How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

Today, I want to show you how to start a miniature horse drawing. That is, a miniature drawing of a horse.

The original drawing is an ACEO, 3-1/2 inches wide by 2-1/2 inches tall.

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

Officially, it also falls into the miniature art category. I’m not certain ACEOs are as popular as they once were, but they’re a great way to practice a new method or technique. If you like finishing artwork quickly with colored pencil, ACEOs are perfect for that, as well.

However, you can download the line drawing here and make this project whatever size you like! I’ve shaded some of the middle values on the head and shoulder to make the highlights easier to see.

You can also download the reference photo here. The photo is a scan from a print photo, so it isn’t the best quality, but it includes all the information you need for this project unless you like hyper-realism!

A Bit about ACEOs

ACEO stands for Art Cards, Editions and Originals, also known as Art Trading Cards (ATCs) because they are the size of a typical trading card.

Size is the only qualification. Artwork must be 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2.

ACEO/ATCs can be created with any medium on any support, and in any style. They can be originals or reproductions. I’ve used oils, colored pencils, ballpoint pen, graphite, and acrylics to make landscape, abstract, and equine-theme ACEOs.

ACEO horse painting in oils.

I like the size because I can use scrap pieces of paper, canvas or other material to paint or draw on. Another benefit is being able to toss a drawing that doesn’t work.

And that makes ACEOs ideal for trying new materials, new mediums, new techniques, or new subjects.

Colored Pencils and Miniature Art

Colored pencils are ideal for miniature art. Their size and shape make them a natural for producing detail in miniature and the size of miniature art is perfect for colored pencil.

Colored pencils are my favorite medium because they allow a high-degree of detail and I can complete some ACEO-sized pieces in an hour or less.

Now, time for the tutorial!

How to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

This is my reference. I did a lot of composing with the camera, but also began work by cropping the digital image to the proportions of an ACEO.

Start a miniature horse drawing reference photo.

To transfer the line drawing, I coated the back with a graphite pencil. The soft lead I used required some cleanup afterward, but I got a nice, crisp drawing without leaving impressions on the paper. At this size, that’s a plus.

By the way, I’m drawing on Rising Stonehenge 90lb paper in white. You can use your favorite white paper as long as it’s not too toothy.

This week, I’ll show you how to do the umber under drawing, then follow up with the color glazes next week.

The Umber Under Drawing

I chose to start with an umber under drawing because that’s the best way I’ve found to get the shadows, values and details right.

Working without color is also a little bit faster.

The Background

I chose Prismacolor Verithin Dark Umber because that line of pencil has a thinner, harder lead. It covers paper well without filling the tooth. It’s also easier to erase and correct than softer pencils. You can use Prismacolor Premier Dark Umber, or any similar medium-value brown.

Layer color unevenly over the background. The background will be blurry green, so don’t put the same amount of Dark Umber over every part of it. One option is to leave the background lighter around the horse’s head, and darker along the edges, but you can try other backgrounds, too.

Use hatching and cross-hatching strokes and layering to create variations in values.

Since I was creating my own background, I drew a random pattern of light and dark areas, but kept the background around the horse’s head and especially around the ears, light to accent the horse.

The Horse

I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t save the highlights, I tend to work right over them. It’s impossible to recover nice, clean highlights once you’ve shaded over them if you’re using traditional drawing methods.

So the first step to drawing the horse is lightly outlining some of the more prominent highlights (outlines are still visible on the shoulder.)

Use directional strokes that follow the contours of the head and neck everywhere except the eye.

For the eye, use circular strokes to fill in the shape as completely as possible. Work around the lashes and use only a few layers around the lower edge of the eyeball, where there will be reflected light, while adding more layers to darken the rest of the eye.

Start a miniature horse drawing.

Except in the eye, use light pressure. When drawing the eye, begin with light pressure and work up to medium light pressure.

Other Notes

Since this piece is so small, there isn’t much room for fine details. Don’t fret too much over all the details you see in the reference photo.

I used a dry fine point ballpoint pen to impress my signature into the paper before starting to draw. Even with a single color applied with two or three light layers, the signature is quite clear. You don’t have to sign your art, or you can use a light Verithin (or other pencil.)

This is an ideal way to sign small format or miniature drawings, especially if you lay down a lot of color and don’t use solvents. When you use a solvent, the signature will be filled in to some extent, but may still be visible.

