How to Draw Flame in Colored Pencil

How to Draw Flame in Colored Pencil

Today’s post represents something I haven’t done in a long time: a tutorial! The subject is how to draw flame in colored pencil.

A few readers have asked how to draw fire over the years, and I’ve never given what I considered a very satisfactory answer. So when I came across a series of campfire photographs I took a few years back, I decided to sketch it.

Since I’ve also been practicing at drawing illumination and patterning my studies after Thomas Kinkade’s work, I also decided to test Brush & Pencil products with this kind of light.

How to Draw Flame in Colored Pencil

This is my reference photo. My goal is not to draw this fire exactly. Instead, what I want to do is draw something that likes like fire.

But since we all know it’s easier to draw something you can see, I needed a reference photo, and chose this image from more than half a dozen.

I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils because they seem to work better with Powder Blender than Prismacolor.

One other note. I’m working on Clairefontaine Pastelmat because I’m using Brush & Pencil products. I’m also using the three-step drawing method I described last week, so I’m recording the drawing process in a series of “rounds” instead of steps.

Let’s get started.

How to draw flame in colored pencil

Round 1: The Block-In

Step 1

The first thing I did was apply Powder Blender to the paper with a sable round brush. It doesn’t take much Powder Blender, so use it sparingly.

Then I loosely outlined the fire with Cadmium Orange. I chose that color because it’s a good mid-value base color.

Next, I layered Dark Indigo over the background, followed by Black around the outside edges. Since orange and purple are complements, I next added Mauve over the background.

I did a couple of layers of each color, working through the order with each layer (Dark Indigo, Black, and Mauve.)

Then I blended the layers with a sable round brush.

Step 2

After blending, I layered Dark Indigo over all of the background. This time, I layered it with a more careful, precise stroke. I still didn’t stroke as carefully as I would when drawing on traditional paper, but I was more careful to shade all of the background.

I did a couple of layers of Dark Indigo, hatching the first layer and crosshatching the second.

Then I blended with the brush again.

How to draw flame in colored pencil

Next, I filled in the fire shape with Cadmium Orange and medium pressure. I filled all of the fire shape and overlapped the background just a bit to begin suggesting the glow that surrounds fire.

I did two or three layers of Cadmium Orange, then blended.

This time, I tried a small bristle brush. That worked better than the sable brush, but still didn’t give me the results I wanted. So I blended with my finger. Fingers aren’t recommended unless you wear a cot, because skin oils could damage the drawing.

A sponge applicator would also work better for this.

The block-in phase ended with three light applications of ACP Textured Fixative, with about fifteen minutes of drying time between each application. After the third application, I set the drawing up to dry overnight.

Round 2: Modeling

Step 1

As with the previous round, I again began with a layer of Dark Indigo over the background. I used medium-heavy pressure and strong, diagonal strokes to cover all of the background. Some of the background color overlapped the flame.

Then I layered Cadmium Orange into the darkest areas of the flame, Cadmium Yellow into the lighter areas, and Cream into the lightest areas. I used a bit of White in a few very bright areas.

I then darkened the darker values with applications of Caput Mortuum Violet applied with light pressure and smooth strokes.

Step 2

I layered Black over all of the background with heavy pressure, filling all the tooth of the paper as much as possible. I also began more clearly defining the shape of the fire and some of the hot gas wisps around the edges by cutting into the orange with Black.

During this phase, I added the log at the bottom with Caput Mortuum Violet, followed by Black.

In the flame, I refined the interior shapes with Caput Mortuum Violet, Cadmium Orange, Dark Cadmium Orange, and few touches of Cream.

How to draw flame in colored pencil

Step 3

After that, I blended with Powder Blender and a sponge applicator. Because the transitions in flame are so smooth, I started in the lightest colors and blended into the darker flame colors.

Then I blended the background, and softened the edges of the flame by pulling some of that color into the flames. I didn’t want to dirty the oranges, though, so I was very careful not to get too much Black into into the flames.

Then I sealed my work with three light coats of ACP Textured Fixative.

Round 3: Detailing

Step 1

The first step in detailing was adding White to the brightest parts of the flame, then building additional colors around that. I used medium-heavy to heavy pressure with each color. Unless I needed to draw a fine line or sharp edge, I also worked with dull or blunt pencils.

From lightest to darkest, I used White, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange, and Dark Cadmium Orange. To get smooth transitions, I overlapped colors, then blended. I went over each area more than once to get smooth color.

Despite adding the two Cadmium Oranges to my palette, I wasn’t getting the amount of contrast I wanted, so after layering those colors a couple of times, I went over the background with Black. I used heavy pressure and cross-hatching strokes to make a solid black background.

When I finished this step, I sealed the drawing with three light applications of ACP Textured Fixative.

Step 2

The the fixative was dry, I mixed Brush & Pencil Touch-up Texture and Titanium White into a paint-able liquid and applied it to the brightest parts of the flame. I used a small round sable to stroke the mixture into the brightest highlights.

I also added a few details that I’ve seen on burning logs but that don’t appear in my reference photo. Those were the two “rings” of fire around the fire log.

Step 3

After the mixture dried, I layered Cadmium Yellow with medium-heavy to heavy pressure over most of the white and into the oranges. I worked around the areas I want to remain white.

Then I added Cadmium Orange around the yellow, overlapping some to create smooth transitions. I used medium-heavy to heavy pressure for this color, as well.

I continued working into the darker oranges with Dark Cadmium Orange, then added Terracotta in the darkest oranges.

Step 4

After that, finishing the campfire was a matter of alternating between the colors to make adjustments and create the “right look.” I wasn’t interested in duplicating the reference photo, but I did want my campfire to look as bright, hot, and lively as the fire in the reference photo.

I made quite a few adjustments to the colors, values, and shape of the fire, as well.

