Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 10 Report

The Autumn Plein Air Drawing with Colored Pencil Challenge is now over. I set out to draw ten plein air sketches between September 1 and October 31. Did I succeed?

Yes! I ended up with 14 drawings. Topics and techniques varied, but I met my goal.

I began and ended with a tree drawing. Nature turned out to be the most frequently visited subject. No surprise there, I suppose, given my inclination to draw landscapes and horses.

The most unusual thing I drew during the challenge was my subject for week 6.

The most fun thing to draw was the portion of rotted board I drew in the fourth week.

Here is the complete collection of plein air drawings. Click on the “week headings” to read more about each one.

Colored Pencil Plein Drawing Collection

Week 1

Getting started on anything is almost always the most difficult part of the project. Yes, I love to start new things, but sometimes it’s a big step.

And very challenging!

So I started with something familiar. A tree.

2016-09-02 Plein Air Drawing 1

Week 2

The sky, and particularly clouds, have long fascinated me. I love weather. Like many others, severe storm warnings send me outside to watch and take pictures. Things have to get pretty bad before I head for the storm shelter. A characteristic that goes way back to childhood.

I drew two versions of the sky for the second week.

Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge, Drawing 2

2016-09-12 Plein Air Drawing Week 3

Week 3

Another drawing of the sky for week 3. This time, I used water soluble colored pencils, just to see how they performed.

This is also the only plein air drawing for which I did a little studio work afterward.

2016-09-12 Plein Air Drawing Week 3, Drawing 2

Week 4

Another favorite subject for the fourth week. Wood. This time a decaying plank from the back porch.

If I remember correctly, these same planks were the subject for an article on drawing realistic wood grain that I wrote for EmptyEasel some time ago.


Week 5

Back to trees and traditional colored pencils this week. But I used only three colors—a cool dark and a warm light for the tree and a touch of green around it—and a method that involved using nothing but line quality. An interesting experiment and pleasing results.


Week 6

A subject of a different nature for week six. This is the only man-made item I drew. Do you know what it is? Although I prefer drawing nature, I did want to stretch my drawing skills a little, so chose this coil of extension cord. Not a bad effort, if I say so myself.


Week 7

More wood, this time the top of a fence post. I used water soluble pencils for this, but used them in a traditional manner. The drawing began with a green under drawing over which I developed value and detail. I liked working with the water soluble pencils, but getting truly dark values was much more difficult because the pencils were so dry and hard. If I remember correctly, this is also the only subject that I revisited. I worked on it two days.

2016-10-14 Plein Air Drawing Week 7, Step 2

Week 8

Water media! The top drawing is watercolor. I intended to draw a wash of watercolor for colored pencil, but it was a cool evening and by the time the watercolor dried, the light was gone.

2016-10-19 Plein Air Drawing 1 Week 8

This drawing is water soluble pencil and another view of another evening. Alas! It didn’t turn out either, but at least it had colored pencil work in it.

2016-10-21 Plein Air Drawing 8 2

Week 9

Somehow, it seems appropriate to save the best for last. I had just enough time while waiting for someone to draw this sprig of leaves. Of all the drawings I drew for this challenge, this one is my favorite. What do you think? It’s amazing what you can do with one pencil, one piece of paper, and a few minutes, isn’t it?

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 9 Report - Sketch of Leaves in Blue Colored Pencil

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 10 Wrap-up

Did everything turn out the way I hoped it would? No, but then it rarely ever does. I always expect every drawing to be perfect and to be a masterpiece. As pleasing as some of these drawings are, none of them are perfect and I don’t think there’s a masterpiece among them.

But I did have fun and I did learn a few things during the challenge. First that it’s easier to draw from life than I anticipated. All I had to do was find my subject and identify the major details.

Is plein air drawing going to become part of my weekly routine? Probably not, but only because it’s so difficult to get outside some weeks.

I may instead incorporate life drawing into my routine more often. There were a few weeks when weather, health or circumstance made it a challenge to get outside to draw, but when I could have drawn something inside without difficulty.

Did you take the Autumn Plein Air Drawing challenge? If you did, how did you do?

How Race Horses and Artists Are Alike

If you have any interest at all in horses or sports, you know that one of horse racing’s premier events began yesterday and concludes today—the Breeder’s Cup series.

In recognition of that event, I’m reaching back into my archives and republishing a post that first appeared on my writing blog a couple of years ago. It’s been around the track several times since then and has been mentioned in other places, as well. Although there are a lot of things I can compare myself to as an artist, showing you how I am like a race horse is my favorite.

