How to Draw a Dark Background

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

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

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

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

How to Draw a Dark Background

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

How to Draw a Dark Background with Colored Pencil

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

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

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

A Change in Course

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

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

And so it was.

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

Drawing the Dark Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

draw a dark background

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.

Ask Carrie a Question

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

We’ve all heard we should keep our pencils sharp for the best results. Most of the time, that’s true, but today’s reader wants to know about using the side of a colored pencil. Here’s the question.

Hello, Carrie,

Is it more effective to use the side of the pencil and avoid the tip except for making defining lines?

Most of the time, smooth color is vital to smooth color layers and smooth blends. Sharp pencils are usually necessary for both. So it’s understandable that most artists recommend keeping pencils sharp all the time.

the Side of a Colored Pencil

But that’s not to say there’s never a time to use the side of a pencil.

Following are a few examples of using the side of the pencil instead of the tip.

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

Covering Large Areas with Color

Let’s say you need to shade an area that’s fairly large and in which no sharp detail is needed. A distant hill, maybe. Or an under drawing layer. Using the side of your pencil makes perfect sense in those situations.

You can draw smooth color with the side of a pencil, but the color skims across the tooth of the paper without filling the tooth. The resulting color layer will appear lighter in value because more of the paper shows through. This is ideal for showing distance in a landscape, or for drawing mist or fog.

I used the side of a pencil to draw the distant trees in this landscape. The broken color (paper showing through the color layer) helped create to look of far off trees.

Glazing

When you glaze, you put down just enough color to tint whatever color is already on the paper. With oil painting, you do that by adding painting medium to thin the paint and make it more transparent.

Colored pencils are already translucent, so you don’t need to add anything to them to use them for glazing.

You can cover more area by using the side of a sharp pencil rather than a dull pencil, as shown in the previous illustration.

Instead, you glaze by using light pressure and not doing more than one or two layers. The sides of pencils are perfect for this because they create a smoother color layer and cover more area without visible pencil strokes.

The resulting color layer is broken. That means that paper holes show through the glazing layer, as shown below. The rougher the paper, the more paper shows through glazed color.

Whatever color is already on the paper, also shows through, and that’s what makes glazing so effective. You can tint previous color layers without completely covering them up.

Too Much Detail

Have you ever realized after finishing an area that you’ve drawn too much detail? Have you ever wished there was a way to reduce the amount of detail without removing color?

Try lightly shading that area with the side of a pencil. You’ll be able to add color without adding detail. That color layer helps “veil” the previous layers. The details still show through, but they’ll be less obvious.

I often use a light gray for such work, but you can use any color. Use a darker color if you need to darken the area; use a lighter color to lighten it slightly.

One Other Reason to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

Over the years, readers have asked how to learn to use lighter pressure when they draw.

The best tool I’ve found for a naturally heavy hand is changing the way you hold the pencil.

Here are two samples of how I hold pencils.

When to Use the Side of a Colored Pencil

On the left is a nearly vertical grip. I use this when drawing tight detail, or when I need to be very precise. It’s also a good way to work on small areas.

When you hold a pencil this way, you’re using only the point of the pencil. You have a lot of control and can put a lot of pressure on the pencil.

On the right is a nearly horizontal grip. With this grip, you’re drawing with all or most of the exposed pigment core, not just the tip. This is perfect for glazing thin layers of color, as I explained above.

But you know what else it’s good for? Decreasing pressure! That’s because you hold the pencil more toward the unsharpened end. That makes it a little more difficult to put a lot of pressure on the pencil as you draw.

(My illustration isn’t perfect because I used a short pencil to show the horizontal grip. No matter the length of the pencil, hold it near the end.)

If you want to draw with very light pressure but have a naturally heavy hand, try holding the pencil near the end of the pencil and drawing with the side of the pencil.

Conclusion

In most cases and with most papers, it is smart to use the tip of a well-sharpened pencil.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when using the side of the pencil is more helpful. I’ve shared a few of the times I’m likely to use the side of the pencil.

Experiment with your next drawing and see when the side of your pencil produces better results than the tip.

Ask Carrie a Question

Framing Colored Pencil Drawings: Must You Use Glass?

You know framing colored pencil drawings can be expensive due to a variety of factors. The frame itself, matting costs, and glazing. Often, the glazing is the most expensive item, especially if you opt for UV resistant glass.

Must you use glass for framing?

This is a great question.

For the longest time, my answer was always the same. Yes.

Framing Colored Pencil Drawings Must You Use Glass?

Why Framing Under Glass Is Usually Necessary

The reason is simple.

For many years, colored pencil drawings were almost always on paper. Paper is vulnerable to damage by tearing, puncturing, or denting if not properly protected. Stains also pose significant risk to unprotected paper. Unprotected paper also tends to absorb moisture and dirt out of the atmosphere.

So when framing drawings on paper under glass, it’s the paper more than the drawing itself that needs protection.

Alternatives for Framing Colored Pencil Drawings

However, there are other supports available that do not require this degree of protection. If you work on any one of these, you can safely frame your drawing without glass.

Rigid Supports

The best way to eliminate the need for glass in framing is to use a rigid support to begin with. These days, there are plenty of options. Here are just a few.

