Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil

Sometime ago, I shared a few ways colored pencil artists can adapt the Flemish painting method to colored pencil work. Today’s post continues with more general tips for adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil.

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil

Also known as the Seven Step Method, the Flemish method involves seven distinct steps:

  1. Imprimatura (toning the canvas)
  2. First Umber Layer (values)
  3. Second Umber Layer (values and details)
  4. Dead Layer (gray scale)
  5. First Color Glaze
  6. Second Color Glaze
  7. Detailing

Each layer builds on the work of the previous layers. The method is capable of producing rich, luminous colors because it utilizes the way light passes through layers of colors and bounces back out again. Every layer of paint influences the quality of the light both in color and in intensity. The thinner the paint, the more light gets through the paint, and the deeper a painting appears.

Much the same thing happens with colored pencils, because most colored pencils are translucent. No color is completely opaque, so light goes through all of the layers.

In other words, you can layer colored pencil in the same way oil painters layer paint to get deep, rich color. The results differ, but the basic principles are the same.

The purpose of this article is share a few basic tips that will help you adapt this method of painting to your colored pencil work.

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil

There are some supplies on the market that make adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil much easier. Brush and Pencil’s Advanced Colored Pencil Texture Fixative is one such.

You may not want to invest in new supplies just to try the Flemish method with colored pencils. So we’ll look at techniques using the things you already have.

Make Maximum Use of All of Your Tools

It’s easy to layer oil paints one over another. Just wait for each layer to dry fully and you’re ready for the next layer.

You don’t have to wait for colored pencils to dry before adding the next layer. Even so, there are a few things to keep in mind.


It’s quite likely to take three or four layers for each of the steps of the Flemish method, except for the first step (Imprimatura) which you won’t need.

To make sure you can draw all the layers you need and still have enough paper texture to finish the drawing, begin with colored pencils that have harder pigment cores. Prismacolor Verithin and Caran d’Ache Pablo are two such pencils, but any artist grade pencil with a harder lead will work.

Pencils with harder pigment cores leave less color on the paper, but they also leave less wax.  They don’t fill the tooth of the paper as much as softer pencils. They also do not become as slick as softer pencils can after multiple layers.

I like to push the drawing as far as possible with hard pencils, up to and including the first color glaze.


Choose a paper of medium texture. Stonehenge (either regular drawing paper or Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press) are good examples.

Stay away from heavily textured papers, because it will be very difficult to draw even layers of color, and evenly applied color is vital to this method.

However, you can use toned or tinted paper if you wish. Earth tone papers are ideal for this method because they can replace some of the work of the umber layers. Try a medium value color, so you can draw lights and darks.


If you use a heavier paper or a paper designed for wet media, you can also use solvent blending. Mona Lisa Odorless Mineral Spirits and Gamblin’s Gamsol are the most often recommended, but any odorless mineral spirit, white spirit, or even turpentine works.

If you choose to use solvents, make sure to use them safely. Store solvents in air-tight containers, and keep small quantities available for use. Keep them covered when not in use (yes, even between blending sessions), work in a well-ventilated area, and whatever you do, do not keep them in containers commonly used for food storage or drinking!

Plan Your Drawing

Although it’s not recommended that you make dramatic changes to an oil painting when painting with the Flemish method, it can be done.

You can also make changes to a colored pencil drawing in progress, but it’s a lot more difficult.

It’s better to plan your composition completely beforehand, and to draw every detail you want to include in the drawing. That includes highlights and shadows as well as outside edges. It’s far easier to work around or within those details than to restore them after accidentally shading over them.

That kind of drawing can get confusing fast, so use line quality to clarify things, as I’ve done with the drawing below.

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil - Detailed Line Drawing

Draw outside edges with solid lines. Use either dotted or dashed lines for shadows and highlights, and directional lines for contour edges. For a little more detail, draw foreground and background elements the same way.

You don’t have to use this combination of lines, but developing your own method of keeping all the shapes in proper order pays dividends when you start adding color, especially if you decide to use the Flemish method more often.

Take Your Time

Finally, take your time. No matter what method of drawing you use, colored pencils take a lot of time. That’s their nature.

Since the key to successfully adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil is even layers, it’s important to take your time and exercise patience.

If you find yourself getting careless or impatient, set the drawing aside for a while. Take  a break, take a walk, do some housework, or tidy the studio. You’ll find that it takes less time to finish a drawing if you take a break when you need it. If you push through, you may end up having to do something over.

Trust me. This is my biggest hurdle when it comes to colored pencils! I want things done now! That simply does not work.

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil

Adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil is possible. Although I’ve yet to use all seven distinct layers, I have worked over an umber layer many times. I’ve been very pleased with the results.

Keys to remember are planning your work, focusing on value in the initial layers, and developing color layer by layer. This process allows you to take full advantage of the translucent nature of colored pencil.

Did I mention patience is also key?

For a more detailed, step-by-step explanation of adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil, here’s an article I wrote for EmptyEasel.

Using a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know one of the drawing methods I use most often is the complementary under drawing method. Several landscape tutorials feature this method. But is that all it’s good for? Can you use a complementary under drawing to draw animals?


