How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos on PhotoShop

Today, I want to show you how to find the best composition from digital photos on PhotoShop. You know what? It’s probably a lot easier than you think!

Almost every artist who has ever wielded brush or pencil has also explored compositional ideas when deciding what to paint. Thumbnail sketches, color studies, even framing a composition with your hands if you’re working outside are all good methods for finding the best composition before you start drawing or painting.

In this age of technology, artists have a few new tools to aid them in composing artwork. The process can begin with your camera, but it doesn’t end there.

I used a Macintosh G4 and Photoshop 7.0 for this demonstration, but you can do pretty much the same thing with any photo editor on any computer. The steps may be different, but the results will be the same.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos on PhotoShop

The Reference Photo

Reference photos should be the best possible. Good lighting. Good contrast. Sharpness of image.

You can make changes in contrast or brightness, and even adjust color. Since I do a lot of composing through the lens of the camera, most of the images I use for reference already have the best available lighting, contrast, and color. It just saves time.

This image was taken on a cloudy day with relatively flat light. The lighting and color saturation are part of the appeal.

But it’s a pretty boring composition, with the house almost dead center.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Reference Photo

Before You Begin Editing

Before doing anything else, save the image with a new name by selecting SAVE AS and giving it whatever name you want. This protects the original photograph so if you mess up, you can start over with the original. Choose a name and naming system that makes sense to you, is easy to file, AND easy to find and retrieve later.

I named this one Old Stone House Reference.jpg and put it into a separate file dedicated to this project.

Cropping the Image

The best first step is usually cropping the original image to focus on the subject.  Creating three or four—or half a dozen—different crops may be all it takes to find the best composition.

Choose the SELECTION tool from the toolbox on the left of this screen shot. In most versions of PhotoShop, this will be the tool at the upper left of the toolbox. (See the gray box in the toolbox).

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 1

Select the area you want by placing your cursor at one corner of the desired area and dragging it downward and across the part you want to crop. The result will be a dotted line outline as shown above. The area inside the box is your selection.

Next, select the IMAGE drop down menu and choose CROP.

Your image now looks like this. Save it using the SAVE AS function and give it a new name. This is now old-stone-house-comp-01.jpg but you can choose any name and numbering system that works for you.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 2

You can make as many compositions as you like by repeating the steps above. Begin with the reference photo each time. I ended up with five different options for this image. Two of the others are shown here.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 3

As you can see, the only limitation is your imagination.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 4

Resizing Compositions

Once you’ve selected your favorite compositions, you can resize them to suit the needs of your drawing or painting.

Under the IMAGE drop down menu, click on IMAGE SIZE.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 5

That will bring up this dialogue box.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 6

Set the size by pixel in the top two boxes. You can also set size in the next two boxes.

Multiple measuring systems are available under DOCUMENT SIZE, including inches, picas, metric, and columns.

Changing Resolution

You can also change the pixel density in the image by changing the resolution. The higher the number, the finer the resolution and the larger the file.

Most cameras automatically capture images at a low resolution, but offer ways to increase resolution. It is better to take pictures with a higher resolution, because you’ll capture more detail. But those files will require more memory on your camera.

In other words, you’ll have higher quality images, but will be able to take fewer of them. Especially if you’re limited to a memory card or an older camera.

Make Sure to Keep Proper Porportions

The last thing I’ll mention in this dialogue box is the option to CONSTRAIN PROPORTIONS. When you choose this option, the enlarged or reduced image has the same proportions as the original. If you don’t check this box, you can change one dimension without changing the other and the result will be a distorted image. For the majority of work, you’ll want to check this box.

Once you’ve made your selections, click OK.

Repeat these steps for each of the compositions you’ve created.

If you compose intuitively or by eye, you’ll be able to tell which compositions are working and which aren’t.

If you need more concrete tools for evaluating the compositions, continue reading.

Evaluating the Compositions

The two best tools I know of for evaluating or fine tuning compositions is the Rule of Thirds, and the Golden Mean.

The Rule of Thirds divides a compostion into even thirds vertically and horizontally.

The Golden Mean also divides a composition into thirds, but along the Golden mean.

In both cases, the idea is to place the main points of interest in the composition on one of the four places where two lines intersect.

It’s much easier to calculate even thirds than the Golden Mean, so that’s what I’ll show you.

How to Draw the Rule of Thirds

However, some photo editors have preset grids that allow you to crop by the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Mean. Irfanview is one such photo editor.

Chose the drop down menu labeled LAYER and select NEW, then select LAYER.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 7

On this new layer, place a line one-third of the way across the top and another line at two-thirds. Lines should also be drawn at one-third and two-thirds along the side as well.

Hold down the shift key as you draw the line to keep the line straight and on the square.

To make this easier, I set the size of the image to a number divisible by three. By setting the width of the image at 30, for example, I can easily place a line at 10 and another at 20 and have the image divided into thirds.

Change the height to a number divisible by three and place the lines.

TIP: Select a color for the lines that does not blend into the image. My favorite color for this process is red because it’s easy to see and I rarely use red for any other part of the digital composition process.

Below is the first composition with the one-third grid in place.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 8

And here is the panorama composition with the one-third grid in place. It, too, could do with just a bit of tweaking to get the subject in one of the sweet spots.

