Blending Smooth Color with Colored Pencils

Blending Smooth Color with Colored Pencils

Some topics never grow old. Either they’re so expansive, there’s always something to write, or there are always new readers who haven’t read previous posts. Blending smooth color with colored pencils is one of those topics.

I have written posts on blending smooth color in the past. How to Blend Smooth Color and My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Methods are just two of those posts. Even if you have read them before, they’re well worth reviewing again.

Today, I’d like to share some additional tips for blending smooth color.

Tips for Blending Smooth Color with Colored Pencils

Some of these tips are common sense (to me anyway,) and some might be a bit “radical.” But I have used all of them at least once or twice, and they have been helpful.

Go Slow & Draw Carefully

Okay, so this is neither new nor radical, but I mention it first because I have so much trouble with it myself.

The key to blending smooth color is drawing smooth color.

The key to drawing smooth color is to go slow and draw carefully. It’s very difficult to blend smooth color from color that’s been scribbled onto the paper. Trust me; I’ve tried it. It just does not work.

Here’s a sample of “scribbled” color. In the background, I got tired and started scribbling color. It’s very light color to start with and may be difficult to see here (in the circle,) but it sure showed up as I was working on the drawing. I was thoroughly disappointed with myself and had a difficult time smoothing out those scribbles. It took several layers to smooth the color enough to create the look of grass.

Blending Smooth Color with Colored Pencils 1

It’s always better to take your time drawing smooth color. If you find yourself getting careless in applying color, take a break.

Read Drawing Smooth Color With Colored Pencils on the Colored Pencil Tutorials blog.

Now for some newer ideas.

Experiment on Scrap Paper

The absolute best way to learn a new tool or technique is by drawing. You can learn on “real art,” art that you want to finish, but I’ve found that method to be frustrating and sometimes discouraging.

Instead, save scrap pieces of your favorite drawing papers and use them to test new tools and techniques. They don’t have to be large pieces. Four inches by six inches is large enough.

If you like the results, then you can try it on a drawing. If you don’t like the results, at least you haven’t ruined a drawing.

Use the same type of drawing paper you’re using for the drawing for the best results.

Put Enough Pigment on the Paper

When you blend with solvent, you need enough pigment on the paper for the solvent to work.

If you layer with medium pressure or lighter, put down two or three layers, blend, then add a couple more layers, and blend again. You may have to do that a couple of time to get smooth color, so you might want to try it on a test sample first. Just layer color on a paper, blend it, then add more color and blend again. See what happens.

If you draw with a naturally heavy hand, you may be able to blend smooth color after only one or two layers of color. I have a naturally light hand, so usually have four or five layers before I do solvent blending of any kind. But each layer is quite thin.

Blend with Paper

Sometimes the best way to blend smooth color is by trying different blending tools. I like bath tissue and paper towel to blend because they give a different look than colorless blenders or solvents.

But did you know you can also blend colored pencil by using small pieces of the paper you’re drawing on? It’s nowhere near as effective as using solvents, but if you want to “gently smooth” color, take a small piece of drawing paper and rub it on your drawing. You can use light pressure for light blending or use heavier pressure.

Blending Smooth Color with Colored Pencils Doesn’t Have to be Difficult.

Or complicated.

But it does take patience, and a willingness to try different and unusual methods.

Keep in mind that not every method works for every artist or on every drawing. You may need to do some experimenting on your own to get those special results that make artwork sing.

Just remember to practice and experiment on scrap paper; not on your artwork!

Making Bright Whites Pop with Colored Pencils

Making Bright Whites Pop with Colored Pencils

Let’s talk about making bright whites pop with colored pencils. That’s the topic for this post, and here’s the reader question to get the discussion started.

Hi Carrie. I need to know how to make bright whites pop with pencils.

This is a big issue for a lot of colored pencil artists because it’s so difficult to add white highlights (or bright highlights of any color) over layers of color. That’s because colored pencils are naturally translucent, so every color you put on the paper changes the look of every other color.

Making Bright Whites Pop with Colored Pencils

Even the color of the paper affects the way colors look.

But getting bright highlights is vital to realistic art, so what are the best ways to make those bright whites really pop?

Two Easy Ways of Making Bright Whites Pop

Let me make a couple of suggestions that are easy to implement, and a couple of others that require more thought and effort.

First, the easy methods.

White Paper

The best way to make white areas pop in a drawing is to work on white paper and preserve the white of the paper. No white pencil is as bright white as bright white paper.

Not all white paper is equally white, however. Some whites are warm white, which means they have a bit of yellow tint, while other, cool white papers have a bit of a blue tint. The tints are very minor and may not even be visible, but they do make a difference. If you decide to rely on the white of the paper, then look for a paper that’s “bright white.”

Then mark the highlights before you starting layering color and work around them.

This portrait was drawn on white Stonehenge. All the highlights are either the white of the paper or the white of the paper lightly tinted with color.

For really small areas, like the highlights in eyes, you might also add a layer of white before using any other color. A layer of white color protects paper somewhat, and makes lifting color a bit easier if necessary.

Dark Surrounding Values

Also remember that when the values around a patch of bright color are dark, the light color appears brighter.

After most of the layers are in place, darken the areas around the bright white highlights slightly. Darkening surrounding values makes the highlights look brighter.

You don’t want to go too dark, but if you need to punch up a highlight just a little bit, this is a good option.

I used darker values around many of the highlights in this portrait to make the highlights pop. Notice the bright area at the base of the ear and on the leather next to it.

Making Bright Whites Pop

This portrait was drawn on medium-gray paper, so I was able to use heavy pressure and a “star” shape to add the sparkling highlights on the rings of the bit. This doesn’t work for every application, but if you’re adding highlights over colored paper where you haven’t put other colors, it’s very effective.

Two More Complex Methods for Making Bright Whites Pop

These methods also work very well, but they require special tools and a bit of a learning curve.

Sanded Art Papers

Sanded art papers are great surfaces to use if you prefer adding highlights over other colors. Because of the grit of sanded art papers, you can layer colors indefinitely.

You can also layer light colors over dark colors more effectively on sanded papers than on traditional papers. You still get the best results by using white papers and preserving the highlights, but with sanded papers, you can brighten highlights by adding white afterward, too.

I recommend Lux Archival because it’s fully archival and the brightest white sanded art paper I’ve tried.

Titanium White from Brush & Pencil

Brush & Pencil makes a great product called Titanium White. It’s powdered titanium white pigment; the same pigment used in white colored pencils but without the binding agents. It’s more opaque and covers better when mixed with Touch-Up Texture (also from Brush & Pencil.)

It’s also easy to use. Mix a small amount of Titanium White into Touch-Up Texture, brush or dab it onto the highlight, and let it dry. Once it’s dry, you can easily draw over it to tone it down or tint it.

I used Titanium White and Touch-Up Texture to add the sun in this piece, then lightly tinted it with colored pencil.

Making Bright Whites Pop

By the way, I used Lux Archival paper for this piece.

Making Bright Whites Pop

Those are my top four suggestions for getting white highlights that really pop. You can use them all together, one at a time, or in various combinations.

They are also archival, so you have no worries about the integrity of your work if you use them.

Are they the only methods? By no means. But they are the most effective for me.

I hope they also work for you.

What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick

What to Do When Your Paper Gets Slick

So what do you do when your paper gets slick?

You’re in the zone, adding layer after layer, blending color, creating contrast and harmony. Then it happens. You pick up another pencil, start layering and…

…your pencil skids across the surface without leaving any color.

That happened to Eloise, who asked the following question:

When you have put so many layers on and you can’t get any more down, what do you do?

What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick

What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick

Prevention is the Best Cure

The best way to deal with slick paper is to avoid it. The best way to avoid slick paper is drawing on sanded art paper.

Sanded art paper takes a lot of layers without the tooth filling up. It doesn’t really matter what type of sanded paper you use. I’ve been experimenting with Lux Archival, Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Fisher 400, and Uart. They each have enough tooth to take a practically endless number of layers, but they each have unique characteristics. They behave differently.

It also makes a difference what type of pencil you use, as I’m learning with this week’s sketching habit. Some pencils work better on sanded papers, than other pencils.

Your style of drawing also makes a difference, so you may have to experiment to find the right combination.

What to do When Your Paper Gets Slick

If you don’t care for sanded art papers, Canson Mi-Teintes is a more traditional paper that falls somewhere between sanded and traditional papers. I can’t recall ever ending up with a slick drawing surface while using Mi-Teintes.

In fairness, however, I must also mention that most of my work on Canson Mi-Teintes has been vignette-style portraits like Portrait of a Black Horse. I usually use colored paper, and chose a color that works for the background and the middle values.

In other words, I didn’t have to apply a lot of color.

Whatever type of paper you use, you can also avoid (or at least delay) the build up of too much color by applying each layer with the lightest pressure possible. You’ll have to increase pressure slightly during the drawing process, but don’t use heavy pressure until the end.

Also don’t burnish until after the drawing is nearly finished.