I don’t use it very often because I prefer the umber under drawing method for drawing animals. But both methods work, so I thought I’d show you one horse drawing I did using the complementary under drawing method.

Using a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals

Before we visit the tutorial, though, let’s take a quick look at just what the complementary under drawing method is.

What is a Complementary Under Drawing?

An under drawing is the first layers of the drawing. They can be in the same colors as the final drawing (what I refer to as the direct method). They can also be shades of brown (umber under drawing), complementary, or any other single color (monochromatic.)

When you use a complementary under drawing, you draw the first layers with colors opposite the final colors on the color wheel. If you’re drawing a red apple, for example, the first layers are drawn in greens. Green is on the opposite side of the color wheel from red.

The reverse is also true. Use shades of red or earth tones to under draw green subjects. Yes, even landscapes!

Read How to Use a RED Under Drawing to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens with Colored Pencil.

The complementary method works for any subject.

How to Use a Complementary Under Drawing to Draw Animals

NOTE: This drawing is an older project, so there are no step-by-step illustrations available.

Getting Ready to Draw

I used Beach Sand Ivory Strathmore Artagain drawing paper because the color was ideal for this subject and the very vague background I wanted to use. Artagain drawing paper is also smooth enough for drawing details, and sturdy enough to take lots of layers.

The drawing method is based on the Flemish technique normally used with oils.

Drawing the Background

I drew the background by applying several layers of color and blending heavily with a clean tissue between each layer. The result is a look that is “watercolor-like” in appearance.

To create the look of the Arabian horse’s native desert, I used blues at the top and blended into golds at the bottom—the look of sky and sand.

The colors were so soft and subtle, they neither photographed nor scanned very well!

Drawing the Under Drawing

I had to find suitable opposites for horse colors. Namely, the browns, red-browns, and golds in the horse’s coat.

Browns are shades of oranges, so the logical choice was to begin with violets, purples and/or blues. Sometimes, near complements are more useful than direct complements, so I considered a number of colors.

I chose Verithin Parma Violet* because it’s an excellent color with a light value. I didn’t want a strong complementary color presence, so this seemed like the ideal choice.

However, it was much too light to provide the necessary range of values even after several layers.

So I layered Verithin Violet* over the darks and darker middle values.

I worked on the under drawing for two days, reviewing the work at the beginning of each day and making necessary changes or corrections.

TIP: Verithin pencils are a harder version of Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils. They hold a point longer, lay down thinner layers of color, and do not fill up the tooth of the paper as quickly. You can do an entire under drawing with Verithin pencils, then layer softer pencils over them.

Read 2 Ways to Use Bath Tissue with Colored Pencil.

Glazing Color

After a final review of the under drawing, I began glazing color. I applied each color only into the areas where I could see it in the reference photograph or where I remembered seeing it in the horse’s coat.

Working from light to dark, I used Verithin Goldenrod, Verithin Orange*, Verithin Dark Brown, and Verithin Indigo Blue. With every color layer, the goal was to get as seamless and smooth a glaze as possible.

This is what the drawing looked like when I finished the Verithin layer. The complementary under drawing is still very evident. The warmer areas are the first glazes of color.

Complementary Under Drawing - Finished Under Drawing

Glazing Color over a Complementary Under Drawing

As already mentioned, this is an older project, so I don’t have step-by-step photographs of either the under drawing or the glazing process. The photo shown above is the only one, in fact, and I now wish I’d taken more in-progress images (a good reminder to all that you cannot have too many in-progress photographs!).

However, you can see how I outlined the highlights and worked around them with each layer of color.

You can also see how I used purples and lavenders to lay the foundation for the horse’s bay coat. Darker purples in the darker, blacker areas along his neck and lighter purples or lavender (or no purple at all) in the areas where he shows a more golden color.

After this point, I used Prismacolor Thick Lead pencils and continued layering color. I developed color saturation and value through a series of glazes, all applied with light to medium pressure until the drawing was finished.

For the sleek hair on the body, I used short strokes, placed close together. In the illustration below, you can also see that I used the color of the paper for the highlights.

Complementary Under Drawing - Shoulder

I drew the mane and forelock with long, directional strokes, working around the highlights.

By the way, since blacks often show a variety of other colors, I let the under drawing show through around the highlights in the mane.

Complementary Under Drawing - Mane Highlights

This is the finished drawing.

Complementary Under Drawing - Finished Drawing


For a more information on using a complementary under drawing to draw animals, check out the free eBook, The Complementary Method for Colored Pencil. It also features a horse as the subject, but also includes a landscaped background.

*The colors marked with asterisks are not lightfast colors, and I no longer use them. If I’m working with Prismacolor products only, I substitute lightfast blues and/or reds for purples. You can also substitute lightfast purples in other brands of pencils for Prismacolor purples. Faber-Castell Polychromos has a nice selection of lightfast purples.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing

The umber under drawing has been finished, the first glazes of color are in place, and you’ve begun to deepen color and create richness. You’ve even fixed a big mistake. Now comes the moment of truth: knowing how to finish a colored pencil drawing.

