How to Draw White Objects

I recently received the following question from a reader who wanted to know how to draw white objects on white paper. It’s a good question and one I’ve struggled with in the past.

Here’s the question.

There are several occasions where the subject I am working on has white areas such as a bird, flower, or animals that should be left white.  How should these areas be treated if you are using white paper? Or there whites in some brands of colored pencil that lighten better than others?

How to Draw White Objects

This reader is talking about drawing white parts in otherwise colorful subjects. The white blaze on a horse or the white parts of a flower.

But let’s be honest. We also have trouble—and sometimes a lot of trouble—drawing things that are entirely white.

How to Draw White Objects

A lot of things come into play when drawing white things. Is the object smooth or rough? Is the surface shiny or dull? What is the setting like?

You have to ask the same questions for objects of any color, but for some reason, white objects throw us into more confusion than the same object in a different color. I dare say most of us know how to start drawing a red mug (or are willing to just pick a red and start drawing.) Give us a white mug, though, and we’re stuck.

Why?

The Real Question

So far as I’m able to tell based on personal experience, the biggest problem isn’t with drawing a white mug or anything else. The biggest problem is how I approach the drawing.

For example, if I’m drawing a black horse, I don’t ask what color of black I should use. I ask what colors I see in the horse.

But if I’m drawing a white horse, I start fretting over how to draw a white horse and don’t look for the colors in the horse.

The next time you prepare to draw something white, ask yourself what other colors you see in the reference photo. If you accurately identify the other colors and draw them, you won’t need a white pencil.

That’s because you can’t really draw white, especially on white paper. You have create the illusion of white through the colors you use on the white subject AND on everything around it.

Here are four other things to consider.

Is the object smooth or rough?

Smooth surfaces catch and reflect light and color better than rough objects. The smoother a surface, the more likely it will show hints of the colors that appear around it.

The petals on this flower are smooth and velvety.

How to Draw White Objects - Is the surface rough or smooth?

This snow has a more granular surface. It’s still influenced by the colors around it (especially the sky,) but the granular surface texture gives it a different look. A rough surface would look different from both the flower and the snow.

Is the surface shiny or dull?

Smooth or rough is not the same as shiny or dull. A smooth surface can be either shiny or dull.

This coffee cup has a smooth surface and it is also shiny. The flower petals also have a smooth surface, but they are not shiny.

The shiny surface of the mug shows clearer reflections of the things and colors around it than the dull surface of the white flowers.

What colors are around the object?

Especially with highly reflective objects, you have to pay attention to the things and colors around whatever you’re drawing. Why? Because they influence the colors you see in your subject.

Look at all the shapes, values, and colors in this coffee cup. Light is shining on it directly and also indirectly. The saucer is shown in reflection on the lower half of the cup, and so on. Just drawing this cup with the dark background and shading it without all those details may produce a good drawing, but it will lack life.

What is the lighting like?

Perhaps the biggest factor in drawing accurate white objects is the lighting.

In the example above, the mug is brightly lighted by sunlight coming from the upper left.

This mug is lighted in artificial light with a bluish (cool) cast.

This mug is back lighted, and the light has a warm cast.

They’re both white, but you would use different colors to draw each one because of the lighting.

How to Draw White Objects Accurately: 4 Tips

Believe it or not, it’s easier than you think.

Tip 1: Study Your Reference Photo

Look at the colors in the photo. Set aside the idea that you’re drawing something white. Also set aside the notion that you’ll use white in your drawing. If you’re working on white paper, you won’t need a lot of white, if any at all. The photo below has very little white in it, yet the cup and book both look white.

If it helps, use a photo editor to isolate colors, as shown below. You can select colors as you draw, or make a digital palette before you start, then choose the best colors based on that.

How to Draw White Objects - Use a photo editors to isolate colors.

Tip 2: Follow the Reference Photo

Draw the shapes, values, and colors you see as you see them. Study the reference, even when you think you know what to draw. Nothing gets me into trouble with a drawing more quickly than thinking I know what’s in the photo instead of studying the photo to make sure.

Tip 3: Light Pressure, Sharp Pencils, Lots of Layers

Use sharp pencils and light pressure to add color. Build the values and colors layer by layer. Consult your reference photo often before, during and after each layer.

Tip 4: Work Around the Brightest Highlights

The best way to get good whites in a colored pencil drawing is to work around the area you want white. You can lift small amounts of color if you’ve used light pressure to layer them. But even then, you won’t be able to get all the way back to the original white of the paper.

How to Draw White Objects in Conclusion

If you remember nothing else, remember that even the whitest object shows other colors. Shiny surfaces show those colors more clearly, but even dull surfaces show them.

The egg drawing below shows how I drew a white egg on white paper. Only the brightest area (the top part) is pure white and that’s the color of the paper.

To draw the shadows, I used the same colors I used in the background and on the cloth. To draw the reflected light (lower left part of the egg), I used a light yellow and light grays.

How to Draw White Objects on White Paper

As with all subjects of any color, accurately drawing white objects is a matter of knowing what colors you see in your reference photo, then reproducing them as accurately as possible.

For further help, read Drawing Vibrant Highlights with Colored Pencils.

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Framing Colored Pencil Drawings: Must You Use Glass?