Race Horses and Artists

So what do race horses and artist really have in common?

Let’s take a look.

Race Horses and Artists - How They're Alike

The Race horse….

A race horse spends its early days alone with its mother. All of the basic lessons are learned in this one-on-one relationship. Standing. Walking. Running.

Race Horses and Artists - The Baby Race Horse Alone with its Mother

After a time, the little race horse and its mother join other mothers and babies. The youngster learns to play with others in its natural environment. It learns to do what it does best; run fast.

After a few months, the baby race horse is separated from its mother and learns how to be a grown up race horse. It still runs and plays and grows and matures, but it’s still mostly untutored, learning with its band of buddies.

Finally, it enters training. It learns about bridles and bits and saddles. It learns to carry a rider. Life seems pretty regimented and it doesn’t do much running.

When the young race horse has learned all these things and is reasonably good at them, then it goes to the track. The first time it sees a track, it doesn’t know what the track is for, but let the rider give the horse a little rein and tell it to go and the race horse knows what to do. Run! Oh boy!

But there are rules to learn. Rules about running with other horses in close quarters. Rules about not running all out all the time. Rules about listening to the rider and about the starting gate. Rules about standing quietly before the running begins.

It can take a good trainer with a good student up to two years to get the race horse ready for its first race. A lot of time spent learning things that seem counterproductive to the purpose the race horse was born with…running fast.

Race Horses and Artists - Horses in a Race

But a good, solid race horse that’s well trained steps onto the track for the first time with natural ability AND a knowledge of the rules basic enough to get the job done.

If the race horse is good enough, it can get the job done faster than any other horse in the race.

Eventually, it might even find itself in the winner’s circle with a blanket of roses over its shoulders on Kentucky Derby day.

The Artist…

When I started drawing, I drew to please myself. I did what came naturally and I did it over and over and over. I learned about colors and how to use them. How to put lines together to create shapes, then how to shade those shapes to create form and so on.

Race Horses and Artists - Colored Pencil

I finished a lot of drawings before I started painting, learning something new about art and myself as an artist with each one. Then I graduated to painting and repeated the process.

Then I started taking art classes in school.

Then I found art magazines and subscribed to them.

And I started learning rules. Things like fat over lean, aerial perspective, color temperature, and the color wheel and value scale.

I even signed up for a popular correspondence art school. I wasn’t very creative at that point, but everything I learned contributed to becoming an artist.

So What’s the Point?

Human beings are the only part of God’s creation that aren’t able to care for themselves within a short time of birth. That race horse I mentioned earlier can stand and walk within minutes of being born. It can run within hours. We humans, on the other hand, need years of care and instruction before we can do the most basic things for ourselves.

So it’s only natural that when we decide to make art, the first thing we do is seek out the help of others.

But if we haven’t taken time to play with our talents, we’re a blank slate. Everything we hear influences our art and the way we see ourselves as artists. We try to make everything work, even when one piece of advice directly contradicts another. That way leads to no personal style and no distinguishing characteristics.

We sound like no one because we sound like everyone. Consequently, our art looks like no one special because it looks like everyone.

Artists (and most creative people) need the same kind of time to play with their talents, to explore, learn, and grow that the baby race horse needs. In my opinion, artists should already have a solid knowledge of their artistic style and what they can do BEFORE attempting to learn the rules.

This is, however, only my opinion; based on personal experience. Each person is different. But don’t be so eager to jump into training that you forget playing. Whether you learn by playing first, then seek training, do both at once, or something else, make sure you take time to learn about yourself as an artist.

And wherever you are in your artistic journey, don’t forget to play!

How to Fix Damage to a Colored Pencil Drawing

Knowing how to fix damage to a colored pencil drawing at all stages of the drawing process is vital to finishing drawings.

If you don’t know how to repair physical damage to paper, you’ll end up throwing out drawings that could otherwise be salvaged. Believe me! I know from experience; a lot of drawings were trashed  early on that would now be salvageable.

How to Fix Damage to a Colored Pencil Drawing

How to Fix Damage to a Colored Pencil Drawing

Some of the damaged drawings were self-inflicted, while others were the result of manufacturing flaws. So the first thing I’ll encourage you to do is examine every sheet of paper before you use it.

But let’s assume you’ve looked for scuffs, dents, indentations, and marks and you’ve still discover a flaw after you began your drawing. What do you do?

Following are two forms of damage that happen most often to me. I’ve had lots of practice repairing them. Here’s what I do.

Scuffed Paper

Are you of the opinion that once you tear or scuff your paper, it’s over? I used to share that opinion, but no longer do. Not after this drawing.

