Colored Pencil Basics for Beginners

A few weeks ago, I talked about what you needed to buy if you want to get started drawing with colored pencils. This week, let’s take a look at a few colored pencil basics.

Colored Pencil Basics for Beginners

There’s so much to learn with any art medium that it can quickly get confusing. Confusing isn’t what I want to accomplish, so let’s stick with just a few of the essentials. Papers, pencils, pressure, and more.

Let’s begin with paper.

Colored Pencil Basics for Beginners

Colored Papers

If you’re thinking of using a colored paper, choose a color that works well with all parts of your artwork. The color of the paper should ideally provide a base color for the artwork.

For example, for a landscape on a rainy day, light gray or a light gray-green paper is ideal. Gray paper provides an excellent base for a gray sky or misty air with very little work. Gray-green paper provides a good base for the greens in the landscape but might be more problematic for the sky if the sky is light.

For this little landscape, I used light gray paper. All I had to do was add the colors for the sky (white and light gray) and the landscape.

West of Bazaar
West of Bazaar 5×7 on Gray Mat Board

This is not to say no other paper color would work. I drew a more recent “gray day” landscape on very light tan paper for a slightly different look.

White paper is also a good choice for both landscapes, but would have taken longer to draw.

The color of the paper affects the drawing, so choose a color that adds to the atmosphere or tone you want to set for the drawing.

Hard Lead Pencils

Using a pencil with a harder lead can be helpful for beginning a new drawing. Prismacolor Verithin pencils are much harder than Prismacolor Soft Core pencils. The two red pencils are Prismacolor Soft Core. They’re what people usually think of when they think of Prismacolor pencils.

Prismacolor makes a soft, thick lead pencil (top) and a thinner, harder leader pencil (bottom.) Combine hard and soft leads for best results.

The two pencils on the bottom are also Prismacolor pencils, but they’re Prismacolor Verithin. The leads are thinner and harder because they contain less wax binder.

They hold a point longer, and lay down less color even with heavy pressure. They are subsequently easier to lift or erase if you need to lighten an area or remove color altogether.

Oil-based colored pencils are generally harder than wax-based pencils so they’re also a good choice if you want to lay down a lot of layers, but don’t want to fill up the paper’s tooth too quickly.

Use light pressure in the early stages no matter what type of pencil you use.

Applying Pressure

It takes pressure to put color onto paper. Pressure is usually measured on a 10-point scale, with “0” being no pressure at all and “10” being burnishing pressure. Normal hand-writing pressure is generally considered to be “5” on the 10-point scale.

In most cases, it’s best to begin with light pressure and gradually increase pressure as you add more layers. It’s easier to correct or conceal mistakes drawn with light pressure.

It’s also easier to avoid getting too dark too quickly if you add layers and colors little by little.

Sharp Pencils

It’s important to keep your pencils well sharpened. The surface of most papers is made up of tiny hills and valleys. The difference between the tops of the “hills” and the bottoms of the “valleys” is what is called the paper’s tooth. The rougher a paper, the bigger the difference between the hills and valleys.

The deeper the tooth of the paper, the more layers or pressure it takes to fill in the “valleys.”

The sharper you keep your pencils, the better they reach all of the parts of the paper and the better they cover the paper.

You can also combine sharp pencils with heavier pressures to get good coverage on papers. Just don’t do this too early in the drawing because it flattens the tooth of the paper. That makes it more difficult to add more layers.

Sharp pencils are also ideal for drawing detail.

Blunt Can be Useful, Too

Blunt pencils are not always a bad thing. More paper shows through when you use blunt pencils, so color will appear more grainy.

Glazing color (applying a very think layer of color to tint color already on the paper) is best done with blunt or dull pencils in my experience. That’s because so much of the previous colors show through.

Top to Bottom: Very Blunt, Blunt, Dull. All three points can be useful in colored pencil art.