That may seem like a silly thing to consider, but stop and think about it. How do you know when a drawing is finished?

I’ve finished enough drawings and paintings in over forty years to know it’s not always easy to know when something is finished. It’s not like putting the last stitch into a quilt, or the last dash of salt into a recipe. There always seems to be something else you could do.

Something that could be improved upon.

Sometimes it comes down to simply not knowing what to do next. I’ve been there more than once!

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing

Sooner or later, every piece of art must be finished, if only to make room on the easel or drawing table for the next piece.

This is the final post in this tutorial, so it’s reasonable to discuss some of the things I did to bring the drawing to completion.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing

Add Final Color

I worked throughout the horse with a layer each of Dark Brown, Black Cherry and, in the darker areas, Black applied primarily over the shadows and darkest areas. There was enough color on the surface that I had to use heavier pressure. Not quite burnishing, but getting close.

After that, I altered the shape of the off side eye, adding a little bulk to it and correcting the contour.

I also finished or nearly finished the near eye with heavy layers of Indigo Blue and Black over the eye ball, a highlighting with Sky Blue Light*, which I also applied to the rim of the lower eye lid. Darker colors were used around the eye and in the cast shadow below the eye.

For the reflected light in the shadow around the eye, I used Slate Gray. A few additional eye lashes were stroked in with Verithin White.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing - Finishing the Color

Final Colors on the Bridle

Beginning with the headstall, I finished the bridle strap by strap. Most of the colors were colors used in drawing the horse’s hair—Dark Brown, Burnt Ochre, Sienna Brown, and Goldenrod or Yellow Ochre.

I tweaked the parts of the horse adjacent to the straps I worked on, adjusting edges, adding darker or lighter values as needed.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing - Finishing the Bridle

Adding Details

I burnished the loose strap with Sand and added a few accents with White, Sky Blue Light*, and Dark Umber, mostly to emphasize or create stitching. I also added additional detail to the buckle with the same colors.

Next, I added details to the shadow around the eye. The eye and that shadow are the focal areas of the composition, so getting them finished goes a long way toward making the drawing look finished.

I began differentiating between reflected light and shadow within the shadow, using Dark Umber to bring out the shadows and Slate Gray to create faint reflected light. Next, I used Sky Blue Light* and heavy pressure with short, curving strokes to create the look of hair in the stronger reflected light in front of the eye. I then glazed middle values with Sienna Brown and Yellow Ochre.

I then applied Dark Umber and Black in successive layers to the shadow on the forehead and down the bridge of the nose. Dark Umber was stroked into the middle values between the front of the head and the shadow around the eye in a pattern that duplicated the look of hair. I did the same thing further down the face, but worked around the lighter value areas. The further I moved away from the eye, the less pressure I used.

When I finished with Dark Umber, I glazed Sienna Brown over most of the lower head and Yellow Ochre over the parts that were more golden in color.

I also altered the shape of the highlight curving across the forelock, still trying to reduce the look of a peaked skull. Then I added black to separate and define hair masses.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing - Adding Details

Final Adjustments

After I’d finished, I reviewed the drawing, looking for things that needed to adjusted, corrected, emphasized or subdued. There wasn’t much.

I glazed Dark Brown over parts of the face and under the eye and in the orbital groove. Then I glazed Dark Brown lightly over the top of the strap behind the ears, and the top of the neck.

Then I used Verithin White to draw in a few more eye lashes and Prismacolor White to add highlights to the hardware.

At that point, I sprayed the drawing with workable fixative and set it aside for one last review.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing - Final Adjustments

After The Pencil Work

The drawing part of the process was essentially finished at this point, but I still wasn’t satisfied. The biggest reason was the disparity between the forelock in front of the ears and the top of the neck behind the ears. They just did not line up properly.

But there was only one way to resolve that problem. Cropping the composition.

Before cutting the paper, though, I placed a couple of working mats over the drawing to test scaled down versions. Only one option appealed to me. A square crop.

I don’t use square compositions very often because they’re awkward with horses. Part of the difficulty is that they’re pretty static. A square painting automatically generates a sense of stillness and quiet. Most paintings do not benefit from such an impression.

But what about a drawing of a dozing horse?

I went to the computer and cropped the image to a square composition. Here’s the result.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing - A Square Composition

Of course, once you start down that road, you can try any number of possible compositions.

This one eliminates more of the neck and focuses the attention more completely on the horse’s face. It also resolves the problem of the forelock and neck.

How to Finish a Colored Pencil Drawing - A Square Composition 2

Or even this very tight composition.

Of course, the tighter the crop, the smaller the actual drawing becomes.


In the end, I left it the way it was. That gave me the option of framing it large or small.

I can hear some of you saying I could have discovered all of this before putting colored pencil to paper. Yes, I could have. That’s one reason I now urge students and readers to take their time over the design phase. It would have been much easier—and quicker—to have know from the start these square crops would be been so pleasing. I could have started with such a composition and saved a lot of drawing time!

Alas, we all live and learn, don’t we?

Admit it. That’s one of the things that makes making art such a never-ending challenge!