You know framing colored pencil drawings can be expensive due to a variety of factors. The frame itself, matting costs, and glazing. Often, the glazing is the most expensive item, especially if you opt for UV resistant glass.

Must you use glass for framing?

This is a great question.

For the longest time, my answer was always the same. Yes.

Framing Colored Pencil Drawings Must You Use Glass?

Why Framing Under Glass Is Usually Necessary

The reason is simple.

For many years, colored pencil drawings were almost always on paper. Paper is vulnerable to damage by tearing, puncturing, or denting if not properly protected. Stains also pose significant risk to unprotected paper. Unprotected paper also tends to absorb moisture and dirt out of the atmosphere.

So when framing drawings on paper under glass, it’s the paper more than the drawing itself that needs protection.

Alternatives for Framing Colored Pencil Drawings

However, there are other supports available that do not require this degree of protection. If you work on any one of these, you can safely frame your drawing without glass.

Rigid Supports

The best way to eliminate the need for glass in framing is to use a rigid support to begin with. These days, there are plenty of options. Here are just a few.

Pastelbord and Similar Supports

Originally designed for pastel work, these supports are, in essence, pastel papers mounted to a rigid support such as gatorboard or wood. They come in a variety of sizes and some of them also come in a variety of colors.

However, they’re great for colored pencil work, too, and your finished drawing needs only a light coat of varnish. Frame like an oil painting.

Some popular drawing papers are also now available mounted on rigid supports. You can also mount your favorite paper to a rigid support and use it that way. Make sure you use an archival adhesive.

Keep in mind that these drawing supports are less vulnerable to mechanical damage. It’s much more difficult to puncture or tear them. But paper is paper and it tends to absorb moisture out of the atmosphere if framed without glass.

It also gets dirty just as easily on a rigid support.

If you want to frame it without glass, take care to hang it in a place that’s as free of contaminants as possible and is temperature and humidity controlled.

Wood

Wood is another rigid support suitable for colored pencil drawings. Look for the same types of wood the Old Masters used for painting. Many online art supply companies offer wood supports like Birch or Basswood precut to standard sizes. I have a 16×20 inch piece of Baltic Birch originally purchased for oil painting, but waiting now for colored pencil work.

Most of the time, a good sanding is all it takes to prepare a wood panel for drawing, especially if you want to use the wood grain and color as a background or for accents.

The larger panel is a prepared panel purchased for an oil painting. Panels like this are available from Dick Blick and other suppliers. The rough-cut piece is from a Silver Maple cut from my own front yard. The small planed piece is a scrap. All three are suitable for colored pencil work with proper preparation.

But you can also paint it with acrylic paint or gesso before drawing. In this way, you can work on a background of any color you wish. You can even do preliminary work with the paint for a mixed media drawing.

Varnish finished artwork like any other painting with an final fixative made for colored pencil. When that’s dry, the artwork is ready to hang with or without a frame, depending on the thickness of the wood.

Semi Rigid Supports

Semi rigid supports offer additional alternatives to drawing on paper. These supports are thicker than paper and often behave like rigid supports in smaller sizes.

Mat Board

Mat board is perfect for colored pencils. If you draw on it unprepared, as I did with this portrait, you will need to frame it under glass.

But if you prepare the mat board by gessoing all sides, the mat board is properly sealed and will not absorb moisture from the atmosphere. While the layers of gesso do not protect the mat board from impact damage, it will allow you to frame smaller works without glass if you protect the back with a rigid support or foam core.

You’ll have to keep artwork relatively small—11×14 inches or less—but anything that size or smaller should be quite safe without glass. Provide proper back support for larger works on mat board.

Consider a protective coating of final fixative no matter what size the drawing.

Sanded Art Paper

Sanded art paper is another good drawing support, and doesn’t need to be framed under glass. Even if you don’t mount it to a rigid support, most sand paper is sturdy enough to do quite well with a rigid back board of some type when you frame it. It’s also less likely to absorb moisture or dirt out of the atmosphere.

This colored pencil landscape is drawn on Uart Sanded Pastel Papers, which comes in a variety of grits and makes for a very “painterly” drawing.

Final Thoughts on Framing Colored Pencil Drawings

There are, of course, other options available that allow you to frame colored pencil drawings without glass. Canvas is one that comes immediately to mind.

Although a drawing on a rigid support is less likely to be torn or punctured, it’s still susceptible to other hazards if framed without glass, so take appropriate precautions.

I prefer glass for the simple reason that a colored pencil drawing framed under glass looks more complete and is easier to clean. If you get UV protective glass, framing under glass also keeps light from altering the appearance of your artwork.

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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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Can You Dry Blend on Regular Paper?

Back in December, when we were in the middle of question-and-answer month, a reader asked if it was possible to dry blend on regular paper. I don’t remember the specific question. Nor do I remember my specific answer, but I’m fairly certain I told the reader it wasn’t.

I answered that way because I dry blend on sanded art papers, which produce enough pigment dust to make dry blending effective. Quite frankly, I’d never tried it on traditional paper.

Can You Dry Blend on Regular Paper?

I’m training myself to draw for at least half an hour at the beginning of every day and I’m currently working on a landscape on Canson Mi-Teintes. It’s for myself and is a bit of an experiment, so I’m trying things on this drawing to learn what works (and doesn’t work) on the next drawing on the same paper.

