Framing Colored Pencil Drawings: Must You Use Glass?

Glass is so expensive. Are there any other options for framing colored pencil drawings?

This is a great question.

For the longest time, the answer was almost always the same. Yes.

Why Framing Under Glass Is Usually Necessary

The reason is simple. For many years, colored pencil drawings were almost always on paper. Paper is vulnerable to damage by tearing, puncturing, or bruising very easily if not properly protected. Stains also pose significant risk to unprotected paper. Unprotected paper also tends to absorb moisture and dirt out of the atmosphere.

So when framing drawings on paper under glass, it’s the paper—more than the drawing itself—that needs protection. So any time you use paper, frame it under glass or something similar.

colored-pencil-drawings-always-framed-under-glass

Alternatives for Framing Colored Pencil Drawings

However, there are other supports available that do not require this degree of protection. If you work on any one of these, you can safely frame your drawing without glass.

Rigid Supports

Pastelbord and similar supports were originally designed for pastel work. They are, in essence, pastel papers mounted to a rigid support such as gatorboard or wood. They come in a variety of sizes and some of them also come in a variety of colors. Draw on them the same way you draw on paper, but when your drawing is finished, all you have to do is give it a light coat of varnish and it can be framed just like an oil painting.

detail-oil-painting-frame

Some popular drawing papers are also now available mounted on rigid supports. You can also mount your favorite paper to a rigid support and use it that way.

Keep in mind that these drawing supports are less vulnerable to mechanical damage. It’s much more difficult to puncture or tear them. But paper is paper and it will still tend to absorb moisture or dirt out of the atmosphere if framed without glass. If you want to frame it without glass, take care to hang it in a place that’s as free of contaminants as possible.

colored-pencil-on-woodWood is another rigid support you can draw on. Look for the same types of wood the Old Masters used. This landscape is drawn on a piece of Silver Maple cut from our own front yard.

Most of the time, a good sanding is all it takes to prepare a wood panel for drawing, especially if you want to use the wood grain and color as a background as I did in the drawing above. The ground at the bottom is the wood.

But you can also paint it with acrylic paint or gesso before drawing. In this way, you can work on a background of any color you wish. You can even do preliminary work with the paint for a mixed media drawing.

Varnish finished artwork like any other painting, then it’s ready to hang with or without a frame, depending on the thickness of the wood.

Semi Rigid Supports

Portrait of Blizzard BabeMat board can be used with colored pencils in a variety of ways. If you draw on it unprepared, as I did with this portrait, you will need to frame it under glass.

But if you prepare the mat board by gessoing it on all sides a minimum of three times, the mat board is properly sealed and will not absorb moisture from the atmosphere. While the layers of gesso do not protect the mat board from impact damage, it will allow you to frame smaller works without glass if you protect the back with a rigid support or foam core.

You’ll have to keep artwork relatively small—11×14 or less—but anything that size or smaller should be quite safe without glass. Provide proper back support for larger works on mat board.

colored-pencil-drawing-on-sandpaperSandpaper is another good drawing support, and doesn’t need to be framed under glass. Even if you don’t mount it to a rigid support, most sand paper is sturdy enough to do quite well with a rigid back board of some type. It’s also less likely to absorb moisture or dirt out of the atmosphere.

This colored pencil landscape is drawn on Uart Sanded Pastel Papers, which comes in a variety of grits and makes for a very “painterly” drawing.

Keep in mind that although a drawing on a rigid support is less likely to be damaged by tearing or puncturing, it is still susceptible to other hazards if framed without glass. I prefer glass for the simple reason that a colored pencil drawing framed under glass looks more complete and is easier to clean. If you get a UV protective glass, framing under glass also keeps light from altering the appearance of your artwork.

For your best work, I recommend glass and further suggest a UV protective glass or glazing.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a link to an article I wrote about masking fluid for the online art magazine, EmptyEasel. You can read that article here.

