Two Ways to Get Smooth Color with Colored Pencils

Two Ways to Get Smooth Color with Colored Pencils

One of the biggest challenges for most of us is getting rid of paper holes in our color layers. No matter what the subject, we’re always looking for better ways to get smooth color with colored pencils.

That’s especially important if your subject includes a sky. Unless they’re filled with clouds, most skies move seamlessly from one shade of blue to another, and from light to dark. You simply can’t afford to have edges between those shades. Nor are paper holes acceptable.

“But aren’t solvents or complex techniques necessary for absolutely smooth color?” you ask.

No. Let me share two ways I use to get smooth color, and you already have the tools!

The first sample is on 140lb hot press watercolor paper, which is fairly smooth.

The second sample is on Canson Mi-Teintes, which is not so smooth. These two methods can be used on most papers suitable for colored pencil.

Two Ways to Get Smooth Color with Colored Pencils

Get smooth color by careful layering.

The best way to get smooth color with colored pencils is by careful layering. It doesn’t matter what you’re drawing, or what pencils or paper you use. Draw each layer so carefully that the color needs little or no blending.

For the smoothest color, use light pressure through several layers. Each layer you add fills in the tooth of the paper more, creating steadily smoother color.

You can use heavy pressure to get smooth color. The darkest stripe in the sample below was drawn with very heavy pressure. The other values are multiple layers of repeating strokes applied with light pressure.

Two Ways to Get Smooth Color with Colored Pencils - Layering

Layer multiple colors to create new colors or subtle variations, as well as create smooth color.

Keep your pencils sharp, so they reach down into the tooth of the paper. Small strokes are also best for layering smooth color. Many artists also recommend circular strokes because they don’t leave edges. If you’re new to colored pencil and learning how to draw, then it is better to learn circular stroking.

But if you’re an established artist, you may already have developed other strokes that produce the desired results. Continue to use those strokes.

Get smooth color by blending with paper towel.

The second way to get smooth color with colored pencils is to blend it with paper towel. This method works especially well on Canson Mi-Teintes and other toothier papers.

Let me show you how to blend with paper towel.

Fold a piece of paper towel into quarters or smaller, depending on your hand size and the size of the area you want to blend. The paper should be small enough to hold firmly, but large enough to blend effectively. I usually fold a sheet of paper towel three times.

Rub the paper towel against the drawing. It’s next to impossible to cause damage (other than by blending over the edges,) so don’t be afraid to use heavy pressure.

Two Ways to Get Smooth Color with Colored Pencils- Paper Towel Step 1

Some color will come off on the paper towel. That’s okay. You can continue to blend with this paper, but be aware that if you begin blending an area of a different color, the first color will come off on the new color, especially if the second color is lighter than the first color.

The illustration below shows blending on the left side, but not on the right. It doesn’t seem like it would do very much, but on Canson Mi-Teintes, it’s very productive.

I have blended with paper towel on just about every type of paper I use regularly. That includes Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, and 140lb hot press watercolor paper.

If getting smooth color with colored pencils is one one of your big challenges, give these two methods a try.

Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils Tutorial

How to Draw a Sunset Sky

Today, I want to show you something fun and helpful: How to draw a sunset sky with watercolor pencils.

Here’s the good news. It’s not as difficult as it may seem (at least not the way I did it!)

Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

How to Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

I used Derwent Watercolour Pencils on Stonehenge 98lb drawing paper in white. I’ll tell you up front that Stonehenge handles water well, but you MUST tape it to a rigid support so it dries flat.

The sample drawing for this tutorial was 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches in size, so it was difficult to tape down. I set an empty drink bottle on the paper while it was drying and that kept the paper flat, but I do not recommend this method. The bottle I used was very lightweight and clean, so it didn’t leave marks on the paper.

One other note. I didn’t use a reference photo for this piece. Since it’s so small, I painted the sky from memory, then drew the branches from life. You can create your own piece the same way, or from a reference photo.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Layer colors on the paper from light to dark.

Use light-medium pressure to layer color on the paper. Create even color layers with whatever method works best for you. I used the sides of well-sharpened pencils to layer each color.

Begin with the lightest color and work through the colors into the darkest color you want to use.

I used Deep Cadmium, Orange Chrome, Deep Vermilion, Crimson Lake, Imperial Purple, and Prussian Blue. All you really need is yellow, orange, red, purple, and blue so the gradations between colors are smooth and natural looking.

Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

If you want a lighter, brighter sky, skip the purple and blue.

Step 2: Activate watercolor pencils with water.

Blend colors with water. Work from light to dark and stroke across the paper horizontally.

Use a large, soft brush, and try to stroke only once across each color. The more you stroke over each area, the more likely you’ll end up with streaks. The streaks in this illustration happened because I got too fussy.

You’ll notice two things immediately when using watercolor pencils. The blended color is darker than the dry color. Derwent’s pencils are very pigmented, so they produce excellent color.

The other thing you’ll notice in this sample is the streakiness in the darker colors. That’s my fault. I used a small brush to blend and didn’t blend fast enough to produce smooth color (in addition to going over the paper too many times!)