During one morning’s drawing session, I remembered the reader question and thought, What the heck? Lets see if it’s possible to dry blend on regular drawing paper.

I’ll show you the results in a minute, but first, let me explain dry blending.

What is Dry Blending?

Dry blending is a method in which you use a tool other than a pencil to blend. Technically speaking, layering is also dry blending because you’re not using solvent to blend, but when I speak of dry blending, I’m talking about something else.

I use a bristle brush, but you can also dry blend with paper towel, bath tissue, facial tissue (without lotion!) or clean, soft cloth.

After you’ve layered the color, use a bristle brush (as shown below) to rub the color around. I use an old, worn out bristle brush because it was handy and I have more control. The short bristles also allow me to put a lot of pressure on the paper if neceesary.

Dry blending on sanded art paper pushes pigment dust down into the paper. It’s a great way to fill in the tooth of paper and use that dust instead of throwing it away. Win-win!

Use a stiff bristle brush to dry blend on regular paper
Use a stiff bristle brush to dry blend. You can blend with the corner of the brush as shown here, or with the flat.

Dry blending on sanded art paper makes a major difference in color saturation. If you don’t want to use solvents, this is a wonderful alternative.

You don’t need a lot of layers of color to dry blend on sanded art paper.

I used a very well worn #5 bristle brush for blending. I dry blended after just a few layers, and after a lot of layers. For each test, I dry blended between colors, then drew over the dry blend.

Can You Dry Blend on Regular Paper?

Now you know what dry blending is and how I use it on sanded papers like Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Fisher 400, and Uart Sanded Pastel paper.

On to the original question about dry blending on regular paper. I used Prismacolor pencils and blended with the bristle brush as described above.

Here’s what I learned.

Artagain Drawing Paper

Artagain is an archival drawing paper made from recycled paper and produced by Strathmore. It’s smooth like Bristol, but has a bit more velvety feel. I don’t use it very much, but it’s a good paper for drawing detail.

I didn’t know what to expect from dry blending on a paper like this. As you can see from the unblended half on the left below, it’s easy enough to blend by layering.

But I tried dry blending with my trusty brush. It seemed like that removed as much color as it blended, but there was still a noticeable difference.

However, I had to use medium to medium-heavy pressure to get this result. I could have achieved nearly the same results by layering.

Bristol

Bristol is a very smooth illustration and drawing paper available in two finishes: regular and vellum. Both feel “slick” to me but I keep Bristol vellum in stock because I can’t beat it for some subjects.

After the results with Artagain, I almost didn’t test dry blending on Bristol. It didn’t seem useful and I expected much the same results.

You can dry blend on regular paper like Bristol.

As with the Artagain paper, it is possible to dry blend color, but it requires quite a bit of pressure. It may be easier to dry blend on smoother papers with tissue or a cloth.

Canson Mi-Teintes

Canson Mi-Teintes paper is made for pastels, so it has a lot of tooth, even on the smoother backside. It stands up well to layering, erasing, and solvent blending.

As it happens, it also stands up well under dry blending.

It produces very little pigment dust during drawing, but take a brush to it and you’ll have enough pigment dust to fill the tooth nicely. And quickly.

I tried the front and back, since I’ve used both sides for colored pencil work.

I had to use different strokes and quite a bit of pressure to blend this well. The more color on the paper when you blend, the more effective dry blending might be on the front of the paper.

And here’s what dry blending looks like on the back.

Although Canson Mi-Teintes doesn’t produce pigment dust while you draw, it does produce enough while dry blending to make dry blending effective. It is fairly easy to dry blend; easier than the smoother papers, but experience so far suggests dry blending works best for softening color, value, and edges rather than creating smooth color.

You Can Dry Blend on Regular Paper

I’ve discovered that the more tooth, the better the results. I still get the best results on sanded papers.

But if this method interests you, then by all means give it a try. Just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean you won’t get stunning results.

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How to Make Colors Lighter

Have you ever wanted to make colors lighter on a work-in-progress, but thought it was hopeless?

Let me assure it’s not hopeless, and I’ll show you why.

The following three tips work whether you added too many layers or chose a color that was too dark.

How to Make Colors Lighter

Better yet, they’re simple and use tools you already have! No complex methods or expensive tools today.

Are you ready?

How to Make Colors Lighter

Tape

Transparent tape, masking tape, or painter’s tape is probably the easiest method for making colors lighter. I wrote in detail about that here, but I wanted to mention it now because it’s so utterly simple.

Transparent tape and masking tape are both excellent for removing color from a drawing.

Tear off a small piece of tape, lay it carefully along the area you want to lighten, then lift it off the paper. Don’t press the tape down firmly or you could damage the surface of the paper.

Do NOT use packing tape, duct tape, or any other heavy duty tape on a drawing. Once it’s on the paper, there’s no way to remove it without damage. “If a little sticky works, a lot of sticky works better” does not work with art!

Mounting Putty

The next best thing for lifting color is mounting putty.

Mounting putty is that sticky stuff originally designed to stick unframed posters to walls. It’s very handy for that, but it’s also very handy for making colors lighter on colored pencil drawings.

And it’s easy to use.

Just tear off a piece, work it in your hands long enough to warm it up a little, and then press it onto the color you want to lighten. The stickiness picks up some of that color without damaging the paper. One or two repetitions removes just a little bit of color.

