The Colored Pencil Manual: Step-by-Step Instructions and Techniques

The Colored Pencil Manual: Step-by-Step Instructions and Techniques

by Veronica Winters


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"The Winters book is clearly a great addition to a teaching library on colored pencil. It thoroughly covers what's needed from planning and design to execution as well as technical tips. Beginners on their own should find it very helpful." — Melissa Miller Nece, CPSA, CPX , colored pencil artist and instructor
Experienced artists looking to master a new medium will relish this comprehensive guide to using colored pencils by Veronica Winters, author of How to Color Like an Artist. Step-by-step projects with photos and directions illustrate the many details that bring a simple composition to brilliant life, offering readers a comprehensive overview of colored pencil techniques.
A brief introduction covers necessary materials and explains the book's overall approach, and subsequent chapters address specific techniques. Each lesson features color swatches that match the colors of different pencil brands, as well as the type of drawing paper and other supplies that will work best for the artwork. Winters expertly covers such techniques as shading and blending and discusses a wealth of other topics, including the importance of light, composition, drawing solid objects in 3-D, color theory, how to draw textures and fabric, how to create symmetrical shapes, and many other aspects of colored pencil drawing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486822969
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 08/15/2018
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 330,967
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 10.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Russian-born Veronica Winters received her MFA in painting from Penn State University. Her award-winning work has appeared in art and colored pencil magazines, and she has published several books and fulfilled many commissions.

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The Importance of Light and a Setup

How to take great pictures suitable for colored pencil drawing


Because colored pencil drawing is such a slow medium to work in, almost all artists rely on their references to create art as opposed to drawing from life. Sometimes it takes weeks to complete one colored pencil drawing, and we have to rely on our photo reference to capture story, composition, design, color, and details. Unless you draw from life in colored pencils, great photography becomes key to artistic success, which leaves you with no excuse not to master it.

Advantages of Mastering Photography:

• It develops your originality and vision.

• It forces you to extrapolate and focus on what's important or to find the center of interest in busy environments.

• It teaches you to see how light shapes the form that you copy on paper in 3-D.

• It makes you the sole creator of your art. You don't have to worry about a copyright or entering a juried art contest.

• It's a forgiving medium, giving you many chances to practice at all times. You become attuned to cropping and balancing techniques that artists traditionally use in their paintings.

Disadvantages of Using Photography:

• It often flattens out the form to such a degree that you have a hard time re-creating the volume. That's why it is best to start taking pictures with one directional light source that gives you definite lights and shadows.

• Camera makes its choice. Even the best cameras don't capture what you see as an artist, which involves emotion. By working from a picture, artists analyze the subject rather than respond to it freely.

• There is a lot of distortion in the images depending on the lens and camera you use that is obvious in cityscape photography or in pictures of geometric objects. The same distortion is present in pictures of people or fruit, or whatever subject you have, but our eye doesn't catch those distortions as quickly as we notice those in linear and geometric forms. Those "unseen" distortions will travel to a student's drawing when the artist transfers the outlines rather than learns to sketch freehand from his reference.

• You may also have problems with exposure, depending on the lighting conditions. Use the HDR (high dynamic range) function on your phone to level out the exposure. HDR combines two or three pictures into one automatically, giving you a single balanced shot. HDR function is very handy when the sky looks too bright or the background is so light that it makes your subject appear too dark.

• You can take good pictures with your phone, although the quality won't be the same as shooting with a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. If you shoot with your phone, zoom in on your object as closely as you can. That will blur the background, giving your subject a boost in color and texture.

If you decide that photography is not right for you, you always have three options:

• Browse the stock photo websites that have vast collections of images such as iStockphoto and Shutterstock.

• Look at websites that offer creative common (copyright free) images as well, like Pixabay or Flickr.

• You can also contact the photographer directly, explaining the reason for using their image and asking for permission to use it in your art. Websites such as Flickr have images with free and copyright-restricted pictures. Just know that contests don't allow artists to enter drawings done from someone else's reference. The artist is the sole designer and creator of artwork beginning from the very first step of photography.


If you feel stuck and don't know what to draw, just look at images in art magazines or on Pinterest, Pixabay, or Facebook drawing groups for ideas. Below you'll find several groups of subjects to consider for drawing:

Close-ups of textured subjects — these can be the most fun, unpredictable subjects for your photography and art. They can be reflective surfaces and reflections, fabric patterns and lace, rusted door locks, wood grain, colorful feathers, candy, sliced fruit, marbles, flowers, kitchen utensils or tools, and even mechanical parts of clocks.

