How to Draw a Complementary Under Drawing

So you want to know how to draw a complementary under drawing with colored pencils. And you want to draw a horse in a landscape?


I’ve got just the project.

How to Draw a Complementary Under Drawing

This tutorial is based on a drawing I did way back in 2005, when I was first experimenting with the complementary method of drawing. I’d already made some mistakes and errors in judgment by the time I drew Green Pastures, so this drawing went pretty smoothly.

But I also made major changes to the reference photo, as you’ll soon see.

How to Draw a Complementary Under Drawing

My Subject

Here’s the reference photo.

Green Pastures Reference

No doubt the first thing you see is that the horse is a different color! I love this photograph but had already drawn the horse as a bay. I wanted to draw a chestnut, so I used the same photo to get the drawing correct and as a reference for light and shadow.

For the chestnut coloring, I used photos of horses of the right color in similr lighting. I also made ample use of personal observations of horses in real life.

A few other details were also changed. Most notably the thickness and position of the tail.

Materials & Supplies

This drawing is on Strathmore Artagain Drawing Paper in Beach Sand Ivory. The paper is ivory in color, which is perfect color for this drawing. While white paper can be used, a complementary base color will essentially allow the artist to start with one layer already in place, enhance the “tone” of the finished artwork, and facilitate quicker attention to detailed areas. If you decide to use a toned paper, use a color that’s fairly light.

I used Prismacolor Verithin and Premier (Thick Lead) pencils unless otherwise noted.

The Complementary Under Drawing

The under drawing is created using colors opposite the final colors on the color wheel. I want to draw a chestnut horse (shades of red and orange), so the under drawing will be shades of green. All of the greens in the background will have an under drawing made up of shades of red or earth tones.

Color plays a major role in this method, but value is also important. A final color that is light in value such as yellow or light blue requires a complement that is lighter in value. Parma Violet is an excellent choice for under drawing yellow or you can use a darker color applied with very light pressure.

Tint is also an important consideration. A blue-green subject requires a red-orange under drawing. This is where your color wheel proves its worth.

If you don’t have a color wheel, this is a good time to purchase one or make one. Download a free template for a basic color wheel, along with instructions for making your own color wheel. A free value scale template and instructions is also available on that page.

If you prefer to purchase a color wheel, you can find one at most art supply stores or print shops. They are an inexpensive, but invaluable tool.

Starting the Under Drawing

Green Pastures Step 1

For the horse I used Prismacolor Premier Grass Green to outline the horse, then began picking out the highlights by lightly outlining them, then shading around them. There are a minimum of three layers of grass green at this stage, building darker values with each pass.

I used light pressure with each layer, building value with layering rather than pressure. It is important to start with light pressure so mistakes can be easily erased or covered.

Work carefully around the highlights.

For the background… Use the same process in the background, but with Prismacolor Burnt Ochre and Sienna Brown to establish the shapes in the trees and the values in the grass.

Finishing the Under Drawing

Green Pastures Step 2

Once the basic shapes are in place, and the highlights and shadows established, the process shifts from adding color to building values to bring the under drawing—and the composition—to life.

Extend the range of values throughout the artwork to bring out the highlights by darkening shadows and middle tones.

Match strokes to the object you’re drawing.

Short, vertical strokes with the point of the pencil in the grassy areas, particularly in the foreground.

Long, sweeping strokes with the point of the pencil in the tail.

Broad horizontal strokes with the side of the pencil in the hills

Circular or looping strokes with the sides and point of the pencil in the trees

Matching the stroke to each area saves time and effort in the long run.

Also stroke in the direction of natural patterns whenever possible. Stroke grass upward, just as it grows. Stroke the tail and mane from the point of growth toward the ends of the hairs.


I like to get as much detail as possible in the under drawing, but you can develop the under drawing to your personal preferences. Just remember that most colors of colored pencil are transparent, so the details and values you establish now will influence the final drawing.

Next time, we’ll begin glazing color over the complementary under drawing.

Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.

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3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives

In a previous post, I shared my thoughts on drawing papers you can use with colored pencils. But paper isn’t the only thing you can draw on, so this week, let’s take a look at three other surfaces that make for interesting colored pencil artwork.

3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives

3 Drawing Paper Alternatives

Mat Board

That’s right. The same material you use to frame your colored pencil drawings can also be drawn on. This drawing was drawn on gray mat board with a medium texture.

Colored Pencil Portrait of Blizzard Babe
Portrait of Blizzard Babe
Colored Pencil on Gray Mat Board

That’s one of the things I like about mat board. Unlike paper, there’s a wide variety of textures available from rough and almost “pebbly” to egg shell smooth. If you want something truly unique, you can also use suede mat board. Gemma Gylling has been using suede board for years and creates the most phenomenal pet and wildlife artwork. Sue Ziegler also makes extraordinary use of suede mat board for her equine and canine portraits.

Mat board also comes in a wide variety of colors, so if you like experimenting with colored supports, give mat board a try. I chose a gray mat board for Portrait of Blizzard Babe (above) because the gray provided an excellent basic color for this wonderful light gray filly and because it reduced the amount of time necessary to produce the portrait.

