Today’s reader question comes from a reader who wants a little advice (and encouragement!) on using PanPastels under colored pencil. Here’s her question.
On under paintings for colored pencil, could I cheat and use pan pastels?
Using PanPastels Under Colored Pencil
Is Using PanPastels Cheating?
The first thing I need to point out is that using PanPastels under colored pencils is not cheating. Doing an under painting with PanPastels is no different than creating an under painting with watercolor, India Ink, or markers.
It’s simply another method of drawing.
However, any time you mix media, you need to be mindful of the characteristics and limitations of the second media. Here are a couple of things to remember when using PanPastels under colored pencils.
Things to Remember When Mixing PanPastels and Colored Pencils
First, PanPastels work best when you rub them into the tooth of the paper because they’re basically only powdered pigment with very little binder. That’s what makes them so easy to blend.
So you want to use a paper with enough tooth to hold the PanPastel pigment firmly. That usually means a paper made for pastels. Any type of sanded pastel paper is your best option. These papers never run out of tooth and you can use colored pencils on them.
But Canson Mi-Teintes is also made for pastel, so it’s a good choice if you don’t want to use sanded art papers.
Second, use PanPastels sparingly in the areas where you plan to apply colored pencil. PanPastels fill the tooth of the paper enough to fill in all those paper holes, but if you use too much, colored pencil may not stick.
Some artists use a spray fixative on their pastel work, so that might be of help to you. It will definitely secure the PanPastel.
It may also cause some discoloration, so do a test swatch on scrap paper first (preferably the same type of paper you want to draw on.)
Most of the artists I’ve spoken with on this subject say they prefer not to use fixatives, or to use a fixative only on the finished piece. They tell me that rubbing the PanPastel into the paper is sufficient.
Third, do all the PanPastel work you want to do before adding colored pencils. The binding agent in colored pencils helps them stick to PanPastels. But PanPastels are not likely to stick to colored pencils very well.
I hope that helps. I’ve never used PanPastels, though the more I learn about them, the more curious I get.
Much more information is available from the PanPastel company website. A variety of instructional videos are available on using PanPastels alone and in combination other mediums. It’s a great place to learn more about this unique medium.
Like last week’s Q&A post, this post answers a question that wasn’t asked specifically; it was suggested by another question. But when your paper gets slick after layers of color, it’s a source of irritation. So it seemed worthwhile to explain why that happens, and what you should do about it.
When Your Paper Gets Slick
Why a Drawing Surface Gets Slick
Every colored pencil is made with a binding agent that holds the pigment in lead form. When you draw, you put pigment AND binding agent on the paper.
The more layers you add, the more pigment and binding agent works it’s way into the tooth of the paper. All those layers fill in the tooth, and when the tooth gets full, your paper feels slick.
That’s bad enough, but depending on the type of pencils you use, it gets worse.
All colored pencils contain wax as part of the binding agent. Wax-based pencils contain more wax than oil, while oil-based pencils contain more oil than wax.
Wax and oil both work as binding agents, and they work very well. But oil doesn’t fill the tooth of the paper as quickly as wax. So the waxier your pencils, the more quickly the paper tooth gets filled and your paper gets slick.
The type of paper you draw on also makes a difference. Smooth papers start feeling slick sooner than rougher papers. That’s because there’s less tooth to fill on smooth papers.
Ways to Avoid Slick Paper
Of course the best cure for slick paper is avoiding slick paper. How can you do that? Here are a few suggestions.
Use Oil-Based Pencils
Switching to oil-based pencils or combining them with wax-based pencils is another good idea.
Binding agents that are primarily oil don’t clog up the tooth of the paper as much as wax-based binding agents. So whenever you use an oil-based pencil, you put less wax on the paper.
Less wax on the paper, less slickness.
Draw with Light Pressure
Put down each layer of color with the lightest pressure you can. You can still get rich, vibrant color using light pressure, but it takes more layers.
The advantage to light pressure is that you put down less binding agent, too. It still builds up. You can’t avoid that. But if you use light pressure for as many layers as possible, you may be able to finish your artwork before the paper gets slick.
What about a Toothier Paper?
The more texture your drawing paper has, the more difficult it is to fill the tooth. You can layer more colors without making the paper slick.
Sanded art papers are the best papers for avoiding a slick feeling drawing surface, because they seem always to take more color. But even if you don’t want to use sanded art papers, you can use other papers that have more tooth. I like Canson Mi-Teintes for this. It’s sturdy and can take abuse, but it also takes a lot of color.
Even hot press watercolor paper is a good option for avoiding a slick drawing surface.
Use Colorless Blenders Carefully
A colorless blender is a pencil that’s nothing but binding agent. That’s why they blend so well.