More repetitions removes more color.

Press mounting putty onto your drawing, then lift to lighten colors. This example is shown with graphite, but it also works well with colored pencil.

Mounting putty is self cleaning. If you work in it your hands while you use it, it absorbs the color it picked up. That means that color doesn’t end up back on your drawing.

This method doesn’t get you back to clean paper, but it is surprising how much color it will lift.

For more step-by-step demos on using tape and mounting putty, read this article I wrote for EmptyEasel.

Make Colors Lighter by Adding Lighter Colors

Any artist who has tried to change something after putting down a lot of layers, or using heavy pressure knows how difficult it is to add more color. Difficult, but not impossible.

Use the same methods you used to put down the original color. You will have to be more diligent in keeping your pencils sharp because you’ll be working over a “used” surface.

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

This method is especially helpful if you want to tint the color already on the paper as well as lighten. Choose a light-colored pencil that’s lighter than the color you want to lighten. Be careful about the colors you choose, though, or you could end up with mud.

And no one wants that!

I wrote a more detailed post about making colors lighter with this method, which you can read here.

Those Are My Favorite Methods for Making Colors Lighter

There are other ways to make colors lighter, but try these first. They’re the easiest and, usually, the most successful and least likely to damage your drawing.

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Creating a Sketchy Style with Colored Pencil

Time to talk about drawing styles! Shirley wants to know ways of creating a sketchy style of drawing with colored pencil.

Dear Carrie,

I have sketched all my life for pleasure and am self taught on almost everything I do. I am trying to learn colored pencil but do not like the burnishing, etc.

Because of how much I like sketching and not a photographic look (I admire anyone who does that kind of artwork though), I would like my colored pencil work to look sketchy, as well. I’ve seen that style in magazines, etc. but not sure how to go about getting that result myself.

What kind of paper produces that style and/or any specific kinds of application. My feeling is that just because an apple is shiny doesn’t mean I have to draw it that way. I like realistic but not necessarily photographic.

Shirley

Creating a Sketchy Style with Colored Pencils

Believe it or not, I have dabbled with less realistic art over the years. I don’t often share it on the blog because most of it is just for fun (as the reader pointed out,) or it’s an experiment. A way to learn a new medium.

I’ll share some of those pieces with you now, and tell you what I did to make each drawing.

Hopefully one of more of them will help you in creating a sketchy style all your own.

Creating a Sketchy Style with Colored Pencil

Coarse or Rough Papers

Most papers will produce most styles of artwork. You can use a coarser, toothier paper to get more “painterly” or “sketchy” results.

My first piece on sanded pastel paper, for example, was very sketchy and painterly. So it’s definitely worth a try.

Creating a Sketchy Style by using Sanded Art Papers
I used Uart Sanded Pastel Paper for this landscape, and limited the number of layers I used. The result was a more painterly look. Not quite sketchy, but nowhere near as realistic as I usually prefer.

You can, of course, do the same thing with smoother papers. Lay down color in broad washes and limit yourself to one or two layers (three at the most.) The paper will show through these layers and create a the kind of sketchy style you’re looking for.

Larger Pencils are Also an Option

You might also try using larger pencils.

Prismacolor Art Stix or Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils are ideal when you want to avoid detail. Color selections are limited with both, and only about half the colors in each set are lightfast, but the colors that remain are perfect for laying down large swatches of color, especially flat color.

You can then go over them with regular pencils to add accents.

Or sharpen your regular pencils and draw with the side of the exposed pencil core.

Use the side of a pencil by holding the pencil horizontally and drawing with all of the exposed pigment core, as shown here. Drawing this way allows a lot of paper to show through and produces a sketchier color layer.

In both cases (larger pencils and the side of the pencils) color lays on top of the paper tooth, leaving lots of paper holes showing through on all but the smoothest papers.

One or Two Colors on Colored Paper

I do a lot of life drawing and sketching on colored paper because it gives me a toned base. I can use one color of pencil for quick sketches, like the one shown here.

Creating a Sketchy Style by using One Color on Colored Pencil
This sketch was drawn with just one pencil—a white pencil—on black paper. It looks detailed, but it isn’t really.

I know. Colored pencils are meant to be colorful! I get that.

But if you want to do “sketchy” work, try limiting the number of colors you use.

It doesn’t matter what color paper you use, if you use colors that compliment that paper, or that contrast with it, you can produce a sketchy style quite easily.

You can also do quite finished work with only a few colors, so restrain yourself from layering too much or adding too much detail. A few contrasting values will produce nice drawings without a lot of detail.

I used three colors on black paper for this sketch. Using colors you don’t ordinarily use is also a great way to keep your drawing more sketch-like. I used silver, gold and copper metallic pencils here.

Make the Most of Those Lines

Have you ever seen pen-and-ink drawings? If the artist used only black ink and only pens, then the entire drawing is made up of lines. Long lines. Short lines. Straight and curving lines. Dots and sometimes splatters.

Use your colored pencils the same way. Develop color and value not by filling in every bit of paper, but by layering different colors and varying the type of lines you make.

Limit Color Layers

Here’s a small colored pencil drawing I did several years ago. It’s totally colored pencil with no blending or special techniques.

