Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Today’s Reader Q&A is a request for information on glazing colored pencils. Since that’s a phrase I use a lot, but really haven’t clearly defined, I thought it was time for an article about glazing colored pencils for beginners.

But first, here’s the original question.

Just starting out in pencil. What or how do you glaze in pencil? Thank you in advance.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Let’s begin with a basic definition of glazing and an example from my oil painting days.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners

Glazing Defined

The term “glazing” comes from the world of oil painting. It refers to the application of thin, transparent color over whatever color is already on the canvas.

In oil painting, the artist thins the paint with linseed oil, walnut oil, or another painting medium to thin the paint and make it transparent. The thin color is then applied over part of a painting to add color without hiding or covering up the details underneath.

The Old Masters used this method frequently to make adjustments or corrections. The Flemish method of oil painting relies heavily on glazing color over a half-tone under painting.

I used a variation on this method for a few years before putting my oil paints away. The slide show below shows one of those old portraits, beginning with the finished under painting.

As you scroll through the images, you’ll see a progression of glazing until the portrait is finished. The original details are visible through layers of transparent color.

Glazing with Colored Pencils

The same thing happens with colored pencils.

But with colored pencils, you don’t need to add medium because colored pencils are naturally translucent. When you layer one color over another using light pressure, the top color alters the colors underneath without covering the details. That’s why I say that most of my colored pencil work is glazing.

If you use heavier pressure to layer color, you lose a lot of the glazing properties that come naturally with colored pencils. But you can still glaze to adjust or change colors.

When Glazing is Useful

Some artists glaze color in almost every project. I tend to do that because I like starting with an umber under drawing. Once the under drawing is finished, I add colors by glazing layer by layer.

But even if you don’t start with an umber under drawing, glazing can be helpful in the following ways.

Correcting color is one instance when glazing is a valuable tool. If you need to lighten a color slightly, glaze a color of lighter value but similar color over the color already on the paper. A very light warm yellow over a darker warm yellow, for example. Such a glaze lightens the color slightly without changing the color temperature.

You can do the same to darken colors. Glazing a warm medium-value yellow over a lighter warm yellow darkens the yellow already on the paper without changing the color temperature.

Glazing is ideal for changing color. If you need to change a blue area so it’s a little greener, glaze yellow over it, for example.

You can also adjust color temperature by glazing. You have to be bit more careful, because its easy to create muddy color. Especially if you happen to use a complementary color as the glazing color.

Toning down colors by glazing a complimentary color has been helpful to me in drawing realistic landscape greens.

Glazing is also perfect for creating depth of color. I drew the red horse in the illustration below with alternating glazes of red-browns, browns, various shades of oranges and yellows, and even blues. The result was much more satisfactory than doing just a few layers of colors that closely matched the actual color of the horse.

Tips for Successful Glazes

Glazing with colored pencils involves using very light pressure to put color over what is already on the paper. If you have a naturally light hand, then you don’t need special techniques in order to glaze color.

But if you have a naturally heavy hand and you want to glaze, look for ways to apply light, thin layers of color.

Following are two things I do when I need to glaze, and that will help you.

Use the Side of a Well-Sharpened Pencil

I usually use the side of a well-sharpened pencil to glaze when I want to alter or adjust the color in an area.

I hold the pencil nearly horizontal to the paper, and let it “glide” over the paper. It is possible to apply pressure this way, but I rarely do. Instead, I use the weight of the pencil. That produces a nice, broad stroke of broken color as shown here. This is perfect for glazing.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners
Using the side of a pencil as shown here creates “broken” color. The paper or the colors already on the paper show through the glazing color, but the glazing color alters the way they look.

Use a Very Blunt Pencil

For small areas, I like using a blunt pencil such as shown below. The flattened tip works the same as the side of a well-sharpened pencil, but gives me more control.

To use a blunt or very blunt pencil, hold it in a normal position, but with the blunt side on the paper. Then make directional, circular or other strokes to glaze the area.

If you need to clean up or sharpen an edge, turn the pencil until the sharp edge is on the paper.

The pencils on the right and left are blunt. The tips are flat. The pencil in the center is well-sharpened.

In each of these situations, the part of the pencil touching the paper is bigger. That means the pencil doesn’t get very deep into the tooth of the paper. The color stays mostly on top of the tooth, and the color that’s already on the paper shows through. When you look closely at a drawing, you can see that “broken color.”

But when you view the drawing from a normal viewing distance, your eye blends the two colors.

Glazing Colored Pencils for Beginners (in a nutshell)

You can keep glazing simple or get as involved as you wish. After all, some of the Old Masters glazed their paintings extensively and others rarely glazed color.

Whether or not you glaze is a personal choice. Your personal preferences, how you work, and how often you need to make the kinds of adjustments described above all determine how often you need to glaze.

