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.

Realistic Landscape Greens with Colored Pencils

I’ve been drawing landscapes with colored pencils for almost as long as I’ve been using colored pencils. One of the most difficult things to get right in a landscape are the green colors. So today, I want to show you one way to draw realistic landscape greens.

Learn how to draw realistic landscape greens.

There are several ways to draw landscapes with greens that don’t look washed out or garish. One of my favorite methods is to start with an umber under drawing. That’s because earth tones naturally tone down other colors.

But most artists prefer to go straight for the color. I confess. I often do that, too, because color is just so much fun!

So let’s take a look at how I use that method to draw landscapes.

Draw Realistic Landscape Greens Using Direct Color

When you draw with a direct color under drawing, you begin drawing with pretty much the same colors you finish with. You simply begin with lighter versions of the final colors, or start with lighter pressure.

You build color through a series of layers and either increase the pressure or mix in other colors. Sometimes both.

While it’s quite likely you’ll include earth tones and complementary colors to keep the greens looking natural, you won’t use them by themselves at any part of the drawing process.

In other words, the under drawing will look like a faded version of the final, full color drawing.

How does that look in practice? Here’s a step-by-step.

How to Use a Direct Color Under Drawing

As with any other method of drawing, the first step is creating the patterns of lights and darks in the composition. You also begin developing the most basic details at this stage.

The Base Layer

For this illustration, I glazed a medium green over all of the trees using open, diagonal strokes to establish the base color.

Next, I drew the form shadows (on the trees) and the cast shadows (between the trees) with the same color. But I increased pressure a little, and used slightly smaller strokes, which I placed closer together.

The results are the same as with the other methods, but the drawing is already showing the finished colors. Green.

The Middle Layers

Next, I layered a light dull-ish yellow over the trees, followed by a couple of layers of a yellowish-green. Those colors provided the warm yellow tint necessary to create the appearance of late afternoon sun slanting across the landscape.

I followed that with another layer or two of the original color into the shadows on each side of each tree. Then I glazed a light-value, yellowish earth tone over all of each of the trees.

After a few more layers alternating between those colors, I burnished with a very cool, light blue in the lightest areas. Then I added a little dark green or dark brown in the shadows, and then burnished with the colorless blender.

Once the basic values were in place, I continued layering all the colors over the trees. Layer by layer, I developed colors, values, and details.

I finished by layering medium green, dark blue, and dark brown into the shadows, alternating between the colors to create a range of values within the shadows.

Finishing the Trees

I finished work on these trees by burnishing in a couple of rounds.

For the first round, I used different colors for each area: Light, cool blue in the lightest areas and dark green in the darkest areas.

I used a colorless blender for the second round of burnishing, and I burnished all parts of each tree.

To burnish, I used heavy pressure, sharp to slightly blunted pencils with a variety of strokes to achieve the look I wanted for each tree.

This is what these trees look like finished.

The final drawing with realistic landscape greens

You Can Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

It takes some thought and patience, but once you master the process, it makes perfect sense.

When you use the direct color method, all you’re doing is developing color along with values and details layer-by-layer.

It’s more difficult to determine where the under drawing ends and the final drawing begins when you use direct color, but it is no less effective than using an umber under drawing or a complementary under drawing.

One note to those who will ask. I didn’t name colors in this step-by-step because the specific colors don’t matter all that much. You can use any combination of yellow-greens, medium and dark greens, earth tones and blues to duplicate the results I showed you here.

You can see the finished drawing, Afternoon Graze, here.

How to Draw Sky Holes in Trees

Today’s question comes from Henry, who wants to know how to draw sky holes in trees. Let’s let Henry ask the question.

Hey Carrie!

Thanks for letting us ask questions this December! I’m so glad you do this sort of thing, and would like to thank you for building such outstanding works of art, advice, and of course, your blog. 

Recently, I’ve been wanting to do an autumn-themed forest. From the resources I’ve read, there’s lots and lots of blending.

