Draw Clouds from Life Tutorial

Draw Clouds from Life

I’m very pleased to announce a new tutorial, Draw Clouds from Life. This is the second life drawing book I’ve published, and the first that focuses on graphite.

But don’t dismiss it because it’s not a colored pencil tutorial. The focus of this book is drawing, not graphite, and we all know that basic drawing principles apply to all media.

Even colored pencils.

About Draw Clouds from Life

I wrote this tutorial to encourage artists to take up the challenge to get outside and draw. So the tutorial begins with tips on setting up to draw outside as well as choosing a subject.

But it doesn’t stop there.

A step-by-step tutorial follows, showing how I draw clouds using nothing but graphite pencils and an eraser or two. I use the same drawing method described in Draw From Life in Three Easy Steps. This drawing method can be mastered by any artist from beginner upward who is willing to take the time to draw regularly.

Includes a Photo Collection

Drawing from life is beneficial to every artist.

But I realize that not everyone can get outside to draw. Nor can every artist easily view clouds or take pictures of them.

So I’ve put together a collection of some of my favorite cloud photos. The photos are my own so anyone can start drawing clouds the moment they download the tutorial.

Draw Clouds from Life

Draw Clouds from Life is perfect for anyone who wants to learn to draw clouds from life.

And once you master cloud drawing, you’ll be able to draw anything else you want to draw.

Skill Level

Beginner and higher.

This tutorial includes a complete, easy-to-get supply list and suggestions for drawing outside. It also contains a selection of reference photos so you can start drawing clouds today!

If you’ve ever wanted a good, basic drawing tutorial, this tutorial is for you. Start drawing better drawings now!

Read more about Draw Clouds from Life or get your copy by clicking here.

Labor Saving Tips for Colored Pencils

We all know it takes time to complete a drawing with colored pencils. It’s just the way pencils are. What we all need—and want—are labor saving tips for colored pencils and colored pencil work.


Some time ago, I replied to a reader asking for help getting her work past the amateurish phase. Today, I want to answer the second part of her question. Here’s her question.

[Using colored pencils] seems so laborious and I don’t know how to make them be fun in creating the color. Any suggestions?

Labor Saving Tips for Colored Pencils

I know exactly how this reader—and a lot of you—feel! Creating highly detailed colored pencil drawings takes hours of labor. We all love our pencils, but there have to be shortcuts.

Labor Saving Tips for Colored Pencils

I don’t know how to change the laborious nature of drawing with colored pencils. I don’t know that it’s possible, to be truthful, but there are ways to deal with what some might call tedium and still use colored pencils.

Drawing small is one way to finish more drawings quickly and improve drawing skills. Drawing small doesn’t reduce the labor—you still have to cover the paper. But it does reduce the tedium, and here’s how.

When you do small drawings, it takes less time to finish each layer. You see progress more quickly, and that keeps drawing from becoming tedious.

Labor Saving Tips for Colored Pencils
Each of these drawings are 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches in size. Small drawings like this are ideal for trying new skills and new tools, or practicing what you already know.

It’s also a good way to train your drawing muscles (that includes your eyes and your brain) to draw for longer periods of time. Think of it like exercising. You start with a few repetitions or with short walks, and gradually work toward more repetitions or longer walks.

Or even more strenuous exercises.

The more small drawings you do, the easier finishing larger drawings becomes. So small drawings are the cure for a lot of colored pencil difficulties.

Small drawings are also my favorite labor saving method!

Here are a few more.

Try a vignette-style drawing to keep your focus on the subject

What’s a vignette-style drawing? Let me show you.

What these drawings have in common—other than the subject—is that for each one, the paper is the only background. The horses got all my attention, and drawing time.

I don’t do these types of drawings very often anymore except for plein air studies, but they can be an excellent way to take some of the labor (and time) out of colored pencil work. After all, if you let the paper be the background, you don’t have to do anything with it!

And this style of drawing works with almost any subject.

You can also add just a suggestion of background by shading around your subject to highlight it. This portrait started out as a vignette-style portrait, but the dog disappeared into the background, so I shaded around the upper part of the dog, then faded the background at the bottom. Roughly 20 minutes of work that brought the dog to life.

Water soluble colored pencils let you lay down an under drawing quickly

Water soluble colored pencils are great for getting color on the paper fast. Draw with them dry on dry paper, then wet them with a damp brush. Draw into damp paper. Dampen a brush and pull color off a palette or directly off the pencil.

Whatever method you use, water soluble colored pencils allow you to draw backgrounds and under drawings quickly. They also fill in the tooth of the paper completely, saving time and layers later on.

Just make sure to use water soluble pencils first, since wet color may not stick to traditional colored pencil layers.

TIP: You can also try other water soluble media like watercolor, acrylic, or airbrushing to do backgrounds

Try drawing on colored paper to reduce labor and drawing time

Colored paper is one of the best ways to save drawing time. Whether you use the color of the paper as the background (see above) or as a base color (or value), drawing on colored paper saves pencil strokes and minutes.

If you choose a medium value paper, you can also use just light and dark pencils to complete a drawing.

That’s what I did for the drawing of the black Tennessee Walking horse I used to create the drawing for the Portrait of a Black Horse tutorial, and for this small plein air drawing.

Labor Saving Tips for Colored Pencils

Combine colored paper and small drawings for the best results.

Read more about Fast & Easy Background Options for Colored Pencil Drawings on EmptyEasel.

Draw for short periods of time to keep your eyes and hands rested, and your mind alert

Keep drawing sessions to twenty minutes or less.

It may not make much sense, but you can get a lot more done if you work twenty minutes every day for a week than if you work two hours one day a week.

Your work is more likely to turn out well, too.

If you want to work longer each day—or if you have to—then break your drawing day up into shorter segments. In between, do something else that gives your hands, your back, and your brain a rest, and you’ll be more energized when you go back to work.