But it can be a very useful skill, so I encourage you to experiment with it, at least a little.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing

Last week, I began a step-by-step demonstration showing how to draw a horse as a miniature drawing. This week I’ll demonstrate glazing color on an umber under drawing on the same project.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing

Glazing Background Color Over an Umber Under Drawing

The drawing is an ACEO (Art Cards, Editions and Originals) on white Rising Stonehenge paper.

This is the finished umber under drawing. You can read about drawing the under drawing here.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing -- The finished umber under drawing.

You can finish your under drawing with as much detail as you like. Some artists produce under drawings that look like finished works of art. I admire those artists and their work, but I don’t possess enough patience for such highly detailed under drawings!

My Color List

I used Prismacolor Verithin pencils to preserve as much of the paper’s natural tooth as possible for as long as possible. Finding other ways to preserve tooth is important when you don’t want to use solvents. Verithin pencils include only 36 colors, but there are enough colors to get started.

These are the colors I used.

I didn’t use these colors in any particular order beyond working generally from light to dark. Many of them were used several times, alternating colors among the many layers I did throughout the day.

To preserve paper tooth, use harder pencils for the first few layers of color work.

You can successfully complete this project using your favorite colors.

Layering Colors

I started with Prismacolor Verithin pencils, using light pressure and a variety of strokes to layer smooth color.

To keep the green from getting too bright, I sandwiched earth tones (Dark Umber, Terra Cotta, and Goldenrod) between greens (Apple Green, Grass Green, Peacock Green, and True Green.) I further adjusted color and value by mixing in Canary Yellow, True Blue, Non-Photo Blue, and Ultramarine.

No color was applied in an even layer throughout the background. Multiple layers and varying strokes were used to create the look of sun-dappled foliage in soft-focus.

The result is some areas that are more blue than yellow, and some that show a lot of brown.

Since I wanted as many layers and colors as possible without producing the ‘slick’ look of heavy burnishing, I kept pressure light to medium-light for each layer.

Keeping the pencils needle-sharp wasn’t a high priority. With this type of background, a slightly dull or even an angled pencil tip can be advantageous.

Glazing Color on the Horse

I used Verithin pencils to begin glazing color on the horse, beginning with Goldenrod in the lightest values. The medium value base colors were Orange and Orange Ochre, with Indigo Blue as the base color in the mane and forelock.

Developing Color

After the base layers were finished, I added Indigo Blue in the darker shadows to begin developing those shadows.

Then I continued layering with Verithin Terra Cotta, Goldenrod, and Orange Ochre in the red-brown parts of the horse’s coat.

Next, I darkened values with Dark Brown and Crimson Red. With each color, I worked around the highlights.

For the muzzle, eye, mane and forelock, I layered Black in the darkest areas, followed by Indigo Blue in the darkest values and middle values.

I also used some Prismacolor Soft Core pencils (the same colors) to add vibrancy.

Adjusting the Background

Now that the main colors and values were in place on the horse, I felt the need to add more color to the background. For this, I switched to Prismacolor Soft Core pencils.

To begin, I used Dark Green, Olive Green, Indigo Blue, Apple Green, Dark Umber, and Yellow Chartreuse to deepen saturation all around. I applied light colors in light areas and dark colors in dark areas with enough overlap to avoid ”pasted on” value patterns.

Then I used Yellow Chartreuse, Chartreuse, Light Green, Apple Green, Deco Yellow, and French Grey 30% to burnish the background.

The result was a deep and rich color that looked almost like it could have been an oil painting.

Adjusting the Horse

I added Goldenrod, Orange Ochre, and Terra Cotta applied with light to medium pressure and in random order. Mixing colors like this helped create rich, saturated color.

Then I added Orange Ochre, Spanish Orange, Crimson Red, Orange, Peacock Green, Black, Non-Photo Blue, and Goldenrod. In the first pass, I used the colors in the order listed. Later, I used them in random order.

I started with Verithin colors to establish as deep and even a layer of color as possible while filling as little tooth as possible.

When I had done all I could do with those, I switched to Prismacolor Soft Core pencils and used Burnt Ochre, Orange, and Black.

For the most part, I used a medium to heavy pressure, really forcing color down into the tooth of the paper to fill up every last space.

Finishing Touches

I started the final round of work with Verithin Goldenrod, Orange Ochre, Crimson Red, Ultramarine, and Orange. I used Canary Yellow, and White for highlight colors and to burnish where needed.

Then I added Prismacolor Soft Core Burnt Ochre with light to medium pressure to add teh final touches.

And here is the finished portrait.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing -- The finished portrait.

If it were a larger portrait, I’d refine the details further and add more color depth. It looked great as an ACEO.

Glazing Color on an Umber Under Drawing is now Complete

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial. You can use this method with success on any subject at any size.

And as I mentioned earlier in this post, you can develop the under drawing as much as you like. The more detail you include in the under drawing, the easier (and less work) glazing color becomes.

Are you interested in more information on this method? I’ve published a subject study tutorial that’s currently available on Colored Pencil Tutorials and you can read more about that here.

Other Articles in This Series

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing