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Drawing a Rich Black Background

Drawing a Rich Black Background

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different ways of drawing a rich black background. I’ve tried different pencil and paper combinations, different blending methods, and new tools. Today, I’d like to share a brief tutorial showing how to draw a dark background on white Pastelmat.

Drawing a Rich Black Background

The Brush & Pencil tools I’m using for this background are Powder Blender and ACP Textured Fixative. Powder Blender is a dry powder that makes blending and lifting colored pencils on sanded art papers easy. No matter how many layers you add, you can continue blending and lifting.

ACP Textured Fixative seals the Powder Blender and layers of colored pencil. Once you seal your work, you can work over it without affecting the sealed layers.

Step 1: The Initial Layers of Color

I first applied a small amount of Powder Blender to the paper, then spread it around with a sable round brush. A little Powder Blender goes a long way, so don’t use too much.

Next I loosely outlined my subject (a campfire) with a color that will be used in the campfire. You’ll see some progress on the campfire, which I’ll be writing about on my art blog in the near future.

I began the background by layering Faber-Castell Dark Indigo over all of the background. After that, I added Faber-Castell Black around the outside edges. I wanted the background to be dark, but also vibrant, so I next layered a complement of the fire colors (yellows, oranges, and reds) over all of the background. The color I chose was Faber-Castell Mauve.

Here’s what the background looked like after I finished layering the colors.

Drawing a Rich Black Background

Step 2: More Layers of Color and Blending

You’ll notice I didn’t take much care to make the color layers very smooth. In fact, I wanted the somewhat blotchy appearance to begin with. Why? Because even slight variations and in color and value give an otherwise solid background a little more interest.

I did a couple of layers of each color, then used a sable round brush to blend the colors. I didn’t add more Powder Blender because it wasn’t needed. The Powder Blender I applied at the beginning works until I seal the drawing with ACP Textured Fixative.

Step 3: Still More Layers of Color

After blending, I layered Dark Indigo over all of the background. This time, I layered it with a more careful, precise stroke. I still stroked more boldly than I would on traditional paper, but I was more careful to shade all of the background.

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

Then I blended with the brush again.

I continued layering Faber-Castell Dark Indigo over the background, but I increased the pressure to medium-heavy pressure. I also began using strong, diagonal strokes, and covered all of the background. You can see those strokes in the background in this illustration.

Drawing a Rich Black Background

Next, I layered Black over all of the background with heavy pressure. My goal this time was filling the tooth of the paper as much as possible.

I also began more clearly defining the shape of the fire by cutting into the orange with Black.

Step 4: Blending Again with Powder Blender

After that, I blended with Powder Blender. This time, I blended with a sponge applicator instead of a brush or my fingers. I softened the edges of the fire by pulling some of the background color into the flames. I didn’t want to dirty the oranges, so I was careful not to get too much Black into the oranges.

Then I sealed my work with three light coats of ACP Textured Fixative. The background is finished until the campfire is finished.

Drawing a Rich Black Background

How do I like Drawing a Rich Black Background with Powder Blender?

So far, the results are completely pleasing. As mentioned, the background won’t be complete until after I finish drawing the campfire. Then I may find that the background is dark enough.

Or I may decide to darken it more or liven it up a little.

But I’ve been so pleased with this drawing that I’ve started another drawing of luminous fire against a dark background.

And this fire is much bigger and more active! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

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How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

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.

Why Glaze?

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.

How to Draw Realistic Dog 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.

How to Draw Realistic Dog Hair

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.

And more realistic looking hair.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

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How to Use a Colored Pencil Tutorial

We all enjoy a good tutorial, don’t we? But do you know how to use a colored pencil tutorial to get the most from it? If you’re serious about learning colored pencils, this post is written for you.

How to Use a Colored Pencil Tutorial

So now you’ve chosen a tutorial. Let’s talk about how to use that tutorial.

Read it first.

Before you set up the paper or get out the pencils, sit back and read the tutorial front to back.

Yes, it takes time and I know you’d rather be drawing, but you do want to learn, don’t you? The best way to soak up new knowledge is by repetition. Reading a tutorial first and then doing it is one form of repetition.