This is the finished drawing.

How to draw flame in colored pencil

That’s How I Drew Flame in Colored Pencil

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tutorial. An expanded tutorial explaining this process in more detail is now available at Colored Pencil Tutorials. Click here to read more or get your copy.

Sketches for the Week of August 16, 2021

Sketches for the Week of August 16

This week, I published a new tutorial, Draw Clouds from Life, available at Colored Pencil Tutorials. It’s a graphite tutorial and I had a lot of fun with it, so I decided that all my sketches for the week of August 16 would also be in graphite.

Why graphite?

Because it’s easy to use, it’s a great way to practice drawing values, and it’s fun.

It’s also a change of pace from colored pencil sketching, and since my sketching habit goals didn’t specify colored pencil, I thought, why not graphite?

My Sketches for the Week of August 16, 2021

Because I’d already decided to use graphite for all of my sketching this week, I decided to try different papers. I didn’t expect much difference from one paper to the next, but I got a couple of surprises.

Trunk Study in Graphite on Canson Mi-Teintes Pearl Grey

This sketch is on Canson Mi-Teintes Pearl Grey, which is a very light gray paper. I sketched on the back because that’s the smoothest side, and I chose Pearl Grey because it was the lightest color of paper I had cut to the right size.

I sat on the front porch and sketched the base of an old elm tree in the front yard. The shape of the trunk is interesting because it isn’t round. It looks almost like two trunks grown together early in the life of the tree. When the late afternoon and evening sun strikes it just right, the shape is clear.

I used a 6B Prismacolor Turquoise pencil sharpened to a sharp point and did all my shading with mark making. You can see the hatching and cross-hatching strokes quite clearly. It’s quite easy to create value layering graphite this way, and the direction of the strokes adds visual texture to the sketch.

So do my smudgy fingerprints! One thing I always forget about graphite is that it migrates so easily. Get a little bit on your fingers, and you leave finger prints everywhere!

sketches for the week of August 16

Branch Study in Graphite on Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Grey

I did this sketch immediately after doing the previous sketch, but i did this one from imagination.

The darker gray paper didn’t work as well for graphite, but I wanted to try it anyway, just to see what could be done. I like the sketch, but it would have been better on lighter paper and more detailed if I had been drawing an actual branch.

Even so, it was fun to practice blending by smudging. It was a good effort.

But probably the last combining graphite and medium-value paper.

Mountain Landscape in Graphite on Bienfang Bristol Vellum

The next paper was Bristol Vellum. I like Bienfang Bristol because it’s the only Bristol I’ve found that comes in a pad of 146lb weight. It’s a good, sturdy paper.

I thought it would be perfect for graphite because it’s so smooth. This is where I got the first surprise for the week: Bristol is too smooth for good graphite drawing.

I was able to get a wide range of values by starting with a 3H pencil. But that pencil was so hard, it felt scratchy on the paper. I sketched in the most distant mountains (barely visible) with this, then switched to an F for the next range. Better, but still too hard.

For the rest of the drawing, I used a 6B, which is very soft. Even this soft pencil didn’t work very well on Bristol.

I blended with a stiff bristle brush and my finger to smooth out some of the values, but the best work I did was the nearest range of hills, which I drew with the side of the 6B, then left alone. I also like the grass in the foreground. That was fun to draw!

Broken Ends Graphite on Bristol Vellum

Unwilling to let the Bristol go without another try, I used it to sketch this branch.

Once again, I sat on the front steps and started by intending to sketch a dead branch from life. But I had a lot of help in the form of cats. After the first random mark made when a cat rubbed against my arm as I drew, I decide to just “wing it.”

I continued drawing the branch, but also worked in whatever additional random marks my “studio assistants” caused. This bare and cracked branch is the result.

Prismacolor Turquoise graphite worked better for this type sketching, but it was still a struggle to get really dark values. Confirmation of my conclusions after the previous sketch.

sketches for the week of August 16

Broken Graphite on Bristol Vellum

I liked the previous sketch enough to try a similar subject. This time, I focused on one end of a branch and made sure my studio assistants were elsewhere.

I also used different pencils. That’s part of the reason I wanted to try Bristol Vellum a third time.

The first pencil was a Prang 2B. Believe it or not, I liked this pencil better than the supposedly higher quality Prismacolor Turquoise pencils. Layering was much smoother and the pencil was easier to use. Surprise #2 for the week!

But a 2B is all I had. So for the darker values, I switched to a Mirado B1 pencil. I got these pencils in a box of over 1,500 pencils purchased years ago. They’re an excellent sketching pencil, with nice dark values, smooth lay-down, and several grades. They make Bristol vellum a decent sketching paper.

That’s the third surprise.

Sunset Graphite Powder & Pencil on Clairefontaine Pastelmat

The last sketch for the week doesn’t really look like a sketch, does it? I tried something brand new this time: Graphite powder on white Pastelmat.

Graphite powder is essentially a graphite pencil without the pencil. It’s all graphite. No binders, no fillers, nothing but pigment.

I used a bristle brush for everything but the sun and the trees. I dipped the brush into the graphite powder, then brushed it onto the paper. Pastelmat grabbed hold of it very well.

Better than expected, as a matter of fact. I couldn’t spread the graphite as thinly as I wanted, so the clouds are far darker than I intended.

I “drew” the sun and sunbeams with a pink pearl eraser. That worked quite well, but didn’t make as bright a sun as I’d hoped. Probably because white Pastelmat isn’t bright white. I would also have been better off with a smaller harder eraser.

After that, I used a 6B graphite pencil to draw the trees.

While it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped, I’m pleased with the results. I learned a lot from this try and know what to do (and what not to do) the next time!

