How to Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

This week, I want to share a few tips about how to make coloring pages look more realistic. The post is the result of a reader question, and an opportunity to guest post for artist, Sarah Renae Clark. I’ll tell you more about that article in a minute.

Here’s the reader question.

I would like to know how to make the subjects in the coloring books come to life using your pencils. I do ceramics so I know dry brushing an blending. But since I do not draw but use the coloring books, which i enjoy just wish i could make them look better.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

I used the same coloring page for this post and for the guest post for Sarah Renae Clark. The page is called Cat Wisdom*, and you can purchase your own coloring page here*.

How to Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

While the bold outlines of coloring pages make it impossible to create truly life-like realism, you can make your coloring pages look more realistic with just a few “tricks.”

The most important of those tips is contrast. The more contrast in your drawing, the less flat it looks. The less flat a drawing looks, the more real it looks.

Step 1: Draw a Smooth Base Layer

Base layers are generally a color that’s similar to the final color, but lighter in value. Something you want to be dark green can begin with a base layer of light green.

The color you choose makes a difference in how something looks finished. Do a base layer of warm green (yellowish-green) on one leaf, and a base layer of cool green (blue-green) on the leaf next to it and you will end up with two slightly different colors if you do all other layers the same.

The base layer should cover every part of each shape.

It should also be smooth, with no visible pencil strokes. The best way to draw smooth color is by using a sharp pencil and light pressure with small, circular strokes.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 1

NOTE: If you’ve been drawing long enough to have found the stroke that gives you the smoothest results, use that stroke. If you’re beginning, the best stroke to learn is the circular stroke.

Shade all the leaves with base color. Then all the flowers. You can do as I did and use different base colors for the flowers, or do them all the same.

I chose to make the background areas very dark. You can leave them white if you prefer.

If you can’t decide on colors for every part, that’s okay. You can leave some of them for later.

Step 2: Add Darker Values

Select colors that are one or two shades darker than the base colors. Layer those colors into the parts of each shape that you want to be darker. Use a sharp pencil and light pressure to draw small, overlapping strokes or short, directional strokes.

For example, I used circular strokes in the blue flowers because those flowers are so small and because I wanted smooth color.

In the longer petals of the purple flowers, I used long, directional strokes that curved slightly to follow the shape of each petal.

When you want smooth color, draw smooth color that shows no pencil strokes. In areas where you want a little texture, use strokes that best create that texture.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 2

Step 3: Blend with Base Colors

Use well-sharpened pencils to blend each shape. Use medium pressure to smoothly blend together the previous layers of color.

Cover every part of each shape EXCEPT the highlights you want to show. Work around those highlights. Keep the edges of the highlights soft by fading color into the highlights.

If you left blank places in your drawing, you should already begin seeing a difference between the blank spaces and the areas you’re shading layer by layer.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 3

Step 4: Continue to Darken Values

The next step is to continue darkening values in the deep shadows and the darker middle value areas. To do that, you can do one of two things.

You can choose a darker shade of the base colors.

That’s what I did with the green leaves. The base color was Chartreuse. Over that, I added a shade of green one or two shades darker. For this step, I layered Olive Green over each of the leaves. I used a sharp pencil and medium pressure for the first layer or two.

Then I increased pressure to heavy pressure to add the darkest shadows.

I did the same thing with the small, blue flowers.

You can choose a different color.

The purple flowers started with a pink base layer (Step 1.) For the second step, I used a medium blue, and for this step, I chose Violet.

Why the different colors?

To add depth of color and increase the value range, as well as to create a new shade of purple. I wanted these flowers to stand out a little more and combining colors was a good way to do that.

Step 5: Blending Layer

This next step also can go in one of two directions. You can either burnish with a colorless blender, or blend with another round of the base colors. How do you know which option to choose?

If you’re finished with your drawing, then burnishing with a colorless blender is the way to go. You won’t change the colors (other than darkening some of them.) The end result will be smooth color and good color saturation.

Blending with the base colors is the better option if you plan to add more detail layers afterward, or if you want to change the color of an area. You will be able to add more layers after blending with the base colors because you’ll be using medium pressure.

If you burnish, you’ll press down the tooth of the paper, and it will be very difficult to make additional color stick.

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 5

In my sample, I layered Pink over the pinkish-purple flowers, and Light Cerulean Blue over the blue flowers.

Step 6: Keep Layering and Blending Until the Drawing is Finished

I’m considering my coloring page finished at this stage, but you can continue to layer colors and blend as much as you want or until the paper will take no more color

Here’s the whole drawing.

You’ll notice I didn’t do every flower the same way. One reason for that is to keep the finished drawing from getting too busy. The dark spaces in the background, and the plain flowers give your eye a place to rest.

But another reason was to show you the difference you can make by layering and blending colors instead of using a single color. Even combining just two colors and a couple of blending layers really help you make coloring pages look more realistic.

About that Guest Post….

Sarah Renae Clark asked me to write a post showing her readers how to draw more realistic fur. Since I used the same drawing as the project for this post and Sarah’s, I thought you might like to read How to Draw Fur with Colored Pencils* as well.

*All links to Sarah’s website and store contain affiliate links.

Drawing from Life: Get Started The 3-Step Way

Most artists know there’s value in drawing from life. Many understand that value. But there are a lot of us who simply don’t do it for one reason or another.

The apparent complexity of drawing from life is what kept me from practicing this particular art form for so long.

But you know what? It doesn’t have to be difficult or complex. 

Drawing from Life in 3 Steps

In a recent email drawing class, I broke the drawing process down to three basic elements. Elements that apply to every form of drawing, but are especially helpful in life drawing.

Even if you’ve never drawn from life before.

Lines

The most basic element is the mark you make on the paper with each pencil stroke: otherwise known as a line.

When you begin a drawing, you start with lines, which are also known as “strokes.”

Drawing from Life - Lines are the most basic drawing element

Lines can be straight or curved, long or short, thick or thin. No matter what type of line you draw, they all have one thing in common.