At this stage of the process, that’s not a major concern, but it’s still best to avoid whenever possible.

Step 3: Continue to layer and blend with water until you have the color saturation you want.

Continue to add color and activate with water until you have the color and saturation you want.

I did two more rounds of layering and blending. Each round was essentially the same as those described in Step 1. Same colors in the same areas, though I faded each color a little more into the adjacent colors.

For the second round, I layered Deep Vermilion over the top third of the sky, then added Orange Chrome over the top two-thirds. Finally, I layered Deep Cadmium over the entire piece. That unified the colors and toned down the blues and purples, which got too dark. I used medium pressure or slightly heavier to put a lot of pigment on the paper.

Then I washed the whole thing with water and a large soft brush to blend the colors.

Step 4: Draw the basic branch shapes.

Draw the silhouetted trees dry, using watercolor pencils the same way you’d use traditional colored pencils. Use dark colors. I used black and a dark brown mixed to give the branches a warmth that black alone wouldn’t provide.

Then use a very small, round brush (I used a sable) to activate the color. Stroke in the direction the branches grow. From the base up.

You don’t need to keep the edges crisp or blend the colors uniformly. Having softer edges in places, and having some areas more brown and others blacker gives the branches a sense of movement.

Step 5: Finishing the sunset sky with watercolor pencils dry

With a very sharp pencil, add the smaller branches. If you’re drawing from life, observe the growth patterns and draw them as accurately as you can. Don’t worry about getting every branch and twig in exactly the right place. Instead, focus on the general shapes and patterns.

Draw a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

You can activate a few of these smaller branches with water if you wish. I didn’t because I lack brushes small enough for that type of detail. I also wanted the bolder look of dry pencil over wet.

Final Thoughts on Drawing a Sunset Sky with Watercolor Pencils

I used Derwent Watercolour pencils for this work, but you can do the same thing with any artist quality watercolor pencil.

Also try watercolor papers. You can use the same method but watercolor paper gives you the opportunity to push the watercolor features a little further.

It was a lot of fun to layer dry color over wet, to paint in broad washes, and with more deliberation. It was quite a learning experience.

One thing you can’t do is put watercolor pencils over wax-based or oil-based traditional pencils, then activate them with water.

Well, I guess you could if you really wanted to, but the watercolor will not stick to the wax or oil for very long.

How to Draw Clouds with Colored Pencil

Two of the more popular posts here are How to Draw Thunderhead Clouds in graphite, and How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil. Today, we’ll combine those two subjects with a tutorial showing you how to draw clouds with colored pencil.

In a blue sky, of course!

How to Draw Clouds with Colored Pencil

About the Demonstration Art

The sample study was painted on Canson Mi-Teintes 98lb paper, Azure. If you use Canson Mi-Teintes, make sure to use the smooth side. You can use the front if you wish, but the texture will be more difficult to work with and finishing will take longer.

My cloud study is quite small, 4″ x 2.75″, and is a Drawing of the Week. I used a combination of layering and solvent blending, along with the direct method.

It was also the first time I’d used Canson Mi-Teintes‘ Azure paper, which is a very soft, light shade of blue.

How to Draw Clouds with Colored Pencil

Step 1: Lightly outline the clouds and land and shade the sky.

Use very light pressure to outline the clouds and the horizon. You can use the same color for both, or use a medium blue to outline the clouds and medium gray-green to outline the horizon.

Keep the edges somewhat soft since clouds very rarely have crisp edges.

TIP: Use at least two shades of blue, one medium and one light. The colors you choose should reflect the color of the sky you’re drawing, since skies are not the same shade of blue everywhere.

Next, shade the sky with the same blue you used to outline the clouds. Use light pressure and the stroke that gives you the most even color. Start at the top with a sharp pencil and layer color about three-quarters of the way down the sky. Work carefully around the clouds.

Follow that with a lighter value blue. Start at the top again, but this time, layer blue all the way to the horizon.

If you’re using a very light blue, start at the horizon and layer that upward to a little past the halfway mark.

Use light pressure with all the colors and do at least two layers of each, rotating through the colors as you work. You want smooth gradations in color and value.

How to Draw Clouds Step 1

Step 2: Lift a few more clouds with mounting putty.

Use mounting putty to lift a little color from the sky to create thin, wispy clouds if you wish.

Shape the putty into small shapes, press it lightly against the paper, then reshape it. If you don’t, you may end up with a pattern of lifted color that’s too regular in shape to look like clouds.

How to Draw Clouds Step 2

Step 3: Blend with odorless mineral spirits or other art solvent.

You can use a brush (the most common way.) Dip the brush into a little solvent, then “paint” it over the color. The solvent dissolves the color and allows the different shades of blue to mix almost like paint.

I used a cotton swab instead of a brush. In the blue at the top, I tapped the color repeatedly with the end of the swab. Too many times, as it turned out, because I began lifting color (as you can see below.)

In the rest of the sky, I rolled the side of the cotton along the sky in horizontal strokes. Once to moisten the color, then again to blend it.

