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!

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Layering and Blending Colored Pencils

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.

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.

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.

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.

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems (and My Solutions)

Every now and again, finding a topic for the Saturday post is a challenge. I have two art pieces in progress, but they’re both connected to an email drawing class, so I can’t use them.

Taking care of kittens, the house, a Facebook page makeover, and a number of other things have eaten up the hours on a daily basis, so there has been no time for other artwork. That means, no tutorials.

And this is the month I need to write an article for COLOR Magazine, so that’s been a top priority this week (one of many, I might add.)

But joy really does come in the morning! As I was writing my article for COLOR Magazine, I discovered the topic for this post! Hooray!

So what is it?

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems (and My Solutions)

Who hasn’t encountered problems, and looked for solutions? Answer? We all have.

Everything comes with a learning curve. Even our beloved colored pencils.

The problems you faced may not be the same as mine, but I’m certain that sooner or later, we’ve all had to find solutions to these three problems.

The trick is finding the right solutions for each problem.

So I’m not only telling your about the biggest problems I faced when I started using colored pencils; I’ll share my solutions.

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems

Problem #1: Filling in Paper Holes

I spent the first 30 or 40 years of my art career oil painting. Horses. Landscapes. Horses in landscapes. An occasional deer or dog and even a cow or two.

From the beginning, I hated being able to see light peeking through a painting if I held the canvas up to the light. That’s one of the reasons I started painting on panels.

So while I was able to get a lot of detail with colored pencils, I was immediately disappointed by the amount of paper that showed through no matter what I did.

Beginner Colored Pencil Problems - Filling Paper Holes

It didn’t matter all that much back then, because I was still primarily an oil painter. But it was an annoyance, to be sure.

And it kept me from doing more colored pencil work than I did.

My Solutions

My first solution was changing paper. I’d been drawing on mat board because it was rigid and I liked the selection of colors. It was also big enough to do larger pieces.

But it’s not always very smooth. The rougher the paper, the more difficult it is to fill in the paper holes.

So I started experimenting with smoother paper. Stonehenge was the first high-quality paper I remember using. I loved the feel of it from the first touch, and filling in paper holes was a lot easier.

Bristol vellum, Bristol regular, and Strathmore Artagain papers have also found a place in my paper drawer, though I use them less frequently these days.

Using a colored paper may not help fill in the paper holes, but it does disguise them.

The portrait below was drawn on gray paper, which served as the middle values, as well as the background. Suddenly, paper showing through the colored pencil was a good thing!

Beginner Colored Pencil Problems - Colored Paper

Problem #2: Blending

Blending oil paints is easy. Colors can be mixed on a palette, or you can put one color directly into another on the canvas.

Not so with colored pencils. They’re a dry medium, so they don’t mix the same way.

I struggled with blending them for a long time before finally learning how to get the results I wanted.

My Solution

The best and easiest-to-use solution I found for this problem is slowing down, and taking the time to add enough layers of color.

As I look back on some of those early pieces, like the dog above, I can see how unfinished they look. Another hour or two and a few more layers would have made a huge difference.

Don’t think that makes much difference? Here’s a drawing that I thought might be finished.

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems - Almost Finished

And here’s the same drawing after an additional day of work and a few more layers. That extra day made a lot of difference.

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems - Finished

No, it’s not easy to go slow. I still get impatient and want to finish a drawing. But if I don’t force myself to slow down, I end up with the same disappointing results that were so common in the early days.

Solvent blending was also a major step forward. Learning how to use painting solvents like turpentine and odorless mineral spirits on colored pencils was a game-changer.

I’ve also since discovered the joys of blending with paper towel and bath tissue.

Both blending methods have helped me get the results I want.

Problem #3: Time

Of all the problems I faced when I started using colored pencils, this one is still the biggest challenge. Let’s face it.

Colored pencils are SLOW!

Yes, you can blend with solvents, and yes, there are watercolor pencils, and both of those solutions speed up the process. But you still have to put the color on the paper, and you’re still using a pencil with a pigment core that isn’t very wide.