After doing some experiments on paper, I’ve found this is true. But I can’t seem to fill in some of the empty gaps between various trees.

Any ideas for filling in these spots? Do you think I just need to add more foliage?

Thanks, Henry

Thank you for the question, Henry. Your project sounds fascinating.

How to Draw Sky Holes in Trees

Before answering Henry’s question, I asked if he wanted to fill in the paper holes or if he needed to draw openings in the foliage. He’s asking about drawing openings in the foliage, otherwise known as sky holes.

Henry’s concluding suggestion of just drawing more foliage is one possible option. Filling in those openings with additional foliage is the easiest solution to this particular problem.

But if the trees are obviously different colors and you want the colors of the background trees to show through the foreground trees, what are the choices?

How to Draw Sky Holes in Trees

Since I can’t offer specific advice without seeing Henry’s reference photo, I’m going to share two general ways of drawing sky holes in trees. First with an individual tree, then with a group of trees.

Planning for Sky Openings in an Individual Tree

This is a detail the drawing of the drawing called, The Sentinel. It shows the main tree in that drawing. I used a complementary under drawing under color glazes for this drawing. That’s not important to this post other than to show that I created the sky holes from the start. When a tree overlaps the sky or landscape without other trees nearby, this is the best way to draw the larger sky holes.

I drew those sky holes at the line drawing stage, and transferred them along with the rest of the drawing. Then I worked around them with each layer of color throughout the under drawing.

I also worked around the sky holes in the color glazing phase.

Notice that not all of the sky holes show sky. There are a few on the lower half of the tree that show the trees in the background.

But the principle is the same. I worked around those openings, then shaded the color over whatever was beyond the tree into the appropriate openings.

This is the finished tree. The original sky holes are still in place, though the shapes and sizes of some are different than when they began.

How to Draw Sky Holes in Trees

I also added more foliage around the edges of the tree after the drawing was nearly finished. To add those details, I stroked around the edges of the big tree with a green pencil. I used a dull or blunt pencil, medium-heavy or heavy pressure, and a stippling (tapping) stroke.

You can use this method for one tree or a small group of trees.

Adding Sky Holes with a Bunch of Trees

Late Spring in the Flint Hills is another landscape. It’s probably closer to the type of drawing Henry is doing, since he mentions a forest. It features a tree belt with trees overlapping other trees, the landscape, and the sky.

Because the trees are all the same color, there’s no need to draw individual sky holes where one tree shows through another. Using value and color to denote individual trees is enough.

But sometimes you need a little more detail.

The detail below is the right side of the tree line. It shows the places where I added fringe foliage over the sky and background hills after both areas were finished.

I used blunt pencils and heavy pressure to apply stippling (tapping) strokes around the edges of some of the trees.

How to Draw Sky Holes in Trees

Unless Henry’s trees are a variety of colors, this method is probably the best answer to his question.

How to Draw Sky Holes in Trees

I’ve never drawn a forest of trees, but I can tell you that I wouldn’t worry too much about openings in trees that overlap other trees. Unless the trees are very different colors (which is possible with an autumn landscape,) openings won’t be noticeable.

So instead of trying to get every opening right, concentrate on those that overlap the sky or simpler landscape elements such as in the detail of Late Spring shown above. The viewer’s eye and brain will fill in the rest of the information.

Thank you for your question, Henry!

Blending Versus Layering Colored Pencils

Layering versus Blending 3

Today, I want to talk about blending versus layering. Is one better than the other for creating realism in colored pencil work?

Here is the reader question.

Hello!

I was reading some articles that mentioned blending was not the best method for realistic drawings. Rather than blending, layering is key. What is your take on this and do you have any tips or tricks for layering to achieve a realistic look?

Thank you!

JoLyn

Thank you for your question, JoLyn.

Blending Versus Layering

I’d be very interested in reading those articles, since I’ve never before heard an artist talk about blending and layering in this way.