*Sky Blue Light is not a lightfast color, and is no longer on my palette. I use Powder Blue or a combination of True Blue and White as a substitute.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil

My last post on this project ended with a decision that necessitated damage control. A lot of it! Bad for me, but good for you because I decided to show you how to fix a BIG mistake in colored pencil.

So we’ll take a break from the regular tutorial, so you can see how I fixed the self-inflicted problems.

Let’s begin with the problem.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil

The Problem

As you will recall, I decided to remove the nose band on the blue halter for compositional reasons. You can read about that here. Below is the end result.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - The Mistake

The composition seemed much improved, but I couldn’t let well enough alone. The process went so well that I decided to remove the rest of the halter.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil

Step 1: Hiding Unwanted Elements

I began by layering Verithin Goldenrod, Pumpkin Orange, Terra Cotta, Peacock Green, Indigo Blue, Dark Brown, Orange*, and Tuscan Red* over the areas I wanted to conceal. I applied one layer of each color in the order listed over the cheek strap.

Then I used Verithin pencils because they have harder leads and are excellent ‘blending’ tools.

Next, I layered colors in random order, gradually darkening the area until it blended in with the rest of the horse.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - Step 1

The work went very well, but a couple of potential problems were revealed. Namely, the cast shadow across the cheek and the apparent ‘deformity’ at the place where the cheek and neck meet. I hadn’t taken those things into account and wasn’t sure how best to deal with it. Since it was the end of the drawing session, anyway, I decided to sleep on the problem.

TIP: Be prepared for unexpected problems whenever you try to correct a mistake. Also be ready to press on. Very few mistakes are drawing killers.

Step 2: Removing Color with Sticky Stuff

Anyone who has used colored pencils for any length of time knows it’s next to impossible to cover dark colors with light colors. You can alter the darkness of the darks by glazing a lighter color over it, but you cannot cover it.

So the first step in correcting the shadows was lifting color from most of the halter with sticky stuff. I hoped to get most of the color removed but soon found that some of the colors had stained the paper.

I also discovered that using sticky stuff wasn’t the best choice. It did remove color well, but it left the paper surface the slightest bit slick and made further color application problematic. It would have been much better to have removed color with tape (very carefully) or with an eraser. The best course of action would probably have been an electric eraser and a very light touch.

But the decision was made and the work done. This is what I ended up with.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - Step 2

Read 2 Neat Tricks for Erasing or “Lifting” Color from Colored Pencil Drawings on EmptyEasel.

Here’s a closer look.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - Step 2 Detail

Step 3: Adding Color

I attempted to replace the cast shadow across the cheek and redraw the throatlatch (the strap that goes under the throat,) then outlined the cast shadow. I had to move the cast shadow a couple of times before it looked correct.

My intention was to layer color with Verithin pencils, but the paper was so slick that Verithin pencils made very little impact. Reluctantly, I switched to Prismacolor. Beginning with Dark Brown, Indigo Blue and Dark Green, I darkened the cast shadow and layered Goldenrod over the cheek and top of the neck.

Then I layered Dark Brown, Dark Green, Indigo Blue and Black Cherry over the area that was once the cheek strap in an effort to more completely blend remaining edges.

I then used rubbing alcohol to blend the colors. I used an old toothbrush to apply the alcohol and scrub a little to further blur the remaining edges, then set the drawing aside to dry.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - Step 3

Step 4: Adding Color

Once the alcohol blend dried, I discovered with some disappointment that it, too, had been a poor decision. I was well past regret by this point and thinking about a drastic crop.

Sometimes, though, a drawing gets to the point at which I think I can do no further damage, and that I may as well try one more thing. If the one more thing fails, I can consider a crop. So I picked up a pencil and began another round of color application.

I layered Prismacolor Yellow Ochre, Goldenrod, Mineral Orange, Pumpkin Orange, Dark Umber, Indigo Blue, Tuscan Red*, Sienna Brown, and Black in random order above and below the bridle. My goal at this point was to restore the natural color of the horse’s coat. I hoped to completely conceal the edges of the now absent halter, but didn’t get that far before deciding I’d ruined the drawing.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - Step 4

Step 5: Adding More Color

I expected to see ruin and disaster when I looked at the drawing the next time.

I was disappointed! There was none!

The drawing looked pretty good in person and when I photographed it, the digital image looked good, too.

TIP: Never make major decisions about your artwork when you’re tired, overworked, or frustrated. Give yourself a break—24 hours if you can—and you might find the problem resolves itself.

I needed additional reference materials, so I retrieved photographs of heads, necks, and shoulders to supplement the primary reference photo.

I worked mostly on the cheek, but also all the areas around the bridle and now-absent halter. Each layer improved color, value, and saturation as I corrected remaining problems.

Because I was working over previous work, I used heavier pressure. I was able to get away with lighter pressure on the neck because I hadn’t used the sticky stuff to remove that color.

How to Fix a BIG Mistake in Colored Pencil - Step 5

No More Mistake!

In the end, the drawing looked at least as good as it did before I made that fateful error in judgment. If you look closely, you can see the edges of the side strap, but that will be completely concealed as I finish the drawing. I’ll show you how that worked out in next Tuesday’s tutorial.