How to Fix Damage to a Colored Pencil Drawing - Icelandic Prince

I don’t remember what type of paper I used, but I found a serious flaw in it on the right side, where the horse’s rump is. Memory suggests that I scuffed the paper trying to lighten the area with a eraser.

How to Fix Damage - Icelandic Prince Detail

Whatever the cause, it became more noticeable with every layer of color.

I considered cropping the drawing to remove that part of the composition, so put different sizes and shapes of mats over the drawing. None of them worked. I either needed to find a way to work over (and hide) that scuff or start over.

Fixing Scuffs

To cover the flaw and avoid making it larger, I used Verithin pencils with very light pressure and very small, circular strokes to fill in the scuffed area. Then I worked over them with waxier Prismacolor soft core pencils. I used very light pressure to work over the scuff and blend it into the colors on unscuffed paper.

I also kept my pencils very sharp so I didn’t worsen the scuff. Eventually, the flaw disappeared enough to rescue the drawing.

There are two morals to this story.

One. Erase carefully. It’s frightfully easy to scuff drawing paper.

Two. It is possible to cover a scuff if you work carefully and slowly, and don’t make the scuff worse by drawing over the edge of it.


This portrait represents the first time I used Stonehenge paper. I loved the paper from the start, but learned something quickly.

It was extremely easy to impress unwanted lines. Every layer of color seemed to reveal another impression somewhere and before long, I began to wonder if I should restart on another paper.

How to Fix Damage to a Colored Pencil Drawing - Courtster

Then I learned how to fill in those unwanted impressions with a very sharp pencil, and a very light touch. Pencils with harder pigment cores are best, but it can be done with softer pencils.

And it’s easy!

Filling Impressions

Sharpen your pencil as absolutely sharp as you can. Then draw along the length of the impression with light pressure. Turn your pencil in your fingers between strokes to keep the point sharp, and stroke until the impression is filled in.

When you add another layer, make sure to add that color to the impression, too. Eventually, the impression will disappear.

NOTE: This drawing was done back in the day when Rising made Stonehenge. The formulation or sizing has since changed, so the Stonehenge you buy today is no longer so soft. You can still accidentally impress lines into it, but not so easily.

A Last Resort Solution

If all else fails, and if the damage is on the edge of the drawing, you can crop the drawing. That removes the problem physically.

Even if the damage isn’t around the edges, you may be able to crop one or two miniature “detail” images from the larger drawing. The first time I did these years ago, I ended up with an eye study and a bit study from a larger race horse portrait. Both of them sold quickly.

Quickly enough to prompt me to make more drawings of the same size and type.

Now You Know How to Fix Damage to Paper

At least for two common types of damage.

These methods work on most papers, though you may have to adjust the method for whatever type of paper you’re using.

Sometimes you can’t fix damage once it happens. In such cases, starting over is probably the best answer.

But if you don’t panic and if you proceed carefully and thoughtfully, you can rescue more damaged drawings than you might think.

Give this tips a try. What do you have to lose?

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Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 9 Report

You don’t always have to spend a lot of time to get a nice sketch. Nor do you need a lot of pencils or other equipment. The fact is, all you really need is a piece of paper, one pencil, and a few minutes. That’s all I had Thursday afternoon of week nine.

This is the result.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 9 Report - Sketch of Leaves in Blue Colored Pencil

The Method I Used

I started sketching with the top leaf and worked my way down the stem. The only “special technique” I used was putting darker, heavier lines on the shadowed edges of the leaves (the left side).

Time Spent Drawing

Ten to fifteen minutes. Because I was waiting on someone, I didn’t time myself.

What I Learned

You don’t need much to draw outside. I had one pencil, my drawing pad, and a little bit of time. The resulting drawing is not a Masterpiece, but it’s one of the nicer, more pleasing drawings I’ve done during this challenge.

Practice drawing value with one color and you improve all your drawings. Granted, I didn’t do a lot of shading on this sketch, but the value I added identified the direction of the light source—light was coming from the upper right—helped define the modeling of some of the leaves, and established where the leaves were in relation to each other.

You don’t have to draw every detail to establish the character of your subject. The little branch I drew was one of many. There were also other leaves on that branch, but I didn’t get a chance to draw them. But I didn’t need to draw every twig or leaf to get an idea of the character of the subject.

Drawing leaves from different angles also provides a good idea of what the leaves look like overall, including how they grow on the stem and their general shape.

When you’re short of time, look for the things that define your subject best and concentrate on them. Then look at secondary details.