Cures for Slick Paper

Most of the time, paper gets slick when you reach the maximum amount of color the paper will grab onto and hold.

What to Do When Your Paper Gets Slick

Sometimes, workable fixative made for dry media helps restore a bit of surface texture. A couple of light coats may restore enough tooth for you to finish the piece.

But that’s not guaranteed. I’ve had mixed results with workable fixative.

A light blend with rubbing alcohol could also help. Rubbing alcohol cuts the wax binder in colored pencils a little bit, and that may be enough to allow you to finish a drawing.

It’s also possible to lift enough color with mounting putty to allow you to add more color, but unless you need to change a color or value, lifting color is really a step backward.

If you get the idea that there isn’t much you can do once your paper gets slick, you’re getting the right idea.

That’s why I spent so much time talking about ways to avoid slick paper. In this case, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

I recently wrote on this same topic for the store blog. You can read When Your Paper Gets Slick here for more information on this topic.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers

Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers

Today, I’d like to share a few basic tips for drawing realistic feathers.

As with many subjects, there seems to be the perception that the process is complex. So complex that it’s difficult to know where or how to begin.

That complexity causes many of us to shy away from subjects like birds, flowers, and the other things we want to draw that are too complicated.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers

Complexity need not keep you from drawing birds if that’s what you really want to draw. Not if you remember the following simple and easy principles.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers

Tip #1: Make Sure the Your Line Drawing is Accurate

The first step in the process is an accurate line drawing. I’m not talking about drawing every feather.

I’m talking about drawing the big shapes. The bird itself, the edges between colors, as well as shadows and highlights.

Something like this.

This is a simple line drawing for me, but it is accurate. I’ve clearly drawn the hard edges of the hummingbird, and suggested the softer edges with dotted or dashed lines. I didn’t draw every detail, but I drew enough detail to provide a good road map for layering color.

Every good piece starts with an accurate drawing, so it’s worth the time and effort to get this step as correct as you can make it.

Tip #2: Make Sure the Values Are Accurate

We love colored pencils because of all those wonderful colors.

But when it comes to actually making drawings, color is not the most important thing. Value is.

“Value” refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. It applies to all colors, even black and white.

No matter what you draw, the subject has form. It takes up space. That means that part of it is in shadow and part of it is in light.

This hummingbird is lighted from the upper right. Take note of the highlight in the eye and on the bill.

The hummingbird’s belly is in shadow and it’s back is lighted.

To make things look real when you draw this bird, you have to show those variations in value.

Just to show you how important value is, I’ve converted the sample image to black-and-white. The hummingbird still looks real, even without color.

It’s well worth your time to get values right, beginning with the first application of colored pencil.

What does that have to do with feathers?

The principles that apply to large shapes like hummingbirds also apply to smaller shapes, like hummingbird feathers. Some feathers are in shadow and some in light.

Notice also that there are shadows under and between some of the feathers.

Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers

How to Draw This

First of all, shade the big shape as you see it in your reference photo. Work around the brightest areas, and use short directional strokes to begin creating the texture of the feathers.

Start with the lightest value of the color you need. For example, in the chest, I started with a very light gray because the hummingbird’s chest and belly are white.

Gradually darken the values. Use multiple layers (all applied with light pressure and using directional strokes,) then add the next darkest gray. Refer to your reference photo often.

You don’t have to draw every feather. Instead, add details where values change or where color changes. Those edges will be the places that attract your attention most, so you should put more detail there.

Unless your drawing is very large, you won’t need to add very much detail in the places in deep shadow or in the brightest highlights.

Notice in my sample drawing that I haven’t created even color. I’ve used two colors (Faber-Castell Cold Grey II and III) and several layers to begin drawing the hummingbird.

I also used light pressure and very sharp pencils. Keep your pressure light so you can adjust values as you go.

Tip #3: Layer, Layer, Layer

Most of the time, you can’t get by with just one or two layers of color. It is possible, of course, and lot depends on your preferred drawing style. If you want flat color with just few different values, then you can very effectively do good work with just a few layers of color applied with medium pressure or heavier.

But most of us like a more realistic look for our finished drawings, so that means lots of layers. Using light to medium pressure through several layers allows you to blend colors and create the transitions in value that make your subject look more real.

Tip #4: Match Strokes to the Texture You Want to Draw

Let’s look at that detail photo again, this time in color.

Notice that the feathers on the bird’s chest look almost like hair. They’re very fine.

Now look again at my sample drawing.

I didn’t draw individual feathers. The marks I made are not exact to the marks in the reference photo. But by the time I finish, I will have a drawing that looks like a hummingbird covered with feathers.