The sketchy, almost illustrative look is the result of doing only a few layers of color, and limiting color choices. For example, I used one blue in the sky, one or two greens in the trees and grass, and mostly black in the horse.

I also kept the value range fairly narrow. There are lights and darks, but not much contrast. This keeps each element of the drawing from looking three-dimensional. Ordinarily, that’s not a good thing, but if you want a sketchy style, it’s perfect.

Creating a Sketchy Style with Flat Color and Outlining
Use only a few layers of color and keep contrast low (not much difference between light and dark values.) Outlining also produces a more illustration-style drawing.

Outline Parts of the Composition

I outlined the horse and trees in the sample above.

Many other artists who prefer a more illustrative look have also made use of outlining to make their work unique. Rhonda Dicksion and Jan Fagan are two artists who make use of outlining. Some of their work is more realistic without outlining, and some includes outlining. But they also both do very illustrative type of work. Take a look at both and see what ideas you can glean from them.

Lots of Colors, But Keep Them Flat

It’s also possible to create a different kind of sketchy style by using flat color, almost in an abstract pattern.

Richard Klekociuk does the most amazing landscapes by laying colors next to one another. Rather than shading, he chooses light and dark colors to create values and contrast.

I wouldn’t call his style “sketchy” per se, but his basic compositions and color use are a great place to begin.

Also take a look at Dan Miller’s landscape drawings for a different way to use color and create beautiful landscapes without drawing tons of details.

Give Watercolor Pencils a Try

I did this piece entirely with watercolor and used some watercolor methods.

I let wet color run together in the sky and yellow trees in the background. In the yellow field, I added wet color to wet color for a slightly different effect.

The larger trees were added after the paper was dry, and I stippled them (tapped color on with a small brush.) There are light and dark areas in those trees, but not much detail.

Granted, it’s not a colored pencil look, so it may not be what you’re looking for.

Dry Colored Pencil Over Watercolor Pencil

If you let the paper dry thoroughly, you can draw over watercolor pencil washes to add touches of detail. For this small drawing, I washed blues and purples together wet-into-wet. When the paper dried, I added the dark trees in the foreground.

I didn’t draw them with much detail, but was still able to create the appearance of distance by making the closer trees a little bit larger than those in the background.

Special Effects

I did several small pieces in shades of blue just because I liked the color, and because I wanted to try night scenes. The image above is the simplest of this foursome.

I did the sky in this one by sprinkling table salt into the wet color. The salt soaks up the color with the moisture and leaves “stars”. When the paper was dry, I brushed off the grains of salt and this is the result.

With this one, I washed colors wet into wet and let them blend, then put salt on parts of it. My goal (as I recall) was to create the look of a cloudy sky with a break in the clouds and stars in that part of the sky.

Was I successful? It didn’t turn out the way I wanted, but it may be exactly what you’re looking for.

A Few Ideas for Creating a Sketchy Style

If nothing else, Shirley, I hope I’ve given you a place to begin creating a sketchy style of drawing. Try them for yourself, then experiment and see what else you might be discover.

Whatever you do, have fun and keep drawing. Sooner or later your style will come shining through!

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Sanded Art Paper & Drawing Paper: 5 Differences

Have you tried sanded art paper with colored pencil yet?

If you haven’t, you may be wondering why you should. After all, isn’t it just like drawing on sand paper from the local hardware store? (And who wants to do that?)

That’s the way I thought before my first experiments with sanded art paper. I almost didn’t try it, because I just couldn’t see how it would work.

But I’m glad I took the plunge! There are a lot of differences between sanded art paper and traditional drawing paper. Some pretty big—and surprising—differences.

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Traditional Drawing Paper

Now that I’ve created several pieces on sanded art papers, it’s time to share with you what I’ve learned. Both good and bad.

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Drawing Paper

Popular brands are Ampersand Pastelbord, Art Spectrum Colourfix Coated Pastel PaperCanson Mi-Teintes Touch Sanded Papers and Boards, and UArt Sanded Pastel Paper. More recently, Clairefontaine Pastelmat has entered the market.

In another post, I described 6 basics of drawing paper, including the most commonly used papers for colored pencil. A subsequent article listed 3 non-paper, non-traditional drawing surfaces for colored pencil. One of them was sandpaper.

I’ve used only Uart and Fisher 400. Following are five of the biggest differences I discovered.

Paper Strength

This is a good difference.

Sanded papers are much stronger than most traditional papers. The substrate itself is heavier than most drawing paper. Combined with the coating of grit, it’s nearly impossible to accidentally damage the paper, so you can be as aggressive in applying color as you like.

Many sanded art papers are also available mounted to rigid supports for even better durability.

An additional upside to this is that you do not have to frame sanded art paper under glass if you don’t want to. It’s advisable, but not absolutely necessary, as is the case with traditional art papers.

Detailed Line Drawings

Transferring a detailed line drawing is difficult. You can’t use a light box because the paper is so thick. Transfer papers of any type are also unsatisfactory on some of the coarser surfaces.

I’ve found this difference to be less than ideal. I like detailed line drawings when I do portraits. For a while, that made sanded art papers a no-go for me.

But many artists use the grid method or a projector to transfer their drawings. Both are acceptable alternatives to regular transfer papers, and both give great results.