Pastelbord and Similar Supports

Originally designed for pastel work, these supports are, in essence, pastel papers mounted to a rigid support such as gatorboard or wood. They come in a variety of sizes and some of them also come in a variety of colors.

However, they’re great for colored pencil work, too, and your finished drawing needs only a light coat of varnish. Frame like an oil painting.

Some popular drawing papers are also now available mounted on rigid supports. You can also mount your favorite paper to a rigid support and use it that way. Make sure you use an archival adhesive.

Keep in mind that these drawing supports are less vulnerable to mechanical damage. It’s much more difficult to puncture or tear them. But paper is paper and it tends to absorb moisture out of the atmosphere if framed without glass.

It also gets dirty just as easily on a rigid support.

If you want to frame it without glass, take care to hang it in a place that’s as free of contaminants as possible and is temperature and humidity controlled.

Wood

Wood is another rigid support suitable for colored pencil drawings. Look for the same types of wood the Old Masters used for painting. Many online art supply companies offer wood supports like Birch or Basswood precut to standard sizes. I have a 16×20 inch piece of Baltic Birch originally purchased for oil painting, but waiting now for colored pencil work.

Most of the time, a good sanding is all it takes to prepare a wood panel for drawing, especially if you want to use the wood grain and color as a background or for accents.

The larger panel is a prepared panel purchased for an oil painting. Panels like this are available from Dick Blick and other suppliers. The rough-cut piece is from a Silver Maple cut from my own front yard. The small planed piece is a scrap. All three are suitable for colored pencil work with proper preparation.

But you can also paint it with acrylic paint or gesso before drawing. In this way, you can work on a background of any color you wish. You can even do preliminary work with the paint for a mixed media drawing.

Varnish finished artwork like any other painting with an final fixative made for colored pencil. When that’s dry, the artwork is ready to hang with or without a frame, depending on the thickness of the wood.

Semi Rigid Supports

Semi rigid supports offer additional alternatives to drawing on paper. These supports are thicker than paper and often behave like rigid supports in smaller sizes.

Mat Board

Mat board is perfect for colored pencils. If you draw on it unprepared, as I did with this portrait, you will need to frame it under glass.

But if you prepare the mat board by gessoing all sides, the mat board is properly sealed and will not absorb moisture from the atmosphere. While the layers of gesso do not protect the mat board from impact damage, it will allow you to frame smaller works without glass if you protect the back with a rigid support or foam core.

You’ll have to keep artwork relatively small—11×14 inches or less—but anything that size or smaller should be quite safe without glass. Provide proper back support for larger works on mat board.

Consider a protective coating of final fixative no matter what size the drawing.

Sanded Art Paper

Sanded art paper is another good drawing support, and doesn’t need to be framed under glass. Even if you don’t mount it to a rigid support, most sand paper is sturdy enough to do quite well with a rigid back board of some type when you frame it. It’s also less likely to absorb moisture or dirt out of the atmosphere.

This colored pencil landscape is drawn on Uart Sanded Pastel Papers, which comes in a variety of grits and makes for a very “painterly” drawing.

Final Thoughts on Framing Colored Pencil Drawings

There are, of course, other options available that allow you to frame colored pencil drawings without glass. Canvas is one that comes immediately to mind.

Although a drawing on a rigid support is less likely to be torn or punctured, it’s still susceptible to other hazards if framed without glass, so take appropriate precautions.

I prefer glass for the simple reason that a colored pencil drawing framed under glass looks more complete and is easier to clean. If you get UV protective glass, framing under glass also keeps light from altering the appearance of your artwork.

Can You Dry Blend on Regular Paper?

Back in December, when we were in the middle of question-and-answer month, a reader asked if it was possible to dry blend on regular paper. I don’t remember the specific question. Nor do I remember my specific answer, but I’m fairly certain I told the reader it wasn’t.

I answered that way because I dry blend on sanded art papers, which produce enough pigment dust to make dry blending effective. Quite frankly, I’d never tried it on traditional paper.

Can You Dry Blend on Regular Paper?

I’m training myself to draw for at least half an hour at the beginning of every day and I’m currently working on a landscape on Canson Mi-Teintes. It’s for myself and is a bit of an experiment, so I’m trying things on this drawing to learn what works (and doesn’t work) on the next drawing on the same paper.

During one morning’s drawing session, I remembered the reader question and thought, What the heck? Lets see if it’s possible to dry blend on regular drawing paper.

I’ll show you the results in a minute, but first, let me explain dry blending.

What is Dry Blending?

Dry blending is a method in which you use a tool other than a pencil to blend. Technically speaking, layering is also dry blending because you’re not using solvent to blend, but when I speak of dry blending, I’m talking about something else.

I use a bristle brush, but you can also dry blend with paper towel, bath tissue, facial tissue (without lotion!) or clean, soft cloth.

After you’ve layered the color, use a bristle brush (as shown below) to rub the color around. I use an old, worn out bristle brush because it was handy and I have more control. The short bristles also allow me to put a lot of pressure on the paper if neceesary.

Dry blending on sanded art paper pushes pigment dust down into the paper. It’s a great way to fill in the tooth of paper and use that dust instead of throwing it away. Win-win!

Use a stiff bristle brush to dry blend on regular paper
Use a stiff bristle brush to dry blend. You can blend with the corner of the brush as shown here, or with the flat.

