12 Reasons to Love Colored Pencils

For those among us who use them as our primary medium—or as one of our primary mediums—there are a lot of reasons to love colored pencils. If you’ve used them for any length of time at all, you can probably list five or six with no hesitation at all.

And I’ll wager that if each of us listed our top twelve reasons, every one of us would have at least one reason that was unique to us. That’s just human nature.

And the nature of the medium.

12 Reasons to Love Colored Pencils

Following are my top twelve reasons for loving colored pencils.

Why I Love Colored Pencils

Colored pencils are easy to use

Open the box, sharpen the pencils (if necessary), grab a piece of paper, and start drawing. You don’t need to prepare a painting surface, mix a palette, or—best of all—wear protective clothing.

Colored pencils are clean

You don’t have to worry about getting them on your hands, clothing, or the things around you. You won’t find traces of them some unexpected place in the house because you brushed against wet paint without knowing it and transferred that color to other parts of the house.

No drying time

One of my chief complaints about oil painting was waiting for paint to dry. That’s not a concern with colored pencil drawing.

Unless you use solvents to blend or work with watercolor pencils.

All those luscious colors!

What artist doesn’t love color? And there are so many!

Colored pencils go everywhere

Colored pencils are easily transportable. Throw a few supplies into your field kit or a tote bag or purse (depending how big the set—or your purse—is) and you’re ready to go. Anywhere. Everywhere.

No smelly solvents (unless I want them)

I can make a beautiful drawing without having to breathe solvent fumes.

I can create a range of affects from soft focus to tight detail

Fine art colored pencils are much more versatile than the colored pencils I used in grade school. Almost everything that could be done with brush and paint can be done with colored pencils.

Colored pencils look—and work—great on so many different surfaces

We all know about drawing on paper. A lot of us have tried mat board, too. But what about sanded art papers, wood, canvas, or even Mylar? Colored pencils work on all of them and produce unique and interesting affects on each type of surface.

Nothing else captures ‘found’ texture quite as well as colored pencils

I’ve added interesting and unique textures to more than one drawing simply by laying the paper on a textured surface and lightly—or maybe not so lightly—shading over the paper. What a great way to add visual interest quickly and easily.

Colored pencils are perfect for making small format and miniature art

The thing that turns so many people away from colored pencil is the very thing that makes them ideal for small format and miniature art. The thin color core. What better medium for drawing details on artwork that’s 4×6 or less?

Bonus: You don’t need special tools…except for maybe a magnifying glass.

Colored pencils are perfect for drawing hair

Colored pencils are also fabulous for drawing hair. One of the things I love most about drawing horses is drawing those long manes and tails. I can paint a decent mane or tail with oils and very small brushes, but colored pencils are far more satisfactory.

The cat can play in my art box and I don’t have to worry about hazardous materials sticking to paws

This is important in a house with indoor cats. Cats like to climb. Cats like to explore.

They also like to help. Years ago, one of our cats once threw himself on an oil painting while I was working on it (I worked flat, by the way). I had to take time to clean the paint off the cat before repairing the damage to the painting.

That doesn’t happen with colored pencils.

Those are My Reasons to Love Colored Pencils.

Why do you love them?

Video Demo – How to Draw Hair

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know one of my favorite subjects to draw is horses.

What you may not know is that one of reasons—maybe the biggest reason—I like drawing horses is all that long, luscious hair!

Horses aren’t the only subjects with long, luscious hair. So when I came across an excellent video tutorial on drawing hair, I realized many of you might also be fascinated by the process.

The review is provided by Emmy Kalia on YouTube. Emmy’s YouTube channel and her web site feature tutorials in colored pencils and graphite with a special focus on human subjects. Some of her most interesting videos are about drawing hair and skin tones.

How to Draw Hair

The video is a “hair” over 23 minutes long, so grab a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, sit back, and be amazed.

Here’s Emmy.

Isn’t that fabulous, and aren’t those Faber-Castell browns enticing? If you don’t already own a set, have you put them on your wish list? I hope so because they’re on mine!

Tips for Drawing Hair

When drawing any type or length of hair, keep your pencils sharp, especially when drawing loose or flyaway hairs.

Work from light to dark and use the darkest color to add accent shadows after establishing other colors.

Start developing highlights from the beginning. It’s easier to preserve them than to replace them.

