Tips for Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil

Colored pencils seem ideal for drawing hair, don’t they?

Stop and think about it. Hair looks like it should be drawn with lots of lines and colored pencils are perfect for drawing lines.

But is that all there is to drawing realistic hair? Just making lines?

The short answer is no. There’s a lot more to it than just making lines. But it’s not as difficult as you may be thinking.

Tips for Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil

Tips for Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil

The best way to draw realistic hair is by matching the strokes you use to the length and type of hair. Longer strokes for long hair, shorter strokes for short hair. If the hair is moving or wavy, use curving strokes instead of straight strokes.

Super sharp pencils or pencils with harder pigment cores are also helpful for drawing hair. Prismacolor Verithin pencils or Caran d’Ache Pablos have thinner, harder pigment cores. They sharpen to a finer point, and hold that point longer, which makes them ideal for drawing hair.

Beyond that, here are a few other tips for drawing hair that looks touch-ably real.

Don’t Get Bogged Down in Detail

Starting with big shapes and drawing toward details is a good drawing rule of thumb no matter what you’re drawing. It’s especially important with hair.

To draw hair, block in the large masses first, then break them down into smaller details. Don’t draw every hair. That’s not only frustrating, it’s unnecessary. A few shadows and middle values in the right places, and a few highlights are all you need. Get those right, then add other details.

This detail of Blizzard Babe makes it look like I drew every hair. I did draw a lot of hairs, but what makes these shapes look like hair is the movement in the lines, the shadows, and the few “stray details” along the top of the neck, and toward the ends of the hair.

Tips for Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil 1

Notice the hair groups falling over black straps and blue straps. I drew the larger shapes in each area, then added the details that made the hair look like you could run your fingers through it.

Pay Attention to Values

It’s more important to draw accurate values, than to draw accurate color. If the values are right, the color looks right. If the values aren’t right, it won’t matter how accurate the colors are. The drawing will look dull and lifeless.

Healthy hair is glossy. The highlights should be bright, almost intense; especially in direct light. Against bright highlights, shadows appear deep and intense, too.

In the sample below, the highlight is nearly white (it’s the color of the paper, which is a light ivory.) Bright highlights combined with dark shadows give this horse’s mane a high-gloss appearance.

Tips for Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil 2

Sharp edges between highlight and shadow also enhance the glossiness of long hair. You don’t need extremely hard edges, but you also don’t want extremely soft edges.

Note also that the shape and placement of the highlights gives movement to the hair. It’s not  just hanging there; it’s blowing in a strong breeze.

Include a Few Well-Placed Flyaway Hairs

Even the neatest hair has a few flyaways—those hairs that refuse to stay in place without a lot of hair spray. In the illustration above, most of the hairs form large shapes and groups that stick together.

But there are also some that are separate. These flyaway hairs make for more natural looking hair, and also enhance the sense of movement.

Try Impressed Lines

Impressed lines are a great way to add accents and random highlights to hair. Just don’t do too many.

This detail comes from an old portrait. There are too many impressed lines near the top of the illustration. They’re too distracting. The fact that the impressed lines move in different directions also detracts from the overall effect.

Tips for Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil 3

But that doesn’t mean impressed lines don’t have a purpose. Used sparingly and in the right places, they are a great aid in rendering believable hair.

Impressed lines denote highlights if you’re working on light-colored paper. They should ideally occur only where you want random highlights, so they should move in the same general direction as highlights you draw.

So use impressed lines, but be very careful where you use them, and how many you use.

Use Multiple Colors

Always use a minimum of three colors: light value, medium value, and dark value.

But even for white or black hair, you want more than just shades of gray. For this black mane, I used different values of blue and brown in addition to black. Those colors are not obvious, but they provide depth for the black, and create a more lively black. Hints of them are visible in the actual drawing, and they provide the illusion of sparkle.

Tips for Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil 4

To see the colors in hair, look closely at the highlights. Secondary colors appear most closely where the highlights transition into middle values and shadows. Add those colors throughout the rest of the hair.

It’s helpful to look at hair in natural light. Strong sunlight is best, since morning or evening light often produces a golden glow.

Pay Attention to Your Reference Photos

When it comes to drawing hair, we all too often set our reference photo aside and wing it. We all know what hair looks like, after all. We see it every day in one form or another.

But what your brain tells you hair looks like, and what the hair looks like in your reference photo may be two entirely different things.  If you want to draw hair that looks real and that looks like your subject, pay attention to the large shapes, the values, and movement of the hair in the photo.

Then draw what you see; not what you think should be there.

Conclusion

A lot of factors play a role in drawing hair that looks real, but if you get these basic things right, you’re on your way.

Interested in Learning More?