Dry blending on sanded art paper makes a major difference in color saturation. If you don’t want to use solvents, this is a wonderful alternative.

You don’t need a lot of layers of color to dry blend on sanded art paper.

I used a very well worn #5 bristle brush for blending. I dry blended after just a few layers, and after a lot of layers. For each test, I dry blended between colors, then drew over the dry blend.

Can You Dry Blend on Regular Paper?

Now you know what dry blending is and how I use it on sanded papers like Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Fisher 400, and Uart Sanded Pastel paper.

On to the original question about dry blending on regular paper. I used Prismacolor pencils and blended with the bristle brush as described above.

Here’s what I learned.

Artagain Drawing Paper

Artagain is an archival drawing paper made from recycled paper and produced by Strathmore. It’s smooth like Bristol, but has a bit more velvety feel. I don’t use it very much, but it’s a good paper for drawing detail.

I didn’t know what to expect from dry blending on a paper like this. As you can see from the unblended half on the left below, it’s easy enough to blend by layering.

But I tried dry blending with my trusty brush. It seemed like that removed as much color as it blended, but there was still a noticeable difference.

However, I had to use medium to medium-heavy pressure to get this result. I could have achieved nearly the same results by layering.

Bristol

Bristol is a very smooth illustration and drawing paper available in two finishes: regular and vellum. Both feel “slick” to me but I keep Bristol vellum in stock because I can’t beat it for some subjects.

After the results with Artagain, I almost didn’t test dry blending on Bristol. It didn’t seem useful and I expected much the same results.

You can dry blend on regular paper like Bristol.

As with the Artagain paper, it is possible to dry blend color, but it requires quite a bit of pressure. It may be easier to dry blend on smoother papers with tissue or a cloth.

Canson Mi-Teintes

Canson Mi-Teintes paper is made for pastels, so it has a lot of tooth, even on the smoother backside. It stands up well to layering, erasing, and solvent blending.

As it happens, it also stands up well under dry blending.

It produces very little pigment dust during drawing, but take a brush to it and you’ll have enough pigment dust to fill the tooth nicely. And quickly.

I tried the front and back, since I’ve used both sides for colored pencil work.

I had to use different strokes and quite a bit of pressure to blend this well. The more color on the paper when you blend, the more effective dry blending might be on the front of the paper.

And here’s what dry blending looks like on the back.

Although Canson Mi-Teintes doesn’t produce pigment dust while you draw, it does produce enough while dry blending to make dry blending effective. It is fairly easy to dry blend; easier than the smoother papers, but experience so far suggests dry blending works best for softening color, value, and edges rather than creating smooth color.

You Can Dry Blend on Regular Paper

I’ve discovered that the more tooth, the better the results. I still get the best results on sanded papers.

But if this method interests you, then by all means give it a try. Just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean you won’t get stunning results.

How To Draw Trees with Colored Pencil

So how do you draw trees with colored pencils? Is there a “best way” to draw them far away and up close? That’s what Paula is asking today. Here’s her question:

Hi Carrie,

I’m having trouble with trees and leaves.  Trees in the distance aren’t too bad but as they get closer in view you need to combine the “fuzzy” trees in the distance with some more detailed leaves in the foreground.  Love your tips!

Paula

Thank you for your question, Paula.

How to Draw Trees with Colored Pencils

Trees. At one time, I hated drawing them and avoided drawing them whenever possible.

They’re now among my favorite subjects to sketch and draw.

When I started writing this post, I fully intended to show you how to draw a tree with colored pencil with a step-by-step tutorial.

Then I decided to begin with a few general tips and by the time I had those outlined, I realized adding a tutorial would make the post way too long. So we’ll focus on the general tips, then I’ll link to a two-part tutorial I wrote for EmptyEasel.

A Few Tips for Drawing Trees

Let’s begin with a few basic principles that will help you draw better trees no matter what type of tree you want to draw. They’re easy to grasp and put to use because you’re probably already using them with other subjects and didn’t realize they apply to trees, too (and anything else you might want to draw.)

Go for the Big Shapes First

No two trees are identical, even if they’re the same type of tree. Branches grow differently. Branches die and fall. Trees get pruned. Whatever the cause, each tree is as unique as each person.

So the first thing to do when you draw a tree is to look for the big, overall shape. Don’t worry about what’s within that shape.

If you’re drawing more than one tree, pay attention to how they relate to one another in size, too. Vary the sizes of the trees you draw so it doesn’t look like you’re drawing cut-out trees.

How to draw trees - start with the big shapes
Always begin with the largest, most basic shapes for each tree. If you’re drawing more than one tree, note how the shapes relate to one another in size and location.

Vary the Level of Detail

The closer an object is, the more clearly you can see the details of that object. Trees in the foreground should have more detail than the trees in the background. The further away a tree is, the less detail you should draw.

Color and value is part of this picture. Colors generally get less vibrant as they recede into the distance. The range of values also gets narrower. The light values get a little darker and the darker values get a little lighter.

Each of these three things contribute to the illusion of distance and space in artwork.

Don’t Draw Every Leaf

Even in the trees in the foreground.

There is one exception to this principle and that’s if you happen to have twigs or branches hanging down in the extreme foreground. You will need to be more careful about drawing individual leaves in a case like that.

