Starting a Colored Pencil Umber Under Drawing

Starting a Colored Pencil Umber Under Drawing

Today, I want to show you how I start an umber under drawing on a landscaped drawing with a horse. This process works with any subject and any type of drawing.

The Umber Under Drawing Process in General

Throughout this part of the drawing process, I used Prismacolor Light Umber. I almost always use this color because it’s a medium value color that is fairly neutral. It produces the darkest values necessary, but it’s also light enough to erase fairly well if I make a mistake.

The entire drawing should be built layer by layer to avoid getting too dark too quickly. The larger the drawing—this one is 16×20—the more time it takes. The more tempting it is to develop each area to completion before moving onto the next. For balanced values, it’s best to resist that temptation.

However, with a large work, it will be easier to work in segments. I layered enough color in each area to establish the shapes before moving to the next area. In addition, I developed each area to the same degree before moving to the next step.

TIP: I’m describing the process that works best for me most of the time. While I believe it will work for most of us, I also realize that we’re all different. Take what you can use of this process and adapt to fit your needs and working style. Above all, have fun!

The First Umber Layer

Outlining the Major Shapes

After transferring the drawing to Rising Stonehenge paper, I outlined the top rail of the fence.  I added shading with horizontal strokes using very light pressure and a sharp pencil held in normal writing position. The strokes mimicked wood grain and didn’t cover all the area.

I started drawing the background trees with hatching, crosshatching, and other strokes to create a large area of light value. Once that was complete, I layered strokes to vary the values and duplicate the look of distant foliage.

Then I outlined some prominent trunks and worked around those, as well as around the outside edges of the fence.

That corner became the benchmark for the drawing. I compared everything else to that area for type of stroke and value.

Shading within the Outlines

Then, I used loose, vertical strokes to shade the rest of the background trees. I applied most of the color with the side of the pencil to cover larger areas more quickly. Then I used the pencil point to do the detail work around the horse, the fence and in smaller areas.

I also outlined the ears, head, forelock, and mane as I worked the background. That helped me preserve those areas and to begin establishing the horse’s presence. I also did a little shading in those areas, paying special attention to the horse’s eyes and one hoof. That was the fun part with which I rewarded myself toward the end of the drawing session.

Umber Under Drawing Step 2

The Second Umber Under Drawing Layer

Darkening Dark Values

After completing the first umber layer, I added the second layer. Again, I used light umber, light pressure and loose vertical strokes, but I worked over some of the areas I’d worked around last time and worked around some new areas to begin creating the sense of depth and of trees visible deeper within the stand.

Here is a detail of the head and the area around it. Even though there are very few ‘lines’ drawn, the edges are beginning to take shape.

Notice also the vertical shapes in the background. I didn’t outline those, but worked around some of them in both layers and around some of them for one layer. Already, there’s a sense of depth in the background.

Umber Under Drawing Step 2 Detail

Adjusting Edges

I want soft edges where necessary, so that means proceeding carefully and thoughtfully as I continue building value in the background.

Some areas will need to be ‘lined’ in. The mane and forelock, for example. In those areas, I outline each detail area, then fill it in with equal value, but the goal is to create edges without drawing lines.

I see that the ears aren’t the same size in this image. That means the first thing I’ll have to do in the next session is determine whether the off side ear is too large (I think it is) or the near side ear is too small.

Darkening Values Again

I continued darkening the background behind the horse and fence. I carefully outlined each area, then filled in the outlines. For everything else, I applied color in long, broad strokes with medium to light pressure. I don’t want an even color layer, but I wanted to darken it more quickly.

Next, I layered vertical strokes over all of the background, working around tree trunks and other background features. Then I applied looser, more random horizontal strokes to fill the space a little more. When I finished, the area was about as dark as I want to go without working up some of the other areas, too.

The last thing I did for this session was lay a t-square along the bottom of the drawing and use it as a bumper against which to define the bottom edge using Light Umber and very loose vertical strokes to apply the first color in that area.

I also worked on the tail a little bit and on the second hoof, but mostly to bring those two areas out of the background somewhat.

Umber Under Drawing Step 4

I worked on the foliage and grass this afternoon, still using Light Umber, but focused more on smoothing the color and shaping the values.

Correcting an Error in Values

Later I noticed that the left and right sides of the background are not the same value (a common error in working a large piece in short work sessions.) At first, I added color in horizontal strokes in an effort to even up the two sides.

That didn’t work, so I tried lifting color with the click eraser. That didn’t work, so I got out the sticky stuff and dabbled around with that. That lifted color very well if I kept it carefully kneaded. I was able to lift some of the heavy darks just above the top rail in the background on the right and I liked that so well that I repeated the process on the left side. The result was very nice, so I think the first thing I’ll do tomorrow is lift addition color and see if I can create some tree trunks on the right with this method.

The Finished Umber Under Drawing

At least in part.

The background is now as complete as I want to make it without finishing the horse. I worked on the horse a little, but need to finish it to the same level as the background. Only then can I tell if the under drawing is finished.

Umber under drawings are a great way to figure out values and shapes without worrying about color decisions. This method also provides an excellent opportunity to identify and correct errors while they’re still relatively easy to correct.

But it isn’t the only way to start a drawing. For a brief explanation of other ways I’ve started drawings, read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

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