Carrie L. Lewis, Artist

Umber Under Painting Method – Cloudy Landscape

This tutorial, Umber Under Painting Method – Cloudy Landscape, shows you step-by-step how to paint a spring landscape using colored pencils on gray paper. The tutorial includes a full description of under painting, color glazing and layering colors, and finishing touches.

About this Project

My  original is 5 x 7 inches, drawn with Prismacolor Premier Soft Core and Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils on Pearl Grey Stonehenge 98lb paper.

You do not need Prismacolor pencils, Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils or Stonehenge paper in gray (or any color) to successfully complete this tutorial. Any artist grade pencils or paper will give you good results, though your results may vary.

The reference photo is a print taken many years ago. The following image was scanned directly from the print, so although you can see most of the details, the digital colors do not match the print. Since I worked directly from the print, you may not get the same results if you do the same drawing from the digital image.

Umber Under Painting - Cloudy Landscape 1

You may also select your own reference photo with similar colors and lighting.

Umber Under Painting Method – Cloudy Landscape

The Umber Under Layers

Step 1: Tape your drawing paper to a rigid backboard, then sketch the composition.

Mount your drawing paper to a rigid back board. This keeps the paper flat while it dries after a solvent blend. Use low-tack tape that’s sticky enough to last throughout the drawing process, but can also be removed when the landscape is finished.

Sketch compositions directly on the paper with a medium value color. Use a color that will “disappear” into the drawing as you add layers.

Sketch with light pressure. I sketched my composition a little darker than usual so it would show up in a scan. It disappeared as I layered colors, but a lighter sketch is better.

Umber Under Painting - Cloudy Landscape 2

Step 2: Begin the under drawing by adding shadows.

Use a sharp pencil and light pressure to draw shadows with Prismacolor Light Umber.

I used circular and squiggly strokes in the trees, horizontal strokes in the hills just in front of the trees, and vertical and directional strokes in the foreground. Use the stroke that gives you the best results.

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Step 3: Draw darker medium values and darken the shadows.

Add darker middle values in the trees, which are the center of interest. I used Prismacolor Sepia, but you can add additional layers of Light Umber for more subtle gradations.

It’s better to darken values by layering, rather than by increasing pressure. The more pressure you use, the more you press down the tooth of the paper, and the more difficult it will be to get enough layers of color to finish the landscape.

In this illustration, the trees on the right have been darkened with Sepia.

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Work around the brighter highlights and lighter colors, such as the sandy ravine winding between the hills.

Step 4: Darken shadows and middle values until you have a good range of values.

Darken the shadows and darker values again. Work around some of the lighter values, especially in the trees.

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Step 5: Lift highlights if necessary.

If some areas get too dark, don’t panic. If you’ve used light pressure through this phase, you can lift a little color with mounting putty, a.k.a., Poster-Tak, Handi-Tak, Blue-Stik etc.

Form it into a small shape, then press it against the paper where you want to lift color. Reshape it frequently so you don’t create a pattern with the highlights. Frequent reshaping also keeps the sticky stuff clean, so you won’t add color where you don’t want it.

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I lifted color from the trees in the center of the composition (behind the other two bunches,) and in the lighter areas of the trees on the left.

Step 6: Darken values and add middle values again if necessary.

Darken the values a little more or add additional middle values.

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Step 7: Make any necessary adjustments.

I find it’s usually helpful to stop when I think the under drawing is finished, and not work on the piece again until the next day. Quite often, I find adjustments to make. It may not seem like much, but a few additional details can make a good drawing better.

I didn’t make many adjustments on this piece. It was ready for color. My finished umber under painting is shown above.

Picking the Best Colors

I switched from Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils, to Faber-Castell Polychromos. Polychromos provides a better selection of subdued landscape greens, and better overall green selections, most of which are lightfast. They are also ideal for working over Prismacolor pencils.

Use whatever pencils you have.

Two ways to choose colors.

I’ve gotten into the habit of comparing a variety of pencils to the reference photo. If the photo is a physical photo, I lay pencils on it, with the sharpened tips overlapping the area I want to draw.

Here, you see Polychromos Earth Green Yellowish, May Green, and Earth Green with the reference photo. It’s easy to see none of them are an exact match for the background hills, but you can also see which combinations might be blended to get accurate color.