You may need a couple of rounds of shading the background and/or the horse to finish the umber under drawing. The key thing to remember is to make sure there is a clear distinction between the horse and the background. If the horse doesn’t stand out at the under drawing stage, it probably won’t stand out even after adding color. Contrast is important. Make sure the dark values are dark enough and the light values are light enough.

Now You Know how to Start a Miniature Horse Drawing

If you like, practice on a few more. Or do this one again and save the best one for next week.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can try this method on other subjects. Just remember to have fun!

Next week, we’ll finish with color glazing.

Ask Carrie a Question

King Charles Spaniel Tutorial by Peggy Osborne

Are you looking for a fun way to relax after the holidays? Peggy Osborne’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Tutorial may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Tutorial Cover

About the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Tutorial

The subject for this new tutorial is an adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Brie. The photo was provided by Brie’s loving owner and rescuer, Verity Camp.

Verity rescued Brie from life in a puppy mill, giving her the love and affection she’d missed all those years of producing litters of puppies.

“That makes this tutorial very special to me,” says artist Peggy Osborne. “I wanted to honor the life of this precious pup.”

Those who have rescued small animals will also find a unique significance in doing this tutorial.

You’ll Learn…

valuable skills like layering and blending, using different types of pencil strokes to create textures, and how to draw realistic grass.

Peggy also shows you how to draw that lovely, long fur on Brie’s ears, and how to create the illusion of distance in drawing the dog and the grass.

The tutorial includes a full supply list, a color chart so you can match colors if you don’t have Prismacolor pencils, and a line drawing. It also includes a full-size reference photo! Download the tutorial and start this delightful project today.

Are You Ready to Draw on Strathmore Toned Paper?

This tutorial is perfect if you’ve never before used Strathmore’s toned drawing paper but are ready to try it. You can’t do better than Peggy’s easy-to-read and follow instructions and beautiful illustrations.

And if you’re just looking for a new project to draw, then why not give this tutorial a try?

Click here to buy your copy of Peggy’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel tutorial.

About Peggy Osborne

See more of Peggy’s work at Pet Portraits by Peggy. You can also meet Peggy in the January issue of CP Magic.

Peggy is an accomplished self-taught artist living in Canada specializing in creating beautiful realistic portraits of pets and family members. She’s had an on going love affair with colored pencils, loving their simplicity, for as long as she can remember.

She started out using graphite pencil so it was an easy transition to carry on with colored pencils. Love of animals and art go hand in hand. Peggy is in awe of what can be accomplished with colored pencils.

Want to see a free sample of Peggy’s dog portrait tutorials and writing style first? Read How to Draw a Golden Retriever on this blog.

Draw on Suede Board with Prismacolor

If you’ve wanted to draw on suede board, but have been waiting for just the right tutorial, your wait is over.

Peggy Osborne walks you step-by-step through her drawing process using only 21 Prismacolor colors on suede board.

Draw on suede board with Peggy Osborne's new tutorial.

Draw on Suede Board with Peggy Osborne

Peggy knows working on suede mat board can be a challenge. She also knows the end result can be well worth the effort. She shares tips for working on suede board and talks about the characteristics that turned her into a huge suede board fan.

Peggy’s model is a stunningly beautiful long-haired German shepherd; the perfect subject for suede board. Peggy shows you how to draw long and short hair, a wet looking nose, and shining eyes, all on suede board.

You’ll learn valuable skills like layering and blending, using different types of pencil strokes to create textures, and how to lift color to add details. Peggy also shares a few tips for working on suede board, as well as a few things that work on traditional paper but are big no-nos when you draw on suede board.

The tutorial includes a full supply list, a color chart so you can match colors if you don’t have Prismacolor pencils, and a line drawing. Download it and start this delightful project today.

Are You Ready to Draw on Suede Board?

This tutorial is perfect if you’ve never before tried suede board but are ready to try it. You can’t do better than Peggy’s easy-to-read and follow instructions and beautiful illustrations.

And if you’re just looking for a new project to draw, then why not give this tutorial a try?

Click here to buy your copy of Peggy’s Long Haired German Shepherd tutorial.

About Peggy Osborne

See more of Peggy’s work at Pet Portraits by Peggy. You can also meet Peggy in the January issue of CP Magic.

Peggy is an accomplished self-taught artist living in Canada specializing in creating beautiful realistic portraits of pets and family members. She’s had an on going love affair with colored pencils, loving their simplicity, for as long as she can remember.

