How to Draw a Strong Focal Point

Focal Point—The part of a visual composition that attracts the viewer’s eye most quickly and holds it longest.

One of the things I like about graphite drawing is the range of values possible, especially with some of the softer leads.

One of the things I like about plein air drawing is the range of subjects. Yes, I gravitate most to organic things. Trees. Grass. Leaves. But there have been times when the door handle of a classic car or a crack in the sidewalk has sparked creativity. It’s a lot more fun than the serious work that is my day job.

How to Draw a Strong Focal Point

But it’s more than just a fun drawing exercise. Life drawing—even if it isn’t plein air drawing—is a good way to hone the skills necessary for more serious drawing or painting. Consider composition and ways to make the focal point stand out, for example.

How to Draw a Strong Focal Point

Let’s look at this drawing of a Poinsettia, drawn from life in graphite some time ago.

How to Draw the Focal Point - The Original Drawing

The only tool I used was my trusty 6B pencil and a finger tip or two. Nothing special and nothing fancy.

I began by sketching the leaves, concentrating on placement, shape, and size. A detailed drawing wasn’t the goal. I was just sketching.

The shapes and layering of the leaves quickly drew me in, however, and after I’d sketched the major leaves, I began developing a composition around the lightest leaves… the colored leaves that form the flower.

Tips for Creating a Strong Focal Point

There are a few things you can do with every drawing to emphasize the focal point. The techniques I used for this simple drawing can be used with any drawing of any subject and in most media and methods. What are they?

Line Quality

Since the flower was quite light and my paper was white, the first thing I did was outline the leaves. The “flower leaves” are outlined with a heavier, firmer line than the leaves immediately beneath them. The leaves below those leaves are outlined with an even lighter line and some of the smallest, least significant leaves are barely outlined or not outlined at all. Why? Because the heavier and darker a line, the more it draws attention. Since the focal point is the flower, that’s where I put the darkest lines.

Contrast

Next, I began shading, adding darker value to the green leaves and adding shadows where leaves overlapped. The darkest shadows are near the focal point; around the white leaves and in between them. As shadows move away from the focal point, I made them lighter even though they were all the same general value on the plant I was drawing.

In the areas immediately adjacent to the flower, I used heavy pressure, multiple layers, and blending to get the blackest black possible with a 6B pencil. In other areas, I reduced the pressure or the number of layers (sometimes both). I blended less frequently or blended with just one or two layers of graphite to make softer, lighter shadows. The reason behind this part of the process is simple. The strongest contrast—the lightest values and the darkest values—should occur at or around the focal point so they draw the eye.

Detail

The focal point of any drawing should contain the most detail and those details should be rendered more clearly and sharply than the details in any other part of the drawing. That means using line quality and contrast, but also minimizing or eliminating altogether details in other parts of the drawing. Why? Because detail naturally draws the viewer’s eye and holds it.

The small shapes at the center of this flower appear only in the center, so it was a simple matter to eliminate detail elsewhere. As already mentioned, I used lighter values and lines as I moved away from the focal point.

Edges

To make the flower even more dramatic, I shaded the negative space around the flower in the upper right corner. I didn’t want to make that too dark; I just wanted to emphasize the light value, so I did a couple of layers then blended with my finger, pulling graphite into the surrounding areas to keep the edges soft. The exception? The edges of the flower. They were kept as sharp and crisp as possible because sharp edges also draw the eye and put emphasis on the edge.

Finally, I rubbed in all of the negative space around the bottom of the drawing, including the lower leaves. I smudged the paper to darken it slightly by pulling graphite out of the leaves and into the background. Again, I kept the edges of the flower leaves as clean as possible, but even in this case, lightly shading the tips of them kept them from pulling the eye out of composition.

The Best Way to Draw a Strong Focal Point

Is to employ each of the techniques I described above.