If you take anything away from my experience, let it be this:

No matter how bad they look, most mistakes (yes, even in colored pencil drawings) can be corrected with time and patience. All you need is an adventurous spirit and a willingness to try things.

Plenty of sleep helps, too!

For other methods of correcting colored pencil mistakes, read How to Fix Colored Pencil Mistakes by Blending with Rubber Cement Thinner and How to Fix Mistakes Made with Water Soluble Colored Pencils on EmptyEasel.

*Orange and Tuscan Red are fugitive colors. They have a tendency to fade. I didn’t know that when I did this drawing back in 2012. Since then, I’ve removed those colors, and either use similar colors in other brands, or substitute other colors of Prismacolor.

How to Deepen Color with Color Glazes

Welcome back to my color glazing tutorial. This is week three and I’ll show you how to deepen color with color glazes.

If you missed the first two parts or would like to review them again, here are the links.

The primary topic is deepening color saturation and building a range of rich browns by continuing to add layers of color. But I’ll also talk about a couple of compositional errors that came to light since the previous post. Let’s get started.

How to Deepen Color with Color Glazes

Ordinarily, deepening color saturation with color glazes involves nothing more complex than continuing to add layers. Use the same colors you used in the first glazes, but be prepared to add complementary colors if those colors start to get out of control.

However, as so often happens, I noticed a problem with the drawing after I finished the work described in the previous post.

Step 1

Between the last drawing session and this one, I realized the forelock extends too far upward when compared with the top of the neck behind the ears. Those two areas should look like extensions of one another. They don’t.

How to Deepen Color with Color Glazes - Step 1

In hind sight, I should probably have cropped the image to remove the problem area. That would have been a simpler, quicker solution. Instead, I tried to redraw it to correct the problem. This was primarily a matter to changing the highlights, and adding shadows to redirect the shapes. I used medium pressure and long, flowing strokes.

Then, rather than fixate on that area, I worked on the eye. I used a sharp pencil with tight, circular strokes and medium-light pressure to darken the shapes on the eyeball. Around the eye, I let the pencil go blunt and applied an even layer of color. Depending each part of the drawing, I used either circular strokes or back-and-forth strokes.

Step 2

How to Deepen Color with Color Glazes - Step 2

I layered Dark Brown over most of the horse, including the mane and forelock. Only the brightest highlights and the red-gold areas were worked around.

I started with a sharp pencil in the areas that show the most detail (around the eye). As the pencil became steadily more dull, I worked into the areas further and further from the center of interest. In all areas, pressure was light, and I held the pencil in a vertical position. I used directional strokes only the detail areas.

When I finished with color application, I impressed a few flyaway hairs into the mane and forelock with a stylus. I also added a few eye lashes.

Step 3

How to Deepen Color with Color Glazes - Step 3

Next, I layered Dark Green over the darkest shadows and middle tones with medium pressure to darken the dark areas and produce a deeper, richer brown. But I also glazed Dark Green into some of the lighter middle values to keep the earth tones from getting too bright.

To give my eye and mind a rest from earth tones, I stroked Dark Green into the mane and forelock, and over some of the shadows on the blue halter.

Step 4

How to Deepen Color with Color Glazes - Step 4

I stroked Black into the eye, forelock, and mane with heavy pressure, then glazed Black into the area around the eye with medium pressure. The purpose was to establish those areas as centers of interest, and s et them apart from the browns.

Step 5

How to Deepen Color with Color Glazes - Step 5

I used medium pressure and the side of the pencil to apply Tuscan Red to most of the shadows and darker mid-tones. The smaller areas or places that needed sharper detail were worked on with the point of the pencil kept as sharp as possible.

Next, I applied Sienna Brown with directional strokes with a sharp pencil or circular or back-and-forth strokes applied with a blunt or flat-ended pencil. There was some overlap between Sienna Brown and Tuscan Red, but Sienna Brown was used primarily in those places that were lighter in value or more red or gold in color.

Step 6

How to Deepen Color with Color Glazes - Step 6

After a good deal of deliberation and a vain attempt to remove the nose band digitally just to see how it looked, I decided to remove the nose band on the drawing.

I lifted as much color as possible with a click eraser. Not much had been done with that area, so I was able to remove most of the color. Then I softened the edge, brushed away the crumbs, and began applying color.

I used the same colors I used in the beginning, going all the way back to Verithin Goldenrod, which I applied over most of the area.

Layers of Pumpkin Orange, Terra Cotta, Peacock Green, Indigo Blue, Light Cerulean Blue, and Dark Brown followed. When I layered each of those colors, I alternated Pumpkin Orange and Peacock Green until the halter had nearly disappeared.

Step 7

How to Deepen Color with Color Glazes - Step 7

I continued alternating layers of Terra Cotta, Dark Brown, Indigo Blue, and Goldenrod to develop the brown and cover the nose band.

I applied most of the color with medium-light pressure, and the side of a sharp pencil. But I also added details with directional strokes and very sharp pencils.

