Stopping too Soon on Colored Pencil Art

How do you know when you’re stopping too soon on colored pencil art and when a piece is finished?

That may sound like an easy question to answer, but even experienced artists (like me) sometimes wrestle with finding the right answer.

The reader who asked the question for this week is certainly struggling. Here’s what she has to say.

I have come to love colored pencil art and am always amazed when something looks pretty good!

But my work is too light overall! I have tried deepening and darkening and seen how it improved the picture, but I stop short because I am afraid I’m going to ruin everything.

My hand is naturally very light and this seems to compound the situation.  Does drawing darker just come with time and experience?  It takes me months to complete a project!! Karin

Karin asks a couple of very good questions. Let me answer them in order.

Stopping too Soon on Colored Pencil Art

Stopping too soon with a colored pencil drawing seems to be something every artist goes through.

The reasons vary, but being afraid to ruin a drawing certainly is one of the biggest. Especially when you’re relatively new to colored pencil.

When you’re new, knowing whether a piece is finished or not is especially difficult. Even if you don’t think a piece is finished, you may not know how to finish it. In either case, the result is the same.

You stop too soon.

We’ve all done it. I’ve done it. As I mentioned above, I sometimes still stop too soon (though I don’t realize it until later.)

This is a piece I did in 2004. It looked finished at the time. I was happy with it.

Stopping too Soon on Colored Pencil Art

Actually, I still am happy with it.

But as I look at it now, compared to a portrait finished in 2020 (below,) it looks about three-quarters finished. I see several things I could do to improve it. To make it look more finished.

Does that mean there’s anything wrong with the first portrait?

No. It just means that I had a lot to learn back in 2004.

So the first thing I want to tell Karin and everyone else who struggles with the same problem is to be patient with yourself. Learning any skill takes time, and learning proficiency takes even more time.

Learning all the skills necessary to make great colored pencil art takes a lot of time. The plain truth is that you’ll be learning and improving for as long as you draw!

Don’t give up. Keep drawing and sooner or later, you will get there.

Is Having a Naturally Light Hand the Problem?

I’m not sure having a naturally light hand has anything to do with this particular problem. Artists with a heavy hand also struggle with getting dark values dark enough. The fear of going to far and ruining a piece is pretty much universal.

If anything, I think having a light hand is a good thing for a couple of reasons.

First, artists with light hands have to layer more layers than other artists. That means they make adjustments more slowly. Yes, it takes more time to do all those layers, but they’re less likely to make a big adjustment in just one or two layers.

That means they’re less likely to ruin a piece, or to make a mistake that can’t be fixed.

Artists with a naturally heavy hand, however, tend to put color on the paper in just a few layers. If a drawing gets too dark, it gets too dark very quickly. Because the color is applied heavily, it’s also difficult to correct.

So there are advantages and disadvantages both ways.

Time and Experience will Solve the Problem

Karin asked if time and experience would help her. The short answer is: Yes! Time and experience will help.

The more drawings she does, the better she’ll get at deciding when a piece is finished.

She’ll gain confidence in her ability to darken values enough without going too dark. And if she does go too dark, she’ll learn ways to correct the problem.

How Long Should a Drawing Take?

As for taking months to finish a project, that goes with the territory. Colored pencils are naturally slow. There are ways to speed up the process, but the drawing process is still slow!

So don’t worry over taking months to finish a project. I recently polled newsletter readers about the longest amount of time they’ve put into a project, and some of them said they’d worked on something over a year or more!

The larger your drawing and the more detailed you make it, the longer it will take to finish.

I’ve also written on this topic previously, and you can read that post here.

Are You Stopping too Soon on Your Colored Pencil Art?

If you are, I suggest that you focus on your technique.

Don’t rush it. Rushing usually doesn’t turn out well.

When you reach the point at which you don’t know if a piece is finished or not, set it aside for a day or two, then review it again.

When you get discouraged over your progress, compare some of your recent pieces to an early piece. That may very well be all the encouragement you need.

And above all, enjoy the process.

2 Replies to “Stopping too Soon on Colored Pencil Art”

  1. Very good advice Carrie. Coming back to a piece after a day or two really helps me to see it with fresh eyes.

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