Why?

Because layering is a form of blending.

Blending Versus Layering

Most colored pencils are translucent by nature. That means that you can see through them when they’re on the paper. Light passes through all the color layers and bounces back from the paper, so your eye sees all those colors “blended into a new color.”

It’s the same principle behind glazing transparent layers of oil paint or acrylics over an under painting.

Obviously you can’t mix colored pencil colors in the same way you can mix oil paint or acrylics on a palette and then apply it to the paper. But adding one color over another achieves the same result.

By that definition, layering is a form of blending. In my opinion, it’s the most automatic form of blending colored pencils.

So are the authors of these articles talking about blending in general, or about solvent blending?

Solvent Blending versus Layering

If the writers are comparing solvent blending and layering, then I agree with them in a limited way.

I use solvents to blend some things. For example, if I’m having trouble getting deep darks just by layering, I blend with solvent, then layer more color.

If I need a particular result that solvent blending produces, then I use solvent.

But I don’t use solvent on every piece, and I don’t very often use solvent on all of a piece even if I blend one part of it.

But it’s just a tool.

Is Layering Key to Realistic Art?

Absolutely!

Layering is how you put color on the paper. The more carefully and accurately you add color, the more realistic your work will look.

The more carefully you observe the colors in your subject and simulate them, the more realistic your work will look.

But this is true no matter what other blending methods you use or if you do no other blending at all.

The Real Answer to the Blending versus Layering Question

I’ve seen stunningly realistic artwork created without blending (other than layering) and equally realistic art created with the use of other blending methods.

So the question JoLyn—and all of us—should be asking is what method produces the desired result.

If you get the results you want with just layering, then that’s what you should do.

And if you like the results you get when you blend with solvent (or any other form of blending,) then that’s what you should do.

Are You Looking for Layering Tips?

JoLyn also asked what tips I have for layering. I refer you to How to Decide the Order of Colors When Layering, for additional information.

Thank you for JoLyn for such a great question.

How to Blend for Smooth Color

How to Blend for Smooth Color

Today’s reader question comes from Beth, who wants to know how to blend for smooth color.

That is an important issue for many of us, as well as a potential problem.

Here’s Beth’s question.

How [do you] blend using OMS or rubbing alcohol [for] a totally smooth effect?  I’ve used brush and cotton balls for sky or water, which turned out kind of how I wanted.

But what if I want the color of the entire sky a smooth, uninterrupted visual?  Every tool makes the OMS streaky.

Thanks much,

Beth

How to Draw for Smooth Color

Let me first share a few tips for drawing smooth color, because the smoother your color layers are to start with, the smoother they’ll blend out.

And I’ll start with the usual mention of sharp pencils and small, overlapping strokes. I won’t got as far as to recommend circular strokes because I didn’t learn that type of stroke and can still get smooth color layers. Just make sure your strokes are careful, closely spaced, and not scribbles!

Do more than one or two layers before blending, too. The more pigment on the paper, the better the resulting solvent blend.

Alternate the direction of strokes from one layer to the next. This is called cross hatching and it fills in the tooth of the paper more completely with each layer. For example, start with a layer of horizontal strokes. Follow with a layer of vertical strokes, then a layer of diagonal strokes. Finish with a layer of diagonal strokes in the opposite direction.

If you draw carefully, you should have good coverage by the time you finish that fourth layer.

For really smooth color, I like to draw with tissue paper or paper towel. There are two ways to do this.

Layer color in the normal way, then smooth it out with a folded piece of paper towel. The result looks like this.

You can also pick up color from one piece of paper using paper towel, then stroke it onto another piece of paper. This type of color is extremely soft and subtle, but it takes a lot of time and layers to develop.

So if your color layers aren’t as smooth as you like before you blend with solvent, try these suggestions.

How to Blend for Smooth Color

How to Blend for Smooth Color

Now for some blending tips.