Tools Used

Mead Academie Sketch Book, 9 inches by 6 inches, Heavyweight white paper

Prismacolor Pencils

  • Ultramarine

Interested in other drawings from the Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge? Here’s another leaf sketch from week 5.

Blend Colored Pencil with Turpentine in 3 Easy Steps

How to blend colored pencil with turpentine in three easy steps. By popular request, that’s our topic today.

I originally intended to share tips on this blending method with a landscape or horse drawing. But I’ve recently started another project and decided to use one of these new drawings as the subject for today’s post: an adult coloring page.


The subject is a stained glass style composition drawn with dark brown colored pencil on the back (the smooth side) of a sheet of gray Canson Mi Tientes paper. I used Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils to draw the composition and to fill in each shape.

Here’s how I did it.

How to Blend Colored Pencil with Turpentine in Three Easy Steps

Step 1: Initial Color Layers

Since I wanted the look of stained glass, I chose bright primary and secondary colors. Canary yellow, grass green, ultramarine blue, orange, and poppy red. Black cherry and indigo blue provided darker accents, with white and sky blue light as light accents. I also wanted neutral accents so I planned from the start to leave some of the sharps untouched.

I also wanted to see how turpentine worked with bright colors, dark colors, and light colors. Besides, I so rarely get to go wild with color that I really just couldn’t help myself!

Here’s the drawing about halfway through the first round of color.

I applied color with medium to heavy pressure with blunted pencils to fill in each area as much as possible. Sharp pencils were required for some of the smaller areas, but I didn’t sharpen pencils as often as I usually do.

TIP: Outline the shape with a sharp pencil and medium pressure and work along each side. Turn the paper if that’s more convenient. Then fill in the shape with a blunt pencil and heavier pressure. Use hatching and cross hatching strokes to fill in the paper’s tooth.

The finished first layer is shown below.


Step 2: Blend with Turpentine

After I’d applied all the color I wanted, I used a small, sable round brush to blend most of the areas with turpentine. I dipped the brush into the turpentine, then carefully brushed it over each section, making sure the turpentine dampened every part of each section.

TIP: Use turpentine and all solvents in a well-ventilated area or use with breathing protection.

Because all of the colors appeared throughout the drawing, I had to be careful not to blend two adjacent colors at the same time. Turpentine blends colored pencil so completely that colors can run together. You can get some very interesting results that way, but I wanted pure color and crisp edges for this drawing.

TIP: To blend colored pencil with turpentine, start with the lightest color and blend every occurrence of that color. Then rinse the brush by swishing it in the turps and blend the next lightest color. Continue until you’ve blended the darkest colors.

I worked through the entire drawing, blending each colored section. When all of them were blended, I let the paper dry completely. It was only then that I could see how well the colors blended.

The Results of Blending

The results were markedly different from color to color. The darker colors blended quite well, as did the medium value colors. The lighter colors blended, but not as completely.

But more than color determined how well the turpentine blended. Success also depended on how much pigment was on the paper.

One reason the light blue areas didn’t blend well is that I hadn’t put much pigment on the paper. The white near the center of the drawing blended better because there was more pigment in that area, but it still wasn’t satisfactory.

On the other hand, the brighter, darker colors blended more completely. The blue at the top of the page is an excellent example of a near perfect blend. Turpentine blended that color so completely that it filled every paper hole.

The adjacent green didn’t work quite as well, but there was less pigment in that area.


TIP: For the best results when you blend colored pencil with turpentine, apply heavy layers of color first.

Step 3: Finishing Touches

After the paper was thoroughly dry, I went back over each area with the same color. It didn’t matter whether color had been heavily applied before or not. Nor did it matter how completely the color blended with turpentine. In all cases, I was able to layer color as easily as though on fresh paper.

I used heavy pressure with blunt pencils, almost burnishing in some areas. For the colors that didn’t blend quite as well, I went over them a couple of times, using a variety of strokes to cover every bit of paper.

The result was very pleasing. Clear, rich colors. Few or no paper holes and the appearance of stained glass. Even on gray paper. As good as this digital image of the drawing is, the original is even more vibrant.


TIP: Work from light to dark so darker colors do not migrate into lighter colors. Note the light blue at the top of the page, where a few red smears were carried into the blue. Additional layers of light blue muted that darker color, but didn’t conceal it completely.

The Bottom Line

Will I use turpentine again? Most definitely. I was very pleased with the way the colors blended when I applied appropriate amounts of pigment.

I also liked the way I could layer fresh color over blended areas. It was almost like drawing on fresh paper. I think I could blend again with turpentine, then add yet another layer of color.