Even though the lightest gray was only a shade darker than the paper and difficult to see, I used short, hair-like strokes. You see some of those in the area between the base of the wing and the shadowed belly.

Again, unless the drawing is very large, you shouldn’t need any more detail than that to make the hummingbird look like it has feathers.

Do the same thing for all the other feathers using the colors you see in the reference photo.

Those are My Tips for Drawing Realistic Feathers

All complex subjects can be broken down into smaller, simpler shapes. You don’t have to be drawing birds to benefit from these tips. They help me draw horses and landscapes, and they help you draw whatever you want to draw.

You’ll never outgrow them, either.

Master these principles, and you can draw even the most complex of subjects.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

Do you have to draw under drawings when you draw with colored pencil? It seems like a lot of work for something you’re going to cover up anyway.

A reader once asked that question and I had to admit it seemed to make sense. They were right. The first layers of color on the paper are always covered up (unless you work with single layers and no blending.)

So why bother with an under drawing?

Why not go straight for the color?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

Before I go any further, let me say there is no Right Way to draw. I dare say there are as many ways to draw—and draw well—as there are artists.

There is no One Way that I use every time, either. A lot depends on what I’m drawing, why I’m drawing it, and whether or not a due date is attached to the artwork.

But the method I use most involves adding color over an umber under drawing. I’ve had great results with direct color drawing, but I still prefer working over an under drawing.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings

There are a lot of reasons for choosing a drawing method. Even if you use an under drawing method—as I do—your reasons for making that decision may not be the same as mine.

So I’ll tell you up front that the advantages and disadvantages I’m about to list are in no way universal. We’re all individuals and even if we use the same tools and the same methods to draw the same subjects, our work and our motivations will be different.

Finished complementary under drawing (left) and finished landscape.

But if you’re considering trying one of the under drawing methods I’m about to describe, then I hope I can shed some light on the process so you can make an educated decision.

Or at least an advised decision!

3 Advantages to Working with Under Drawings

You can work out the values first, without having to make color decisions.

There are a lot of decisions to make with every drawing. Contour. Perspective. Value. Composition. Color.

When you start with an under drawing, you don’t have to make color decisions, too. That reduces the number of decisions to be made up front and focuses attention on what’s important—making the best drawing possible.

It also allows you to draw the strongest values possible. Why is that important?

A sample of an umber under drawing.

The basic line drawing and the values are like the foundation on a magnificent building. You can build a building—and create a piece of art—without a strong foundation, but it won’t be the best it can be. And it may not last very long either.

Take the time to develop the foundation of your next drawing and the end result will be noticeably better.

Can you draw values and color at the same time? Absolutely. I just find it easier to develop values first, then glaze color over that.

You may, too.

It’s easier to find and fix mistakes in the under drawing phase.

You can find mistakes in your drawing at any stage of the process no matter how you draw. But I find it’s easier to spot problem areas if no color is involved. Since under drawing layers are also generally applied with light pressure and with harder pencils—I recommend Prismacolor Verithin pencils—it’s easier to erase and correct those mistakes.

Let’s face it. The sooner you find and correct mistakes, the easier it is to conceal them!

Advantages and Disadvantages of Under Drawings
I was able to remove enough color from this umber under drawing to redraw the horse’s face and save the drawing.

Using an under drawing method forces you to slow down and take your time with each drawing.

I tend to work slowly no matter how I draw, but an under drawing seems to slow me down even further. In the early stages of a project, that’s a good thing. It allows me to find and fix errors and helps keep me from making errors.

Or making existing errors worse before I realize what I’m doing.

One thing I’ve learned about colored pencils is that they are a naturally slow method.

Another thing I’ve learned is that I tend to get lazy, careless, and in search of shortcuts. Those things do not mix well with colored pencils.

If forcing myself to take the process more slowly was the only reason to use under drawings, I would still use them.

3 Disadvantages to Working with Under Drawings

Are there disadvantages to using an under drawing? There sure are.

Any under drawing method adds time to the drawing process.

Doing an under drawing first—especially a detailed under drawing—takes time. If the artwork is very big, it can take a lot of time. You essentially do the drawing twice: once without color and once with color.

But in all honesty, I use the direct color method the same way I use the umber under drawing or complementary under drawing methods. One layer of limited value color, then another layer that develops values and colors more completely. I still do two rounds of work, but the perception is that it takes less time to work directly with color.

A mind game, you say? Quite likely, but if I need to finish something fast or am doing studies, the direct drawing method is better.

The more layers you add, the more you fill the tooth of the paper.

