Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

For most artists, learning to draw with a light hand is an important part of the artistic journey. I’ve heard from many readers who complain of having a heavy hand, so I wasn’t surprised to receive the following appeal.

What can you do if you have not been able to overcome the dreaded heavy-hand?

Thanks,

Romona

Romona’s email conveyed not only her struggle with a heavy hand, but her emotional response. How many of us haven’t struggled with the dreaded heavy hand?

I have the opposite problem. My hand is so light that I have to increase pressure to reach what other artists consider light pressure. If you have a heavier hand, you may see no problem with a light hand, but it’s sometimes frustrating when I have to do several layers of light work just to get the same amount of color saturation other artists get with one or two layers!

The interesting thing is that what works for me in learning to draw with a heavier hand also works for those who want to learn how to draw with a lighter hand.

What is it?

Training!

Tips for Learning to Draw with a Light Hand

Here are a few of the training exercises I use, and that will also help you.

Change the Way You Hold Your Pencil

When you need to draw with a lighter hand, change the way you hold your pencil. Instead of holding it in a normal way, try holding it at the back.

Holding the pencil at the back reduces the amount of pressure you can exert on the pencil.

You will also be holding the pencil in a more horizontal position, which means you’re drawing with the side of the pencil more than with the tip. That means the pencil is skimming across the surface of the paper, hitting the high spots. Less color gets into the tooth of the paper and that produces a lighter value.

It also keeps the tooth of the paper from filling up so quickly, so you can add more layers.

Learning to Draw with  Light Hand

Work at an Easel or Standing Table

Have you ever tried drawing while standing? If not, give it a try.

Working at an easel or drafting table changes the way you approach the paper, especially if the paper is in a vertical or nearly vertical position.

I was an oil painter for over 40 years, and while I usually worked with the painting lying on a drafting table, I did notice a difference on those occasions when I worked with the painting on an easel.

I have done some colored pencil work on an easel and can say that it changes the dynamics between my pencil and my hand, and between the pencil and the paper.

You don’t need a big, fancy easel like this one. A simple table-top model that’s properly anchored so it won’t move as you draw will let you know whether or not this way of drawing helps you.

Give it a couple of weeks, though. It will be uncomfortable at first.

If you try this, you might also want to experiment with working a little further away from your paper. Oil painters often work with the brush held in their extended arm. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work for colored pencils, too.

Keep in mind that you will lose a lot of control, so you’ll have to find the right balance between light-handedness and control.

Drawing Exercises

You might also try some simple drawing exercises, such as those described in Straight Line Drawing Exercises.

Not all of these are designed to help you lighten your hand, but they are all helpful in gaining better control of your pencil. That, in turn, gives you a better ability to control the amount of pressure you use when you draw.

And that WILL help you draw with a lighter hand.

What About a Hand or Wrist Rest?

Typists use rests on their keyboards quite frequently. The rest is only an inch or so thick and you rest your wrist on it. It changes the angle between your hand and your drawing paper, and that might help.

It also takes some of the stress off your hand, and that is always a benefit.

I haven’t tried this myself, but it just might work.

Learning to Draw with Light Hand

Learning to draw with a light hand is a matter of being conscious of how you’re pressing your pencil against the paper all the time. That sounds tedious, I know. It’s so easy to get caught up in the process of creating that we forget how we’re creating.

That’s why I recommend the drawing exercises. You can do those in a drawing pad or on scraps of paper and I believe that if you do them regularly, you will see an improvement in your ability to draw with a lighter hand.

But I’ve used most of these tips myself and they have all helped me control how much pressure I use.

I hope one of them helps you, too!

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems

Whenever you begin something new, you should expect to have problems. That’s part of the learning process. Every person experiences beginner colored pencil problems. Everyone.

Even me.

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems

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

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

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

The trick is finding the right solutions for each problem.

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

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems

Problem #1: Filling in Paper Holes

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

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

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

Filling in color so the paper didn't show was my biggest problem with colored pencils.

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

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

My Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose a color that provides a good middle value. Medium gray for black and dark gray subjects, for example. Light gray for white and gray subjects. Medium value earth tone colors work with most subjects, especially animals.

Problem #2: Blending

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

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

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

My Solution

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

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

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

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems - Almost Finished

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

3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems - Finished

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

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

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

Although every method of blending produces different results, all of them together help me get the results I want.

Problem #3: Time

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

Colored pencils are SLOW!

Yes, you can blend with solvents, and yes, there are watercolor pencils, and both of those solutions speed up the process. But you still have to put the color on the paper using a pencil with a pigment core measured in millimetres.