Yes, the closer trees should look more like they have leaves instead of a solid canopy, but you still shouldn’t draw every leaf. A few strokes or dots of color in a few places around the outside edges of your tree will be enough to help a viewer “see” leaves in the rest of the tree.

Another good place to add these kinds of details is along the edges where colors or values change, such as the edges of shadows.

But you’re also probably going to show them in less detail and perhaps silhouetted in order to keep them from becoming the focus of attention.

Use More than One Color

Most of the time, trees are some shade of green. Obviously, Autumn is one time of year when many trees are not green, and there are some trees that are never green, but for the most part, when you draw a tree, you’ll be using a green.

But don’t limit yourself to just one green. Choose a dark green, a middle green, and a light green that work well together. Use each color where appropriate to draw the colors AND values.

For good measure, have an earth tone handy, just in case those greens get a little too artificial looking! Some shade of red or orange also work to tone down greens.

Stay Away from Those Neon Colors

Unless your landscape features something man-made, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find bright, vibrant colors in it. So when you make color selections, stay away from colors that are bright enough to attract the eye, but don’t look at all natural in a landscape.

How To Draw Trees with Colored Pencil

As mentioned earlier, I’ll send you over to EmptyEasel, where you can see the first article in a series showing how I drew a landscape with trees. I started with an umber under drawing, and you can read that article here.

How to Draw Trees with an Umber Under Drawing

The second part is all about color, and you can read that here.

This two-part tutorial will help you see how to separate the trees in the foreground from the trees in the middle ground.

And I hope to do a new landscape tutorial sometime in 2020, so stay tuned for that.

How to Draw the Blackest Black in Colored Pencils

This reader wants to know how to draw the blackest black in colored pencils, but that’s not all. Here’s the question:

Hello there,

I was wondering what formula you use to get the blackest black you can get?

I have tried indigo with magenta with black on top and it comes out more purplish than black. I might be doing something wrong.

I tried spraying it with textured fixative and going on top of it with a different black pencil. I started with Prismacolor and ended up going over it with Faber-Castell Polychromos, and still have a purplish hue.

How many layers can you get once you spray your project with textured fixative?

Thank you for your questions!

How to Draw the Blackest Black in Colored Pencils

Is There a Formula to Draw the Blackest Black Possible with Colored Pencil?

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t have a formula for drawing the blackest possible blacks with colored pencils. I’ve drawn several black horses over the years, and also tried my hand at drawing black backgrounds, and I don’t think I’ve used the same method twice for any o them!

So if there is a formula, I don’t have it.

In a recent post, I talked about drawing dark and black backgrounds quickly using colored pencils, so I recommend you take a look at that if you’re doing backgrounds.

That method probably won’t work as well if you doing a portrait, or adding black to a part of your drawing that isn’t the background.

Nor does it specifically answer the questions asked here, so I’ll refer you again to that post, then answer your questions below. Deal?

Indigo Blue, Magenta and Black

I’m not familiar with the idea of mixing Indigo Blue and Magenta with Black to get a darker black, so I tried it for myself. But I’m always looking for ways to do things better, and that includes drawing the blackest black I can.

So I did a quick sample combining Prismacolor Indigo Blue, Magenta, and Black, layering each color in that order with medium pressure. I did two layers of each color before adding the next. The result is on the left of the sample below.

How to Draw the Blackest Black in Colored Pencils

Then I repeated the process, adding two more layers of Indigo Blue followed by Magenta and ending with Black. Once again, I used medium pressure. The center part (between the blue and magenta lines) of the illustration shows two rounds of color.

For both rounds, I used the same stroke, a back-and-forth horizontal stroke. The resulting coverage was good, but not perfect. So for the third round, I used circular strokes, heavier pressure (though not yet burnishing) and added two more layers of each color in the same order. I had to burnish the black in order to make it stick, but that did produce a nice, solid black color.

So the best way to draw the blackest black color may be as simple as adding more layers. I know I stopped on drawings way too soon when I was learning colored pencils. Try another round of color and see what happens.

Why Even the Blackest Black Sometimes Looks Purple

The reason you get a purplish-black when you layer Indigo Blue, Magenta, and Black is that red and blue make purple. It doesn’t matter how you layer them—blue first then magenta, or magenta first, then blue—they will create some shade of purple. The Black doesn’t change that; it merely darkens it.

I can see the usefulness of a nice, deep purple black, but since that’s not what you want, let’s look at ways to correct that.

Indigo Blue and Black; Magenta and Black

I did the next two samples differently.

For the first one, I layered Black with heavy pressure, then layered Indigo Blue over that with heavy pressure. I didn’t use Magenta because I wanted to see what sort of Black resulted with just two colors.

The second sample combined Black and Magenta, with Black under the Magenta. It too produced a nice black, but with more of a pink cast.

Finally, for the sake of comparison, here’s a swatch of just black.

The blue-black is much nicer and more satisfying than the pink black. So the easiest way to neutralize the purple in your black is to simply not use Magenta. Layer Indigo Blue and Black until you have fully saturated color.

Another way to neutralize the purple is to add a complementary color to the three colors you use to make black. Orange is the complement of purple, but orange is a pretty strong color, so I think I’d try an earth tone. Burnt Sienna, maybe, or Terra Cotta. A color that’s already fairly low in brightness.