I also experimented with masking film on the same drawing. In this week’s post, I’m describing the process I used and comparing masking film and masking fluid.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil

Here is the portion of the drawing I wanted to work with.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 1

Instead of painting masking fluid onto the paper (as you do with masking film), you cut it to size and shape, carefully lay it over the area you want to mask, then smooth it down with a fingertip.

Step 1

There are two primary ways to use masking film. Film can be placed over the drawing and the design cut from it or you can draw on the masking film, cut out the mask and lay that over the drawing. You don’t need to wait for it to dry, which is a bonus. You can also create more intricate masks more easily with masking film than with masking fluid.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 2

Step 2

I chose to draw the pattern on the masking film and cut it out, then place it over the drawing. Why? Because I didn’t want to run the risk of cutting through the film, which is very thin, and into the paper. In hind sight, it would have been better to place the film over the artwork and carefully cut away the parts I didn’t want. It would have been no more time consuming and would have resulted in a much more pleasing masking.

However, I took the more cautious route and ended up with a good (not great) masking.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 3

Step 3

Once the masking film is in place, the drawing process is the same. Work around and over the masked area until it’s finished.

One way the film is different than masking fluid is that I couldn’t work over the masking fluid without lifting it. Masking film, on the other hand, was easy to work over, even with medium or heavier pressure. It didn’t move or pull up or otherwise interfere with the drawing process.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 4

Step 4

When I finished the background, I removed the masking film by carefully pulling up an edge with a fingernail, then carefully pulling the piece or pieces up until it’s completely removed. The film came off easily and without leaving residue. Another advantage to film over fluid.

Here is what the drawing looked like after I’d removed the masking film.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 5

Masking film worked extremely well for this purpose. Better than the masking fluid (read about that here).

But in retrospect, I would do things differently. I would

Apply the masking film to the drawing before any color was applied.

Lay down a piece of masking film large enough to cover the drawing.

Carefully cut away the parts I didn’t need.

These changes in method would allow me to create a more accurate mask and that would result in a more realistic area, instead of this blocky look.

All is not lost, however. There may still be hope for the mane. If there is, I’ll be sure to let you know how it turned out!

Next week, I’ll tell you how the background developed from a single layer of medium value Peacock Green to this wonderful deep, dark in just two days. I hope you’ll come back for that.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already subscribed to this blog, I hope you will. It’s an easy process that will take five minutes or less. It’s also free of charge. You can subscribe to RSS notifications of new content or email newsletters. If you want everything, you can do that, too! Just click here to get started.

How to Draw a Dark Background

There’s nothing like a dark background to make a subject stand out. Especially a brightly lighted one. You have only to look at some of Cecile Baird’s colored pencil work to see how dramatic that can be. But what’s the best way to draw a dark background?

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil

There are several ways to get a dark or black background for your colored pencil drawings. Colored paper, mixed media, and using colored pencil.

Colored paper—and especially dark paper—presents a set of drawing problems better left for another post.

Mixed media with India ink, acrylics, or air brushing are also topics for other posts.

That leaves drawing a dark background with colored pencil; a process that can be time consuming. But it doesn’t have to be, and I’ll show you one way I draw very dark backgrounds quickly.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil

I had in mind a head study of a running horse, but the true subject of the drawing was a long, black mane filled with light. The horse was a beautiful sandy bay in color, with a long, billowing mane.

It might seem counter intuitive, but I planned do a dark background layer by layer. The plan was to use light pressure to layer several different colors to develop a rich black. The process began with Prismacolor Peacock Green and I spent several hours working on it, with this as the end result.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Peacock Green Layer

A Change in Course

Before I got any further on the project, it was time to work on the next article for EmptyEasel. I chose to write about the use of masking fluid with colored pencil. That article needed a demonstration piece.

This drawing waited on the easel. I looked at all that mane, and considered the subject of the article.

I decided the horse–more specifically her mane–was the perfect subject for the article.