How to Find the Best Composition from Digital Photos - Step 9

The sweet spots in the composition are where two lines meet. It applies to the one-third rule, which I’m using here, and to the Golden Mean, which also divides a composition into thirds, but not equal thirds.

Conclusion

This is one way to find the best composition from digital images. As I mentioned at the beginning, you can use the same basic procedure with any photo editor. I’ve used IrfanView and GIMP in the same way. Both are free to download.

How to Process Digital Reference Photos in Photoshop

Knowing how to process digital reference photos is as important to today’s artist as knowing the best art materials. Most of us need at least a basic knowledge to make the best use of our photographs.

A basic explanation is all we have time for today, but there are lots of video tutorials for those who want more in-depth information. The methods I’m about to share are what I’ve been using since before The Cloud. Outdated, perhaps, but still useful!

Today, we’ll look at preparing digital photographs using Photoshop. I use Photoshop 7.0, so there may be some differences in procedure, depending on the version of Photoshop you use.

How to Process Digital Reference Photos in Photoshop

Step 1

Import photos into Photoshop. Since you may be bringing photos in from a variety of sources, I won’t go into detail on this part of the process beyond saying that you can open photos from most devices through Photoshop by clicking on the FILE drop down menu and selecting OPEN. That opens a dialogue box that allows you to select any device or drive connected to the computer.

Choose the photo you want to work with.

Save it with a new name into a new folder before making changes. It’s always prudent to save the original file. That way, if you make mistakes, you can go back to the original and start over. All you will have lost is time.

Step 2

Few photos are perfect. At minimum, most will need a bit of tweaking to be optimal. If you’re planning representational artwork, a few things to consider are:

  • Composition
  • Color Quality
  • Lighting
  • Sharpness

If the artwork you have in mind is less representational, you can also play with filters, color, and screens or many of the graphic tools available on Photoshop. But that’s a post for another time.

The first thing I do is fit the photo to the shape of the painting or drawing I want to do. At the very least, I crop out excess area. The photo I’m using for this demonstration has more foreground than I want in a painting.

How to Process Digital Reference Photos in Photoshop Step 1

So I crop the image by selecting the area I want to use (see dotted line below). Select the drop down menu, IMAGE, and click on CROP.

How to Process Digital Reference Photos in Photoshop Step 2a

Save the new image.

Step 3

You can also change the size of the image. For the purpose of this demonstration, I changed the width of the image to 24 inches, then cropped it so the vertical size was 18 inches. The resulting image is 18×24 inches, a standard canvas size.

To change the size of an photograph, click on the IMAGE drop down menu and click on IMAGE SIZE. The following dialogue box will appear.

How to Process Digital Reference Photos in Photoshop Step 2a

Under “Document Size” type in the numbers you want. The box to the right is for setting the measurement standard. In this case, inches. You can also choose picas, centimeters, and columns, in addition to other options. Choose the measuring standard you prefer and click OK.

You can also change the resolution if you wish. The default is 72, which is shown above. The larger the number, the better the resolution and the larger the overall file.

The numbers at the top of the dialogue box (Pixel Dimensions) will automatically change with each change you make in Document Size. You can also affect the numbers in the Document Size section by changing the numbers in the Pixel Dimensions. Since most standard sizes of paper and canvas are not measured in pixels, I generally don’t do anything with Pixel Dimensions.

The checked boxes Constrain Proportions and Resample Image are default settings. Uncheck Constrain Proportions if you want to change only one side. This will cause the image to distort.

NOTE: Changing the size and cropping the image are interchangeable steps. In some cases, it may be better to crop first, then change the size. In other cases,changing the size first might be better.

Step 4

I next changed the contrast and brightness of the image by using Photoshop’s standard filters. Click IMAGE, then choose ADJUSTMENTS and AUTO LEVELS.

How to Process Digital Reference Photos in Photoshop Step 4a

You can see below how Photoshop adjusted my photograph. The top image is the original color, brightness and contrast settings.

The lower image shows the corrections.

How to Process Digital Reference Photos in Photoshop Step 4b

If you like the changes, save the new image.

Step 5

If you don’t like the changes Photoshop made in Step 4, undo (Control+Z). You can then make individual changes to suit your preferences.

BRIGHTNESS/CONTRAST
To change the brightness or contrast, click on the IMAGE drop down menu and select BRIGHTNESS/CONTRAST.

How to Process Digital Reference Photos in Photoshop Step 5a


A dialogue box with two slider controls will appear. The top one is for brightness. Sliding the control to the right increases brightness. Sliding it to the left decreases brightness.

The lower control is for contrast. Again, sliding it to the right increases contrast and sliding it to the left decreases contrasts.

You can change either brightness or contrast or you can change both. You can also increase one and decrease the other, so you have virtually unlimited choices in changing these two filters through this dialogue box.

How to Process Digital Reference Photos in Photoshop Step 5b

The value of brightness and contrast is most evident when you want to manipulate poorly lighted photographs. Photographs of gray days can be brightened by increasing the brightness levels and contrast levels in Photoshop.

The left half of the image below shows normal settings. The right half shows increases in both brightness and contrast. Note that some details are more clear with the changes, while other details disappear.

How to Process Digital Reference Photos in Photoshop Step 5c


You can’t make a gray day sunny, but you can create the illusion of brighter light, which will aid your painting if you want to paint a particular scene in bright light, but the only photographs you have are of gray days.