TIP: This is a great idea if you have trouble making a start. It’s a lot easier to start drawing if you know you can stop and have accomplished your drawing goal after fifteen or twenty minutes.

There are a Few Labor Saving Tips for Colored Pencils

There are other ways to save time and effort with colored pencils, but if you don’t want fancy tools or accessories, these tips will help you. I encourage you to check them out.

If you’ve found other ways to make drawing with colored pencils easier, share your suggestions in the comments below.

We’d all like to know other ways to save time and labor with our favorite medium.

Straight Line Drawing Exercises

straight line drawing exercises

I can’t draw a straight line with a straight edge, and I’m the first to admit it. Horses, yes. Fences, no, in other words. I have to practice drawing straight lines, but really didn’t want to do it until I stumbled upon a few fun and easy straight line drawing exercises.

4 Straight Line Drawing Exercises

People often comment on the time and patience needed for colored pencil work. Some use the word “tedious” in describing the process. My response is that “tedious is in the eye of the beholder.” If you truly enjoy what you’re doing, it’s not tedious.

But there are times when time is of the essence, especially if you do portrait work or are working toward a competition or exhibit. Having a full arsenal of tools helps you make the most of your time. One of those tools is line control.

4 Straight Line Drawing Exercises

Following are four line control exercises that will help you improve pencil control. I used a 6B graphite pencil for each of these because I enjoy the way a soft lead goes onto paper. You can use any hardness of lead you prefer, or any dry medium you prefer. They’re excellent exercises for colored pencil, chalk, charcoal or pastel.

Parallel Line Exercise

Draw a line. Choose any pressure and value.

Draw a series of lines parallel to the first line. Make them as parallel as possible while drawing freehand. Use constant pressure.

Don’t worry if the lines aren’t perfectly straight or perfectly parallel when you begin. None of us start that way unless we use a straight-edge. The more often you do this exercise, the straighter and more parallel your lines will become, so keep practicing and leave the straight-edge in its drawer!

straight line drawing exercises

Gradated Parallel Line Exercise

This exercise is much like the previous one with the added dimension of making each parallel line either lighter or darker than the one before.

Start with a line. Make it either very light or very dark.

Make each stroke lighter or darker than the previous stroke (depending on where you started) and make each new stroke parallel to the previous strokes.

See how much gradation you can create just with lines.

A variation on this exercise would be to see how close together you can make the lines and how smooth the resulting transitions can be made.

For variation, see how close together you can make the lines and how smooth the resulting transitions can be made.

You can also work from one color to the next, varying color and value.

Hatching Line Exercise

Draw a set of parallel lines with even pressure and line weight.

Now draw another set in an opposing direction. Don’t draw through the previous set of lines. Create an edge between the groups by ending each line with the same amount of space between the first group of lines.

straight line drawing exercises

Continue adding new sets of lines in new directions.

The purposes of this exercise are:

  • Learning to draw parallel lines at different angles
  • Consistent pressure control
  • Learning to begin and end strokes precisely and consistently
  • Learning how changes in stroke direction affects the appearance of a drawing

Value Shift Parallel Line Exercise

It never hurts to practice pressure application as well as line drawing. This exercise allows you to do both at the same time.

Start with the lightest pressure possible and increase to the heaviest pressure possible as you draw the line. Do several this way, making them as parallel as possible and getting the widest possible value shift without lifting your pencil from one end of each line to the other, or going over the line a second time.

After you’ve done a few, start with heavy pressure and reduce pressure as you draw the line.

A variation on this exercise is to use a pencil with a slanted point and change the line width by turning the pencil as you draw.

straight line drawing exercises

These Straight Line Drawing Exercises will Get You Started

I highly recommend these straight line drawing exercises, as well as other types of drawing exercises. In the next few weeks, I’ll share a few more drawing exercises you can use to warm up, improve pencil control, or just have fun.

Most of us doodle from time to time. These exercises are ideal for doodling time whether you’re waiting for a doctor’s appointment, on a plane, train, or bus, or walking the pet of your choice.

They’re also a great way to relax for a few minutes.

And all the while, you’ll be improving line control and finding new ways to make every stroke carry it’s full weight with your next pencil project.

How to Prevent or Remove Smudges

Have you ever had a drawing session ruined by a smudge on your paper or drawing? You’re not alone! Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know how to prevent or remove smudges!

Hello Miss Carrie!

Your newsletters have been amazing inspiration! After an eight year hiatus I noticed that tools, technology and techniques have really changed the game.

One thing hasn’t [changed] for me. Smudging. I’ve tried many different suggestions but nothing is really working. What do you recommend?

Thank you for a great question. This is another topic that’s important to colored pencil artists, but that I haven’t talked much about. So thank you for the opportunity to correct that oversight today.

How to Prevent or Remove Smudges

Let’s tackle this problem in two parts. First, I’ll share a couple of very easy ways to prevent smudging, and then a few ways to remove smudges.

Let’s get started.

How to Prevent or Remove Smudges

Preventing Smudges

Aside from being very careful when you draw, there are a couple of ways you can prevent smudging your work.

You may already be doing the first thing, which is to start in the part of the drawing opposite your dominant hand.

I’m right handed, so I often start in the upper, left corner of a drawing and work downward and to the right. My drawing hand (right hand) rests on clean paper, so I’m not accidentally smearing color onto clean paper.

If you finish a drawing section by section, this may be all you need to do to prevent smudging.

But I don’t finish a drawing section by section, and I also tend to turn my paper as I work. So this method really only works for me on the first round of color.

And sometimes not even for all of that, if I happen to turn my paper!

That’s not a problem with small drawings because I don’t rest my hand on the drawing at all.

But what about larger pieces?

Cover Sheet

For larger drawings, use a cover sheet. Glassine is best because it doesn’t pick up color, and so cannot leave it somewhere else. Glassine is a smooth, glossy paper that resists air, water and other substances. It doesn’t absorb anything.