Using a Different Black

You mentioned using Black from different brands of pencils (at least that’s how I understand your comments.)

This is a good idea, since some companies have more than one shade of black. The Derwent Lightfast line, for example, has two blacks with slightly different tints.

Derwent Drawing Pencils also have a nice black and they’re a soft pencil that would layer over other pencils quite well.

Companies don’t always use the same manufacturing formulas, either, so it’s possible one company’s black covers better than another.

I’ve had success mixing brands of pencils and have no problem buying one color from a particular brand if I think it might help me do whatever I need to do. For example, I bought a Luminance White and Derwent Drawing Chinese White because I thought they might be more opaque than either Prismacolor or Polychromos. They weren’t significantly more opaque, but I now have two nice white pencils to add to my full sets of other brands.

So by all means, try black pencils from other sets.

How Many Layers Can You Draw Over Texture Fixative?

Everything I’ve seen and heard about this product indicates that you can alternate between colored pencil and Texture Fixative indefinitely. The Brush & Pencil website says, “virtually unlimited colored pencil layering.”

A lot depends on the paper you’re working on, though. Texture Fixative is made for use on heavy, non-absorbent papers like sanded art papers. You can use it on heavy watercolor paper (140lb or more) but you have to gesso the paper before starting to draw.

Texture Fixative adds texture to a drawing, and it’s made for colored pencil, so it bonds well and remains archival. I don’t know from personal experience how many times you can add Texture Fixative and draw over it, but it’s much more versatile than anything else currently on the market.

Those are My Thoughts on How to Draw the Blackest Black in Colored Pencils

I hope I’ve helped you with new ideas for drawing the blackest blacks possible with colored pencils.

Try these ideas and if they don’t work for you, don’t use them again. Hopefully you’ll find exactly what you need among them.

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing

It would be nice to say that every step of every drawing goes smoothly; that I never have to go back and correct an umber under drawing (or any other phase of a drawing.) That an eraser never touches my drawings.

The fact is, nothing could be further from the truth. You know what?

Almost every drawing has a few minor missteps. After all, I’m not perfect and make no claim to be.

Little missteps are easy enough to correct just by adding more layers.

But what happens when you make a big mistake?

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing

I’m no stranger to big mistakes. You probably aren’t either. That’s why you’re still reading, right?

But a few years back, I discovered an almost fatal mistake with a large piece (16 x 20 inches.) A problem big enough to require removing a portion of the drawing and doing it over.

So, just in case you’ve made big mistakes, here’s what I did to correct my umber under drawing.

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing

The first thing I did was open the digital reference image and enlarge it enough to see the details that were either not visible in the smaller printed photo or were hidden under the lines of the grid drawn over the image. I worked directly from the computer.

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing Reference

I don’t like erasing my work any better than any other artist does, so the first thing I tried to do was correct the problem by adding color and covering up the mistake. It didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t going to work. I’d have to lift color and start over.

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing 1
Adding color didn’t help cover the errors in the line drawing.

How to Lift Color

To remove color, I used something called Handi-Tak.

Handi-Tak is a low-tack adhesive product created for hanging posters. Brand names include Blu-Tack, Poster Tack, and by many other names. The common name is mounting putty.

See products at Dick Blick.

Mounting putty is very pliable. Pieces can be broken off the larger piece and worked between your fingers or in your hand. It’s just sticky enough to pick up color when you press it against the paper.

It’s also a self-cleaning product, which means that as you work it in your fingers, the color it lifted off the paper is absorbed into the substance and disappears.

Mounting putty can be rolled into a ball or shaped into points and used to lift color off colored pencil drawings without tearing, scuffing or damaging the paper.

I prefer mounting putty for lifting colored pencil because it doesn’t damage the paper surface and it can be pinched or rolled into sharp edges or points for lifting color in small areas.

Other options are transparent tape, a click eraser, or an electric eraser.

Read more about lifting color on EmptyEasel

What I Did

I warmed the mounting putty by working it in my fingers for a few minutes. Then I pressed it repeatedly against the areas I wanted to lift and rolled it forward while maintaining pressure. Each time, it lifted a little more color.

Another method involves pressing the mounting putty against the paper and turning it. You can also use a blotting motion in which you simply press the mounting putty against the paper and lift it again without any secondary motion.

After every two or three applications, I worked the color out of the mounting putty again. Several cycles of this removed most of the color, allowing me to pinch or press the mounting putty into smaller shapes and fine-tune the amount of color lifted in specific areas.

TIP: It’s next to impossible to lift every bit of color from paper when you’re using wax-based colored pencils. Using a combination of methods and tools can remove most color, but be careful of damaging the surface of your paper in the process.

When I finished lifting color, the head looked like this.

It’s not a pretty sight, but sometimes the best way to cover a mistake is to first remove as much of it as you can. Even if you’re quite a ways into the drawing process.

Redrawing the Image

After that, it was a slow, careful process of applying color and lifting color until I got the head correct.

I began redrawing the features of the horse’s face with Prismacolor Light Umber using the enlarged digital image for reference. I redrew the off side eye and that side of the face, which was the original problem area. That led to redrawing the muzzle and mouth and in doing that work, I also saw some mistakes in the jaw and neck. I corrected all of those areas.

