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.

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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.

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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!

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Where to Begin a Colored Pencil Drawing

You’re new to colored pencils, and eager to get started. Your first project is on the drawing paper, your pencils are at the ready, but you’re stumped. You don’t know where to begin a colored pencil drawing.

Where to Begin a Colored Pencil Drawing

I’ve been there and stared at that blank sheet of drawing paper wondering where to start more than once. So afraid of doing the wrong thing, I do nothing at all.

Knowing where (and how) to start gets easier with each drawing, but even with your first drawing, it’s not an insurmountable obstacle.

Where to Begin a Colored Pencil Drawing

You may be looking for One Secret to answer all your colored pencil questions. Let me burst that bubble right now. There is no such secret.

But there is hope.

You see, the beauty of most art forms is that there are as many ways to make art as there are artists. Look for artists whose work you like, then learn how they make their art. Try their methods. If those methods work, great! Use them to make your art.

If those methods don’t work for you, don’t worry. Look at how another artist works and try those methods. Keep trying until you find the method that works best for you.

That’s what I did. When I found things that worked for me, I used them. I discarded the things that didn’t work at all, and when I found things that sort of worked, I adjusted them until they did work for me.

That’s probably what you’ll end up doing, too.

Now let me share a few tips for starting a colored pencil drawing, starting with the most basic. Base layers.

Base Layers

The first color you put on the paper is called the base layer.

A lot of times, the base layer is smooth color and is meant to shade the area you’re working on. Usually, it’s also the lightest value in that area. I usually select a color that’s the same value as or lighter than the brightest highlights if the brightest highlights aren’t white.

I describe a few ways to choose the color for the base layer in Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

Darkest Values

Another good way to begin a colored pencil drawing is by starting with the darkest value first, as I did with this study of a cat’s eye.

Starting with the darkest value first is one good way to begin a colored pencil drawing.

Establishing this value first gives you a point of comparison for all the work to follow.

Look closely at your reference photo to determine the darkest color. It’s not always black!

Then outline the shape, then shade it. I used a variety of strokes in this illustration, starting with small, circular strokes. But I also used other strokes to fill in more of the paper holes.

Lightest Values

Many artists begin with the lightest values. Some lightly outline those values so they don’t accidentally shade color over them. That’s what I often do because I often accidentally shade over highlights. So I draw the highlights as well as the shadows from the beginning, as shown in this line drawing.

I know a line drawing like this is overwhelming to some, but it helps me preserve those all important highlights. Even if I don’t transfer every mark, I do transfer the shadows and highlights, as well as the outside edges.

You can also actually shade the highlight color over the highlight areas. Even if the color is too light to see on paper, it acts as a “resist” so that any color you put over it isn’t quite as dark as shading it over blank paper. The waxier the light color, the more it acts as a resist.

If you use medium pressure or heavier (or work on a softer paper like Stonehenge,) you also impress the marks into the paper. When you color over that area, the marks show up, as shown below. I drew the eyelashes with a very light color, but I also pressed the marks very lightly into the paper.

As I shaded color over that area, the new color did not cover the previous color. The impressed marks also began to show up because the new color didn’t get down into them. As I darken the eye, the eyelashes become more and more obvious.

The illustration above is also a good example of base layers. I selected the lightest color in each area and shade it lightly over the area.

Those are Three Ways to Begin a Colored Pencil Drawing

They aren’t the only ways to start a drawing. In fact, they aren’t the only starting point I use.

But they are the most common and, I believe, the easiest for new artists to learn quickly. Try them out and see which one or which combination works best for you and gives you the results you want.

Oh, one more thing. Have fun

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!