They’re one-dimensional. That means they have a beginning and an end. They have only length.

And yet the line is the foundation on which all art is built, especially two dimensional art—also known as flat art. Paintings, sketches, prints, and drawings are all forms of two-dimensional art, and they all begin with a simple line.

“Even the most complex drawings?” you ask.

Yes. Even the most complex drawings. Here’s how it works.

Shapes

Everything around you—living or not, naturally occurring or man-made—can be broken down into one or more of three basic shapes.

Drawing from Life - Lines combine to make shapes

That’s right. Circles, squares, and triangles.

Take a look at the things around you. Chairs. Tables. A cup of coffee or glass of soft drink. An apple, orange, or bunch of grapes. What shapes to do you see?

Even complex things like animals and people can be reduced to these basic
shapes.

Shading

Lines are one-dimensional (they have only length.) Circles, squares and triangles are two dimensional. They have width and height.

The paper you draw on is also two-dimensional.

Almost everything you draw is three-dimensional. It not only has
width and height, but it has depth. It takes up space.

How do you draw something that looks three-dimensional on something with only two dimensions? The answer is shading.

Shading is the process of adding shades of gray (or any color if you’re working with color) to the shape you’ve drawn. These “shades” are known as values.

Shading is what turns this…

Drawing from Life - A line drawing without shading

…into this.

Drawing from Life - A line drawing with shading

When you shade a shape, you make it look like light is striking different parts of it to different degrees, and that creates the illusion that the object has form or mass; that it takes up space.

The Benefits of Using a Drawing Grid

For any artists working in realism, an accurate line drawing is essential. There are many ways to produce accurate line drawings. Today, I’d like to share a few benefits of using a drawing grid.

The post is written in response to a reader, who asked:

I want to ask you about [the] grid technique, can you … explain the benefits of the grid technique in drawing humans?

I used the grid method for years, so can happily describe just a few of the benefits for the portrait artist and any artist who wants accurate line drawings.

The Benefits of Using a Drawing Grid 2

There are, of course, a number of ways to develop accurate line drawings. Tracing from a reference photo and drawing freehand are two common ways to create a line drawing.

Drawing directly from life is another way to create a line drawing, and you can also use a more technical method of measuring with drafting tools.

So what makes a drawing grid so great? Just what are the benefits of using a drawing grid?

The Benefits of Using a Drawing Grid

There are as many benefits to drawing grids as there are artists, so let me focus on a few that have been of special help to me.

Composition & Design Tool

You may not think of it this way, but a drawing grid can be used as a design tool.

You’ve heard of the rule of thirds, right? That’s the rule that divides any composition of any size and shape into horizontal and vertical thirds. The idea is that the center of interest should fall on or near one of the places where a horizontal and vertical line cross.

In this photo, the tree falls right on an intersection.

Also notice that the horizon is near the lower horizontal line. That’s a good thing, too. The composition is not divided into two equal halves, which can make for disjointed drawings.

Using a Drawing Grid - Rule of Thirds

Those lines form a very basic drawing grid. So even if you don’t use this grid to sketch out the landscape, you are still using a grid.

It doesn’t matter what subject you’re drawing, you can design the best possible composition by using a simple grid as shown above.

Reference Points

The lines and intersections of the grid also provide reference points for placing the features of the face and other details. If, for example, the subject’s eye falls at the intersection of two lines on the reference photo, you can place it at the same intersection on the drawing paper.

Not only does a drawing grid provide a map of sorts for placing the features of your subject’s face and clothing; it provides a map for the position of your subject within the composition.

Simplifies Drawing Complex Subjects

For me, using a drawing grid was a good way to draw complicated subjects more accurately. After I’d drawn enough horses using the grid method, I could draw them more accurately freehand or from life. So it’s also a training device.

But when it comes to complex subjects, like this one, a drawing grid is a must!

(Personally speaking, a drawing grid is a major help in drawing mechanical subjects, too.)

Using a Drawing Grid - Complex Compositions

There’s nothing wrong with using a drawing grid for all of your work, though. Especially if portrait work is your specialty.

Accuracy

The grid method of drawing allows you to produce an accurate line drawing by reducing your subject to a series of small squares. You can then draw the shapes within each square, a technique that is often easier than trying to draw the entire subject all at the same time.

Read How to Create an Accurate Drawing Using the Grid Method, a tutorial I wrote for EmptyEasel.

Conclusion

Those are a few of the benefits of using a drawing grid. I’m sure there are others, but you get the point.

Now that you know some of the benefits of using a drawing grid, you might want to learn how to put a drawing grid on a digital photo. You’re in the right place. I can show that, too, right here.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Last week, I defined some of the basic terms relating to colored pencils and drawing paper. This week, I want to continue that discussion with more basic colored pencil terms, but this time, lets talk about method and technique terms.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Before we go any further, let me assure you there is no “right way” to draw. The methods and techniques I’m about to describe are just a few of those that are available to artists.

Some of the technique terms apply to colored pencils no matter what methods you use. Some of them are applicable only to specific methods or techniques.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Method

Let’s begin with the broader subject of drawing methods. The following definitions are very basic. For more information on any of them, read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

Direct Drawing Method

When you use what I call the direct drawing method, you begin with the same colors you end with. There is no clear difference between the first layers of color and the final layers except perhaps in the vibrancy of the colors, and the level of detail.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Direct Drawing Method

This is the most common drawing method.

It’s also the most intuitive. It’s natural to begin drawing a tree with greens and browns, after all. That’s the way I started drawings (and paintings) when I first started doing art.

Complementary Under Drawing Method

With the complementary under drawing method, you start drawing with colors that are on the opposite side of the color wheel from the final colors. The complementary under drawing for an orange is going to be blue.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Color Wheel

The complementary method is excellent for landscape drawings because the complementary under drawing automatically keeps the greens from getting to bright.

