Correcting an Uneven Color Layer

A reader recently asked for suggestions on correcting an uneven color layer. Since I know from personal experience that drawing smooth color is both important and difficult, I wanted to share a few tips with you.

Here’s the reader’s question summarized:

If the color that you layered isn’t even can one correct it and if so how?

Tips for Correcting an Uneven Color Layer

Learning from My Mistakes

I can speak of uneven color layers from personal experience.

I made mistakes with Afternoon Graze early in drawing the meadow in the background, and I know exactly how they happened.

Getting careless in finishing the first layer in the middle distance was my downfall. This detail reveals my careless drawing. You can see “streaks” of slightly darker color to the right and left of the horses.

Here’s a closer look at the area on the left.

I was drawing on Bristol, a very smooth paper that’s made for smooth color. Imagine how uneven this layer of color would have been on Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Teintes!

Even on Bristol, it took a lot of work to cover the unevenness. However, if you look at that piece now, you can’t see those uneven patches. You’d never know they were there, under all that color, if I didn’t tell you.

Afternoon Graze after Correcting an Uneven Color Layer

The moral to that story is that there is hope for correcting uneven color layers, or at least covering them up. If I can do it, you can too.

Tips for Correcting an Uneven Color Layer

Covering up uneven color will take a little time and effort, as my example proves. But you probably already have all the tools you’ll need to smooth out the color. The six tips that follow require no special skills or purchases. You can implement them right now!

Continue layering color over the uneven color.

Make each additional layer as smooth and even as you can. It will take a lot of layers, but you will eventually cover the uneven areas. Careful stroking is the key.

Read Two Ways to Get Smooth Color with Colored Pencils for two more tips on layering.

Keep your pencils sharp.

The sharper your pencils are, the more easily the tip goes into the tooth of the paper. The more color you get into the tooth of the paper, the more even the resulting color layer. So sharpen often.

Try holding your pencil in a more vertical position.

Holding the pencil in a more vertical position makes it easier to get the tip of the pencil into the tooth of the paper without damaging the tooth. Especially if your pencil is as sharp as you can make it.

Try a stippling (tapping) stroke with this grip for even better results.

Mix strokes from one layer to the next.

Using different types of strokes helps fill in the uneven color a little more quickly. You might use circular strokes for one layer, then cross hatch for the next, and use directional strokes for the following layer.

If you do mix strokes, keep them all close together and use light pressure so you don’t accidentally make the problem worse. Or create a new one!

Work slowly and carefully.

Perhaps most important of all is to work slowly and carefully. I created my problem by rushing through the work. Had I been more careful in putting color on the paper, I would have avoided the uneven color in the first place.

And I didn’t help myself by trying to hurry through making corrections, either!

So whenever you find yourself hurrying or getting careless in how you draw, take a break! You’ll save time in the long run.

Trust me!

Blending with odorless mineral spirits may help.

Solvents blend color by breaking down the binder and allowing the pigment to flow together. The more fluid the pigments become, the better they sink into the tooth of the paper.

You do need a sufficient amount of pigment on the paper for solvent to work, though. In the case of Afternoon Graze, solvent would not have helped me because there was so little color on the paper.

If your uneven color layer happens after you have a lot of color on the paper, you might try carefully blending that area with solvent before trying any of the previous tips.

However, blending will change the appearance of the color, even if just a little bit. That’s why I mention it last, and why I usually use it as a last resort.

Conclusion

So the next time you discover you’ve drawn an uneven color layer, don’t panic. Take your time. Keep your pencils as sharp as you can, and keep every new layer as smooth as you can.

It will all work out!

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Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Today continues a series of articles on colored pencil basics for those who are either new to colored pencils, or want to try them. Today, we’ll talk about the things you need to get started with colored pencils.

Since this is an article on the basics, I want to keep it simple. But I also I want to answer a few common questions asked by people considering colored pencils.

If that’s you, read on!

Why Colored Pencils?

With so many great mediums available, why should you consider colored pencils?

Reasons are a varied as the artists who use them. I dedicated an entire posts to why I like them and you can read it here.

For the sake of this post, I’ll share the most important reasons I prefer colored pencils.

  1. They’re great for creating detail.
  2. They’re clean. No messy cleanup. No migrating paint.
  3. You can take them anywhere!

Those are the three main reasons I started using colored pencils back in the mid 1990s. I needed a medium I portable medium ideal for producing the same, highly detailed portraits I was doing with oils.

Of course there are all the great colors, ease of use, all the ways you can blend with them, and all the great brands available. If you give them a try, I’m sure you’ll find your own reasons to love colored pencils.