Other popular subjects are glass; portraiture; animals, birds, and pets; food; florals; seashells and sea life; trees and landscapes.

Action Step: What makes a great picture is often taking a common subject and placing it in an unusual environment, or finding a totally unexpected angle or point of view. Browse for ideas and inspiration online, and then go out with your camera and have fun with it! The possibilities become infinite because it's the artist who makes the picture and not the other way around.


Finding the right light or understanding what it actually means is a daunting task for most beginners in art. Let's figure out why you need to pay attention to light, and look at several parameters that determine good lighting conditions for your photography.

Properties of light

Your goal of shooting in the "right lighting conditions" is to beautify your subject and to bring the best out in it. Ask yourself what attracts you to this object. It could be a specific texture, transparency, color, or an abstract pattern of light and shade that you see. You need to figure out what you love about your subject and how you can highlight its most attractive qualities in a specific light. If your subject looks boring in a picture, chances are that the lighting conditions were boring at the time it was shot.

Light temperature: The light can be either warm or cool. In the beginning it may be difficult to spot the difference, but if you ask yourself if it is yellowish or bluish, it makes more sense. Fluorescent lights tend to be cooler, while the tungsten lights are warmer. In nature, you see a beautiful golden light twenty minutes before the sunset. The light temperature affects how you see the colors and how they unify everything in the image. You also use the light temperature to understand the color on your subject: if the light is cool, it gives cool lights and warm shadows. If the light is warm, it gives you warm lights and cooler shadows.

Quality of light: Natural light is the most beautiful light we have as artists. While the soft, diffused light may give the artist beautiful, soft skin tones in portrait photography or a dream-like mist in a landscape, this light is difficult to master for a beginner who is shooting pictures of glass, fruit, or flowers. The glass loses its sparkle and reflections, the fruit doesn't have the volume or shadows, and flowers appear quite bleak. That's because the diffused light gives you very soft, almost unnoticeable shadows and highlights, which, in turn, are difficult to reproduce in art for a student. Whatever the light temperature is, the goal is to avoid getting monotonous images that often happen in diffused light situations when you have an overcast sky.

Action Step: Shoot pictures in natural light one to two hours before the sunset or in the morning on a clear day to capture the most gorgeous colors and contrasts on your subject.

If you are just starting out, look for dramatic light conditions or high contrast situations (called "chiaroscuro" and perfected by the Italian master Caravaggio). Study Caravaggio's paintings to see how patterns of light and shade form abstract designs in his images.

Light direction and shadows: The most effective way to study the light on a form is to have a singular, strong directional light source set up at 45 degrees, which is often called Rembrandt lighting. This light direction creates beautiful highlights and shadows that will add dimension to your objects. If you go to an atelier school of classical painting, you'll see students draw from plaster casts and still lifes set under a single directional light that doesn't change direction for the entire drawing process. Such setups are vital to an artist's understanding of how to turn the form. So when you take pictures inside, find and focus on one primary light source, like a table lamp, and consider its strength. Look at your subject and find definite highlights and shadows on and under it because it will give you this 3-D quality you want to re-create in your drawing. (Also see Chapters 3 and 4).

Other guidelines for photography

Depth of field: Shallow depth of field allows you to capture your object in a sharp focus, blurring the rest of the image. A soft background supports the focal point rather than competing with it. When you have a high depth of field set at f16 on your camera, everything is in focus, and oftentimes the image will look too busy and indistinguishable from other elements in the background where everything competes with each other. Always think what you'd like to focus on, then make it your priority by zooming in or fixing the depth of field.

Keep it simple: Less is more, so remove busy, distracting shapes and elements that don't support your center of interest. Compose where you lead with your camera to your center of interest.

Use negative space as a design element: Background affects the edges and creates abstract shapes. As a beginner, stick to plain backgrounds to isolate your subject and to show contrast. After a while you can start playing with the color and complexity of your negative space as well.

Use backgrounds and boxes for staged photography: If you don't want to buy a light box, you can make a very simple setup next to your window. Use colorful but plain matboards, fabric, or paper as your choices. The result is a single image with a beautiful, natural directional light, a shadow, and a white or color background all around it.