Step 6

To adjust COLOR, select IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > COLOR BALANCE.

How to Process Digital Reference Photos in Photoshop Step 6a

A dialogue box will open with a row of three boxes labeled Color Levels at the top and three slider controls below. The slider controls correspond to each of the three non-black printing colors: Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. The boxes in the top row correspond to the slider controls. In this illustration, I’ve changed the Cyan setting by sliding the control bar to the right. The number in the first box at the top shows the amount of change and indicates that I’ve increased the blue by plus 10.

How to Process Digital Reference Photos in Photoshop Step 6b

At the bottom of the box is the tone balance. This allows you to change specific areas in the photograph. By clicking on Shadows, you can change the color of the shadows without changing mid-tones or highlights. The default setting is mid-tones, which means the change I made in the paragraph above will affect the mid-tones, but not the shadows or highlights.

Preserve Luminosity is also a default setting.

By clicking the Preview box at the right, your changes will appear in the photograph, so you can see what they look like before committing to them. This is always a good idea.

But even if you do commit to the changes, then decide you don’t like them, you can still undo them by typing Control+Z BEFORE saving the image.

It’s advisable to experiment with color settings. How much color change you need to make depends on the type of artwork you want to do. For portrait work, for example, I make color changes only to correct distortions. I usually make those changes only if I took the images myself and know the color is not accurate.

Conclusion

Most of the time, these changes are the only changes necessary. Your photo will now be ready for the next step in your working process, whether it’s printing a copy to work from, creating computer generated compositions, or putting a drawing grid over the photograph.

Welcome back to my month-long series on using photographs to create art. In the first post, I shared a link to an article on composing images so colors pop. Last week we talked about three things to remember when composing through the lens.

Colors to Use for a Monochrome Under Drawing

Today’s reader question is about method; in particular, the monochrome under drawing method.

I want to try a monochrome under drawing for colored pencil. What colors can I use?

The short answer is that you can use any color you want. That’s one of the great things about being an artist!

What Colors Can You Use for a Monochrome Under Drawing

Neither art nor life is as easy as that, though.

While it is true you can use any color you want for a monochrome under drawing, not all colors are good choices. The color you choose will greatly affect the look of the finished drawing, so you need choose carefully. Believe it or not, it is possible to ruin a drawing in the under drawing phase.

I know.

I’ve done it!

Tips For Using a Monochrome Under Drawing

Two main guidelines you should pay special attention to are:

don’t use very light colors

don’t use very dark colors

Colors that are too light in value won’t do you much good.

Light colors might seem like a natural choice, but they aren’t. If you choose a color that’s too light, it’ll have little or no impact on the final color.

I chose colors opposite the color wheel from a deep chestnut for this under drawing. Apple Green for the horse and Grass Green for the tack. I soon learned they were too light to make an impact on the final drawing.

Monochromatic Under Drawing - Color Too Light

So be wary of using lighter colors. They simply may not be bold enough to make much difference to the finished drawing.

But don’t go too dark, either!

You can get away with dark colors more easily than light colors, but you also run the risk of getting the under drawing so dark, color glazes will be ineffective.

I chose a dark blue for this drawing because the horse was a darker brown and because the horse was back lighted.

This under drawing looks great, doesn’t it? I should have left it this way. Every color I added made the drawing darker and darker until there wasn’t much room to add the necessary details. The finished drawing was too dark and vague for my liking, and just didn’t turn out to expectation.

Monochromatic Under Drawing - Color Too Dark

If you are able to apply color with very light pressure—whisper soft pressure—then dark colors can produce excellent under drawings.

But if you’re a bit heavy-handed or just aren’t confident in your ability to produce light pressure, you’re better off steering clear of dark colors.

Oh, there is one other thing you need to be careful to do.

Colors you might want to stay away from if you’re doing a monochrome under drawing.

As you may know, complementary colors appear opposite one another on the color wheel. Yellow and purple are complementary colors. So are red and green.

Monochromatic Under Drawing - Color Wheel

Technically speaking, a monochrome under drawing can also be a complementary under drawing. Complementary under drawings are great for drawing almost anything.

But I generally keep the two drawing methods separate. I use the complementary method often enough that if I really want to use a single color for an under drawing, I steer clear of complementary colors.

The same holds true for earth tones, since I use earth tones for the umber under drawing method.

Does that mean you can’t use complementary colors or earth tones for your monochrome under drawing?

Absolutely not! I’m just telling you why I don’t use complementary colors or earth tones when I use a monochrome under drawing.

If you’ve never used a single-color under drawing before, the color wheel is your treasure box! Use whatever color you want!

In fact, try them all.

A fun and easy drawing exercise to get started.

Pick six to twelve colors at random out of your pencil collection. Shade each color with medium pressure (or several layers of light pressure) on a piece of paper. To keep things simple, make each swatch as even in color and value as you can.

Then choose a different color, and layer that over each of the color swatches. You want to see how the under drawing colors affect the surface color and this is a fast and easy way to do that.

If you want a bit more in-depth test, make each color swatch range in value from as light as you can make it to as dark as you can make it. Then do the same with the color you layer over the under drawing colors.

I’m guessing it won’t take you long to discover which colors work for an under drawing and which aren’t suitable.

Conclusion

As I stated at the beginning, you can use pretty much any color you want to draw a monochrome under drawing.