Those are My Sketches for the Week of August 16

I had hoped to do more than just six sketches, but it was a busy week. Then I spilled some of the graphite powder on Saturday afternoon, and spent the rest of the afternoon vacuuming and steam cleaning my “studio.” That happened to be a black couch. I’m still not sure I got all the graphite powder.

Despite the surprises, “help” from studio assistants, and spilled graphite, I really enjoyed sketching with graphite. I hope you’ll take up the challenge and do some graphite work, too.

If you purchase graphite pencils, I recommend not buying Prismacolor Turquoise. Some of the pencils I used felt gritty. One or two felt capable of scratching the paper.

I’ve heard good things about the Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Pencils, and I’m sure Derwent’s graphite pencils are also high quality. In fact, all of the companies that make top-of-the-line colored pencils also make graphite pencils. You won’t go wrong with any of them.

If you feel really brave, get a little graphite powder and try your hand with that. It’s a lot of fun!

I hope you’ll join me in developing your own sketching habit, and invite you to share your work. I’ll be happy to add your sketches for the week of August 16 as a reader’s sketch gallery to this post!

Sketches for the Week of August 9, 2021

sketches for the week of August 9

Summer colds. Not much fun. I spent the week feeling like I was wading through tapioca, so I don’t have many sketches for the week of August 9.

The week was also busy with a student for the week, the latest freelance article, and other things going on. A couple of days ended with no energy for even the simplest sketch.

But I did get six sketches for the week; and that’s my weekly goal.

My Sketches for the Week of August 9, 2021

Branch Study in Derwent Drawing on Canson Mi-Teintes

The sketching week got off to a fairly good start given the circumstances. It was late in the day before I got to sketching, and I really didn’t feel like picking up a pencil, but did it anyway.

This branch was sketched with Derwent Drawing Olive Earth on Canson Mi-Teintes Fawn. Not the best color combination, perhaps, but not bad either.

I drew this from memory and imagination, combining interesting twists and turns, and other features seen in real life branches.

sketches for the week of August 9

Mountain Landscape with Derwent Drawing on Stonehenge

With no particular goal in mind this week other than sketching, I used whatever paper was on the top of the stack. The first sketch for the week was Canson Mi-Teintes. Both of the next two sketches are on Stonehenge Fawn.

It was very hot and humid on Wednesday, so when I sat down to draw, I decided to draw something cool and not so humid. A mountain landscape with a lake in front seemed like the perfect subject.

I drew this scene from memory, but it was heavily influenced by two of my favorite landscape painters. One works in oils, and the other in acrylics, but they both do a lot of mountain landscapes.

So I did one, too!

And I’m very pleased with it.

Blue Mountain on Stonehenge

Derwent Drawing colored pencils are great sketching pencils. They work on every paper I’ve tried, though they’re better on traditional papers.

For this sketch, I chose Derwent Drawing Smoke Blue and focused on drawing space and form with line and limited values.

The mountains are imaginary. I simply sketched and shaded until I thought the sketch was finished.

Mountain Landscape with Derwent Drawing

This is a more complete sketch than what I’ve been doing. I used almost all of my Derwent Drawing pencils (I have about eight colors) to draw this landscape. The paper is Stonehenge Fawn again, which proved not to be a good color for the light blues in the mountains.

It was perfect for the rest of the landscape however.

This sketch is very loosely based on a photograph sent to me by a reader. I started a more “serious” piece late this winter, but have never finished it. So now I can say I’ve done something with that photograph!

sketches for the week of August 9

Tree Branch with White Derwent Drawing

Back to Canson Mi-Teintes Fawn for this sketch, and back to just one color. Derwent Drawing Chinese White.

Instead of drawing a subject by drawing the shadows, I decided to try drawing just the highlights and reflected light.

It’s not quite as finished as I would have liked, but I was interrupted. One of my rules for this sketching habit is not to go back so something once I’ve put it down (unless I have to sharpen pencils or something like that.)

Still, I’m quite happy with the results.

By the way, I drew this from my imagination.

May in Kansas

The final sketch for the week was drawn with Derwent Drawing Sanguine on Canson Mi-Teintes Fawn paper.

I revisited a scene I drew last week. This week, however, I drew the main tree much as it appears in the reference photo, with leaves.

This is the sort of scene that makes me think I’ll some day do a more serious piece based on it. Neither this sketch nor the previous one shows the atmosphere of this morning time scene.

And atmosphere is one of the things I enjoy about drawing landscapes.

Comparing Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes with Derwent Drawing Colored Pencils

I used either Canson Mi-Teintes or Stonehenge paper for this week’s sketches, and I used Derwent Drawing pencils on all of them.

Derwent Drawing colored pencils are a great sketching pencil. A full set of 24 colors is definitely on my wish list. The earthy colors are great for nature subjects as well as sketching.

And as I mentioned before, they’re ideal for traditional drawing papers.

Both types of papers I used are 98-pound papers, but they feel different. Stonehenge has a sturdier feel, but it’s also much softer. Canson Mi-Teintes is a nice paper for sketching and more serious drawings, but it’s best for colored pencils if you use the back side!

Those are My Sketches for the Week of August 9

And that’s my abbreviated report on my sketches for last week. It was disappointing not to have drawn more, but I’m pleased to have drawn any at all! It was just one of those weeks.

I hope you’re week went more smoothly, and that you were able to do some sketching.

If you have, I hope you’ll join me in developing your own sketching habit. I invite you to share them. I’ll be happy to add them as a reader’s sketch gallery to this post!

Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

Blending backgrounds with powder blender can be faster and easier than drawing blurred backgrounds with traditional drawing methods.

Today’s post is about my first attempt at blending backgrounds with Powder Blender.

This is my second attempt using Clairfontaine Pastelmat Sienna colored paper. I described my first experience here. If you’re interested in traditional drawing methods on Pastelmat, then you’ll want to read How to Draw a Blurred Background.