Umber Under Drawing Method

The umber under drawing method begins with an under drawing that’s brown, like those old-fashioned sepia-tone photographs. Values and details are developed in brown no matter what color the subject is.

The shade of brown can vary from subject to subject. You can choose a warm brown such as Prismacolor Light Umber (my preference) or a cooler brown such as Dark Umber or Sepia.

You can also mix browns, using a combination of light and dark browns or warm and cool browns to create more interest and contrast in the under drawing.

But with this method of drawing, the under drawing is always only shades of brown.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Umber Under Drawing

Monochromatic Under Drawing Method

One method I haven’t mentioned here, but that I have talked about elsewhere is the monochromatic method. With this method, you create an under drawing in a single color or, sometimes, with a single color family. For example, you might choose to draw an Indigo Blue under drawing.

The reason I’ve not described this method further is that I haven’t used it in years. Why? Because the colors I most often choose for a monochromatic under drawing are either earth tones  or complementary colors.

I tried Indigo Blue once and didn’t care for the result. Most other colors don’t result in the look I want for my work, so this method has fallen out of favor.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Monochromatic Method

But that’s no reason for you not to try it. The fact is, it may suit your choice of subject and your drawing style beautifully!

Combining Methods

There are other methods of drawing, and you can combine elements of these methods in a single drawing. For example, I’ve used an umber under drawing for the trees in a landscape, but drawn everything else using the direct method.

As mentioned previously, there is no right way to draw. Every artist needs to find the method or methods that work best for them.

But understanding the basic differences and characteristics of each method helps you make better decisions.

Technique

Under Drawing/Under Painting

The first layers of color you put on a drawing are called the under drawing or under painting. No matter what method you use, these layers are the foundation of the artwork.

The colors you use for the under drawing are determined by the method you use, as described above.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Under and Over Drawings

This sample shows a complementary under drawing.

Over Drawing/Over Painting

The over drawing or over painting refers to all the layers of color you put over the under drawing. Some of the methods I use have very distinct beginnings and endings. Others do not.

Layering

Layering is the process of layering one color over another, or adding multiple layers of the same color. You can use light, medium, or heavy pressure to add color. You can also use sharp or blunted pencils, and hold them vertically, horizontally, or somewhere in between.

Glazing

Glazing is the same as layering, except that the layers are thinner, so that the colors that are under the new layer are still clearly visible. The term comes from oil painting, a medium in which you can thin paint so it’s very transparent, almost like laying a piece of colored plastic over a painting to tint the colors.

Most colored pencils are translucent by nature, so almost every layer you put on a drawing is technically a glaze. But when you glaze a color onto a drawing or painting, you use very light pressure, and barely add any color at all. I usually glaze with the side of a pencil held horizontal to the paper.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Glazing

Pressure

Pressure is the amount of force you put on the paper with the pencil. It’s often measured on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the lightest pressure and ten the heaviest. Burnishing is the heaviest pressure you can use. It’s most used at the end of the process.

When you glaze a color, you’ll most likely be using a pressure of one or two.

Blending

When an artist uses a wet medium such as oils, acrylics or watercolors, they mix two or more colors together to get a new color.

Colored pencils are a dry medium, so they can’t be mixed the same way. Instead, colored pencil artists create new colors by layering one color over another color on the paper. Since colored pencils are not opaque, every color influences every other color in some way.

This is called blending, and there are different ways to do it.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Layering

Dry Blending

Layering is one method of blending and it’s the method most artists use because it requires no additional tools or smelly solvents. I drew the sample above with multiple layers of yellow and blue. The green results from alternating layers of each of the other colors.

Other methods of dry blending include rubbing a drawing with paper towel or tissue, or using a colorless blender.

Burnishing is another form of dry blending in which you use very heavy pressure to “grind” layers of color together. You can use either colored pencils or a colorless blender to burnish.

Solvent Blending

Solvent blending is a method of blending in which you use a solvent or paint thinner such as odorless mineral spirits to break down the binder. Once the binder is dissolved, pigments mix and blend more like paint.

Solvent blending is often faster than dry blending or blending by layering, but it also requires some caution, due to fumes. It also requires drying time.

Conclusion

There are, of course, even more basic colored pencil terms to learn, but they can wait for another post.

It may seem confusing now, but once you understand each of these terms and how they apply to colored pencil art, you have a great foundation. Most other art terms—and colored pencil terms—build on these basic terms.

The Complementary Under Drawing Method

Today, I’d like to explain one of my favorite ways to draw: The complementary under drawing method. We’ll talk about what makes this drawing method unique, how you can use it to advantage, and few disadvantages to consider, as well.

Complementary Under Drawing Method Explained

The Complementary Under Painting Method Explained

The color wheel is what sets the complementary under drawing method apart from the other drawing methods I’ve used over the years. I don’t need to refer to a color wheel with the direct method or the umber under drawing method. The complementary under drawing method requires a color wheel.

In fact, the color wheel defines the method.

Read more about basic color theory.

When you use the complementary under drawing method, you create the under drawing with colors that are opposite the color wheel from the finished colors.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Color Wheel

For example, the complementary under drawing for an orange is blue, because blue is the complement to orange. Blue and orange are on opposite sides of the color wheel.

Complex subjects as well as simple ones can be drawn effectively with this method. I’ve used it to draw horses and landscapes, and have seen excellent still life compositions rendered using this method. If you can dream it up, it can be drawn with the complementary under drawing method.

Complementary Under Drawing Method Explained - Sentinel

Advantages to the Complementary Under Drawing Method

That’s all well and good, but why should you try the complementary under drawing method? Here are a few of my reasons.

Deepens color depth and creates vibrant color

One way to create points of interest in artwork is to put complementary colors side by side. The contrast created by those two colors next to one and another adds a bit of sizzle to that part of the composition. That “sizzle” is a great way to emphasize the center of interest.

You would expect the same thing to happen when you layer complements one over another, wouldn’t you?