Using heavier pressure takes care of those paper holes (if you don’t want them.)

This method works best if you don’t plan to use a lot of color layers, since heavy pressure adds more wax binder as well as more color (assuming you’re using wax-based colored pencils.)

Getting Dark Without Getting Too Dark

Values are the most important tool you have to use. It’s more important to get the values right, than to get the color right.

It’s also important NOT to get too dark too early. Every layer of color darkens the shadows and middle tones.

It’s always better to stop short of what you think is the proper darkness. It’s much easier to darken shadows later than it is to lighten them.

Working On Everything At Once

Working the entire drawing at once (as opposed to finishing each area before moving on to the next) allows you to make adjustments throughout the process and keep the composition unified.

It’s not necessary to work in this fashion, but it can be helpful in establishing the initial layers of color.

One of my problems in my early drawings was avoiding seams. I always worked one section at a time and even when I used the same colors from one section to another, I could often tell where the two sections met—especially if I was working in an area of uniform color, like a grassy field. The best way I found to avoid this was to work over the entire area, one color at a time.

To Turn Your Paper or Not to Turn Your Paper

Turn the drawing if necessary to make it easier to apply color. Orient the drawing in a fashion that is most comfortable for the area you’re working on.  When doing large amounts of grass, for example, turn the drawing upside down so you can stroke toward yourself (which is more natural for most artists than stroking away). This will also reduce hand stress and give you a fresh perspective on the composition.

Reviewing Your Work

It can be productive and helpful to give your artwork a periodic check throughout the process.

Also try viewing it in a way other than normal. Ways to do this are:

  • Viewing it in a mirror
  • Looking at it upside down
  • Viewing it from a distance
  • Setting it aside and looking at it after a couple of days

Imbalances in drawing, values or colors can more easily be seen when you look at your artwork in a way other than the normal.

Photographing or scanning your artwork and viewing it on your computer screen can also reveal problem areas or areas that are not quite complete.

There’s a lot more to creating beautiful colored pencil art, but these colored pencil basics are enough to get you started. Master these and you’re well on your way!

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.

Free Color Wheel & Value Scale Templates

Time to share a favorite freebie with you—a free color wheel template.

Free Color Wheel & Value Scale Templates

Every time I talk about using the complementary method of drawing, color wheels come up. If you’ve been an artist for a while, you probably know what a color is.

But maybe you’ve never made one of your own.

Now’s the time!

To get you started, I decided to offer you a tool you might not have, but do need: A free color wheel. While I’m at it, I’m also including a free value scale template.

Free Color Wheel Template

This is the same template used in the EmptyEasel.com article, Making a Color Wheel with Colored Pencil, but with a few improvements. It can be used for a standard color wheel or as a project-specific color wheel.

Free Downloadable Color Wheel

The template is a jpg file and should be accessible through any photo manipulation program. All you have to do is open it, print it, and start filling in the slices.

Click here to get your color wheel template.

Free Value Scale Template

The value scale is a 10-part scale that can be used to create gray scale or color values. It can also be used to create a palette for two colors. My sample shows blue, but you can use any colors or color combinations with this template.

This is a great tool for practicing pencil control and pressure levels. It also is ideal for deciding how light or dark to make something. Just lay it over your reference photo to see how light or dark an area is, then shade your drawing until it matches.

The download includes instructions.

The template is a doc file and should be accessible through most Microsoft Word versions or any word processing software that can translate Microsoft Word.

Click here to get a value scale template.

Both templates are free downloads.

Questions?

Leave your question in the comment box below and I’ll answer them as quickly as possible.

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My Colored Pencil Wish List

Let’s have a little fun today. Something totally off topic as far as tutorials, discussions, and techniques. Let’s take a look at my colored pencil wish list.

And yours, too, if you care to share.

Colored Pencil Wish List

Let’s face it. No artist can have too many supplies.

Remember the last time you went to an art or craft store? All those open stock pencils in their nifty display rack. Sheets of paper, and accessories.