Mat board comes in full sheets and can be purchased online or at any reputable framer. While you can draw on any type of mat board, use archival or museum quality mat board for your best work. Lesser quality mat board often contains acids that can leach into artwork and cause discoloration.

Sanded Papers

Pastel artists have been using sanded papers and supports for years, but what about colored pencil? Are sanded papers any good for that?

Here’s a small work I did on UArt Sanded Pastel paper. The support is sand paper! Granted, it’s not the same quality as sand paper purchased from a hardware store or lumber yard, but it looks the same and it behaves the same when it comes to drawing.

Spring in CP
Spring in Colored Pencil
Colored Pencil on UArt Sanded Paper

Most sanded papers are heavier by nature than standard drawing papers, but many are also available as rigid supports. UArt has a line of sanded pastel panels and Ampersand Art Supply has flat panels and cradled panels in a variety of depths. They even have toned panels!

It’s very difficult to get a high degree of detail with these supports if they’re coarse (and UArt produces some very coarse surfaces), but most of them are guaranteed archival and most of them can also be framed with or without glass. A big advantage for many colored pencil artists.


That’s right. Basic wood!

When it comes to wood, however, make sure to stick with the types of wood proven by decades of use as oil painting supports. Birches and hardwoods have been popular among oil painters for a long time and they’re also wonderful with colored pencils.

Colored Pencil on Wood
Colored Pencil on Wood

One of the neatest things about wood is that you can find it almost everywhere. Literally. Several years ago, we cut down an old Maple in our front yard. It had been dying for a couple of years, thanks to carpenter ants. After the tree was removed, I collected a few pieces with the intention of drawing on them after they’d cured for a year or two.

But I got a few small pieces from another source and have made a drawing or two on those. The small landscape shown above was drawn on a piece of wood six or seven inches long and roughly two inches tall.

Wood can be drawn on with just a little sanding—which is what I did—or with the more involved preparation of planing and varnishing or painting. You can leave it fairly textured or sand it smooth.

And that little landscape drawing? The piece of wood was thick enough that it stood up on its own! No framing or hanging necessary. It was just right for display on a shelf or a desk.

Two Recommendations

When trying a new surface, it’s best to experiment a little before you start a major work. The more exotic the surface, the more necessary the experimentation.

The drawings on sanded pastel paper and wood shown above are both very small. The sanded pastel paper is actually an ACEO (3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches). Each piece was large enough to give me a good idea of how color went onto the surface, but not so large that it took days to finish it. I think each of those drawings took no more than an hour and probably a lot less.

Also, whenever you try a new support, it’s a good idea to do a piece that you can keep around for a while. Especially with untested supports. You want to get some idea of how permanent the artwork will be on each support and the only way to determine that is to keep a small drawing so you can look at it. I can’t think of very much that would be worse than selling a lot of drawings on an unproven support and having customers return them when the artwork failed to last.

Beyond that, I encourage you to try supports and have fun.

Have you used unusual supports for drawing? What did you use and how well did it work for colored pencil?

3 Tips for Drawing Reflective Objects

No matter what you draw, if you want to create an accurate likeness, you MUST be able to accurately see the object and re-create what you see. Shape, mass, value, and color are all important aspects of this process.

But you also need to be aware of the object’s surface texture. You don’t draw a long-haired cat the same way you draw a stone or water or metal. The surface texture always affects the way light appears. It should also affect the way you draw each type of surface.

One of the more difficult surfaces to get right is a reflective surface.

3 Things to Remember When Drawing Reflective Objects

3 Things to Remember When Drawing Reflective Objects

No matter what medium you use, whenever you draw a reflective surface, it’s important to remember that you’re also drawing whatever happens to be around the reflective object.

Take a look at this headlamp. It’s pretty evenly divided into two sections. The lower half is dark, the upper half is bright.

Drawing Reflective Objects Classic Headlamp

The lower surface of the headlamp reflects the fender beneath it. The fender is dark, so the reflection that appears on the headlamp is also dark. It also shows the same color.

The upper portion of the headlamp also reflects its environment. But instead of reflecting one thing, it shows many. The sky and clouds. A building or two. A narrow sliver of street.

Look at the narrow end of the lamp and the chrome trim around the front of the car. The lamp reflects the chrome trim and what appears in it. The chrome trim reflects the lamp and its reflections.

If you had a large enough image, you could see reflections of reflections of reflections ad infinitum. That’s one of the things that makes drawing or painting reflections so difficult!

Automotive Chrome

Another thing to keep in mind when drawing reflective objects is that the edges of the highlights are usually sharp and well-defined.

In the illustration above, the direct highlights are small points of light. They’re actually reflections of the sun. The cleaner and smoother the reflective surface, the sharper the edges on the highlights.

Shadows may also have sharp edges, especially if they’re also part reflection.

Finally, remember that the best way to draw silver is by drawing the colors that appear in it. In both of the illustrations in this article, the automotive chrome is silver—your eye and your mind tell you the chrome is silver—but if you really look at them, you’ll see they’re actually blue, white, and whatever other colors appear in the environment around them.