Some colors will hinder you more than help you, though, so take time to experiment before you start the drawing. You’ll be glad you did.

If you have a question, leave a comment below.

Want to know if the monochromatic drawing method is the best method for you? Read Comparing Colored Pencil Drawing Methods.

Squaring Up Photos in Photoshop

Have you ever wished there was some way of squaring up photos in Photoshop? Especially photos of drawings that you want to use for marketing or your portfolio?

Cheer up! There is!

Squaring Up Photos in Photoshop

One of the more annoying aspects of using the computer for artwork is getting perfectly square photographs. Whether you’re photographing potential subjects or finished paintings, no matter how precise the process or expensive the equipment, distortion will happen.

I know!

I can’t tell you how many photos I have of artwork that aren’t perfectly aligned.

Photograph Your Work so Squaring Up Isn’t Necessary

The best way to deal with this problem is to avoid it altogether. Hang your artwork flat against a wall. Put your camera (or phone) on a tripod, and align it perfectly with the artwork.

Position the camera far enough away from the artwork so you don’t end up with a ‘fish-eye affect.’ A photograph taken with a zoom lens from a short distance almost always turns out better than a photograph taken with a standard lens close to the artwork.

Fill the frame with your artwork, so no background shows around it. This won’t necessarily prevent photographic distortion, but it will help conceal it by eliminating drawing edges. If the camera is properly positioned, distortion should be eliminated.

For small works, consider scanning instead. This is about the only sure way to avoid distortion all the time, and you have the advantage of scanning images at various resolutions. I routinely scan images at between 300 and 600 dots per inch. If the images are very small, I scan them at 1200 dpi. The higher the dpi, the larger the resulting output image.

Squaring Up Photos in Photoshop

But let’s be honest. There are times when you just have to square up a photograph, even after you’ve taken all the best precautions.

Fortunately, the editor and founder of EmptyEasel has written a step-by-step tutorial showing you how to square up photos in Photoshop.

How to “Square Up” Photos of Your Art in Photoshop with Free Transform & Liquify is a great article. I hope you’ll take a moment or two to click over to EmptyEasel.com and give it a read.

Putting a Drawing Grid on a Digital Photo

Putting a drawing grid on a digital photo may seem like a small matter. For many artists, however, it’s a major challenge.

I can draw a horse in almost any position, but I can’t draw a straight line.

Even with a straight edge.

Sound familiar?

For years, I’ve developed the line drawings for portraits using the grid method of drawing from reference photos. I’ve been drawing that way for so long that I started before the days of personal computers and photo processing software.

In other words, I had to draw every single line by hand.

I hated it! I never seemed able to get the measurements correct and usually ended up having to correct distortions in the resulting drawings.

Eventually, I discovered drawing reference grids on pieces of plastic using permanent markers. I could then lay the pre-drawn grids over reference photos. I still had to draw a grid for each drawing, but that was better than drawing one on the photo, too.

Then along came computers and digital photos and I no longer had to draw grids of any kind! Woo-hoo! Jubilation and a happy dance!

Putting a Drawing Grid on a Digital Photo

Here’s how I put grids on reference photos now.

TIP: If my references are actual printed photographs, I scan them into the computer first.

Here’s my subject for this tutorial. I always look for good lighting from a clear light source, accurate color, and a minimum of distracting elements overlapping your subject.

Putting a Drawing Grid on a Digital Photo - Step 1

How to Put a Drawing Grid on a Digital Photo

Step 1: Save your reference photo with a new name.

Open your reference photo, then select the “SAVE AS” option and save your reference with a new name. I usually use the working title for the drawing or painting.  You want to do this before you make any changes, even to color. That way, if you make a mistake you can’t correct, you can go back to the original photo and start over.

TIP: Save your photo periodically and rename it by adding a number (1, 2, 3, etc.) or letter (a, b, c, etc.) to the end of the name. These additional copies act as backups. You don’t need to save them forever, but they should be kept until you’ve finished all changes to your reference photo.

Step 2: Crop and resize the reference photo if necessary.

Do any cropping and resizing necessary and save it again. I generally name every document used for a painting with the title of the painting or the name of the horse and the date. This image was saved as grid-drawing-demo-01.jpg. Make sure the names you choose make sense to you and can be easily remembered.

Step 3: Adjust your rulers

Before you begin, make sure rulers are showing. Photoshop’s default setting is to have the vertical and horizontal rulers showing.

You can change the measurements if you wish, if the default setting of inches doesn’t work with the size of your photo. Most photo editing software allows you to hide or show rulers, and also choose inches, millimeters, picas, and other measurements.

Step 4: Add a new layer to the photo.

Before you begin drawing the grid, add a new layer. In most versions of PhotoShop, click on the drop-down LAYER menu, click on ‘NEW’ and select ‘LAYER’.

Putting a Drawing Grid on a Digital Photo - Step 4

NOTE: I’m using PhotoShop 7.0 on a Macintosh G4. Your drop-down menus may look different.

Step 5: Begin drawing the grid.

Now you can draw the grid on the new layer. Select the LINE DRAWING tool from the toolbox on the left (see the gray box in the image below).

Putting a Drawing Grid on a Digital Photo - Step 5a

Choose a color that shows up well against whatever image you’re working with. Black works with most. White works best with most darker images, but I’ve also used red or blue, depending on the color, value, and color temperature of the image.