And so it was. I used both masking fluid and masking film on the mane, working on both at the same time to compare them. The part of the mane that is orange is masking fluid. The rest is masking film.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Peacock Green Layer with Masking Fluid

Drawing the Dark Background

Dark Brown

I applied Dark Brown over all of the background using medium pressure (normal handwriting pressure). I added between two and five layers over the entire background, but wasn’t satisfied with the result. So I decided to try an alcohol blend on the left side (in front of the horse).

The alcohol blend removed most of the brown and reduced the background to a shade of green that was too bright. I set the drawing aside to dry overnight and thought about ways to overcome the setback.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Dark Brown Layer

Another Change in Course

The article was due within a couple days, so there wasn’t time for layering. There were also other problems to correct.

  • The alcohol blend needed to be covered
  • There were scratches embedded in the paper (probably by a gritty pencil early in the process). You can see them in the first two images, particularly under the head.

The best way to deal with those issues was heavy applications of color.

So instead of layering one color at a time with light to medium pressure, I chose three colors–Indigo Blue, Dark Brown, and Black–and applied them with medium-heavy to heavy pressure.

Working from one area to the next beginning at the upper right, I layered Indigo Blue and Dark Brown in random patterns. I then added Black. I used medium-heavy pressure for all three colors.

When I’d covered all of the background this way, I burnished it with each color. For most of the background, I burnished with all three colors, usually finishing with black. But I also burnished some areas with only Indigo Blue or Dark Brown, depending on whether I wanted cool tones or warm tones.

Burnt Ochre

Finally, I burnished with Burnt Ochre to accent the head and to introduce the primary color of the horse into the background.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Detail

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Burnt Umber Layer

It took two days to finish the background with heavier layers of color. Although I don’t usually prefer this more direct method of drawing, it is a satisfactory look.

Conclusion

Ironically, this drawing never went any further. It lurks somewhere in the studio, waiting for resuscitation, but even if it remains unfinished, it served its purpose.

I know one more way to draw a dark background.

And now you do, too!

If you have a drawing you need to be finish quickly and you want deep colors and saturation, this method may very well be your solution.

Colored Pencil Critique – Drawing a Bay Horse on Black

This week, I’m sharing a colored pencil critique of a drawing by one of my colored pencil students.

Students of the online art courses send images of their works-in-progress, along with their reference photos, and get instruction on techniques.

Some also submit artwork done outside the course. This work is usually completed and the student is looking for ways to improve a drawing or painting they aren’t happy with or for an overall critique.

The thought eventually came to mind that you might like to see how a crit like this works. You might also be interested in improving your skills or diagnosing a problem with a finished piece.

And just that easy, an idea was born and took shape.

Colored Pencil Critique - Dark Horse on Black Paper

Colored Pencil Critique – Drawing a Bay Horse on Black

I’ll start by sharing the drawing, followed by the crit. Later in the post, I’ll tell you how you can get your own critique.

Here’s the student’s finished drawing. She liked the drawing overall but was looking for ways to improve it.

The artist has done a great job of rendering a three-dimensional subject on black paper. Black paper is notorious for “soaking up color” and leaving drawings looking flat and lifeless.

Not so this time.

Colored Pencil Critique - Artist's Work

The artist has also skillfully captured the highlights and values on this horse. She’s shown not only the obvious highlights, but reflected light highlights as well. The cool colors in the shoulder give the subject that little bit of oomph that make a drawing really sparkle.

The Crit

There are ways to improve almost every drawing. Here are a few suggestions based on what the artist told me she wanted to accomplish.

Colored Pencil Critique - Marked Up Image

#1: Correcting burnished areas

The artist mentioned that she don’t like the burnishing on the bridle, but couldn’t make any changes. Burnishing leaves a lot of wax on the paper and presses down the tooth of the paper, both of which make it difficult to get more color to stick.

To prepare such an area for additional work, dip a small brush in solvent, blot it to remove excess moisture, then carefully stroke along the part of the bridle that needs correction. Stroke along the length of each strap, and make sure to stroke from light to dark. Rinse or wipe the brush between each area so no color is transferred.