The Key to Drawing Reflective Surfaces

The key to accurately drawing reflective surfaces is treating them more like abstract images. Let the shapes of light, reflection, and color do the work and you’ll have a much more realistic drawing than if you try to draw what you think the object should look like. This rule applies to water, glass, and any other type of reflective object, in addition to automotive chrome.

Further Reading

Other factors must also be considered. Read  4 Rules to Drawing Reflective Objects on EmptyEasel here.

Drawing Paper Basics: Surface Texture

Drawing paper basics is our subject today.

Kerry Hubick wants to know: What are your thoughts about working on smooth paper?

Kerry isn’t the only one with questions about paper.

The Basics of Drawing Paper

I’m a big fan of smooth papers. I love papers like Rising Stonehenge, Bristol (regular finish), and many of the Strathmore artist papers. Generally, the smoother a paper, the better I like it. The one exception is a paper that has a lot of sizing (a treatment that seals and hardens the surface).

But I have used some medium-tooth and rough papers, so I thought I’d piggyback on Kerry’s question to tell you about the differences in the papers and my thoughts on each of them.

Drawing Paper Basics – Surface Texture

Smooth Papers

Smooth papers are papers that have very little tooth. Some of them may appear to have little or no tooth at all. Popular brands are Rising Stonehenge, Strathmore 400 series papers, and Canson Mi-Teintes.

They’re ideal for fine detail and ease of color application. If you like to create colored pencil drawings that have no paper showing through the finished drawing, smooth papers are going to help you the most.

Many of them are available in colors and some, like Canson Mi-Teintes, have a smooth side and a side with a little more texture. Most come in pads, rolls, or sheets, and are easy to find in most art supply stores or online. If you like buying paper in pads, make sure to compare it to the full sheet versions of the same type of paper. Kerry tells me that Canson Mi-Teintes in the pad seems thinner and less sturdy than full sheets. It may just be a different weight of paper

Landscape Complementary Under Drawing 5Bristol board is also a smooth surface drawing support. It comes in a vellum surface or regular surface. The regular surface has a bit more tooth than the vellum, but both are very versatile. I used Bristol paper with a regular (smooth) surface for this drawing, The Sentinel.

Among these, I’ve had the best success with Bristol paper or boards, Rising Stonehenge, and a recycled art paper colored Strathmore Artagain. Artagain is made from 30% recycled material mixed with black fiber, so no matter what color you buy, there is a pattern in the paper. It’s quite sturdy, but is very smooth. It takes the least amount of layers of the papers I use most often, but it’s great for sketching and for use with multiple layers of color applied with very light pressure.

Medium Papers

Medium tooth papers are drawing papers that are neither smooth nor rough. Most were developed for other types of dry medium such as charcoal and pastel, so they have more tooth than smooth papers. Strathmore 500 series paper is one such paper. Others are Canson Ingres and Daler-Rowney Murano Textured Fine Art Papers. Depending your drawing preferences, some watercolor papers can be considered medium tooth papers for colored pencil use, especially if you use water soluble colored pencil.

These papers have enough tooth to grab and hold onto color quickly and easily. They also can take a lot of layering and most of them can stand a good deal of rough handling and medium to heavy pressure color application.

But they’re still smooth enough to allow you to create high levels of detail if that’s what you want to do.

I don’t use medium tooth papers very often. The paper I’ve used most is Strathmore 500 series. It’s a nice, thick-ish paper (64 lb), so it takes color very well. I’ve only used the bright white, but it comes in several other colors, too.

Beyond that, I can’t make recommendations. Perhaps some of you have used and liked them. If so, I invite you to share your experiences or thoughts in the comment below.

Rough Papers

colored-pencil-drawing-on-sandpaperMany rough, or coarse grained, papers (also known as textured papers) are available are suitable for colored pencil work. Popular brands are Ampersand Pastelbord, Art Spectrum Colourfix Coated Pastel PaperCanson Mi-Teintes Touch Sanded Papers and Boards, and UArt Sanded Pastel Paper. I used UArt sanded pastel paper for this landscape. Note the more painterly appearance.

The beauty of surfaces like this is that you can lay down tons of color and get very painterly drawings quite easily. These papers are hard on pencils—they eat them for lunch!—but if you love the looser look, they’re going to be well worth your effort to try. You can get detail on them, but it requires a good deal of effort.

BONUS! Mount the paper on a rigid support, and frame your colored pencil drawings without glass, just like an oil painting. Some of the papers listed above come in a panel form.

Many of them also come in colors and some in various “grits” or levels of coarseness.

But the rougher the paper, the more difficult to get a high degree of detail.

Rougher papers and supports can be a lot of fun to work with and are well worth trying at least once, whether you continue to work with them or not.

The only paper of this type I’ve used is the UArt. I love it for landscapes, but that’s about the only use I have for it. It makes for fun and fast ACEO drawings (art trading cards), but I have yet to try it with anything larger or more detailed.

That’s my take on papers. I’ve barely skimmed the surface on this complex and broad subject, but my tastes in paper are almost as well-defined as my tastes in mediums and subjects. I know what I like and don’t see much reason to experiment.

What’s your favorite paper? What do you like about it?