What You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

Okay. So I’ve convinced you that you are on the right track in considering colored pencils. Now for the big question. Just what must you have to get started?

But the artists you read about and whose work you admire talk about so many different pencils, tools, accessories, and methods, you can’t help but wonder:

I confess. I’m guilty of the same kind of talk. There are just so many really cool things available!

What do you really need to get started?

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils

I was once right where you are now. Wanting to try colored pencils but not sure how to start.

Or what to buy or how much of it.

One of my goals with this blog and with every post is to help artists at all levels avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made. That includes clearing up some of the confusion about basic supplies.

Lets begin with three very simple lists.

I have a basic list, an expanded basic list, and an Everything & The Kitchen Sink List. There are so many useful, fun, and cool things on my to-be-purchased list, that this method is the best way I’ve found to prioritize purchases.

This post covers the first two lists because, quite frankly, I could make two or three posts just on the third list, and still not mention everything.

The Basic List contains the minimum amount of supplies necessary to get started with colored pencils. It is the most simple list, and the least expensive.

In most cases, you can find these items locally. No shipping or handling! If you’ve never tried colored pencils before and you’re not sure how you’ll like them, this is the list for you.

The Expanded Basic List is the Basic List plus a few additional items, as well as different types of some of the same items. Two kinds of paper, for example.

You may still be able to find many of the materials and supplies locally, but you will also probably have to do more searching. Online shopping will generally produce better prices and less footwork. If you’re serious about getting started with colored pencil—and sticking with it—this is your list.

If you want to start with the basic list, then add a few items from the other two lists after you’ve used colored pencils for a while, that’s perfect.

One Additional Word of Advice

It’s advisable to buy the best tools you can afford. A few artist quality pencils give you a better feel for the medium than a large set of student grade pencils. The higher quality pencils usually have less filler and a higher ratio of pigment to binder than less expensive pencils. That makes them easier to use and learn with.

You can buy less expensive pencils, if you wish. That’s how I started. But I wasn’t aware of the differences and soon found that cheap wasn’t always less expensive.

NOTE: I realize that not all of my readers are in the United States. If you are not and cannot get some of these supplies, substitute whatever is available where you live.

Now on to the lists!

The Basic List

Paper

I warned you the list was basic!

But paper can be confusing enough on its own, so here are some ideas to get you started.

One 9×12 pad of Rising Stonehenge paper, either white or toned. I recommend white. It’s easier to see what your pencils can do on white paper.

If you can’t get Rising Stonehenge, get a good, basic drawing paper like Strathmore 400 series paper.

Pencils

One 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils. This set has the basic colors (reds, blues, greens, yellows, black, and white) with enough variety to let you experiment, without burdening you with colors you may not use or unnecessary expense.

And not all of those.

NOTE: Roughly half the colors in the Prismacolor line are not lightfast, meaning they will fade over time or if exposed to direct sunlight. I’ve put together a list of the colors that are top-rated for lightfastness. If you can buy pencils individually and if you’re interested in making fine art, take this list with you when you shop.

Other Tools

Sharpener

A pencil sharpener is a must. A simple, hand-held sharpener is all you need to sharpen pencils. Prismacolor makes a very nice one for a few dollars, but you can also get them anywhere school supplies are sold.

A mechanical pencil sharpener gives you better sharpening with Prismacolor pencils, but I have also used hand-held sharpeners with good results.

The Kum sharpeners are a good value. The Kum wedge sharpener is made with two openings, one for standard size pencils, and one for larger pencils. It’s high quality and inexpensive, though you will probably have to buy it on-line.

Eraser

There are a number of good erasers available for colored pencil work, but I recommend getting a good click eraser, such as shown below. They are a pencil-like tool into which you can insert the eraser. They’re great for fine detail erasing as well as general erasing. The Pentel Clic Eraser is the one I use.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils - Click Erasers

Note: All of these items can be purchased locally most of the time. I can buy them all with a single trip to Hobby Lobby. If there’s an art store, office supply store, or university near where you live, you can probably find them all there.

The Expanded Basic List

These are tools you can add to the previous list or, in some cases, replace similar items on the previous list.

Paper

A pad of Bristol. Bristol paper is heavier than Rising Stonehenge. It’s available in two finishes: Vellum and Regular (or smooth). Regular surface is very smooth. The vellum finish is a little softer, but still not as soft as Stonehenge.