But they also fill up the tooth of the paper very quickly.
Since most of us burnish when we use a colorless blender, we’re also crushing the tooth of the paper. Once the tooth has been crushed, restoring tooth is difficult, if not impossible.
It’s okay to use colorless blenders, but save them until the end of your drawing.
Solvent breaks down the binding agent so the pigment can be blended. Liquefied pigment tends to soak into the paper without filling the tooth, so it’s a great way to fill the tooth with color without filling the tooth with binding agent.
Ways to Get Rid of the Slickness
There are a few ways to remove the slickness once it develops, but a word of caution before I share them. In most cases, it’s impossible to completely restore the tooth of the paper once it gets slick. That’s why I listed ways to avoid slickness first.
But once your paper gets slick, one of the following methods may be helpful.
I’ve also had limited success cutting through the slickness by blending with rubbing alcohol.
Rubbing alcohol dissolves the wax binder enough to soften the surface, which sometimes removes a bit of the slickness.
Odorless mineral spirits also cut back the binding agent, but they also blend more thoroughly. If you only want to dissolve a little wax without a lot of blending, rubbing alcohol is the best option.
However, neither solvent completely restores the tooth of the paper.
If you decide to try solvents, test them first on a scrap of the same type of paper with similar applications of color.
Let’s talk about paper showing through color layers in your colored pencil work. Is it good or bad?
Today’s post arose from a recent reader question. The reader didn’t actually ask about paper holes, but I thought it was a good topic because there are differing opinions on letting paper show through colored pencil artwork.
Paper Showing through Color
For those of us who like our work to look realistic, letting paper show through color layers seems like a bad thing.
I started out as an oil painter, so I prefer color that covers every inch of the surface (whatever the surface is.) That was easier with oil paintings than with colored pencils, because oils are wet. They tend to “sink” into a canvas. But I’d sometimes still see pinpoints of light shining through my finished canvases when I held them up to a light source.
I hated that!
So it’s no surprise that my personal preference is to have no paper holes showing through color layers on my colored pencil pieces. For me, paper holes are to be filled in. No question about it.
Most of the time.
But letting paper show through color can be helpful, too.
Here’s one of my finished pieces, Afternoon Graze. Seen this way, it looks like I’ve filled all the paper holes, doesn’t it?
But look at this detail.
See all those tiny little white dots in both horses? That’s paper showing through.
Yes, I’ve filled in the paper holes in some parts of the horses, and in most of the background.
But many other areas, the paper is not completely covered. The dark horse in particular shows a lot of paper holes. Is that a bad thing?
Not at all.
Letting paper show through layers of color lightens the values in those areas. The color of the paper itself helped me show distance, reflected light on the black horse, and texture throughout the composition.
Letting the paper show is also a great way to show distance. It naturally de-saturates the color, making it look more distant than whatever is in the foreground. This detail (also from Afternoon Graze) shows the line of trees in the middle distance. Look between them at the trees that are far away.
Yes, I used lighter colors there, but there’s also paper showing through those colors. That keeps the colors soft and lighter in value, and that makes the shapes look very far away.
I’ve used the color of the paper to draw mist or fog, too, and it’s great for that, especially if you lightly layer color, then lift it with mounting putty.
In all of these situations, letting paper show through the color layers was good. It achieved the look I wanted AND saved time. I didn’t have to do as much layering or blending!
Getting Rid of Paper Holes
So you can see the advantage of letting paper show through layers of color, but you want to fill in all those nasty paper holes anyway. What’s the best way to do that?
My favorite method is lots and lots of layers applied with light pressure. The more layers you add, the more paper holes you fill in. It’s also a good way to develop value and color depth if you alternate two or three different colors.
Mixing the types of strokes you use from one layer to the next can also help fill in paper holes.
In this simple illustration, I layered green over a fairly textured paper. I started with light pressure, then gradually increased the pressure as I added layers. By the time I finished, the color covered all of the paper.
You can also use solvents to blend. Solvent liquefies the pigment, letting it soak into and stain the paper. The paper holes may not be filled in with pigment, but they are no longer white (or whatever color the paper is.) Just make sure the paper you use can handle solvent without warping, buckling, or falling apart.
Burnishing is also a good way to force pigment down into the tooth of the paper. You also crush the tooth when you burnish, further filling in paper holes. You need to burnish toward the end of the drawing process, though. It can be difficult to add more color after burnishing.
What Finally Helped me Get Past Paper Showing Through Layers of Color
You might have to do what I eventually had to do. Stop holding those canvases up against the light and looking for pinpoints of light!
In other words, I stopped looking at my art work so closely.
I know. That’s hard to do when you’re working on it. Using colored pencils is such a personal thing. But I eventually figured out that my works looked pretty good when viewed at normal viewing distance of six feet or more. I still didn’t like seeing paper holes, but I couldn’t see them from across the room.