For this piece, I followed Alyona Nickelsen’s method of colored pencil painting, which is based on the Flemish Seven-Step method. I used many of her Brush & Pencil products, including Powder Blender, ACP Textured Fixative, and Titanium White.

The portrait is 6 inches by 8 inches. As mentioned above, I’m using Clairfontaine Pastelmat.

Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

I’m reading Colored Pencil Painting Portraits, and wanted to try the step-by-step background method described in that book.

I didn’t want to just practice, though. I wanted to do an actual work. This portrait was ready for background work, so I decided to work on it.

Since this is a teachable moment, I chose one of the tutorials in the book, and followed it step-by-step. Here’s how that worked.

Step 1: Apply Powder Blender to the Paper

Alyona recommends applying Powder Blender to the paper before you add any color. According to the book, you can use sponge applicators, a brush, or even your finger if you wear a cot.

I chose a #6 sable round brush to apply Powder Blender to the background. It’s very easy to do. Simply lightly touch the Powder Blender with the brush, then brush it onto the background.

You don’t need a lot of Powder Blender. A little bit goes a long way, so use it sparingly.

Powder Blender is a white powder, but it disappears on paper. Even on colored paper like this Sienna Pastelmat.

Step 2: Layer Color

Next, I layered Faber-Castell Polychromos Sky Blue over the background with light to medium-light pressure and big, bold strokes.

My understanding was that I didn’t need careful strokes in order to get smooth color with Powder Blender. So I used light pressure, but essentially scribbled color onto the paper in just a few minutes.

I didn’t even bother covering all of the paper, since I want a blurred look for the background.

Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

Step 3: Blend with Powder Blender

Next, I used the same brush to blend the color, which is one of the ways to blend described in Alyona’s book.

Blending with painterly strokes stirred up pigment, but didn’t blend well, so I tried a stippling stroke. Stippling strokes (tapping strokes) pushed pigment down into the tooth of the paper instead of spreading it around.

Most of the strokes blended out nicely, but I wasn’t able to cover all of the paper. That was okay, though. It showed me that I needed more color on the paper for effective blending.

Step 4: Continue Layering Color

I layered more Sky Blue over parts of the background, and then added Earth Green Yellowish in some areas. The additional color will create the look of blurred foliage in the background.

I alternated layering and blending several times without adding more Powder Blender.

The more color on the paper, the more satisfactory the blending process, but you can still see a lot of paper showing through the background. At this stage in the drawing, that doesn’t bother me. I’ll be able to continue layering color until the portrait is complete.

I continued working on the background with Sky Blue and Earth Green Yellowish to build color. I also added Deep Cobalt Green for a darker cooler green, and Dark Indigo to create even darker values. When the greens got too bright, I toned them down with Bistre.

I tried a blending layer with Cinnamon, which is very close to the color of the paper. Blending layers often work on other projects, but I didn’t care for the look of it this time.

When the background was finished, I did a final blend with Powder Blender and the color was ready to be “fixed into place.”

Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

Step 5: Spray with ACP Textured Fixative

After finishing with layering and blending, I lightly sprayed the drawing with ACP Textured Fixative.

Two light coats with half an hour of dry time between the two coats. Then I put the drawing away for the day.

My Thoughts on Blending Backgrounds with Powder Blender

So what’s my opinion of Powder Blender? Favorable! I clearly need practice with this new tool, but I need practice with every new tool. We all do.

Overall, I like this background much better than the blurred background I drew on the same paper using traditional methods.

It also took far less time to do this work. Less than two hours total, while it took several hours over a period of days to do the traditional background. Even if the only place you use Powder Blender is the background, it’s well worth the investment.

I blended with a sponge applicator until I noticed spongy part was coming apart due to friction with the paper. Sanded papers are hard on sponges!

So I went back to my sable brush, but wasn’t getting much good out of that. The next brush, a stiff bristle brush, worked so well that I put the sable brush and the sponge applicators away.

Sketches for the Week of August 2, 2021

Last week, I did all of the sketches for the week on white Clairefontaine Pastelmat. This week, I used the same pencils, but all the sketches for the week of August 2 are on Stonehenge.

Here’s what I thought.

My Sketches for the Week of August 2, 2021

Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils

Green Desert with Koh-I-Nor

I’ve been generally dissatisfied with these pencils for every application, but I haven’t done much drawing with them. So my first sketch for this week was more like a color study than a sketch.

The scene is based on the Flint Hills in Kansas, but it’s totally imaginary.

And not as finished as I’d intended.

That was because I didn’t like the way the pencils were layering on Stonehenge. Stonehenge is super soft, and just was not a good surface for these pencils.

Tree Branch with Koh-I-Nor

So I went back to a more typical sketching style. I like this piece much better, but am still not happy with the pencils. Getting good, dark values was difficult.

However, I do like having the ability to draw broader, softer lines.

sketches for the week of August 2

Blick Studio Colored Pencils

Elm Tree with Blick Studio

I sat on our back porch Tuesday evening with a few pieces of Stonehenge and my cup of Blick Studio pencils. My intention was to draw from life, but before I did more than choose a subject and rough it in, mosquitoes drove me back inside.

The two knots on the upper left got most of my attention while I was outside, so they became the focus. I filled in the rest after going into the house again.

Those two knots do intrigue me. I may have draw them more specifically later. After a cold snap removes the mosquitoes!

Mountain Landscape with Blick Studio

The idea of line drawing landscapes interests me enough that I decided to give it try this week. I wanted to see if I could draw a complete landscape with distance using only the darkness and thickness of the lines.

That was not only possible; it turned out pretty well.

But I had to press so hard with the Blick Studio pencil to get those dark foreground lines that I felt like I was impressing them into the paper. I don’t think I was, but I didn’t like working that way.