Another alternative is light sketching right on the paper. I usually start landscapes with just a basic sketch, so most of my drawings on sanded art paper have been landscapes.

August Morning in Kansas
Colored Pencil on Sanded Art Paper

August Morning in Kansas (above) is one of the most recent and it’s the best one so far. I’ve started all of them with simple sketches.

Sharp Pencils

You don’t need sharp pencils to work with sanded paper. In fact, sharp pencils can be a detriment. They break easily on the gritty surface, and even if they don’t, you get two or three strokes before they go blunt.

So forget sharpening. Use your pencils more like pastels. It’ll be a lot less frustrating.

Forget preserving your pencils, too. Sanded art paper quite literally “eats them for lunch!”

But that’s not as bad as it sounds, because most of that color is going onto the paper. Yes, pencils wear down more quickly, but you’re building color more quickly, too. The details in the trees in August Morning in Kansas are lighter colors applied over darker colors.

And just in case you’ve heard the rumors about pigment dust when you draw on sanded papers, it’s true. But you probably haven’t heard that you can use a bristle brush to push that dust into the tooth of the paper so it’s not wasted!

Show me another drawing paper you can do that with!

Pigment dust can be dry blended into sanded art paper.
Use brushes like this to dry blend pigment dust into the surface of sanded art paper.

Thick Color Layers

Thick layers of color work better than thin glazes. Even with the smoothest sanded papers, the tooth is such that getting an even color layer is next to impossible without solvent.

And light pressure? Forget it. Medium to medium-heavy pressure is going to be a lot more productive.

The best part? You can absolutely layer light over dark and it will show up. Try that with any traditional drawing paper.

Is this a good difference or a bad one?

I haven’t made up my mind yet. I have a naturally light hand so working on sanded art papers requires a definite adjustment in working methods.

But as I mentioned above, I can add so many layers even with medium pressure or heavier, that working on sanded paper is getting less and less frustrating.

Excellent Tooth

If you’ve ever had trouble getting colored pencil to stick after a certain number of layers, the tooth of sanded art paper is a good difference.

Granted, it will take a lot more layers to get fine detail if that’s what you’re after and you may find the extra layers not to be worth the trouble.

But if you take the time, the tooth will definitely work for you.

This little drawing (3-1/2 by 2-1/2) is the first drawing I did on sanded art paper. I drew it like I always draw and the tooth didn’t help. See all those dots in the sky? Paper holes. I wasn’t able to fill in the tooth at all, and although the result was very painterly, I didn’t like it.

Spring in CP
Spring in Colored Pencil
Colored Pencil on Sanded Paper

It took a long time before I tried colored pencil on sanded paper again, but the results were much more satisfactory. I was already learning how to use sanded art paper.

East of Camp Creek
Colored Pencil on Sanded Art Paper

Conclusion

If you give sanded art papers a try, be prepared to do some bad drawings for the first few. It’s a great drawing surface, but there is a very definite learning curve!

Even so, I recommend it to anyone who wants to try something different.

Interested in reading more? I wrote a good mini clinic for EmptyEasel based on that first, small drawing. I think you’ll find it useful. Read Using a Sandpaper Surface for a Colored Pencil Drawing here.

1 Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

Is there a sure-fire way to draw realistic landscape greens most of the time?

Short answer, yes.

The question is, what’s the best solution for you?

I can’t answer that question for anyone but myself, but I can share with you the method that helps me draw landscapes that look like landscapes, no matter what shades of green, what time of year, or what the lighting conditions.

1 Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

Landscape greens can be the most difficult colors to get right in any medium. Most of us have drawn landscapes in which the greens are too soft and muted or are way too bold and artificial.

My Favorite Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

Over the years, I’ve used several methods to draw landscapes. My favorite method to draw realistic landscape greens is beginning with an umber under drawing, then glazing color.

The first few layers of color you put on the paper are called the under drawing. An under drawing can be a single color, two or three colors, a limited palette, or lighter shades of the final colors.

When the under drawing is in earth tones, it’s called an umber under drawing. You can use any earth tone, but the best choices are generally medium-value, neutral colors like Prismacolor Light Umber or Polychromos Nougat or Raw Umber. Once I discovered umber under drawing, my landscapes began to look like they were supposed to look.

Learn how the umber under drawing method compares to other colored pencil drawing methods.

Step 1: How to Begin an Umber Under Drawing

The process is simple. Develop your landscape first in all earth tones. Choose one or two browns—three at most—and draw the entire landscape with those colors.

I prefer Prismacolor Light or Dark Umber, usually use just Light Umber. It’s possible to get a nice value range with Light Umber simply by adding layers. The more layers, the darker the value.

You don’t want to get too dark too quickly, and you also want to avoid developing details too quickly, so draw the under drawing with several layers applied with light pressure.

You can also use a tinted paper, as I did with the drawing below. The paper is Rising Stonehenge in a very light tan color. The color of the paper provided the lightest values for the drawing.

Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Step 1
Use light pressure and a sharp pencil to begin shading values. Start with the shadows, then gradually darken values and add middle values layer by layer.

Step 2: Develop Detail & Values

Use a variety of strokes to mimic each element of the landscape. Short vertical strokes with a sharp pencil for grass, stippling (dotted) or circular strokes with a sharp to slightly blunt pencil for trees (use a sharper pencil in trees close to the foreground and a blunter pencil for more distant trees), and the sides of the pencil to lay down even color in the distance.