Including color.

So it makes the perfect cover sheet. It can be purchased in rolls and sheets from art supply websites like Dick Blick or shipping suppliers like Uline.

And if you happen to buy pads of Clairefontaine Pastelmat, you get a piece of glassine between each sheet. You can use it as a cover sheet while you draw.

Of course you can use ordinary printer paper or a spare piece of drawing paper as a cover sheet, but be careful not to pick up color on your cover sheet.

Removing Smudges

Removing smudges is more difficult, since it’s so difficult to remove or lighten colored pencil in general.

But there are a few ways to lift or lighten smudges. Or to at least hide them!

Mounting Putty

Mounting putty is a soft, pliable material that can be formed into different shapes, broken into small pieces, and cleaned after use. Common brand names are Poster-Tak, Handi-tak, and Blu-Tack.

Here’s a pretty dark smudge on a drawing.

How to Prevent or Remove Smudges

I used mounting putty on it because the paper is Pastelmat and mounting putty works best on most heavily textured surfaces.

The first thing I did was warm the mounting putty by rolling it between my hands. Then I shaped it as you see here. I didn’t want to lift the line drawing, so needed a small edge on the mounting putty.

Next, I pressed the mounting putty lightly against the smudged paper. I didn’t use much pressure, and I didn’t turn or twist the mounting putty. Just press down and lift up.

I repeated that process until I removed as much of the smudge as I could.

Then I pressed the mounting putty against the paper with a little more pressure, and twisted it against the paper.

The smudge isn’t completely gone, but it’s faint enough to cover up. What’s more, the loose pigment has been picked up by the mounting putty, so I don’t need to worry about smearing.

When you finish lifting color, knead the mounting putty and it absorbs the color it picked up! No accidental spreading of that color the next time you use the mounting putty!


Tape is another good way to lift color, including smudges, off paper. It works best on traditional drawing papers like Stonehenge. And it’s easy to use!

Cut a small piece of tape. I prefer a transparent tape because I can see through it and place it right over the smudge.

Press it down lightly, then lift it carefully. Depending on the darkness of the smudge, you may have to repeat this process a couple of times.

If the smudge is very dark, you may even need to use a couple of pieces of tape.

There a couple of disadvantages to lifting color with tape. It can make the drawing paper feel slick, and that can make adding additional color difficult. If you press tape too heavily against the paper and/or pull it up too quickly, you can also tear the paper.


I list erasers last because so many erasers are ineffective in lifting colored pencil smudges. They just push the binder around, smearing color and making the smudge worse!

But there are some erasers that might help you.

I like my handy click erasers. They’re very good at lifting color in small areas or in details. You can also lift a significant amount of color if you work carefully and slowly. They can’t remove all of the color, especially if the color was applied with heavy pressure, but they can lighten it enough for you to cover the smudge.

A lot of artists also recommend Tombow erasers. I’ve never used one, so can’t give you a personal recommendation, but I’ve heard a lot of good reviews. They’re inexpensive and refillable.

Tombow also makes the Mono Colored Pencil Eraser. This is another eraser about which I’ve heard a lot of good, but have never tried.

Finally, I’ve also heard recommendations for regular ink erasers, like the Faber-Castell Perfection Eraser. These erasers can be sharpened like pencils and they’re quite inexpensive, depending on which brand you buy. They are not made specifically for colored pencils, but they can be useful. One version of the Faber-Castell Perfection Eraser even comes with a brush on the opposite end so you can brush away crumbs.

How to Prevent or Remove Smudges

Mounting putty, tape, and click erasers are my most often used ways of removing unwanted color. But as you can see from my recommendations, they’re not the only way.

Of course the best solution is to eliminate smudges before they happen and for that, there really is no better option than using a cover sheet.

Thank you again for the question! I hope I’ve been of help to everyone who struggles with smudges.

How to Draw Delicate Details

Knowing how to draw delicate details is important for any artist interested in drawing any type of realistic art. In many cases, those delicate details make the difference between so-so and fabulous.

So I wasn’t surprised to receive today’s question.

Hi Carrie,

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions!

Although I have many, here is the question I selected:

How do I create delicate details, for example, bird feathers, with colored pencils?

As I build up layers of colors, details of the drawing tend to blur or blend. I end up outlining details which [means] the piece no longer looks natural, but more like an illustration.

I hope this makes sense.

Thanks again.


That question makes perfect sense, because I struggled with it for a long time. Sometimes, I still do!

How to Draw Delicate Details

Andrea asks a good question. Drawing bird feathers really requires a stand-alone tutorial post. I’ve never drawn feathers before, but I’m curious enough to be thinking about a feather study sometime next year.

But Andrea doesn’t want to wait until next year for an answer and neither do you. So let me approach the answer in a more general way.

First, I’ll show you how changing the way you hold your pencil can make a difference. Then I’ll followup with a few basic principles to help you draw delicate detail no matter what your subject.

Five Tips on How to Draw Delicate Details

How You Hold Your Pencil

It may seem too simple to work, but how you hold your pencil when you draw makes a big difference in drawing details. The reason? Control.

Most of us hold a colored pencil the same way we hold a pen or pencil when we write. (You do still write with a pen or pencil, don’t you?) Most of the time, the pencil is at roughly a 45 degree angle to the paper. That works great most of the time because it’s the most comfortable to your hand.

And most of the time, I can draw all the detail I need with a normal grip.

But not always.

Sometimes I want precise control for small areas or for making small marks on my drawing. Then I hold the pencil in a more vertical position, like this.

When you hold a pencil like this, you’re drawing with only the tip. If your pencil is needle sharp, then the marks you make will be very small. You’ll have a lot of control over where you put them, too, as well as how you draw them.

Now for a few basic principles for drawing details.

Drawing The Delicate Details

Following are what I consider the four most important guidelines to follow. They aren’t the only ones, but if you master these, you’ll see your work improve greatly.