She started out using graphite pencil so it was an easy transition to carry on with colored pencils. Love of animals and art go hand in hand. Peggy is in awe of what can be accomplished with colored pencils.

Want to see a free sample of Peggy’s dog portrait tutorials and writing style first? Read How to Draw a Golden Retriever on this blog.

New Colored Pencil Tutorial

Announcing a brand new colored pencil tutorial from pet portrat artist, Peggy Osborne. A new tutorial with a twist!

This time, Peggy has chosen a subject that I’ve never seen in a tutorial download before. A baby goat.

Her Baby Goat tutorial not only shows you how to draw eyes and fur, but gives you the opportunity to decide how you’ll finish your baby goat drawing..

New Colored Pencil Tutorial

“This little cutie is a purebred Nigerian Dwarf goat kid. Yes, baby goats are called kids.

“Goats make me happy, there is just something so unique and beautiful about them and they make really beautiful art.” – Peggy Osborne

If you, like Peggy, enjoy drawing subjects that make you smile, look no further!

Follow along with Peggy as she draws one of her favorite subjects, a baby goat. You’ll feel like Peggy is sitting beside you, guiding you through detailed descriptions, full-color, step-by-step illustrations and tips.

You’ll learn valuable skills like layering and blending, using different types of pencil strokes to create textures, and a blurred background. Peggy also describes how she blends with solvent, and how she mixes and uses Titanium White mixture with Touchup Texture.

But that’s not all. With this tutorial, you have two options for finishing your drawing. With or without a background!

Ready for a New Colored Pencil Tutorial?

This tutorial is perfect if you’re already a pet portrait artist who wants to improve your skills. Not yet a pet portrait artist, but hoping to become one? This tutorial is for you, too.

And if you’re just looking for a new project to draw, then why not give this tutorial a try?

Click here to buy your copy of Peggy’s Baby Goat tutorial.

About Peggy Osborne

See more of Peggy’s work at Pet Portraits by Peggy. You can also meet Peggy in the January issue of CP Magic.

Peggy is an accomplished self-taught artist living in Canada specializing in creating beautiful realistic portraits of pets and family members. She’s had an on going love affair with colored pencils, loving their simplicity, for as long as she can remember.

She started out using graphite pencil so it was an easy transition to carry on with colored pencils. Love of animals and art go hand in hand. Peggy is in awe of what can be accomplished with colored pencils.

Want to see a free sample of Peggy’s dog portrait tutorials and writing style first? Read How to Draw a Golden Retriever on this blog.

Colored Pencil Tutorials Store

Big news today! My latest adventure has begun. What is it? The Colored Pencil Tutorials store!

ColoredPencilTutorials.com is now open! In fact, today is Grand Opening Day!

Colored Pencil Tutorials Store banner

Colored Pencil Tutorials Store

Colored Pencil Tutorials is now the official source for CP Magic, all my tutorial downloads, Peggy Osborne’s tutorials, and all new future tutorials.

One-to-one distance learning classes are also now available through the new store.

The grand opening includes a new issue of CP Magic and two new tutorials, open from me and one from Peggy.

Just the Beginning

I’m hoping this is just the beginning. Plans are already in the works for annual subscriptions to the magazine, and I’m currently exploring the possibility of memberships through the store.

And of course new issues of CP Magic will be published each month and brand new tutorials.

The August issue of CP Magic is now available. Click here to read about it at the Colored Pencil Tutorials store!

Does this Seem like a Huge Ad?

In a way, I suppose it is a huge ad.

But I’m excited. I’ve wanted to open a standalone online store for a couple of years now. That was my original plan back when I started offering tutorials from the blog. Somehow, it took launching the magazine to get me off dead center.

Now it’s a reality!

The Fine Print

I’ll be taking down the tutorials and magazines from this website over the course of the next few days, so I encourage you to visit ColoredPencilTutorials.com and bookmark it. You can also sign up for the store newsletter for free to make sure you don’t miss new releases or store news.

Anyway, ’nuff said. This is your personal invitation to take a look around the store, and see what you think.

To celebrate, I’m giving you 20% off all purchases made between now and August 15. To get the discount, type the word opening in the coupon box when you check out.

How to Draw Short Cat Fur

Today I want to show you how to draw short cat fur. Or at least one way to draw cat fur.

Although the subject for this tutorial is cat fur, the process applies to pretty much any type of animal fur that’s short.