Those beautiful colors are enough to make your mouth water (and that’s just the lacquer!) I don’t know about you, but it’s impossible to have too many colors.

Or too many pencils.

My Colored Pencil Wish List - Faber-Castell

But most of us can’t afford to buy every colored pencil we see. The budget just doesn’t allow for that. We begin where we can and wish for others.

That wish list is what this post is all about.

My Colored Pencil Wish List

Here are other pencils on my wish list, in alphabetical order.

Caran d’Ache

Caran d’Ache is a Swiss company producing a range of writing and art supplies. Their colored pencil product line includes Pablo, Luminance, and Supracolor Soft Aquarelle pencils.

Caran d’Ache Luminance are probably the best known, and they are about the best wax-based pencil available, but they are quite expensive at $4.49 (currently at Dick Blick) for single pencils.

Luminance pencils are available in 76 colors that are highly pigmented and can be used with all the same blending methods you might use with Prismacolor. Their pigment core is soft and ideal for layering.

But what sets them apart is their opacity.

Most wax-based colored pencils are translucent in nature. You can see the influence of each layer of color through all the other layers you put over it. That’s why it’s so difficult to make white or light colors show over dark colors.

My Colored Pencil Wish List - Luminance

That is not the case with Luminance. You can draw light over dark for striking results.

The Pablo line is to Luminance with Verithin is to Prismacolor Soft Core. A thinner, harder pigment core that holds a point longer, and is great for fine details.

Derwent Drawing Pencils

Derwent Drawing Pencils have been around since 1986, when Derwent introduced the original line of six colors. Now with 24 colors, they are starting to step onto center stage with colored pencil artists.

Each color is a soft, “earthy” color. The pencils themselves are bigger than most colored pencils. The pigment core is 8mm (Prismacolor is 3.8mm). But they’re also very soft, so they lay down a lot of color quickly.

Colored Pencils 1

What attracts me to these pencils is the muted colors, which are ideal for drawing landscapes or under drawings.

They’re a medium priced pencil, currently listed at $2.02 each in open stock on Dick Blick.

Derwent Lightfast Pencils

Derwent Lightfast Pencils are brand new to the market. They are specifically designed by Derwent to be 100% lightfast; that is, every color in the collection is lightfast.

How lightfast? The company has tested them by ASTM Standards (D-6901 to be specific,) and every color is guaranteed not to fade in 100 years under museum conditions.

They’re an oil-based pencil that performs almost like a wax-based pencil, with smooth lay down and great pigmentation.

Colored Pencils Pencils 2

The downside?

There aren’t many colors, yet. Only 36.

They’re very expensive. The full set is currently $102.56 from Dick Blick. Single pencils are $2.65 each from Dick Blick.

Derwent is planning on introducing 36 more colors in the Lightfast line, but the roll-out date is still unknown.

But they are on my wish list!

Dick Blick Studio Artist’s Colored Pencils

If you’re just getting started with colored pencil drawing and want a high quality pencil for a reasonable price, you can hardly do better than Blick Studio Artist’s Colored Pencils.

The pencils are available in a variety of sets and open stock (91 colors) for about a dollar a pencil. They are a wax-based pencil, with a thick, soft pigment core, and can be used with layering and blending methods.

I’m interested in trying these pencils both because of price, and because they are manufactured by the same company that manufactures Utrecht Premium Colored Pencils. I think of Utrecht as an old, and respected company, so am interested in their colored pencil products.

Colored Pencils

Koh-I-Nor Polycolor Dry Color Drawing Pencils

I can’t say much about the Koh-I-Nor Dry Color Drawing Pencils that I didn’t say about the Koh-I-Nor Woodless Progresso pencils (see below.) I’ve been so happy with the woodless pencils for general drawing and on sanded pastel paper, that I hope the Polycolor pencils live up to the same standard.