Pay Attention to the Reference Photo

The first is to pay attention to the reference photo. Don’t just glance at it, then draw! That’s one of my biggest problem areas, and it’s a huge hindrance to my art progressing.

If you want to draw feathers that look like feathers, then you need to know what feathers look like. That means studying your reference photo. There is no clear rule of thumb, but you should spend at least as much time studying the reference photo as you spend drawing.

When you draw, make a few marks or shade a small area, then check the reference photo again. That’s where I get into trouble. I look at the reference photo and think I know what’s there, then proceed to draw for five or ten minutes without looking again. Even now, after all these years, that’s a problem! Why?

Because your brain fills in the things it thinks should be there instead of your hand drawing what’s actually there. By the time you realize there’s a problem, it may be too late to correct it. At least that’s what happens to me.

Make Careful Marks

This applies all the way through the drawing process. Nothing hinders your drawing faster than careless drawing. Believe me. I’ve fallen victim to it often enough to know!

But using pencil strokes that mimic the texture of what you’re drawing helps you add realism to your work at every stage. In this illustration, for example, I’ve shown the type and direction of strokes I’d use to draw these feathers.

You can do a base layer of solid color, then add blending layers of solid color if the strokes become too bold. But most of the color should be added with this type of directional stroke.

For more tips on this, read Let Your Pencils Do More of the Work with These 3 Advanced Pencil Strokes, which I wrote for EmptyEasel.

Watch Those Edges

When it comes to drawing delicate detail, edges are very important. Andrea mentioned her work looking blurry. That’s because the edges have either all become soft and blurred, or because there are no clear edges.

It’s very easy to blur edges with colored pencil, so make a conscious effort to draw as precisely as you can with every layer.

Are Your Values Right?

The biggest challenge for most of us is getting values right. That means the light values need to be light enough and the dark values need to be dark enough.

And that can be difficult, especially if we’re wary of getting too dark. The key is begin by establishing the darkest values first, then using light pressure to add layers and develop darks.

That’s one reason I prefer to start most of my drawings with an umber under drawing. It’s easier to work up the values correctly if I’m not also trying to make color decisions. You may find that helps you, too.

How to Draw Delicate Details

As I mentioned earlier, these five principles are not the only things that contribute to drawing delicate details of any type.

But once you master them, you’ll find your work improving by leaps and bounds!

How to Draw a Strong Focal Point

Focal Point—The part of a visual composition that attracts the viewer’s eye most quickly and holds it longest.

One of the things I like about graphite drawing is the range of values possible, especially with some of the softer leads.

One of the things I like about plein air drawing is the range of subjects. Yes, I gravitate most to organic things. Trees. Grass. Leaves. But there have been times when the door handle of a classic car or a crack in the sidewalk has sparked creativity. It’s a lot more fun than the serious work that is my day job.

How to Draw a Strong Focal Point

But it’s more than just a fun drawing exercise. Life drawing—even if it isn’t plein air drawing—is a good way to hone the skills necessary for more serious drawing or painting. Consider composition and ways to make the focal point stand out, for example.

How to Draw a Strong Focal Point

Let’s look at this drawing of a Poinsettia, drawn from life in graphite some time ago.

How to Draw the Focal Point - The Original Drawing

The only tool I used was my trusty 6B pencil and a finger tip or two. Nothing special and nothing fancy.

I began by sketching the leaves, concentrating on placement, shape, and size. A detailed drawing wasn’t the goal. I was just sketching.

The shapes and layering of the leaves quickly drew me in, however, and after I’d sketched the major leaves, I began developing a composition around the lightest leaves… the colored leaves that form the flower.

Tips for Creating a Strong Focal Point

There are a few things you can do with every drawing to emphasize the focal point. The techniques I used for this simple drawing can be used with any drawing of any subject and in most media and methods. What are they?

Line Quality

Since the flower was quite light and my paper was white, the first thing I did was outline the leaves. The “flower leaves” are outlined with a heavier, firmer line than the leaves immediately beneath them. The leaves below those leaves are outlined with an even lighter line and some of the smallest, least significant leaves are barely outlined or not outlined at all. Why? Because the heavier and darker a line, the more it draws attention. Since the focal point is the flower, that’s where I put the darkest lines.


Next, I began shading, adding darker value to the green leaves and adding shadows where leaves overlapped. The darkest shadows are near the focal point; around the white leaves and in between them. As shadows move away from the focal point, I made them lighter even though they were all the same general value on the plant I was drawing.

In the areas immediately adjacent to the flower, I used heavy pressure, multiple layers, and blending to get the blackest black possible with a 6B pencil. In other areas, I reduced the pressure or the number of layers (sometimes both). I blended less frequently or blended with just one or two layers of graphite to make softer, lighter shadows. The reason behind this part of the process is simple. The strongest contrast—the lightest values and the darkest values—should occur at or around the focal point so they draw the eye.


The focal point of any drawing should contain the most detail and those details should be rendered more clearly and sharply than the details in any other part of the drawing. That means using line quality and contrast, but also minimizing or eliminating altogether details in other parts of the drawing. Why? Because detail naturally draws the viewer’s eye and holds it.

The small shapes at the center of this flower appear only in the center, so it was a simple matter to eliminate detail elsewhere. As already mentioned, I used lighter values and lines as I moved away from the focal point.


To make the flower even more dramatic, I shaded the negative space around the flower in the upper right corner. I didn’t want to make that too dark; I just wanted to emphasize the light value, so I did a couple of layers then blended with my finger, pulling graphite into the surrounding areas to keep the edges soft. The exception? The edges of the flower. They were kept as sharp and crisp as possible because sharp edges also draw the eye and put emphasis on the edge.

Finally, I rubbed in all of the negative space around the bottom of the drawing, including the lower leaves. I smudged the paper to darken it slightly by pulling graphite out of the leaves and into the background. Again, I kept the edges of the flower leaves as clean as possible, but even in this case, lightly shading the tips of them kept them from pulling the eye out of composition.