How to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

This week’s series showing you how to draw realistic landscape greens concludes with the direct color method. If you missed the previous posts or would like to review them, you can read them here.

How to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Using Direct Color

Using Direct Color

When you draw with a direct color under drawing, you begin drawing with pretty much the same colors you’ll finish with. You start with light colors and build color through a series of layers. While it’s quite likely you’ll include earth tones and complementary colors to keep the greens looking natural, you won’t use them by themselves at any part of the drawing process.

In other words, the under drawing will look like a faded version of the final, full color drawing.

Let’s take this detail from the drawing Afternoon Graze.

How to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Using a Direct Color Under Drawing

In a lot of ways, using direct color for the under drawing is no different than using an umber under drawing, a complementary under drawing, or a single-color under drawing in any other color. The first step is creating the patterns of creating lights and darks to establish the composition AND beginning to develop details at the most basic level.

Where this method differs from all the others is in color choices.

For this illustration, I began with olive green, which I glazed olive green over all of the tree using open, diagonal strokes to establish the basic color. Then I drew the form shadow (on the right) and the cast shadow (on the left) with the same color, but with slightly increased pressure and smaller strokes placed closer together.

The results are the same as with the other methods, but the drawing is already showing the finished colors. Green.

Landscape Direct Under Drawing 1

Next, I added a layer of jasmine, followed by a couple of layers of limepeel. Both colors are more yellow than green so they provided the warm and yellow tint necessary to create the appearance of late afternoon sun slanting across the landscape.

Next, I layered olive green into the shadows on each side, then glazed bronze over all of the tree. I followed that up with another layer of olive green into the shadows, then burnished with sky blue light, a little dark green and dark brown into shadow accents and a burnishing with the colorless blender.

Landscape Direct Under Drawing 3

I finished by layering olive green, indigo blue, and dark brown into the shadows to create variations within the shadows. Next, I used heavy pressure, sharp to slightly blunted pencils, and a variety of strokes to achieve the look I wanted for each part of the shadow.

Landscape Direct Under Drawing 4

Above is the finished detail and below, is the entire drawing.

Landscape Direct Under Drawing 5

When you use the direct color method in the under drawing, you develop color, value, and detail layer by layer. It’s more difficult to determine where the under drawing ends and the final drawing begins with this method, but it’s no less effective than an umber or complementary under drawing.

As you’ve seen from these week’s series, it’s possible to get good results with all three methods.

Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.

Your Assignment

The week’s lessons are now complete. Your assignment is to experiment with each method and get a hands-on feel for how each one works. If you’re feeling ambitious, try single-color under drawings in other colors, too.

Then let me know which method or methods you liked best.

Images for posting should be no smaller than 300 pixels and no larger than 500 pixels on the long side. Save them at 72 dpi as either a jpg image or png image (jpg preferred), then email them to me. Put “drawing assignment” in the subject line and tell me a little bit about your work.

Sending images to me implies your permission to post them on this page unless you specifically request otherwise.

I’ve also started a drawing challenge board on my Pinterest account. If you’d like to join the drawing challenge group, send me an email request and I’ll send you an invitation. Once you accept the invitation, you’ll be able to post your drawing challenge artwork directly to the group board. The only stipulation? You must have your own Pinterest account.

Purchase the complete, full-length lesson download.

How to Use a RED Under Drawing to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens with Colored Pencil

Today, let’s look at a second method that seems counter-intuitive at first, but produces great results: Using a red under drawing to draw realistic landscape greens.


Yes. Red!

Using any shade of red to draw any shade of green is known as a complementary under drawing. When you use a complementary under drawing, you choose colors for the under drawing that are opposite the color wheel from the local (final) color you want to draw.

On this color wheel, the primary color red is opposite the secondary color green. As you move to the right from green to blue green, the complement moves in the opposite direction to red-orange.

If you have a completed color wheel such as this, it’s easy to determine which colors are complementary. Get a free blank color wheel and make your own color wheel. Of course, you can also purchase printed color wheels, but making one with your pencils is the best way to not only find the best complementary colors, but to see how your colors mix, since no two brands are the same in pigmentation or quality.


How to Use a Red Under Drawing

Drawing an under drawing with a complementary color is pretty much the same as for any other type of under drawing. Begin by selecting the red or reds that best complement the greens in the landscape. In the drawing below, I chose poppy red as the main color because it was the best complement. But I also used terra cotta in some parts of the trees because that was the best complement for those areas.

Landscape Complementary Under Drawing 1

In the grassy field, orange was the best complement.

Whatever color I used, I used strokes to help define each area. Cross-hatching, circular, and squiggly strokes in the trees and short, vertical strokes in the grass.

Darker values were drawn by using multiple layers. I didn’t want to get too dark at this stage, so I used light to medium-light pressure throughout. That made it necessary to add several layers in the darkest places.

Landscape Complementary Under Drawing 3

I added Tuscan red in the darkest values.

Note that the darkest darks and sharpest contrasts in and around the large tree. That’s because the large tree is the center of interest in this drawing. The strongest value contrasts and sharpest details are in or near the center of interest.