And any color. All you need to do is substitute the colors I list here for other colors of similar value to draw other colors of fur.

Also remember that you don’t need to use the same paper or pencils that I used for this demo. You can successfully draw short cat fur—or any kind of fur—with your favorite pencils and paper.

How to Draw Short Cat Fur

So what am I using?

The paper is Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Grey, which is a medium gray. If you use Canson Mi-Teintes, remember to use the back side, which is smoother than the front.

I used Faber-Castell Polychromos for most of the work, then added a few Prismacolors to finish. I’ll share color names with each step.

Shall we begin?

How to Draw Short Cat Fur

This demo is a follow-up to How to Draw Cat Eyes with Colored Pencils.

Step 1: Lay Down the Base Color

The portion of fur we’ll draw is brightly lighted by the sun. There is a strong cast shadow above that lighted portion, so the first thing to do is carefully sketch in the line between sunlight and shadow with Warm Grey I if you’re using Polychromos, or the lightest warm, gray in your brand.

Then lightly shade the sunny part with the same color. Work around the darker markings.

Use a sharp pencil, light to medium-light pressure, and a stroke that follows the direction of hair growth. Make the color layer smooth without filling in every bit of paper tooth. Some of the paper color should show.

How to draw short cat fur successfully begins with the very first layers of color.

Step 2: Add a Layer of Ivory

Next, add a light yellowish earth tone. In the Polychromos line, that’s Ivory, which is a light mix of Cream and White. If you’re using Prismacolor pencils, Putty Beige or French Grey 10% are equivalent. Use very light pressure for both layers very.

Work around the darker areas as shown below.

Continue using light pressure, a sharp pencil, and short strokes that follow the direction of fur growth. Don’t worry about drawing every hair. All you need right now is the look of cat fur.

You should also be able to see some gray from the previous layer showing through this layer of color, as well as some paper showing through both layers. This gives the fur a feeling of depth.

Step 3: Layer Cream over the Ivory

Next, layer Cream over the same areas. Use the same types of strokes (back-and-forth or directional strokes following hair growth patterns.)

Work around the lightest areas near the eye and around each stripe.

Step 4: Add Layers of Light Brown

Begin adding browns with Nougat (Polychromos) or French Grey 70% (Prismacolor.) Be a little more careful in working around the lighter colors and values, since there’s very little brown in some of them.

Use the same types of strokes with a sharp pencil. If you’ve been using medium pressure, go back to light pressure. It’s better to do a couple of light layers, than one layer with heavier pressure with the darker colors.

Work around the light areas around the eye and on the side of the cheek, but be careful not to draw sharp edges. These edges are where the fur texture is the most obvious, so stroke in the direction of hair growth.

Add more layers in the slightly darker values around the stripes and eye.

How to draw short cat fur - add layers of color in fur-like strokes to create depth.

Step 5: Blend Lightly, Then Add Darker Values

Next, lightly layer Warm Grey II (Polychromos) or French Grey 20% (Prismacolor) over all of the sunny area except the brightest highlights. This is a blending layer, so use light pressure. Draw even color using either circular strokes or back-and-forth strokes.

Follow up with a layer of Walnut Brown (Polychromos) or Dark Umber (Prismacolor) applied with very short, directional strokes in the stripes and darker values. Add Black over the same areas with even shorter strokes.

Step 6: Glaze Color to Smooth out Rough Strokes

If your drawing starts to look too rough or if the strokesstart to look too bold, glaze a warm, medium value gray over those areas to smooth them out. I used Warm Grey VI. The medium value Prismacolor colors are also good for this blending area. Use a color that’s lighter than the area you want to blend.

The lightest highlights also need to be the warmest (most yellow,) so work around them.

Step 7: Darken the Dark Values

To finish, I switched to Prismacolor pencils. They’re softer, so they layer over existing color more easily.

I darkened the strips and darker middle values with a mix of Prismacolor Black and Chocolat. Use sharp pencils and medium pressure.

In the stripes, alternate layers of Chocolat, then Black, then more Chocolat if the stripe is a warm black. If it’s a cool Black, add another layer of Black. Keep your strokes short, and stroke in the direction of hair growth.

In the darker middle values between the stripes, mingle Black and Chocolat. Again, keep your pencils very sharp and your strokes very short. Work around the lighter values.

