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Paper Showing through Color Layers

Paper Showing Through Color Layers

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.

Paper Showing through Color Layers

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.

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

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Drawing Iridescent Colors: General Principles

Drawing Iridescent Colors General Principles

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.

Drawing Iridescent Colors General Principles

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.

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