I describe how to draw four basic types of hair for an EmptyEasel article. Specific tips and illustrations show you how to draw short, neat hair; long, neat hair; long flowing hair; and wild hair.

So if you’re constantly having bad hair days when it comes to colored pencil, you definitely want to read How to Draw Realistic Hair in Colored Pencil.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil

Lets look at using masking film with colored pencil.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a link to an article I wrote about masking fluid for the online art magazine, EmptyEasel. You can read that article here.

I also experimented with masking film on the same drawing. In this week’s post, I describe the process I used and comparing masking film and masking fluid.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil

Here is the portion of the drawing I worked with.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 1

Instead of painting masking fluid onto the paper (as you do with masking film), you cut it to size and shape, carefully lay it over the area you want to mask, then smooth it down with a fingertip.

Step 1

There are two primary ways to use masking film. Place film over the drawing and cut the design from it or draw on the masking film, cut out the mask and lay that over the drawing. You don’t need to wait for it to dry, which is a bonus. You can also create more intricate masks more easily with masking film than with masking fluid.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 2

Step 2

I chose to draw the pattern on the masking film and cut it out, then place it over the drawing. Why? Because I didn’t want to run the risk of cutting through the film, which is very thin, and into the paper. In hind sight, it would have been better to place the film over the artwork and carefully cut away the parts I didn’t want. It would have been no more time consuming and would have resulted in a much more pleasing masking.

However, I took the more cautious route and ended up with a good (not great) masking.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 3

Step 3

Once the masking film is in place, the drawing process is the same. Work around and over the masked area until it’s finished.

One way the film is different than masking fluid is that I couldn’t work over the masking fluid without lifting it. Masking film, on the other hand, was easy to work over, even with medium or heavier pressure. It didn’t move or pull up or otherwise interfere with the drawing process.

Using Masking Film with Colored Pencil - Step 4

Step 4

When I finished the background, I removed the masking film by carefully pulling up an edge with a fingernail, then pulling the piece or pieces up one at a time. The film came off easily and without leaving residue. Another advantage to film over fluid.

Here is how the drawing looked after removing the masking film.

If I Use Masking Film With Colored Pencil Again

Masking film worked extremely well for this purpose. Better than the masking fluid (read about that here).

But in retrospect, I would do things differently. I would:

Apply the masking film to the drawing before applying color.

Lay down a piece of masking film large enough to cover the drawing.

Carefully cut away the parts I didn’t need.

These changes in method would allow me to create a more accurate mask and that would result in a more realistic area, instead of this blocky look.

All is not lost, however. There may still be hope for the mane. If there is, I’ll be sure to let you know how it turned out!

Next week, I’ll tell you how the background developed from a single layer of medium value Peacock Green to this wonderful deep, dark in just two days. I hope you’ll come back for that.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already subscribed to this blog, I hope you will. It’s an easy process that will take five minutes or less. It’s also free of charge. You can subscribe to RSS notifications of new content or email newsletters. If you want everything, you can do that, too! Just click here to get started.

How to Draw a Dark Background

There’s nothing like a dark background to make a subject stand out. Especially a brightly lighted one. You have only to look at some of Cecile Baird’s colored pencil work to see how dramatic that can be. But what’s the best way to draw a dark background?

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil

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

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

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

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

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil

I had in mind a head study of a running horse, but the true subject of the drawing was a long, black mane filled with light. The horse was a beautiful sandy bay in color, with a long, billowing mane.

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

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Peacock Green Layer

A Change in Course

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

This drawing waited on the easel. I looked at all that mane, and considered the subject of the article.

I decided the horse–more specifically her mane–was the perfect subject for the article.

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

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Peacock Green Layer with Masking Fluid

Drawing the Dark Background

Dark Brown

I applied Dark Brown over all of the background using medium pressure (normal handwriting pressure). I added between two and five layers over the entire background, but wasn’t satisfied with the result. So I decided to try an alcohol blend on the left side (in front of the horse).

The alcohol blend removed most of the brown and reduced the background to a shade of green that was too bright. I set the drawing aside to dry overnight and thought about ways to overcome the setback.

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Dark Brown Layer

Another Change in Course

The article was due within a couple days, so there wasn’t time for layering. There were also other problems to correct.

  • The alcohol blend needed to be covered
  • There were scratches embedded in the paper (probably by a gritty pencil early in the process). You can see them in the first two images, particularly under the head.

The best way to deal with those issues was heavy applications of color.

So instead of layering one color at a time with light to medium pressure, I chose three colors–Indigo Blue, Dark Brown, and Black–and applied them with medium-heavy to heavy pressure.

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

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

Burnt Ochre

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

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Detail

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil - Burnt Umber Layer

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

Conclusion

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

I know one more way to draw a dark background.

