and Light Blue, and I applied both colors with light pressure for the entire sketch, but mixed strokes.
The sky is layer after layer of both blues, sandwiching Light Blue between multiple layers of Ice Blue (which is much lighter.) I used horizontal strokes, vertical strokes, hatching and cross-hatching strokes, and even circular strokes. In between some of the layers, I blended with a finger tip.
I drew the clouds by drawing the shadows in the clouds with the same two colors. But most of this work was completed with circular strokes.
The result was much more satisfying with the Blick Studio pencils than the Progresso pencils. I’ve tried Blick Studio pencils on a number of surfaces, and for my style of drawing, they seem to be made for sanded art papers.
I’ve been watching the videos of an acrylic landscape painter who paints the most remarkable landscapes. Many of them include water and from the first video, the process has mesmerized me.
And made me wonder if there was a way to get the same look with colored pencils.
As it turns out, there is. Slice tools!
I started out by laying down three or four different colors with medium-heavy pressure and back-and-forth horizontal strokes. I wasn’t particularly careful adding color, though I did try to apply colors in a way that looked like water.
Then I went over each area repeatedly until the tooth of the paper was filled.
Next, I used Slice tools to etch X shaped “stars” in the places where I wanted sparkles. They didn’t look like much at first, but after going over them a couple of times, they began to look better.
When I finished, I showed the sketch to my husband and said, “What does this look like?” (It didn’t look like much to me.)
“It looks like water reflecting trees or something,” he said.
I made my art notes on the back and called this sketch finished.
Tree Study with Blick Studio
This is the last sketch with Blick Studio, and I used Gold for this and sketched from memory and imagination. I didn’t really have a goal beyond playing with color, value, and shape.
I like the way this sketch turned out.
Prismacolor Soft Core Pencils
I did three sketches with Prismacolor pencils just because I enjoy using them so much. They’re not quite as good on sanded papers as on traditional papers, but they were still fun to use.
This sketch is drawn from a photo of a tree that was partially destroyed in a storm early in July. I received a few photos of the damage before the tree was taken down, and this branch caught my eye. The simplicity of the branches and the complexity of the positioning both drew my attention.
It was also silhouetted against the sky, which meant I could create my own lighting. I chose backlighting and big, bold strokes to add details I couldn’t see in the photo.
My subject for this sketch is a dead branch on a live tree in our front yard. After I drew it, I added other branches drawn with lighter and lighter pressure to create context for the main branch.
The main focus is that spindly looking branch so I keep the darkest values on that branch.
I merely suggested bark on the main tree with lines.
The final Prismacolor sketch is another, much older favorite subject: Horse hooves.
I’m not sure what appeals to me so much, but I really enjoy drawing the joints in the legs, particularly the back legs.
This was drawn without a reference photo so it’s a bit rusty. It’s been a long time since I drew a horse’s hoof and it shows.
I’ve used Polychromos pencils for a lot of sketches since starting this sketching habit, so I did only two this week.
Tree Branch with Polychromos
I used a Black pencil to sketch these branches from memory and imagination. I’m seeing improvement in my ability to use lines to convey form and create the illusion of depth on paper. Even with such a simple subject and one color.
Mountain Study with Polychromos
For this sketch, I used Polychromos Mauve. I really like the look of this sketch. It’s one of the more pleasing in this week’s collection (in my opinion.) The use of line to create visual texture in the mountains and the clouds turned out extremely well.
I think one of the reasons for that is that I didn’t over-work it. I tend to keep working on a drawing when I should quit. I’m not sure how to correct that, but it does look like I got it right this time!
Caran d’Ache Pablo
I have only one Pablo pencil and in the rather atypical color of Flame Red; atypical for a landscape artist, anyway.
So I did only one sketch with a Pablo.
Pablos are said to be a harder version of Caran d’Luminance, much like Prismacolor Verithin pencils are a harder version of Prismacolor Soft Core. In a way, that’s true. They are a bit harder than Luminance pencils.
But while Verithins are quite a bit harder and thinner, Pablos are only a bit harder and about the same thickness as Luminance.
This sketch turned out well, given what I was attempting to draw. My subject was a couple of dead branches hanging down on the interior of a favorite oak tree across the street. The branches were mostly in shadow, so there wasn’t a lot of middle values. But there were patches of sunlight shining through the foliage.