Landscape Complementary Under Drawing 4

Another Example

A complementary under drawing works with any subject. One of my favorite horse drawings is Green Pastures, which was developed with a complementary under drawing.

Here’s the complementary under drawing…

Green Pastures - Complementary Under Drawing

…and here’s the finished drawing.

Green Pastures Finished Drawing

The level of detail you include in your under drawing is up to you. For Green Pastures, I developed a lot of detail in the horse and left the landscape less detailed because the horse was the center of interest.

In the landscape drawing below, the large tree and its cast shadow were more developed at the under drawing phase than any other part of the drawing because it is the center of interest.

In either case, when the under drawing is finished, complete the drawing by layering color over the under drawing. This part of the process is the same no matter what type of under drawing you use.

Landscape Complementary Under Drawing 5

Interested in learning more?

This drawing, The Sentinel, was created for a series of articles written for I’ve described the process in step-by-step detail in a series of three articles on EmptyEasel. Follow the links below to read the articles.

How to Draw a Complementary Underpainting for your Green Landscape

How to Add Rich, Vibrant Color on Top of Your Colored Pencil Underpainting

Finishing Up a Traditional Colored Pencil Landscape Painting

You can also download a free copy of Colored Pencils: The Complementary Method Step by Step.

Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.

4 Colored Pencil Mistakes I’ve Made (And How You Can Avoid Them)

Colored pencil mistakes. If you’ve drawing for any length of time, you’ve made them.

4 Mistakes I've Made with Colored Pencil

We’ve all done it. Made some mistake with a drawing that frustrates us at best and can necessitate starting over at worst (don’t tell me I’m the only one who’s ever done that!).

Artists like learning new ways of doing things. We want to be more creative and more productive. We want to learn how to do things in the best possible way.

Most of the time, though, the best way to learn how to do something right is by discovering all the ways to do it wrong.

So here are four things I’ve learned how to do right by doing them wrong!

Four Common Colored Pencil Mistakes

Mistake #1: Destroying Highlights

I was an oil painter for nearly twenty years before I started with colored pencils. I was accustomed to being able to add opaque highlights over everything else because oil paints are well suited to that process.

Colored pencils, on the other hand, are not.

I started with Prismacolor pencils because that’s what was available where I lived when I first started using colored pencils. I didn’t shop online (it wasn’t widely available way back then) and I had no idea there were other brands of colored pencils.

Or that Prismacolor pencils were wax-based or that there were oil-based pencils.

I used what I had and what I had wouldn’t allow me to add highlights over everything else. Usually because there was already too much pigment and wax on the paper by then, but also because all colored pencils are more or less translucent. Lighter colors simply disappear when applied over dark colors.

So I was forever creating colored pencil artwork with few or no bright highlights.

And I hated them!

How to Avoid It


I eventually began outlining highlights during the drawing process. It was much easier to work around highlights if I knew in advance where they were. It’s still all-too-easy to layer color over the highlights, but it happens much less frequently than it used to.

I’ve also started outlining shadows, as the drawing at the right shows. The heaviest lines are the outside edges. I use a medium weight dotted line to define the strongest shadows and a light, dotted or broken line to outline highlights. Those lines are all transferred when the drawing is transferred, so I have a clear map for developing highlights and shadows.

I’ve also learned how to lift color after it’s on the paper. For highlights with extremely soft edges, I now glaze color lightly over the highlight, then lift color from the brightest areas with an eraser, sticky-stuff, or tape.

It’s also possible to burnish a lighter color over a darker color to create a subtle highlight.

Use all three methods to draw a range of highlights.

Mistake #2: Getting Too Dark Too Soon

I like my colored pencil drawings to look like my oil paintings. It is possible, but it takes a light hand and lots of layers. When I was first getting started with colored pencils, I didn’t know that and I often put too many darks on the paper too early in the drawing process.

And often over the highlights (see Mistake #1).

How to Avoid Getting Too Dark Too Soon


Use light pressure and light colors at the beginning of the drawing. Glaze colors carefully and work slowly to avoid getting too dark too quickly. The illustration at right shows several layers of color and you can still see paper through it. Even with darker colors, this technique helps you keep from going too dark to quickly.

Use harder, dryer pencils like Prismacolor Verithin pencils for work in the first stages. They go onto the paper more lightly and are easier to erase if necessary.

They also contain less wax, so you can add a lot of layers without filling in the paper tooth. Because they contain less wax, softer pencils can be applied over them with ease.

Mistake #3: Giving Up on Drawings Because They’re Ugly

These two mistakes led invariably to my third mistake: Giving up on drawings. I might add, giving up too soon, but in most cases, any time I gave up, it was too soon. A little more work, and I could have gotten past the problem.

How to Avoid Giving Up on a Drawing

The most important thing I’ve learned about colored pencil drawing (and most artwork) is that every piece goes through an awkward or ugly phase. At some point, a drawing starts to look hopeless.

But I’ve also learned that a drawing can go from looking hopeless to looking finished almost from one stroke of the pencil to the next. I can’t explain it but I know it happens.