If you lifted color to create light, wispy clouds, work around them unless you want to reshape them by blending into them. Don’t wet them completely.

How to Draw Clouds Step 3

TIP: If you need to soften edges, blend over them as shown around the clouds around the center patch of blue sky, and in the clouds leading toward the upper, right corner.

Step 4: Continue layering and blending until the blue sky is finished.

Layer color and blend with solvent, until the sky is finished to your satisfaction.

If you need to, you can also do the final blend with a colorless blender.

How to Draw Clouds Step 4

Step 5: Draw the landscape using the same methods.

Draw the landscape using the same layering and blending method. The landscape is really the stage for the main subject, the clouds, so you don’t need to put a lot of detail into it.

Since this tutorial is about the clouds and not the land, I’ll show the first round of color, and the finished landscape.

How to Draw Clouds Step 5

I did three or four rounds of layering color and blending with solvent to reach this point (below.) The landscape isn’t completely finished, but I’ll do the clouds before making any changes to either the sky or the landscape.

How to Draw Clouds Step 6

Step 6: Shade the dark values in the clouds

Carefully sketch in and shade the darkest values in the clouds with a medium value blue-gray color. Use a sharp pencil and put down multiple layers to create a variety of values.

Pay close attention to the overlap of clouds. Each set of clouds is different, so don’t rush, and don’t draw generic clouds.

How to Draw Clouds Step 7

After you’ve put three or four layers of color into the shadows and darker middle values, blend with solvent.

Step 7: Layer the same blue, a medium gray, and a lighter gray-blue into the shadows and darker values.

Darken the shadows and darker middle values with alternating layers of the same blue you used in Step 6, plus a medium gray, and a gray-blue lighter than the previous blue.

Focus your attention on the shadows, but also layer the two shades of blue into the middle values.

Very lightly layer the lighter blue into the lighter middle values.

How to Draw Clouds Step 8

Step 8: Blend with solvent, and pull dissolved color into the lighter parts of the clouds.

Blend with solvent. Blot the brush before touching the paper to remove excess solvent.

Begin blending in the darkest areas. Observe the edges of those shapes carefully, especially where they overlap lighter areas.

Also pull color from the darker middle values into the lighter middle values to create even lighter middle values. Work around the white areas. They will be the highlights in the clouds, so you need to preserve them.

How to Draw Clouds Step 9

Step 9: Continue layering and blending until you get the color, values, and saturation you want.

Since this small piece was a study and a Drawing of the Week, I didn’t push the details. The finished study, below, represents two more rounds of layering color and blending with solvent.

I finished by burnishing the clouds with a light blue Prismacolor pencil. Prismacolor because they’re wax-based, and good for burnishing. Light blue to unify the values in the clouds and because the color was just the right touch for the hint of shadow in the brightest part of the clouds.

How to Draw Clouds Finished

As already mentioned, this is only a color study, so isn’t as detailed as a larger painting.

But it is enough to tell me this type of painting is not only fun to do, but worth expanding into a larger, more complex piece.

Conclusion

Learning how to draw clouds is a challenging, but satisfying process. You’ll have an endless variety of subjects, even with the same cloud, since they change so quickly.

It’s also an excellent way to improve your powers of observation, and you ability to sketch and draw quickly.

In other words, it’s well worth the time!

How to Draw a Gray Sky with Colored Pencils

Today’s tutorial is another sky tutorial. This time, I’ll show you how to draw a gray sky with colored pencils.

This tutorial is a continuation of last week’s post on sketching a composition right on your drawing paper.

How to Draw a Gray Sky with Colored Pencils

How to Draw a Gray Sky

The demonstration piece is a 6×8 inch landscape drawn on sanded art paper. If you want to try your hand at a gray sky, but don’t have sanded paper, use the same basic process with any drawing paper.

I’m using Faber-Castell Polychromos, but any brand will have enough grays and other colors to draw a gray sky.

This is my reference photo. It’s one of my own, so you’re welcome to download it if you want to follow along with your own drawing.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Reference

Step 1: Choose the colors that match the colors in your reference photo.

The first step is always figuring out the best colors for your subject. You can do this a number of ways.

Most artists simply “eyeball” their reference and select the most likely colors to use. For example, to draw a blue sky, they grab a handful of blues in a variety of values and start testing them on paper. That’s a perfectly acceptable way to select colors, and it’s a great way to learn what doesn’t work. I choose colors this way for years.

Most photo editing programs include color picking tools (look for the eye dropper icon in the tool box.) Select that tool, then click on any area in a digital reference photo to isolate the color in the tool bar. Find the colored pencil that’s closest to that color (or the colors needed to mix that color,) and you’re good to go.

A third way to select colors is to physically compare the pencils with your subject, as I did for the illustration below. I chose the three pencils I thought were close to the color of the sky and laid them on the reference photo. Obviously, this works only if you have a printed reference photo, but it is a good way to actually see pencil colors and photo colors side-by-side.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 1

TIP: You may have to blend a couple of colors to get an exact match, or you may choose to use a color you have and draw a slightly different color of gray than the reference photo shows. Either method is fine. Reference photos are only places to begin. You don’t need to follow them exactly (unless you’re doing a portrait.)