Use an eraser, sticky stuff, or some other method to lift color and create lighter highlights and other accents. Emmy uses oil-based Faber-Castell pencils, so the pencil eraser she uses is very effective. It’s less effective with wax based pencils, especially if you use soft pencils like Prismacolor Soft Core.

Don’t forget the details! Little things like a few flyaway hairs, little shadows between groups of hairs, and brightened highlights make all the difference. But don’t overdo them. Sometimes less really is more!

Here’s a hair drawing I did several years ago. I chose the subject because of the hair and—along with the blanket—the hair is still my favorite part of it!

But the best part is that you can draw hair like this, too. All it takes is practice!

And a good subject.

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

More Information

Emmy Kalia’s on YouTube Channel

Is It All Right to Use Oil Painting Varnish on Colored Pencil Drawings?

In two previous posts, I shared the pros and cons of using fixative or final finishes on colored pencil artwork and then recommended a few fixatives and varnishes that I and other artists use.

But questions still abound and one of the most common is:

Is it all right to use oil painting varnish on colored pencil drawings?

The short answer is no.

Varnishes—more commonly known as final finishes these days—are not all made the same way. The intended use of the varnish determines how it’s manufactured and what ingredients are used.

Final finishes made for oil paintings often contain damar, which is an actual liquid varnish that can be brushed onto the surface of a painting. Spray final finishes for oil paintings contain an atomized (turned into spray) form of damar.

Damar varnish is a yellowish substance in liquid form. It becomes part of the painting surface by bonding with surface of the paint. It forms an impenetrable coating that protects the paint for years to come.

That ability to saturate a surface is great on canvas or rigid supports.

On paper?

Not so much.

Is It All Right to Use Oil Painting Varnish on Colored Pencil Drawings?

Why You Should Never Use a Varnish Containing Damar on Paper

When used on paper, damar saturates the paper, darkening and sometimes discoloring it. The discoloration is permanent. It won’t dry out of the paper.

If you use a varnish made for oil paintings on a colored pencil drawing, the varnish is likely to soak through the layers of colored pencil and saturate the paper you’ve drawn on. Layers of wax and pigment will not prevent the eventual discoloration of the paper.

If it darkens the paper, it will also darken the drawing that’s on the paper.

This kind of varnish will protect your colored pencil artwork, but you’d be well-advised not to use it for that purpose unless you want to purposely discolor the paper and/or the artwork.

If you still want to give it a try, try it first on a scrap piece of paper. If the results satisfy you, try it next on a drawing that isn’t vital. See what happens and make future decisions based on that.

It may also work for you if your drawing is on wood or a similar rigid support that’s impenetrable. But even so, I strongly recommend a test first. Better waste a small support than ruin your best drawing.

If You Do Decide to Try a Varnish for Oil Painting

Make sure to follow the instructions on the can. Varnishes produced for oil paintings are heavier, even in the spray form, than varnishes or final finishes made for dry media. Too heavy an application and your paper may buckle.

My recommendation?

Don’t. Do. It.

Broken Prismacolor Pencils: How to Repair Them

Broken Prismacolor pencils driving you to distraction?

You’re not alone.

After reading a recent post, Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils, Jana Botkin left the following question in the comments:

Will you address the fact that the majority of Prismacolor pencils are broken all the way through? Sanford denies there is a problem and blames the wrong sharpeners.

If you’ve been using colored pencils for very long or if you’ve participated in any social media discussions on the subject, you’ve already heard the comments. Perhaps you’ve even experienced quality problems with Prismacolor pencils, as I have.

My Opinion

I’ve observed over the years that most companies tend to follow the same course.

Someone has an idea for a new product. They’re passionate about the idea and product. So passionate that they spend time and money to start a business. Product quality and customer satisfaction is the most important thing and they’ll do anything to keep their customers happy.

Eventually, the company moves from the first generation (the person who started it) to the second generation. The founder dies and passes the company to children or maybe sells the company. The second generation owners may be committed to quality, but they lack the burning passion the original creator had. The product is still good and customers may not notice a difference, but there is a change behind the scenes.

The company is sold again. Perhaps it becomes part of a larger company. Just another department or product line. Quality is important, but maybe not as important as the bottom line. The company talks the talk but may be lax in walking the walk.

If a company goes through enough of these cycles, product quality begins to suffer to the extent that customers begin going elsewhere.