The solvent breaks down the wax binder and blends the colors a little, but the real advantage is that once the paper dries, you’ll be able to add more color to those areas. You should even be able to burnish a little more.

Make whatever changes are desired.

#2: Adding form to an area that looks flat.

The bit looks good, but a little “flat”. Always follow the reference photo scrupulously on reflective objects, since getting highlights and reflected light right goes a long way toward an accurate drawing.

Add small, bright highlights and shadows to make the bit look more three-dimensional. Because the metal is smooth and reflective, the highlights should be sharp.

Also, darken the shadows of the bit on the horse to create the appearance of space between the bit and the horse’s face.

#3: Balance highlights and shadows.

The area inside the nostril needs to be darkened just a little, especially deep inside. The highlight near the front of the inside of the nostril is great, but it needs to be balanced by darker values where the inside disappears behind the rim of the nostril (red arrow).

The same balance is also important around the mouth. Adding just a stroke or two of a light color to define the edge of the lip (blue arrow) would make the face look more complete.

But use light to medium pressure, since you don’t need a bold line. If it seems too bright, stroke over it with Light Umber or Beige.

#4: Toning down areas that don’t need emphasis

The small buckles at #4 is a bit too bright. They compete with the horse’s eye for attention. Using a combination of light blue and light umber will tone then down just a little and de-emphasize them.

A little more modeling (creating lights and darks) and softening the edges in the shadow areas would help it blend in the with the dark color of the horse, and put the emphasis back on the horse’s eye.

#5: Darken the horse’s chin.

Other than the cast shadows, the chin should be closer to the same color and value ahead of the bit as it is behind.

There should also be a highlight on the fold of skin around the bit.

I also like to see reflected highlights in places like the bottom curve of the chin and the cheek and any other place where the surfaces of the head are parallel to the ground. They would give the head a more 3-D look.

#6: Add a few more reflected light highlights.

I’d also like to see a few more light blue highlights around each of the areas on the neck and shoulder (marked with red arrows.) These shouldn’t be as bright as the highlights on the face. As you move away from the head, they should become more subdued. They would add dimension to the drawing over all.

Excellent Work that could Easily be Stepped Up

Overall, this is a great drawing. The artist did a great job capturing a difficult subject on a difficult support.

As with most artwork, little things would take it to the next level.

In short, when you think a drawing is finished, give it a little more to attend to the details.

Do you want a critique of your latest drawing?

If you would like to one of your drawings critiqued on this blog, it’s easy to do. Just send me an email, along with the reference photo you used and an image of your drawing.

Images should be at least 500 pixels on the long side and set at a dpi of at least 96.

Be sure to include a reference photo. If your reference photo was taken by a professional photographer, make sure you have permission to use it and have it posted online in this fashion.

How to Remove Color in a Colored Pencil Drawing

I’m working on a colored pencil drawing and have too much color over an area. How do I remove color? Can it be fixed or do I need to start over?

My first response to any question like this is to tell the artist to take heart. In most cases, you don’t need to start a drawing over, particularly if it’s nearly finished. There are ways to lighten or remove color and make corrections, even over heavy applications of color.

First, let’s take a look at a couple of ways to lift color. Then I’ll show you how to layer fresh color over the damaged area.

How to Remove Color in a Colored Pencil Drawing

How to Remove Color in a Colored Pencil Drawing

Transparent Tape

Transparent tape is an ideal tool for removing color from a colored pencil drawing. You won’t be able to remove all of the color—some staining will remain—but you can remove a surprising amount if you’re careful and diligent.

How to remove color with Transparent Tape

Take a piece of tape a little longer than the area you want to work with.

Lay the tape sticky side down on the paper

Press it VERY LIGHTLY into place. If you press the tape too firmly, you run the risk of pulling up paper fibers in addition to color, so be careful.

