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Suggestions for Drawing People

Suggestions for Drawing People

Today I’d like to share a few suggestions for drawing people, specifically faces and beards. But before we start, here’s the reader question.

Do you ever do people portraits? I know your main passion seems to be horses, which is cool, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions as far as drawing people, their faces and features. I think I do okay but I’d love to improve on drawing beards and other hair, dimples, etc. Thanks!

I’ve only done a few human portraits, and they were in oils or graphite. Only one of them was a commission piece.

So I can’t answer you from a wealth of information as a portrait painter.

However, I can answer your question in more general terms.

Suggestions for Drawing People

Regardless of the subject you want to draw, drawing is the absolute best practice you can get. The more you draw, the better you’ll get at seeing your subject and reproducing it on paper. It doesn’t matter what you draw. The reason my horse drawings look the way they do is because I’ve been drawing and painting horses for over fifty years. That’s a lot of horses!

But what should you practice drawing? Here are a couple of suggestions.

Challenging or Difficult Features

If a particular part of the face gives you special problems, practice sketching and drawing that feature. A lot.

Some time ago, I was commissioned by a horse owner to paint her portrait in oil. To this day, it remains the largest human portrait I’ve ever done, measuring 24 x 30 inches. The size meant there was a lot of room for details.

And that meant I needed to get the details right.

So I did a lot of sketching. Not of the lady herself, but of the more important parts of the portrait. This sample shows you some of what I did in working out the shape of the eyes.

Suggestions for Drawing People

I also sketched other parts of the portrait such as her handbag, one of her feet, and some of the background elements.

The reader mentioned faces and beards, so that’s what I’d start with. Sketch eyes, noses, and mouths. Sketch different types of beards and hair. Get a sketch book and fill it up with sketches!

I did my sketching with graphite, but you can also sketch with colored pencils, charcoal, conte, or whatever medium works best for you.

Sketch Some Fun Features

Don’t limit your sketches to the hard parts of the face. Have some fun!

One way to do this is to draw amusing, odd, or funny expressions. How many different expressions can you convey just by sketching an eye, for example? Or a mouth?

Find a Good Teacher

Find a portrait artist whose work you admire and who is doing the type of work you want to do. Study their work and their methods. Try their methods. Keep what works, and discard what doesn’t work for you. If something almost works, then experiment with that technique until it does work.

Chances are that you won’t ever draw exactly like someone else, but you will accumulate a wealth of knowledge and out of that wealth, you’ll be able to develop your own specific methods.

Finally, if your favorite artists offer courses, I strongly recommend you consider taking one. Tutorials are great, but what you really need if you want to improve is the type of course that gives you direct feedback.

The first person to come to mind for me is John Middick. He’s a great portrait artist and he has a set of video courses that will get you started. The collection of portrait and basic courses* he offers is amazing.

He also mentors, and his group, Monthly Sharpener, is a great forum where you can post work and get feedback.

Most of the artists there are portrait artists, but there are also lots of animal artists and landscape artists. I’m also a member there and have found that particular resource invaluable. Even on the free side.

Suggestions for Drawing People

I hope that helps. There really isn’t a shortcut to improving your work that works any better than learning everything you can learn from other artists who are doing what you want to do, and drawing a lot.

For a bit more information on this subject, read How to Draw so Things Look Real. I share a few basic principles in that post that will help you draw anything you want to draw more realistically.

*Contains an affiliate link.

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

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How to Transfer Drawings to Sanded Art Papers

How to Transfer Drawings to Sanded Art Papers

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.

Hello ,

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?

Thanks, Teresa

Thank you to Teresa for her questions. Let me tackle her question in two parts.

Art Projectors

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.

Transfer 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.

Transfer Drawings to Sanded Art Papers

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.

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

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Drawing Smooth Dark Backgrounds

Drawing Smooth Dark Backgrounds

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.

Drawing Smooth Dark Backgrounds

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 have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

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Beginner’s Guide to Under Drawings

A Beginners Guide to Under Drawings

Today’s post is a quick beginner’s guide to under drawings, and it’s prompted by a recent reader question. Here’s the question to get us started.

I am a beginner to the art of colored pencils. You may have covered my question in a previous post but I could not find it.

My question: What do you mean by under drawing? An example would be helpful as well as I learn best by observation.


This is a great question. When you’ve been doing art for as long as I have (over 50 years,) it’s easy to take for granted that everyone knows what I know. That is so not true, and I thank this reader for bringing the question to my attention.

Beginner’s Guide to Under Drawings

In it’s most basic form, an under drawing is the first layers of color you put on the paper. The under drawing is also sometimes called “base layers.” This illustration shows the under drawing or base layers for a recent landscape.

To further complicate matters, some artists work over all of their drawing at each phase, while others finish one section at a time.