But it doesn’t.

A color layered over its complement produces a depth of color that’s difficult to get any other way.

Naturally tones down landscape greens

One of the biggest challenges facing me as a landscape artist is creating landscape greens that look natural. For years, that seemed like an insurmountable problem. The greens in my pencil box looked good in the box, but no matter how I mixed them on paper, they always ended up looking fake.

Way too bright.

Much too vibrant.

Practically glow-in-the-dark sometimes (at least that’s how it seemed to me!)

The first time I tried a complementary under drawing with a landscape, I didn’t expect much from it. How could it possibly work?

Complementary Under Drawing Method Explained - Green Pastures

But it did!

I was convinced. When I started doing more landscapes, the complementary method was one of methods I used.

Disadvantages to the Complementary Under Drawing Method

I’ve made the complementary under drawing method sound like a magic bullet, haven’t I? A sure-fire cure for everything that can go wrong with a colored pencil drawing.

It’s not a magic bullet.

There are downsides, too.

Color selection can be confusing and  time consuming

Selecting the right colors for a complementary under drawing can get very complicated very quickly. If your subject is complex (colorful marbles or a still life,) choosing the right complement takes time and patience. For some that wouldn’t be a disadvantage. For others, it might be.

Complementary Under Drawing Method Explained - Marbles

The complementary under drawing method also presents the opportunity for a lot of nuance. Two trees side by side might both be green, but one is blue-green, and the other has more yellow.

You can use the same complement for both, but true complements would reflect those color shifts in the green.

Complementary Under Drawing Method Explained - Different Shades of Green

Or consider a group of horses, a flock of colorful birds or a bed of flowers..

For a lot of artists, that’s just more fussiness than they want to deal with.

Sometimes, that includes me!

It can take more time to finish a drawing

Any time you use a different set of colors to create the under drawing, you potentially extend the amount of time it takes to complete the drawing. Especially if your under drawings are very detailed.

It’s Easy to Create Mud

Remember I said one of the things I liked best about complementary under drawings for landscapes is that the complements naturally tone down the greens?

There is a dark side to that comment.

Complementary colors also tend to create muddy color if you’re not careful. Color that’s dull and lifeless results from carelessly choosing complementary color, or from using too much of the complement.

The landscape greens I love so much would go from just the right green to an ugly, dull green when I use too much red.

Or the wrong kind of red.

Conclusion

So there you have it. A brief explanation of the complementary under drawing method.

If you haven’t yet experimented with it, I urge you to take time to do so.

And if you’d like more information, I’ve selected a collection of articles on this blog and EmptyEasel.

On The Blog

Using a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals

Using a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals shows you how I used this method to draw a horse.

Colored Pencil Blog Class – The Complementary Method

This two-part series also features a horse, but this time in a pastoral setting.

How to Draw a Complementary Under Drawing

Adding Color to a Complementary Under Drawing

On EmptyEasel

How to Draw a Landscape Using the Complementary Drawing Method

This three-part series takes you step-by-step from the first layers of complementary color to the final touches on the drawing, The Sentinel.

How to Draw a Complementary Under painting for your Green Landscape

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

Finishing Up a Traditional Colored Pencil Landscape Painting.

Looking for More Personal Information?

If you have any questions, ask in the comment box below, or send me an email.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Let’s talk about basic colored pencil terms today.

A lot of readers are new to this blog, or new to colored pencils, or both. Whichever category you fall into, welcome! Welcome to the blog and welcome to colored pencils!

If you haven’t already, you’re going to hear a lot of terms that make no sense. That’s my bad. I’ve been doing colored pencils so long, I tend to forget what it was like when I first got started!

I also know there are a lot of budding artists out there who already love the medium, but are confused by the jargon.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners
So today, I want to go back to square one and define some of those confusing-but-basic colored pencil terms.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained

To make things less confusing, I’ve arranged terms into four separate categories. We’ll begin with the two most basic: Pencils and Paper!

Basic Pencil Terms

The following terms apply to your colored pencils no matter what brand you prefer or the quality of pencils in your pencil box.

Wax-Based

All colored pencils are made by grinding pigment, then mixing it with a binder. The binder allows the pigment to be formed into the core of the pencil, holds it together while you use the pencil, and allows the pigment to lay down smoothly on the paper.

Wax-based pencils like Prismacolor and Caran d’Ache Luminance utilize a binder that’s mostly wax.

Wax-based pencils generally lay down more smoothly, and are softer. They also tend to break more easily if you press too hard with them.

They’re great for laying down lots of color quickly, but can be more of a challenge in drawing details.

Wax bloom can also be a problem, especially with dark colors.

Wax-based pencils are the most popular and the most widely available.

Oil-Based

Oil-based pencils have a binder that’s mostly oil, often vegetable oil. They do contain some wax, but not usually much. Faber-Castell Polychromos and Rembrandt Lyra are oil-based pencils.

Oil-based pencils are harder and sometimes more brittle feeling than wax-based pencils. That makes them great for detailed work. Smooth layers of color are possible, but aren’t usually as easy to achieve. They hold a point much longer, too.

Wax bloom is not usually a problem with oil-based pencils, even if you tend to use heavier pressure when drawing.

Wax Bloom

When you draw, you leave color on the paper, but you also leave binder. The harder you press on the paper with the pencil, the more color and binder you leave on the paper.

Wax binder eventually rises to the surface of the color layers, giving them a foggy, misty, or gray appearance. This is normal with all colors, though it’s more obvious on darker colors.

The cloudy right half of this sample is wax bloom. The left side shows the natural color after the wax bloom has been removed.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Wax Bloom

Wax bloom is easily removed by wiping a drawing with clean tissue and light pressure. It can be prevented by sealing a finished drawing with final finish; preferably one designed for colored pencil work such as Brush & Pencil’s Final Fixative.

Framing under glass will not prevent wax bloom.