Polycolor pencils are oil-based—another advantage as far as I’m concerned—and are moderately priced below a dollar each for the full set of 72.

Colored Pencils on a Diagonal

The only drawback—and it is significant—is that they are not available open stock. For that reason, they wouldn’t be my first choice from this list. But in my opinion, price makes them worth a try.

Someday.

Lyra Rembrandt

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor pencils are also oil-based, so they produce less wax-bloom than wax-based pencils.

The closest I’ve ever come to these pencils is having some how once gotten hold of a Lyra Splender Blender. That was back before I knew the difference between wax-based pencils and oil-based pencils. I used it to blend Prismacolor and it worked great.

They’re available in a wide range of colors open stock and in sets. Open stock price at Dick Blick is $1.72, so they’re a moderately priced pencil.

Colored Pencils in two Rows

Colored Pencils I Wish Were Available

More Colors, Please.

The Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless pencils are fabulous to work with, especially on sanded art surfaces. But they come in only 24 colors, some of which are of no use to an animal or landscape artist! I’d love to see more earth tones, and “earthy” blues, greens, and yellows.

The same goes for the Derwent Drawing Pencils. Those muted tones are said to be beautiful and the pencils themselves a delight to use. I have only the Chinese White, but I definitely plan to buy a set one of these days. Twenty-four colors is a great start, but I’d really love to see a wider range.

Prismacolors the way they used to be.

Who wouldn’t want that?

I have a pencil or two dating back to the Eagle days, as well as a few that are newer, but still predate the current Prismacolor. I would dearly love for someone to buy back the brand and get back to manufacturing a colored pencil for artists and by artists.

Colored Pencils in a Circle

That’s My Colored Pencil Wish List

At least at present. Who knows? Something new may come along any day, and merit addition to this list.

But isn’t that the way it is with art supplies? There’s always something new!

What pencils are on your wish list?

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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Colored Pencil Email Drawing Classes

Ideas for new colored pencil email drawing classes are constantly taking shape. Everywhere I look, I see potential subjects.

Holiday candies (if I can keep from eating all my subjects!)

Christmas lights and outdoor decorations.

Ribbons and bows and colorful gift wrapping.

Snowy landscapes, and kittens, and bare trees….

The potential is endless!

Believe it or not, I’ve even considered an afternoon or weekend class on blending and hyping up contrast!

New Colored Pencil Email Drawing Classes

To top it all off, some of you have asked about new classes, and some have even suggested topics (I love the wrinkled aluminum foil idea!)

What Email Drawing Classes Include

This past Fall, students walked with me through the process of drawing clouds, drawing from life, drawing a kitten, and drawing a red Christmas ornament. Each class presented specific challenges and rewards.

Each class included:

Reference photo and line drawing where necessary

Complete lessons

Full-color illustrations

Feedback from me

Lots of tips

A free ebook based on the class

Classes were designed for beginning artists and intermediate artists, and lasted a month or less.

What Makes These Classes Unique from My Other Email Drawing Classes

Limited in length. The longest class lasts only five weeks. Most will be four weeks or less.

Low cost. Only $20 per class (for 30-day classes).

No limit on the number of students. That’s why the tuition is so low.

Possible Class Projects

Drawing a landscape using the umber under drawing method

Using  French Greys for a cat portait

Drawing candy or some other food item

Colored pencil blending methods

Hyping up contrast

Drawing a still life with glass

When Does All this Start?

The class schedule is still very tentative, though I hope to begin this summer.

But I want to give you the opportunity to get the latest news on these classes, and all other courses upcoming in 2019 and beyond.

How?

Simple! Sign up for my free New Colored Pencil Email Drawing Class mailing list.

Not only will you get the latest news before everyone else; you’ll get early-bird discounts, possibly multi-class discounts, and other special offers. Just click the button below, fill out the form, and confirm your wish to receive news, and you’re in.

New Colored Pencil Email Drawing Class List

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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