I’ve used both Bienfang and Strathmore. Both are good papers, but they’re so smooth, they don’t work well for my drawing methods. They are ideal for learning, though, and are the go-to papers for a lot of colored pencil artists.

You can also add larger pads of paper. Or smaller, whatever is your preference.

For a paper with more tooth, try a pad of Canson Mi-Tientes. They come in pads of assorted colors, earth tone colors, and grays. I’d suggest a pad of assorted colors, which includes white.

Pencils

Replace the 24-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier pencils with a 36-pencil or 48-pencil set of Prismacolor Premier pencils OR a small set of some other brand, such as Faber-Castell Polychromos, Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor or Caran d’Ache Luminance. Be prepared to pay more for these, but better performance and more lightfast colors are worth the expense.

A colorless blender is also a handy tool to have. A colorless blender is essentially a colored pencil without pigment. It’s made with the same wax binder the colored pencils are and it’s used to blend colors. Use it just like a regular colored pencil to blend without adding additional color.

Get Started with Colored Pencils - Colorless Blender

Other Tools

Sharpener

Get a good, low cost electric sharpener instead of a hand-held sharpener. They’re usually available starting at around $30.

Erasers

One package of mounting putty. Look for Hand-Tak, Poster-Tack, Blu-Tack or similar. Handi-Tak or similar brands. Mounting putty is a soft, moldable substance most commonly used to hang posters. Tear off a piece, shape it however you want, stick it to the back of a poster and press the poster against the wall.

But it’s also very useful in lifting color from a drawing. You can make it whatever shape you need to lift color. It’s also self-cleaning. Work it in your fingers and the color disappears!

Brush

A large brush is handy for sweeping away eraser crumbs. You can use your hand, but doing so runs the risk of accidentally marking your drawing. You can also blow the crumbs away, but a brush is easier to use. Look for  a large brush with soft bristles. Drafting brushes are ideal.

Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils - Drafting Brush & Erasing Shield

Erasing Shield

This is a handy template—usually very thin metal—with a variety of standard shapes cut into it. To use it, lay it over your drawing and erase through one of the openings. The result will be that shape on your drawing.

You can also add color using an erasing shield.

A Note on Solvents

You’ll notice I didn’t mention solvents. That’s because there’s enough to be said about them that they require their own post. You can, of course, use solvents with colored pencils. Many of us do. I do, in limited form.

Solvents are liquid tools that allow you to blend colored pencil. Standard solvents are odorless paint thinner, turpentine, rubber cement thinner, and rubbing alcohol. They can speed the drawing process, but you also need to use them with care.

That’s why I don’t include them on the Basic List or the Expanded Basic List. Better to find out first if you like drawing with colored pencils enough to invest in additional tools.

Are you ready to get started with colored pencils?

I’ve put together a PDF download shopping list that includes all three of my shopping categories.

Click Here to Download Your Own Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils Shopping Lists

Click here to get my Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils shopping lists.

How to Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

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

Here’s the reader question.

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

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

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

How to Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic

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

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

Step 1: Draw a Smooth Base Layer

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

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

The base layer should cover every part of each shape.

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

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 1

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Add Darker Values

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

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

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

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

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 2

Step 3: Blend with Base Colors

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

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

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

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 3

Step 4: Continue to Darken Values

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

You can choose a darker shade of the base colors.

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

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

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

You can choose a different color.

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

Why the different colors?

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

Step 5: Blending Layer

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

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

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

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

Make Coloring Pages Look More Realistic Step 5

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

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

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

Here’s the whole drawing.

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

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

About that Guest Post….

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

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

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

In this post, I’ll show you how to finish a drawing started with water soluble colored pencils.

Last week, I shared the method I used to create an under drawing using water soluble colored pencils. While I focused on water soluble colored pencils in that post, the technique applies to any type of water soluble media with the possible exception of water miscible oils. I’ve never tried that combination, so cannot tell you whether or not it would work.

Before adding dry color, make sure the under drawing and the paper are completely dry. If there’s any residual dampness, you risk damaging the paper. I usually allow paper to dry over night, just to be on the safe side.  I also usually allow papers to air dry by natural evaporation. Even on the hottest days, this process is less likely to cause warping or buckling.

But you can dry paper with a hand-held hair dryer if you need to finish it quickly. Use a low heat setting and don’t get the dryer too close to the paper to keep the color from running before it dries.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Unless otherwise noted, the colors listed in this article are Prismacolor Soft Core colors. Any colored pencils work over watercolor pencils.

Step 1: Start dry drawing with the base colors.

When the paper is ready for dry color, use the same methods of choosing colors you use for any other technique. Start with the lightest colors and build toward the darks layer by layer.