It’s not uncommon for many things to follow this course. It takes a lot of work to maintain principles, whether that’s providing the best colored pencil possible or sticking with a diet. It’s kind of like keeping water from running downhill. Possible, but not easy.

I don’t know beyond all shadow of doubt that this has happened with Prismacolor, but I have some very old pencils that bear the Berol name and some even older Prismacolor pencils with the Eagle name. It seems that every time the product lines changed hands, quality suffered.

Broken Prismacolor Pencils & How to Repair Them

What to Do About Broken Prismacolor Pencils

The CPSA taught a method of repairing them in the microwave. — Jana Botkin

There are two camps when it comes to the best response to broken pencils.

Send ‘Em Back

The first camp says the only thing to do is return the pencils if they’re new and came with broken pigment cores because you can’t repair the core. If you buy brand new pencils and discover broken pigment cores, return or exchange is probably the best policy if you can afford to wait for new pencils.

Unfortunately, broken pigment cores aren’t usually discovered until after you’ve started using the pencils. Most stores won’t accept a return on a pencil that’s been used.

And sometimes you drop pencils and they break. Prismacolor pencils seem to be especially prone to damage in this fashion. In this case, you don’t want to send them back.

Heat ‘Em Up

The Microwave Method

The second camp declares with equal conviction that you can repair broken pigment cores and they have just the solution.

Every source I looked at recommended 5 seconds in a microwave. What no one said was at what setting! (Start low and increase the setting if that doesn’t work.) If you microwave pencils longer than that, you risk splitting the wood casings or causing a fire.

This works because wax melts when subjected to heat. Yes, even the wax binder in a Prismacolor pencil—or any wax-based colored pencil, for that matter. The softened wax melts, “healing” breaks or fractures. The pigment core is restored as the wax cools.

I’ve never used this method of repairing colored pencils, but I have no doubt it’s one way to deal with the issue of breakage with Prismacolor colored pencils or with any other brand of wax-based pencils. How can I be so sure?

The Sunny Window Method

Because I do have experience warming pencils in the sun and seeing how soft the pigment cores get. Granted, I wasn’t repairing broken pigment cores; I was attending a horse show. I took my pencils along, but left them in the back window of the car while I watched horses. It was a sunny July day and when I got back to the car, the pencils were so soft I could almost paint with them.

That experience leaves no doubt in my mind that leaving pencils in a sunny window would be an excellent way to apply gentle heat to a pencil with a broken pigment core no matter where you live. The warmer climate, the less time it would take, but I’d still suggest that a few hours wouldn’t hurt the pencil. Check the exposed pigment core every couple of hours and see how soft it is, then use your own judgment on how much longer to leave the pencil in the sun.

Not Quite Convinced?

That’s okay. If you want to try either of these methods without exposing your pencils to possible risk, break off a few tips—yes, on purpose unless you have broken pieces of pigment lying around. Put them together in a small container and set them in the sun and see what happens. If you like the results, you can be more sure about using the same method for your pencils.

The Final Alternative to Broken Prismacolor Pencils

Of course, if you’ve had so much trouble with broken Prismacolor pencils that you’re ready to throw them over, you can always find a different type of pencil. There are plenty of high quality, artist grade pencils available.

The most popular are Faber-Castell Polychromos, but there are others. Jana recommends Polychromos first, but for her students who are on a budget, she also recommends Staedler Ergosoft as a high quality, lower cost substitute.

I can’t recommend the following brands because I’ve never used them, but they are on my list of pencils to try (in alphabetical order).

Caran d’Ache Luminance

Derwent Coloursoft

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolour

Staedler Ergosoft

What’s your favorite brand of colored pencil? Why do you prefer them?

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So You Want to Varnish Colored Pencil Art. What Should You Use?

In a previous post, I shared three professional reasons to consider using fixative or varnish on your colored pencil artwork and three reasons not to.

You read that post and decided to try varnishing your finished work. The next logical question is which type and brand to use. There are so many on the market. How do you choose?

Fixative and Varnish: What’s the Difference?

Before we go further, though, let me take a moment to define terms.

“Fixative” and “varnish” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

Fixative is only a temporary “fix”. It’s a light coating you use as part of the drawing process. Fixative sprays are not designed to be a final coating because it doesn’t provide protection from ultraviolet light (UV), environmental dirt, or rough handling. It’s generally applied lightly and between layers of color.