The Best Way to Draw a Strong Focal Point

Is to employ each of the techniques I described above.

You can make a strong focal point using only a few of these tricks of the trade, and there are other ways to also draw attention to your focal point. Each subject and each drawing will be different, so take a little time to decide on the best methods before you put pencil to paper.

To see how this process might look in color, read How to Make Your Subject Stand Out.

How to Draw Textures with Colored Pencils

CK provides the question for today’s post. Her question is about how to draw textures with colored pencils, but it’s more than that, so here’s CK to speak for herself.


First, I’d like to thank you for creating this website. You have helped me come so far in my colored pencil work, and I’d like to formally thank you.

Now, onto the more interesting topic: my questions on texture.  In my opinion, texture is both one of the easiest and one of the hardest techniques to master. While I have only been working with colored pencil for two years,  I find creating those realistic textures one of the hardest things to do with colored pencil.

I can say, however, that I have had one or two projects where I managed to create decent textures, the first being a pug and the second a pomegranate. The pug, I noticed, required lots of strokes to accomplish, while with the pomegranate, I utilized  the tooth of the paper.

These are probably the few times where the texture of the subjects have really come to life. Other than that, I have tried and tried to recreate it or even create something relatively similar. I’m thinking it has something to do with the pressure or how fast I am trying to create the project.

If you have anything you think can help with creating realistic textures (fruit specifically, if you don’t mind), I would love to hear your thoughts and tips on textures.

Thanks, CK

How to Draw Textures with Colored Pencil

I have already written posts on drawing some types of texture, including grass, dirt, stone, and even carpet, so what I’ll do today is share basic tips that you can use for drawing any type of texture.

Let’s get started.

How to Draw Textures with Colored Pencils

There are essentially two parts to drawing texture, no matter what type of texture you want to draw.

Laying down the base color or colors, and adding texture over that.

My first demo is cat hair and the second is a rug, but the same method can also be used for other types of texture.

Step 1: Draw a Base Layer

The base color should usually be a light middle-value or lighter color.

You can begin by laying down smooth color with light pressure with a single, “generic” color if you wish. This is the best way to begin with smoother textures. I sometimes do that when drawing landscapes, then I build texture on top of that. I did that for the eyes and nose on this cat.

In the hair, I drew the base layer with hair-like strokes, mixing colors stroke by stroke in the brown hair. I used three colors for this piece. A very light cream, a medium value earth tone, and a dark earth tone in the hair.

Stroke in the direction of the texture, whether you’re drawing hair, grass, foliage, or any other strongly textured surface.

How to Draw Textures with Colored Pencil - Drawing Fur.

Step 2: Use Strokes that Mimic the Texture

Use pencil strokes that mimic the texture you’re drawing. Grass or fur are both fairly easy and use similar strokes. Short (or long,) slightly curving strokes in which you start at the bottom of the hair or grass and stroke upward. The primary difference—other than color—is that fur is usually fairly uniform, especially with short haired animals. Grass, on the other hand, can be tall and unruly.

(I know. There is such a thing as unruly hair, too) but that’s almost a topic for another post.

You can create texture by hatching and cross-hatching, stippling (tapping), circular strokes, and random strokes.

Continue layering colors using those strokes. Each layer of color adds depth to the texture, creating patterns of light and dark that mimic the texture of your subject.

It’s important to follow your reference photo closely to make sure you’re stroking in the right direction. It’s also important to get the light and dark values in the right places. They’re more important than the colors you use.

Step 3: Blending Layer

A blending layer is a layer of color meant to smooth out strokes. A lot of artists use a light-value warm gray to smooth out strokes when drawing animal hair, for example.

The blending layer is applied with light or medium-light pressure and a sharp pencil so that the resulting color is smooth. It doesn’t completely hide the texture, but it does subdue it.

Step 4: Repeat

Follow steps 1 through 3 again, and as many times as you need to get the color, values, and saturation you want for your finished piece.

Another Example

Here’s another section from the same project. This is a fluffy white rug the cat was lying on.

First the reference photo.

How to Draw Textures with Colored Pencil - Drawing a Fluffy Rug

Then the base layer of color (white.) I added a lot of white in the foreground, where sunlight falls across the run. The shadows are the paper color showing through.

In the shadowed area, I used a dark medium gray to add shadows.

Notice how the shape and placement of the strokes creates the look of a fluffy rug. Is it exact? No, but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to look like a fluffy rug, and even with just a layer or two of color, it does.

I continued layering white and a variety of grays over the rug until it looked the way I wanted it to look. For each layer, I used the same kinds of strokes to add depth to the pile of the rug.

I didn’t put a lot of detail into this area because I didn’t want it to distract from the cat. But I still matched the type of pencil stroke to the area I was drawing, then let the light and dark values do the rest.

Here’s the finished piece. I don’t know about you, but I like the rug better than that cat!

Yes, We Have No Bananas Today

I apologize for the lack of fruit in this post, but the closest I could come was these two textures, and basic tips that can be applied to any texture.

The main thing is to study your subject, look at the colors and the type of surface, then match the type of strokes you use to draw that subject. The smoother the surface texture, the smoother you color layers should be.

For example, if I were to draw this composition, I’d start with a base layer of yellow over all of the pomegranate, then layer red or red-orange in the darkest or brightest areas. Sharp pencil, light pressure, and work around the highlights with each layer.

Always pay attention to the edges of the highlights, since highlights often indicate the nature of the surface texture, no matter what you draw.

Then I’d continue to layer color until the paper tooth was filled in, and add those red spots with a stippling (tapping) stroke. The end result should be a nice smooth texture

How to Draw Textures with Colored Pencil - Pomegranate
Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

One Way to Draw Textures with Colored Pencils

The method I’ve described in this post is my favorite way to draw texture, but it’s not the only way. If it works for you, wonderful!