I think a lot of artists have the mistaken idea that just using solvent automatically produces rich, smooth color. That’s not true and I know from experience that some methods produce the absolute opposite.

So if you need smooth color and you want to blend with solvent, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Make sure you have enough pigment on the paper before you blend.

Solvent blending works best if you have a good amount of color on the paper. The layering example I gave above, with four solid layers of color, should be enough. But if you draw with a naturally light hand, you need more layers than someone who is naturally heavy-handed.

Use the largest brush you can for each area.

I learned from years of oil painting that the best way to get smooth blends was to use the biggest possible brush for any given area and to use the fewest strokes possible.

That’s even more important with colored pencils because most solvents dry so quickly. It’s important to use a few, slightly overlapping strokes to blend pigment while it’s wet, then leave it alone until it dries.

No fussing!

Let the paper dry, add more layers, then blend again.

You can draw over layers that have been blended with solvent, but wait for the paper to dry completely. If you don’t, you risk damaging the paper. Especially with sharp pencils.

It often takes three or four cycles of layering and solvent blending to produce rich AND smooth color, so be patient.

If smooth color is your goal, then be careful to use just enough solvent to blend the most recent layers.

Reduce the amount of solvent with each blend.

It’s okay to use a wet brush for the first solvent blend.

But for each blend afterward, your brush should be a little bit drier. This is easy to achieve by dipping your brush in the solvent, then blotting it on a paper towel.

The reason for reducing the amount of solvent each time you blend an area is that if you use too much, the solvent dissolves all the color. Even previously blended layers. If that’s okay, then go ahead, but beware it could result in muddy color.

Using Solvent to Blend for Smooth Color Doesn’t have to be Complicated

These few tips should help you blend for smooth color every time, no matter how big your drawing, or what you’re drawing.

Still not sure? Make a few test swatches and try these tips first before trying them on a drawing. It’s always best to experiment when in doubt rather then plunge ahead and ruin a good drawing!

How to Decide the Order of Colors when Layering

How do you decide the order of colors to get the right color, values, or appearance? There are so many options, how do you decide?

That’s what Catherine wants to know. Here’s her question:

How do you determine the order of layers of different colors? I spend a lot of time testing the order of laying down color on the outer edges of my drawings, is there a quicker or better way?

This is a great question, Catherine. Thank you for asking it.

How to Decide the Order of Colors when Layering

One of the joys of colored pencils is the ability to layer multiple colors to create new colors. You also have a wonderful selection of colors to use. So you have to decide which colors to use when, and I confess that decision can look mind-boggling.

So how do you decide the order of colors? Is there a simple method or technique?

I’m afraid the answer is no. In fact, the best answer is one most of us prefer not to hear. Practice and experience.

Lots of both.

But there are few basic principles that may help you make those decisions more easily.

How to Decide the Order of Colors

I once read about an oil painter who used only seven or eight colors and mixed everything else. Obviously, his techniques won’t work with colored pencils, but his method of deciding which colors to mix, what colors to start with, and adjusting colors as he painted can be applied to colored pencils.

The following tips are based on personal experience and the oil painter’s methods.

Study the Colors in Your Reference Photo

The first step is to study the color of whatever you’re drawing. What’s the main color and to what color family does it belong?

This horse, for example, is yellow-gold in overall color. The color family is brown tending toward yellow or golden.

This color family provides the foundation colors for this portrait. The main color family provides the foundation colors for whatever you want to draw.

So determine the main color family for your drawing. Not every color will be appropriate, but identifying the main color family will ultimately help you decide the order in which you apply colors.

Start with a Base Color

The base color comes from the main color family.

The base color should be a medium-light or lighter value. Ideally, as close to the color of the highlights as you can get. If you have to use a color darker than the highlights in your subject, work around the highlights.

This is the first color you’ll put on paper, and it’s also one of the colors you’ll use most often. Set it aside.