Varnish is a final coating designed to provide protection from environmental dirt, UV, and—to some extent—rough handling. It is applied more thickly. It is not designed to be used as part of the drawing process since it can easily saturate and discolor the paper and darken both the paper and the colors already on the paper.

Another term frequently used for varnishes is final finish. Not all final finishes are useful for colored pencil work. Many of them are produced for oil paintings and contain damar varnish. When purchasing final finishes, make sure to check the contents label. If it lists damar, leave it on the shelf.

So You Want to Varnish Colored Pencil Art: What Should You Use?

John Ursillo uses workable fixative throughout his drawing process and varnishes finished pieces when he works on canvas (yes, canvas for colored pencils). John says:

I use intermediate layers of workable fixative along with solvent-enhanced CP and water-based CP. The finished piece is coated with two layers of Krylon Archival Series UV protective gloss acrylic spray. There are other brands but I’ve not tried them – happy with the Krylon. This goes on very shiny but after a week or so the coating dries completely into the weave of the canvas resulting in a pleasing semi-gloss coating.

The net result is that these colored pencil drawings on canvas can be framed without glass.

For works on paper, he uses workable fixative before adding the final color, then gives the finished drawing an additional coat of workable fixative.

When I use workable fixative, it’s usually late in the drawing process, when I need to restore a little tooth in order to finish the drawing. I have Krylon Workable Fixatif and Prismacolor Premier Fixative on my shelf. I’ve never done a side-by-side comparison, so I don’t know that one is better than the other. Both are good both for controlling wax bloom and for working over.

I also use Krylon Gallery Series Conservation Retouch Varnish. It’s more suitable for finished work on either paper or canvas. Prismacolor produces a non-workable fixative that I have yet to try but that’s worth a look.

In the past, I’ve used Blair products and Grumbacher products and have had good results.

Best Practices for Using Varnish or Fixative on Colored Pencil Art

Look for a fixative or varnish made for colored pencils or, if you can’t find that, one that’s made for dry media. Not all varnishes are created equal and what may work for an oil painting may not work as well—or at all—on colored pencil. Prismacolor makes a final coating made specifically for colored pencils and I recommend it whole-heartedly.

Since each brand of fixative or varnish comes with instructions for use, check those instructions first. Follow them, too, in order to get the best results.

Here’s how I do my varnishing.

  • Work in a well-ventilated area
  • Position the artwork in an upright position. It doesn’t have to be perfectly vertical, but it shouldn’t be flat, either
  • Shake the aerosol can a few times to properly mix the contents
  • Hold the can in a vertical position about twelve inches from the artwork (check the instructions on the can for the ideal distance, as there may be some variation).
  • Holding down the nozzle, move the spray across the artwork horizontally in a slow movement.
  • Start just past the edge of the drawing and spray across the drawing to just past the opposite edge, then back in the opposite direction until you’ve covered all of the drawing, top to bottom
  • Let the artwork dry for a minimum of 30 minutes. Personally, I prefer to err on the side of caution and usually wait 45 minutes or longer
  • Give the drawing another coat (optional).

Two or three coats should be sufficient. Just make sure you don’t soak the paper with varnish. When a heavy coat of varnish dries, it could become brittle, making it necessary ship unframed art flat, instead of rolled.

So You Want to Varnish Colored Pencil Art. What Should You Use?

The Bottom Line

What it all comes down to is finding the best product for the type of work you do and the results you want. Generally, the best place to start is with a brand known for high quality in other products. Grumbacher and Krylon, for example. Products produced by or for companies that also make colored pencils is also a good idea. I can’t guarantee you’ll like Prismacolor workable fixative as well as you like Prismacolor colored pencils, but there’s a better chance the fixative will work favorably with the pencils.

Whenever you try something new, try it first on scrap paper or on a drawing that won’t hurt your feelings if it gets damaged. Talking to other artists about what they use and why they use it is another excellent way to find a good product.

Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art?

Some artists swear by it.

Other artists would never do it.

Many are undecided and most of us are somewhere in between.

Still the question remains.

Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art?

Aside from personal preference, there are good reasons to varnish colored pencil artwork and there are reasons not to. Personal reasons for varnishing colored pencil drawings or not varnishing them are as varied as artists are. The purpose of this post is to look at some professional reasons for and against varnishing colored pencil art.

Do You Really Need to Varnish Colored Pencil Art

Reasons to Varnish Colored Pencil Art

Controlling Wax Bloom

Some colored pencils are made with a wax binder that allows the pigment to be formed into a core during manufacture and that allows you to put color on paper while drawing.