Define the center of interest early by drawing the darkest shapes near the center of interest or in the foreground and keeping other parts of the drawing more subdued.

Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Step 2
Keep the darkest values and sharpest details in and around the center of interest (the tree on the left.)

Step 3: Finishing the Umber Under Drawing

You can make the under drawing as detailed as you like. When I draw horses, I generally draw a more detailed under drawing, because I want the under drawing to look like a finished drawing on its own.

But with landscapes, I develop just enough light and shadow to define the landscape elements and to begin depicting the sense of space (pictorial depth or aerial perspective).

Glaze color over the finished under drawing layer by layer with light pressure. Most colored pencils are translucent by nature, so the umber under drawing tones down the greens you glaze over it. Even if you appear to totally cover all of the under drawing, its influence is still present.

draw realistic landscape greens
Spring 2012, 4×6 Colored Pencil on Stonehenge Paper

Want to See How I Drew Realistic Landscape Greens Step-by-Step?

I drew this landscape as a demonstration piece for EmptyEasel.com. To see the full, step-by-step demonstration on EmptyEasel.

How to Create a Colored Pencil Landscape Underpainting

Color Glazing a Landscape Painting with Colored Pencils

The Basics of Reflected Light

Let’s talk a little bit about reflected light basics today. You’ve probably heard me mention reflected light in various tutorials and maybe even in a class if you’ve taken one of those. It’s time to define what I’m talking about.

The Basics of Reflected Light

What is Reflected Light?

Reflected light is light that comes from a source other than the primary light source. The light of the moon is sunlight reflecting off the moon and back to us.

Reflected light in art is the light that bounces off one object and strikes another object.

No matter what subjects you draw or paint or how you draw or paint them, you’re working with light. How well you draw light determines how three-dimensional your drawing turns out.

How well you draw reflected light determines how strong the illusion of three-dimensions is.

So it’s important to know and understand just how reflected light works.

The Basics of Reflected Light

Inanimate Objects

A natural light source (the sun) in an outdoor setting, illuminates these books and their surroundings. The light source is strong and direct.

Reflected Light on Books

The light source is from the upper right and almost directly to the right of the books.

The Merck Manual gets the most direct light, but since the brightest light is on a side that isn’t visible, you can’t see the brightest highlights anywhere but along the edge where the spine curves around to meet the front cover.

But there is plenty of reflected light. The black arrows below mark light reflected onto the books from other books or from the floor.

But do you see the red-tinted area on the white bricks? That’s light bouncing off the front of the Merck Manual, and illuminating the wall. In other words, reflected light.

Reflected Light on Books 2

If the light source is strong enough and the object off which light is being reflected is close enough to the object onto which light is being reflected, the second object reflects color as well as light.

Horses and Other Animals

Reflected light affects more than smooth or shiny objects. It affects all subjects, animate and inanimate. Take a look at this photo, for example.

Reflected light and animate objects.

The primary light source is the sun, and comes from the upper right. The cast shadow is directly beneath the horse and stretches out behind. The shadows are all exactly where you expect them to be.

But note that his belly and the downward facing planes of the chest are light. The darkest part of the shadows is not on those surfaces—where you expected them—but partway up the horse’s side and chest.

Light bounces off the sandy ground and illuminates the underside of the horse. The affect is especially noticeable because the primary light source is so strong, the horse’s coat is smooth, and the ground is flat, bare, and reflective.

Reflected light on a wet horse is also quite noticeable. That’s what makes “bath shots” so appealing.

Dimmer primary light (as in a cloudy day or indoor light) creates less reflected light. Longer hair also produces less reflected light, as would mud or grassy ground cover.

Also take a look at the top slope of the horse’s rump. The rump is well lighted even though it doesn’t face the light source. Compare it to the shadow on the ground.

The light across the top of the rump is another form of reflected light. This time, the reflect light comes from the sky, hence the bluish tint.

Just to show you reflected light does appear on long haired animals, here’s Max. Asleep in a patch of sun falling on a pink towel.


Pink reflects up onto Max between his eyes, on the underside of his outstretched paw, and in the fur around his neck. It appears in shadows and in mid-tones.

 Conclusion

Not drawing or painting reflected won’t make your art bad. I painted portraits for years without understanding or using reflected light.

But a good understanding of the basics of reflected light, and knowing how to draw or paint it will make the subjects you paint or draw look more three-dimensional. It is a valuable addition in your art toolbox no matter what your preferred subject.

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Tips for Drawing Dogs and Puppies

A reader recently asked about tips for drawing dogs and puppies. An excellent topic, and one I could spend an entire month on without doing more than just scratching the surface. Here’s the question.

I would love more instruction on drawing dogs, any and all kinds of dogs and puppies. Thank you so very much for all you do! Deb

First of all, thank you for the question, Deb. I don’t get the opportunity to talk much about drawing dogs because most of my drawings have been of horses, or landscapes, or horses in the landscape.

Colored pencil artist Peggy Osborne and I are working on a full-length tutorial on drawing a long-haired dog. Peggy’s doing all the hard work, but she’s doing a fantastic job. That tutorial is coming on Saturday and I know you’ll love it.