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

Not so with colored pencils.

My Solutions

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

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

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

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

Working in small areas within a drawing is also helpful. Progress is more obvious as each area is completed before moving on to the next area.

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

Beginner Colored Pencil Problems: The Bottom Line

Of course, I faced other problems as a beginner colored pencil artist. Many others.

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

But all beginners struggle with these issues. That’s why they are among the most frequently asked reader questions.

I hope my solutions help you solve these problems.

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

How to Fix Damage to a Colored Pencil Drawing

Knowing how to fix damage to a colored pencil drawing at all stages of the drawing process is vital to finishing drawings.

If you don’t know how to repair physical damage to paper, you’ll end up throwing out drawings that could otherwise be salvaged. Believe me! I know from experience; a lot of drawings were trashed  early on that would now be salvageable.

How to Fix Damage to a Colored Pencil Drawing

How to Fix Damage to a Colored Pencil Drawing

Some of the damaged drawings were self-inflicted, while others were the result of manufacturing flaws. So the first thing I’ll encourage you to do is examine every sheet of paper before you use it.

But let’s assume you’ve looked for scuffs, dents, indentations, and marks and you’ve still discover a flaw after you began your drawing. What do you do?

Following are two forms of damage that happen most often to me. I’ve had lots of practice repairing them. Here’s what I do.

Scuffed Paper

Are you of the opinion that once you tear or scuff your paper, it’s over? I used to share that opinion, but no longer do. Not after this drawing.

How to Fix Damage to a Colored Pencil Drawing - Icelandic Prince

I don’t remember what type of paper I used, but I found a serious flaw in it on the right side, where the horse’s rump is. Memory suggests that I scuffed the paper trying to lighten the area with a eraser.

How to Fix Damage - Icelandic Prince Detail

Whatever the cause, it became more noticeable with every layer of color.

I considered cropping the drawing to remove that part of the composition, so put different sizes and shapes of mats over the drawing. None of them worked. I either needed to find a way to work over (and hide) that scuff or start over.

Fixing Scuffs

To cover the flaw and avoid making it larger, I used Verithin pencils with very light pressure and very small, circular strokes to fill in the scuffed area. Then I worked over them with waxier Prismacolor soft core pencils. I used very light pressure to work over the scuff and blend it into the colors on unscuffed paper.

I also kept my pencils very sharp so I didn’t worsen the scuff. Eventually, the flaw disappeared enough to rescue the drawing.

There are two morals to this story.

One. Erase carefully. It’s frightfully easy to scuff drawing paper.

Two. It is possible to cover a scuff if you work carefully and slowly, and don’t make the scuff worse by drawing over the edge of it.

Scratches

This portrait represents the first time I used Stonehenge paper. I loved the paper from the start, but learned something quickly.

It was extremely easy to impress unwanted lines. Every layer of color seemed to reveal another impression somewhere and before long, I began to wonder if I should restart on another paper.

How to Fix Damage to a Colored Pencil Drawing - Courtster

Then I learned how to fill in those unwanted impressions with a very sharp pencil, and a very light touch. Pencils with harder pigment cores are best, but it can be done with softer pencils.

And it’s easy!

Filling Impressions

Sharpen your pencil as absolutely sharp as you can. Then draw along the length of the impression with light pressure. Turn your pencil in your fingers between strokes to keep the point sharp, and stroke until the impression is filled in.

When you add another layer, make sure to add that color to the impression, too. Eventually, the impression will disappear.

NOTE: This drawing was done back in the day when Rising made Stonehenge. The formulation or sizing has since changed, so the Stonehenge you buy today is no longer so soft. You can still accidentally impress lines into it, but not so easily.

A Last Resort Solution

If all else fails, and if the damage is on the edge of the drawing, you can crop the drawing. That removes the problem physically.

Even if the damage isn’t around the edges, you may be able to crop one or two miniature “detail” images from the larger drawing. The first time I did these years ago, I ended up with an eye study and a bit study from a larger race horse portrait. Both of them sold quickly.

Quickly enough to prompt me to make more drawings of the same size and type.

Now You Know How to Fix Damage to Paper

At least for two common types of damage.

These methods work on most papers, though you may have to adjust the method for whatever type of paper you’re using.

Sometimes you can’t fix damage once it happens. In such cases, starting over is probably the best answer.

But if you don’t panic and if you proceed carefully and thoughtfully, you can rescue more damaged drawings than you might think.

Give this tips a try. What do you have to lose?