Some of the wax is left on the paper, too. If you use heavy pressure or lots of layers, you may end up with a lot of wax on the paper.

The wax slowly rises to the surface of the color layers and gives the drawing a foggy or cloudy look. This is what’s known as wax bloom.

Wax bloom is easy to remove. Simply wipe the surface of the drawing very lightly with a piece of paper towel, a tissue (without lotion), or a soft, clean cloth. The wax bloom will return however and you probably won’t ever be able to totally eliminate it.

Giving your finished drawing a light coat of fixative or varnish does more than keep the color in place. It keeps the wax binder in place, too. That means little or no wax bloom.

Of course, if you use oil-based colored pencils, you have no wax bloom worries!

Protecting the Surface

Even a light coat of fixative or varnish will provide protection for your colored pencil drawing. Environmental dirt, dust, and other similar substances will come to rest on the varnish instead of on the drawing itself. A light dusting with a duster or dry clothe is all that’s necessary to remove the dust.

It’s recommended that any artwork on paper be framed under glass for the best protection and that includes colored pencil drawings. But even then, a coat of varnish provides added protection.

Restoring Tooth

Up to this point, I’ve talked about using fixative or varnish after you’ve finished the drawing—that is, after all—the focus of this article.

But you can use fixative or varnish on a drawing that isn’t quite finished. Doing so will give the surface a little more tooth for additional work if that’s what you need.

How much tooth is restored is debatable and depends in large part on the type of fixative or varnish you use and on how heavily you use it. While it merits mention here, it’s really a topic for another discussion.

Reasons Not to Varnish Colored Pencil Art


Some artists have had drawings discolored and some have had them ruined by an application of fixative or varnish. If you happen to be using a cheap varnish or fixative, there is the risk of discoloration. That’s why I generally advise artists to do a test on a piece of scrap paper or an old drawing first.


Anytime you use an aerosol, there is the risk of some of the substance coming out as droplets. This is a special concern if you don’t use varnish very often and the can has been sitting on the shelf for years. Again, the best way to avoid this is to test the varnish first. If it produces droplets after a couple of sprays, don’t use it on anything else.

Unnecessary Effort

I admit that I don’t finish every colored pencil drawing with a coat of fixative or varnish. Sometimes it just isn’t necessary.

Drawings I don’t varnish are either:

  • Drawings I didn’t burnish or use heavy pressure on
  • Predominantly light value or color (wax bloom shows up better on dark colors)
  • Drawn with oil-based pencils

You may also simply not wish to add varnish to a drawing because you like the look of unvarnished drawings. That is a perfectly acceptable way to finish any drawing.

Next week, tips on types of varnishes to use and how to get the best results.

Do you varnish finished drawings? Why or why not?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

Do you have to draw under drawings when you draw with colored pencil? It seems like a lot of work for something you’re going to cover up anyway.

In a way, you’re right. The first layers of color on the paper are always covered up (unless you work with single layers and no blending.) So why would you bother with an under drawing?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

There is no Right Way to draw. I dare say there are as many ways to draw—and draw well—as there are artists.

There is no One Way that I use every time, either. A lot depends on what I’m drawing, why I’m drawing it, and whether or not a due date is attached to the artwork.

But the method I use most involves adding color over an under drawing. I’ve had great results with direct color drawing, but I still prefer working over an under drawing.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

There are a lot of reasons for choosing the method you use to draw. Even if you use an under drawing method—as I do—your reasons for making that decision may not be the same as mine.

So I’ll tell you up front that the advantages and disadvantages I’m about to list are in no way universal. We’re all individuals and even if we use the same tools and the same methods to draw the same subjects, our work and our motivations will be different.

But if you’re considering trying one of the under drawing methods I’m about to describe, then I hope I can shed some light on the process so you can make an educated decision.

Or at least an advised decision!

3 Advantages to Working with Under Drawings

You can work out the values first, without having to make color decisions.

There are a lot of decisions to make with every drawing. Contour. Perspective. Value. Composition. Color.

When you start with an under drawing, you don’t have to make color decisions, too. That reduces the number of decisions to be made up front and focuses attention on what’s important—making the best drawing possible.

It also allows you to draw the strongest values possible. Why is that important?