To get us ready for the tutorial, I’m going to share a few basic tips for drawing dogs and puppies of all sizes, types, and breeds—things that apply no matter the type of dog—and follow up with a few specific tips for drawing different types of dog hair.

A Few Basic Tips for Drawing Dogs and Puppies

Draw What You See; Not What You Think You Know

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Large and small. Long haired and short. Straight hair, curling hair, sweeping hair. Hundreds of color combinations. It’s important to look at the particular dog you’re drawing and draw what you see; not necessarily what you know about dogs in general.

The condition (long or short, straight or curly) and color is vital to capturing a good likeness of your canine subject.

It’s doubly important if you’re subject is a breed of dog in which all the members look pretty much alike. Weimaraners, for example.

This applies to anything you might draw, so it’s a good rule of thumb for all subjects. But it’s especially applicable to drawing dogs.

Get to Know Your Subject

Things to take special note of are:

Proportions: How long are the legs compared to the length of the body? How big is the head? How long is the neck?

General Appearance: Do the ears stand up or fold over? How long is the tail? What type of hair does the dog have? What colors and how many different colors are in the dog’s coat?

Character & Attitude: If you get a chance to meet the dog, take time to just watch it. Is it an active dog? Bold or timid? Playful or sedate? You can use all of this information to capture more than just how the dog looks. Getting the character right is especially important with portrait work, so if you can’t visit the dog, ask the owner what their pet is like.

Keep the setting in mind when drawing dogs and puppies. Sometimes, the dog’s surroundings are as important as the dog.

Make Sure Your Line Drawing is Accurate

There’s no way to fix a bad drawing once you’ve started adding color. Believe me. I’ve tried it! You can layer, glaze, and blend like Michelangelo, but you won’t be able to hide a poor drawing.

It’s well worth your time to make the very best line drawing you can even if you have to work through several revisions or use aids like projectors, light boxes or tracing paper.

Take Your Time

Colored pencil is a naturally slow medium, so don’t rush yourself. Take time to study the subject before you put pencil to paper, and take time with the line drawing.

Then expect to take at least that much time and probably more to do the layering, blending and rendering. If you find yourself rushing through something or getting careless in how you put color on the paper, stop! Step away from the drawing and take a break!

Look for the light in any portrait. How the light falls on the dog (or any subject) can either bring the portrait to life or keep it flat and uninteresting.

A Few Tips For Drawing Dog Hair

Other than the overall shape of a dog’s body, color and hair are the most noticeable traits. Get those right and you’re more than halfway to drawing a good likeness of your subject.

But hair is a difficult thing to draw. For some artists, it’s their least favorite part of drawing portraits or animal art. I happen to love hair. The longer the better! That’s one of the reasons I have so much fun drawing horses.

So I’m going to followup basic tips with suggestions for drawing three types of dog hair: Short, medium length, and long.

Keep in mind as you read these tips that there are different types of hair within each of these much broader categories.

General Tips

  • Start with the best possible reference photo. You can’t draw what you can’t see.
  • Take extra time to map out the basic hair growth patterns and values in your line drawing. It’s a lot easier to correct errors at this stage than after the drawing is half done.
  • Begin with initial layers that are evenly applied.
  • Use directional strokes that follow the pattern of hair growth, but don’t try to draw every hair. That will leave you disgusted and discouraged, and will also not look all that great.
  • Use more obvious hair-like strokes where color or value changes. Between a highlight and middle value, or between a marking and the regular coat color.
  • Other places that define the length and type of hair are over body contours, around the head, neck and ears.

Short Hair

NOTE: This sample actually from a horse drawing, but the coat type is the same as many short haired dogs.

Use sharp pencils and careful stroking to lay down even color. Keep your strokes short and overlapping. Pay special attention to the direction of the hair where it’s most obvious, such as along the edges between colors and values, or over the contours of the body.

Medium Length Hair

With medium length and longer hair, make more use of pencil strokes. Don’t draw every hair, but draw more texture in the middle values than you would with a short-haired dog.

Also be aware of the direction of hair growth. It’s important all over the dog’s head and body, but is especially vital along the outside edges of the dog, and where the skin curves over muscular and skeletal structures.

Tips for Drawing Dogs and Puppies - Long Hair Sample

This detail shows the area across the dog’s chest, and shows how the hair is also slightly curly. It’s not straight hair. Pay attention to the type of hair as well as the length and growth patterns.

Long Hair

Long hair is the delight of some artists—myself included—and the bane of others. It looks so complicated when you first begin.

The key is to break down all that wonderful hair into smaller sections, such as the “moustache” on each side of the muzzle, the curving hair over the eyes, and the “bib” under the head.

Then break down each of those areas into groups of hair.

Tips for Drawing Dogs and Puppies - Long Hair

Whatever you do, don’t draw every single hair.

Also make use of the color of your paper whenever possible to serve as a middle value, as I did in this sample. This “almost-a-sketch” portrait was drawn on a light earth tone paper that allowed me to draw only the darker values. In hindsight, it would be better with a darker paper on which I could have also drawn a few highlights.

Tips for Drawing Dogs and Puppies - Long Hair Sample

And there you have it: A few short tips for drawing dogs and puppies of all ages, breeds, and types.

If you have specific questions about drawing dogs or puppies, let me know that, too.

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