Mistake #4: Giving Up on Drawings Because They’re Taking Too Long

Even if a drawing skipped the “ugly phase”, it sometimes took so long to finish a—especially a large drawing—that I just got tired of it. New drawings started to look real attractive and a lot more exciting. It’s oh-so-easy to giving up on a large or time-consuming drawing because I just get tired of it.

How to Avoid Giving Up on a Drawing

If you tend to work all over a drawing at the same time, cover everything except one element of the drawing with paper. Work on that element to near completion, then move to another element.

You might also try working section by section. Divide the drawing into sections by the square inch (or square foot or whatever size works best). Finish or nearly finish that section, then move to the next. Keep the edges between the sections soft so you can blend them together. When the drawing is nearly finished all over, work on the entire piece again to do whatever fine-tuning is necessary to finish the drawing.

Another method that works well for me is to have more than one piece in progress at the same time. If I get tired of one, I move to the other. You can alternate by the day or by the week, or simply move to the second drawing whenever you get tired of the first one.

Those are four of my early mistakes. I confess. I still struggle with all of them once in a while and with a couple of them routinely.

They are not, by any means, the extent of my mistakes!

How to Draw Horse Legs and Feet

Knowing how to draw horse legs and feet accurately is as important as drawing an accurate likeness of the horse’s head. Especially if you’re a portrait artist. Why?

BA horse’s feet are nearly as distinctive to each horse as human fingerprints are to each person. Bone structure, body type, and genetics all play a role in the shape of the natural hoof, how it strikes the ground, and it’s position throughout the stride.

In other words, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits all foot for the artist who is interested in painting individual horses.

How to Draw Horse Legs and Feet

A Personal Story

For the longest time, all my horses appeared in tall grass or water or were painted or drawn in poses that didn’t require feet. I hated drawing feet because I could never get them right.

But practice really does make better, and over the years, skills at drawing feet improved. Hoofs are now among my favorite horse parts to draw

Hopefully, this tutorial will help you find the same enjoyment in producing a solid, believable foot.

Let’s go!

How to Draw Horse Legs and Feet

Drawings are developed through a series of stages beginning with a full-size grid drawn or printed on drawing paper. I try to make the squares as large as possible and still retain the ability to capture finer details.

Step 1-3: Getting the basic shapes on paper.

Draw Horse Legs and Feet - The Initial Drawing on a Grid

In the illustration above, we’re looking at the third step in the drawing process. The grid was printed on drawing paper and the first stage of the drawing was done in Verithin Non Photo Blue pencil. That shade of blue doesn’t photograph very well, but it’s ideal for the first phase of drawing because it’s easy to erase and easy to work over. At the blue stage, my goal is placing the large shapes in the correct sizes and positions on the paper.

For the next step, I used Prismacolor Vermilion Red/Pale Vermilion to begin fine-tuning the lines. I worked throughout the drawing, reshaping and re-positioning as necessary.

Step 4: Making corrections as needed.

The flexed front leg is one step beyond. I stopped using the reference photo with the grid and relied more on the enlarged (11×14) original photo at this stage.

I’m still correcting the line drawing, but I’ve also begun establishing shape and contour by adding value. I keep the values light even at this stage, because I am still drawing.

But I had drawn this foot in profile based on what I could see in the gridded 8×10 photo, and when I looked at the enlargement, I realized the foot is actually tipped outward so the shoe and a bit of the sole of the foot is visible. That required redrawing that area.

I also noticed that the shin boot doesn’t cover the fetlock on the outside, so I had to correct that area. To keep the lines and shapes in correct order, I added the shading.

The image below gives you a better idea of how the leg took shape through the first four phases of drawing.

Draw Horse Legs and Feet - Detail

NOTE: I haven’t bothered to erase previous lines. The drawing is built on each phase of work and unless there’s a major error, no erasing is done until the final version.

Step 5: Refining the drawing and adding details.

How to Draw Horse Legs and Feet - Step 2

Once the drawing is in place on the paper, the process becomes a matter of refining the shapes and adding detail, one layer after another.

I defined the details in the two extended feet. The shoes have been drawn and I’ve added shading to the hooves to give them mass and shape.

I also shaded the fetlocks on both legs and, although you can’t see it, I shaded into the upper legs. As in the previous step, pressure is kept light and the color layer is thin and light enough to be erasable.

Step 6: Adding darker values to further define the legs and feet.

How to Draw Horse Legs and Feet - Step 3

In this step, I started adding darker values. Technically, I’m still drawing, but because the lines between highlights and shadows can get confusing, shading helps establish those edges more clearly.

Take note that the hooves are unique shapes. The two front hooves are very similar shapes, but the angle of the foot changes the shape.

The back foot is not the same shape. This horse has a blockier back hoof. Because this is a portrait of a specific horse, I’m taking special care to draw each part the way it appears in the reference photograph.

Step 7: Transferring the drawing to fresh paper.

How to Draw Horse Legs and Feet - Step 4

When the original drawing is as finished as I can make it, it’s time to lay a fresh sheet of tracing paper over the drawing and make a new one.

This will be the drawing I photograph for the client if they get an electronic proof, so it needs to be as clean and crisp as possible. If they’re getting a full-size physical drawing, this will be the second to last step. The client drawing will be the final step.