The basic line drawing and the values are like the foundation on a magnificent building. You can build a building—and create a piece of art—without a strong foundation, but it won’t be the best it can be. And it may not last very long either.

Take the time to develop the foundation of your next drawing and the end result will be noticeably better.

Can you draw values and color at the same time? Absolutely. I just find it easier to develop values first, then glaze color over that.

You may, too.

It’s easier to find and fix mistakes in the under drawing phase.

You can find mistakes in your drawing at any stage of the process no matter how you draw. But I find it’s easier to spot problem areas if no color is involved. Since under drawing layers are also generally applied with light pressure and with harder pencils—I recommend Prismacolor Verithin pencils—it’s easier to erase and correct those mistakes.

Let’s face it. The sooner you find and correct mistakes, the easier it is to conceal them, too!

Using an under drawing method forces you to slow down and take your time with each drawing.

I tend to work slowly no matter how I draw, but drawing an under drawing seems to slow me down even further. In the early stages of a project, that’s a good thing. It allows me to find and fix errors and helps keep me from making errors.

Or making existing errors worse before I realize what I’m doing.

One thing I’ve learned about colored pencils is that they are a naturally slow method. Another thing I’ve learned is that I tend to get lazy, careless, and in search of shortcuts. Those things do not mix well with colored pencils.

If forcing myself to take the process more slowly was the only reason to use under drawings, I would still use them.

3 Disadvantages to Working with Under Drawings

Are there disadvantages to using an under drawing? There sure are.

Any under drawing method adds time to the drawing process.

Doing an under drawing first—especially a detailed under drawing—takes time. If the artwork is very big, it can take a lot of time. You essentially do the drawing twice: once without color and once with color.

But n all honesty, I use the direct color method the same way I use the umber under drawing or complementary under drawing methods. One layer of limited value color, than another layer that develops values and colors more completely. I still do two rounds of work, but the perception is that it takes less time to work directly with color.

A mind game, you say? Quite likely, but if I need to finish something fast or am doing studies, the direct drawing method is better.

The more layers you add, the more you fill the tooth of the paper.

The more color you use, the more you fill the tooth of the paper, and the more difficult it gets to add more color.

When you start with a detailed under drawing, you’ve already used up some of the paper tooth. That tooth is no longer available for color glazing. That can be a problem toward the end of a complex drawing.

It’s so boring to do all those layers!

I really hate to use this word but I can’t think of a better one.

One of the biggest disadvantages to drawing under drawings first, is getting tired of working large projects or projects that take a long time. I like starting things. That’s fun.

Finishing can be a nuisance.

And if I’ve spent all my enthusiasm working out a great under drawing, it can be a challenge to finish the drawing.


There is no clear-cut, right-all-the-time answer to the which-method-is-best question. The disadvantages of using an under drawing appear equal to the  advantages.

I still prefer developing drawings stage by stage through an under drawing, then subsequent color layers. It pleases my spirit to see a drawing come to life first as a half-tone (no matter the color), then as I add color.

And enjoying what you do is the bottom line.

After all, if you don’t enjoy making art—or the way you’re making art now—you should find something else to do. Right?

Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

This week brings us to the conclusion of this series. If you’ve been following the series with your own drawing, today is the day I’ll show you how to finish your drawing.

While this series has focused on using the umber under drawing method with colored pencils, the finishing steps apply to any colored pencil drawing using any method.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

By the time you reach this stage in any colored pencil drawing, most of the hard work has been done. Unless you need to make corrections, the majority of work now is adding details and making sure the values and colors are as correct as you can make them.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

Developing Color, Value & Detail

I began by layering Peacock Green over most of the body and neck, working around the highlights. I followed that with Bruynzeel Permanent Orange.

Next, I used Black, Blue Slate, Powder Blue, White, and Limepeel (in that order) to draw the legs. First, I layered Black over all four legs. Then I singled out the flexed front leg and concentrated on that. I alternated among the colors and, when the leg was nearly complete, began working the grass and fence, so I could adjust edges.

When I’d done everything I could think of to do with that leg, I worked on the off side hind leg using the same method. In that manner, I worked from leg to leg until they were all finished.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 15
Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 17

Then I layered Bruynzeel Permanent Orange over all of the body, neck, and head except the reflected lights and brightest highlights. I worked into some areas of the highlights that had previously been worked around, but only very lightly. I used the side of the pencil and stroked in several different directions to get even color.