With oil painting, I could thin paint and use a big brush to cover a lot of canvas in a hurry.

Not so with colored pencils.

My Solutions

Honest answer? I haven’t yet found the perfect solution, and I doubt there is one!

And sometimes that’s enough to get me thinking about taking out the oils again and dashing something off, just to see if I still can.

But I have found some ways to deal with impatience (and that is what it all comes down to, isn’t it?)

15-minute work sessions have been the biggest help. It’s a lot easier to give a drawing the time it needs if I’m not punishing myself by working for hours at a time.

Working in small areas is also helpful. I can see progress more quickly when I can bring an area to completion, before moving on to the next area.

When I can’t easily work in one small area at a time, I alternate between two larger areas. I might work on the background a while, then switch to the foreground if I’m doing a landscape or portrait.

Conclusion

Of course, those weren’t the only beginner colored pencil problems I faced. There were many others.

And the more I use colored pencils, the more challenges arise. That’s just part of the learning process.

But most of my students struggle with these issues, and they are among the most frequently asked questions from readers.

So I hope my solutions help you solve these problems.

Or at least get you one step closer to finding your own solutions!

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Last week, I defined some of the basic terms relating to colored pencils and drawing paper. This week, I want to continue that discussion with more basic colored pencil terms, but this time, lets talk about method and technique terms.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Before we go any further, let me assure you there is no “right way” to draw. The methods and techniques I’m about to describe are just a few of those that are available to artists.

Some of the technique terms apply to colored pencils no matter what methods you use. Some of them are applicable only to specific methods or techniques.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners

Method

Let’s begin with the broader subject of drawing methods. The following definitions are very basic. For more information on any of them, read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

Direct Drawing Method

When you use what I call the direct drawing method, you begin with the same colors you end with. There is no clear difference between the first layers of color and the final layers except perhaps in the vibrancy of the colors, and the level of detail.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Direct Drawing Method

This is the most common drawing method.

It’s also the most intuitive. It’s natural to begin drawing a tree with greens and browns, after all. That’s the way I started drawings (and paintings) when I first started doing art.

Complementary Under Drawing Method

With the complementary under drawing method, you start drawing with colors that are on the opposite side of the color wheel from the final colors. The complementary under drawing for an orange is going to be blue.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Color Wheel

The complementary method is excellent for landscape drawings because the complementary under drawing automatically keeps the greens from getting to bright.

Umber Under Drawing Method

The umber under drawing method begins with an under drawing that’s brown, like those old-fashioned sepia-tone photographs. Values and details are developed in brown no matter what color the subject is.

The shade of brown can vary from subject to subject. You can choose a warm brown such as Prismacolor Light Umber (my preference) or a cooler brown such as Dark Umber or Sepia.

You can also mix browns, using a combination of light and dark browns or warm and cool browns to create more interest and contrast in the under drawing.

But with this method of drawing, the under drawing is always only shades of brown.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Umber Under Drawing

Monochromatic Under Drawing Method

One method I haven’t mentioned here, but that I have talked about elsewhere is the monochromatic method. With this method, you create an under drawing in a single color or, sometimes, with a single color family. For example, you might choose to draw an Indigo Blue under drawing.

The reason I’ve not described this method further is that I haven’t used it in years. Why? Because the colors I most often choose for a monochromatic under drawing are either earth tones  or complementary colors.

I tried Indigo Blue once and didn’t care for the result. Most other colors don’t result in the look I want for my work, so this method has fallen out of favor.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Monochromatic Method

But that’s no reason for you not to try it. The fact is, it may suit your choice of subject and your drawing style beautifully!

Combining Methods

There are other methods of drawing, and you can combine elements of these methods in a single drawing. For example, I’ve used an umber under drawing for the trees in a landscape, but drawn everything else using the direct method.

As mentioned previously, there is no right way to draw. Every artist needs to find the method or methods that work best for them.

But understanding the basic differences and characteristics of each method helps you make better decisions.

Technique

Under Drawing/Under Painting

The first layers of color you put on a drawing are called the under drawing or under painting. No matter what method you use, these layers are the foundation of the artwork.