If not, then the best thing I suggest is to experiment with different types of strokes to duplicate different types of textures.

No matter what texture you’re drawing, the real secret is to look at your subject in sections, like a mosaic or abstract, and draw exactly what you see (or as close as you want to get.)

How to Draw a Wave Line Drawing

Welcome to Q&A December! We begin the month with a question I’ve been asked more than once: how to draw a wave. Here is Gail’s question:

Hi Carrie,

How do you do a line drawing of waves and then how do you draw the mist and foam from the water?

Overall… water is what bugs me. I never know how much to put into a line drawing when it comes to ripples and highlights, or foam or spray. 


Thank you for the question, Gail.

I know beyond all shadow of doubt that you’re not alone in wanting to know how to draw waves and water in other forms. In fact, questions about drawing water are among the questions most often asked most artists.

How to draw a wave line drawing

How to Draw a Wave

Since Gail’s question specifically deals with making a line drawing, I’ll show how I make a line drawing of a wave. I’ll also say up front that this is how I make a freehand line drawing of anything I might want to draw, but especially landscape subjects.

Before you start drawing.

Take a few minutes to look at your subject. I don’t mean a quick glance, either. Look for the big shapes. The colors and details are no doubt what first drew your attention, but ignore those for now. Instead ask yourself the following questions.

What shape best describes this wave? Is it triangular or more oval?

Which of the shapes is the largest, and how much larger is it than the shapes around it?

How do the shapes relate to one another in location?

If you have difficulty seeing the shapes, turn your reference photo upside down or flip it side to side. That gives you a different look at the image. Turning it upside down is especially effective in tricking your brain into seeing abstract shapes instead of a wave (or whatever else you’re drawing.)

And if you can’t get past those beautiful colors, make the reference photo gray scale!

Step 1: Mark the Borders of the Drawing

I’ve found over the years that the best way to get a more accurate line drawing is to first take a minute or two to define the picture plain (the drawing area.) You don’t need fancy tools to do this.

Two Ways to Mark Borders

A precut mat of the right size is an ideal tool for marking borders.

This is one of my precut mats. I have various sizes so I marked each one with the size of the opening so I could tell at a glance what size I’m looking at. Beats measuring them every time!

I lay the mat over the drawing paper and lightly draw along the inside edges. The result looks like this. Not very fancy, I admit, but this is just a line drawing after all!

How to Draw a Wave Line Drawing - Mark the Borders of teh Picture
Unless you’re drawing directly on the same paper you will be making the artwork on, you don’t need a fancy border. Just enough to mark the margins, as shown here.

If you prefer to draw directly on your drawing paper—which I do for landscapes—measure the picture plane on your drawing paper, then draw the borders more carefully. Or tape the paper to a back board so the tape marks the border, then proceed with the next steps.

How to Draw a Wave Line Drawing - Tape the margins when drawing directly on good drawing paper.
If you choose to start sketching your wave directly on the paper you plan to use for the finished artwork, mark the borders of the drawing with tape when you mount the paper to your drawing board. Measure it first, so the corners are square.

Step 2: Rough in the Basic Shape

Start with the biggest shapes. Use light pressure to outline them. I’ve drawn this wave a little darker than I usually would so you could see it. I have such a naturally light hand, that my scanner cannot see my first marks!

Pay close attention to the relationships between the big shapes. Draw them as close to the reference photo as you can, but let’s be honest. No one is going to know if your shapes are not 100% accurate.

In the beginning, concentrate on the big shapes, their size compared to one another, and their placement to one another.

Vary the type of strokes to draw different parts of the wave.

Use different types of strokes to draw different parts of the wave, so you can tell the difference between rolling water, foam, and mist. Since mist rarely has clear edges, use dotted lines or simple dots to mark out where it will be in the drawing. You might even want to do this first, since mist will hide or obscure whatever is behind it.

This detail shows the types of marks I used to sketch this wave. The wave itself is a series of short, straight or slightly curving marks. The foam is sketched with wiggly or curving strokes that are also short.

Vary the way you make marks for the different elements of the composition.

The mist is barely suggested with a series of dots.

If it helps, draw these shapes with short lines as this detail shows. For some of us, it’s easier to draw short, straight lines rather than working out longer lines. Especially with very difficult subjects like this one.

Step 3: Add Smaller Details

When you’re satisfied you have the large, basic shapes correct (or as correct as you want them to be,) begin adding smaller details. Continue looking for shapes, but now look for the smaller shapes within the large shapes.

Also begin refining all the shapes. If you used short straight lines for the big shapes, start smoothing them out and making them look more like the curved shapes of the wave.

Continue using light pressure so you can draw over these lines if needed. Drawing with light pressure also means you can erase mistakes more completely.

This is also a good time to start creating the illusion of space or distance to your drawing by making the foreground shapes a little darker and more detailed than the background shapes.

I added a line in the left background to suggest another wave coming in and made the similar line on the right a little crisper.

Continue using light pressure and varying marks to add smaller shapes within the larger shapes.

Step 4: Refine Shapes and Continue Adding Details

Refine all of the shapes and continue adding details until you have as complete a drawing of the wave as you want. That will differ from artist to artist. Some prefer to keep the line drawing loose and to fill in the details at the rendering stage. Others want completely detailed line drawings before starting with color. The choice is yours.

However you draw a wave, it’s important to aim for capturing the character or personality of the wave rather than making an exact drawing.

Develop details as you refine shapes. Continue until the drawing is satisfactory.

One Note About Mist

When you start doing color work on your wave, it’s very important to mark out the mist first. Mist can be pretty opaque or fairly translucent, so you may be able to see some things through it. The best way I’ve found to draw believable mist is to work around it with the first few layers. Then lightly layer color over it and then lift color with mounting putty.

In Answer to Gail’s Question About How Much Detail to Include in a Line Drawing When You Draw a Wave

I have two answers to this part of Gail’s question.