Then I used True Blue and the side of the pencil to layer color into the reflected highlights along the back, top of the neck, and rump, as well as on the off side of the shoulder and the front leg. That was followed by layering the same color throughout the body to gray and darken the orange.

When I finished, I used Dark Brown to deepen the shadows on the chest and neck.

By the time I finished, the paper was losing tooth and burnishing the drawing or spraying it with fixative were possibilities.

TIP: I try never to make a decision like this without giving myself time to consider options. Once a drawing is burnished, it can’t be unburnished. Fixative cannot be removed, either, so it’s generally better not to rush a decision like this.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 18

Final Detailing

When I reviewed the drawing later, I decided against using fixative at least long enough to try burnishing.

I began detailing with the muzzle using Dark Brown and Black to draw lights and darks, then burnishing with the white. I worked up into the head, brightening highlights and darkening darks as I went, adjusting edges and shapes, and burnishing area by area. I finished the head and ears, then worked down the neck toward the shoulders.

TIP: With larger drawings, it can be better to work section by section when doing final details. This method produces a sharper, clearer image more quickly. There would also be the appearance of faster progress as more and more surface was covered. That can be a major encouragement!

To get the best possible look at details, I worked from the computer and enlarged the reference photo to focus on each area. If a photo is not high-resolution, you may find that enlarging the image too much doesn’t help. Find the best balance of clarity and enlargement to help you see the details you want to draw.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 19

The final layers on the neck, shoulders, chest, body, and rump were Bruynzeel Permanent Orange, Sienna Brown, Dark Brown, Dark Green ,Deco Blue, Tuscan Red, and Cream.

When I finished adding color, I blended with rubbing alcohol applied with a cotton swab. Rubbing alcohol “melted” the wax binder enough for the colors to blend slightly. It also restores some of the paper tooth, so after the paper is dry, I can add more color if necessary.

When I finished, I set the drawing aside for a few days, so I could review it with a fresh eye.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 20

After I determined the drawing was, indeed, finished, I sprayed it with two coats of workable fixative and it was ready for framing.

You don’t have to spray a finished colored pencil drawing with fixative or varnish if you don’t wish to. There are advantages to a light coat of fixative, including keeping wax bloom in check, but it really is a personal preference.

That completes this series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

For personal, one-on-one instruction in this method of drawing, you might consider one-to-one distance learning. I offer learning by the week, by the month, and by the project. For more information is available through Colored Pencil Tutorials/One to One Classes.

How to Add Color to a Horse Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

The last two posts in this series involved adding color to the landscape for a large colored pencil pastoral. It was a two-step process in which I established the basic colors, then enhanced the color and developed details.

I also did a little work on the mane and tail of the horse to avoid losing those areas to the background. This is how the drawing looked when I finished with the landscape.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 10

How to Add Color to an Umber Under Drawing – The Horse

As with the landscape, adding color to the horse involved two steps: establishing the base colors and details and developing color and value ranges.

The final step with every drawing is reviewing it as a whole and making whatever adjustments to color, value, and detail may become apparent.

How to Add Color to a Horse Using the Umber Under Drawing Method

Establishing Base Colors and Details

The base color for the horse was drawn with a combination of Yellow Ochre in the lighter mid-tones, Pumpkin Orange in the mid-tones, Dark Umber in the shadows, and Cloud Blue in the reflected highlights. Each color was applied with light pressure and a sharp pencil. Wherever possible, I stroked in the direction of hair growth. When that wasn’t possible, I worked around the contours of the horse’s body.

TIP: The base color is the foundation for everything else. Use small strokes placed close together or the side of a well-sharpened pencil to create smooth, even color.

Adding Color to Umber Under 1rawing Step 11
Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 13

Once the overall color was in place, I used Slate Gray in the light areas and Black in the shadows of the muzzle and black areas. Color was applied with tiny, circular strokes to the muzzle and with directional strokes in the forelock.

Next, I worked on the legs and muzzle using Black and Slate Blue, darkening values and drawing detail.

Mineral Orange, Dark Umber, and Red Ochre were used in the body, neck and head.

For this round of color, I again worked throughout the horse with light pressure.

TIP: At some phases of a drawing, you can spend a couple of hours working without appearing to make much progress. Be patient! Your work will be rewarded if you stick with it!

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 14

I layered Mineral Orange, Sienna Brown, and Burnt Umber over the body, legs, and neck, then added Black to the legs and darkest shadows of the body. Limepeel was used to draw reflected light on the under sides of the belly, chest, and legs.