That’s why it’s important to take a step back and view your work from a distance. If you like the way it looks from a distance, then maybe it’s okay if paper shows through when you look at it up close.
Today, let’s talk about drawing iridescent colors. The reader question comes from a bird watcher who loves drawing birds, but the basic principles that will help him draw more accurate iridescence on birds will also help you draw iridescence on other objects.
Let’s begin with the question.
I am a bird watcher and my main subject to paint are birds. Being relatively new to colored pencil painting, I am still feeling my way.
Many birds: ducks, hummingbirds, and even black birds in bright light , may show an iridescent glow. I have tried to replicate that but my result is usually mud.
Could you suggest how I can proceed to obtain that iridescent glow in birds. (or any other subject) Thank you,
I want to thank Joe for asking such a challenging question. This is the first time I’ve ever thought about drawing iridescent colors. Mostly, I suppose, because they don’t appear often on horses or in landscapes, which are my favorite subjects.
Drawing Iridescent Colors in Colored Pencil
The first step in answering Joe was research. I wanted to see what other artists were doing and recommending. It was surprising to find so few videos or articles on the subject.
Amie Howard, who draws a lot of birds, had a couple of videos on drawing feathers that included iridescent colors. Since many insects are iridescent, I looked for videos on that topic. That was no more successful.
So I finally resorted to my old stand-by principles for drawing anything. Are you ready? Here they are.
Four Stand-By Principles
Study Your Reference Photo
The first step is using a good reference photo. Your own reference photos are preferable, but you can also use photos from websites like Pixabay.
Just make sure you have permission to use the photo before you put a lot of time into your artwork.
Create an Accurate Line Drawing
Colored pencils aren’t always very forgiving. If you start with an inaccurate line drawing, you usually end up with an inaccurate finished piece. It’s not like oil painting, where you can paint over mistakes or correct inaccuracies in drawing.
Whatever method you use to make a line drawing, make sure it’s as accurate as you can make it.
Think of Your Subject as an Abstract
Stop looking at your subject as a bird, an insect or a soap bubble. Instead, look at it as a collection of abstract shapes, values, and colors. This is especially helpful with complex subjects like water or clouds, but it’s also helpful with simpler subjects.
Along with this, you can also break your subject down into sections and work on one section at a time.
More than once, I’ve masked a drawing so I could see only a small part of it. Why? Because being able to see the entire drawing was distracting and sometimes confusing.
With a subject like this hummingbird, seeing the entire composition can also become overwhelming, as well as distracting. Do your drawing one section at a time to avoid being distracted or overwhelmed.
Draw what You See
Here’s the hard part. Draw.
Don’t draw what you think you see. Don’t draw what you think should be there. Draw what you see in the reference photo.
In order to do this, you have to look at the reference photo a lot as you draw. I’ve watched many painters who spend more time looking at their subject (whether a live model or a reference photo) than they spend drawing. One fellow I know and follow usually makes a mark or two, then studies his subject, then makes another mark or two. His oil paintings are absolutely breathtaking.
Three Specific Tips for Drawing Iridescent Colors
Draw Saturated Color
Take a look at these iridescent feathers. There are a couple of color shifts from vivid purple to purple-blue.
Draw vibrant color like this by using only the colors in the color family. Don’t mix complementary colors or earth tones because they tone down colors. When drawing iridescent colors, toned down color is the last thing you want.
Include Lots of Light Values
Start with a very light (in value) base layer, then make sure you have lots of light values in the iridescent area.
Iridescence is the result of light striking the surface of the feather, bubble, insect, shell or other surface. There should be no dark values or shadows in that area.
Yes, there are shadows, but they are in the openings between the feathers. When you draw an actual bird, like the hummingbird above, there will be even fewer shadows.
The iridescent “glow” happens when you shift colors without shifting value. All light. No shadows.
So start with a light color, then add the slightly darker values in the yellow-green feathers by starting with a very light yellow-green base layer, then adding yellow-greens that are a little bit darker.
Watch the Color Transitions
Here’s another iridescent object, a sea shell. The iridescent colors include yellow, pink, green and blue.
In some places, one color transitions into another color. That’s part of the beauty (and difficulty) of drawing iridescence.
But if you blend some of those colors together, you’ll end up with muddy color. That’s because complementary colors make each other less vivid.
So keep the edges soft and the transitions rather abrupt. You don’t want hard edges most of the time, but you also don’t want muddy color.
I hope these principles and tips for drawing iridescent colors have been helpful.
As you can see from the samples in this post (all from Pixabay, by the way,) iridescent colors appear on many different objects and in many different forms. It’s impossible to give specific instructions for every type of iridescent color, even if I limited myself to feathers.