Choose the space between the lines that best suits your project. I draw lines at one inch intervals. Beginning at the top left corner, I draw the first line at 1″ and continue across the image to the right.

Return to the upper left hand corner and draw lines along the left side.

To get straight lines and square boxes, hold down the shift key as you place the cursor and while you draw the lines.

Putting a Drawing Grid on a Digital Photo - Step 5b

Step 6: Number the grid

The last step in the process is numbering the grid. Select the TEXT tool from the toolbox (see the gray box on the left in the image below). Place the cursor in the upper left hand corner. Beginning with 1, type a number in each box across the top of the image. Repeat this for the bottom row of squares and for the squares along the left and right sides of the image, if you wish.

If the image is very large, you may want to consider adding a row of numbers through the middle of the image and a column down the center.

This is the finished grid.

Putting a Drawing Grid on a Digital Photo - Step 6

Step 7: Make a printable drawing grid.

The reason I draw the grid on a fresh layer comes into play at this point.

With the image on one layer and the grid on another, I can remove the image and have the grid alone. The grid can then be printed and used for the first draft of the drawing. Make sure to save the grid by itself.

Putting a Drawing Grid on a Digital Photo - Step 7

You can also print the image with the grid in place (see the image for the previous step) and have a reference image and drawing grid that are the same configuration and are numbered the same.

Step 8: Prepare the grid and reference to be saved as a jpg file.

The final step is optional and that’s preparing the image to be saved as a jpg.

In PhotoShop, images with multiple layers are automatically saved as .psd files. PSD files are not suitable for most internet uses or emails. In order to save them as jpg or png files or any other online compatible files, you first need to flatten the image (combine the layers into one layer).

Putting a Drawing Grid on a Digital Photo - Step 8

To do that, select the LAYER drop down menu and go to the bottom. Select FLATTEN IMAGE to combine all the layers into a single layer. You can now save the gridded image as a jpg file.

Recommendations

I highly recommend saving the image at least twice during the process. Once after the grid is in place and numbered but before you flatten the image (see Step 6) and again as the grid without the image (Step 5).

I also save the image afterward. With this ‘save’ I change the image to a JPG format. JPG files are generally smaller and more versatile than PSD files.

But don’t throw away those PSD files! You never know when you may need to go back to them to print another copy or resize the image or for some other unforeseen reason.

Conclusion

That’s how I put a drawing grid on a digital photo. It looks time-consuming and complicated, but even the most complex digital grid is much easier to make than hand drawing it.

As I mentioned previously, if you use something other than Photoshop, the commands and function names may be different. It is well worth your time to learn how to put a grid on your digital photos if you use the grid method.

8 Drawing Mini Clinics

Today’s post is a collection of eight drawing mini clinics. Topics include horses, clouds, skies, and creating a strong center of interest.

Mediums include graphite and colored pencils, and different drawing methods are also included.

But they all have one thing in common: They’re short and sweet, easy-to-read, and contain step-by-step illustrations and instructions.

8 Drawing Mini Clinics

I’ve attempted to assemble drawing mini clinics that cover most aspects of drawing, that feature a variety of subjects, and describe a couple of techniques, too. But since I also wanted to keep this list short.

So if your favorite drawing clinic isn’t on this list, let me know what it is. It’s never too late to start another list!

And now for the good stuff!

8 Drawing Mini Clinics

How To Draw Thunderhead Clouds

Drawing Mini Clinic - Drawing ThunderheadsAn integral part of drawing believable skies is getting the clouds right. Whether towering and majestic or thin and wispy, clouds can add sparkle, color, and dimension to even the most basic landscape.

But apart from water, they can also be one of the most difficult and frustrating things to draw. They are ever changing, filled with light and shadow, and capable of going from bright to dark in a matter of moments.

This drawing clinic shows you how to draw big clouds from the first mark to the last using graphite pencils.

How To Show a Stormy Sky in Colored Pencil

Drawing Mini Clinic - How to Draw a Stormy SkyOne of the more difficult things to draw correctly in any landscape is the sky. Yet the lighting and qualities of the sky are the things that make or break your landscape. Get the sky right and you’ve won half the battle of a believable landscape. Get the sky wrong and the battle is all but lost.

How to Show a Stormy Sky in Colored Pencil gives you step-by-step instructions for drawing dark, brooding clouds in colored pencil.

Drawing Autumn Grass in Colored Pencil

8 Drawing Mini Clinics - How to Draw Autumn GrassThe subject of this mini clinic is tall grass in the autumn. The original artwork is 5×7 inches and is a study for a larger landscape. The paper is white Bristol 146 pound with a regular surface.

Learn how to use directional strokes, a variety of colors, and values to draw tall, autumn grass in colored pencil. Step-by-step illustrations and instructions.

How to Draw a Complementary Under Drawing

8 Drawing Mini Clinics - How to Draw a Horse using a Complementary Under DrawingThis two-part mini clinic takes a look at using a complementary under drawing.

With this method, the under painting is created using colors opposite finished colors on the color wheel. It may sound odd, but it really does work and this clinic shows you how!

This drawing clinic is the first step, drawing the complementary under drawing. It also includes a link to the second step.