Next, I added Orange throughout the horse, shading over some of the highlights that had been protected up to that point and working around others. I used my computer reading glasses for the work so the work was slightly out of focus. That helped me avoid getting too detailed too quickly. I also applied color mostly with the side of the pencil.

Then I layered Sienna Brown and Henna over the brown parts of the horse using broad strokes and following the contours of the horse. Except for the smaller areas or tighter details, I used the side of the pencils.

The browns were getting a little too bold, so I toned them down with a layer of Peacock Green, which I also used on the black areas.

To darken the blacks and darker shadows, I next used medium pressure to apply Copenhagen Blue, then glazed Henna over all of the horse except the blacks.

At that point, my goal shifted to building up color and value as quickly as possible toward a finish. Toward that end, I layered:

  • Tuscan Red over all of the horse but the brightest highlights and the reflected light areas
  • Ultramarine on the legs and in the darker shadows in the head and body
  • Dark Brown over almost all the horse
  • Bruynzeel Full Color* Permanent Orange over all of the browns

All colors were applied in medium length parallel strokes except in the tighter, smaller areas and when I needed to create a directional pattern.

Adding Color to Umber Under Drawing Step 15

That concluded work on the first round of work. The basic colors and details are now in place. It’s time to finish. We’ll tackle that all important step in the next post.

*The Full Color line of Bruynzeel pencils is no longer available. I’ve read that the Design line is the same basic pencil and that the colors are the same, but I have yet to give them a try.

Review of Caran d’Ache Luminance Pencils

When I came across this video review of Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils, I knew I wanted to share it with you.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for new ideas. New tools, tips and techniques. New colors.

And yes, new pencils.

So whenever someone reviews a product I don’t yet have, I want to watch it.

Review of Caran d'Ache Luminance Pencils

I’ve heard a lot about the Caran d’Ache Luminous pencils since their introduction a few years ago, but I’ve have yet to give them a try.

What I learned in this video makes me more interested in trying Luminance pencils than ever.

Review of Caran d’Ache Luminance Pencils

The review is provided by ColoringKaria on YouTube. Karia does reviews of adult coloring books and supplies, but this review will be of interest to fine artists, too.

Here’s Karia.

Caran d’Ache is a Swiss company.  According the Caran d’Ache web page for Luminance 6901 pencils, these wax-based pencils are “designed for works intended for exhibition, collection and museum purposes.”

In other words, high quality.

And fairly expensive. At the time of this writing, open stock Luminance pencils are $4.62 each at Dick Blick.

As Karia mentioned, that’s on the pricey side for adult coloring book artists.

Even so, I am curious enough to consider a few open stock pencils, even if it’s only a handful of their luscious looking earth tones. I’ll let you know!


Since I first wrote this post, I purchased a Caran d’Ache Luminance White (along with a Derwent Drawing Chinese White.) They’re reportedly among the most opaque colored pencils available, and they work fairly well over darker colors.

Both pencils are more opaque than my other pencils (Prismacolor and Polychromos,) but they don’t cover color completely. As least not as completely as I hoped. But you have to remember that I’m a former oil painter and when I hear one color covers another, I expect it to perform like oil paints! No colored pencil is capable of that.

But the Luminance pencil is more like Prismacolor when it goes onto paper. Limited use still makes me want to buy a few more colors in open stock and try them on a landscape drawing.

More from the Caran d’Ache Luminance Web Page

Highly sought after by drawing masters from every creative sector, the subtle velvety effect of the new permanent pencil stems from two years of technical research conducted in complete secrecy at the heart of the Maison’s workshops. Its delicate texture, along with the vibrancy of the many recently developed shades, open up exciting new vistas in the realms of overlaying, mixed techniques and gradation.

Its extreme lightfastness is confirmed by the most rigorous tests, earning Luminance 6901 top results and international ASTM D-6901 certification.

With Luminance 6901, Caran d’Ache has achieved the feat of creating quite simply the most lightfast colour pencil ever designed.

The line is created according to the criteria laid down by the Swiss Made label and eco-friendly standards, thereby providing an additional demonstration of the Maison’s steadfast ethical commitment.

More Information

Caran d’ache Luminance Pencils web site.

Luminance Colored Pencils Open Stock at Dick Blick

Have you used Caran d’ache Luminance pencils? What did you think?

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