But the general principles for drawing iridescent color that I’ve described here should give you a good start.
Drawing smooth color by layering is your best option when you’re using colored pencils. But what’s the best way to accomplish that?
Rice submitted today’s question and wants suggestions on this topic. Here’s the question.
I am new to colored pencils. One challenge I have is getting a “clumpy” application of color rather than a smooth, even one. It seems no matter if [I] use a needle sharp pencil or a light touch, it still persists. It’s more of an issue with darker colors it seems. Is this just my inexperience showing? And is there a way to fix an area after the fact?
Drawing smooth color is something a lot of artists struggle with, and it’s not an issue that goes away. It’s so very easy to get careless, tired, or lazy and end up with uneven color. I’ve been drawing for years and still sometimes end up with uneven color.
Drawing Smooth Color with Colored Pencils
Rice mentioned using sharp pencils and they are important. Why? Because the sharper the pencil is, the more it gets down into the tooth of the paper. The more the pencil gets into the tooth of the paper, the more paper is covered and the fewer “paper holes” show through the layer of color.
But Rice is using sharp pencils and is still having problems getting smooth, even layers of color.
The best way to get smooth color with colored pencils is by careful layering. It doesn’t matter what you’re drawing, or what pencils or paper you use. Draw each layer so carefully that the color needs little or no blending.
I mentioned above that I sometimes still get rough color. That’s because I draw until I get careless, tired, or lazy. When that happens, then I stop paying attention to the strokes I’m making and before I know it, I’ve got spotty, clumpy and uneven color.
So how to do you avoid this?
I’ve stopped pushing myself to work for an hour to two at a time. Short work sessions are the norm in my studio. Writing tutorials and blog posts helps because I draw a step, then describe it and either photograph or scan the artwork.
But you don’t have to write tutorials or scan your work step-by-step to keep work sessions short. Set a timer when you begin drawing. When it goes off, lay down that pencil and take a break.
Hatching is laying down lines side-by-side. Crosshatching is doing more than one layer of hatching strokes, but making the lines of each layer go in a different direction. The first layer is horizontal, the second layer is vertical, and so on.
Circular strokes are just what they sound like. Touch your pencil to paper, then start making tiny circles. You can work back and forth across an area, or work in a circular pattern. The reason so many artists recommend this stroke is that there is no beginning or end to the stroke.
Glazing happens when you use the side of your pencil to lay down a broader stroke. You can either hatch and crosshatch (as I did with the green sample,) or use a circular stroke.
You get the best coverage when you combine the type and direction of strokes from one layer to the next.
For the smoothest color, use light pressure through several layers. Each layer you add fills in the tooth of the paper more, creating steadily smoother color. Except for the darkest parts of the samples above, I used light pressure, but lots of layers.
What About the Paper or Pencils You Use?
I used Bristol Vellum paper for the illustrations for this post. I used light pressure, multiple layers, and different strokes.
And I still ended up with splotchy color in a few places. Some of it seemed to be flaws in the paper, while other problems seemed more likely to be the fault of the pencils.
I don’t know what type of pencils and paper Rice uses, but I wonder if the problem might be with the paper or pencils. The combination of paper and pencils might also result in uneven color. Some types of pencils simply work better on certain types of paper.
I tried my experiments on other types of paper and the results were much better. No splotchy color. No rough patches.
So if you end up with rough color no matter what strokes or layering methods you use, try different paper-and-pencil combinations.
Other Ways of Drawing Smooth Color
There are other options for getting smooth color, of course. Dry blending, solvent blending, and using mixed media are all good ways to draw smooth color, and I’ve used them all when needed.
But in my opinion, the absolute best way to produce smooth, even color is by paying attention to how you put color on the paper in the first place.
After all, the better you get at layering and controlling pressure, the smoother the results will be and the less you’ll need those other tools.
Have you ever wondered why some colors don’t show on black paper? Or why they don’t show up as well as other colors?
The reader who asked today’s question wanted to know the same thing. Here’s what she had to say:
Why is it some coloured pencils don’t show clearly on black paper? I have bought the best quality pencils and different types of black paper but I am at a loss. Can you help?
Why Some Colors Don’t Show on Black Paper
All colored pencils are translucent when layered onto paper. Every color you put on your paper affects the way every other color looks. That’s why you can layer yellow over blue and get green or red over yellow and get orange.
The color of the paper also affects the way the colors look. The colors are the most “clear” on white paper because the white doesn’t change the way the colors look. Layer red on white paper, and you get red.
If you layer red on yellow paper you get orange.
So when you layer colored pencils on black paper, the paper color makes the colors look darker. The same red color you layer on white paper to get a bright red looks dull when you put it on black paper.