In this illustration, I’ve added a very light earth tone that’s also a warm color. Burnt Ochre was lightly shaded over the darker area behind the ears and in front of the ears. I used light pressure with a very sharp pencil to draw an even color layer.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 1

Next, layer Burnt Ochre over the rest of the horse except the highlights. I always work around highlights so they don’t become muddy or—even worse—disappear. This is the best way to get sparkling highlights when you work on white or light colored paper.

On the horse’s head and neck, use a sharp pencil to draw a smooth, even color layer.

In the mane, stroke with the growth of the hair, starting at the bottom edge of the highlight and stroking downward to the ends of the hair groups.

Use light or very light pressure on the head, neck, and ears. For the mane, use light to medium-light pressure.

Begin drawing the muzzle with a light layer of pink at the chin and light gray in and around the nostril.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 1b

Step 2: Glaze color over the base layers.

With the base color in place, begin developing deeper values and richer colors.

For this demo, I used Sienna Brown and Mineral Orange in the middle values, a light glaze of Light Umber and Goldenrod to the lighter values, and Dark Brown to the shadows. However, getting the values right is more important than correct color. Since we don’t all see color the same way, select colors based on what you see in your reference.

Continue working around the brightest highlights.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2a

For each round of work, add more of each color. Getting good coverage (filling all of the paper holes) requires multiple layers. For the best color, alternate between two or more colors.

Continue using light pressure and sharp pencils to draw smooth color. Stroke in the direction of hair growth in the mane and forelock.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2b

Step 3: Add finishing details to complete your drawing.

When the drawing nears completion, begin working on the highlights. Leave the brightest highlights alone. The highlight along the top of the crest, for example, is whatever color shows through from the under drawing.

For the others, add Spanish Orange, Orange, or Yellow Ochre if the highlight is warm in color (the highlight along the cheek). If the highlight is more neutral, use Sand or Cream (behind the eye).

Most of the highlights are then burnished with a color like Beige or Cream to keep them unified with the coat colors around them.

How to Finish a Drawing Started with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 3

Conclusion

Using water media or water soluble colored pencils to draw the under drawing is a great way to reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a colored pencil work. It’s also a good way to cover the paper without filling in the tooth of the paper.

I probably won’t be using this combination very often because it doesn’t work very well on my favorite papers. They just don’t handle moisture well and I don’t care for the texture of watercolor papers that are heavy enough to take the moisture.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a viable—and valuable—alternative to using only traditional, dry colored pencils.

As I mentioned in the previous post, if you hope to enter your artwork in shows that are exclusively colored pencil, stick with water soluble colored pencils.

If that doesn’t matter, then experiment and have fun!

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Making art with colored pencils is time-consuming. If you like detail and want to do anything larger than 11×14, you should plan on spending hours in the process.

It could take weeks.

Or months.

Solvents are one way to save time, but there are other ways. Using a traditional colored pencils over water soluble colored pencils is one of them.

That’s also our topic today.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

About the Drawing

The art work is small. About 5×7.

I used a combination of Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle and Prismacolor pencils on a scrap of watercolor paper. Unfortunately, I don’t know what type of paper beyond the fact that it was not very smooth, and it was heavy enough to withstand repeated wetting.

I wanted to learn what I could do with water soluble colored pencils, so I used an old drawing from another project.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Step 1: Getting ready to paint (and deciding how to start)

There are several ways to create color washes with water soluble colored pencils.

To create strong color, use dry pencils to layer color, then wet the color with a brush. Colors “melt” and flow together just like traditional watercolors.

Or dip a sharpened pencil into water and draw while it’s wet. This works especially well in small areas, but requires frequent dipping..

If you want softer color, dampen a soft brush with clean water, then stroke the exposed core of the pencil to pick up color. Usually one or two strokes against the pencil is sufficient to produce good color.

If you plan to use water soluble colored pencils for most of the drawing, create a palette by making heavy layers of the main colors on a scrap of watercolor paper.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Color Palette

Several heavy applications are necessary, but when you finish, you can use this palette as you would use a watercolor painting palette. Dampen your brushes, pick up color from the palette, and brush it onto the paper. When the palette begins to look used, simply recharge it by layering more color on the palette.

Step 2: Toning the background

Mark the borders of the drawing, leaving ample margins to allow me to wash color beyond the edge of the drawing.

Create a pink wash with Rose Carmine (124) and a yellow wash with Cadmium Yellow (107).