Is blending colored pencil with turpentine a must for a drawing like this? I don’t think so. I deliberately ignored one area when I blended with turpentine, for the sake of comparison. Can you tell which area wasn’t blended with turpentine? HINT: It’s not one of the gray areas, since that’s bare paper.


  • Layer pigment heavily for best blending results
  • Work from light to dark when blending with turps or any other solvent
  • Make sure the paper is completely dry before adding more color
  • Work from light to dark when burnishing color
  • Use a drafting brush to remove pigment crumbs without leaving marks

Interested in more articles about how to blend colored pencil with turpentine? Check out How to “Paint” with Colored Pencils and Turpentine written for EmptyEasel.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 8 Report

The eighth week of the Autumn Plein Air Drawing challenge was not a good week. At least not for plein air drawing.

No. That’s not strictly true. I did make a couple of attempts to get a drawing done. It’s just that none of them worked as I’d hoped.

To start with, I didn’t have a lot of time. A number of other things rose up and took charge of my time. Some were expected. Some—like furnace troubles—were not.

I snatched a little time between a mid-week Bible study and choir practice on Wednesday evening to do a quick watercolor study of the evening sky. The colors were so lovely, I just couldn’t resist. My intention was to draw clouds and a few trees with Prismacolor after the watercolor dried, but by the time the paper was ready to draw on, the light was gone and it was time for choir practice, so the drawing went no further.

2016-10-19 Plein Air Drawing 1 Week 8

My next opportunity came Friday evening. I was having back problems by then and couldn’t sit outside in the cool air for very long, so I drew a portion of sky visible through the office window. Again, I tried the evening sky, but this time I used water soluble colored pencils.

That did not work at all, sad to say, though I think part of the problem was the fact that I’m using a box of student grade water soluble colored pencils acquired on the cheap some time ago.

Be that as it may be, I did my best and ended up with something that looked a whole lot like a mess. The blue was very lovely, but much too dark. I also got the paper too wet and by the time it dried, the light was gone. Again.

2016-10-21 Plein Air Drawing 8 2

Time Spent Drawing

All told, I’m guessing I spent about an hour drawing as part of the challenge.

What I Learned

Cheap art supplies are just not worth it. A lesson learned years ago with oil paints. I still remember the day I put the first mark on canvas with professional grade oil paint. It was astounding!

Why I have to relearn the lesson with other materials is beyond me. I guess it’s that frugal—dare I say cheap—streak running up the middle of my back!

Sometimes the best you can do isn’t very good. Another lesson with a shallow learning curve. I like to make every drawing and painting good. The best! But there are times when the best I can do isn’t very good. Or at least not very pleasing. Such was the case with plein air drawing this week.

Do what you can. There are times in life when we simply cannot meet our goals. That was my experience with week 8 of the plein air challenge. The time and will didn’t coincide in a fashion that allowed me to spend the necessary amount of time outside drawing or painting. That’s just life. I’ll be thankful for the drawing I did on the challenge, for the other artwork I did, and for everything else that did go right and I’ll look forward to next week.

Tools Used

Strathmore Bristol Vellum 100 lb white paper

Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle Water Color Pencils, 12 pencil set. I used pretty much every color except black!

3 Ways of Mixing Water Color Colored Pencils and Regular Colored Pencils

What is the best way of mixing water color colored pencils and regular colored pencils?

I don’t use watercolors and colored pencils very often, but I have used water soluble colored pencils. When I do, I use a couple of different methods, depending on the requirements of each drawing.

One of those methods also works with watercolor, so in this post, I’ll describe two ways to use water soluble colored pencils in your drawings and followup with a suggestion for using watercolor with regular colored pencils.


Mixing Water Color Colored Pencils and Regular Colored Pencils

There are two basic ways for mixing water color colored pencils and regular colored pencils. (Actually, there are three, but one of them involves drawing with them just like traditional colored pencils and not using water. That’s what I did for my plein air challenge drawing from week seven.)

2016-10-14 Plein Air Drawing Week 7, Step 2

It’s perfectly fine to use water soluble pencils this way, so don’t think you have to add water in order to draw with water soluble colored pencils.

But since this article is all about adding water, here are the other two ways you can use water soluble colored pencils.

Draw First, Then Add Water

Most of the time, I draw with them just like I do with traditional colored pencils, then use a damp brush to activate the color. When the color dries, it can be drawn over again.

This is usually best done at the beginning of the drawing process. This method as a great way to do a quick under drawing or to create even areas of color for skies or similar areas.

Below is a sample. I drew with water soluble colored pencil first, then brushed part of it with a wet brush.