And now you do, too!

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

How to Remove Color in a Colored Pencil Drawing

I’m working on a colored pencil drawing and have too much color over an area. How do I remove color? Can it be fixed or do I need to start over?

My first response to any question like this is to tell the artist to take heart. In most cases, you don’t need to start a drawing over, particularly if it’s nearly finished. There are ways to lighten or remove color and make corrections, even over heavy applications of color.

How to Remove Color in a Colored Pencil Drawing

First, let’s take a look at a couple of ways to lift color. Then I’ll show you how to layer fresh color over the damaged area.

How to Remove Color in a Colored Pencil Drawing

Transparent Tape

Transparent tape is an ideal tool for removing color from a colored pencil drawing. You won’t be able to remove all of the color—some staining will remain—but you can remove a surprising amount if you’re careful and diligent.

How to remove color with Transparent Tape

Take a piece of tape a little longer than the area you want to work with.

Lay the tape sticky side down on the paper

Press it VERY LIGHTLY into place. If you press the tape too firmly, you run the risk of pulling up paper fibers in addition to color, so be careful.

Lift carefully.

Repeat.

Most tape is sticky enough to lift color if the color hasn’t been too heavily burnished. Even if it has been heavily burnished, you will be able to lift a lot of color. If you need to, use a couple pieces of tape.

The one thing you don’t want to do is tear the paper, so work slowly and carefully. Evaluate the drawing each time and stop when you’ve removed enough color to continue drawing.

There is one other warning I need to share. Transparent tape does tend to leave the surface of the paper a bit slick feeling. The smoother the paper to begin with, the more likely using tape will leave the paper slick. That’s why it’s important not to overuse transparent tape in lifting color.

Removing Additional Color With An Eraser

After you’ve done everything you can do with the tape, use a hard eraser (like a click eraser).

A click eraser can be sharpened to a fairly sharp point that allows you to do more detailed color removal. Used in tandem with a color guard, you can remove color and create shapes or edges.

When I’m making corrections of this type, I usually use the tape on all of the area, then use the click eraser in more specific areas. This method creates a surface with gradating values and color, and that makes it easier to seamlessly blend new color into old.

Remember, be careful. If you’re not confident enough to try the process on a drawing, lay down color on a piece of scrap paper and practice with that.

Adding New Color

Once you’ve lifted all the color you want to lift or can lift from your drawing, it’s time to add new color. 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.

A Demonstration

I used several layers of medium to heavy pressure to lay down the color quickly over this circle. The darkest areas are quite thick and waxy. The middle values are less so. The highlight has very little color on it.

Remove Color - First step in removing colored from a colored pencil drawing.

Once I finished drawing the ball, the highlight seemed too small. To make it larger, I need to remove some of the color.

Using tape to lift color

I began by pressing short pieces of tape over the highlight and gently lifting the tape. Because I put so much color on the paper and used such heavy pressure, I used more than one piece of tape.

Removing color with a click eraser.

Next, I used a click eraser and worked lightly over all of the highlight. I held the eraser like a pencil and moved it in circular strokes over the area I wanted to erase.

The first time, I started with the lightest area and worked outward into the middle values.

Then I cleaned the eraser by rubbing it on a scrap piece of paper until there was no color left on it.

Then, I worked only on the brightest area. Again, I used circular strokes and went over the highlight a couple times.

Remove Color - Third step in removing colored from a colored pencil drawing.

Another Demonstration

Here’s another ball. I drew this one the same way. Lots of color applied with lots of pressure. Rather than lift color, I want to add color.

I layered indigo blue over the right three-quarters of the highlight using medium pressure. I also worked out into the black around the edges.

Remove Color - Second step in layering colored over a colored pencil drawing.

Next was Non Photo Blue. Again, I used medium pressure to add color to the right part of the highlight. I covered all of the area I colored with indigo blue. I also worked into most of the left part of the highlight.

Remove Color - Third step in layering colored over a colored pencil drawing.

Then I layered Powder Blue over the left half of the highlight with medium heavy pressure. As I moved into the darker part of the highlight, I decreased pressure and gradually blended the blue into the black surrounding the middle values.

Remove Color - Fourth step in layering colored over a colored pencil drawing.

Next was a layer of white, burnished over the brightest part of the highlight.

If I wanted to, I could layer blue over the rest of the ball, too, including adding reflected light to the bottom curves. It’s more difficult to add color to the areas with a lot of color, but it could be done.

Conclusion

The next time you find you’ve put too much color on part of a drawing, try this method to lift color, then make corrections. You’ll be surprised what you can do with a little bit of tape, an eraser, and some patience. Give it a try and let me know how that works.