Prismacolor Soft Core Pencils

Mountain Landscape with Prismacolor

The next pencils I used were Prismacolors, and I started with another landscape line drawing. In fact, I redrew the previous sketch, but without looking at the previous sketch.

The Prismacolor I chose was Indigo Blue and it worked extremely well this way. I still had to use heavier pressure and repeated marking to get the dark lines in the foreground, but the overall drawing process was easier and faster.

It also felt more comfortable.

sketches for the week of August 2

Rotted Plank with Prismacolor

For this drawing, I went back to the back porch. It was earlier in the day and more windy, so the mosquitoes weren’t much of a problem.

But I didn’t want to draw a tree again, so I looked around where I sat and finally settled on this rotted plank. I’d drawn something like it for the original plein air challenge in 2016, so thought it was time to revisit the subject.

I did a little bit of shading in the darkest values, but used mostly lines to suggest the weather-worn wood.

Faber-Castell Polychromos

I’ve used Polychromos pencils for a lot of sketches since starting this sketching habit, so I did only two this week.

Flint Hills with Polychromos

Another line drawing landscape. I really enjoy sketching like this!

This sketch is drawn from an old, poor quality photo I took of the Flint Hills many years ago. I did a little more shading with this one than with the other line drawings. But I still relied on line thickness and darkness to convey the look of distance.

Tree Branch with Polychromos

Another sketch from one of my photos. This tree is near a local business and has interesting lighter patterns in the bark. Those light patches are what I wanted to capture, since they really defined the twisting and turning of each of the three large branches.

sketches for the week of August 2

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor

This is my Lyra Polycolor sketch for the week. It, too, is based on one of a collection of images I took a couple of years ago. I simplified the landscape quite a bit, and drew the main tree without leaves so it stood out even more from the clumps of trees in the background.

Caran d’Ache Pablo

The last sketch for the week was this tree trunk study with Caran d’Ache Pablo.

I liked the tree in the previous sketch so much that I decided to do it again with much background.

Crayola Colored Pencils

I got an opportunity to try a brand of pencils I would not be likely to ever purchase: Crayola colored pencils.

I love their crayons. The smell of Crayola crayons is one of my all-time favorite non-food scents. The colored pencils are made for the same artists for whom the crayons are made. Grade school students.

So I had no interest in purchasing them, even just to test them.

But this week, I came into possession of a large collection of them. Since a reader asked about them, I decided to do a little work with them, just to see how they measured up to my expectations.

One of my tests was a sketch on Stonehenge.

This sketch is called The Moor, and I drew it one evening while watching The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The moor shares some characteristics with the Flint Hills and I love drawing the Flint hills, so I decided to try sketching the moor.

I would have made more progress with a better pencil, but I’m still pleased with the way this turned out.

sketches for the week of August 2

How I Rate these Pencils

I made some interesting (and surprising) discoveries this week.

As I mentioned last week, I have only one each of the Caran d’Ache Pablo and Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor pencils, but they turned out to be my favorites on Stonehenge paper. They both performed very well and I didn’t feel like I had to press very hard to get the darker values. I rate them about equal in ease of use and overall performance.

After that, my favorites, Polychromos and Prismacolor, tied for second. That’s not surprising. The really good pencils general perform well on most surfaces. And they weren’t that far behind the first two.

The Blick Studio pencils were okay with Stonehenge. I think if I had no other pencils, I could get used to them easily. But they are better suited for sanded surfaces in my opinion.

Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils are still at the bottom of the list, but this week they’re joined by Crayola colored pencils. I won’t be doing anymore tests with Crayola, but I’m not yet ready to give up entirely on the Koh-I-Nor Progresso pencils.

The most interesting discovery this week was the fact that Stonehenge has fallen from favor with me. It just seemed too soft and spongy after all the work I’ve done on the sanded art papers. In fact, by mid-week, I realized that my problems with the pencils were really problems with the paper.

And to think that Stonehenge was once my go-to paper!

Those are My Sketches for the Week of August 2

Another interesting sampling of different types of pencils on Stonehenge paper. I hope you enjoyed the results as much as I did.

I also hope you’ll join me in developing your own sketching habit.

And if you’ve created some sketches during the week of August 2, I invite you to share them. I’ll be happy to add them as a reader’s sketch gallery to this post!

Karin Dusterhoft: Here are the sketches for this week. The paper was Canson Bristol Vellum and the pencils were Prismacolor, Verithin and Polychromos. The challenge was to try new and different things, and I definitely learned a little something from each sketch. That’s what it’s all about and it was fun!

Sketches for the Week of July 26, 2021

Before I picked up a pencil to sketch this week, I decided to be a bit more deliberate. I’d still draw whatever struck my fancy, but I’d do all the sketches for the week of July 26 on the same paper.

I cut a full sheet of white Clairefontaine Pastelmat into 4×6 pieces (sixteen of them, plus a few smaller pieces.) My intention from the start was to try different pencils on Pastelmat just to see how they performed in a week-long comparison.

So hold on. This week’s sketching report is also a review of several types of pencils on Pastelmat!

My Sketches for the Week of July 26, 2021

Since this is a more “disciplined” sketching week, with a specific purpose in mind, I’m still listing sketches in chronological order. But I’m also doing a sketch or more with each type of pencil before moving to the next type.

So the sketches will be categorized by pencil, beginning with Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless.

Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils

I originally bought these pencils for use in laying down broad applications of color. At one time, I had Prismacolor Art Stix, which are Prismacolor pencils in a chalk-like shape. I never developed a taste for the Art Stix. After some early success with the Progresso, I decided they weren’t for me, either.

But I haven’t tried them very much on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, so they were the first pencils to come off the shelf this week.

Tree Study with Koh-I-Nor Progresso #1

I mentioned last week that I wished I was better at sketching in color, so I tried a color sketch first the the woodless pencils. I used Brown, Sap Green, Light Ochre, and a touch of Black.