You can make a strong focal point using only a few of these tricks of the trade, and there are other ways to also draw attention to your focal point. Each subject and each drawing will be different, so take a little time to decide on the best methods before you put pencil to paper.

To see how this process might look in color, read How to Make Your Subject Stand Out.

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Drawing Vibrant Highlights with Colored Pencils

Sometime ago I wrote a post on drawing vibrant shadows to create strong contrast. There are two sides to strong contrast; shadows and highlights, so lets talk about drawing vibrant highlights today.

The following reader question prompts today’s post.

“I always admire the flowers or eyes that have highlighted white shines. When I try it, the white from my pencil doesn’t stand out, or it gets drowned by the other surrounding colours.”

3 Tips for Drawing Vibrant Highlights with Colored Pencils

Most of us can empathize with this reader. How many times have you tried to get nice, bright whites—or highlights of any colors—and had the same results? Too many to number if your experiences are anything like mine.

Time to end the frustration with three easy-to-implement options.

3 Tips for Drawing Vibrant Highlights

There are a number of ways to get bright whites and vibrant highlights with colored pencils, but some of them require certain papers, some require specific tools, and some work best with both.

We don’t all have easy access to those special papers or specific tools, so I’d like to focus this post on things you can do with most drawing papers and any type of colored pencils.

One caveat though. The higher quality your paper and pencils, the better your results. Read My Recommended Paper and Colored Pencils for the papers and pencils I recommend.

Now for those three options.

Use White Paper

Colored papers are wonderful time savers and fun to work with. Colors look so different and interesting on them.

But they’re not very good for drawing vibrant highlights.

Contrast—not color—is what makes a drawing look three-dimensional. Contrast requires really bright bright values and really dark dark values.

It’s easy to get dark values on a colored paper, especially dark paper.

But bright bright values? Not so much.

Yes, you can get values that look bright relative to the dark values, but they won’t be truly vibrant because the color of the paper will tint even the whites. That’s because colored pencils are translucent, not opaque.

Look at this horse portrait.

I chose medium gray paper because of the horse’s color. The gray paper served as a beautiful middle value. It also saved a lot of drawing time because I didn’t need to draw those middle values.

But although the white face and blue eye look bright, they’re not as bright as they would have been on white paper. I don’t regret this paper choice; it was a good one, but I had to choose between absolutely vibrant highlights and saving time.

Drawing Vibrant Highlights with Colored Pencil - Use White Paper
Portrait of Bart, Colored Pencil on Gray Paper

You have to make that decision with every drawing you do.

Unless, of course, you work only on white paper!

Identify Highlights

Even with white paper, identifying and preserving highlights is necessary. Once you’ve layered color onto paper, it’s difficult if not impossible to get back to the color of the paper. No matter what method you use to lighten or remove color. Staining is inevitable.

So the best thing to do is map out your drawing well enough to know where the highlights and shadows are.

Let me show you how that might look. Here’s one of my favorite current line drawings.

Line Drawing from the Portrait of a Black Horse tutorial.

I developed this complex line drawing method because I always seemed to work over highlights no matter how careful I was while shading. I had to find a better way and this type of line drawing was the solution.

What do all those lines mean?

The darkest lines are outside edges. Highlight and shadow edges are outlined with dotted or dashed lines (see #2,) and contours are marked with directional lines.

I develop most line drawings to this degree, then transfer the lines I need for shading. Always outside edges, highlights and shadows; sometimes contour lines.

You don’t have to get this complicated with a line drawing, but it is important to find some way to mark those highlights so you don’t accidentally shade over them.

Work Around Highlights

When you begin shading, it’s doubly important to work around the highlights. It’s not enough to identify them; you must preserve them, too.

That sounds easy, but how do you do it?

Start by shading the darkest values first.

I always begin shading in the shadows no matter what method I use. In this sample, I started with light versions of the local colors. But the same principle applies to an umber under drawing, a gray scale under drawing or any other color you use to begin with.