This is the base color for Portrait of a Palomino Filly (read the full tutorial.) The paper is a light eggshell color just a little darker than the highlights, so I chose a base color that was a little darker than the paper. This color was used throughout the completion of the drawing.

Choosing the Next Color

After you’ve layered the base color, compare your drawing to your reference. Chances are excellent the base color isn’t exactly the same as the colors in the photo.

So what color do you need to add to make the color on the paper more like the color in the reference photo?

For my horse portrait, I decided the base color needed to be warmed up, so I chose a warm, light-value color that was about the same color as the highlights, and layered that over the horse.

After I finished that layer, I compared drawing and photo again, and chose a reddish earth tone to add more color and value.

The color selection process continued that way until I’d used five or six colors, then I began layering them over and over.

Do the same thing with your work. Compare your drawing and reference photo after you’ve layered each color. Decide how your drawing differs from the reference, and what color you need to use to make the drawing more like the reference.

Keep making those decisions layer by layer, color by color, until you finish.

How to Decide the Order of Colors when Layering
The final color or colors are adjustment colors. They add value (darken dark values) or tint the colors already on the paper. Sometimes they do both.

That’s the Easiest Way I Know to Decide the Order of Colors

Don’t fret too much over deciding what order you should apply colors. You will make mistakes. That’s part of the learning process. Be bold and courageous! Learn from those mistakes.

Catherine says she spends a lot of time testing colors before using them on a drawing. That’s a good idea and a lot of artists swear by it. It’s a good way to gain the experience necessary to know instinctively what colors to use when.

The other option—the one I used when I began—was simple trial and error. Mostly error, sometimes (or so it seemed.)

But knowledge acquired by experience often sticks with me more quickly and longer than what I see or hear by example.

Image by husnil khawatim from Pixabay

My Advice for Deciding the Order of Color Application

Don’t worry too much about getting the order of color application correct right from the start. Unless you’re a highly analytical artist (yes, there are some of those,) it will be more frustrating than helpful to try to plan so carefully. You’re far more likely to frustrate yourself into not drawing at all. At least that’s what happens when I try to plan too far ahead.

The fact of the matter is that one layer of color could totally upset all those carefully laid plans.

So work one color at a time. Do those test swatches if they help you, but don’t try to swatch out the entire drawing before you start drawing.

Instead, choose the base color and put that on the paper.

Then compare what you’ve drawn with your reference photo to decide on the next color. Keep track of the colors you use and the order in which you use them if you like, but work step by step through the drawing until it’s finished.

I guarantee you’ll have more fun drawing and finish more drawings that way.

Unless you are an analytical sort of artist!

Layering and Blending Colored Pencils

Layering and Blending - Glazing

Today’s question is a two-part question from Pat, who wants to know more about layering and blending colored pencils. Here’s the question:

Hello,

You say that you like to keep your pencils very sharp.  Do you do most of the layering with the point or the side of the pencil?

Do you also use mineral spirits on all your pictures?

In advance, thank you for reading my requests. Pat

Thank you for your questions, Pat.

Layering and Blending Colored Pencils

You’ve touched on two of the most basic skills necessary to using colored pencils successfully. Master layering and blending, and everything else is icing on the cake!

Layering and Blending with Colored Pencils

Of all the ways to blend colored pencils, the best, most natural, and easiest way is layering. Every time you lay one color over another, you’re blending. The light moves through the different colors and mixes them so your eye sees a new color.

But you can layer with the tip of sharp pencils or with the side. There is a time and place for both.

Layering and Blending with Sharp Pencils

Most of the time, smooth color is vital to smooth blends, and sharp pencils are usually necessary for smooth color. So I use the tip of a well-sharpened pencil most of the time. And because I have a naturally light hand, I use light pressure for all beginning layers and as many others as possible.

But that’s not to say there’s never a time to use the side of a pencil. The side of a pencil is perfect for laying down thin layers of color over larger areas and for glazing. The sharper the pencil (and the longer the exposed pigment core,) the better.