Here’s yellow layered on black paper. Not only does the paper make the yellow look dull; it gives it a greenish tint. That’s because black and yellow colored pencils mixed makes green.
The same applies to any other color of paper you might use, though the results will be less dramatic on lighter colored papers.
Some colors are also more translucent than others. So the color of the paper affects them more. Which colors are more translucent than others varies from brand to brand, so I can’t give you a specific list of colors that don’t show up on black paper.
How to Make Colors Show Up Better
The best way to make colors show on black paper is to begin with an under drawing in a light value color. Most of the time, white works. But white tends to change the appearance of the colors you put over it. Layering red over white, for example, makes pink.
So if you need a bright red on black paper, try yellow or light orange for the under drawing in that area.
I didn’t have a piece of black paper, so I used the darkest gray in my paper stash.
I chose three colors, from top to bottom, Yellow, Orange, Windsor Violet, and Indigo Blue.
The first column shows what each of those colors looks like applied directly to the paper. I started with light pressure and one or two layers on the left of each swatch, and increased pressure and number of layers to the right.
In the right column, I did an under layer with white at the top of each swatch, and yellow at the bottom of each swatch. I layered those colors the same way I layered the first column.
Next, I layered each of the colors over the under layers with light pressure/few layers on the left end and heavy pressure/more layers on the right.
You can see the difference between the colors applied over an under layer and those applied without an under layer.
You can also see how much difference is made by the color you choose for the under layer.
A couple of the featured artists for CP Magic have provided tutorials using black or dark paper. Helen Carter was the featured artist for June 2020, and her tutorial was an orange octopus on black paper. She used yellow for the under drawing to get the vibrant colors she needed.
Getting vibrant, clear color on black paper is more complex than this. For one thing, the type of paper makes a difference, too.
But I hope I’ve explained at least in part why might have problems getting some colors to show on black paper.
Do you know how to transfer drawings to sanded art papers? Is the transfer process any different than transferring drawings to regular papers?
That’s what Teresa wants to know. She sent me this week’s question. Here it is.
What kind of digital projector do you use for art? Or do you even use one?
The reason I ask is because I completed my first colored pencil portrait with Powdered Blender on Uart 400 sanded paper. I could not use graphite tracing paper on it to transfer the line drawing, so I just drew it directly onto the sanded paper with a graphite pencil. HUGE MISTAKE!!! It does not erase! But I finished it anyway hoping the lines would be covered by the colored pencil…they did not, but were a little less noticeable. Lesson learned there.
I loved the sanded paper and want to do more. So I researched on how to transfer my image. Digital projectors were the way to go. But there are SO MANY out there!!! And they are VERY expensive!!! What am I looking for?
Thank you to Teresa for her questions. Let me tackle her question in two parts.
I can answer the digital projector question easily. I don’t use a digital projector, and never have.
However, I have heard, read, and listened to enough art lessons, podcasts, and videos to know that many artists who do use projectors use one of the Artograph models. Dick Blick has a great selection of projectors by Artograph and others.
An art supply store is probably going to be your best choice for finding a projector made for art. You don’t have to buy there, but you start your research there, you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for without the hassle of wading through movie projectors and other types of projectors.
Any time you start looking at digital equipment, especially the latest models, you’re going to be looking at expensive equipment. I took a quick look at the digital projectors on Dick Blick and the only one they offer is $550.
Opaque projectors are less expensive, ranging from $60 to $250, but that’s still a lot of money if you don’t have it.
What I’d do is look at those new models and see which one best fits your needs. Then look for the previous versions of that model. Once the latest version is on the market, everything else becomes less expensive. Sometimes, it falls into the range of “downright cheap!”
It’s still good. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It’s just not “the latest” anymore.
How to Transfer Drawings to Sanded Art Papers
I understand Teresa’s sentiments about sanded art papers. They’re fast becoming my favorite drawing surface, too.
But they can be difficult to transfer onto. I’ve tried and failed too. Here’s what I’ve found works for me.
Sketching Directly onto the Paper
To date, all of the artwork I’ve done on Uart sanded art paper has been landscapes. When I do landscapes, I sketch out the basic composition directly on the paper, and then develop it as I work with it. That’s one of the great pleasures of using sanded art papers.
However, I do my sketching with a colored pencil, not graphite. And I usually use a color that blends into the finished drawing or that is a good base color. Since I start many landscapes with an umber under drawing, I usually sketch with the under drawing color.
I’ve used this method on Uart, Fisher 400 (shown above,) and Pastelmat. I have no doubts that it works with any type of sanded art papers.
I have also transferred line drawings to sanded art papers with homemade transfer paper, which I make by shading a piece of ordinary printer paper with graphite.