For this piece, I dampened a brush and stroked it against the exposed cores of each pencil to pick up color, then added a band of pink and a band of yellow. I also blended a tint of pink wet-into-wet into part of the yellow.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 1

Step 2: Toning the Subject

For this demonstration, I under painted the horse in complementary colors, which are greens. To make the green, wash Emerald Green (163) over part of the background and part of the horse using the same method described above.

For the mane, use a small, round sable. Stroke color into the shadows that break the mane into hair masses.

For stronger color,wet the brush, then blot it before touching it to the pencil. The resulting color is less diluted and, therefore, darker.

One thing to remember when using colored pencil in this way is that you have one or two strokes—at most—to get the look you want. The more strokes you do and the more water you add, the more you’ll dilute the color. Limit yourself to one stroke for the darkest values. 

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2a

After the previous work dries, add a very thin wash of cadmium yellow over the horse. Use a larger brush for more even color. Once again, limit yourself to one or two strokes. Load the brush with water, then touch it to the sharpened pencil.

For brighter color along the top of the crest and in the mane, use a smaller brush and a more dry-brush method to stroke color into the still wet wash. The new color dissolves slightly into the wash, creating darker accents with soft edges.

Notice how fresh dampness affects the dry color on the mane (the green). Working with water soluble color requires a different working mindset than using dry color.

How to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils - Step 2b

Parting Thoughts

Using watercolor-like washes to start a colored pencil drawing is a great way to get a lot done in a short amount of time. You can use water soluble colored pencils (as I did here), watercolor, acrylic (thinned to tint strength,) or any other medium that can be thinned with water in used in this way.

Keep in mind that if you use water soluble colored pencil, the work is still considered colored pencil. Using any of the other mediums makes your drawing a mixed media. If you want to exhibit in exclusively colored pencil shows, this is important to keep in mind.

If this is the first time you’ve used water soluble methods, practice first. It doesn’t matter how you practice. This piece was my test piece, but you could also do random color swatches or just play with color to see how it responds.

Wet media colors interact differently than dry media. Some of them also dry darker or lighter than they appear when wet. Doing a few test pieces will show you what to expect from the medium you’re using.

But you also need to know how traditional colored pencils react with a wet medium under drawing. Next week, I’ll show you how I finished this piece with traditional, wax-based pencils.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll take time to experiment with water soluble colored pencils yourself.

Oh, and have fun!

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Add Spots of Color to Black Paper with This Neat Trick

Here’s a neat trick to add spots of color to black paper or paper of any dark color. It’s fast and easy, too. What could possibly be better?

What’s more, you can add bright color to dark paper using this method.

Try This Neat Trick to Add Spots of Color to Black Paper

I really enjoy drawing on dark papers. Black is a favorite color, but greens, blues, and browns also attract my attention. There’s just something about putting color on a darker paper that no lighter paper can match.

But lets face it. It can be so difficult to get decent color on dark papers. Colored pencil seems to seep into the paper and disappear!

But my holiday doodles and plein air sketches led to a neat way to add spots of color to black paper. Or any other dark-colored paper.

Best of all, it’s easy!

How to Add Spots of Color to Black Paper

Hold your pencil vertical to the paper, with the tip of the pencil on the paper. This part is important. If you hold the pencil any other way, you will not get spots. At least not round spots.

Turn the pencil a half turn or more without lifting it. The more you turn the pencil, the brighter the resulting spot of color will be. You may need to support the pencil with your free hand to keep it steady on the paper.

Use medium pressure.  Light pressure isn’t enough to get bright color. Heavy pressure may result in puncturing the paper or breaking the pigment core. I shattered several pigment cores while doing the drawing below. The good news is that they didn’t damage the paper.

A soft pencil such as Prismacolor Soft Core or Caran d’Ache Luminance works best with this technique, but I’ve also had success with Faber-Castell Polychromos.

You’ll also get better results is you use a soft paper like Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Teintes.

I used this “trick of the trade” to draw this lighted Christmas tree and stars on black Canson Mi-Teintes, but it would work great on any other dark colored paper. I’m eager to find dark green, dark blue, and even dark red paper.

Add Spots of Color to Black Paper - Christmas Tree and Stars

It’s also an ideal way to add spots of color and accents to any drawing on any color paper.

Other Tips and Suggestions

This method impresses the marks into the paper, so you could use it on light colored paper to add spots of color, then shade other, darker colors on top.

The size and brightness of the spots you add vary depending on the softness of the pencil and paper you use.

You can add small details to any type of drawing with this method.

One Final Comment….