I was able to capture that look fairly well, but I had difficulty getting decent middle values with the Pablo pencil. They didn’t gum up the surface like the Progressos, but they weren’t as easy to use as the Polychromos either. That could be a lack of significant experience with this pencil. As I mentioned, I have only one color and I haven’t done much with it. Perhaps practice is all I need.
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor
Another line of pencil for which I have only one color is Lyra’s Rembrandt Polycolor, True Blue.
I decided to sketch something I haven’t sketched in quite a while; a horse’s eye.
Polycolor pencils are a bit smaller than most of the other pencils I use. That wasn’t a major problem for me, but I know it can make a difference to some artists.
Polycolor’s are oil-based, so they’re a bit harder than wax-based pencils. The pencil I used laid down color nicely and I was able to get a nice range of values. I didn’t have enough color on the paper to scratch eyelashes with a Slice tool, but overall, I’m quite happy with this sketch.
How I Rate these Pencils
First: I’m giving Faber-Castell Polychromos a slight edge. I just really like these pencils for every type of drawing I do. They’re easy to work with, they have a great color range, and I have yet to find a paper they don’t work with.
Second is Prismacolor Premier. They’re not quite as handy on Pastelmat as the Polychromos, but they’re the first pencils I used. It’s difficult not to list them as favorites after using them for over twenty years!
Blick Studio pencils perform nicely on Pastelmat. They feel like a cross between Polychromos and Prismacolor. Color selection is more limited than either of those two brands, but they are very reasonably priced.
Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils are at the bottom of the list. I don’t know what it is about them, but I’ve never used another type of colored pencil that clogs the tooth of Pastelmat (or any other sanded paper) the same way these do.
What about the Lyra Polycolor and Caran d’Ache Pablo? My initial impressions are mixed. They both have good pigmentation and they feel good layering on Pastelmat. But I just don’t have enough experience with them to feel capable of giving an honest opinion.
They are however, pencils I would like to continue working with.
Those are My Sketches for the Week of July 26
I’m very pleased with the decision early this week to use different pencils on Clairefontaine Pastelmat. I hope you enjoyed the results as much as I did.
I also hope you’ll join me in developing your own sketching habit.
And if you’ve created some sketches during the week of July 26, I invite you to share them. I’ll be happy to add them as a reader’s sketch gallery to this post!
Time for another product review. Today I want to share my experiences using a Slice Tool with colored pencils.
Before I begin, I want to thank Slice Inc. for providing samples of their tools. The tools were sent to me after I contacted the company for more information and product images for the Q&A post, What is a Slice Tool?
I’d never used these tools before, though I’d seen countless videos by artists such as Lisa Ann Watkins and Bonny Snowdon, and have published many tutorials by Peggy Osborne. So I was delighted to get a chance to try them out for myself.
Using a Slice Tool with Colored Pencils
The Slice Tools I’m Using
I received three different Slice tools: The Manual Pen Cutter, the Manual Precision Cutter, and the versatile Slice Craft Knife.
All three are ideal for etching out details such as whiskers, flyaway hairs, and other fine details. Slice tools have quickly become a Must-Have tool for pet portrait artists and wildlife artists, but I wanted to see how well they added highlights to grassy areas in landscape art.
I didn’t have time to make a new piece to try these tools on, so I went back to some older art that I thought could be improved with a little etching. The piece I chose was Spring Storm.
A Landscape on Clairefontaine Pastelmat
Spring Storm was completed in early 2020. It’s on Anthracite (dark gray) Clairefontaine Pastelmat, so scratching out details was more a matter of adding shadows than highlights.
But there is a lot of grass in the foreground that I thought could benefit from a few more details. Here’s what the area looked like before the Slice tool.
I tried all three tools on the drawing. At first, it didn’t look like they were having an affect. But as I continued to scratch out shadows, I began to see the difference.
I used the two larger blades to add shadows to the grass in the foreground and the tall clump on the left.
The smallest blade, the Precision Cutter, was great at adding a few spots of dark foliage around the edges of the trees in the middle ground.
All three knives allowed me to add fine details that would have been next to impossible to recreate with pencils, especially on such a small drawing (about 7 inches by 9 inches.)
Here’s what the same area looked like when I finished. I don’t know if you can really see the differences this way, but in real life, they are quite obvious.
An Interesting Experiment
My next experiment was this little piece.
This is one my Sketch Habit sketches. It’s on white Clairfontaine Pastelmat and I wanted to see if I could make sparkles on water.
I layered three or four colors heavily onto the paper in a pattern that looked like water.