In this illustration, for example, I wanted to draw a meadow seen from a distance. No sharp detail. Not much variation in values. So I used the side of the pencil to layer green, and let the paper show through help suggest the haziness of distance.

Layering and Blending with the side of a pencil
You can layer color with the side of a pencil instead of the point. When you use the side, the pencil can either be dull (as shown here) or well sharpened.

Another time when I’m likely to use the side of the pencil is to glaze one color over other colors.

Layering and Blending with Glazes

Glazing is a term that refers to adding very thin, transparent layers of color over color already on the paper. It’s an oil painting term and you create a glaze in oil painting by thinning paint so it’s very fluid and thin. It tints the colors under it, but doesn’t hide any of the details.

Obviously you can’t do the same thing with a colored pencil, because it’s a dry medium. But you can apply color so lightly that all it does is tint whatever colors are underneath. That’s what I mean by glazing.

A colored pencil glaze needs to be applied with light pressure. But broken color (when some of what’s underneath shows through) is also good for glazing with colored pencils. The side of a well-sharpened pencil is perfect for this, too.

I glazed yellow-green over the grass and a combination of greens over the umber under drawing of this portrait. The colors glazed change the color of the under under drawing without covering it completely.

Layering and Blending with Dull Pencils

There are also times when using a dull pencil is the best choice. I wrote about that a few days ago and you can read that post here. I mention it here because using sharp pencils sometimes isn’t the best—or fastest—way to layer or blend colored pencils.

Blending with Odorless Mineral Spirits

Now, about odorless mineral spirits.

Odorless mineral spirits (OMS) are a solvent designed to “melt” or liquefy the binder in colored pencils. While the binder is liquefied, the pigment can be moved around on the paper, smoothed out, and if you’re blending more than one color, the different colors can be blended together almost like paint.

There are a number of reasons to use odorless mineral spirits or any other solvent for blending.

Speed

Solvent blending is faster than blending by layering. You do need to have enough pigment on the paper for the solvent to work with, but that usually requires only three or four layers.

Saturation

Solvent blending fills the tooth of the paper more completely and more quickly. Pigment soaks into the tooth of the paper better when wet than when dry.

Pain

If you have arthritis in your hands or wrists, or have some other painful condition, solvent blending may very well be the only way you can use colored pencils. Blending with solvent on a brush is a lot easier on your hands than blending by layering, especially in the later layers, when you have to apply more pressure.

So there are good reasons to use solvent blending.

Do I Use Solvent on All of My Work?

No.

Although I have mineral spirits in my colored pencil toolbox, the truth is that I don’t use it very often. When I do use it, it’s usually because I want some kind of special effect that’s attainable only with solvents, or I’m on a short deadline and need to complete something quickly.

There’s nothing wrong with using solvents for blending. I used turpentine and other solvents for years with oil painting.

But I prefer the look of colored pencils blended without solvents. Layering and blending different colors or different shades of the same colors to get the effects I want is more enjoyable than using solvents.

What Matters Most When with Layering and Blending

What really matters most with layering and blending is what works best for you. If solvent blending gives you the look you want for you art, then use it.

If you prefer to blend by layering, that’s what you should do.

Investigating how other artists work is always a good idea. You never know when you’ll learn something that takes your art to the next level.

But don’t feel obligated to use every method you see demonstrated.

When Dull Pencils are the Best Choice

Kathie asks today about dull pencils and when they might be the best choice. Here’s her question:

When are sharp pencil points important?  When I am doing a background in several light layers, it seems that a duller pencil does the job better.  But in the tutorial I am finishing now, the teacher wants sharp points even on the lightest layers.  

Kathie

That’s a fantastic question, Kathie, and I know exactly what you’re saying.

When Dull Pencils are the Best Choice

But before I get to the “point” of your question, let me say a word or two about doing a tutorial or taking a workshop. I can speak on the subject from both sides, you see.