These pencils are about the size of a standard colored pencil, so they’re easy to handle.

But they’re all pigment, so it can be difficult to get fine lines with them. I knew that when I started, so I kept my sketching loose in style.

The first layer or two went well. But then I remembered why I didn’t use the Progresso pencils more. They just don’t layer very well on sanded paper. It’s as if the pigment clogs up the tooth of the paper without filling the tooth; almost like all the pigment stays on the top of the grit.

Adding more layers just adds to the clogging.

It’s possible that using a solvent to blend would smooth out the color and sink the pigment down into the tooth, but for straight sketching or drawing, I’m not happy with them.

Tree Study with Koh-I-Nor Progresso #2

For the second Progresso sketch, I drew a similar subject, but limited myself to one color: Brown. I also chose not to layer color, but to use line to create value. I handled the pencil more like a graphite pencil, using directional lines, hatching and cross-hatching lines, and light pressure start to finish.

The results are better, but I still found the Progresso pencils a bit clumsy. I have no doubt that I could learn to create smooth, subtle color and value transitions with them if I continue using them.

I’m just not sure I like them enough to put in that kind of drawing time!

Blick Studio Colored Pencils

Cloud Study with Blick Studio Pencils

I was feeling a bit unfocused Tuesday morning, so after doing the second of the sketches above, I got out the Blick Studio pencils and started sketching. The sky I could see out the window was clear, but a nice blue. I decided to sketch clouds against a blue sky by shading the sky.

I used only two colors for this sketch: Ice Blue and Light Blue, and I applied both colors with light pressure for the entire sketch, but mixed strokes.

The sky is layer after layer of both blues, sandwiching Light Blue between multiple layers of Ice Blue (which is much lighter.) I used horizontal strokes, vertical strokes, hatching and cross-hatching strokes, and even circular strokes. In between some of the layers, I blended with a finger tip.

I drew the clouds by drawing the shadows in the clouds with the same two colors. But most of this work was completed with circular strokes.

The result was much more satisfying with the Blick Studio pencils than the Progresso pencils. I’ve tried Blick Studio pencils on a number of surfaces, and for my style of drawing, they seem to be made for sanded art papers.

Sparkles on the Water

I did this sketch as an experiment for this past Saturday’s product review of the Slice tools.

I’ve been watching the videos of an acrylic landscape painter who paints the most remarkable landscapes. Many of them include water and from the first video, the process has mesmerized me.

And made me wonder if there was a way to get the same look with colored pencils.

As it turns out, there is. Slice tools!

I started out by laying down three or four different colors with medium-heavy pressure and back-and-forth horizontal strokes. I wasn’t particularly careful adding color, though I did try to apply colors in a way that looked like water.

Then I went over each area repeatedly until the tooth of the paper was filled.

sketches for the week of July 26

Next, I used Slice tools to etch X shaped “stars” in the places where I wanted sparkles. They didn’t look like much at first, but after going over them a couple of times, they began to look better.

When I finished, I showed the sketch to my husband and said, “What does this look like?” (It didn’t look like much to me.)

“It looks like water reflecting trees or something,” he said.

I made my art notes on the back and called this sketch finished.

Tree Study with Blick Studio

This is the last sketch with Blick Studio, and I used Gold for this and sketched from memory and imagination. I didn’t really have a goal beyond playing with color, value, and shape.

I like the way this sketch turned out.

sketches for the week of July 26

Prismacolor Soft Core Pencils

I did three sketches with Prismacolor pencils just because I enjoy using them so much. They’re not quite as good on sanded papers as on traditional papers, but they were still fun to use.

This sketch is drawn from a photo of a tree that was partially destroyed in a storm early in July. I received a few photos of the damage before the tree was taken down, and this branch caught my eye. The simplicity of the branches and the complexity of the positioning both drew my attention.

It was also silhouetted against the sky, which meant I could create my own lighting. I chose backlighting and big, bold strokes to add details I couldn’t see in the photo.

My subject for this sketch is a dead branch on a live tree in our front yard. After I drew it, I added other branches drawn with lighter and lighter pressure to create context for the main branch.

The main focus is that spindly looking branch so I keep the darkest values on that branch.

I merely suggested bark on the main tree with lines.

The final Prismacolor sketch is another, much older favorite subject: Horse hooves.

I’m not sure what appeals to me so much, but I really enjoy drawing the joints in the legs, particularly the back legs.

This was drawn without a reference photo so it’s a bit rusty. It’s been a long time since I drew a horse’s hoof and it shows.

sketches for the week of July 26

Faber-Castell Polychromos

I’ve used Polychromos pencils for a lot of sketches since starting this sketching habit, so I did only two this week.

Tree Branch with Polychromos

I used a Black pencil to sketch these branches from memory and imagination. I’m seeing improvement in my ability to use lines to convey form and create the illusion of depth on paper. Even with such a simple subject and one color.

Mountain Study with Polychromos

For this sketch, I used Polychromos Mauve. I really like the look of this sketch. It’s one of the more pleasing in this week’s collection (in my opinion.) The use of line to create visual texture in the mountains and the clouds turned out extremely well.

I think one of the reasons for that is that I didn’t over-work it. I tend to keep working on a drawing when I should quit. I’m not sure how to correct that, but it does look like I got it right this time!

sketches for the week of July 26

Caran d’Ache Pablo

I have only one Pablo pencil and in the rather atypical color of Flame Red; atypical for a landscape artist, anyway.

So I did only one sketch with a Pablo.

Pablos are said to be a harder version of Caran d’Luminance, much like Prismacolor Verithin pencils are a harder version of Prismacolor Soft Core. In a way, that’s true. They are a bit harder than Luminance pencils.

But while Verithins are quite a bit harder and thinner, Pablos are only a bit harder and about the same thickness as Luminance.