It’s also a good way to make sure you understand exactly what the instructor is describing. Sometimes, the early steps don’t make much sense. Take the time to read the tutorial before starting it, and the logic behind the early steps makes more sense.

Follow the instructions.

This seems so obvious I shouldn’t need to say it, right? But I do need to say it because I know I’m not the only one who tends to take shortcuts. Especially if I think my way is better, faster, or easier.

Again, you’re taking the tutorial to learn something, so do what the instructor tells you to do, when and how they do it. If that method doesn’t work for you, you can change it later.

Or drop it altogether. That’s perfectly okay, too. But how are you going to know if you don’t do the tutorial the way it was written?

Do it over.

Once you’ve finished the tutorial, remember that you don’t have to be done with it. You can follow the same steps to do your own subject.

After that, you can do it yet again, but this time adapt the method to your own personal style.

The Bottom Line

Knowing how to use a colored pencil tutorial for maximum benefit is important if you want to do more than just have a pleasant experience. Choose wisely, follow the tutorial faithfully, and you’ll reap the benefits.

Shop for tutorials.

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How to Choose a Colored Pencil Tutorial

We all enjoy a good tutorial, don’t we? But do you know how to use a tutorial? If you’re serious about learning colored pencils, let me share a few tips to help you choose a colored pencil tutorial.

Let’s get started.

How to Choose the Right Tutorial

Most colored pencil students choose tutorials based on one of two things.

One, the tutorial is by a favorite artist or, two, they like the project.

There’s nothing wrong with either of those two things, but if you really want to improve your skills or gain new skills, you need to consider a few other things, too.

What do you want to learn?

If drawing water is something you want to get better at (and who doesn’t?), then choosing a pet portrait tutorial probably isn’t going to help you very much. It may be fun, and you may learn something, but you won’t have advanced your goal.

Instead of looking for any tutorial with a fun or attractive project, look for a tutorial that features water. Any kind of water. Drawing water in a glass will help you even if you really want to draw water in a landscape.

If you can’t find any tutorials with water, then look for a tutorial with a different kind of reflective surface. All reflections behave pretty much the same no matter where you find them, so a tutorial with a classic car or lots of glass, may be a good substitute for a tutorial with water.

What’s your artistic style?

I once worked on an art deco tutorial that was interesting and enjoyable, but didn’t really improve my existing skills or teach me new skills. Why? Because art deco isn’t a style I want to learn. My preferred style is realism, so while an art deco tutorial provided experience, it didn’t help me draw more realistically.

If you want to learn the art deco style, then look for art deco tutorials. If you want to develop detail drawing skills, look for tutorials that focus on drawing crisp detail.

What about paper, different mediums, or other things?

The same holds true for trying different papers, different pencils, different tools, or similar things.

If you want to learn mixed media with colored pencils, look for mixed media tutorials.

And if you want to learn a new support, that’s what you should look for. Matching the type of tutorial to what you want to learn helps you advance much more quickly and could be a lot less frustrating!

Unless you just want a fun project.

Look for a Challenge

Every now and again, it’s a good idea to deliberately push yourself. Challenge is a key to avoiding stagnation. That was, in essence, the theme of the post I recently wrote about getting bored with my favorite subject. I’d forgotten to challenge myself within that subject and eventually got tired of it.

Don’t do that! Periodically look for a tutorial that really stretches you.

Maybe it’s more advanced than you think you’re capable of doing. Maybe the composition is more complex than anything you’ve ever done before, or maybe it’s a totally different subject. Don’t automatically exclude a tutorial because of those things.

Or maybe it’s a more detailed study of a single subject.

How to Choose a Colored Pencil Tutorial - Hay Bale Study tutorial

The best way to learn anything is to push yourself. The more often you do, the more quickly you’ll improve.

Just be aware of challenging yourself to the point of giving up. No good will ever come of that!

So How do YOU Choose a Colored Pencil Tutorial?

There is no right or wrong way to choose your next colored pencil tutorial, but if you have a specific goal in mind, remember that goal when you shop for tutorials.

Yes, any tutorial can be fun and informative, but choosing the best tutorials for what you want to learn or accomplish can help you accomplish more. And accomplish it more quickly.

Shop for tutorials.