When You Do a Tutorial…

As a student, I know what it’s like to have a teacher tell me to do something a certain way when I already know from experience that another way works better for me. I always remind myself that the reason I’m taking the workshop or doing the tutorial is to learn how that teacher works. Then I take a deep breath, swallow, and do what the teacher says the way the teacher says to do it.

Afterward, I assess the information I learned, compare it to what I’ve been doing all along, and decide which is the better method for me.

Speaking as a teacher, I know what it’s like to present information a certain way and have a student resist everything I tell them. That was frustrating for me, and it kept the student from learning.

It’s also important to remember that the artist who created the tutorial had to learn those skills at some point. It’s possible he or she was taught to always use sharp pencils. There’s nothing wrong with that. A lot of us learned that way.

But that’s not to say you must use sharp pencils all the time.

Are There Times When a Dull Pencil is Better?

Absolutely!

There are occasions when a dull, or even a blunt pencil produces better results more quickly than a sharp pencil. So I use a dull pencil for those things. Sometimes, I go so far as to put a flat angle on a pencil for some special effect.

When Dull Pencils are the Best Choice
There are different degrees of dull when it comes to colored pencils. The pencil in the center is dull. It’s still got a point, but not as sharp as it could be. The other two pencils have been blunted to an angled wedge shape to put more color on the paper with every stroke.

Drawing Large Areas Quickly

When doing backgrounds or drawing things like the sky, a dull pencil puts more color on the paper with fewer visible pencil strokes than a sharp pencil. If you keep the pressure light, you can get a lot of thin layers down even on a smooth paper like Bristol.

Dull pencils and Base Layers

I often begin a piece by laying down a base color. Usually a color that’s about the same value as the highlights.

The base color is applied with light pressure, and I usually try to make it as smooth as possible. Dull pencils really shine when you draw base layers.

This is especially true if the surface texture of an area is smooth. But it can also be effective under animal hair or the rough surface of a stone.

Drawing base layers and glazing are both ideal times to reach for a dull pencil such as this one. I used this pencil to lay down smooth color, then I used a sharp pencil to add the hair-like strokes.

Dull Pencils are Ideal for Glazing.

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

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

Instead, you glaze by using extremely light pressure and not doing more than one or two layers. Dull pencils are perfect for this because they create a smoother color layer.

Use Dull Pencils for a Blending Layer

When I mention a blending layer, I’m not talking about burnishing. I mean a layer of color added over top of a few other layers to smooth out pencil strokes.

A blending layer also makes colors and strokes less obvious. When I do a blending layer, I usually use a warm, light gray. If I need a warmer color, I might use something like Light Umber or Cream. To cool down an area or push it into the background, I might choose Powder Blue or something similar.

The idea, though, is to lay down smooth color and light layers. As with the previous two applications, use light pressure and a couple of layers if needed.

Burnishing Requires Dull Pencils

There’s no way around it. Burnish with a sharp pencil and you’re asking for trouble.

The reason is that you use very heavy pressure when you burnish, and a sharp pencil will break.

Use dull pencils for burnishing
I’m burnishing with a very dull colorless blender here, but you can also burnish with a colored pencil. When you do, use a blunt pencil to avoid damaging the drawing or the paper.

There You Have It

A few ways you can use dull pencils.

The best advice I can give you is to try different things. If something works for you, use it.

If it doesn’t work, don’t use it again. No two of us work exactly the same way, so try things and decide for yourself!

1 Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

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

Short answer, yes.

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

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

1 Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

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

My Favorite Way to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens

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

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

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

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

Step 1: How to Begin an Umber Under Drawing

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

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Develop Detail & Values

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

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

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

Step 3: Finishing the Umber Under Drawing

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Create a Colored Pencil Landscape Underpainting

Color Glazing a Landscape Painting with Colored Pencils

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.

Two Ways to Get Smooth Color with Colored Pencils- Paper Towel Step 2

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.

Two Ways to Get Smooth Color with Colored Pencils - Blended Sample

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.