The colors you use for the under drawing are determined by the method you use, as described above.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms for Beginners - Under and Over Drawings

This sample shows a complementary under drawing.

Over Drawing/Over Painting

The over drawing or over painting refers to all the layers of color you put over the under drawing. Some of the methods I use have very distinct beginnings and endings. Others do not.

Layering

Layering is the process of layering one color over another, or adding multiple layers of the same color. You can use light, medium, or heavy pressure to add color. You can also use sharp or blunted pencils, and hold them vertically, horizontally, or somewhere in between.

Glazing

Glazing is the same as layering, except that the layers are thinner, so that the colors that are under the new layer are still clearly visible. The term comes from oil painting, a medium in which you can thin paint so it’s very transparent, almost like laying a piece of colored plastic over a painting to tint the colors.

Most colored pencils are translucent by nature, so almost every layer you put on a drawing is technically a glaze. But when you glaze a color onto a drawing or painting, you use very light pressure, and barely add any color at all. I usually glaze with the side of a pencil held horizontal to the paper.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Glazing

Pressure

Pressure is the amount of force you put on the paper with the pencil. It’s often measured on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the lightest pressure and ten the heaviest. Burnishing is the heaviest pressure you can use. It’s most used at the end of the process.

When you glaze a color, you’ll most likely be using a pressure of one or two.

Blending

When an artist uses a wet medium such as oils, acrylics or watercolors, they mix two or more colors together to get a new color.

Colored pencils are a dry medium, so they can’t be mixed the same way. Instead, colored pencil artists create new colors by layering one color over another color on the paper. Since colored pencils are not opaque, every color influences every other color in some way.

This is called blending, and there are different ways to do it.

More Basic Colored Pencil Terms - Layering

Dry Blending

Layering is one method of blending and it’s the method most artists use because it requires no additional tools or smelly solvents. I drew the sample above with multiple layers of yellow and blue. The green results from alternating layers of each of the other colors.

Other methods of dry blending include rubbing a drawing with paper towel or tissue, or using a colorless blender.

Burnishing is another form of dry blending in which you use very heavy pressure to “grind” layers of color together. You can use either colored pencils or a colorless blender to burnish.

Solvent Blending

Solvent blending is a method of blending in which you use a solvent or paint thinner such as odorless mineral spirits to break down the binder. Once the binder is dissolved, pigments mix and blend more like paint.

Solvent blending is often faster than dry blending or blending by layering, but it also requires some caution, due to fumes. It also requires drying time.

Conclusion

There are, of course, even more basic colored pencil terms to learn, but they can wait for another post.

It may seem confusing now, but once you understand each of these terms and how they apply to colored pencil art, you have a great foundation. Most other art terms—and colored pencil terms—build on these basic terms.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper

Welcome to Part 3 in this tutorial. The first post in the series showed you how to draw a gray sky, and the second post described how I made adjustments to the sky after beginning to draw the landscape. This week I’ll show you how to begin to draw far distance on sanded art paper.

The drawing for this tutorial was drawn on sanded art paper, but most of the methods can be used on most other drawing papers and supports.

I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper

The first two steps are a quick recap from last week’s post.

Step 1: Establish the horizon line before doing anything else.

The best way to establish the horizon is to lightly draw it. Use the color you plan to use for shading the shapes. In this illustration, I’ve outlined three hills and shaded one of them. At this point, they’re flat color. No variations, no shadows.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 1

Step 2: Shade the horizon shapes with a base color.

Shade the shapes on the horizon with a base color.

The base color should be a medium value color that you will then draw light and dark values over. Once you’ve chosen a base color, layer it evenly over the distant background, without getting too bogged down in detail. If you do draw variations in value, keep them soft and vague and draw them by adding layers, not pressure.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 2

Step 3: Add color to the hills in front of the most distant hills.

Follow the same procedure with the next line of hills. If you outline, make sure to outline any small shapes on the hills or that overlap the hills.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 3

Step 4: Shade the last row of hills in the background.

You may need to mix colors to get a good match for these hills. In real life, they’re the same color as the hills further in the background, but they’re so much closer, they appear to be a different color. Mixing colors may be the only way to draw that difference.