Of course, you may continue drawing with water soluble colored pencils and you can also continue activating them with water, layer after layer. Every time you dampen the paper, however, you will blend all of the colors; not just the ones you added most recently. If you do more than one wash with water, keep in mind how the different colors will affect each other (if you used more than one color).

You can also go over water soluble colored pencils with traditional pencils.

Add Water First, Then Draw

Another way of mixing water color colored pencils with regular colored pencils is by dampening the pencil point, then drawing. This is very easy. Simply dip the tip of a water soluble colored pencil in clear water, then draw with it. You will get a very bold mark that way, but you’ll have to dip the pencil frequently.

In this illustration, I dipped a pencil in clean water, then began drawing. The first marks (on the left) are nice and dark with no paper showing through. As I continued to draw, the pencil dried and the marks became lighter and less sharp. The marks on the right are with the dry pencil. I didn’t lift the pencil at all in drawing from left to right.


This is especially good for adding accents where you want vibrant or dark color. It works best in very small areas or for details. It’s not very efficient for drawing large areas of color.

Again, mixing water color colored pencils and regular colored pencils with this method is possible. Just make sure to test any new method on a piece of scrap paper first.

Watercolor And Colored Pencils

Watercolors and colored pencils do mix, but you’re likely to find the watercolor a little more limited in usefulness. Water soluble colored pencils are made to work with traditional colored pencils. Watercolor is not.

Even so, you have one proven method and one method that may or may not work.

Watercolor Under Painting

The best way to use watercolors with colored pencils is to tone papers with washes of color first. If you’re going to draw a landscape, for example, use watercolor to block in the major elements. Sky. Grass. Buildings. You’re not looking for a lot of detail here. Indeed, you probably won’t be looking for any detail at all.

If you’re using a standard drawing paper (one not made for watercolor), you will have to be careful not to get the paper or board too wet or it may buckle or warp.


You can use watercolor papers, but you will have a more difficult time drawing detail with colored pencil due to the tooth of the paper. The drawing shown here was drawn on watercolor paper. The watercolor under painting is shown above. Below is the finished drawing.

Watercolor as Under Painting for Colored Pencil Finished

Once the under painting was dry, I used normal drawing methods to build color and value, add details, and finish the drawing. For this drawing, the watercolor under painting saved a lot of time and filled the tooth of the paper better than I could have done using colored pencils alone.

Watercolor Over Colored Pencil

I have used watercolor over wax pencil, but with mixed results. The watercolor did stick to the layers of colored pencils (a big surprise!), but I couldn’t add more colored pencil over the watercolor.

The following drawing made use of watercolor over colored pencil and while the drawing itself turned out fairly well, I don’t recommend this method without a trial run. Test it first for yourself, then decide whether it suits you or not.

Read Can You Add Watercolor Over Wax-Based Colored Pencil?

Green Landscape 33

One Disclaimer

All of the methods I’ve described here involve using wax-based colored pencils. I have no reason to think oil-based colored pencils would respond any differently, but I don’t know for sure. So if you want to use oil-based pencils with these methods, do a small test drawing first.

If you use oil-based colored pencils with water soluble colored pencils or watercolors, let us know what has worked for you.

Additional Reading

Want more information on mixing water media and colored pencils? I’ve written some articles for EmptyEasel that might be helpful.

How to Draw a Sunrise Landscape with Water Soluble Colored Pencils – Part 1

Drawing a Sunrise with Water Soluble Colored Pencils – Part 2

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Using Dry Colored Pencils over a Water-Soluble Colored Pencil Drawing

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 7 Report

Week Seven of the Autumn Plein Air Challenge is now complete. A number of things kept me from getting outside to draw most of the week, chief among them a decided cold snap!

But I did find a comfortable chair in sunny spot one afternoon and had access to an aging wood fence as a subject. Rather than draw a section of fence, I chose the top of one post as the subject for a detailed study.

The Method I Used

I drew this as a straight-forward sketch, beginning with Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle light phthalo green. I roughed in the overall shape of the post, added larger details such as the knot at the top and the larger cracks, then darkened values in some of the cracks, and in the cast shadow to the left.

Next I went over the drawing with Van Dyke Brown. In addition to darkening values, I added more detail and lighter values.

In the cast shadow, I then layered helioblue-reddish and a small area of light blue at the top of the shadow for reflected light.

I also glazed light flesh over part of the post in an attempt to get a warmer gray, but didn’t like that and didn’t glaze the entire post.


Later in the week, I did a little more work on the study. I added texture with short, open, diagonal strokes with Van Dyke brown along the vertical grain. I also glazed light phthalo green, light blue, and Van Dyke brown over the side of the post.