Step 2: Layer the base color over all of the sky.

Layer the base color (the color that’s closest to all of the grays in the sky) along the horizon using medium pressure and diagonal strokes. I outlined a portion of the horizon, then shaded the color along it. You don’t have to outline first.

Here, the sky is about half finished. The individual “rows” of color are clearly visible. You can also see the direction of the strokes I used. It doesn’t matter so much what type of stroke you use, so use the stroke or strokes that are most comfortable for you and do what you want to do.

Work across the lower part of the sky, then layer color across the middle part, and finish with the top.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 2

Drawing on sanded art paper produces more than just stunning results. It produces pigment dust, as shown below. It can be a nuisance if you happen to rest your hand in it, then smudge it into another part of the drawing (that’s why I recommend using a cover sheet even with small drawings.)

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 2b

But pigment dust is easy enough to dispose of. Use a drafting brush and careful brush it into the waste basket.

There is, however, a better use for pigment dust.

Step 3: Use a stiff brush to dry blend pigment dust into the layer of color.

Colored pencil dust can be blended into the color layers, whether you blend wet or dry. All you need is a stiff bristle brush.

You can use a new brush if you wish, but if you have a couple that are worn down from painting, they work best. Just make sure they’re absolutely clean and completely dry.

These are the brushes I use. The top brush is for solvent blending, the bottom brush is for dry blending.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 3a

They’re both former oil painting brushes, so the bristles are worn quite short. Short enough for me to use them almost like pencils, with either light pressure or heavier pressure.

The bristles don’t bend, either, so I can use the long edge for larger areas or the corner for small areas.

TIP: If you’re not an oil painter and don’t have used brushes lying around, look for short bristled brushes when you go brush shopping. If the bristles are still long, trim the bristles with a scissor or “wear them down” by stroking them along coarse sand paper. They will, of course, wear down naturally as you use them for blending.

Finish layering gray over all of the sky, then blend with a bristle brush. I generally blend in the same direction in which I applied the color, but use the stroke that works best for you. Blend with light to medium-light pressure to avoid creating “bald” spots in the color layer.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 3b

Step 4: Continue layering and blending until the paper is covered.

Continue to layer color and blend until the sky looks as saturated as you want it . Use a combination of strokes and increase the pressure with each layer.

Don’t worry if you can still see variations in the color after all of this. Sanded paper takes a lot of color, so it will take time to fill in all of the tooth.

In this illustration, I’ve blended the first round of color and layered the next ones and I can still see some of the diagonals. I have to remind myself that this is the nature of the paper, and unless I want to burnish the colors, I won’t be able to fill in the paper.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 4

Step 5: Add an accent color if you want to break up the flat gray.

I decided after finishing the sky to add warmer, lighter values near the horizon, to add more interest. The two lightest value grays in the Polychromos line were already on the paper, so I added Ivory, and small, circular strokes along the horizon.

This is what I consider an “enhancement,” so you don’t have to add Ivory if you prefer not to. Even with the first application, however, it gave a little more depth to the sky.

How to Draw a Gray Sky - Step 5

Conclusion

And that’s all there is to it. The landscape I’m drawing shows a very flat, light gray sky. I could have gotten pretty much the same result by drawing on gray paper. In fact, I am doing a similar landscape on gray paper and so far, I’ve done nothing with the sky.

For the sample drawing, I made the sky a little darker, and added lighter color along the horizon.

Is the sky finished? For the time being, yes. I’ll finish the drawing, then go back over the entire piece and make whatever adjustments might be necessary. Including the sky!

Next week, we’ll work on the hills on the horizon.

Would you like a copy of the reference photo so you can work along with me?

How to Draw a Night Sky

Last week, I shared tips on how to draw a night sky, and promised you a step-by-step tutorial this week. When I wrote last week’s post, I hoped to have an actual subject to work with.

That didn’t happen, but I did spend the week looking up after sundown and before dawn. I saw enough to draw a generic night sky.

Before we get started, let me recommend another sky drawing tutorial, How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil. The methods are basically the same, but with different colors and a few additional tips and techniques.

How to Draw a Night Sky

Step 1: Establish the Foreground

Establish the horizon by outlining anything that shows against the sky. It will be easier to work around those details than to draw them over the finished sky.

TIP: You can use masking film to protect the shapes that show against the sky. Cut the film to shape and press it lightly into place. Carefully shade the sky so you don’t disturb the film, then remove the film.

If you prefer, you can also shade the shapes that show against the sky. I drew a horizon of trees, then blocked them in with black and dark green.

There won’t be much detail in the foreground, so keep the values fairly dark and featureless. I used medium-heavy pressure, but lighter pressure  makes it easier to make adjustments after the sky is finished.

If you want stars, impress them into the paper with very sharp pencils. Not all the stars should be the same brightness, so select three or four light colors. Press firmly with some and more lightly with others. I used Prismacolor Verithin because they can sharpened to a very fine point.