Then I used a couple of the Slice tools to etch X shapes in various spots in the drawing. I’d seen an acrylic painter create sparkles on water by painting white shapes like this, and wondered if it would work with colored pencils.
It does, if you scratch color off the paper.
Keep in mind that I made no plans where the sparkles would appear as I was laying down color. This was just a sketch; a experiment.
If I were to do this with a finished piece, I would be more deliberate in where I put and how I put color down. Using brighter colors in some of the areas where I wanted sparkles would help them show up better.
But overall, I’m thrilled with this little test.
Tips for Using Slice Tools
I also learned a few things about using Slice tools that are worth sharing.
First is to be careful. It’s difficult to cut your fingers with these blades, but it’s easy to cut paper. Use light or medium-light pressure to gently remove color.
Second, it will probably take more than one “layer” of etching to remove enough color to make a difference. Going over an area a couple of times produced good results. That’s why light pressure is so important.
Third, the scratch marks will be either the color of pencil beneath the layers you’re removing, or it will be the color of the paper. For my test with Spring Storm, I was essentially drawing shadows because the paper was so dark.
On the white Pastelmat, I drew highlights.
Fourth, you get the best results if there’s a clear difference in color or value between the color you scratch off with a Slice tool and the color beneath.
Scratching black layers off dark gray layers makes very little difference. Scratching black layers of light gray or white layers makes a big difference.
Do I Recommend the Slice Tools?
If your work is highly detailed and you like precision in your artwork, then consider buying the Slice tools. They’re a great way to get ultra fine details.
You can remove color, add more color, then remove color again to create a depth of detail that is difficult (if not impossible) with just colored pencils.
And you can also bring a little additional life to an older, finished piece, as I’ve shown here.
They’re not for everybody, just as sanded art paper isn’t for everyone.
But if you’re looking for something to add a little spark (or shadow) to your artwork, the Slice tools may be just what you’re looking for.
My thanks again to Slice, Inc. for their generosity in giving me an opportunity to try their tools. I didn’t honestly think I’d have much use for them.
You’re in the zone, adding layer after layer, blending color, creating contrast and harmony. Then it happens. You pick up another pencil, start layering and…
…your pencil skids across the surface without leaving any color.
That happened to Eloise, who asked the following question:
When you have put so many layers on and you can’t get any more down, what do you do?
What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick
Prevention is the Best Cure
The best way to deal with slick paper is to avoid it. The best way to avoid slick paper is drawing on sanded art paper.
Sanded art paper takes a lot of layers without the tooth filling up. It doesn’t really matter what type of sanded paper you use. I’ve been experimenting with Lux Archival, Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Fisher 400, and Uart. They each have enough tooth to take a practically endless number of layers, but they each have unique characteristics. They behave differently.
It also makes a difference what type of pencil you use, as I’m learning with this week’s sketching habit. Some pencils work better on sanded papers, than other pencils.
Your style of drawing also makes a difference, so you may have to experiment to find the right combination.
If you don’t care for sanded art papers, Canson Mi-Teintes is a more traditional paper that falls somewhere between sanded and traditional papers. I can’t recall ever ending up with a slick drawing surface while using Mi-Teintes.
In fairness, however, I must also mention that most of my work on Canson Mi-Teintes has been vignette-style portraits like Portrait of a Black Horse. I usually use colored paper, and chose a color that works for the background and the middle values.
In other words, I didn’t have to apply a lot of color.
Whatever type of paper you use, you can also avoid (or at least delay) the build up of too much color by applying each layer with the lightest pressure possible. You’ll have to increase pressure slightly during the drawing process, but don’t use heavy pressure until the end.
Also don’t burnish until after the drawing is nearly finished.
Cures for Slick Paper
Most of the time, paper gets slick when you reach the maximum amount of color the paper will grab onto and hold.
Sometimes, workable fixative made for dry media helps restore a bit of surface texture. A couple of light coats may restore enough tooth for you to finish the piece.
But that’s not guaranteed. I’ve had mixed results with workable fixative.
A light blend with rubbing alcohol could also help. Rubbing alcohol cuts the wax binder in colored pencils a little bit, and that may be enough to allow you to finish a drawing.
It’s also possible to lift enough color with mounting putty to allow you to add more color, but unless you need to change a color or value, lifting color is really a step backward.
If you get the idea that there isn’t much you can do once your paper gets slick, you’re getting the right idea.
That’s why I spent so much time talking about ways to avoid slick paper. In this case, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.