Lift carefully.

Repeat.

Most tape is sticky enough to lift color if the color hasn’t been too heavily burnished. Even if it has been heavily burnished, you will be able to lift a lot of color. If you need to, use a couple pieces of tape.

The one thing you don’t want to do is tear the paper, so work slowly and carefully. Evaluate the drawing each time and stop when you’ve removed enough color to continue drawing.

There is one other warning I need to share. Transparent tape does tend to leave the surface of the paper a bit slick feeling. The smoother the paper to begin with, the more likely using tape will leave the paper slick. That’s why it’s important not to overuse transparent tape in lifting color.

Removing Additional Color With An Eraser

After you’ve done everything you can do with the tape, use a hard eraser (like a click eraser). A click eraser can be sharpened to a fairly sharp point that allows you to do more detailed color removal. Used in tandem with a color guard, you can remove color and create shapes or edges.

When I’m making corrections of this type, I usually use the tape on all of the area, then use the click eraser in more specific areas. This method creates a surface with gradating values and color and that makes it easier to seamlessly blend new color into old.

Remember, be careful. If you’re not confident enough to try the process on a drawing, lay down color on a piece of scrap paper and practice with that.

Adding New Color

Once you’ve lifted all the color you want to lift or can lift from your drawing, it’s time to add new color. Use the same methods you used to put down the original color. You will have to be more diligent in keeping your pencils sharp because you’ll be working over a “used” surface.

You may also have to use slightly more pressure than you originally used. But work slowly, use several layers of color, and carefully blend old and new.

A Demonstration

I used several layers of medium to heavy pressure to lay down the color quickly over this circle. The darkest areas are quite thick and waxy. The middle values are less so. The highlight has very little color on it.

Remove Color - First step in removing colored from a colored pencil drawing.

Once I finished drawing the ball, the highlight seemed too small. To make it larger, I need to remove some of the color.

Using tape to lift color

I began by pressing short pieces of tape over the highlight and gently lifting the tape. Because I put so much color on the paper and used such heavy pressure, I used more than one piece of tape.

Remove Color - Second step in removing colored from a colored pencil drawing.

Removing color with a click eraser.

Next, I used a click eraser and worked lightly over all of the highlight. I held the eraser like a pencil and moved it in circular strokes over the area I wanted to erase.

The first time, I started with the lightest area and worked outward into the middle values.

Then I cleaned the eraser by rubbing it on a scrap piece of paper until there was no color left on it.

Then, I worked only on the brightest area. Again, I used circular strokes and went over the highlight a couple times.

Remove Color - Third step in removing colored from a colored pencil drawing.

Another Demonstration

Here’s another ball. I drew this one the same way. Lots of color applied with lots of pressure. Rather than lift color, I want to add color.

I layered indigo blue over the right three-quarters of the highlight using medium pressure. I also worked out into the black around the edges.

Remove Color - Second step in layering colored over a colored pencil drawing.

Next was Non Photo Blue. Again, I used medium pressure to add color to the right part of the highlight. I covered all of the area I colored with indigo blue. I also worked into most of the left part of the highlight.

Remove Color - Third step in layering colored over a colored pencil drawing.

Then I layered Powder Blue over the left half of the highlight with medium heavy pressure. As I moved into the darker part of the highlight, I decreased pressure and gradually blended the blue into the black surrounding the middle values.

Remove Color - Fourth step in layering colored over a colored pencil drawing.

Next was a layer of white, burnished over the brightest part of the highlight.

Remove Color - Fifth step in layering colored over a colored pencil drawing.

If I wanted to, I could layer blue over the rest of the ball, too, including adding reflected light to the bottom curves. It’s more difficult to add color to the areas with a lot of color, but it could be done.

Conclusion

The next time you find you’ve put too much color on part of a drawing, try this method to lift color, then make corrections. You’ll be surprised what you can do with a little bit of tape, an eraser, and some patience. Give it a try and let me know how that works.