This discovery proves how important it is to draw regularly, even if you’re just doodling or playing with color. I would probably not have learned how to add spots of color to black paper this way if I hadn’t been doodling.

So do some doodling. You just never know where it might lead!

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How to Make Drawings Look Less Flat

New artists constantly confront a handful of challenges, no matter what medium they use. For those who like their work to look realistic, the biggest challenge is learning to make drawings look less flat.

That was the subject of a recent reader question.

Carrie, I have attached my drawing of a horse’s head. I am probably my own worst critic as I do strive for perfection. The drawing was done on white paper, Bockingford 120 gsm. It was extremely hard to fill the tooth and put on probably 20 layers in places. I had to burnish very hard to get the fill. I found it difficult to get a clean edge but think this is not keeping the pencil sharp or upright enough. Also found it more difficult than graphite to show the contours. Bill Bayne

Make a Drawing Look Less Flat

How to Make Drawings Look Less Flat

Bill raised several topics worthy of discussion, but since his primary concern was making his lovely horse look more real, let’s address that issue in this post.

Bill provided a drawing of a horse and gave me permission to share them with you. Thank you, Bill!

Following are two suggestions you can put to use immediately.

Contrast is vital to creating realistic drawings or paintings in any medium.

Color is important in realism, but contrast is more important.

Contrast is what happens when you have very light colors and very dark colors in the same drawing. Every drawing should have dark values and light values, and those values should not be limited to a white part (such as the horse’s marking) and a black area (such as the bridle.)

When a drawing has good contrast, each area also has good contrast. Sometimes the transitions from one value to the next are subtle, but there are transitions.

Take a look at this side-by-side comparison. The left image is the original image. I increased the contrast using a photo editor to make the image on the right. I made the light values lighter and the dark values darker. There have been no other changes, yet you can see the difference.

So the first thing to check whenever your drawing looks flat is the contrast. Are your darks dark enough? Are your lights light enough?

It can be intimidating to made dark values darker, so photograph your drawing and play with it in a photo editor. Seeing how it looks with stronger values gives you the confidence to make those changes on the draining.

When you do begin darkening values, do so gradually. One layer at a time. Use light pressure and fade the new, darker color into the other colors. Review your drawing after each layer, so you don’t go too dark.

Shading is important to drawings that look less flat.

Shading is the process of adding shades of color to the shape you’ve drawn. These “shades” are known as modeling.

Modeling represents the way light illuminates the object, and it’s done by drawing a smooth transition of values from light to dark. The lighter the value, the more light on the object it represents. The darker the value, the less light—the deeper the shadows.

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

And that makes it look less flat.

There is no shading on the first circle. It’s just green. The middle circle shows a medium amount of shading. There are lights and darks, but neither is pushed as far as it could go.

(I spent a lot of years doing art that looked like the middle circle!)

Make Drawings Look Less Flat - Shading

The third circle has very dark shadows and very bright highlights. It is no longer a circle; it’s a ball.

The same principle holds true with every subject. Take note of where the shadows are in your reference photo, and make them dark enough on your drawing.

It may be easier to see where you need to darken shadows and lighten highlights by looking at a gray scale version of your artwork next to a gray scale version of the reference photo. You can convert an image to gray scale in a photo editor.

Use modeling and contrast to make drawings look less flat and more life-like.

There are other tips and techniques to make drawings look less flat (things like reflected light and aerial perspective,) but improving contrast and modeling are usually the best places to begin.

And the easiest to implement!

How to Draw Gold in Three Steps

Today, I want to show you how to draw gold.

My subject is the gold cap on a Christmas ornament, but you can draw any type of reflective gold object using this method.

In fact, you can draw any reflective object using this method.

How to Draw Gold in Three Steps

How to Draw Gold in Three Steps

The method is a three-step method starting with an under drawing and finishing up with detailing.

I used Bristol vellum paper because of its smoothness and ability to take color. This three-step method is also suitable for other papers, but the more tooth in the paper, the more layers you need to get full, rich color.

One other note on materials. I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils for the first two steps, then switched to Prismacolor Soft Core for the final step.

Polychromos pencils are oil-based, so they’re harder than Prismacolor. They do lay down smooth color on Bristol, but you have to work slowly and carefully.

Prismacolor are wax-based and are much softer. That makes them ideal for the final layers, for burnishing, and for filling in the last paper holes.

NOTE: You can get the same results with any artist grade colored pencils.

Now, for the tutorial.

Step 1: The Under Drawing

The under drawing is not the local color of the gold cap. It’s not gold or even yellow; it’s all the colors reflected in the gold. You have to look deep to see the other colors in each area. Those are the colors for the under drawing.