For example, I started with Earth Green, but decided that was too dark and too green. None of the other greens were closer, so I layered Warm Grey III over the Earth Green.

Use short, horizontal strokes to layer the first color along the slopes of the hills, then tiny, circular strokes to add the second color. Mixing strokes as well as color, and using small strokes fills in the paper better. That helps this row of hills look more solid and, therefore, a little closer than the hills beyond them.

Use medium-light to medium pressure for both colors.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 4

Step 5: Begin adding color to the greener hills.

As you move closer to the tree line, the shapes become more detailed, so you may want to take a little more time to mark the edges of those shapes. I outlined the slopes of the hills, but also outlined the trees that overlap the hills.

However, I didn’t outline the entire shape of each tree. Instead, as you can see below, I outlined only the overall contour of the tree line.

Do just enough outlining to guide you so you don’t accidentally shade over the trees.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 5

Step 6: Remember to use slightly warmer colors.

Color becomes slightly more green and slightly less gray as you move forward (downward) in the composition, but the change should be very subtle. Color temperature also increases—though very slightly.

Use the same color you used to outline the shapes (I used May Green) and medium-light to medium pressure to shade those shapes.

For the first layer, which should include all of the hills, use long, gently curving horizontal strokes to mimic the contours of the hills. In the places that are a little darker, add another layer using shorter strokes. Work around the trees beyond the hills as well as the trees in front of the hills.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 6

Step 7: Oh-oh!

I saw immediately that the transition between the gray green hills in back and the more yellow hills closer to the front was much too abrupt. After getting May Green into the front hills, I didn’t like the hills in back at all.

This is where it’s important to trust the reference photo. I’d matched the colors in both areas so was pretty sure they were accurate to this point. I just needed to add the second color to the May Green to get the right shades of green and the right values.

So I resisted the urge to “fix” the back hills and instead continued working on the front hills.

Step 8: Tone down the green if necessary.

The color you choose to mix with the green depends in large part upon the colors in your printed reference photo and the green you chose for the previous step. But that’s okay. No two pieces will ever turn out exactly the same, even if you work from the same image and use the same materials. I’ll tell you what I ended up doing and you can make your own choices.

I knew I’d need a color lighter in value and somewhat warmer than Warm Grey III so I opted for Warm Grey II. I started with the hill on the far right, since it’s a little further in the distance than the hills on the left.

Next I tried Ivory on the middle portion.

Finally, I tried Cream on the left.

This illustration shows each of the three colors layered of the respective hills. I’ve created a little bit of surface texture on the left by adding additional layers of May Green over the Cream, but have still kept the level of detail to a minimum.

How to Draw Far Distance on Sanded Art Paper - Step 7

TIP: Try different colors on portions of the drawing to find the combination that works best. If you don’t want to experiment on your drawing as I did here, keep a scrap of paper handy for sampling colors.

What to Do if You’re Still Not Satisfied with the Color Choices

Warm Grey over May Green was the best of the three color combinations I tried, but none of them satisfied me. I was so unhappy with the way things were turning out that I let the drawing sit idle for a while, hoping looking at it afresh might fix things.

It didn’t.

So in the next post, I’ll show you what I did and how I finally got the hills to turn out right.

Hint: It involved removing most of the color I’d already put on the paper.

Conclusion

If you learn anything from this series, it should be that you may encounter several obstacles along the way. That applies no less when you draw far distance than to any other subject.

But I hope you’ll also learn you don’t need to ditch a drawing, no matter how serious the obstacle looks! Making art is as much about solving problems as drawing, so I hope you’ll join me next week.

Want to take a peek ahead? I described how I drew the trees on EmptyEasel. Read How to Draw Realistic Trees on Sanded Art Paper with Colored Pencil then join me again next week.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil

This week’s Tuesday Tutorial picks up where last week’s left off. Last week, we drew a gray sky. This week I’ll show you how to finish a sky in colored pencil, and why that was necessary.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored PencilThe drawing for this tutorial was drawn on sanded art paper, but most of the methods can be used on most other drawing papers and supports.