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing 4
Often making corrections in one area reveals problems in adjacent areas. Take your time and fix as many of those problems as you can.

I also started developing values as I worked.

Corrections took about forty-five minutes, and it seemed at first like I was going backward faster than I was going forward.

But the end result was a much better drawing. It was even a little bit further ahead of where I started in spite of the initial backward steps.

How to Correct an Umber Under Drawing 5
The corrected drawing. Much better than what I started with!

These corrections not only allowed me to finish the umber under drawing, but set the stage for the color glazes that followed.

It Is Possible to Correct an Umber Under Drawing

Or any drawing, for that matter. The key is not to panic or despair when you discover the mistake. Don’t leap to any hasty solutions either.

Take your time. Assess the amount of damage, decide the best way to correct it, and then proceed carefully. Nine times out of ten, that plan will make it possible to finish the drawing successfully!

Sanded Art Paper & Drawing Paper: 5 Differences

Have you tried sanded art paper with colored pencil yet?

If you haven’t, you may be wondering why you should. After all, isn’t it just like drawing on sand paper from the local hardware store? (And who wants to do that?)

That’s the way I thought before my first experiments with sanded art paper. I almost didn’t try it, because I just couldn’t see how it would work.

But I’m glad I took the plunge! There are a lot of differences between sanded art paper and traditional drawing paper. Some pretty big—and surprising—differences.

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Traditional Drawing Paper

Now that I’ve created several pieces on sanded art papers, it’s time to share with you what I’ve learned. Both good and bad.

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Drawing Paper

Popular brands are Ampersand Pastelbord, Art Spectrum Colourfix Coated Pastel PaperCanson Mi-Teintes Touch Sanded Papers and Boards, and UArt Sanded Pastel Paper. More recently, Clairefontaine Pastelmat has entered the market.

In another post, I described 6 basics of drawing paper, including the most commonly used papers for colored pencil. A subsequent article listed 3 non-paper, non-traditional drawing surfaces for colored pencil. One of them was sandpaper.

I’ve used only Uart and Fisher 400. Following are five of the biggest differences I discovered.

Paper Strength

This is a good difference.

Sanded papers are much stronger than most traditional papers. The substrate itself is heavier than most drawing paper. Combined with the coating of grit, it’s nearly impossible to accidentally damage the paper, so you can be as aggressive in applying color as you like.

Many sanded art papers are also available mounted to rigid supports for even better durability.

An additional upside to this is that you do not have to frame sanded art paper under glass if you don’t want to. It’s advisable, but not absolutely necessary, as is the case with traditional art papers.

Detailed Line Drawings

Transferring a detailed line drawing is difficult. You can’t use a light box because the paper is so thick. Transfer papers of any type are also unsatisfactory on some of the coarser surfaces.

I’ve found this difference to be less than ideal. I like detailed line drawings when I do portraits. For a while, that made sanded art papers a no-go for me.

But many artists use the grid method or a projector to transfer their drawings. Both are acceptable alternatives to regular transfer papers, and both give great results.

Another alternative is light sketching right on the paper. I usually start landscapes with just a basic sketch, so most of my drawings on sanded art paper have been landscapes.

August Morning in Kansas
Colored Pencil on Sanded Art Paper

August Morning in Kansas (above) is one of the most recent and it’s the best one so far. I’ve started all of them with simple sketches.

Sharp Pencils

You don’t need sharp pencils to work with sanded paper. In fact, sharp pencils can be a detriment. They break easily on the gritty surface, and even if they don’t, you get two or three strokes before they go blunt.

So forget sharpening. Use your pencils more like pastels. It’ll be a lot less frustrating.

Forget preserving your pencils, too. Sanded art paper quite literally “eats them for lunch!”

But that’s not as bad as it sounds, because most of that color is going onto the paper. Yes, pencils wear down more quickly, but you’re building color more quickly, too. The details in the trees in August Morning in Kansas are lighter colors applied over darker colors.

And just in case you’ve heard the rumors about pigment dust when you draw on sanded papers, it’s true. But you probably haven’t heard that you can use a bristle brush to push that dust into the tooth of the paper so it’s not wasted!

Show me another drawing paper you can do that with!

Pigment dust can be dry blended into sanded art paper.
Use brushes like this to dry blend pigment dust into the surface of sanded art paper.

Thick Color Layers

Thick layers of color work better than thin glazes. Even with the smoothest sanded papers, the tooth is such that getting an even color layer is next to impossible without solvent.

And light pressure? Forget it. Medium to medium-heavy pressure is going to be a lot more productive.

The best part? You can absolutely layer light over dark and it will show up. Try that with any traditional drawing paper.

Is this a good difference or a bad one?

I haven’t made up my mind yet. I have a naturally light hand so working on sanded art papers requires a definite adjustment in working methods.

But as I mentioned above, I can add so many layers even with medium pressure or heavier, that working on sanded paper is getting less and less frustrating.

Excellent Tooth

If you’ve ever had trouble getting colored pencil to stick after a certain number of layers, the tooth of sanded art paper is a good difference.

Granted, it will take a lot more layers to get fine detail if that’s what you’re after and you may find the extra layers not to be worth the trouble.