The photo above shows the front legs and the cast shadow drawn on the new sheet of paper. I work through each area carefully, making sure the line is crisp and dark enough to photograph. Accuracy is of major concern so even at this point, I continue to compare the drawing and the reference photograph. I take measurements if necessary, and erase and make changes as I go.

How to Draw Horse Legs and Feet - Detail of Final Drawing

Because this is a pretty intense part of the process, I tend to work in short sessions. I work standing up, so my legs and back need frequent breaks. So do my eyes. It’s better to work in shorter sessions than to push through a long session and risk getting impatient. Mistakes happen in moments of impatience. It’s best to avoid them.

No drawing is ever complete until the painting is finished. Tweaking continues until the signature is in place.

But a good drawing provides a clear road map for the painting. With a paid portrait, it also gives the client an idea of the composition of their portrait.

Muscle Hill

The finished portrait for this tutorial was an oil painting, but this drawing method is a good way to start any project in any two-dimensional medium.

It’s also a great way to improve your skills at drawing any horse.

Or any other subject, for that matter.

The Only Methods You’ll Ever Need for Blending Colored Pencil

There are many methods of blending colored pencil, but they can be classified in three basic ways.

Pencil blending

Dry blending

Solvent blending

Over the course of the years, I’ve touched on each of these methods in various demonstrations and tutorials, including a few tutorials dedicated to nothing but blending colored pencil.

The Only Methods You’ll Ever Need for Blending Colored Pencil

Because this is such an important topic—and one of the most frequently searched topics among all of you—I’d like to share basic information on blending methods in a single post.

Basic Methods of Blending Colored Pencil

Pencil Blending

This might seem painfully obvious, but the obvious is often the thing that gets overlooked most. One of the only three blending methods you’ll ever need for colored pencil is….

…your colored pencils.

Blending Colored Pencil - Pencil Blending

It’s also the method that is the most automatic. Every time you layer one color over another, you’re blending.

The most familiar way of blending colored pencil with colored pencil is burnishing. When you burnish, you use very heavy pressure to “grind” layers of color together.

You can use any color over any color, but it’s most common to burnish with a color that’s lighter than the color you’re burnishing. The one thing to keep in mind is that the color with which you burnish will affect the color you’re burnishing.

TIP: When blending colored pencil with colored pencil, be careful to match pressure with sharpness. The sharper your pencil, the lighter the pressure. Using heavy pressure with a sharp pencil is likely to either break the tip off the pencil–possibly leaving an unsightly mark–or tear the paper. If you want to burnish, it’s best to use a blunt pencil.

Dry Blending

For the purpose of this discussion, when I refer to “dry blending”, I’m talking about blending without solvents (see below), but with a tool other than your colored pencils.

The blending tools I use most often are a couple of household items. Paper towel and bathroom tissue. Both are great for blending colored pencil and producing an eggshell smooth surface.

Blending Colored Pencil - Dry Blending

They’re also easy to use. Simply fold a piece into quarters or smaller and rub them over the area you want to blend. You can use very heavy pressure if you want without risk of damaging the drawing paper. Granted, the effects are light, but if all you want is a light blend between layers, paper towel or facial tissue is the tool you’re looking for.

Blending stumps and tortillons are more often associated with graphite drawing, but they also work with colored pencil. I’ve found them to be slightly less effective than paper towel, but they are very useful if you want to blend a small area.

I also use a Prismacolor Colorless Blender. It’s basically a colored pencil without pigment and it works great for any colored pencil that’s wax-based, as Prismacolors are. Other lines of colored pencil may also include colorless blenders. One thing to note when using this type of blending tool is that it adds wax or oil (depending on the brand) to the paper.

Solvent Blending

I use three basic solvents for blending colored pencil. In order from mildest to most aggressive are rubbing alcohol, odorless mineral spirits, and turpentine. (I have used rubber cement thinner in the past, but only sparingly, since it’s very aggressive in “melting” color. It’s also quite toxic.)

Blending Colored Pencil - Solvent Blending

Solvents work by breaking down the binding agent that holds the pigment together in pencil form. When the binder is dissolved to any degree, the pigment flows together almost like paint.

Before you try any solvent on a colored pencil, test it on a piece of scrap paper. You want to make sure the paper will stand up to a solvent blend. Nothing is more discouraging than to have your paper buckle or warp when it gets wet.

It’s also a good idea to see how colors react to the various solvents before blending a drawing. While solvent blends are appropriate in most cases, they may not produce the look you want.

If the paper you’re drawing on is very smooth or is heavily sized, it’s also possible to remove color completely, no matter how carefully you blend.

So test first!

Blending with Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is ideal for doing a light blend. It breaks the wax binder in colored pencil just enough to move a little pigment around and to fill in paper holes. You need a good amount of pigment on the paper for the best results, but it also works with less pigment.

Use cotton balls or swabs or painting brushes to blend with rubbing alcohol. Because rubbing alcohol is relatively mild, you can do a little scrubbing with a bristle brush IF THE PAPER WILL TAKE THAT KIND OF ABUSE.