Step 8: Punch up the Highlights

Add Cream accents throughout the lighter areas. Use heavy pressure and short, directional strokes. Mingle strokes of Cream with the strokes of Black and Chocolat in the darker middle values.

In the shadows, layer Cream more evenly, but still only in the middle values. You want to tint the color in those areas, rather than add a lot of detail, so a sharp pencil and medium pressure is best.

How to Draw Short Cat Fur finished

Continue layering color until the fur looks the way you want it to look.

Here’s the finished portrait.

How to Draw Short Cat Fur

And that’s how I draw short cat fur.

To draw longer fur, lengthen the fur-like strokes. I also use the same basic method but with very short strokes to draw horse hair and other types of short fur.

In other words, this method is very versatile. Once you master it, you can draw any type of hair or fur.

Long Haired Cat Tutorial from Peggy Osborne

Introducing the latest from Peggy Osborne: a long haired cat tutorial.

Beautiful, full-color illustrations provide step-by-step progress images of the portrait. Easy-to-read and follow descriptions tell you what Peggy did at each step.

But there’s more.

Long Haired Cat Tutorial - Ginger Cat Tutorial Cover

What I like best about this tutorial isn’t Peggy’s conversational style of teaching. Yes, she makes you feel like she’s sitting beside you while you work, and that’s great. What I like best about this tutorial is the personality and character of her subject.

As she says in her introduction, cats are natural subjects because they’re so unique and individual. No two are alike.

Maine Coon cat lovers already know that these cats are even more unique. From their tufted ears and luxurious manes to their attitude. They’re perfect portrait subjects!

That’s why I think this is Peggy’s best tutorial yet.

Long Haired Cat Tutorial from Peggy Osborne

This a must-have tutorial if you’re at all interested in drawing pets. Or animals of any type, for that matter.

With the Ginger Cat tutorial, you’ll learn how to draw fur of different lengths and color transitions. Peggy demonstrates how to lay down base colors, then add details layer-by-layer to draw thick, long fur. Create color, value, depth and realism!

See how Peggy mixes and uses Brush & Pencil’s Titanium White mixture to add detail. She includes tips for easy mixing and easier clean up.

She uses Strathmore toned grey mixed media paper and Prismacolor pencils, but you can successfully complete the portrait with supplies you have.

Skill Level

Intermediate and higher.

But don’t let the skill level sway you. This tutorial contains information for students at any level. If you’ve found Peggy’s tutorial posts helpful, then you can successfully complete this tutorial.

The tutorial is designed for students who have a basic understanding of colored pencil methods, but it’s also ideal for artists who want to stretch their skills.

It’s suitable for ages 12 and up.

Get your Ginger Cat tutorial today.

How to Draw See Through Things

I’ve received questions from readers who want to know how to draw see-through things. Veils. Smoke. Mist. That sort of thing.

Some time ago, I published a post on drawing a foggy morning, but enough readers are asking related questions to delve into this subject a little more completely.

This is not a tutorial. Instead, I want to share three general principles that apply to all see-through subjects, and that you can start using today.

How to Draw See-Through Things

The secret to drawing translucent or transparent subjects of any type is to stop thinking of your subject as your subject. For a lot of us, we look at the subject as a whole and are stumped. Immediately, our mind is trying to figure out how to draw that bridal veil, sheer curtain, ocean spray or water droplet. The prospect looks so scary, it shuts down all creativity!

Or, our mind tells us “I know what that looks like” and we draw what we think we see instead of what’s really there.

That principle works with every subject, of course. But when it comes to transparent or translucent subjects, it can be especially troublesome.

So lets look at a few ways to get past the hurdles of drawing see-through things.

Think of your subject as an abstract design.

Instead of trying to draw the whole thing, draw the shapes, values and colors you see within your subject. Do that well and the transparent or translucent subject will “appear” in the finished work.

It often helps to think of your composition as an abstract design. That tricks your mind into seeing the abstract shapes and that frees you up to draw those shapes shape-by-shape.

One way to accomplish this is turning your artwork (and reference photo) upside down while you work on it. Or sideways, for that matter.

I routinely turn my work as I draw. Usually to more easily work on one area or another. But that does keep a composition fresh in my mind’s eye and gives me a different perspective.

Look at the difference between this water droplet viewed right side up and upside down.

How to Draw See-Through Things Tip #1: Think of Your Subject as an Abstract Design

The more complex your subject, the more this fresh perspective helps.