How to Draw a Standing Hoof with Graphite

8 Drawing Mini Clinics - How to Draw a Standing HoofAre you tired of drawing horses with no feet?

Do all of your horse drawings show horses in deep grass.

Is the only thing keeping you from drawing that sporting scene the idea—the fear!—of drawing all those feet?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, you’ll want to read this drawing clinic. The medium is graphite, but the lesson applies to all mediums.

Draw a Miniature Drawing of a Mare and Foal

Drawing Mini Clinics - How to Draw a Miniature Horse DrawingThis drawing clinic shows how to use a layering method to draw a portrait in colored pencil.

The method is a simplified version of the classical method in which I do an umber under drawing first, then layer color over the under drawing.

The subject is a portrait of a mare and foal from several years back. The portrait is a miniature at 3-1/2″ by 2-1/2″ inches. The medium is colored pencil.

How to Draw the Legs & Feet of Horses

8 Drawing Mini Clinics - How to Draw a Horse's Legs and FeetA horse’s feet are nearly as distinctive to each horse as human fingerprints are to each person. Bone structure in the legs, body type, and genetics all play a role in the shape of the natural hoof.

If your desire is to draw horse portraits, you will need to learn how to draw the legs and feet, too. Sooner or later, someone will ask you for a conformation or sporting portrait.

This drawing clinic is based on a large, sporting oil painting. I use the line drawing for that portrait to show you one way to draw the legs and feet of a horse.

Creating A Center of Interest

8 Drawing Mini Clinics - How to Draw a Center of InterestLearn how to create a dynamic center of interest in every graphite drawing by using value, shape, and line. Master this method and never draw another dull drawing!

The principle also applies to using color and value in colored pencil drawings or paintings in other mediums.

How to Draw a Stormy Sky in Colored Pencil

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

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

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

A stormy sky?

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

Yes!

How to Draw a Stormy Sky in Colored Pencil

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

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

How to Draw a Stormy Sky in Colored Pencil

Step 1: Laying a Foundation – Slate Grey

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

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

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

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

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 1 Detail

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

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

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

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 1

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

Step 2: Darkening the Sky

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

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

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

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

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 2 Detail 1

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

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 2 Detail 2

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

Step 3: Dark Umber

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

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

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

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 3

Step 4: Ultramarine

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

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 4

Step 5: Slate Grey & Cool Grey Medium

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

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

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

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 5 Detail

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

Finally, burnish with White.

This illustration shows that area near the center of the drawing after it was burnished with White. There is another left of the yellow tree, visible as soft, light color in the following illustration.

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 5 Detail 2

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 5

Step 6: Finishing Touches

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

Sometimes there’s more to do.

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

How to Draw a Stormy Sky Step 6

Conclusion

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

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


How to Draw Distance with Colored Pencil

One of the keys to successful landscape drawing is creating the illusion of distance. Successfully creating the illusion of distance on a piece of flat paper involves four principles. The more of them you get right, the better your chances for success.

The Four Elements of Drawing Distance

Size. Objects that are the same size appear to get smaller as they recede into the distance.

Color. Distance changes the appearance of color. Bright colors are more faded looking. Most colors shift toward blue with distance.

Values are less pronounced as they recede into the distance.

Detail is also less pronounced in the distance.

You can—and should—begin drawing distance from the first strokes of your pencil. In this demonstration, I’ll show you how to do that with a monochrome under drawing by using nothing but pencil strokes and pressure.

How to Draw Distance with Colored Pencils

In The Foreground

Strokes should be clear and strong in the foreground. They should reveal the texture of whatever is in the foreground. Although you should always begin with light pressure and build toward heavier pressure, the pressure you use in the foreground can begin a little heavier than what you use in the background.

The following detail comes from the foreground. In the extreme foreground, the strokes are long and spaced so there’s a lot of paper showing between them.

Immediately behind that is an area where the strokes are shorter and closer together. They’re so close they almost make a solid tone.

One way to use strokes to create pictorial depth is to make them shorter and closer together as they move into the background of your drawing.

I used medium pressure in this area. Medium pressure is about the same as normal handwriting pressure.

Green Landscape 2

In the Middle Distance

Strokes should still be visible, but less dramatic than in the foreground. They should be shorter or smaller than strokes made in the foreground. They should also be a little less defined. If you used a very sharp pencil in the foreground, consider using a slightly blunted pencil in the middle ground. Also decrease pressure.

Look at the detail above. The further into the middle distance the grass, the shorter, blunter, and closer together the strokes appear. The darkest strokes are a cast shadow, but even within that shadow, notice how the strokes are close together and very short compared to the longer strokes in the foreground.

The illustration below is also from the middle distance, but it shows the tree that is the center of attention in the composition. I used a squiggly stroke to outline the leafy shapes and to draw the main shapes within the large one. In the light areas,  I only used one stroke. In the darker areas, I layered several squiggly strokes. Each layer was added with medium-light pressure.

The shadows are quite dark in this tree, so I alternated squiggly strokes with straight strokes, usually on a diagonal. For these, I used medium pressure and two or more layers to darken the shadows.

One other thing to note is the abrupt transition between dark shadows and lighted areas. Because this tree is closer, there is more difference between the lightest highlights and the darkest shadows. To emphasize this, I didn’t draw many middle values. There will be middle values when the drawing is complete, but for the under drawing, I kept the lights and darks simple.