But if you take the time, the tooth will definitely work for you.

This little drawing (3-1/2 by 2-1/2) is the first drawing I did on sanded art paper. I drew it like I always draw and the tooth didn’t help. See all those dots in the sky? Paper holes. I wasn’t able to fill in the tooth at all, and although the result was very painterly, I didn’t like it.

Spring in CP
Spring in Colored Pencil
Colored Pencil on Sanded Paper

It took a long time before I tried colored pencil on sanded paper again, but the results were much more satisfactory. I was already learning how to use sanded art paper.

East of Camp Creek
Colored Pencil on Sanded Art Paper

Conclusion

If you give sanded art papers a try, be prepared to do some bad drawings for the first few. It’s a great drawing surface, but there is a very definite learning curve!

Even so, I recommend it to anyone who wants to try something different.

Interested in reading more? I wrote a good mini clinic for EmptyEasel based on that first, small drawing. I think you’ll find it useful. Read Using a Sandpaper Surface for a Colored Pencil Drawing here.

1 Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

Is there a sure-fire way to draw realistic landscape greens most of the time?

Short answer, yes.

The question is, what’s the best solution for you?

I can’t answer that question for anyone but myself, but I can share with you the method that helps me draw landscapes that look like landscapes, no matter what shades of green, what time of year, or what the lighting conditions.

1 Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

Landscape greens can be the most difficult colors to get right in any medium. Most of us have drawn landscapes in which the greens are too soft and muted or are way too bold and artificial.

My Favorite Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

Over the years, I’ve used several methods to draw landscapes. My favorite method to draw realistic landscape greens is beginning with an umber under drawing, then glazing color.

The first few layers of color you put on the paper are called the under drawing. An under drawing can be a single color, two or three colors, a limited palette, or lighter shades of the final colors.

When the under drawing is in earth tones, it’s called an umber under drawing. You can use any earth tone, but the best choices are generally medium-value, neutral colors like Prismacolor Light Umber or Polychromos Nougat or Raw Umber. Once I discovered umber under drawing, my landscapes began to look like they were supposed to look.

Learn how the umber under drawing method compares to other colored pencil drawing methods.

Step 1: How to Begin an Umber Under Drawing

The process is simple. Develop your landscape first in all earth tones. Choose one or two browns—three at most—and draw the entire landscape with those colors.

I prefer Prismacolor Light or Dark Umber, usually use just Light Umber. It’s possible to get a nice value range with Light Umber simply by adding layers. The more layers, the darker the value.

You don’t want to get too dark too quickly, and you also want to avoid developing details too quickly, so draw the under drawing with several layers applied with light pressure.

You can also use a tinted paper, as I did with the drawing below. The paper is Rising Stonehenge in a very light tan color. The color of the paper provided the lightest values for the drawing.

Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Step 1
Use light pressure and a sharp pencil to begin shading values. Start with the shadows, then gradually darken values and add middle values layer by layer.

Step 2: Develop Detail & Values

Use a variety of strokes to mimic each element of the landscape. Short vertical strokes with a sharp pencil for grass, stippling (dotted) or circular strokes with a sharp to slightly blunt pencil for trees (use a sharper pencil in trees close to the foreground and a blunter pencil for more distant trees), and the sides of the pencil to lay down even color in the distance.

Define the center of interest early by drawing the darkest shapes near the center of interest or in the foreground and keeping other parts of the drawing more subdued.

Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Step 2
Keep the darkest values and sharpest details in and around the center of interest (the tree on the left.)

Step 3: Finishing the Umber Under Drawing

You can make the under drawing as detailed as you like. When I draw horses, I generally draw a more detailed under drawing, because I want the under drawing to look like a finished drawing on its own.

But with landscapes, I develop just enough light and shadow to define the landscape elements and to begin depicting the sense of space (pictorial depth or aerial perspective).

Glaze color over the finished under drawing layer by layer with light pressure. Most colored pencils are translucent by nature, so the umber under drawing tones down the greens you glaze over it. Even if you appear to totally cover all of the under drawing, its influence is still present.

draw realistic landscape greens
Spring 2012, 4×6 Colored Pencil on Stonehenge Paper

Want to See How I Drew Realistic Landscape Greens Step-by-Step?

I drew this landscape as a demonstration piece for EmptyEasel.com. To see the full, step-by-step demonstration on EmptyEasel.

How to Create a Colored Pencil Landscape Underpainting

Color Glazing a Landscape Painting with Colored Pencils

Tips for Drawing Dogs and Puppies

A reader recently asked about tips for drawing dogs and puppies. An excellent topic, and one I could spend an entire month on without doing more than just scratching the surface. Here’s the question.

I would love more instruction on drawing dogs, any and all kinds of dogs and puppies. Thank you so very much for all you do! Deb

First of all, thank you for the question, Deb. I don’t get the opportunity to talk much about drawing dogs because most of my drawings have been of horses, or landscapes, or horses in the landscape.

Colored pencil artist Peggy Osborne and I are working on a full-length tutorial on drawing a long-haired dog. Peggy’s doing all the hard work, but she’s doing a fantastic job. That tutorial is coming on Saturday and I know you’ll love it.