The more color you use, the more you fill the tooth of the paper, and the more difficult it gets to add more color.

When you start with a detailed under drawing, you’ve already used up some of the paper tooth. That tooth is no longer available for color glazing. That can be a problem toward the end of a complex drawing.

It’s so boring to do all those layers!

I really hate to use this word but I can’t think of a better one.

One of the biggest disadvantages to drawing under drawings first, is getting tired of working large projects or projects that take a long time. I like starting things. That’s fun.

Finishing can be a nuisance.

And if I’ve spent all my enthusiasm working out a great under drawing, it can be a challenge to finish the drawing.


There is no clear-cut, right-all-the-time answer to the which-method-is-best question. The disadvantages of using an under drawing appear equal to the  advantages.

I still prefer developing drawings stage by stage through an under drawing, then subsequent color layers. It pleases my spirit to see a drawing come to life first as a half-tone (no matter the color), then as I add color.

And enjoying what you do is the bottom line.

After all, if you don’t enjoy making art—or the way you’re making art now—you should find something else to do.


Read more about colored pencil drawing methods.

How to Draw a Dark Background

A dark background to makes your subject stand out like no other background. Especially a brightly lighted one. But what’s the best way to draw a dark background?

There are several ways to get a dark or black background for your colored pencil drawings. Colored paper, mixed media, and using colored pencil.

Colored paper—and especially dark paper—presents a set of drawing problems better left for another post.

Mixed media with India ink, acrylics, or air brushing are also topics for other posts.

How to Draw a Dark Background

That leaves drawing a dark background with colored pencil; a process that can be time consuming. But it doesn’t have to be, and I’ll show you one way to draw very dark backgrounds quickly.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil

I had in mind a head study of a running horse, but my model was filled with light. She also had a long, black mane.

It might seem counter intuitive, but I planned do a dark background layer by layer. The plan was to use light pressure to layer several different colors to develop a rich black. The process began with Prismacolor Peacock Green and I spent several hours working on it.

As much as I looked forward to drawing the mane, drawing the background around the mane was a problem. This is as far as I got layering color with light pressure.

A Change in Course

Before I got any further, it was time to work on the next article for EmptyEasel. I chose to write about using masking fluid with colored pencil. That article needed a demonstration piece.

This drawing waited on the easel. I looked at all that mane, and decided the horse—more specifically her mane—was the perfect subject for the article.

And so it was.

I used both masking fluid and masking film on the mane, working on both at the same time to compare them. The part of the mane that is orange is masking fluid. The rest is masking film.

Drawing the Dark Background

First, I applied Dark Brown over all of the background using medium pressure (normal handwriting pressure). I added between two and five layers over the entire background, but wasn’t satisfied with the result.

Next, I chose three colors–Indigo Blue, Dark Brown, and Black–and applied them with medium-heavy to heavy pressure.

Working from one area to the next beginning at the upper right, I layered Indigo Blue and Dark Brown in random patterns. I then added Black. I used medium-heavy pressure for all three colors.

When I’d covered all of the background, I burnished it with each color. For most of the background, I burnished with all three colors, usually finishing with black. But I also burnished some areas with only Indigo Blue or Dark Brown, depending on whether I wanted cool tones or warm tones.

Finally, I burnished with Burnt Ochre to accent the head and to introduce the primary color of the horse into the background.

It took two days to finish the background with heavier layers of color. Although I don’t usually prefer this more direct method of drawing, it is a satisfactory look.

draw a dark background


Ironically, this drawing never went any further. It lurks somewhere in the studio, waiting for resuscitation, but even if it remains unfinished, it served its purpose.

I know one more way to draw a dark background.

And now you do, too!

If you have a drawing you need to be finish quickly and you want deep colors and saturation, this method may very well be your solution.

How I Usually Start an Animal Drawing

Sometime ago, I answered a reader who wanted to know where they should begin a drawing. In a follow-up post, I also described how I start a landscape drawing. Today, I want to round out the series by telling you how I usually start an animal drawing.

How I Usually Start an Animal Drawing

In the original post, I talked about general starting points like base layers, dark values, and light values. I listed them as three separate options, but they really work together on most projects.

The landscape drawing post described the way I draw most landscapes beginning with an umber under drawing.

At one time, I started most animal drawings that way, too. But over the years, I tried different papers and using more colored papers, so I had to find other ways to begin animal drawings.

How I Usually Start an Animal Drawing

The method I use to draw animals is based on the paper I choose for the project. Traditional papers like Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Teintes require a traditional approach to drawing. Watercolor papers can be used in different ways, and sanded art paper is even more versatile.