The first time I tried this method of transfer, I used the transfer paper the same way I use it on traditional papers. That is to say, I used normal handwriting pressure or a little lighter and simply traced over the lines on the line drawing.
That did not work very well. The transfer wasn’t very dark or very clear.
So I tried again with medium-heavy to heavy pressure. The transfer worked best if I drew straight lines instead of marking to indicate texture. I had to go over some of it twice, and also had to clean up smudges afterward, but that was easily done with mounting putty.
This is what the transferred drawing looked like. Dark enough to see clearly, but not smudged or dirty, thanks to the mounting putty.
I last used this method to do a horse portrait on Pastelmat and it worked great. I was able to lighten the transfer lines with mounting putty.
Commercial transfer papers work pretty much the same way, though you have to be careful to get the greaseless type. I prefer making my own transfer paper, or carboning the back of a drawing because it’s inexpensive, easy to do, and easy to clean up after.
Removing Smudges from Sanded Art Paper
Teresa mentioned having no success erasing graphite from sanded art paper. She didn’t share specifics, but my guess is that she used a regular eraser in the normal way. I’ve done that and my results with the eraser were no better than my initial results with transfer paper.
Sanded art paper is so different from traditional drawing papers, that even normal procedures like transferring and erasing must be adjusted to be useful.
The grit of sanded art paper chews up erasers and usually leaves a mess of eraser material and graphite. Color can be lifted quite easily from sanded art papers, but “lifting” is the key.
Don’t try “rubbing out” color. Instead, lift it off the paper. Mounting putty is the best tool because the stickiness grabs hold of graphite (and color) and lifts it up out of the grit without smearing. Just press and lift, press and lift.
And clean the putty frequently to avoid putting color back onto the paper.
How to Transfer Drawings to Sanded Art Papers
Digital projectors, opaque projectors, and other electronic devices are great ways to transfer drawings to sanded art papers.
But before you go to the expense of time in researching or spend money buying a projector, try these two methods of transferring drawings to sanded papers. It may very will be that all you really need is a slight adjustment in the way you use your tools.
Drawing smooth dark backgrounds with colored pencils is a time-consuming process, especially if you’re drawing on white paper or a light-colored paper. Today’s question comes from a reader who is trying to draw dark backgrounds. Here’s what she has to say:
Dark or even black backgrounds are tedious to accomplish using lots of glazing and still maintaining a light touch. I use Stonehenge paper which also has a fine tooth. I have also used OMS to blend and force the color into the pockets. Small area are easier but large areas are a challenge. Can you help?
I can, but I have to say first that there is no quick fix on this. The keys are practice and patience.
I know. Not what most of us want to hear!
So let me help a little more than that by suggesting two things you can practice.
Drawing Smooth Dark Backgrounds
Layer Different Colors
Even if you want to draw a black background, it’s helpful to alternate different colors. My favorite color combinations for dark backgrounds are dark blue and dark brown with a layer of black thrown in here and there. Dark blues and dark browns make quite nice dark colors that are neither blue nor brown. The black adds a bit more punch.
What’s more, you can alter the color temperature quite easily by finishing with blue if you want a cool color or brown if you want a warm color.
Greens, purples, and dark reds can also be added (or mixed together) for interesting variations on dark backgrounds.
Here’s an example.
I drew this utility flag on white paper. After the flag was finished, I decided it needed a dark background in order to make the flag really stand out.
Placing complementary colors next to each other also creates visual zing, so I alternated layers of black and dark purple. You can see bits of purple around the edges.
The paper I used for this plein aire drawing had more tooth than I usually use, so I didn’t bother filling in all the tooth. Instead, I focused on the area around the flag, and let the dark colors fade out around the edges.
You can use only one color to make dark backgrounds like this, and layer color until the paper is filled in.
Or you can mix two or more dark colors. I prefer mixing colors because I think it produces a better dark color. Mixing colors also allows me to create variations in the color and shading of the background if I want to. This is especially effective for portraits, where you might want to “frame” the subject with color or value.
Use a Light Touch
The reader mentioned working on Stonehenge. Stonehenge is a smooth paper with a velvety touch, so it’s relatively easy to lay down color smoothly.
But it’s also a bit delicate. It’s oh-so easy to scuff the surface if you’re not careful. So use a light touch for as many layers as possible.
This illustration shows three stages in the drawing of a dark background that involved many, many layers. I used several colors starting with a light blue-green and working my way up to Black, dark browns, and other earth tones. This drawing is on mat board so I was able to increase the pressure until I burnished the last couple of layers.
You can burnish on Stonehenge, but don’t burnish until the final layer or two. Otherwise you’ll have difficulty adding all the layers you need.
If you don’t scuff the paper before that.
