Colored Pencil Critique – Horse on Black Paper

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

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

Some also submit artwork done outside the course. Student are looking for ways to improve a finished drawing or painting they aren’t happy with or for an overall critique.

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

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

Colored Pencil Critique - Dark Horse on Black Paper

Colored Pencil Critique – Drawing a Bay Horse on Black

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

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

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

Not so this time.

Colored Pencil Critique - Artist's Work

The artist has also skillfully captured the highlights and values on this horse. She shows the obvious highlights in addition to reflected light highlights. The cool colors in the shoulder give the subject that little bit of oomph that make a drawing really sparkle.

The Colored Pencil Critique

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

Colored Pencil Critique - Marked Up Image

#1: Correcting burnished areas

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

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

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

Make whatever changes are desired.

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

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

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

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

#3: Balance highlights and shadows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5: Darken the horse’s chin.

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

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

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

#6: Add a few more reflected light highlights.

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

Great Work that could Easily Become Excellent

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

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

In short, when you think a drawing is finished, give a little more time attention to the details. Even an extra hour makes a huge difference.

Do you want a critique of your latest drawing?

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

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

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

How to Remove Color in a Colored Pencil Drawing

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

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

How to Remove Color in a Colored Pencil Drawing

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

How to Remove Color in a Colored Pencil Drawing

Transparent Tape

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

How to remove color with Transparent Tape

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

Lay the tape sticky side down on the paper

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

Lift carefully.

Repeat.

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

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

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

Removing Additional Color With An Eraser

After you’ve done everything you can do with the tape, use a hard eraser (like a click eraser).

A click eraser can be sharpened to a fairly sharp point that allows you to do more detailed color removal. Used in tandem with a color guard, you can remove color and create shapes or edges.

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

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

Adding New Color

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

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

A Demonstration

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

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

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

Using tape to lift color

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

Removing color with a click eraser.

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

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

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

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

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

Another Demonstration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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