Umber Under Painting - Cloudy Landscape 8

If I’m working from a digital image, I use photo editing software to pick color.

Select the color picker tool (usually looks like a dropper) and click on an area (white arrow.) The isolated color appears in a color box (brown arrow.) You can then match pencils to that isolated color. It’s much easier for me to see some colors this way.

Umber Under Painting - Cloudy Landscape 9

Your tools may look different, but most photo editors include a color picker function of some kind.

The First Color Layers

Step 1: Glaze color over the hills.

Glaze your chosen color over the hills (I used May Green.) Work around the trees and bushes.

Use horizontal strokes in the background and middle ground, and short vertical strokes in the foreground, to begin creating the illusion of distance. Keep pressure light.

You can add additional layers in some of the areas that are brighter.

Keep your pencil sharp and the color layer smooth and even.

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Step 2: Glaze over the greens with the next color.

Glaze Green Gold into all of the middle ground and foreground. Use a sharpened pencil and light pressure to apply horizontal strokes in the middle ground and vertical strokes in the foreground. Shade the bare ground between the hills, too.

Umber Under Painting - Cloudy Landscape 11

DO NOT layer this color on the background hill, or in the shadows under the trees.

Step 3: Glaze a base green into the trees.

Choose a green that matches the base color of the trees. Shade the shadows in the trees first, then go over all of the trees, leaving perhaps a few lighter highlights. Use circular strokes or squiggly strokes for the shadows and whatever stroke works best for the middle value.

Shade the shrubs in the foreground with directional strokes.

Umber Under Painting - Cloudy Landscape 12

Step 4: Glaze additional color over the middle ground and foreground.

Shade May Green over most of the middle and foreground with light pressure. Match strokes to the area. Horizontal in the middle ground, vertical strokes in the foreground or for detail and accents.

Don’t forget to layer May Green very lightly over the ravine between the hills, since there is a bit of grass growing there.

Umber Under Painting - Cloudy Landscape 13

Step 5: Shade color into the sandy ravine.

Layer Green Gold over the sandy ground in the ravine. Use horizontal strokes and light to medium pressure. In the background, the color layer should be even or nearly even.

As you work forward, make the marks more distinct and a little darker. In the foreground, make the marks a little bolder and still more distinct. This not only creates the look of dirt, but the look of distance.

Umber Under Painting - Cloudy Landscape 14

This completes the first color phase.

You can set the drawing aside for a day and review it again later to make sure there are no corrections or adjustments to make. Or you can get started on the second color layers.

The Second Color Layers

Step 1:  Add more color to the trees and hills.

Layer Green Gold with light to medium pressure over the trees and hills to warm up that dark green. Use the same types of strokes in each area that you used for previous colors. Use light to medium pressure.

Umber Under Painting - Cloudy Landscape 15

Step 2: Darken the shadows in the trees.

Next layer Chrome Green Oxide into the shadows of the most distant trees, beginning with a sharp pencil and circular strokes. Keep the edges random, especially around the outside edges.

Then layer the same color over all of the area to darken the shadows and the middle values. Use the lightest pressure you can and still add color.

Then darken the green using a sharp Pine Green pencil and medium pressure.

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Finish all of the trees this way.

Step 3: Add local color to the trees:

Layer Permanent Olive Green over all parts of the trees. Use a sharp pencil and light to medium pressure. Add as many layers as necessary to solidify the color (I used 3.)

If you wish or if the middle values get too dark, add another layer in the shadows.

Umber Under Painting - Cloudy Landscape 17

Step 4: Add more color to the hills.

Layer Chrome Green Opaque over all of the hills in front of the trees with light or medium pressure and strokes that follow the contours of the hills.

In the foreground, use vertical or directional strokes to draw the grass and small shrubs.

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Glaze Olive Green Yellowish over the darker parts of the hills in the middle ground with medium pressure and horizontal strokes that follow the contours of the hills. Use directional strokes to add accents to the foreground.

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Step 5: Spruce up those shrubs in the foreground.

Add Chrome Oxide Green to the shrubs in the foreground with medium pressure and strokes that duplicate the strokes already used on this area. Use a very sharp pencil.

Also darken some of the darker shadows on the hillsides using light pressure and very even strokes.

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Step 6: Blend the hillsides and foreground.