These Two Things are Key to Drawing Smooth Dark Backgrounds
You can also solvent blend, use other mediums like watercolors, pan pastels, or markers to make dark backgrounds. Just make sure if you do anything that dampens the paper to tape it securely to a rigid surface first. Stonehenge will dry flat, but only if it’s taped down.
Also remember to use moderate amounts of solvent or water unless you’re working on watercolor paper.
Will these samples I’ve described work for you? Absolutely.
Will they be your favorite method for drawing dark backgrounds? That depends on your usual drawing methods.
One thing will always work and that’s to experiment, whether you experiment with these methods or others!
Do you struggle with learning how to draw realistic dog hair? The challenge differs depending on the breed of dog, but even with smooth-haired dogs, many of us struggle with drawing hair.
Here’s the reader question to get us started.
My question is, how do I learn to sketch the fur on the body of a dog to look realistic? This is my last attempt from your tutorial on drawing golden retrievers and thank you for that. I am completely new to this. Thanks, Delma
The tutorial to which Delma referred is from my art blog and is called How to Draw a Golden Retriever. It’s one of several tutorials Peggy Osborne put together as a guest blogger. If you haven’t seen it before and want to draw a Golden Retriever, I encourage you to take a look.
Now let’s see how to help Delma draw realistic dog hair.
How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair
Delma provided a photo of her drawing, which I include here with her permission.
Delma has done a good job with this so far. The eyes are beautiful and life-like and really draw the attention they should.
But Delma’s portrait isn’t finished, yet.
I cropped the image, then printed it on Bristol Vellum so I could use colored pencils on it. I used Prismacolors, but Delma can do the same thing with her favorite pencils if they aren’t Prismacolor.
Glazing for Color Saturation
The first thing I did was glaze Prismacolor Light Umber over the upper right quarter of the background. I started with circular strokes, followed by alternating layers of horizontal and vertical layers. For each layer, I used a sharp pencil and light pressure.
I didn’t do the entire background to show the difference a few additional layers make, even with light pressure.
Next, I looked at the reference photo in the tutorial and chose the lightest color to glaze over most of the dog’s hair. I layered Goldenrod over all of the dog, but I used different strokes based on the nature of the hair. On the face, where the hair is short, I held the pencil in a normal grip and used short directional strokes.
Where the hair is longer (the chest, back, and ears,) I held the pencil in a more horizontal grip and shaded color with the side of the exposed pigment core. The pencil had quite a long point, so I could make broad strokes following the direction of hair growth.
I glazed Goldenrod over all of the dog except a few places where there are brighter highlights, and over the black areas.
After that, I glazed a slightly darker, redder color (Prismacolor Sienna Brown) over the darker parts of the hair. I used similar strokes with this color that I used with the previous color. Long, directional strokes where the hair is longer, and shorter strokes where the hair is shorter.
I worked around the lightest areas to preserve the lighter, golden tones in those places.
The purpose for glazing is to fill the tooth of the paper. Filling the paper’s tooth makes your colors look brighter and livelier because there’s less paper color showing through. Since I’m using Bristol for this tutorial, it only took a few glazes. The rougher the paper, the more layers it will take.
Glazing is also an excellent blending tool. It smooths out textures and too-bold pencil strokes without covering details. Many artists use glazing for blending layers after every few layers of regular color application.
Building Depth in the Hair with Directional Strokes
The next step was adding layers of directional strokes to create the look of hair. I mixed the same three colors (Light Umber, Goldenrod, and Sienna Brown.) I matched the strokes I used to each area.
For example, in the chest, I used long, curving strokes to establish the length and shape of the hair.
In the face, I used shorter strokes because the hair is shorter. It’s also straighter, so I used straighter strokes.
Over the nose, where the hair is very short, I used circular strokes.
Always draw in the direction of hair growth. Most of my work in this step was drawn “from the skin out.” Around the edges, however, I stroked background color opposite the direction of hair growth in order to separate hair groups and get the look I wanted.
This is also a good way to add darker details “under” overlapping lighter colored hair.
You can push this method as far as you wish and as far as your paper will allow.
Three Things to Remember About Drawing Realistic Dog Hair
Drawing hair is one of the more difficult subjects portrait artists face, whether they draw human or pet portraits.
If you remember the following three tips, you’ll find it much easier to draw realistic hair of any type.
Don’t Draw Every Hair
Don’t draw every single hair. Instead, draw groups of hair. Look for the larger hair groups and draw those groups. You’ll end up with more realistic hair this way.
And less frustration.
Focus on the Edges
You also don’t have to draw hair in every place.
If you draw enough detail along the edges between different colors and different values, the eye will “fill in the rest.” This detail illustrates what I mean. I’m still at an early stage with this piece, but you can see how I’ve used directional strokes to define hair along the edges between highlight and middle value and layered smooth color in most other places.