Let’s start at the beginning with traditional white drawing paper.

Traditional Drawing Paper in White

I start drawings on traditional white paper with an umber under drawing, and I begin by shading the base color into the darkest areas first. As I continue darkening the shadows, I also add lighter values.

However, it’s important to work with light pressure and build up the values layer by layer. Corrections and adjustments are easier to make this way, and you also avoid getting too dark too quickly in the darkest places.

Once the darkest values are in place, I develop the other values with additional layers.

I also develop the most important details, and then fine tune them.

Traditional Drawing Paper in Colors

An umber under drawing doesn’t work very well on colored paper unless the paper is a very light earth tone. Even then, I have the best success with light-colored papers that are cool in color. Stonehenge Natural is the best color for use with an umber under drawing.

With other light colors, I start an animal drawing by deciding on the base color of the animal. The base color is often the lightest color in the animal’s hair, and is most often (but not always) most evident in the highlights.

This portrait was drawn on a warm, light-value Stonehenge, and the horse was a palomino. The base color was a reddish-gold earth tone.

Then I started shading the same way I start an umber under drawing; by working first in the shadows, and then developing the middle values.

A full-length tutorial on this portrait is available for you to read here.

I also shaded the white blaze on the horse’s face so I wouldn’t work over it. The paper was just dark enough to make that possible. Otherwise, I’d lightly outline the blaze with the base color, and then work around it.

For darker papers, I start with lighter values and essentially draw in reverse by marking out the highlights and lighter middle values first if the paper is very dark.

If the paper is a medium value, such as Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Grey, then I begin with whatever color and value works best with whatever animal I’m drawing.

No matter what color of paper or pencil I use, I almost always start by shading the shadows, and then working into the middle values.

Watercolor Papers

The beauty of watercolor papers is that you can do the base layers with watercolors or watercolor pencils. Those mediums do not fill the tooth of the paper and they fill in paper holes much better.

I don’t usually start with an umber under drawing because reapplying water reactivates the layers underneath. So I choose an overall base color for each area, then apply that with water-based mediums. When that dries, I continue with dry color, layering colors just as I would on regular paper.

In this sample, the background has been developed more completely at this stage than the horse. Part of the reason for that is that I needed to work around the edges of the horses and wanted to do that before working on the horse. Just in case the background didn’t turn out!

I wrote a two-part tutorial based on this drawing for EmptyEasel. You can read more about this method here.

Sanded Art Papers

Sanded art papers are actually more versatile than any other paper I’ve ever used. I’ve started drawings with an umber under drawing, with a more direct method, and using water-soluble media.

The method I use depends on the color of the paper and the color of the animal I’m drawing.

I started this horse portrait with an umber under drawing because it’s on white Clairefontaine Pastelmat.

I’ll use a more direct method with another portrait because I chose Sienna Pastelmat as the support.

There are Other Ways to Start an Animal Drawing

In fact, I sometimes don’t use any of the methods described above. Much depends on the subject, the color of the paper, the type of paper, and how much time I have to finish.

And as I’ve said about so many other topics, there really is no one-size-fits-all way to start a drawing.

But I hope you’ll find a method that works for you among those I described above.

If not, I hope you’ve at least discovered some ideas that get you started looking for your own best ways to start your animal drawings.

How to Decide When a Drawing is Finished

Is there a “works-every-time” way to decide when a drawing is finished?

How I wish there was! The truth is that there is no such method because every artist creates for a different reason. Many times, there are also reasons for individual drawings. I do portraits for a different reason (and with different goals) than landscape drawings.

But I’ll share a few basic guidelines to help you better decide when your drawings are finished.

How to Decide When a Drawing is Finished

Your Drawing Matches Your Expectation

Every drawing starts with an expectation. You see a finished piece in your imagination, maybe. Or you see something you simply must draw.

You also prefer creating a certain type of art. Realism, for example, or impressionism. Perhaps your style leans more toward illustration than fine art. When you know the type of art you want to create, it’s easy to know when a drawing succeeds.

If you’re like me, you also start each drawing with a specific expectation, and you know when your drawing meets that expectation.

The drawing below is not the type of art I usually make, but I had a specific purpose for it. I wanted to use one or two colors of watercolor pencil to draw trees in fog. Even though I didn’t draw a ton of detail (which I usually do,) I knew what I wanted it to look like. I knew, in other words, when it was finished.

How to Decide When a Drawing is Finished by knowing how you want it to look before you start.