Zoom In on Your Subject

Another way to draw see-through items is to zoom in on them so you’re not working on the entire thing at the same time.

How much more easily could you draw this…

How to Draw See-Through Things Tip #2: Zoom in on Your Subject

…than this?

With high resolution digital images, you can enlarge the image enough to focus on a very small part of the photo without losing definition. All you need to do then is mask your drawing to focus on the same spot.

But how do I mask a drawing?

I’m glad you asked!

Cut a small opening in a piece of clean paper. Printer paper will do. Make the opening any size you want, but preferably smaller than a quarter the size of the entire drawing for small pieces.

Lay this piece of paper over your drawing with the opening over the same part of the drawing as the enlarged portion of your reference photo.

You can work on that part of your drawing without being distracted by the rest of the drawing. When you finish, move the mask to the next area. Move the reference photo to the same relative area, too.

When you finish, remove the mask.

Pay Attention to the Edges, Values, and Colors

The appearance of edges, values, and colors differ depending on whatever is in front of them.

With this sheer curtain, for example, everything is subdued. The edges are soft. The values are muted, and the colors are dulled down.

How to Draw See-Through Things Tip #3: Pay Attention to Edges, Colors, and Values

With this water drop, however, the edges are crisp and the colors and values are just as vibrant looking at them through the drop of water as looking at them directly.

Those Three Principles will Help you Draw See-Through Things

And almost everything else you want to draw.

Break your subject down into manageable sections and you’ll be able to draw anything!

Rottweiler Tutorial from Peggy Osborne

I’m thrilled to announce a brand new tutorial by pet portrait artist, Peggy Osborne: Regal Rottweiler tutorial.

Peggy has been providing guest posts each month for several months. If you’ve enjoyed those monthly features, you’ll love this new tutorial.

Regal Rottweiler Tutorial from Peggy Osborne

The tutorial includes all the great information you’ve grown familiar with through her monthly posts, and more. Beautiful, full-color illustrations, a full-size line drawing you can print for a fast start, and a complete supply list with color swatches for color matching.

Regal Rottweiler Tutorial

Rottweilers are primarily black, but different colors appear in that black depending on lighting, surroundings and many other things. Peggy shows you how to infuse black fur with those colors to create vibrant black fur.

She uses Strathmore toned grey mixed media paper and Prismacolor pencils, but you can successfully complete the portrait with supplies you have. No need to buy more (unless you want to!)

You’ll learn how to layer and blend color without using solvents to draw saturated color and beautiful values.

Preserve and add highlights, as well as draw whiskers, eyes, and a chain.

In addition to detailed descriptions and illustrations, Peggy shares basic tips for choosing colors, matching pencil strokes to different types of fur, and adding details.

Skill Level

Intermediate and higher.

But don’t let the skill level sway you. This tutorial contains information for students at any level. If you’ve found Peggy’s tutorial posts helpful, then you can successfully complete this tutorial.

The tutorial is designed for students who have a basic understanding of colored pencil methods, but is also ideal for anyone who enjoys stretching their skills.

It’s also suitable for ages 12 and up.

This tutorial is a great start for any artist who wants to become a pet portrait artist, or who enjoys drawing dogs.

Get your Regal Rottweiler tutorial today.

Drawing Vibrant Highlights with Colored Pencils

Sometime ago I wrote a post on drawing vibrant shadows to create strong contrast. There are two sides to strong contrast; shadows and highlights, so lets talk about drawing vibrant highlights today.

The following reader question prompts today’s post.

“I always admire the flowers or eyes that have highlighted white shines. When I try it, the white from my pencil doesn’t stand out, or it gets drowned by the other surrounding colours.”

3 Tips for Drawing Vibrant Highlights with Colored Pencils

Most of us can empathize with this reader. How many times have you tried to get nice, bright whites—or highlights of any colors—and had the same results? Too many to number if your experiences are anything like mine.

Time to end the frustration with three easy-to-implement options.

3 Tips for Drawing Vibrant Highlights

There are a number of ways to get bright whites and vibrant highlights with colored pencils, but some of them require certain papers, some require specific tools, and some work best with both.

We don’t all have easy access to those special papers or specific tools, so I’d like to focus this post on things you can do with most drawing papers and any type of colored pencils.

One caveat though. The higher quality your paper and pencils, the better your results. Read My Recommended Paper and Colored Pencils for the papers and pencils I recommend.

Now for those three options.