Blend the hills and foreground with odorless mineral spirits using same type of strokes used to lay down color. In the grass in the foreground, use short, vertical strokes. Stroke around the contours of the hills.

Do not blend the trees or the shrubs, or the background.

Let the paper dry completely before adding more color.

Step 7: Add more color to the hills.

Use short vertical strokes to add Olive Green Yellowish and Green Gold to the hills. Mingle the colors so there are variations in color and value. Use medium pressure and keep your pencils as sharp as possible.

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Then blend again with odorless mineral spirits.

TIP: After the first blend with odorless mineral spirits, blot your brush. You don’t need as much solvent for later blends. A good rule of thumb is to use less solvent each time you blend an area. If you use too much in later blends, you can damage the color or lift it altogether.

Step 8: When the paper is dry, add more layers of color.

Layer Permanent Green Olive into the lighter middle values and lightest values.

Follow with Earth Green Yellowish in the light values and Cream in the accents.

Use medium to heavy pressure and stroke in the direction of the under brush growth.

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And that concludes the second round of color.

The Finishing Touches

Step 1: Darken values for emphasis.

Use Pine Green and directional strokes to darken some of the values. I worked mostly in the trees in the background, since they’re the center of interest. You could also add Pine Green accents to the foreground if you like.

Then blend with solvent

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Step 2: Draw the sky.

Add Cold Grey I and White over separate parts of the sky with medium pressure. Use the sides of each pencil to get light, “wispy” color, then burnish with Cold Grey I.

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Next, glaze the same colors over the right portion of the sky with light pressure and the sides of well-sharpened Cold Grey I and White pencils.

Leave that side lighter so that the darker values of the trees looked stronger. The higher contrast between light sky and dark trees made that a stronger center of interest.

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Blend the darkest area at the left horizon and the lightest area above the trees with odorless mineral spirits. Work carefully around any trees that overlap the sky.

Step 5: Finish the distant hill.

Lightly shade Chromium Green Oxide over the distant hill, working around small areas. Add two or more layers over other parts to create three vague values in this area.

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Burnish the darkest areas with Cold Grey II, then lightly layer Cold Grey II over the middle areas.

Glaze Chromium Green Oxide glaze over the hills in front of the trees and the area under the trees with light pressure. To get the lightest possible color, use the side of the pencil.

Glaze the foreground the same way, and add darker accents with vertical strokes of Chromium Green Oxide.

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In the ravine, use short, horizontal strokes of Green Gold with medium or medium-light pressure. Keep the strokes short and very close together in the background, and lengthen them and make them further apart in the foreground.

Don’t forget the areas that appear through the shrubs!

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With very short, uneven horizontal strokes, add Brown Ochre to the foreground dirt, and follow up with the same kind of strokes of Walnut Brown at the very bottom of the dirt. Fade both colors upward into the ravine to create the look of distance.

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Step 6: Lift a few highlights.

Use sticky stuff to lift highlights from the trees. Do more highlights near the place where the three groups of trees overlap and do fewer or lighter highlights as you move away from that area.

Then layer Walnut Brown and Dark Indigo into some of the shadows to make even darker shadows. Vary the number of layers of each color to create subtle variations.

Then blend again.

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Step 7: Add accents.

Add accent shadows to the grass in the foreground with Chrome Oxide Green.

Add details throughout the foreground and the hills with Chrome Oxide Green.

In the foreground, use vertical directional strokes. In the background, use shorter strokes and in front of the trees use stippling strokes.

Glaze May Green over the hills with the side of the pencil and light pressure. Add color to the foreground grass with vertical strokes.

Add details to the trees with Prismacolor Olive Green, and Cream with heavy pressure and stippling strokes.

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And that’s how I use the umber under drawing method to draw a landscape. This is the finished landscape..

Umber Under Painting - Cloudy Landscape 32 Finished

This method works equally well for sunny landscapes, and for weather, as well as many other subjects.

One comment

  1. Gabriele

    Thank you so much!
    I’m quite new to colored pencils and I’m one of those who don’t really want to use “good” paper etc – in order not to waste it. Today I followed your tutorial here and it was a great experience. I enjoyed the process and like the result :)

    That was a huge motivation for me to go on with colored pencils and to see that I actually can do it.

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