You can also use a stylus. The resulting dots will be white. My “stylus” is a fine point Zebra pen with no ink in it. Press more heavily with some than others.

NOTE: The stars impressed with a stylus showed up best. Consider using two different tools for impressing, so the resulting stars are different sizes.

How to Draw a Night Sky - Establish the Foreground

Adding green over black keeps the black from getting flat, and gives the trees just enough green cast to show they are trees.

Also notice the various directions in which I stroked while adding black and green. If this were a more finished piece of art, I would probably use lighter pressure and more layers, but that isn’t necessary.

Step 2: Adding Color to the Sky

Begin glazing color into the sky with black and dark blue. Use light to medium pressure, and draw each layer as evenly a possible, so no pencil strokes are visible.

NOTE: Medium pressure is the same as normal handwriting pressure.

It’s best to use a blunt pencil. The blunter the pencil, the less likely you’ll “fill in the stars” you impressed into the paper.

In this illustration, I put black over all of the sky, and dark blue over half of it. The slight darkening at the top is the result of multiple layers.

How to Draw a Night Sky - Adding Color to the Night Sky

TIP: You can use heavier pressure for these layers. Just remember that the heavier the pressure, the more likely you are to fill in some of the impressed stars.

Step 3: Darken the Values

Darken the values by continuing to layer the two original colors. I added a medium blue to my palette for this step, but I sandwiched it between multiple layers of Black and dark blue.

With each layer, start at the top and work downward, using a variety of strokes to cover the paper.

To smooth out the color and value gradations, use a piece of bath tissue folded into a small square. Start at the top and “pull” color down into the lighter parts of the sky, then I blend horizontally.

How to Draw a Night Sky - Darken the Values

This might be all you need if you want to draw an early evening sky. You can almost feel the descending chill of evening, can’t you?

But if you want full night, then keep layering!

TIP: If you’re drawing early evening, reduce the number of stars, especially down near the horizon.

Step 4: Finishing Touches

For a darker sky, continue adding alternating layers of black and dark blue. Blend the colors every few layers.

Continue until the sky is as dark as you want it.

How to Draw a Night Sky - Finishing Touches

Is It Finished?

I used Bristol vellum for this tutorial. By the time the drawing reached this point, the paper was so slick, even the lightest tissue blend removed more color than it blended. I had hoped to go much darker, but decided to stop here.

For a finished piece, I’d use a paper with more tooth. Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes or maybe a sanded paper. Strathmore Artagain is another possibility, though that may also be too smooth.

If you prefer Bristol vellum, use heavier pressure and fewer layers, or spray the drawing with workable fixative. Even a workable fixative made for colored pencils—such as Prismacolor Tuffilm—will not completely restore the tooth, but you will be able to do a little more layering.

Conclusion

Seeing the stars “come out” on this little drawing leaves me wanting to do a larger, complete piece. What about you?

This is only one way to draw a night sky. As I mentioned above, I think I’ll expand on this method for a “real drawing.”

Of course other factors play a role. Is there a moon? Clouds? What about artificial lighting? Or maybe a shooting star? The possibilities are endless.

No matter what type of night sky you want to draw, follow these basic steps and you can draw a night sky of your own!

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil

Do you know how to draw a clear sky with colored pencil?

Think carefully. There’s more to it than picking a nice blue and putting it on paper.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at your box of pencils. Unless you have a small set of pencils, you probably have at least half a dozen shades of blue. Which one is the right one?

And you can’t pick one or two colors that work with every landscape drawing. Not all clear blue skies are the same shade of blue, after all. The color you see on any given day is determined by altitude, the moisture and heat in the air, and the time of year.

A winter sky doesn’t look the same as a summer sky.

Nor does a clear sky in the desert look the same as a clear sky in the mountains.

You can’t trust photographs, either. Not unless you took them yourself. Why? Because photographers—the serious ones—love filters and special lenses. Some of those lenses and filters enhance color and make a rather plain blue sky absolutely luscious.

So just how do you draw a clear blue sky in colored pencil?

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil

General Tips on How to Draw a Clear Blue Sky

Lets begin with a few general tips that work no matter what type of blue sky—or any clear sky—you might be drawing. I’m using blues for the following illustrations, but the techniques will work for night skies and sunsets or sunrises, as well.

If You Have a Small Patch of Sky to Draw

If you’re drawing a very small section of sky—a bit a blue peaking through the trees, for example—or if you’re drawing is quite small, consider using a cotton swab or cotton ball to apply color. The result is smooth, very thin color with absolutely no pencil strokes.

The process is simple. Begin by using very heavy pressure to apply the colors you want to use to a piece of scrap paper.

Stroke the cotton swab or cotton ball across the color swatches to pick up color.
Next, stroke your drawing with the cotton swab or cotton ball with light to medium pressure.

Continue adding layers until the sky is the color and value you want. “Recharge” the cotton swab or cotton ball frequently by rubbing it against the color swabs.

If you want a clear sky with no variations, continue to layer color over every inch of the sky patch, and then blend with the cotton swab or cotton ball until the color is saturated and looks the way you want it to look.