Use White Paper

Colored papers are wonderful time savers and fun to work with. Colors look so different and interesting on them.

But they’re not very good for drawing vibrant highlights.

Contrast—not color—is what makes a drawing look three-dimensional. Contrast requires really bright bright values and really dark dark values.

It’s easy to get dark values on a colored paper, especially dark paper.

But bright bright values? Not so much.

Yes, you can get values that look bright relative to the dark values, but they won’t be truly vibrant because the color of the paper will tint even the whites. That’s because colored pencils are translucent, not opaque.

Look at this horse portrait.

I chose medium gray paper because of the horse’s color. The gray paper served as a beautiful middle value. It also saved a lot of drawing time because I didn’t need to draw those middle values.

But although the white face and blue eye look bright, they’re not as bright as they would have been on white paper. I don’t regret this paper choice; it was a good one, but I had to choose between absolutely vibrant highlights and saving time.

Drawing Vibrant Highlights with Colored Pencil - Use White Paper
Portrait of Bart, Colored Pencil on Gray Paper

You have to make that decision with every drawing you do.

Unless, of course, you work only on white paper!

Identify Highlights

Even with white paper, identifying and preserving highlights is necessary. Once you’ve layered color onto paper, it’s difficult if not impossible to get back to the color of the paper. No matter what method you use to lighten or remove color. Staining is inevitable.

So the best thing to do is map out your drawing well enough to know where the highlights and shadows are.

Let me show you how that might look. Here’s one of my favorite current line drawings.

Line Drawing from the Portrait of a Black Horse tutorial.

I developed this complex line drawing method because I always seemed to work over highlights no matter how careful I was while shading. I had to find a better way and this type of line drawing was the solution.

What do all those lines mean?

The darkest lines are outside edges. Highlight and shadow edges are outlined with dotted or dashed lines (see #2,) and contours are marked with directional lines.

I develop most line drawings to this degree, then transfer the lines I need for shading. Always outside edges, highlights and shadows; sometimes contour lines.

You don’t have to get this complicated with a line drawing, but it is important to find some way to mark those highlights so you don’t accidentally shade over them.

Work Around Highlights

When you begin shading, it’s doubly important to work around the highlights. It’s not enough to identify them; you must preserve them, too.

That sounds easy, but how do you do it?

Start by shading the darkest values first.

I always begin shading in the shadows no matter what method I use. In this sample, I started with light versions of the local colors. But the same principle applies to an umber under drawing, a gray scale under drawing or any other color you use to begin with.

After shading the shadows, I go over them again and work into the next lighter values with the next layer. I continue that process until everything is shaded except the highlights.

Drawing vibrant highlights start with shading the darker values first.
Start by shading the darkest shapes first. This illustration shows the shadows shaded (layer 1) as well as the darker middle values (layers 2-4 or 5.) Work from the shadows into the slightly lighter values layer by layer.

Use light pressure when layering.

Apply each layer of color with light pressure. Color applied with light pressure is easier to correct if you need to. You’re also less likely to get too dark too quickly if you use light pressure.

Continue using light pressure as long as you can, then increase pressure slowly, layer by layer.

Develop values slowly, layer by layer.

Don’t rush the drawing process. Colored pencil work sometimes seems unnecessarily slow, but it’s usually best to develop shadows slowly and gradually add the lighter values.

Here, I’ve shaded all the values up to the brightest highlights, which I’ve worked around. They don’t look very bright, do they? That’s because the darker values are still quite light.

But this horse is overall darker than the horse above. That’s because I darkened all the values with each layer.

The horse below is darker still, and the highlights are starting to look brighter. The darker the dark values become, the brighter the highlights look.

But it’s still important to work slowly and carefully work around those highlights.

Tint highlights as needed.

The final step in drawing vibrant highlights is tinting the highlights as needed. For Afternoon Graze, I lightly layered yellows over most of the highlights to give them a golden glow.

For drawing horses at mid-day, some of those highlights would remain white.

Want to draw these grazing horses? The full Grazing Horses tutorial is available from Ann Kullberg. Just click here. This link is an affiliate link.

Drawing Vibrant Highlights Needn’t be Difficult

But it must be intentional, especially if you use traditional drawing papers. You need to know where those highlights are, and keep them clean throughout the drawing process.

Plan your drawing enough to know where highlights are, then work carefully around them, and you’ve got the hard work done.

No matter what your favorite subject may be.