After shading the shadows, I go over them again and work into the next lighter values with the next layer. I continue that process until everything is shaded except the highlights.

Drawing vibrant highlights start with shading the darker values first.
Start by shading the darkest shapes first. This illustration shows the shadows shaded (layer 1) as well as the darker middle values (layers 2-4 or 5.) Work from the shadows into the slightly lighter values layer by layer.

Use light pressure when layering.

Apply each layer of color with light pressure. Color applied with light pressure is easier to correct if you need to. You’re also less likely to get too dark too quickly if you use light pressure.

Continue using light pressure as long as you can, then increase pressure slowly, layer by layer.

Develop values slowly, layer by layer.

Don’t rush the drawing process. Colored pencil work sometimes seems unnecessarily slow, but it’s usually best to develop shadows slowly and gradually add the lighter values.

Here, I’ve shaded all the values up to the brightest highlights, which I’ve worked around. They don’t look very bright, do they? That’s because the darker values are still quite light.

But this horse is overall darker than the horse above. That’s because I darkened all the values with each layer.

The horse below is darker still, and the highlights are starting to look brighter. The darker the dark values become, the brighter the highlights look.

But it’s still important to work slowly and carefully work around those highlights.

Tint highlights as needed.

The final step in drawing vibrant highlights is tinting the highlights as needed. For Afternoon Graze, I lightly layered yellows over most of the highlights to give them a golden glow.

For drawing horses at mid-day, some of those highlights would remain white.

Want to draw these grazing horses? The full Grazing Horses tutorial is available from Ann Kullberg. Just click here. This link is an affiliate link.

Drawing Vibrant Highlights Needn’t be Difficult

But it must be intentional, especially if you use traditional drawing papers. You need to know where those highlights are, and keep them clean throughout the drawing process.

Plan your drawing enough to know where highlights are, then work carefully around them, and you’ve got the hard work done.

No matter what your favorite subject may be.

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How to Draw EXACTLY What You See

Dan Duhrkoop, founder of EmptyEasel and author of How to Draw Exactly What You See, asked if I would provide a review of his book if he sent me a copy.

I love books, reading, and art, so I said, “Sure!” (Who doesn’t like free, if it’s something they can use?)

Ordinarily, I don’t accept freebies because it almost always leads to unwanted obligations. But I’ve been freelance writing for EmptyEasel since 2012 and have a good working relationship with the author of this book, who is also the founder of EmptyEasel.

Even so, my review is unbiased. I’d say the same things if I’d purchased the book on my own, and didn’t know Dan!

So let’s get to it, shall we?

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See - Book Cover

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See – My Review

From the Introduction:

Whether you’re a brand-new artist with zero training, or a more experienced artist looking to improve your drawing skills, this guide will teach you everything you need to know to look at a still life scene and draw it EXACTLY as it appears.

I’m not a still life artist. I love looking at well done still life artwork, and I can look at the produce section in the grocery store and see sorts of possible subject. But that’s as far as it usually goes. I have next to no interest in drawing my own. So I wasn’t sure what this book could offer me or how it could help me improve my drawing skills.

One look at the cover, and you may be thinking the same thing. Don’t let that put you off. If you do, you’ll be missing a great opportunity.

And if you do enjoy still life drawing of any kind—in studio or plein air—then you’ll want this book. It covers every step of the process from basic composition and setting up your own still life to sketching what you see and rendering it realistically in graphite.

If you’re just getting started drawing, the book also contains over a dozen high-quality still life images from very easy to quite complex. You’ll start out ahead of the game!

Putting the Draw EXACTLY What You See Method to the Test

As I mentioned, I’m not a still life artist, but I did intend to do some still life drawings just to see how they turned out. A number of things derailed that plan, so my first trial with the author’s drawing method concerned a dog portrait I’d been having fits trying to get right.

That difficult portrait line drawing turned out so well using Dan’s drawing method that I decided to try another one for this review. I am so glad I did!