Use a very sharp Burnt Sienna pencil and light pressure to shade the darker reflections.

Since reflections are usually hard-edged, it’s a good idea to outline each shape then shade it. Since there’s a lot of detail in this area, it’s also a good idea to work slowly. Spend more time studying the reference photo than drawing.

Smooth color is key, so use whatever stroke works best in allowing you to draw smooth color. Add layers to get darker shadows and use only one or two layers in the lighter shadows. Fade Burnt Sienna into the white of the paper where the edges are softer.

The shadows around the bottom of the gold cap should also be under drawn with Burnt Sienna.

The next color is Scarlet red. Layer red in two or more light layers on the left side of the gold cap. Lightly outline the shapes, then lightly fill them in. Use more layers to increase the value and saturation.

Finally, light layer Cream over the remaining parts of the gold cap. Work around the white highlights! Once again, draw the smoothest possible color.

Step 2: Glazing Color

Darken the shadows with Walnut Brown. Use medium or medium-heavy pressure with a very sharp pencil to draw smooth color.

Add gold reflections with Cream and the red reflections with Scarlet Red. Blunt pencils are ideal for this. Use heavy pressure, but don’t burnish.

Then glaze Scarlet Red over the parts of the gold cap that reflect red. Layer Cream over the rest. Work around the bright white highlight.

Step 3: Detailing

Burnish the gold cap with Poppy Red in the areas that reflect red, and with Dark Umber in the areas that reflect a brownish color.

Then burnish both red and brownish reflections with Yellow Ochre.

Also burnish the yellow parts of the gold cap with Yellow Ochre, working around the bright highlights.

How to Rework a Background

Can I rework a background? I’ve tried erasing at least a little bit without much success…Thank you so much. Have a beautiful holiday season. Mirian Bertaska

Mirian asks a great question. I’ve wrestled with this very thing many times, so let’s take a look at a few possible answers to Mirian’s question.

How to Rework a Background

Mirian very kindly included her drawing and gave me permission to share it with you, so you could “see” what we’re talking about.

Mirian has good color saturation in her drawing. Her color choices make the bird stand out from the background.

But she is right about the background. It doesn’t convey enough distance. It looks like the bird and the background are all at the same distance.

Kudos to Mirian for seeing that. Knowing what’s not working in your art is key to improving.

Suggestions about How to Rework a Background

Whether or not you can rework a background depends on how much color you already have on the paper, what type of paper you’re using, and whether or not you’ve burnished or blended with solvent.

Mirian’s drawing is on Bristol. Bristol is excellent for colored pencils, but it is limited on the number of layers you can put down. However, it’s also very good for lifting color if the color has been applied in layers with light pressure.

Try lifting color to push the background into the distance.

Scotch tape is probably the best way to lift a little color. Lightly press a small piece of tape to the drawing, then carefully pull it up again.

Mounting putty is another good way to lift color, especially if you want a blurry look.

For small areas or detailing, an eraser may also help lift color. The ideal place for eraser work is around the bird.

Read Two Neat Tricks for Erasing or “Lifting” Color from Colored Pencil Drawings at EmptyEasel.com.

Add lighter colors to lighten the background.

Softening the colors with a light blue or cool gray is a good way to push the background further into the distance. Color can either be added over the existing background, or after the background has been lightened by lifting color, as described above.

Use sharp pencils and light pressure to layer lighter colors. Choose colors that are not only lighter, but cooler (tending toward blues and greens, rather than reds and yellows.) Try combining a couple of colors, too, so the background doesn’t become too uniform in value or color.

Add color one layer at a time, then review the drawing. Keep adding layers until the drawing looks the way you want it to look.

Try a soft blend to dissolve wax binder and “sink” color into the tooth of the paper.

If you’re willing to experiment a little, try a soft blend with odorless mineral spirits. Use a soft brush and blot the brush after you dip it in odorless mineral spirits. You don’t need a lot of solvent for this type of blend.

If you don’t want to try odorless mineral spirits, or don’t have any, but you want to try blending, try rubbing alcohol. Dampen a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol, then rub it on a corner of the piece. That should give you a nice, soft blend that pushes the background further into the background.

Even if that doesn’t work, the rubbing alcohol could break down the binder in the pencils enough to allow you to add a little bit more color.

Don’t get your paper too wet or it could buckle.

TIP: Layer color onto a scrap piece of Bristol until you have a similar look, then try blending that first. If it works, great! You can blend your drawing. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t damaged the drawing.