You Don’t Know What Else to Do With the Drawing

Even the most experienced artist reaches this point with some drawings. You have the feeling the drawing needs something more, but you don’t know what it is.

Or you know what’s needed, but you know how to do it.

In either case, I’ve discovered over the years that it’s best to consider such a drawing finished. I learn more by doing another drawing than by fiddling with the current drawing.

Or worse, setting that drawing aside until I have the skill to finish it. What usually happens is that I don’t work on the current drawing and I don’t work on a new drawing. Lose-lose!

Here’s a drawing I really like. But it has problems I didn’t know how to correct when I finished it years ago. The main problem is the color of the horse. The hair is way too orange. But back then, I had neither the knowledge nor the skills to correct the hair color.

If the drawing is for yourself, you can go back later and use newly acquired skills (or supplies) on it. If it’s a portrait, the best thing to do is finish it and send it out for customer approval.

Do you have to go back and correct old drawings? No. Keeping them as they are gives you a beautiful timeline of your art.

But there’s no reason you can’t redo it if you really want to.

You’re Satisfied with the Drawing

If you like what you’ve done, then it’s time to sign it and start a new drawing.

Here’s a drawing from decades ago. I loved the pony when it saw it at a sale, and I loved the reference photo. I loved the finished drawing, too.

Years later, it still looks complete, but I now see problem areas. That’s not bad; it’s a sign of progress in skill level.

Ignore potential technical problem when a drawing satisfies you. No matter how skilled you become with colored pencils, there’s always room for improvement. So take those successes as they come, then move on to the next drawing.

Does that mean you ignore technical problems all the time? Not at all.

But it does mean that if a drawing meets expectation overall, work on technical problems in the next drawing. Don’t fuss over them in this drawing.

Those are Three Ways to Decide When a Drawing is Finished.

There are other ways, as well. Time limitations, for example. Work on a drawing for fifteen minutes, an hour, a day, or a week. The drawing is finished when the time is up. Timed drawing is great for sketching, practicing, or just having fun with art.

Every artist has their own guidelines. Those of us who have been drawing a while know almost by instinct when a drawing is finished and when we might be able to push a bit further.

If you’re new to colored pencils, or haven’t been drawing very long, I hope the three guidelines I shared above help you finish more drawings.

Would you like more in-depth information on this topic? Read How to Know When a Drawing is Finished here for tips on analyzing specific drawings.

Choosing the Right Colors All the Time

A lot of new artists want to know the best way of choosing the right colors all the time. I understand that because it was once one of my biggest concerns too.

Choosing the Right Colors All the Time

I learned through experience that there really isn’t such a thing as “The Right Color.” The more horses I drew, the more I learned that I could create realistic colors by combining many different colors.

Even more important, color really isn’t the most important thing to get right. Value is. Get those values right, and you can make almost anything look realistic no matter what color it is.

Choosing the Right Colors All the Time

Meet Pee Wee.

No, she’s not a magenta-colored cat, but she looks just as realistic in magenta-colored light (above) as she does in green (below.)

Both of those unique color selections could make a more interesting portrait than Pee Wee’s actual color.

Well. Maybe not for everyone.

Choosing the right colors

The point is that it’s not the color that makes each of these three images look like a cat in general and like Pee Wee specifically. It’s the values, the details, and an accurate drawing.

What I’m really trying to say is that if you can draw a realistic looking cat with the wild variations in color above, then it really doesn’t matter which shade of gray or brown you choose to draw the cat’s actual color.

Two Things to Consider when Choosing the Right Colors for Your Drawing

Consider the Lighting

Lighting affects color selection more than anything else because the color of the light changes the way colors appear.

During the day, snow in our front yard looks “normal.”

At night, the snow still looks normal, but the colors I’d use to draw this scene are very different from the colors I’d use for the first snowy scene. The interesting thing (to me anyway) is that the snow in both images reads as natural.

If I were to draw this street scene but use whites and grays for the snow, it just wouldn’t look right.

Whether the light comes from a natural source like the sun or moon, or from an artificial source like street lights or Christmas lights, the color will affect the way you see the colors in your subject.

Consider the Surroundings

The things around your subjects also influence the colors in your subject, especially if your subject has a reflective surface. The more reflective a surface is, the more other colors show up in it.

Water, for instance, usually reflects the color of the sky. That’s why it looks blue, and that’s why it can look so many different shades of blue.

But water also reflects the colors of the objects floating in it. If you’re drawing a duck swimming in the water, then the colors in the duck will also appear in the water.

The same is true of metallic objects like the Christmas ornaments shown below.

When you look at these three ornaments, you immediately think “red, blue, and yellowish-gold.” Right?