I described the process more fully in Add Color to a Colored Pencil Drawing with Bath Tissue. The process is the same—but more precise—if you replace the bath tissue with cotton swabs or cotton balls.

If You Have a Large Sky Area to Draw

With larger areas of sky, the best method is drawing with your pencils.

Layer multiple colors with very light pressure. If you have difficulty drawing with light pressure, hold the pencil as close to the end as you can, and hold it so it’s nearly horizontal. Stroke lightly, with little or no pressure on the pencil. Let the weight of the pencil work for you.

Use the side of a well-sharpened pencil or a woodless pencil to cover larger areas.

Work in circular strokes to avoid the darker areas at the beginning and end of “back-and-forth” strokes.

Always make the sky slightly darker toward the top of your drawing and lighter at the horizon.

Optional: Blend between layers with a tissue or cotton ball to even out color and preserve paper tooth.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil

Let me show you step by step how I draw a clear sky. Here’s the reference I’ll be working from.

How to Draw a Clear Blue Sky with Colored Pencil Reference

Choosing the Right Colors

The first thing I do is compare the reference image with my collection of blue pencils. My preferred sky colors are Light Cerulean, Non Photo Blue, Powder Blue, Sky Blue Light, and True Blue, but I could see immediately that none of those colors were a good fit for the shades of blue in this summer-time sky. I’d have to do some blending.

TIP: Having trouble seeing the colors in your reference photo? If it’s a digital image, open it in Photoshop or whatever software you use for photos. Use the color picker and click on the area you want to draw. The color in that area will be displayed isolated from all the other colors and will give you a much clearer idea of the true color. Match your colored pencils to that color.

The lightest blue actually leans toward green. The closest color in my collection proved to be Light Aqua, a color I rarely use for drawing skies.

The lower sky is lighter than the rest, so I also selected a similar color in a lighter value. I made three choices, so I also made three color swatches with Light Aqua. Then I layered each lighter color over a color swatch, as shown below. It was easy to see that Sky Blue Light and Light Aqua provided the best combination.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil - Color Swatches

The Initial Layers

I outlined the trees with Light Aqua and light pressure. Whenever I draw background elements first, I outline any shapes that overlap it. All you need is a line that’s dark enough to show where the sky ends.

Next, I began filling in the sky with light pressure and careful, closely spaced strokes. Because the end goal is to draw even color with no visible strokes, I combined circular strokes with diagonal strokes and concentrated on a small area.

I always use very light pressure when beginning to draw skies (or almost anything else). Darkness and saturation are developed layer by layer. The topmost part of the patch of color shown below is the result of one or two layers of color. The more saturated area at the bottom is five or six layers, all applied with light pressure and a sharp pencil.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil - Layering Color

TIP: In the illustration above, my pencil should be sharper. I’ve worn down one side of it and simply turned it so I was drawing with the resulting sharp “edge.” But I’m sometimes a lazy artist, and didn’t sharpen the pencil instead. Laziness usually leads to more work.

Here’s what the area looked like when I finished layering Light Aqua.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil - Step 1 Finished

Adding Layers

I next layered Sky Blue Light over the lower portion with medium heavy pressure, both to smooth out the layer of Light Aqua and fill in the tooth of the paper.

There’s a warm cast to the lower sky, so I burnished with Cream in a small area at the bottom, and followed up by burnishing White into most of the same area to lighten it a little more.

Keep the edges soft and smooth. Color and value should change so gradually that there are no edges anywhere. Whether you work from one part of the sky to the next or cover all of the sky with every layer, be deliberate in how you apply color. When you find yourself getting sloppy or “just scribbling”, stop. Those scribbles will be difficult to cover so it’s better to take a break.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil - Burnished

Once the initial color is on the paper, continue building upward. Work with light pressure and multiple layers. If necessary, “weave” different shades of blue in with the original colors, layer by layer.

It’s important to remember that a well-drawn sky will be heavily saturated with color: There should be no paper holes at all if the sky you’re drawing is clear. When I stopped to take this photograph, I estimated I was one-third to one-half finished.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil Multiple Layers

Building Saturation

As the sky progresses, I add new colors as well as more layers. The previous image shows True Blue at the top and Light Cerulean Blue throughout the sky from the top nearly to the bottom.

I also added a light layer or two of Ultramarine at the top in the following illustration.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil Before Burnishing

A few more layers of True Blue, Non-Photo Blue, and Sky Blue Light.

Every layer was applied with light pressure and careful strokes to cover as much of the paper as possible. I have started increasing pressure a little toward the top, where the color will be the darkest, but I won’t use heavy pressure until the end, when I burnish the sky.

Even so, you can see the difference a few additional layers of color make even if they are applied with light pressure. The point? Don’t burnish too soon!

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil Before Burnishing 2

Burnishing

Rather than use a colorless blender for burnishing, I used the same colors I used to color the sky.

When I burnished, I burnished from the top down with Non-Photo Blue, and from the bottom up with Sky Blue Light. Most of the strokes were horizontal and I blended the two colors together as much as possible for smooth transitions.