Grades of Pencils

Colored pencils are manufactured in three grades: Scholar, Student, and Artist. Scholar-grade pencils the least expensive and poorest quality. Artist-grade pencils are the highest quality, so are usually more expensive.

Artist grade pencils have a higher ratio of pigment to binder, so they produce better color and results with less effort. They’re often more fade resistant.

Scholar grade pencils have more binder and less filler, so the color they produce may be weak or pale.

You can make great art with any grade of pencils, but will generally get the best results with higher quality pencils.

Lightfastness

A pencil is lightfast if it doesn’t fade over time.

If a color fades over time, it’s also referred to as fugitive. The color “runs away and hides” if exposed to light. Sometimes it may disappear altogether, and sometimes very quickly.

Pencils are rated differently in the US than in Europe and other parts of the world, but all brands are tested in some form, and many companies provide color charts that include lightfast ratings.

Watercolor Pencils/Water Soluble Pencils

These are watercolors in pencil form. Many artists consider them to be colored pencils, others don’t. Since many colored pencil manufacturers also produce watercolor pencils, I tend to think of them as colored pencils that just happen to dissolve in water.

Instead of a wax- or oil-based binder, they use a binder that dissolves in water. You can draw with them dry and mix them with other colored pencils.

You can also draw with them dry, then wet blend them with water, or paint with them by dampening the pigment with water and using a brush.

Paper

The following terms apply to drawing papers of all types.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Paper

Support

The surface you draw on. For colored pencils, that’s usually paper, but colored pencils can also be used on wood, pastel papers, mylar and other similar films, and mat board, just to name a few.

Some paper manufacturing companies also produces papers mounted to a rigid support. The drawing surface is still paper, but the support itself is rigid. Many sanded art papers are available as sheets and boards, for example.

Tooth

Tooth refers to the surface texture of papers. The toothier a paper is, the more texture it has. Sand paper has more tooth than inkjet paper.

Tooth is important to the colored pencil artist because of the way colored pencil lays down on different types of paper. In most cases and for most methods of drawing with colored pencils, smoother papers are better.

However, there sanded art papers are one notable exception. The grittiness of sanded art papers would seem to make them unsuitable for colored pencils, but many artists actually prefer them to traditional drawing papers.

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Tooth

Weight

The weight of the paper refers to the thickness. A 98lb paper is thinner than a 140lb paper. Paper is measured this way because the “weight” is what a standard ream of a particular paper weighs. A ream is 500 sheets, so a ream of 98lb paper weighs 98 pounds.

The actual process is quite complicated, since the weights assigned to papers are assigned based on the standard size for each type of paper, and the type of paper (bond paper, card stock, etc.)

All you really need to keep in mind is that the higher the pound weight, the thicker the paper is most likely to be.

This is important because you don’t want to use a drawing paper that’s too thin (light weight.)

Basic Colored Pencil Terms Explained Paper Weights

Most pads of drawing paper include clear labeling on the weight of the paper (see above.) Most full sheets are also labeled, though the information may be more difficult to locate.

Conclusion

Those are our basic colored pencil terms defined for today. There are a lot more terms relating to both pencils and papers, so if you encounter a term you don’t understand, send me an email and ask about it.

Next week, we’ll talk about some basic colored pencil terms concerning drawing methods and techniques.

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway?

Here’s a question I’ll bet every colored pencil artist—beginner and advanced—has asked at one time or another. Why do every layer if you draw over them anyway? What’s the point?

Am I right?

Colored pencils are such a slow medium to begin with. Yes, there are ways to speed up the process. Blending with solvent, using watercolor pencils, drawing on colored papers, or sanded art paper, for example. But no matter what methods you use, it still takes time to finish a colored pencil piece.

Wouldn’t it be faster to just put down one or two layers and be done with it?

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway

We’ve all heard about the layering process. Even if your “main thing” is adult coloring books, you’ve read countless articles on the importance of layering colored pencils. Still, you sometimes wonder.

Are all those layers really necessary?

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway?

Here’s the truth.

Colored pencils are a translucent medium. Because so few of them are truly opaque, every color you put on the paper affects the colors you layer over it. They all influence each other.

So if you drew the same painting once with many layers of different colors and drew another version of it skipping or combining some layers, there would be differences. Even if the end result was similar, the two paintings would not be identical.

What’s more, most people would most likely prefer the layered version, even if they didn’t know why.

Yes, you can leave layers out or combine them to finish faster, but you will lose something in the process. In some cases, the trade-off may be worth it, but the best paintings are usually created without shortcuts.

Why All Those Layers Matter for Color

Remember I said most colored pencils are translucent? That means you can layer five different colors, one over another, and all five will influence the look of the last color. They all contribute something to the final color.

Let me show you what I mean.

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway - Blending Colors

From left to right, I layered Canary Yellow, Limepeel, Grass Green, Peacock Blue, and Light Umber, then a second layer of Canary Yellow, and Grass Green.

I used light pressure for each of the first five layers, and medium pressure for the last two.

On the far right is only Grass Green, applied with heavy pressure and two or three layers.

Layering the grass green with heavy pressure was faster, but the green created by using five colors is a more realistic green. If your subjects are landscapes or florals, this blended green is the one you want.

Does that mean it’s never good to do a single color with just a few layers? Not at all. There are times when that’s your best choice. A clear blue sky is often best drawn with a few layers of one or two shades of blue.

Why All Those Layers Matter for Blending

The illustration above also shows how layering colors lets you create new colors. Every color layered over existing color changed the existing color in some way. Sometimes subtly; sometimes dramatically.

In the sample below, I layered pink and blue with very light pressure to create a shade of purple.

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway - Blending

You can create even more subtle color gradations by changing the order in which you layer. Blue over pink produces a blue-ish purple, while pink over blue creates a purple that’s a little more pink.

What this means is that even if you’re limited by cost to a small set of colored pencils, you’re not limited to the number of colors you can create.