Step 8

How to Deepen Color with Color Glazes - Step 8

To conclude this phase, I glazed Goldenrod over most of the face, even in the darker brown areas.

Then I worked on the forelock, alternately applying Black and lifting color with the click eraser. I wanted to separate hair masses, and bring some semblance of order to this part of the drawing.


The problem of the halter nose band appears to be resolved. The forelock? Not at all. I love long hair and the play of light and shadow, but the angles remain troublesome.

I will have to find a solution to that problem or the drawing will not succeed. That will be our topic next week. I hope you’ll join me to see how I fixed a BIG mistake!

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing

Last week, I showed you how to draw the umber under drawing for a horse portrait. When work concluded, the under drawing had been pushed as far as  I cared to push it. The next step is color, so this week I’ll show you how to glaze color over an umber under drawing.

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing

The first step is always an overall review. Before moving forward, it’s important to make sure the previous work is just the way you want it. I reviewed the drawing in search of areas that needed work. I made a few adjustments and the under drawing was complete.

Starting With Color

I once read a comment from a prominent artist whose advice for beginning work each day struck note. Always start with something you can’t mess up.

It’s a lot easier done with oils than colored pencils, but I often employ that advice in my work. That’s why I began color glazes by glazing blue on the halter. It seemed like the least likely place to cause trouble if I made a mistake!

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing - Blue Halter 1

I used two shades of blue—one light and one dark. The light blue was layered over every part of the halter. The dark blue was used to darken the shadows.

Next, I layered the dark blue into the eye, forelock and mane, and all the darker shadows.

By the way, I continued using Prismacolor Verithin pencils to preserve the tooth of the Stonehenge paper.

Glazing Coat Colors

Now the the first color is on the paper, it’s time to get serious. For the rest of this post, we’ll focus on developing the colors in the horse’s hair.

The process begins with establishing two or three main colors. This subject has dark browns, reddish browns, and a few areas that are golden in color, so a single brown is not going to work. In fact, you’ll need at least three groups of browns—one for each of the colors mentioned above. There will be some overlap, of course, but there should also be some very distinct variations.

The Colors I Used

For the base colors, I chose Goldenrod for the golden areas, Sienna Brown for the reddish-brown areas, and Dark Brown for the darker browns.

I added Pumpkin Orange to the Goldenrod in the golden browns, Pumpkin Orange and Terra Cotta in the reddish brown areas, and Indigo Blue and Peacock Green in the dark browns.

The Glazing Method I Used

I layered each color into the appropriate areas, using light pressure and directional strokes. For smaller areas, such as between the straps, I used the tips of well-sharpened pencils. For the broader areas, I used the sides of the pencils.

While there is variation in color, there are no hard edges between those variations, so I applied colors so that there was overlapping. For example, whenever I layered Pumpkin Orange into a golden brown area, I also layered it into the reddish brown or dark brown areas that were adjacent to the area I was working on. That kept the gradations between colors smooth and natural looking.

To make sure they looked like hair, I used short directional strokes to accent some of the changes in value and color. Those few details were all that were necessary to create the illusion of short hair. I didn’t have to draw every single hair!

The Process Step-by Step

Step 1

Basic colors are glazed over the umber under drawing. While I used some directional strokes to begin developing the look of hair, the primary goal was getting even glazes of color in the right places.

Step 2

Once the first color was on the paper, I continued developing color by layering some of the secondary colors as needed in each areas. For the most part, I added them in the form and cast shadow areas.

I did also start drawing the long hair of the forelock and mane as a means of rewarding myself for some of the more detailed work.

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing - Coat Colors 2

Find ways to work on your drawing that allows you to relax eye and hand and still make progress!

Step 3

I began working on the neck. It’s part of the drawing that is still part of the horse, but services as background. Or maybe backdrop would be a better way to put it. It needs to have some detail, but not as much as the face, the halter or the bridle.

The work shown in this illustration represents several layers of the basic and secondary colors—Sienna Brown and Dark Brown with the shadows darkened with Peacock Green and Indigo Blue (both used sparingly.)

I also used Dark Brown, Indigo Blue and Black to reshape the major hair masses, and add a lot of flying hair to help break up the negative space. I did a similar thing with the mane, changing the top edge of the mane so it was higher and a little more bulky.

Step 4

Still using the same colors, I began developing color and value in the smaller parts of the horse visible between the straps of the halter and bridle.

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing - Coat Colors 4

By the way, it was at this point that I switched from Prismacolor Verithin pencils to Prismacolor Premier pencils. I could still add layers with the harder Verithin pencils, but work was progressing too slowly.

Step 5

As the number of layers increase, so does the amount of pigment on the paper. It become necessary to increase the pressure I put on the pencil, but I do so gradually.

In some of the darker areas, I’ve reached medium pressure, but I’m still also using light pressure wherever possible.


It’s almost always better to draw dark values by layering and blending instead of  using heavy pressure.

No matter what pressure I use, I use directional strokes for he hair, and small circular strokes in the eye and leather.