How to Draw a Clear Sky with Colored Pencil Burnished

And that’s how to draw a clear sky with colored pencil. At least that’s the way I do it.

There are variations on this theme and much of what I’ve shown you here is determined by paper color and other factors. If you begin with a blue paper, for example, there would be a lot less layering involved.

The type of paper (I used Bristol vellum) and pencils (I used Prismacolor) would also determine how you might need to change how you draw. Bristol vellum doesn’t usually take as many layers to cover because it’s so smooth. Stonehenge, on the other hand, will take more layers to produce the same level of color saturation.

Now that you know the basics of how to draw a clear sky with colored pencil, you can conduct your own experiments to see what works for you.

I've Always Wanted to Draw Clouds Banner

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 2 Report

This was the first full week of the Autumn Plein Air Drawing challenge, so I had time to do more than one drawing. However, steady sometimes heavy rain from Wednesday through Saturday kept me indoors the rest of the week. I seriously considered trying my hand a water soluble colored pencils during the rain, but wasn’t keen on getting wet myself!

My subject for this week was the sky. It was early evening and the light in the clouds was ideal for drawing. Lots of colors and shadows, too.

The clouds in the sky when I finished the drawing were not the same clouds in the sky when I began. It was a day of high winds and clouds were passing quickly, so rather than try to draw a specific cloud, I drew my impression of the overall pattern of the clouds as revealed by light and shadow. The only constant was the clear, blue sky.

The Methods I Used

I began by lightly and quickly sketching the general shape of the clouds, then laid down sky color as quickly as possible around that shape. I used blunt pencils and the sides of the pencils, to layer two shades of blue—Mediterranean Blue and Light Cerulean Blue—with hatching and cross-hatching strokes.

Blunt pencils and the sides of pencils also played a major role in the clouds. This time, however, I applied color in strokes following the contours of the clouds. You can see some of the initial layers in the unfinished parts of the clouds.

I used light-medium pressure in the early stages in order to get good coverage and color as quickly as possible.

Since I didn’t have much time for detail, I concentrated on color and values and on patterns of direct light and reflected light.

It took about 30 minutes to draw this. Maybe a little longer (I need to find a timer of some sort and then learn to use it!)

Colored Pencil Plein Air Drawing Week 2
Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge, Drawing 2

After the initial color was on the paper, I continued adding layers to build up color and value. I added warm tones on the bright sides of the clouds and in the reflected lights between clouds.

To finish, I burnished first with a colorless blender, then with white.

Time Spent Drawing

I’m estimating a minimum of 30 minutes, but no more than 45. I sat on the front step without a back support and that’s about all the longer I could sit without getting painfully uncomfortable.

What I Learned

Use methods and tools that allow me to lay down fields of color quickly. I’m a purist by nature. I prefer using colored pencil and only colored pencil on my drawings. Solvents for blending are acceptable, but I prefer not to use them.

However, that attitude doesn’t go very far for plein air drawing unless I’m drawing a stationary subject and/or I can revisit the subject as often as I need.

For everything else, I need to unbend enough to incorporate other drawing methods and, maybe even other mediums.

Burnishing is My Friend. I’ve never been a huge fan of burnishing, either, for the simple reason that it often left my drawings looking flat and waxy. But there is a place for burnishing in plein air drawing and I have better results when I use it. It doesn’t matter whether I use a colorless blender or a colored pencil, though using a colored pencil speeds the drawing process by allowing me to adjust color or value as well as burnishing.

Tools Used

Mead Academie Sketch Book, 9 inches by 6 inches, Heavyweight white paper

Prismacolor Pencils

  • Mediterranean Blue (Sky)
  • Light Cerulean Blue (Sky)
  • Slate Gray (Clouds)
  • Jasmine (Clouds)
  • Powder Blue (Clouds)
  • Colorless Blender (Burnishing, Sky)
  • White (Burnishing, Sky & Clouds)

How to Draw a Stormy Sky in Colored Pencil

How to Draw a Stormy Sky

Today I want to show you one way I draw a stormy sky with traditional colored pencil.

The sky sets the tone for landscape art; even in graphite. Get it right, and you have an excellent landscape drawing.

Get it wrong…. Well, lets don’t go there!

Clear skies can be difficult enough, with all those subtle gradations of blue. Add a few clouds and the difficulty increases.

A stormy sky?

The lighting may be dramatic, but is it possible to draw a stormy sky that looks realistic?

Yes!

How to Draw a Stormy Sky in Colored Pencil

I’m using the direct method of drawing for this demonstration.

I’m also using Prismacolor Thick Lead/Soft Core pencils unless otherwise noted. You should be able to match colors in whatever brand of pencil you prefer if you don’t use Prismacolor.

How to Draw a Stormy Sky in Colored Pencil

Laying a Foundation – Slate Grey

I chose Slate Grey for the foundation color because it’s a cool color (as opposed to a warm color.) It also combines gray with a strong blue tint that’s ideal for dark and stormy skies.