Why All Those Layers Matter for Value

The same principle applies for drawing values. You can choose a darker color or press harder on your pencil to get a darker value, but building value layer-by-layer is the preferred method. Even if you don’t use different colors and even if you use light pressure for every layer, every layer you add makes the value darker.

I shaded each of these squares with the same color. The square on the extreme right was shaded with one or two layers applied with heavy pressure. The others were shaded with multiple layers applied with light or medium pressure.

Why does that matter?

Not everything you draw will be equally dark. Let’s say you want to draw this blue jar. Look at all the values! They range from almost white in the brightest highlights, to very dark.

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway - Values

Even though the blue is the same all over the jar, there’s a full range of values.

You can draw the shadows with a layer or two applied with heavy pressure, but you need many layers applied with lighter pressure to draw all the gradations between the lightest light and the darkest dark.

Using light and dark blue pencils may help you, but not as much as multiple layers of the right blue (or the closest blue you have.)

Why All Those Layers Matter in Finishing Pieces

This is Afternoon Graze on the day before it was finished (top) and on the day it was finished.

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway - Afternoon Graze

It’s not difficult to see the difference, especially in the horses.

What did I do to get from the top sample to the bottom one? Added more layers over the horses and parts of the background.

Was that necessary? That depends. When I first started doing colored pencil work, I probably would have been content with the piece the day before it was finished.

But I’ve learned the hard way that skipping the last few layers decreases color vibrancy, value depth, and generally results a flat-looking piece.

Most of the time, I now give a piece I think is finished one more day’s worth of work. Very rarely do I regret that extra day.

Does the Order in Which I Add Colors Matter?

Now that I’ve explained why you should do all those layers, let me address another issue. The order in which you put color on the paper.

It does matter what order you add colors. The color with the most influence will be the last color you use. Layer yellow over green, for example, and bright, yellow-green is the result. Layer green over yellow, and you’ll get a green that’s more green than yellow.

Burnishing with a color changes the final look even more, but even burnishing (which is applying color with the heaviest possible pressure) doesn’t completely cover up what’s underneath.

That’s why it’s important to consider the last color you use.

In the following illustration, I’ve drawn six boxes with a medium value red, then layered other colors over most of them. The first box (on the left) is just red.

I burnished the rest of the boxes as follows:

A colorless blender in the second box

Yellow in the third box

Dark blue in the fourth box

White in the fifth box

Red in the sixth box

 

Why Do Every Layer if You Draw Over Them Anyway - Order

It’s easy to see the differences wit burnishing. Layering with light or medium pressure also produces differences in color and value.

Conclusion

And that’s why you have to draw every layer even though you draw over them. They all matter!

If you’ve been creating work with just a few layers, try doing a small piece with more layers. Even if you layer the same selection of colors the second time around that you used the first time, I guarantee you will see a difference.

As I mentioned before, it is possible to create beautiful art with just a few layers. Many artists do it.

But for most of us, the more careful layering we do, the better our work is. At least, that’s been my experience.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper

Welcome to Part 3 in this tutorial. The first post in the series showed you how to draw a gray sky, and the second post described how I made adjustments to the sky after beginning to draw the landscape. This week I’ll show you how to begin to draw far distance on sanded art paper.

The drawing for this tutorial was drawn on sanded art paper, but most of the methods can be used on most other drawing papers and supports.

I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper

The first two steps are a quick recap from last week’s post.

Step 1: Establish the horizon line before doing anything else.

The best way to establish the horizon is to lightly draw it. Use the color you plan to use for shading the shapes. In this illustration, I’ve outlined three hills and shaded one of them. At this point, they’re flat color. No variations, no shadows.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 1

Step 2: Shade the horizon shapes with a base color.

Shade the shapes on the horizon with a base color.

The base color should be a medium value color that you will then draw light and dark values over. Once you’ve chosen a base color, layer it evenly over the distant background, without getting too bogged down in detail. If you do draw variations in value, keep them soft and vague and draw them by adding layers, not pressure.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 2

Step 3: Add color to the hills in front of the most distant hills.

Follow the same procedure with the next line of hills. If you outline, make sure to outline any small shapes on the hills or that overlap the hills.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 3

Step 4: Shade the last row of hills in the background.

You may need to mix colors to get a good match for these hills. In real life, they’re the same color as the hills further in the background, but they’re so much closer, they appear to be a different color. Mixing colors may be the only way to draw that difference.

For example, I started with Earth Green, but decided that was too dark and too green. None of the other greens were closer, so I layered Warm Grey III over the Earth Green.

Use short, horizontal strokes to layer the first color along the slopes of the hills, then tiny, circular strokes to add the second color. Mixing strokes as well as color, and using small strokes fills in the paper better. That helps this row of hills look more solid and, therefore, a little closer than the hills beyond them.

Use medium-light to medium pressure for both colors.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 4

Step 5: Begin adding color to the greener hills.

As you move closer to the tree line, the shapes become more detailed, so you may want to take a little more time to mark the edges of those shapes. I outlined the slopes of the hills, but also outlined the trees that overlap the hills.

However, I didn’t outline the entire shape of each tree. Instead, as you can see below, I outlined only the overall contour of the tree line.

Do just enough outlining to guide you so you don’t accidentally shade over the trees.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 5

Step 6: Remember to use slightly warmer colors.

Color becomes slightly more green and slightly less gray as you move forward (downward) in the composition, but the change should be very subtle. Color temperature also increases—though very slightly.

Use the same color you used to outline the shapes (I used May Green) and medium-light to medium pressure to shade those shapes.

For the first layer, which should include all of the hills, use long, gently curving horizontal strokes to mimic the contours of the hills. In the places that are a little darker, add another layer using shorter strokes. Work around the trees beyond the hills as well as the trees in front of the hills.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 6

Step 7: Oh-oh!

I saw immediately that the transition between the gray green hills in back and the more yellow hills closer to the front was much too abrupt. After getting May Green into the front hills, I didn’t like the hills in back at all.