I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

When I concluded the previous post in this series, I thought the sky was finished. I was ready to move on to the landscape itself.

So I established the horizon and began shading the distant hills.

But sometimes, an area looks finished until you add color next to it. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it did happen with this drawing.

All of a sudden, I realized the sky wasn’t finished.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil

Step 1: Lighten the sky with additional color.

Layer a light color over the lower part of the sky. Use the lightest color you used to draw the sky, but if that isn’t light enough, chose a slightly lighter color. Chose a color that matches the previous sky colors in color temperature. I used Ivory to lighten and warm up the sky in the first post, so that’s what I used this time. Had I needed to lighten it further, I would have used a warm color with a lighter value.

Use medium-heavy to heavy pressure (not quite burnishing) to fill in as much of the paper’s tooth as possible.

You can also cross hatch strokes to fill in the paper tooth more completely. Use as many layers as you need or want. I did three, stroking from lower left to upper right with the first layer, and lower right to upper left on the next layer.

The last layer was vertical strokes. For those, I started each stroke at the horizon and stroked upward so the heaviest color was at the horizon and tapered off as I drew upward.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 1

Step 2: Smooth the colors in the sky with odorless mineral spirits.

The overall result was much more satisfactory, but still not what I wanted, so I decided to use a solvent blend on the sky.

I used a small round sable so I would have more control over where I applied solvent.

I also held the brush in a more upright position, and used a stippling stroke to tap solvent onto the paper. This type of stroke is better than any other type of stroke for blending on sanded paper, because the pigment dissolves quickly and almost completely. It’s far too easy to lift or move pigment, especially if you use horizontal or circular strokes.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2a

I worked in a horizontal pattern, starting at one side of the paper, and tapping solvent into the color layer all the way across to the other side. Then I moved up and repeated the process.

This illustration shows the lower half blended with solvent, while the upper half is still dry.

I went over the entire sky this way, then blended it again.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2b

It took quite a bit of solvent to get the color to dissolve, but once it did, it dissolved almost completely. The stippling stroke proved beneficial once the color was dissolved, because it didn’t move color around too much.

However, solvent did tend to puddle and created small bubbles in some places.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2c

The bubbles disappeared as the solvent dried, and the areas where solvent puddled weren’t noticeably different than the rest of the sky.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 2d

Step 3: Add more color, but use heavier pressure to smooth out the sky.

After the paper dried completely, I used heavy (but not burnishing pressure) to apply Ivory to the lower half of the sky and Cold Grey I to the upper half.

At the top and bottom, I held the pencils in a normal position and used a combination of strokes to cover the paper. In the center portion, I used the sides of the pencils to lay down thinner layers of color.

How to Finish a Sky in Colored Pencil - Step 3

Is the Sky Finished Now?

I don’t know.

I like the faint, horizontal patterns in the sky, but also wanted smoother color. Should I blend again and add more color, or leave the sky alone for now?

I decided to leave it alone for the time being and continue drawing the landscape. Adjustments can always be made later, but it’s difficult to undo something once it’s done.

If you want to push color saturation a little further, continue layering the same colors and blending between layers.

Next week, we’ll go back and finish drawing those most distant hills.

How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 2

In the previous post, I began a tutorial showing you how to draw complex flowers. The subject is a detail of hydrangea flowers and that post described how to draw the basic colors, values, and just a few details.

Today, we’ll finish the tutorial.

SPOILER ALERT: Due to the complexity of the drawing and some behind-the-scenes goings on, I was not able to finish the entire drawing. That wasn’t a surprise. I did finish the flower I started drawing in the previous post.

How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 2

This is my reference photo. Thank yous to Loraine for taking the photo, and giving me permission to use it.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Reference Photo

This is how the drawing looked at the end of the previous post, which concluded with step 6 in the process.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 6

As you can see, the basic values have been drawn. The darkest values have been established and I can use those as a benchmark against which to compare the rest of the values.

I’m continuing the step numbering from the first post, so the first step in this post will be Step 7.