To get us ready for the tutorial, I’m going to share a few basic tips for drawing dogs and puppies of all sizes, types, and breeds—things that apply no matter the type of dog—and follow up with a few specific tips for drawing different types of dog hair.

A Few Basic Tips for Drawing Dogs and Puppies

Draw What You See; Not What You Think You Know

Dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Large and small. Long haired and short. Straight hair, curling hair, sweeping hair. Hundreds of color combinations. It’s important to look at the particular dog you’re drawing and draw what you see; not necessarily what you know about dogs in general.

The condition (long or short, straight or curly) and color is vital to capturing a good likeness of your canine subject.

It’s doubly important if you’re subject is a breed of dog in which all the members look pretty much alike. Weimaraners, for example.

This applies to anything you might draw, so it’s a good rule of thumb for all subjects. But it’s especially applicable to drawing dogs.

Get to Know Your Subject

Things to take special note of are:

Proportions: How long are the legs compared to the length of the body? How big is the head? How long is the neck?

General Appearance: Do the ears stand up or fold over? How long is the tail? What type of hair does the dog have? What colors and how many different colors are in the dog’s coat?

Character & Attitude: If you get a chance to meet the dog, take time to just watch it. Is it an active dog? Bold or timid? Playful or sedate? You can use all of this information to capture more than just how the dog looks. Getting the character right is especially important with portrait work, so if you can’t visit the dog, ask the owner what their pet is like.

Keep the setting in mind when drawing dogs and puppies. Sometimes, the dog’s surroundings are as important as the dog.

Make Sure Your Line Drawing is Accurate

There’s no way to fix a bad drawing once you’ve started adding color. Believe me. I’ve tried it! You can layer, glaze, and blend like Michelangelo, but you won’t be able to hide a poor drawing.

It’s well worth your time to make the very best line drawing you can even if you have to work through several revisions or use aids like projectors, light boxes or tracing paper.

Take Your Time

Colored pencil is a naturally slow medium, so don’t rush yourself. Take time to study the subject before you put pencil to paper, and take time with the line drawing.

Then expect to take at least that much time and probably more to do the layering, blending and rendering. If you find yourself rushing through something or getting careless in how you put color on the paper, stop! Step away from the drawing and take a break!

Look for the light in any portrait. How the light falls on the dog (or any subject) can either bring the portrait to life or keep it flat and uninteresting.

A Few Tips For Drawing Dog Hair

Other than the overall shape of a dog’s body, color and hair are the most noticeable traits. Get those right and you’re more than halfway to drawing a good likeness of your subject.

But hair is a difficult thing to draw. For some artists, it’s their least favorite part of drawing portraits or animal art. I happen to love hair. The longer the better! That’s one of the reasons I have so much fun drawing horses.

So I’m going to followup basic tips with suggestions for drawing three types of dog hair: Short, medium length, and long.

Keep in mind as you read these tips that there are different types of hair within each of these much broader categories.

General Tips

  • Start with the best possible reference photo. You can’t draw what you can’t see.
  • Take extra time to map out the basic hair growth patterns and values in your line drawing. It’s a lot easier to correct errors at this stage than after the drawing is half done.
  • Begin with initial layers that are evenly applied.
  • Use directional strokes that follow the pattern of hair growth, but don’t try to draw every hair. That will leave you disgusted and discouraged, and will also not look all that great.
  • Use more obvious hair-like strokes where color or value changes. Between a highlight and middle value, or between a marking and the regular coat color.
  • Other places that define the length and type of hair are over body contours, around the head, neck and ears.

Short Hair

NOTE: This sample actually from a horse drawing, but the coat type is the same as many short haired dogs.

Use sharp pencils and careful stroking to lay down even color. Keep your strokes short and overlapping. Pay special attention to the direction of the hair where it’s most obvious, such as along the edges between colors and values, or over the contours of the body.

Medium Length Hair

With medium length and longer hair, make more use of pencil strokes. Don’t draw every hair, but draw more texture in the middle values than you would with a short-haired dog.

Also be aware of the direction of hair growth. It’s important all over the dog’s head and body, but is especially vital along the outside edges of the dog, and where the skin curves over muscular and skeletal structures.

Tips for Drawing Dogs and Puppies - Long Hair Sample

This detail shows the area across the dog’s chest, and shows how the hair is also slightly curly. It’s not straight hair. Pay attention to the type of hair as well as the length and growth patterns.

Long Hair

Long hair is the delight of some artists—myself included—and the bane of others. It looks so complicated when you first begin.

The key is to break down all that wonderful hair into smaller sections, such as the “moustache” on each side of the muzzle, the curving hair over the eyes, and the “bib” under the head.

Then break down each of those areas into groups of hair.

Tips for Drawing Dogs and Puppies - Long Hair

Whatever you do, don’t draw every single hair.

Also make use of the color of your paper whenever possible to serve as a middle value, as I did in this sample. This “almost-a-sketch” portrait was drawn on a light earth tone paper that allowed me to draw only the darker values. In hindsight, it would be better with a darker paper on which I could have also drawn a few highlights.

Tips for Drawing Dogs and Puppies - Long Hair Sample

And there you have it: A few short tips for drawing dogs and puppies of all ages, breeds, and types.

If you have specific questions about drawing dogs or puppies, let me know that, too.