Blending with Odorless Mineral Spirits

Odorless mineral spirits blend color more completely than rubbing alcohol. It breaks down the wax binder more completely, freeing pigment to blend more thoroughly. Again, the more pigment on the paper, the better the results, but you can also do a watercolor-like wash with odorless mineral spirits.

For an even lighter tint, “melt” a little color in odorless mineral spirits, then wash it over the paper. You need sturdy paper or board for this kind of treatment, but the results can be very painterly and saturated.

Any type of odorless mineral spirits suitable for oil painting can also be used with colored pencils.

Use bristle or soft brushes to blend with odorless mineral spirits. In later layers, where there’s a lot of pigment on the paper, you can use heavier pressure, but it’s best to use medium pressure (normal handwriting pressure) to avoid scuffing the paper or removing color.

The most potent of the solvent blends I use is turpentine. It works the same way as odorless mineral spirits, but breaks down wax-binder more completely. My experience has been a maximum of two blends before the solvent begins removing more color than it blends.

Use turpentine the same way you’d use odorless mineral spirits.

Safety Tips

Make sure you use all of these solvents safely. Work in a well-ventilated space and exercise caution. Don’t work around children or pets and make sure to clean your work area and tools thoroughly, and close containers when you finish.

Artwork should also dry thoroughly before you begin working on it again. I like to let drawings air for no less than an hour and often let them sit overnight.

And there you have it. The only three blending methods you’ll ever need for creating fabulous colored pencil work.

What method is your favorite?

Looking for more information these basic blending methods? The ONLY Blending Methods You’ll Ever Need for Colored Pencil is now available with more illustrations, expanded content, and blending tips for sanded art papers and more. Click here to get your copy and improve your blending skills today.

Living With Creative Stillness

Creative stillness is usually one of the worst things that can befall an artist. But I’ve been living with creative stillness for many months and have discovered some preciously silver linings among the clouds.


I have a confession to make.

I haven’t worked on a painting since putting the finishing touches on a large and complicated portrait on June 24, 2014.

In the months since, I’ve lifted a paint brush only to illustrate a lesson for an online oil painting student. Nothing started. Nothing to finish.

Living With Creative Stillness - Line Drawing of My Dog

I’ve done a little more work with colored pencils, but the last major drawing I attempted got no further than a finished line drawing (left). Again, the only work I’ve done since is making illustrations for online drawing students and EmptyEasel.

In fact, had it not been for the online art courses and writing articles for EmptyEasel, I probably would have done nothing at all with drawing or painting.

The confession is that—for the moment—the lack of activity in the studio doesn’t bother me. Sure, I feel a twinge of guilt every now and again, but I’m enjoying the lack of pressure too much. Guilt doesn’t stand a chance!

It used to be impossible to foresee a future when I wasn’t painting. Even the one time I deliberately took six months off, I never doubted that I’d paint again, although the six months stretched into a year by the time that happened.


Living with Creative Stillness

It’s been seventeen months since my last major painting and the thought has crossed my mind more than once that that portrait may truly have been my last portrait.

You know what?

That idea doesn’t raise terrible specters.

Nor does it cause guilt or pain. A little sadness, maybe, but nothing more.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved portrait painting. I loved the clients I worked with, the places I went to photograph horses, the horses I saw, touched, smelled, and was awed by. Nearly 40 years of painting pictures of other people’s horses for fun and profit is a great experience and I’m grateful for it.

But if it’s over, I’m okay with that, too.


Because the studio isn’t the only place I’ve experienced creative stillness. Fiction writing went on hiatus, too. The silence in that creative arena wasn’t as long, but it was no less silent. From January through August 2015, I didn’t work on a story. Not. One.

I learned through the months that my ideas about what I do with the talents I’ve been given isn’t always up to me. Sure, my personal interests have an impact on what I choose as subjects and how I manifest those choices.

But there is also a greater Source—the place from which all good and noble ideas come—and He wants a say in what I do. In fact, He demands it.

Personally, I think I got to the point where I was too comfortable in my ability to paint pictures. I got too full of myself, you could say.

So I was taken outside of that place of Adequacy and Ability and put in a place of stillness.

Learning to Embrace Creative Stillness

The time has been well spent. As I’ve thought about, prayed over, and explored the creative silence, I’ve come to realize how much control I’ve exerted over the studio and how closed I’d become to doing anything outside my comfort zone.

And believe me, being sequestered in a creative silence is so far outside my comfort zone that I can’t even see the comfort zone!

Living with Creative Stillness - Embrace the PossibilitiesI’ve learned to just be. Not to push so hard or demand so much.

I’ve also learned that I can teach others what I know. That’s a fresh and new idea, something I only dabbled with before the creative silence. Now, it’s a primary source of pleasure and income. There’s something about seeing a new student gain skill and enjoyment in his or her work that painting a well-crafted portrait could never provide.

Do I miss portrait painting and everything it entailed? Yes. Even the hard stuff.

Will I be sad if I never paint another portrait? Yes.

But I don’t grieve because I believe with every fiber of my being that something will be given to me to replace portrait painting. Something far better and far more exciting. Something for which this creative silence has been the preparation.

You know what?

I can’t wait to see what it is!