How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 2

Step 7: Adding Darker Values Around the Flower

To make the flower show up better, add darker shapes around it. In this illustration, I’ve added the dark wedge shape to the lower right of the main flower. This darker value helps reveal the highlighted edge of the adjacent petals.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 7

I alternated layers of Faber-Castell Polychromos Violet and Purple Violet with Prismacolor Indigo Blue, all applied with medium pressure. I then applied Faber-Castell Pink Madder Lake with heavier pressure, and burnished with Prismacolor Light Blush.

TIP: It’s okay to simplify some of these background shapes to keep the main flower the center of interest. Those darker areas also provide a resting place for the eye.

Step 8: Finishing the Flower Petal-by-Petal

I confess that at this point, I wasn’t sure how best to proceed. It didn’t look like it would take much to finish the flower, but what was the next step? In the end, I took my own advice and began finishing one petal at a time.

To build color saturation, I blended Polychromos Violet, Purple Violet, Light Ultramarine, and Rose Madder Lake, plus Prismacolor Indigo Blue (only in the darkest values), Light Blush, and White. Colors were applied with medium to medium heavy pressure and alternating layers depending on the color and value of each area.

I finished by burnishing with Light Blush over all parts of each petal except the brightest highlights.

Finally, I burnished the brighter areas with White.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 8

The two outside petals have been completed. The darker petal just inside them has new layers of Indigo Blue in the darkest areas, and Violet in all of the shadows.

I also added another part of the background to show off the flower.

TIP: Blend various colors from different brands of pencils to get the most exact color options possible. I’m using wax-based Prismacolor with oil-based Polychromos pencils for this project.

Step 9: Finishing the Rest of the Flower

Continue finishing the flower petal-by-petal.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 9

Step 10: Solvent Blend

While the flower itself was looking pretty good, I wasn’t at all happy with the color. It was much too purple. The deeper shadows gave it a lot of depth, but it was simply not the right color.

In most cases, that’s not going to matter. No one needs to know that your reference photo shows a pinkish-lavender flower, but your drawing is pinkish-purple. After all, there are darker purple hydrangeas.

But I wanted to try a color correction, to see what happened and to show you how to do one.

I blended the flower with turpentine (you can use odorless mineral spirits if you prefer, or you can skip the solvent blend altogether.) I’d burnished my flower so much, the turpentine didn’t do much, so if you think there’s a possibility you might want to do a solvent blend, don’t burnish.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 10

Step 11: Burnishing with Pink

After the paper dried completely, I burnished the entire flower—shadows and all—with Polychromos Dark Flesh.

How to Draw Complex Flowers - Step 11

Dark Flesh might seem like an odd color to choose, but after laying a selection of pencils against my printed reference photo, it proved to be the best choice.

I also  burnished some of the brighter highlights with White, and layered Dark Flesh over a couple of the nearby flowers for context.

Step 11: Time to Review

When you’ve finished the drawing, take a break from it. I like to let my projects sit overnight, then I review them and look for any adjustments that need to be made.

In the case of a project like this, continue finishing the entire drawing flower by flower until it’s completely finished. Then give yourself a day off before you review it.

A Couple of Tips in Closing

Don’t use two reference photos! At least, don’t use two forms of your reference photo.

I worked from a digital form and print form of the reference. The digital form shows the colors in the reference at the beginning of this post. The printed copy was more pink. I matched the colors with the printed reference and got pretty close. But the colors were way off when compared to the digital image. So chose one and stick with it!

Don’t fret over the details. I confess that I got bogged down with details a time or two and got careless in color selection. Don’t let that happen to you.

A Final Word

Overall, I’m pleased with the way the flower turned out but for one thing. I didn’t do a very good job of color matching. Other than that, the results are satisfactory… for a first-time floral drawing!

Will I finish the drawing? Probably not as a finished piece of art, but I will be working on it again as part of a review of Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press paper. That means lots of experimenting and learning. Stay tuned for that.

Do I regret the effort?

Not at all. I learn more from mistakes and miscues than from doing everything right. For example, I’ve learned that soft, luminous color requires soft, luminous shadows too. I didn’t do that right this time.

Hopefully, you’ll do better!