But look at the red and blue ornaments. The blue ornament shows some nice purples in the areas that are near the red ornament. And the red ornament also shows some nice purples (though slightly different purples) in the side that faces the blue ornament. That’s because red and blue mixed together create purple.

The yellow ornament also reflects the colors of the other two ornaments. To draw these ornaments so they look real, you have to use those additional colors.

Even objects that aren’t shiny can be influenced by reflected light. Ordinarily, you’d never consider using bright reds to draw a white kitten, but look at this little guy. Sitting on a red towel that’s bathed in bright sunlight, he turns red! Quite bright red in some areas.

Consider reflected light when choosing the right colors for your drawing.

Other factors also play a role in how you choose colors, but light and surroundings are the two most obvious.

The Bottom Line

What it all boils down to is that you need to study your reference photo closely, and then draw what you see in the photo, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. It takes practice and the ability to trust your eyes and not what your brain is telling you, but it can be done.

Would You Like More Information on Choosing the Right Colors?

I’ve written several posts on the topic of color selection. The most helpful of them is 3 Ways to Find the Right Colors for Any Drawing. For additional articles, type “choosing colors” or a similar keyword phrase in the search bar at the top of the side bar.

How I Usually Start Landscape Drawings

Last week, I answered a reader who wanted to know where they should begin a drawing. Today, I want to answer the same question from a slightly different angle by telling you how I usually start landscape drawings.

How I Usually Start Landscape Drawings

In the previous post, I talked about general starting points like base layers, dark values, and light values. I listed them as three separate options, but they really work together on most projects.

So this post shows you how that looks with a specific drawing.

How I Usually Start Landscape Drawings

Landscapes almost always begin with an umber under drawing. Why browns? Umber base layers naturally keep landscape greens from being too vivid.

My favorite under drawing colors are Prismacolor Light and/or Dark Umber or Faber-Castell Polychromos Raw Umber or Walnut Brown. I have a nice collection of Derwent Drawing earth tones, too, but haven’t tried them as base layers.

Landscapes tend to take on a life of their own as I draw, making complex line drawings unnecessary, at best. So I begin landscapes with a very simple, basic sketch on the drawing paper, as shown below.

The initial sketch is drawn with an earth tone or with the main color in the landscape. Here, I chose green because that was the main color and because it scans more clearly even through the umber layers.

Dark Values First

I start the drawing by shading the base color into the darkest areas first. As I mentioned in last week’s post, starting with the shadows provides an excellent point of comparison for the middle values and light values. Even on colored paper.

However, it’s still important to work with light pressure and build up the values layer by layer. Corrections and adjustments are easier to make, and you also avoid the hazard of getting too dark too quickly.

How I Usually Start Landscape Drawings
Also notice the different strokes I used. Directional strokes to suggest grass, broad strokes with the side of the pencil in the hills, and circular and directional strokes in the trees.

Add Middle Values and Darken the Dark Values

Once the darkest values are in place, I develop the other values with additional layers.

If a drawing has particularly dark values, as this one does, I use a dark version of the same brown. I added Dark Umber to the Light Umber to darken the shadows.

Continue Developing Values and Start Developing Details

As I continue darkening the values, I also develop the most important details.

What I want in the finished under drawing is an art piece that looks finished on it’s own. So I fine tune the various parts of the landscape to create balance, a visual path, and interest.

Contrast is also important. The lightest values in a landscape are usually in the sky, so it’s important to get your shadows dark enough to give the landscape depth.

How I Usually Start Landscape Drawings
An under drawing is finished when it satisfied you. Some artists block in the basic shapes and values (a method that doesn’t work well with colored pencils.) Other artists like the under drawing to look like a half-tone image f the finished piece. I prefer something in between.

First Color

When the under drawing is complete, then I start glazing color. Usually, I choose colors that are light versions of the finished colors, and glaze them over the entire shape, as shown below.

But there is no “right way” to select colors.

Why I Start Landscapes Like This

If a composition fails as an under drawing, it goes no further. I’ve probably spent a couple of hours finishing the umber under layers, so I haven’t invested a lot of time.

If the under drawing can be improved (or fixed as is sometimes needed,) then I fix it now, before adding color.

If it can’t be fixed or improved, I start over with no hard feelings.

That’s How I Usually Start Landscape Drawings

My preference is to work an entire drawing at the same time so I can keep the light and dark values well balanced. I used to finish colored pencil drawings one section at a time, though, so it’s a matter of whatever works best for you.

If you need clarification, let me know.

Otherwise, have fun. You’re now at the fun part!