Personal Preference and Line Drawing Detail

The first answer is that this is a personal preference matter. Some artists draw every visible detail, and with good reason. It’s so difficult to preserve some of those details if they’re not in the line drawing. It’s also very difficult to add them later if you accidentally cover them!

Some artists find highly detailed line drawings an absolute must. Other artists find them confusing and unhelpful. This won’t help you at all, but I have had occasion to experience both!

Style of Drawing and Line Drawing Detail

The second answer is that the level of detail you draw depends on your style of drawing. If you want to render highly detailed artwork, then it’s probably going to help you to draw as much detail as possible from the start.

But if you prefer a more painterly and less detailed end result, then you don’t need to draw quite as much detail in the line drawing.

Subject and Line Drawing Detail

I tend to draw detail based on my subject. For animals, and especially for portraits, my line drawings are much more detailed.

Most of my animal line drawings are quite detailed. That’s because everything needs to be in the right place in order to draw the proper likeness of my subject. From Palomino Horse Tutorial.

Landscapes, on the other hand, are usually just quick sketches and are drawn directly on the drawing paper!

This is the type of line drawing I typically do for landscapes. The details in landscapes tend to take on a life of their own and I prefer following to see where the details lead rather trying to force them into place.

That’s One Way to Draw a Wave

It’s not the only way, by any means, but when it comes to freehand drawing most types of landscapes, this is my go-to method.

When you’ve finished your drawing, it’s a good idea to set it aside for at least a day. Letting a fresh drawing sit overnight allows you to review it with a fresh eye the next day. That’s the perfect time for spotting errors in the drawing or finding things you might want to change.

And when it comes to colored pencil work, finding and fixing those mistakes before you start work with a colored pencil is far better than trying to fix the mistake after a few layers of color.

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See

Dan Duhrkoop, founder of EmptyEasel and author of How to Draw Exactly What You See, asked if I would provide a review of his book if he sent me a copy.

I love books, reading, and art, so I said, “Sure!” (Who doesn’t like free, if it’s something they can use?)

Ordinarily, I don’t accept freebies because it almost always leads to unwanted obligations. But I’ve been freelance writing for EmptyEasel since 2012 and have a good working relationship with the author of this book, who is also the founder of EmptyEasel.

Even so, my review is unbiased. I’d say the same things if I’d purchased the book on my own, and didn’t know Dan!

So let’s get to it, shall we?

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See - Book Cover

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See – My Review

From the Introduction:

Whether you’re a brand-new artist with zero training, or a more experienced artist looking to improve your drawing skills, this guide will teach you everything you need to know to look at a still life scene and draw it EXACTLY as it appears.

I’m not a still life artist. I love looking at well done still life artwork, and I can look at the produce section in the grocery store and see sorts of possible subject. But that’s as far as it usually goes. I have next to no interest in drawing my own. So I wasn’t sure what this book could offer me or how it could help me improve my drawing skills.

One look at the cover, and you may be thinking the same thing. Don’t let that put you off. If you do, you’ll be missing a great opportunity.

And if you do enjoy still life drawing of any kind—in studio or plein air—then you’ll want this book. It covers every step of the process from basic composition and setting up your own still life to sketching what you see and rendering it realistically in graphite.

If you’re just getting started drawing, the book also contains over a dozen high-quality still life images from very easy to quite complex. You’ll start out ahead of the game!

Putting the Draw EXACTLY What You See Method to the Test

As I mentioned, I’m not a still life artist, but I did intend to do some still life drawings just to see how they turned out. A number of things derailed that plan, so my first trial with the author’s drawing method concerned a dog portrait I’d been having fits trying to get right.

That difficult portrait line drawing turned out so well using Dan’s drawing method that I decided to try another one for this review. I am so glad I did!

My Demo Subject

This is the reference photo I chose for this demo. I chose it for two reasons.

The first and most important is that the cat is our oldest cat, Thomas. We’ve had him since mid-2003, when we saw him and a litter mate playing in the gutter while we were out walking. They were our first rescues. Thomas recently died and I wanted to do his portrait.

Second, I have always loved the golden light of late evening and liked this photo of Thomas, taken when he was at his prime. Now that he’s gone, that westward gaze into the sunset seems somehow appropriate.

How to Draw Exactly What You See - The Reference Photo
Thomas, Photo by Carrie L. Lewis

Second, the drawing method described in How to Draw EXACTLY What You See starts with marking off each of the places where the subject leaves the composition. This photo of Thomas focuses so closely on his face and eye that one ear leaves the composition as well as the back of his neck and his upper chest. That made it perfect for this demo.

Preparing the Image

Since I wasn’t working from life, I had to make a few adjustments. But I prepared the reference photo as much according to the steps in the book as possible.

I used GIMP (a free photo editor download) to add a wide white border around the reference photo and then mark with a red line each place where an edge leaves the composition. Edges included Thomas’ markings.

Marked up reference, showing each of the places where an edge goes off the picture.

Then I printed the reference photo above, and the picture plane (below) on a blank sheet to draw on. I was able to do that because I put the border and marks on a separate layer added to the photo in GIMP. All I had to do was hide the image and print the new layer. (If you’d like to see a tutorial on that, let me know.)

Picture plane with edge marks. I don’t have to worry about measuring because the black border and red marks are the same ones I put over the reference photo!

How to Draw EXACTLY What You See

Step 1: Start with negative spaces

The first step is to make a contour drawing of the negative space using the edge markings as a guide. However, I was so focused on drawing Thomas that I totally forgot that step.

Had I remembered, these blue shapes are the shapes I would have drawn. All of the light blue is negative space. Just two large, fairly simple shapes. (That’s another reason I chose this reference photo.

Draw the negative spaces as accurately as you can. According to the author, this is a good way to “trick” your brain into accurately drawing shapes instead of drawing what it thinks it sees.

Don’t be frustrated if it’s difficult at first. Just choose a mark and draw the shape as best you can. Measure and erase if it needs correction.