Don’t Stop Too Soon
The final point I’d like to make is based on something Delma mentioned in her question. “I’m completely new at this,” she said.
So whatever she thinks of her art, she’s done a fabulous job with a difficult subject. When I first started with colored pencils, I’d been painting portraits of horses for many years, so I already knew my subject. I just had to learn a new medium.
But I struggled with the same thing that has frustrated Delma. Drawings that didn’t look real enough!
My problem was the same problem Delma has discovered. I stopped before my drawings were finished!
The solution to this problem is easy. When you think you’ve finished a drawing, work on it for another day. You’ll be amazed at the difference. I was!
How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair
Remember, this project is based on a tutorial by Peggy Osborne. Her method for drawing realistic dog hair is different from mine.
Delma would definitely benefit from going through Peggy’s tutorial again, step-by-step, and drawing over the hair again. Every layer will fill in the paper a little more, and create more detail and depth.
What are the best sharpeners for colored pencils? That’s our topic for today’s post. I want to thank Jack, who asked about sharpeners. Specifically, sharpeners for Prismacolor pencils.
Sharpeners are one of the more frequently discussed topics on my art blog, and I get questions about them on a regular basis. With so many people starting to use colored pencils every day, this is a good time to share with you the three types of sharpeners I find work best with Prismacolor pencils.
Why Prismacolor Pencils in Particular
Before we begin, let me explain why so many artists have difficulty sharpening Prismacolor pencils. I won’t go into detail about quality control and all that, because that is not the only issue.
Yes. Quality control is always important. It doesn’t matter whether you’re making colored pencils or beef stew. The better the ingredients and the more attention you pay to the details, the better the end result. Right?
There is room for improvement in both areas when it comes to Prismacolor pencils. Problems with breaking leads, cracked wood casings, and pencils that aren’t straight all contribute to problems sharpening them. Changing sharpeners isn’t likely to help.
Prismacolor pencils are also soft. Color application has been described as “buttery,” “creamy,” and “smooth.” Those descriptions require a fairly soft pencil so that color goes onto the paper easily.
And Prismacolor pencils do layer color smoothly! We all know that.
But with smooth pencils comes the tendency to break during sharpening, and to crumble while drawing. Especially if you draw with heavy pressure.
A pencil sharpener will not help you resolve either of those two problems.
But the sharpener you use can reduce the amount of breakage and still give you nice, sharp points.
The Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils
I’ve used a variety of sharpeners over the years, and have had decent success with all of them. My collection of old sharpeners includes electric, battery-operated, mechanical, and hand-held sharpeners, and even a trusty X-acto knife!
These days, I’ve narrowed the selection down to two types of sharpeners.
The best sharpener I’ve ever used is an old-fashioned sharpener like the ones that used to be in school rooms. It’s a crank sharpener designed to be bolted to a wall. The one shown below has different sized holes for different sized pencils.
My husband bought this sharpener when he was in school. It’s an APSCO Premier Standard. It’s easy to use, fairly portable, and easy to clean. What’s more, it’s all metal! No plastic parts.
You can still find them on online auction sites if you’re patient and persistent. You might also find them in estate sales and antique shops, but beware! Prices in those outlets could be high.
This sharpener is great with all of my pencils. Yes, even Prismacolor. I think the reason for that is that the opening for the pencil has a small spring device that holds the pencil. The pencil doesn’t wiggle, turn or twist, so the sharpening blades do not put excessive or unnecessary pressure on the pencil.
That’s just a guess on my part. I’m not an engineer, but that explanation makes sense.
Hand Held Sharpeners
These sharpeners are available in the school and office supply sections of most grocery stores and discount stores. They come in a variety of shapes and styles. Some have containers to catch shavings and some haven’t, but they all have one thing in common. You hold them in your hand.
I currently have two styles. Both of them come with shavings containers and both were very inexpensive. Under $2 each.
But one sharpens pencils to a short point, while the other sharpens a longer point.
Sharpeners like this are very portable in addition to being inexpensive. I throw one into my field kit or pencil box when I plan on drawing away from the studio.
One tip: If you have problems with breakage with a sharpener like this, hold the pencil stable and turn the sharpener. I’ve been able to sharpen the more stubborn Prismacolor pencils without breaking them by this simple trick.
The Two The Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils
Yes, even Prismacolor.
Remember that these are what work for me. They’ll probably work for you, too, but that’s no guarantee.
Try any sharpener that catches your eye, inexpensive or expensive. Test each one with all of your pencils if you use more than one brand.
Also listen to what other artists say about the sharpeners they use. Hearing what other artists have to say is helpful in finding the right sharpener for you.