Finally, I used black to darken some of the accents.

2016-10-14 Plein Air Drawing Week 7, Step 2

Time Spent Drawing

I didn’t measure the time for this drawing, since I was more interested in rendering a detailed study of my subject. I was outside a little over an hour, but part of that time centered around a lap full of kittens. Drawing and kittens are usually mutually exclusive!

I’m guessing about 45 minutes total.

What I Learned

Dress for the weather. Yes, I sat in the sun and out of the wind. Yes, I was dressed appropriately. But dressing for outdoor activity and outdoor leisure are not always equal. Once I’d sat there for a while, I had to shed my over shirt because the sun was just too warm. Dressing in layers is definitely a wise decision when drawing outside.

Sketch with light colors. Do initial sketches with light colors and or light pressure. Rough in your subject first this way, then either go over it again with the same color and heavier pressure or with a darker color to establish the most accurate lines. I tend to layer colors with very light pressure, but draw with a heavier hand. Using a light touch was definitely to my advantage.

Sketch with complementary colors. I chose green for the beginning sketch because I wanted to do something different. Using a color other than the color of the subject is a good way to see it with a fresh eye.

But you can also begin with a complementary color to add depth and richness to the final colors of your subject.

Get the most out of your pencil strokes. Match the darkness, thickness and openness of your pencil strokes to the subject you’re drawing. The top of this post is rough, so I used short, vertical, zig-zag strokes to draw that area. I used the stroke shown below to draw the top of the post.


Tools Used

Mead Academie Sketch Book, 9 inches by 6 inches, Heavyweight white paper

Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle

  • Light Phthalo Green
  • Van Dyke Brown
  • Helioblue-Reddish
  • Light Blue
  • Light Flesh
  • Black

An Easy Way to Test Colored Pencil Lightfastness

If you’re a fine artist—if you’re producing artwork for sale—the longevity of your art is very important. You want the artwork your collectors and clients purchase to last a long time. Nothing is more abhorrent to you than the thought that your work will fade in a few short years.

One way to make sure your artwork has a long life and looks good for years is to use the best materials available. Paper that’s proven to hold up under use and time.

Colored pencils that are high quality and lightfast.

Yes, archival papers and high quality pencils are going to cost you more, but they will be worth it in the long run—especially when compared against the possibility of having to refund a buyer for faded artwork or having to do a work over.

I’ve already written briefly about choosing paper for colored pencil work and plan to write more fully on that topic in the near future. So our topic for today is colored pencils.

Namely, about lightfastness and a simple test you can do to find out how lightfast your pencils are.


What is Lightfastness?

Lightfastness is a measurement of a pigment’s ability to resist fading or discoloration under normal circumstances. A pigment that is lightfast doesn’t fade.

The American Standard Test Measure (ASTM) rates pigments from one to five and is generally displayed in Roman Numerals (I, II, et cetera). The lower the number, the more lightfast a color is.

Oil paints display a lightfast rating on the tube. Most colored pencils do not show a lightfast rating on the pencils or even on the containers because each color has a different rating.

Other countries use other rating methods. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Blue Wool Test is used and pigments are rated from 1 to 8, with the higher numbers being the most permanent.

Lightfastness and Colored Pencils

The general rule of thumb is that the higher quality pencil, the more lightfast. That’s not universal, however. Some colors manufactured to the highest artistic standards are not very lightfast. Pinks and purples are notorious for fading fairly quickly no matter what brand of pencil you use.

Many manufacturers provide color charts that indicate the lightfastness of each color they produce. Many others provide that information online, though you may have to search long and hard to find it.

Conducting Your Own Lightfastness Test

So does that mean you’re at the mercy of the manufacturer?

No. There is a way to test lightfastness on your own. Here’s how I do it.

Step 1

Make a color chart for each of the colors you want to test. It doesn’t need to be neat or tidy (though it may be). Nor does it need to be complex, though you can make it as complex as you wish.

I layer color quickly and with medium or heavier pressure. As you can see from the sample shown here, my strokes are long and scribbled. My interest is in getting patches of uniform color, so I don’t worry about neatness, value, or anything else.

Color Chart for Koh-I-Nor Progresso Pencils

Label each color.

I also label the top of the sheet with the brand of pencil, the type (in this case Koh-I-Nor Progresso woodless), and the date I made the sheet.

Step 2

I covered the center part of the sheet with another sheet of paper. I’m going to put this sheet in a sunny place for a while and I want to hide part of each color swatch from the sun.