This is where it’s important to trust the reference photo. I’d matched the colors in both areas so was pretty sure they were accurate to this point. I just needed to add the second color to the May Green to get the right shades of green and the right values.

So I resisted the urge to “fix” the back hills and instead continued working on the front hills.

Step 8: Tone down the green if necessary.

The color you choose to mix with the green depends in large part upon the colors in your printed reference photo and the green you chose for the previous step. But that’s okay. No two pieces will ever turn out exactly the same, even if you work from the same image and use the same materials. I’ll tell you what I ended up doing and you can make your own choices.

I knew I’d need a color lighter in value and somewhat warmer than Warm Grey III so I opted for Warm Grey II. I started with the hill on the far right, since it’s a little further in the distance than the hills on the left.

Next I tried Ivory on the middle portion.

Finally, I tried Cream on the left.

This illustration shows each of the three colors layered of the respective hills. I’ve created a little bit of surface texture on the left by adding additional layers of May Green over the Cream, but have still kept the level of detail to a minimum.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 7

TIP: Try different colors on portions of the drawing to find the combination that works best. If you don’t want to experiment on your drawing as I did here, keep a scrap of paper handy for sampling colors.

What to Do if You’re Still Not Satisfied with the Color Choices

Warm Grey over May Green was the best of the three color combinations I tried, but none of them satisfied me. I was so unhappy with the way things were turning out that I let the drawing sit idle for a while, hoping looking at it afresh might fix things.

It didn’t.

So in the next post, I’ll show you what I did and how I finally got the hills to turn out right.

Hint: It involved removing most of the color I’d already put on the paper.

Conclusion

If you learn anything from this series, it should be that you may encounter several obstacles along the way. That applies no less when you draw far distance than to any other subject.

But I hope you’ll also learn you don’t need to ditch a drawing, no matter how serious the obstacle looks! Making art is as much about solving problems as drawing, so I hope you’ll join me next week.

Want to take a peek ahead? I described how I drew the trees on EmptyEasel. Read How to Draw Realistic Trees on Sanded Art Paper with Colored Pencil then join me again next week.

How to Draw Wet Stones with Colored Pencil

Last week, I showed you how to draw wet pavement. This week, we’ll continue the discussion with a tutorial showing you how to draw wet stones with colored pencil.

How to Draw Wet Stones with Colored Pencil

Before we get to the tutorial, let’s look at a few basics that will help you draw wet stones more accurately all the time.

These six stones are dry. The light falls on them without much hoopla. No really bright, shining highlights or sharp edges in color or value other than where the stones themselves have sharp edges.

How to Draw Wet Stones - Dry Stones

Here are the same stones, with a little bit of water dropped onto them. Still no bright, shining highlights or sharp edges.

How to Draw Wet Stones - Wet & Dry Stones

But you can see one change. The wet areas are darker than the dry areas. This is important, because water almost always makes a surface look darker. There’s a scientific explanation I’m sure, but all we need to know as artists is that it happens.

You’ll also notice that the darker the stones, the more obvious the difference. The light-colored stone in the lower right corner exhibits very little difference. You really have to look to see tell the wet part from the dry part.

The middle stone in that row, however, shows an obvious difference.

Darker color isn’t the only way to tell where the water is. Look at the light colored stone in the detail below. The highlight is brighter and has sharper edges than the rest of the stone, because that’s the part that’s wet.

How to Draw Wet Stones - Wet & Dry Stones Detail

This is why it’s so important to look closely at your subjects—yes, even stones if they’re an important part of the composition. If you don’t, you’ll end up drawing generic stones. That’s all right if the stones are background, but not if they’re the subject!

Here are the same six stones completely wet. The biggest difference between the way they look wet and the way they look dry (other than value) is the highlights. They’re more reflective, so there are more highlights. The highlights are also brighter and have sharper edges.

How to Draw Wet Stones - Wet Stones

All of these factors play a role in drawing stones—or anything else—so it looks wet. Each detail varies from object to object, but they will all be present.

Now for the tutorial!

How to Draw Wet Stones with Colored Pencil

Step 1: Draw your subject.

Use light to medium-light pressure to draw your subject.

Draw Wet Stones - Step 1 Line Drawing

NOTE: My line drawing is a little darker than normal so it would show up digitally.

Step 2: Shade the darkest shadows.

Use a loose, circular stroke to shade basic shadows on the stone. For the cast shadow, use a horizontal stroke. Make sure the cast shadow is darkest next to the stone.

Also take note of the reflected light areas on the shaded side of the stone. The stone is wet, so reflected light areas are more noticeable than they would be on a dry stone.

Draw Wet Stones - Step 2 First Shading

Step 3: Outline the brightest highlights, and darken the darkest shadows.

Because this stone is wet, the highlights are quite bright with sharper edges. You won’t be able to shade a slightly darker value over the highlights, then lift enough color to produce the right effect. You have to work around the highlights.

So outline the brightest of the highlights with a light touch, but a firm, thin line. If you’re working on white paper, all you need to do is shade around them.

If you’re working on a colored paper, fill in the highlights with White. That will help preserve them if you accidentally work over them.

Draw Wet Stones - Step 3 Darken Shadows Mark Highlights

Also darken the darker shadows within the larger shadows, as shown on the shaded side of the stone.

Step 4: Add the middle values.

Lightly shade middle values throughout the stone, be very careful to work around the highlights.

Draw Wet Stones - Step 4 Shade Middle Values

TIP: When you outline the highlights, draw them larger than they’ll end up being, especially if you’re working small. I drew my highlights too small, and they’ve all but disappeared! The drawing is only 4 inches wide.

Step 4: Add some color.

Layer a medium color over the under drawing with very light pressure.

Draw Wet Stones - Step 4 Add Brown Layer

Step 5: Darken the values on the shadowed side, but keep the edges sharp.