How that Worked for Mirian

I asked Mirian if she would let me know how her experiments turned out. Here’s what she had to say.

Hi Carrie,

The painting wasn’t accepting more color, so I … layered violet blue on a little piece of each, and the alcohol one looks better in my opinion.

Mirian layered Violet Blue on the left side of the illustration below. The rubbing alcohol blend is on the right side.

The portion above the line is the original drawing.

How to Rework a Background - Rubbing Alcohol

Neither solution is ideal, but Mirian was satisfied with the rubbing alcohol blend.

Leave the background alone and work on the bird to bring it forward.

The final possible solution is to leave the background as it is, and increase the values on the bird. Make the highlights brighter and darken the darks.

One of the things that gives a picture “depth” is the value range. The greater the contrast between the lightest lights and the darkest darks, the closer the object looks.

Here’s Mirian’s drawing in black-and-white.

How to Rework a Background - Original Drawing in Gray Scale

As you can see, the value range is fairly close. When the background and the subject have pretty much the same values, the result is a background that’s not in the background.

I used GIMP (free photo editing software) to select the bird, then increased the contrast. The bird now “leaps” forward in the drawing.

How to Rework a Background - Gray Scale with Contrast

This tip doesn’t apply to reworking a background, but sometimes the solution involves the subject, not the background!

Thank you to Mirian, who was willing to share not only her question, but her artwork.

Thanks, Mirian!

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How to Draw Vibrant Shadows

Knowing how to draw vibrant shadows is key to realistic art. It doesn’t matter what medium you prefer, if your shadows are weak, contrast is weak.

Weak contrast makes for flat artwork, and we all know flat artwork doesn’t usually look very realistic.

So how to do you get strong contrast? Push those dark values as far as you can with strong, vibrant shadows!

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows

Value is the most important thing to get right in your art.  You need to have strong highlights and strong shadows.

But shadows can be so difficult to get right, as a recent reader question proved. There are so many different ways to draw shadows, the reader wanted to know the best way.

There really isn’t a “best way” that works with every drawing. You style of work, your subjects, and the colors you have available all play a role in how you draw shadows.

Five Ways to Draw Vibrant Shadows

There are as many different ways to draw shadows as there are artists. Sooner or later, every artist develops their own way of doing things.

Lets start with five red balls. I’ve drawn them all with the same color (Scarlet Lake) and to the same degree. There’s a decent range of values, but nothing stunning.

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows - 1

Use darker values of the same colors to draw shadows.

I “finished” the first ball with the same color simply by adding more layers of Scarlet Lake. The darker the values, the more layers.

The darkest values are burnished with Scarlet Lake to fill in the paper tooth and make the shadow darker.

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows - Local Color

Use darker versions of the local colors to draw shadows.

From this point on, there are two important things to remember.

First, don’t add the new colors only to the shadows. Shade them over most of the middle values, too. Fade them out just like you fade the base (local) color, or you may end up with a shadow that looks “stuck on.”

Second, alternate layers of the new color and the local color. You should almost always finish with a layer of local color, too. That gives the shadow the look of being a darker version of the local color, rather than an entirely different color.

The shadow and darker middle values in the second ball are Crimson Lake. Crimson Lake is a darker red with a hint of blue. The resulting shadow is darker than the rest of the red, but still not very vibrant.

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows - Darker Local Color

Add Black to dark versions of the local colors.

Black was layered over the shadow in the third ball. You might think this is the logical choice for darkening shadows, but as you can see, it didn’t really make the shadow very vibrant. Instead, the shadow looks more gray. That may work for some drawings.

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows - Black

Add a complementary color to draw shadows.

I layered Grass Green into the shadow on the fourth ball. Green is the complement of red, so you could add red to the shadow of a green ball. Any complement naturally darkens and tones down the color it’s added to.

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows - Complementary Color

Mix a dark brown and dark blue to draw shadows.

The best way to draw shadows is by mixing other colors. My favorite colors for shadows are dark brown and dark blue. Combined in alternating layers, they create lively dark values that rival black. That combination works with most medium to dark-colored objects and I’ve used them with great success on horses and landscapes.

How to Draw Vibrant Shadows - Indigo and Dark Brown

For lighter colored objects, you’ll want to replace these colors with lighter shades.

Those are five ways to draw vibrant shadows.

There are other ways, too, so the best advice is to experiment. Do like I did with a series of balls or any other shape. The drawings don’t need to be polished pieces of fine art to help you find the best way to draw vibrant shadows in your own work.

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