Whichever way you work, you most often probably start with the same colors that you’ll finish with, as I did in the sample above. Blues for a sky, greens for grass, and so on. That’s the way I worked when I first began using colored pencils back in the 1990s.

But I was also oil painting at the time and learning a painting process that involved starting with an umber under painting. With that method, I roughed in the painting with brown tones, followed by gray tones, and ending with color glazes.

When I got serious about colored pencils, I adapted that method to colored pencils.

So when I speak of an under drawing, I’m talking about a method of drawing that begins with a color other than the final colors of the piece.

Different Kinds of Under Drawings

There are different ways to do under drawings, so let me share the two I use most often.

Umber Under Drawings

An umber under drawing is an under drawing done in shades of brown. I do a lot of landscape art and brown tones are natural for landscapes.

I also like browns of all sorts, so starting with an umber (or brown) under drawing is my favorite way to begin many drawings.

This is an umber under drawing for a landscape.

A Beginners Guide to Under Drawings

I used Prismacolor Light Umber for this under drawing. Light Umber is a nice, medium-value, warmish brown that produces fairly dark values and extremely light values.

As you can see, there’s already a good sense of distance in the drawing because of the difference in values and details.

This is also a good way to double-check a composition before getting too far into a project. If I find mistakes at this stage, it’s easier to correct them. Then I can layer more browns or start glazing colors.

Here’s the finished landscape.

I did this piece as a demo piece for the first article I wrote for EmptyEasel, so you can start reading the step-by-step here if you’re interested. It’s a two-part series. I’ve linked to the second article, which contains a link to the first article.

Complementary Under Drawings

I have also used complementary under drawings, also usually for landscapes. With a complementary under drawing, I choose a color that’s opposite the final color on the color wheel. For greens, the under drawing would be some shade of red, for example.

Here’s a landscape started with a complementary under drawing.

I used a couple of shades of red for this under drawing; darker red on the main group of trees, and lighter red everywhere else.

But I used the same basic under drawing method for this piece that I used for the umber under drawing sample above. I drew a little bit more detail and darker values in the center of interest, and fewer details in the other parts of the landscape. Even though the colors look “odd” to us, there is still a feel of distance in the drawing.

I could also see the composition was working quite well, though I did make one change at the end of the project.

This is the finished landscape.

I described the drawing process in depth in a three-part tutorial for EmptyEasel. You can reach the third part here, and link to the other two parts from that article.

Tips for Under Drawing

The following tips work for me and I offer them with the hope that they may work for you, too. They are not absolute by any means. Merely suggestions.

Start with Harder Pencils

Before I bought Polychromos pencils, I used Prismacolor Verithin pencils for under drawings. Verithin pencils are harder than Prismacolor Soft Core pencils. They contain less wax, so they’re ideal for under drawings because they leave less wax on the paper. It’s easier to layer softer, waxier pencils over them.

They also are less pigmented. It’s very difficult to get too dark when you use a Verithin pencil, though it is possible.

And they also erase much more easily than waxier pencils. If you find a mistake in the under drawing, it’s easier to remove or correct, and then cover.

Now I use Polychromos pencils for under drawings, and for all the same reasons. They don’t erase quite as a well as Verithin pencils, but they do lift more easily than waxier pencils.

Plus they have many more colors: 150 colors compared to 36 colors in the Verithin line.

Use Light Pressure

Light pressure is always important. It’s even more important at the under drawing phase. Color applied with light pressure is easier to correct than color applied with heavy pressure, no matter what type of pencil you use.

You also have more control over values with light pressure. You may still get too dark, but drawing dark values bit by bit helps avoid that.

Evaluate the Under Drawing Before You Glaze Color

I’ve found it helpful to let a drawing sit overnight when I think the under drawing is complete. I can evaluate it with fresh eyes the next day. If I see things to improve or change, I make those adjustments before starting color glazes.

Of course you can make adjustments throughout the color glazing phase, but getting the under drawing as accurate as possible before you start color glazing makes color glazing that much easier.

Why I Start with Under Drawings

I often start with an under drawing for landscapes, because I can work out the shapes, values, and even some of the details without also having to make color decisions.

The earth tones or complementary colors also keep the greens in the landscape from getting too bright or artificial looking.

And I simply find it easier to develop a drawing without also making color choices in the early phase.

That’s my Beginner’s Guide to Under Drawings

There is much more to under drawings than that, but it would take a couple more posts (or a very long one!) to cover everything.

If you’re interested in trying any of the under drawing methods, I encourage you to do so. Start with something small and fun. Maybe even just drawing a series of balls with the same final color glazed over several different colors. That’s the best way to see whether any of these methods work for you or not!

For more information on layering color, read Layering Colors with Colored Pencils.

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