Green Landscape 3

In the Far Distance

The further into the background you go, the less distinct strokes should become and the lighter the values. Even when drawing grass, I usually use horizontal strokes placed very close together to draw so that no texture is shown. Sometimes, I use the side of a well sharpened pencil and simply shade the area. Whatever type of stroke you choose, use light pressure.

The illustration below shows the same type of tree as the main tree, but these trees are not as close as the large tree. In reality, they are the same color as the big tree (shown in the detail above), but because they’re further away, the color is less intense and the values will not be as clearly defined. To draw this, I used different strokes and different levels of pressure.

For example, instead of using squiggly strokes to outline the bulk of the tree shape—as I did in the big tree—I didn’t outline the tree shapes at all. I used a blunted pencil and a “tapping” (also known as stippling) stroke to add color. I started in the shadows and made the dots close together.

Then I used the side of the pencil to layer green over all parts of each tree.

Then I added another layer of stippling. This time, I worked into the lighter area.

I did a couple of rounds of stippling and glazes until the trees were as dark as I wanted them.

Green Landscape 4

In the Farthest Distance

There is another band of trees in the near distance. They are the same kind of trees, but because they’re so far away, their colors and values are muted.  To draw them, I used the side of the pencil and very light pressure to shade the general shape without drawing individual trees. To show that they are trees and not a distant hill, I then used light pressure to tap a little color into the shadows.

In the far distance is the last band of trees. These were drawn with very light pressure and a blunted pencil. I glazed color over the entire shape, then added a few dots in the shadows with very light pressure.

Notice the difference in value and detail between the large tree on the left, the middle ground tree on the right, the trees in the near distance, and the far distance. These changes in size, value, and detail are how you draw pictorial depth—the illusion of distance. It’s also called aerial perspective.

Green Landscape 5

This is the entire drawing. All the parts described above work together to create the illusion of distance, even though I’ve used only one color.

Green Landscape 1

This is also an example of a monochromatic under drawing. In this case, I chose green for the under drawing, but you could also use an earth tone or any other color.

Even though the drawing is nowhere near finished, you already get an idea of the distance I’m drawing. With each round of work, I’ll deepen the illusion of distance.

Follow these simple methods and you can do the same thing in your next landscape drawing no matter what method of drawing you use.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid

A few weeks ago, I showed you how to prepare a digital photo for use as a reference photo. Another article shows how to put a grid on a digital image using Photoshop.

But what comes next?

Drawing a horse, of course!

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid

Getting Ready to Draw

Here’s my reference photo with the grid in place. I chose red for the grid because it shows up the best on all the colors in this image.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid, Step 1
I print the grid without the image on a blank sheet of paper and use this for the initial drawing. If the drawing is 8.5 by 14 inches or smaller, I print the grid full size. The grids for larger drawings are printed at a reduced scale.

I printed the drawing grid on 24lb inkjet paper, which is smooth enough for a good detail drawing and sturdy enough to allow a lot of erasing.

It’s also an inexpensive substitute for most drawing papers.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid

Step 1

Rough in the large shapes. Concentrate on size and placement of each part of the drawing relative to the other parts. Don’t worry about detail; that will come later.

Start with the largest shape first and add other shapes around it. The largest shape is usually the horse. Everything else is backdrop.

Don’t be afraid of changing the composition, even if you did compose the image with the camera and/or have cropped or resized the reference photo before you started drawing. Cameras capture everything with equal importance. To the lens of a camera, the horse is no more important than the fences or the trees in the background.

Eliminate details that complicate the composition or distract from the subject. Make background items smaller or move them around if that helps your composition.

For example, in the drawing below, you’ll notice that I simplified the fences to the left of the horse. There are now four, simple rails instead of the confusion of shapes in that area.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 2

I also moved the fence post from its position beyond the horse and under the muzzle to beyond the shoulder. I made that change because it’s less of a distraction in that position, but I chose not to remove it altogether to anchor the fence.

The lead chain has also been removed and I replaced the undefined shape over the horse’s back with a small tree.

Step 2

Build on the shapes to draw the smaller shapes and define details. I like to work from the gridded reference photo on the computer so I can enlarge the photo to focus on whatever area I’m drawing.

I also generally start with either the eye or the muzzle. It’s important to get the eyes right as soon as possible, but it’s often easier to start drawing with larger shapes, like the muzzle.

Make the drawing as accurate as possible, working from section to section.

To help clarify shapes that are confusing as a line drawing, add a little shading. Nostrils, eyes, ears are often easier to draw if you draw and shade the shadows in each area.

Darkening the outer edges of the subject can also set it apart from the background.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 3

Step 3

The last thing I do on the drawing grid is outline the highlights and darker shadows. For this, I use a lighter, sometimes broken line. I don’t want to confuse the drawing by having all the lines the same thickness and darkness.

I also do a little shading to define the horse. Sometimes, it’s easier to shade than to draw a line, especially in areas with the gradation is very subtle.

I also use directional strokes to suggest three dimensional form. This, too, helps establish the subject as a form in physical space.

Use the methods that help you get the best drawing you can. With colored pencil, there isn’t a lot of room for correction once you start doing color, so you need to get the drawing as accurate as possible now.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 4

Step 4

Once I’ve done everything I can with the drawing grid, I tape a piece of tracing over the drawing and transfer the drawing to the tracing paper. This is where a mechanical pencil really shines. It doesn’t get blunt, so every line is exactly as dark or thick as I want.