Work on the bridle began with medium-heavy pressure and a blunt point along the shaded edges of the head stall, then a lighter layer of Dark Brown into the shadows and the darker area of the headstall and throat latch. My goal in these areas was to begin  reducing the emphasis on the leather straps where they either pass behind other design elements or where they exit the composition.

Step 6

Most of the basic colors are now in place, so it as time to begin darkening the darkest shadows. I used Indigo Blue in the darkest parts of the neck, forehead, around the eye, and in and around the ear. I used a very sharp pencil and directional strokes to simulate hair growth.

A layer of Indigo Blue was applied in the darker brown areas of the horse, with fairly open strokes to keep the brown from going too blue. I finished with Indigo Blue by stroking color into some of the darker areas of the forelock.

How to Glaze Color over an Umber Under Drawing - Coat Colors 6

I then used a sharp pencil and directional strokes to apply Goldenrod to the golden areas around the ear and eye and the lower part of the face near the nose band. With Sienna Brown, I overlapped shadows and middle tones.

Step 7

After a second layer of Goldenrod and Sienna Brown over the golden brown and reddish brown areas, I layered both colors into the leather bridle straps, and the eye.

I balanced those colors by adding black to the forelock, and darkest shadows. This increased the contrast between lights and darks and give the drawing more depth.

The darkest values are inside the ring on the halter and the shape at the bottom of the drawing. These two areas are the benchmark against which I’ll measure other values as work continues.

How to Draw a Horse’s Face in Colored Pencil

How to Draw a Horse's Face

This series will show you how to draw a horse’s face in colored pencil using the umber under drawing method.

It is a long demonstration, but it covers the process start to finish, includes changes and, problem solving. All, good things to share.

How to Draw a Horse's Face

About the Subject

Here’s the reference photo.

How to Draw a Horse's Face - The Reference Photo

The level of detail is the sort of thing I love drawing. The crop is up-close-and-personal. There’s lots of detail. And, it’s a horse! It even has good lighting.

About the Drawing

I’m using 90 pound Stonehenge drawing paper in Pearl Grey with the colored pencil variation of the Classical painting technique, the Flemish method. I’ll also be using Prismacolor Verithin and Premier pencils, unless otherwise noted. You can use this method for any subject, on any good drawing paper, and using the pencils of your choice. The results may vary.

Read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

How to Draw a Horse’s Face in Colored Pencil

There was a drawing already in existence for an 11×14 oil painting that never got off the ground, so all I had to do was transfer the drawing to paper, clean it up a little bit, then assemble the working mat, and it was ready to go. This is the transferred drawing.

How to draw a horse's face

I used studio-made transfer paper to transfer the drawing. Soft graphite layered with heavy pressure over a piece of 8.5×11 typing paper. I’ve been using this type of transfer paper for years because it’s easy to recharge, it’s a lot cleaner than some commercially produced transfer papers, I can make any size sheet I wish. Of course, it’s also inexpensive.

Because the drawing was so complicated, I took my time transferring it. The details need to be as complete as possible from the beginning when I’m working with colored pencils, so I transferred highlights and shadows, as well as all the major shapes. Taking a couple of working sessions to do the transfer was worth the time and reduces the risk of agonizing over missed details late in the process.

The working mat assembly is a combination of two layers of mat board and a layer or two of corrugated cardboard. I cut each piece and the drawing paper to the outside dimension of the mat. Then the layers are placed together and bound to a mat with binder clips. It makes for a solid, stable, and lightweight working surface that protects the paper and serves very well as a ‘laptop’ drawing table.

Blocking in the Dark Values

The color I’ve chosen is Dark Brown and I’m starting with Verithin pencils because of their harder lead. I can impress lines with Verithin pencils, they are great for tiny details and small spaces, and they also erase more easily than Prismacolor Premier pencils. They don’t lay down color as quickly, though, so patience is required.

For the first couple of layers, I focused on placing the darkest shadows and establishing a sense of three dimensional mass to the line drawing. I began with the eye, which is typical in a project like this, but most of my attention was with the complicated arrangement of buckles and belts on the nylon halter and leather bridle.

For fun, I drew some long hair with several layers of long, flowing strokes applied with medium light pressure.

Adding Middle Values

Detail work continued on the leather straps. Again using the Verithin Dark Brown, I added stitching. Rather than just add the marks, I used heavy pressure and pressed them into the paper. Subsequent layers should gradually create the look of dark stitching in the leather.

I also darkened the eye to bring out the reflected highlight a little and used a Zebra fine point ball point pen (a dried out pen) to impress eyelashes that will be lighted by the sun.

Next, I drew middle tones in the neck, face and ears, and I played with the mane and forelock a little more.

How to draw a horse's face

Darkening Values

Once the main shapes and shadows are established, I darkened all of the shadows and reinforced the stitching on the bridle. I’m still suing Verithin Dark Brown and developing dark values layer by layer using medium light pressure.

For the most part, I work throughout the drawing each day, though I may focus on tack one day and on the horse another.

The purpose at this stage is to bring the umber under drawing as close to looking like a stand-alone drawing as possible. Ideally, the under drawing that could be considered finished artwork in its own right.