This sketch turned out well, given what I was attempting to draw. My subject was a couple of dead branches hanging down on the interior of a favorite oak tree across the street. The branches were mostly in shadow, so there wasn’t a lot of middle values. But there were patches of sunlight shining through the foliage.

sketches for the week of July 26

I was able to capture that look fairly well, but I had difficulty getting decent middle values with the Pablo pencil. They didn’t gum up the surface like the Progressos, but they weren’t as easy to use as the Polychromos either. That could be a lack of significant experience with this pencil. As I mentioned, I have only one color and I haven’t done much with it. Perhaps practice is all I need.

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor

Another line of pencil for which I have only one color is Lyra’s Rembrandt Polycolor, True Blue.

I decided to sketch something I haven’t sketched in quite a while; a horse’s eye.

Polycolor pencils are a bit smaller than most of the other pencils I use. That wasn’t a major problem for me, but I know it can make a difference to some artists.

Polycolor’s are oil-based, so they’re a bit harder than wax-based pencils. The pencil I used laid down color nicely and I was able to get a nice range of values. I didn’t have enough color on the paper to scratch eyelashes with a Slice tool, but overall, I’m quite happy with this sketch.

sketches for the week of July 26

How I Rate these Pencils

First: I’m giving Faber-Castell Polychromos a slight edge. I just really like these pencils for every type of drawing I do. They’re easy to work with, they have a great color range, and I have yet to find a paper they don’t work with.

Second is Prismacolor Premier. They’re not quite as handy on Pastelmat as the Polychromos, but they’re the first pencils I used. It’s difficult not to list them as favorites after using them for over twenty years!

Blick Studio pencils perform nicely on Pastelmat. They feel like a cross between Polychromos and Prismacolor. Color selection is more limited than either of those two brands, but they are very reasonably priced.

Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils are at the bottom of the list. I don’t know what it is about them, but I’ve never used another type of colored pencil that clogs the tooth of Pastelmat (or any other sanded paper) the same way these do.

What about the Lyra Polycolor and Caran d’Ache Pablo? My initial impressions are mixed. They both have good pigmentation and they feel good layering on Pastelmat. But I just don’t have enough experience with them to feel capable of giving an honest opinion.

They are however, pencils I would like to continue working with.

Those are My Sketches for the Week of July 26

I’m very pleased with the decision early this week to use different pencils on Clairefontaine Pastelmat. I hope you enjoyed the results as much as I did.

I also hope you’ll join me in developing your own sketching habit.

And if you’ve created some sketches during the week of July 26, I invite you to share them. I’ll be happy to add them as a reader’s sketch gallery to this post!

How to Draw a Blurred Background

During December’s question and answer session, a reader asked how to draw a blurred background. I gave a general answer and a few tips, but didn’t have more specific information.

Today’s post is a step-by-step showing how I drew a blurred background.

How to Draw a Blurred Background

Although quite long, this tutorial covers only the background. Watch for the cat in a few weeks.

I’m working on Clairefontaine Pastelmat for the first time. The color is Sienna, which is very close to the same color as Prismacolor Yellow Ochre. Just a bit more orange.

I’m using a combination of pencils, but mostly Prismacolor and Faber-Castell Polychromos.

The reference photo is one of my own, and is of our oldest cat, which we lost due to the infirmities of old age on August 21, 2019.

How to Draw a Blurred Background - The Reference Photo

How to Draw a Blurred Background

Creating and Transferring the Line Drawing

I roughed in the initial sketch using Dan Duhrkoop’s drawing method as described in How to Draw Exactly What You See. I described that process in a previous post, which you can read here.

When the drawing was correct, I made a sheet of homemade transfer paper to try on the Clairefontaine Pastelmat. It worked well enough to draw a border with medium-heavy pressure, but couldn’t transfer the drawing with medium light pressure.

So I switched to a Verithin pencil and used medium-heavy to heavy pressure. The transfer worked best if I drew short, straight lines, but I had to go over some of it twice. I also had to clean up smudges afterward, but that was easily done with mounting putty.

How to Draw a Blurred Background - The Line Drawing

Getting Started

To establish the blurred background, I alternated layers of Prismacolor Cool Grey 20% and Slate Grey in the area behind Thomas’ head, beginning with Slate Grey in the corners, then Cool Grey 20% over all of that. I covered the paper with two or three layers of each, then added vague shapes with Slate Grey.

Then I lightly sketched the tree shapes in the rest of the background with Slate Grey.

I layered Prismacolor Slate Grey over the tree shapes with medium-light pressure, and the pencil held at about 45-degrees. I used circular strokes and did a couple of even layers for the base value, then went over the shadows with a couple of additional layers.

Smooth color layers is essential to drawing believable blurred backgrounds.

Then I used the side of the pencil, medium-light pressure, and circular strokes to add a few more shapes loosely based on the reference photo. Mostly to break up the larger negative areas.

I kept the edges soft by working over those I’d sketched earlier.

First Layers of Color

Next, I layered Cool Grey 20% over all of the background (including the trees) with medium-light pressure and circular strokes. This blending layer unified the background and softened the edges nicely.

Circular strokes left somewhat mottled color layer, though, so I switched to a vertical, back-and-forth stroke for the next layer. That created a much nicer, smoother color layer and a far more pleasing appearance.

To finish the session, I layered White over the negative spaces in the background, using medium-light pressure and small, circular strokes. I layered White almost to the bottom so that the negative spaces (which are sky in the reference photo) were lighter in value at the top than at the bottom.

Sometimes, shading the negative spaces is the best method for establishing a blurred background.

Laying in the Sky

Next, I layered Prismacolor Mediterranean Blue into the upper portions of the sky. I continued using medium-light pressure and a blunt pencil, but added only one or two layers in the darker areas at the top, and only one layer further down. I didn’t add blue toward the bottom, because this blue is too dark and gray.