Since my reference photo features a brightly lighted foreground, I wanted a cool color against which I can contrast all that bright, warm, foreground light. Your stormy sky might do better with a warm gray. Try a few colors and don’t be afraid to experiment. Just do most of your experimenting on scrap paper first!

Outline objects that overlap the sky, and then fill in around them using the point of a very sharp pencil and light pressure. In the trees in my sample, I used circular strokes and light to medium pressure to fill in the gaps around the edges of the trees and within the foliage. The strokes are so close together, it’s difficult to see them in this detail, but the type of stroke isn’t as important as getting an even layer of color.

The darker areas around this yellow tree are the result of several layers of Slate Grey. The lighter areas (lower right) are fewer layers. The lightest area has no color at all.

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 1 Detail

TIP: Unless your stormy sky is flat gray, it’s important to begin defining values from the beginning.

Building on the Foundation

In the open sky, use light pressure and horizontal strokes with the side of a well-sharpened pencil. Overlap strokes and use multiple layers to create the lights and dark values that represent breaks in the clouds.

Layer flat color into the trees overlapping the sky. This is the method that works best for me because it gives me a better sense of the landscape than the line drawing.

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 1

TIP: Unless the paper is extremely smooth, some texture will appear through the color layers when you use a blunt pencil or the side of the pencil. The lighter the pressure, the more “broken” the resulting color. Make use of the paper texture in the sky, where it helps create the look of clouds with a minimum of work.

Darkening the Sky

Continue layering Slate Grey over the sky, beginning with a sharp pencil and light to medium pressure to work around and within the trees. Outline the outside edges, and the edges of the “sky holes” before filling in the shapes.

At this stage, you can continue working even after the pencil becomes blunt. The broader tip of a blunt pencil covers paper more quickly. It also lets the texture of the paper influence the color. As the pencil grows more blunt, increase pressure slightly to medium pressure.

You can also alternate between horizontal strokes (visible on the right) and vertical strokes (on the left). I layered with horizontal strokes first, then added a layer of vertical strokes, but the order doesn’t matter.

The type of strokes you use is not as important as getting the look you want. Use whatever strokes work best for you and the type of paper you use.

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 2 Detail 1

In the illustration below, you can see the outline on the right and the filled in areas on the left.

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 2 Detail 2

TIP: Continue developing variations in light and dark values established in the first step. Although you darken the entire sky, there will still be light and dark areas when you finish.

Add Dark Umber

To get an even darker sky, add a dark brown. I like Dark Umber because it’s more neutral than Dark Brown. I also like browns because they create nice, natural looking dark values when mixed with dark blues, dark greens, or dark reds.

Using a sharp pencil and light to medium light pressure, outline the trees overlapping the sky, including the sky holes within each tree with Dark Umber. You may outline the horizon, but don’t have to. That edge should be soft and blurry.

Then layer Dark Umber over the darkest areas of the sky, keeping the pencil as sharp as possible. Around the trees, use directional strokes. In the open sky, alternate between horizontal, vertical, and cross hatching strokes to get the most even coverage possible.

Add more layers for darker values. I actually worked around some of the lightest areas so the cool, blue-gray color wasn’t muted by the brown.

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 3

Add Ultramarine

Once again, use a sharp pencil and medium pressure to outline overlapping objects. Then use medium to medium-heavy pressure to lay down color. Vary strokes and layers to continue developing variations in value and color.

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 4

Slate Grey & Cool Grey Medium

Continue layering color with sharp pencils and a variety of strokes to add more Slate Grey and Cool Grey.

Then burnish the darkest darks with Cool Grey and the slightly lighter areas with Slate Grey using blunt pencils and overlapping the colors. It may take couple of rounds of burnishing to completely cover the paper in the areas where you want intense dark, such as the left part of the sky and the upper sky.

In this detail, the top portion has been blended with both colors. The lighter, rounded area between the trees still needs to be done and the dark streak through the middle is a single, heavy application of Cool Grey Medium.

Clay Rose & Rosy Beige Accents

The light spots on the horizon have a pinkish tone compared to the darker sky. Layer Clay Rose with medium heavy pressure at the horizon in each place, then follow up with Rosy Beige applied over the Clay Rose and between the Clay Rose and the clouds.

Burnish with White

Burnishing with White is the final step. This step is optional. You can burnish with a light gray or you can skip burnishing altogether, depending on the result you prefer.

This illustration shows that area near the center of the drawing after it was burnished with White.

There is another left of the yellow tree, visible as soft, light color in the illustration below.

Finishing Touches

Once you finish burnishing, let the drawing—and possibly your hand—rest for a while. I usually allow drawing to sit for 24 hours before a final review. Sometimes, I find they are finished when I look at them again.

Sometimes there’s more to do.

I went over this drawing one final time, adjusting color and value to the get right look.

Conclusion

If I were to finish the rest of the landscape, I’d go over the entire composition once more and make any additional adjustments that seem necessary after finishing the landscape.

Once you understand how to draw a stormy sky, you should be able to draw any kind of sky, from a clear blue sky to dark and stormy and everything in between.