Remember to treat the color and value shapes as abstracts in order to draw the look of water or wetness.

But color saturation also helps convey the look of water or wetness. The less paper showing through your drawing, the stronger the illusion of water.

Draw Wet Stones - Step 5 Darken Values

I also added yellow to the surface on which the stone was resting, and glazed it over the shadow. Make sure your drawing reflects the color of whatever it is sitting on or next to.

The illusion of wetness will also be enhanced by drawing water around the object, as shown above, under the right end of the stone. Keep the edges sharp, and refer often to your reference photo.

Step 6: Blend with Odorless Mineral Spirits to smooth out the color.

Add a few more layers of color, always working around the highlights.

Then use a soft brush to blend the colors, especially if you’re using a paper with a lot of tooth. I used Canson Mi-Tientes white, so even though I worked on the smooth side, there was still a lot of tooth to fill.

Draw Wet Stones - Step 6 OMS Blend

Step 7: Add a Couple of Shades of Blue and White Highlights

Layer a medium and light blue over the parts of the stone facing the sky. Use medium to heavy pressure, and burnish in a few places for lighter, bright color.

Then burnish with a soft White pencil. I tried Luminance, Polychromos, and Prismacolor. For the brightest highlights, Prismacolor worked the best on this paper and over so much color. That’s not surprising because Prismacolor pencils are wax-based so are naturally much softer than the other two brands, which are oil-based.

Draw Wet Stones - Step 7 Add Reflected Light

Step 8: Darken the Darkest Values

For the final detailing work, I put away my reference photo, and adjust the drawing so that the stone made sense to me visually. I also switched to Prismacolor pencils.

I burnished Indigo Blue and Dark Brown repeatedly over the darkest shadows, and Dark Brown into the darker values.

The lightest reflected light is Yellow Ochre burnished with Sand, and the lighter middle values are Dark Brown burnished with Yellow Ochre.

I also added a couple of white accents to the water under the rock and to reflected light on the rock.

Draw Wet Stones - Step 8 Darken Shadows

Step 9: Finishing Details

Finishing details depend a lot on the way you want your art work to look, the level of realism you’re aiming for, and the subject you’re working on.

I added reflected light to a few more surfaces, darkened shadows on the lightest sides of the stone, and cleaned up the edges somewhat.

Draw Wet Stones - Step 9 Finishing Details

Conclusion

I confess to not being entirely happy with this study, but it is the first wet stone I’ve ever drawn.  The subject is a difficult and complex one, though, so I can tell you not to give up if your first drawing doesn’t meet with your approval!

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil

This week’s Tuesday Tutorial picks up where last week’s left off. Last week, we drew a gray sky. This week I’ll show you how to finish a sky in colored pencil, and why that was necessary.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored PencilThe drawing for this tutorial was drawn on sanded art paper, but most of the methods can be used on most other drawing papers and supports.

I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

When I concluded the previous post in this series, I thought the sky was finished. I was ready to move on to the landscape itself.

So I established the horizon and began shading the distant hills.

But sometimes, an area looks finished until you add color next to it. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it did happen with this drawing.

All of a sudden, I realized the sky wasn’t finished.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil

Step 1: Lighten the sky with additional color.

Layer a light color over the lower part of the sky. Use the lightest color you used to draw the sky, but if that isn’t light enough, chose a slightly lighter color. Chose a color that matches the previous sky colors in color temperature. I used Ivory to lighten and warm up the sky in the first post, so that’s what I used this time. Had I needed to lighten it further, I would have used a warm color with a lighter value.

Use medium-heavy to heavy pressure (not quite burnishing) to fill in as much of the paper’s tooth as possible.

You can also cross hatch strokes to fill in the paper tooth more completely. Use as many layers as you need or want. I did three, stroking from lower left to upper right with the first layer, and lower right to upper left on the next layer.

The last layer was vertical strokes. For those, I started each stroke at the horizon and stroked upward so the heaviest color was at the horizon and tapered off as I drew upward.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 1

Step 2: Smooth the colors in the sky with odorless mineral spirits.

The overall result was much more satisfactory, but still not what I wanted, so I decided to use a solvent blend on the sky.

I used a small round sable so I would have more control over where I applied solvent.

I also held the brush in a more upright position, and used a stippling stroke to tap solvent onto the paper. This type of stroke is better than any other type of stroke for blending on sanded paper, because the pigment dissolves quickly and almost completely. It’s far too easy to lift or move pigment, especially if you use horizontal or circular strokes.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2a

I worked in a horizontal pattern, starting at one side of the paper, and tapping solvent into the color layer all the way across to the other side. Then I moved up and repeated the process.

This illustration shows the lower half blended with solvent, while the upper half is still dry.

I went over the entire sky this way, then blended it again.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2b

It took quite a bit of solvent to get the color to dissolve, but once it did, it dissolved almost completely. The stippling stroke proved beneficial once the color was dissolved, because it didn’t move color around too much.

However, solvent did tend to puddle and created small bubbles in some places.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2c

The bubbles disappeared as the solvent dried, and the areas where solvent puddled weren’t noticeably different than the rest of the sky.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2d

Step 3: Add more color, but use heavier pressure to smooth out the sky.

After the paper dried completely, I used heavy (but not burnishing pressure) to apply Ivory to the lower half of the sky and Cold Grey I to the upper half.

At the top and bottom, I held the pencils in a normal position and used a combination of strokes to cover the paper. In the center portion, I used the sides of the pencils to lay down thinner layers of color.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 3

Is the Sky Finished Now?

I don’t know.

I like the faint, horizontal patterns in the sky, but also wanted smoother color. Should I blend again and add more color, or leave the sky alone for now?

I decided to leave it alone for the time being and continue drawing the landscape. Adjustments can always be made later, but it’s difficult to undo something once it’s done.

If you want to push color saturation a little further, continue layering the same colors and blending between layers.

Next week, we’ll go back and finish drawing those most distant hills.