After that, I layered Polychromos Ultramarine into the upper portions of the sky. I used light to medium-light pressure and whatever stroke or combination of strokes best filled in each area.

Dry Blending to Blur the Shapes

After the previous step, I dry blended the sky with a bristle brush in three stages. The first stage was with a corner of the brush and blending each shape individually.

For the second stage, I used the flat of the brush and blended across all the shapes horizontally, and the third blend was with the flat of the brush and vertical strokes. Working over the tree shapes helped blur them and make them look more distant and out-of-focus.

In the areas where I had several layers of color, the result was very pleasing. The color smoothed out nicely, creating a beautiful foundation for the blurred background I wanted.

But in those areas where I had only two or three layers of color, the dry blend accomplished very little.

The Next Round of Color

I used Slate Blue with medium pressure, and rough, open vertical strokes to shade the larger trees.

I continued shading the trees and larger branches with Slate Blue using medium pressure and firm, vertical strokes. The tree behind Thomas’ mouth is next closest, so I used the same strokes, but made the strokes less defined.

For the larger branches criss-crossing the background, I layered Slate Blue with no visible strokes. I used fewer layers on branches that are further away so that they were lighter in value.

To darken the shadows on the three closest trees, I used Black Raspberry applied in vertical strokes.

Next, I used medium-heavy pressure and the side of a sharp pencil to blend the largest trees with Yellow Ochre. I chose Yellow Ochre because the light is golden, evening light, and because it matched the color of the paper.

Using the side of the pencil softened the strokes already on the paper and working over every part of each tree unified the shapes.

Darkening the Darkest Values

Beginning with Dark Umber in the shadows on the trees, I layered color with medium-heavy pressure and strong, vertical strokes. I applied Light Umber in the same way into the highlights and lighter middle values. In some areas, I worked over Dark Umber with Light Umber, while using neither color in other areas.

I next added more Dark Umber with a diagonal stroke to soften the edges between light and dark.

I finished the two large trees (for now) by layering Light Umber over most of the lighter areas with medium-heavy pressure and diagonal strokes.

Correcting Mistakes on Pastelmat

At this point, I realized I’d made a mistake in drawing one of the trees. That tree is one of my favorite life drawing subjects and I’d totally misdrawn it.

And I immediately discovered another benefit to Pastelmat. It’s easy to correct mistakes. With a mistake like this on any traditional paper, I would’ve had to start over or live with the mistake. Or at best with a partially corrected mistake.

I sketched in the right shape with Light Umber.

Next, I filled in the shape with even color, then added two darker areas, still with Light Umber.

The correction was completed by blending the new branch into the existing tree. It’s impossible to tell where the correction is!

Koh-I-Nor Pencils on Pastelmat

I then decided to try Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless pencils to see if I could layer color fast, then dry blend it. I layered Sky Blue over the top half of the sky using medium-heavy pressure with horizontal strokes.

Next, I layered Light Grey over the sky using medium-heavy pressure and a mix of horizontal and vertical strokes. Then I added two layers of White over the whole thing, one layer with horizontal strokes, the second with vertical strokes.

For all of those colors, I used medium-heavy pressure. I also worked over all but the largest trees.

Multiple layers and varied strokes help create saturated color for blurred backgrounds.

I used a well-worn bristle brush to blend the layers together. To begin with, I used the corner of the brush, but that didn’t do much good, so I used the flat edge with short, vertical strokes to push the layers together and pull one color into another. Circular strokes dislodged more pigment dust than it blended.

Back to Polychromos & Prismacolor

It never hurts to experiment, even when the experiments fail. I didn’t like the Progresso pencils, so went back to Faber-Castell Polychromos.

I also started working the background section by section, something I should have done from the beginning.

The first Polychromos color was Sky Blue, which I layered from the top down. Cold Grey I was next, layered from the bottom up with firm pressure and short horizontal strokes. I overlapped the two colors in the center.

For the branches, I used Brown Ochre, then blended that area with Gamsol and a small round sable, using tapping strokes.

While those areas dried, I added Sky Blue and Cold Grey I to the areas between and in front of Thomas’ ears. This time I tried blending pigment dust with a bristle brush, then with my fingers. Neither method appeared satisfactory.

Mixing brands of pencils as well as colors is helpful in drawing a blurred background.

The Final Layers

To finish the blurred background, I added Faber-Castell Cold Grey I into the sky holes with medium-heavy or heavier pressure and a variety of strokes. My main goal now was smooth color and soft edges.

I used touches of Olive Yellowish-Green and Indianthrene Blue in some of the larger branches that are further away. For other branches, I worked around the branches so they showed up blue with no brown.

Next, I switched to Prismacolor French Grey 20% and burnished the sky holes, starting at the bottom. I used a blunt pencil and a variety of strokes to fill in the paper holes.

When I finished the sky, I used French Grey 70% and Slate Blue to rough in more trees. I sketched in branches of different sizes, values, and colors, and in different directions to fill in the background a little more.

Finally, I did a light solvent blend with a small round sable brush. I wanted to soften the edges between sky and branches, so I stroked in the direction the branches grew and started at the base of each branch or twig, and stroked outward.

This blurred background is ready for a final review.

Drawing a Blurred Background on Pastelmat

Whew!

This started out as a simple tutorial on drawing a blurred background. What a journey it’s turned out to be!

Even so, I hope you enjoyed it and learned from it. And I hope you’ll try drawing a blurred background of your own. Hopefully, it will go more smoothly than mine!

This tutorial was drawn on Clairefontaine Pastelmat. I’ve also written a blurred background tutorial for EmptyEasel, which was drawn on regular drawing paper. Read How to Draw a “Soft Focus” Background with Colored Pencil for more tips.