But you can also cut the sheet so that each color is cut in half, giving you two complete sets. One set is exposed to the sun, the other set is kept in a drawer or some other place where light cannot reach it.

Step 3


At least four weeks.

Some of the colors may start to fade more quickly than that, but to get a good idea of how long-term exposure to light affects all the colors, I leave test sheets in sunny windows for at least four weeks.

I don’t play nice, either. I put test sheets like this in south facing windows where they get direct sun most of the time. It’s a good way to see how well colors perform under terrible conditions.

Step 4

After four weeks, compare the colors exposed to direct light to those not exposed to direct light. Those colors that show no change are lightfast and unlikely to fade.

For those colors that did fade—and some of them will—note how much they faded. If they faded just a little bit, you may decide to continue to use them. If so, keep that chart handy so you can refer to it while you draw and so you’ll know when and how you may need to compensate for those colors.

If a color faded a lot, it’s probably wise to stop using it.

Here’s my test sheet after 30 days.


Light Blue and Paris blue showed clear signs of fading. Much to my surprise, the pinks and purples showed little or no signs of fading after 30 days.

Ten Months Later

August 18, 2017

I took the test sheet out of the window, removed the protective cover,  and here’s what I saw.

Color Chart for Koh-I-Nor Progresso Pencils 4

Carmine and Light Blue faded badly. I will not be using them for future drawings.

Pink and Scarlet Lake faded, but not very much.

The other colors show no sign of fading.

The take away is that although these pencils come in only 24 colors, most of them are very lightfast. At least the sixteen colors I tested are reliable.

A Test For All Pencils

This test works with all brands and grades of pencils. You can even do side-by-side comparisons of similar colors from different brands. If you use more than one brand of pencil, knowing how the colors perform relative to one another is valuable information.

Especially if the manufacturers use different methods of testing or reporting lightfastness.

For my money, even if manufacturers thoroughly test their products and report the results, doing my own, real-life tests is worth the time and effort.

You may find it’s worth your time and effort, too.

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 6 Report

Week 6 of the Autumn Plein Air Drawing with Colored Pencil Challenge was a challenge.

I worked on an oil portrait almost every day for an hour or two because I want to finish this month (it’s almost there!).

The two final lessons in the Basic Drawing series also needed to be finished and one required a graphite drawing.

Autumn set in for real with a wild thunderstorm and dropping temperatures Thursday evening and although it was sunny on Friday, it was chilly. Not exactly conducive to sitting outside and drawing! I gave serious thought to sharing the graphite drawing with you and taking a pass on the plein air challenge.

Instead, I found a place in the sun and out of the wind and proceeded to draw. Here’s the result. Do you know what it is?

colored pencil plein air drawing week 6

I didn’t set out to draw a section of extension cord, but it was the most colorful and interesting subject I could find in that spot.

It’s also the first man-made subject I’ve drawn, so its color and nature were an appealing combination.

The Method I Used

No special methods were used to draw the extension cord itself. I simply started with the lightest value of yellow on the list below and continued to build color and value through the darker yellow-oranges, the shadows on the cord, and the cast shadow.

To shade the background, I laid the paper on the paved walk and stroked sepia over the paper with medium light pressure and the side of the pencil. I wanted to transfer some of the texture of the walk onto the drawing, but had only moderate success. The paper was just too heavy.

Time Spent Drawing

I didn’t time this drawing, but would guess I spent about an hour outside.

What I Learned

Orange is a difficult color to get right. Almost as difficult is landscape greens.  My subject was a faded, dull sort of orange that looked like it should be easy to capture. It wasn’t. I managed to draw an orange close to the color of the cord when it was new, but couldn’t get the right shade of dull and faded orange. Not even after layering olive green and sepia into the shadows or burnishing with white over a colorless blender.

Use “found” texture to add accents. I’ve been doing this a long time, but don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it on this blog. Found texture is any texture you can transfer into a drawing. Stone. Concrete. Wood grain.

I’ve written about different ways to use found texture on EmptyEasel. Read How to Draw Realistic Rough Stones and Cement Objects in Colored Pencil for a step-by-step demonstration. That’s what I tried to do here, but again, with only moderate success.

Tools Used

Mead Academie Sketch Book, 9 inches by 6 inches, Heavyweight white paper

Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle

  • Dark Chrome Yellow
  • Burnt Ochre

Prismacolor Pencils

  • Orange
  • Pale Vermillion
  • Pumpkin Orange
  • Raspberry
  • Olive Green
  • Cold Grey Medium
  • Sepia
  • Cream
  • White
  • Colorless Blender