I also am working on developing highlights in the under drawing without the use of lighter colors or white. That will allow me to preserve the brightest highlights for addition late in the drawing process, when I can balance highlights and shadows.

The best way to accomplish that is by gradually building dark and mid-tone areas around the highlights. That is part of the reason I begin with the darkest areas first and work toward the light areas.

More Layers, More Detail

I continued to use Verithin Dark Brown, but began laying in color with the tip of the pencil instead of the side. I also began stroking in the direction of hair growth or muscle structure where appropriate. A lot of this work involved going over specific areas multiple times.

The bridge of the nose is a good example. Short, directional strokes applied with a needle-sharp pencil, and a repeating pattern. I didn’t copy each stroke—there’s no need to draw every hair. Instead, I replicated the groups of hair by emphasizing the shadows in the gaps.

The same goes for the outside surface of the ear, the orbital structures around the eye, and the shadows of the forehead on the eye on the far side of the face.

I used the same technique, but with less detail in the jugular groove, throat and cheek. The further from the center of interest (the combination of the eye and buckles) each area is, the less detailed it should be. That reduction in definition is accomplished either by working with an increasingly blunt pencil or by alternating layers of pencil tip work with a layer of work applied with the side of the pencil.

How to draw a horse's face

Darkening the Shadows

To create a wide value range, I continued darkening shadows and developing middle values. The shadow under the ear is a good example. This shadow goes through a variety of values, including reflected light.

That area is also a study in color variation. There are dark browns, golden browns, red browns and golds throughout the shadow and adjacent areas. That’s what makes working the under drawing with a single color so efficient and valuable to this type of work.

The Finished Under Drawing

This is how the drawing looked at the end of the week. It’s really coming together and I’m loving that eye!

How to Draw a Horse's Face - The Finished Under Drawing

It took nine days to finish the umber under drawing, working between one and two hours each of those days. It may seem like wasted time, when nine hours of color work would have produced a much more complete drawing. But it’s not wasted time to me. Discovering how to work out the values without also having to make color choices was a game-changer for me.

So was learning how to use Prismacolor Verithin pencils for the under drawing. I’m still a very careful drawer, but knowing I can erase a mistake lets me be a bit more bold.

Next week, color!

How to Adapt the Flemish Painting Method to Colored Pencil

Today’s topic covers one of my favorite subjects: How to adapt the Flemish painting method to colored pencil.

I spent several years experimenting with and learning the Flemish painting method in oils. There were more than a few missteps along the way, but there were also some great results. I describe the oil painting process step-by-step on EmptyEasel.

When I started doing more colored pencil, it was natural to adapt the Flemish painting method to colored pencil.

How to Adapt the Flemish Painting Method to Colored Pencil

Can You Do Just a Dead Layer?

Since it’s not possible to do both the umber layer and the dead layer, is it possible to substitute the latter if the subject hues are cooler?

You can substitute the umber layer and the dead layer with a single layer, then select the color temperature of that under drawing based on the final colors of the drawing.

The final drawing won’t show the full effects of a drawing incorporating all seven layers, but you will have more paper tooth available for later layers by combining the umber and dead layers, or by doing only one or the other.

Restoring Tooth to the Paper

Does use of a workable fixative restore enough tooth on the paper to add detail with colored pencil?

This has been the biggest challenge of using the Flemish method with colored pencil: The need to do at least seven distinct layers. The problem is with wax buildup. The more layers, the more wax on the paper. The more wax on the paper, the more difficult to add more layers.

I’ve used retouch varnish to restore the tooth to paper and have been able to draw over it, but it’s effectiveness is limited. At most, you can probably add three or four more layers. You can spray the drawing again, but each time you do that, the result is less satisfactory, so I don’t recommend it.

I’ve also tried workable fixative, but it’s even less helpful than retouch varnish.

One thing you don’t want to try is the final finish made for oil paintings. Not only may that flake off a waxy drawing, it may also discolor the paper and the drawing.

Alternatives to Restoring Paper Tooth

Rather than restoring tooth to the paper, it’s better to work in a way that preserves the tooth as long as possible.

Use Verithin pencils (or similar) in the early stages. These are harder versions of Prismacolor Premier. The pigment cores are harder and thinner, and contain less wax binder. You can develop an umber layer completely with them, and still have plenty of paper tooth left.

The purpose of the imprimatura step in the Flemish method is to tone the canvas, so you’re not painting on a white surface. If you want to work on a toned surface with colored pencil, use a light-colored paper. Using a colored paper eliminates the need to shade an imprimatura and thus preserves the natural tooth of the paper.

You can also tone white paper by rubbing color onto it with paper towel or bath tissue. That’s a time consuming task though. You can get wonderful, soft color so if that’s what you need, give it a try.

A third way to tone the paper is by using water soluble colored pencils, then drawing over them with regular pencils.

Texture Fixative

To truly restore the tooth of the paper after you’ve started drawing, about the only thing you can use is Brush & Pencil’s texture fixative. This spray-on product restores texture over colored pencil so you can continue to layer color as much as you wish. Here’s a great video on using texture fixative and companion products with a method similar to the Flemish method.

I have yet to try this product, but confess that it intrigues me!