My Demo Subject

This is the reference photo I chose for this demo. I chose it for two reasons.

The first and most important is that the cat is our oldest cat, Thomas. We’ve had him since mid-2003, when we saw him and a litter mate playing in the gutter while we were out walking. They were our first rescues. Thomas recently died and I wanted to do his portrait.

Second, I have always loved the golden light of late evening and liked this photo of Thomas, taken when he was at his prime. Now that he’s gone, that westward gaze into the sunset seems somehow appropriate.

How to Draw Exactly What You See - The Reference Photo
Thomas, Photo by Carrie L. Lewis

Second, the drawing method described in How to Draw EXACTLY What You See starts with marking off each of the places where the subject leaves the composition. This photo of Thomas focuses so closely on his face and eye that one ear leaves the composition as well as the back of his neck and his upper chest. That made it perfect for this demo.

Preparing the Image

Since I wasn’t working from life, I had to make a few adjustments. But I prepared the reference photo as much according to the steps in the book as possible.

I used GIMP (a free photo editor download) to add a wide white border around the reference photo and then mark with a red line each place where an edge leaves the composition. Edges included Thomas’ markings.

Marked up reference, showing each of the places where an edge goes off the picture.

Then I printed the reference photo above, and the picture plane (below) on a blank sheet to draw on. I was able to do that because I put the border and marks on a separate layer added to the photo in GIMP. All I had to do was hide the image and print the new layer. (If you’d like to see a tutorial on that, let me know.)

Picture plane with edge marks. I don’t have to worry about measuring because the black border and red marks are the same ones I put over the reference photo!

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See

Step 1: Start with negative spaces

The first step is to make a contour drawing of the negative space using the edge markings as a guide. However, I was so focused on drawing Thomas that I totally forgot that step.

Had I remembered, these blue shapes are the shapes I would have drawn. All of the light blue is negative space. Just two large, fairly simple shapes. (That’s another reason I chose this reference photo.

Draw the negative spaces as accurately as you can. According to the author, this is a good way to “trick” your brain into accurately drawing shapes instead of drawing what it thinks it sees.

Don’t be frustrated if it’s difficult at first. Just choose a mark and draw the shape as best you can. Measure and erase if it needs correction.

The negative space in any composition is the space around the subject.

Step 2: Rough in the subject

Next, block in the subject with light pressure and loose lines. I didn’t draw very many interior details and instead focused on the big shapes. The eye, the ear, and the nose and mouth.

I roughed in the dark patches of hair, too, but only because they’re such a big part of the drawing.

Step 3: Start drawing details

When the rough sketch was as accurate as I could make it, I went back over the entire drawing again. I corrected and adjusted lines by measuring the distance between edges on the reference photo, and then on the line drawing.

This step involves a lot of erasing. You can see faint smudges and even a few eraser crumbs around that off-side ear. That’s why I used an ordinary number 2 pencil. I can make light lines to begin with, then draw steadily darker lines, and I can also easily erase mistakes.

Besides, I have a drawer full of ordinary number 2 pencils; why not use them!

Step 4: Fine-tune the drawing

After that round of work was done, I went over the drawing again and fine-tuned it still more. I added interior details like whisker lines, creases in the fur, and other things. The outside lines are darker, but those interior details will help me when I get started with colored pencil work.

How to Draw Exactly What You See--The Finished Line Drawing

It took three days to develop this drawing of Thomas and I confess that when I stepped back and looked at what I’d done, I cried. It looked so much like Thomas.

That’s How to Draw Exactly What You See…

…even if it isn’t a still life!

As I said before, the book focuses on drawing still life subjects, but as you can see here, it can easily be adapted to other subjects. Even portrait work!

Whether you’re new to drawing or just looking for a better way to create line drawings, I recommend this book. You can get the first three chapters of How to Draw Exactly What You See – A Drawing Guide free!

You can also see my first trial with this drawing method.

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.