You’ll notice that the darkest lines are the outside edges of the shapes. Interior lines are thinner or lighter or dotted or dashed or a combination. Since I don’t want to shade now, I used this variety of lines to tell me which edges are hard and which are soft.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 5

This detail (below) is a perfect illustration of how this method works.

I’ve also used the direction, length, and shape of lines to convey an idea of the shape of the horse’s forehead, nose, and cheek. Again, you can do this if it helps you. If not, don’t use it.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 6

One thing I notice now is that I forgot to draw the buckle behind the eye. That’s a simple thing to fix, so it’s not a big deal. But it does illustrate the importance of making sure you’ve transferred every part of the drawing before you separate the original drawing and the drawing on tracing paper!

Step 5

Once the drawing is the way you want it on the tracing paper, turn the paper over and review the drawing from the back. You can also flip the reference photo horizontally if it’s on your computer.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 7

Looking at the drawing and reference photo this way will give you a fresh look at your subject. There’s nothing like looking at something in reverse to see what mistakes you may have made. And if you happen to have a left- or right-hand bias—as I do—working on your drawing from the back will help compensate for the bias.

You can also hold the drawing up in front of a mirror if that works better.

You may not need to do much work this way. The red lines in this illustration show my corrections.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 8

Generally, the more complex a design is, the more likely it is that you’ll have a lot of corrections.

It’s also more likely that you’ll need to do more than one round of front-back revisions. For some of my larger, more complicated portraits, I’ve worked a drawing through a couple of sheets of tracing paper while more basic designs such as this one require only one.

Step 6

When your drawing is satisfactory, mount a clean sheet of tracing over it and make a fresh drawing. This will be your transfer drawing. When you’ve finished with it, put it into storage. You don’t have to keep it beyond getting the artwork finished if you don’t want to, but I keep all of my drawings. Especially with portraits, I just never know when those line drawings might come in handy!

Here’s my final line drawing.

How to Draw a Horse Using a Grid Step 9

Before proceeding to the next step, I usually mount the drawing in a working mat of the proper size, then let it sit somewhere for a day or more so I can review it. This is my last chance to make corrections to the line drawing. When I’m convinced there are no further changes to be made, it’s ready to be transferred to good paper.

Related Articles

How to Use Traditional and Water Soluble Colored Pencil 8 Must Read Articles

A couple of weeks ago, I asked for reader feedback on future articles. What would you like to learn or see?

One of the subjects suggested was a few demonstrations showing how to use watercolors with colored pencils. What a great idea!

I am planning to do a new drawing combining watercolors with colored pencil, but have other art projects on the front burner. So rather than make you wait, I decided to do the next best thing and recommend other demonstrations and mini clinics on this subject. I used water soluble colored pencils for these demonstrations and mini clinics, but the techniques work just as well with water color.

Some of them are right here on this blog. Others were published by EmptyEasel.

Wherever they appeared, they’re all the step-by-step demos you’ve told me are so helpful.

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From the archives

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My purpose with this drawing was to learn what I could do with water soluble colored pencils, so I used an old drawing from another project.

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Last week, I shared the method I used to create an under drawing using water soluble colored pencils. While I focused on water soluble colored pencils in that post, the technique applies to any type of water soluble media with the possible exception of water miscible oils. I’ve never tried that combination, so cannot tell you whether or not it would work.

In this post, I’ll show you how to add traditional dry color to the under drawing.

From EmptyEasel

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One of my favorite things about colored pencils is their versatility. Traditional wax-based pencils and water soluble pencils (used either wet or dry) can be combined for a wide array of stunning effects.

For this project, I used Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle (water soluble), Faber-Castell Art Grip (wax based), and Prismacolor Premier (wax based).

Drawing a Sunrise with Water Soluble Colored Pencils – Part 2

I’m using a combination of pencils and methods including water soluble Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle, traditional Faber-Castell Art Grip, and Prismacolor Premier. Today I’ll also be using Prismacolor Verithin pencils.

Let’s get back into it!

Keyanna Rose IHow to Start a Drawing with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Before you start, you’ll want to mount your paper to the board by wetting the paper thoroughly and evenly and laying it on the board. Blot it so it’s not dripping wet, then tape it to the board with gummed craft paper tape. The tape is water activated, so dampen it first, then place it so it overlaps the paper about a quarter inch. Smooth it down with a sponge then let the paper dry.

Using Dry Colored Pencils over a Water Soluble Colored Pencil Drawing

I started this drawing using brushes and a homemade “palette” of colors drawn with the water-soluble pencils. If you haven’t read the first article yet, I encourage you to click the link above and then come back here to finish reading about the process.

watersolublecoloredpencilinfo8-carrielewisBlending Tips & Brushing Techniques for Water Soluble Colored Pencils

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ee-damage-controlHow to Fix Mistakes Made with Water Soluble Colored Pencils

As much as I love working with colored pencil, the medium can be unforgiving. When I was first learning the craft, any serious mistake meant the end of a painting—just tear it up, throw it away, and start over. (A lot of images ended up in the circular file under my desk back then.)

Fortunately, over the years I’ve discovered a number of techniques for repairing mistakes, and today I’m going to share one of them.