The negative space in any composition is the space around the subject.

Step 2: Rough in the subject

Next, block in the subject with light pressure and loose lines. I didn’t draw very many interior details and instead focused on the big shapes. The eye, the ear, and the nose and mouth.

I roughed in the dark patches of hair, too, but only because they’re such a big part of the drawing.

Step 3: Start drawing details

When the rough sketch was as accurate as I could make it, I went back over the entire drawing again. I corrected and adjusted lines by measuring the distance between edges on the reference photo, and then on the line drawing.

This step involves a lot of erasing. You can see faint smudges and even a few eraser crumbs around that off-side ear. That’s why I used an ordinary number 2 pencil. I can make light lines to begin with, then draw steadily darker lines, and I can also easily erase mistakes.

Besides, I have a drawer full of ordinary number 2 pencils; why not use them!

Step 4: Fine-tune the drawing

After that round of work was done, I went over the drawing again and fine-tuned it still more. I added interior details like whisker lines, creases in the fur, and other things. The outside lines are darker, but those interior details will help me when I get started with colored pencil work.

How to Draw Exactly What You See--The Finished Line Drawing

It took three days to develop this drawing of Thomas and I confess that when I stepped back and looked at what I’d done, I cried. It looked so much like Thomas.

That’s How to Draw Exactly What You See…

…even if it isn’t a still life!

As I said before, the book focuses on drawing still life subjects, but as you can see here, it can easily be adapted to other subjects. Even portrait work!

Whether you’re new to drawing or just looking for a better way to create line drawings, I recommend this book. You can get the first three chapters of How to Draw Exactly What You See – A Drawing Guide free!

You can also see my first trial with this drawing method.

Drawing Studies For a Large Portrait

Master artists and others have been drawing studies to work out more complex compositions for centuries. It’s one of the most basic, most important, and most often neglected tool in the artist’s toolbox.

I should know, because it’s the tool I ignore more often. Why?

Because it takes time to draw studies, studies usually focused on parts of the composition I didn’t want to draw, and because I never thought I was that good at drawing studies.

NOTE: This post is based on my experiences with one of the last portraits in oils I did, but the lessons I learned apply to all mediums. In the years since, I’ve learned to draw from life, which improves my artwork at all levels.

It will yours, too. So read on!

Drawing Studies for Large Portraits

But you know what? It turns out drawing studies aren’t all that difficult.

What’s even better? The more studies you draw, the better you get (and the faster.)

Why I Started Drawing Studies Again

Some time ago, I did something I never thought I’d do: Accept a commission of a personal portrait in oils. A large portrait.

It was a full figure portrait that included lots of flowers, an outdoor setting, and, well, a real live human being. Nary a horse in sight.

Like I said, something I never thought I’d do.

Because it was a long distance portrait, I worked from photographs. The photographs were high-resolution, and the work of a professional photographer. In other words, excellent references.

But that didn’t diminish the scale or scope of the portrait. Or the Fright Factor. (The Fright Factor, by the way, was huge!)

To prepare, I looked online for anything I could find relative to doing human portraits in oils. Among the things I found were a series of videos that were not only very helpful, but also motivating.

One of them was a Russian artist, Igor Kazarin. He works in oils and one of his videos features a head and shoulders portrait.

I’ve also found the tutorial videos of David Gray. He uses a technique similar to mine, so watching his videos was also helpful, and encouraging.

I watched at least one video every work day I had the time. Especially the drawing videos as I worked my way through the new commission.

Drawing Studies Help You Get Familiar With Your Subject

Those videos motivated me to start drawing studies of my subject. My hope was to get comfortable drawing these parts of the portrait, and gain confidence in my drawing skills. I wanted to get familiar enough to be able to paint with confidence.

So I started drawing some of the less scary things.

I chose this study of the subject’s handbag because I’ve discovered I can draw almost anything that’s organic, but give me something man-made and it’s a nightmare!

Drawing Studies - Handbag Study

Once I got comfortable with the handbag, I also drew studies of the subjects eyes, and of other parts of the portrait.

Drawing Studies - Eyes

Drawing studies came into play at all phases of this project, and even while I worked out the overall composition on gridded paper. If I had doubts about an area, I developed it as a more complete study.

Drawing Studies - Foot & Sandal

Most of the studies involved unusual parts of the composition, such as the foot and sandal above. But I also worked out the details of more familiar, but complex areas, such as the palm fronds shown below.

Drawing Studies - Palm Leaves Study

Most of the studies were drawn while I was working on the line drawing, but I also did a few studies during the painting process.

You Can Do Drawing Studies to Improve Your Drawing Skills and Confidence

It’s not that difficult to get started drawing studies, as you’ve seen in my example.

Are you working on a drawing that has some difficult parts? Draw a few studies of those areas before you tackle them on the finished piece. You can do graphite studies like I did, or use colored pencils.

Maybe your next project is a portrait or commissioned piece that has you worried. Identify the parts that have you most concerned, and draw a few studies.

You don’t need to do large studies, or get fancy. The study of the eyes I shared above were all drawn on the same sheet of paper. And you don’t even need a lot of expensive supplies. A small sketch pad or inexpensive paper is sufficient. After all, these studies don’t need to be archival.

“But I’m not working on a complex drawing right now,” you say.

That’s okay.  Do a few life studies instead. The drawing will do you good. If you need a little motivation, you might check out the plein air drawing in colored pencil group on Facebook.

So how did the portrait turn out? Here’s the finished painting. All 24 by 36 inches of it!

Drawing Studies - Finished Portrait

Taking the time to draw studies of the parts I wasn’t sure about took a lot of time at the beginning of the process, but ended up saving time overall. The details I’d drawn studies for proved easier to paint than other areas.

It all contributes to improving your drawing skills, and that increases your confidence.

Both prepare you for the next big challenge on your colored pencil journey.