Crop it: Crop your still life when you shoot. Crop it even more when you edit your pictures.

Avoid flash photography: Flash destroys the natural flow of light and its shadows. It flattens out the object and gives you strange, unnatural colors. Professional photographers know how to rotate their flash unit to get the right position of the flash, but most of us don't!

Beware of lens distortion: Don't transfer the outlines from your pictures aimlessly. Adjust the lines and shapes, fixing lens distortion that is especially noticeable in cityscapes, geometric shapes, and even faces (in situations where the lens is set too close to a person while taking pictures).

Prioritize values over color: Use printed reference in both color and grey scale in all your projects. The black-and-white picture gives you information in values, not colors, which is more important to master. When a student is learning, it is difficult to translate hues to tones. Such printouts help you to see the subject in correct values and thus contrast. Most students don't push their values dark enough or their lights bright enough and end up with middle-toned drawings.

Action Step: Pick one object that you are excited about to draw and take pictures of it at different vantage points and times of the day. Then look at images on your computer to see which light and composition works best.


Composition and the Focal Point


Composition is the most vital element to a picture's success. Thoughtful compositions feature strong designs that pull everything together seamlessly. The viewer's eye travels from one element to the next to arrive at the center of interest. The artist's job is to keep the viewer's attention on the picture as long as possible. Creative compositions facilitate this process. To understand the techniques, serious artists should study and learn from the old masters as well as from professional contemporary artists.

While looking at masterpieces, pay attention to how artists place their subjects at different angles or off-center to create movement. They play with various sizes and geometric shapes to break monotony. If artists crop the image, there is enough space left between the edge and the subject. We look at pictures from left to right, so artists often use a "stopper" on the right to keep you in the loop so you don't leave the artwork. Most artwork isn't symmetrical. Use symmetry to make a statement. For example, draw a butterfly's wings with perfect symmetry or a mirrored water reflection perfectly symmetrical to a landscape above it. Now let's look at proven compositions that work in greater detail!

Circular with a star pentagon (pentagram)

A pentagram is a circular design with a five-pointed star placed inside it. Every element in the painting "fits" within the star. Most Renaissance masters followed these designs when they used a linear perspective, correct size, and placement of figures.

Symmetrical vs asymmetrical

Symmetrical compositions feature artworks that have perfect balance with equal shapes placed symmetrically. In the painting by Desportes we see slight deviations on both sides of the canvas with the main composition rooted in symmetry.

Asymmetrical compositions reach perfect balance with different objects placed on both sides of the painting. Vermeer often places his main subject (a woman) in the center of the picture but carefully balances out both sides of the image with the interior surroundings; therefore, this image looks dynamic as we study each quarter of the painting. Asymmetry is prevalent in still-life drawing and painting. Artists place fruit or flowers with deliberate asymmetry trying to find the perfect balance of shapes in various sizes and textures. In this painting we see one subject — flowers placed at a diagonal, but the bouquet has a great variation in texture, color, rotation, and size of the flowers with no repetition.

Equal balance of various shapes

The artist strikes an equal balance of shapes around the middle of the painting where we see Christ's feet.

Here we can see how the artist balances various objects with equal distances and lines that create unity.

Diagonals and triangles

For centuries, the use of diagonals and triangles has been the most prevalent tool in painting. Most religious paintings were created using the triangular composition where the Virgin Mary or Christ is at the top of the triangle with secondary figures placed at their side. The triangle forms balance with a line falling from the apex of the pyramid, which divides the picture in half. In many paintings you'll find multiple triangles with a large, encompassing triangle that forms a pyramid. Diagonals often contribute to the compositional balance. Shapes placed at a diagonal can be found in almost any representational painting. Diagonals create movement and remove stiffness from figures and boredom from still lifes. The use of diagonals is so vital to representational painting that you cannot avoid studying this concept so you can understand and apply it to your drawings.

In the painting below by Italian artist Bellini we see a triangular composition with the Virgin Mary's indigo blue clothing forming the pyramid. Also notice the rotation of her head and her hand placed at a similar diagonal on purpose.

In the painting by Harnett we can see a whole stack of diagonals. They bring dynamism to the picture and make these ordinary objects look extraordinary.

Golden section

Golden section or the rule of two thirds is the most used and perhaps even overused design principle. The idyllic proportion comes from nature. Known to the Greeks and applied in their architecture, this mathematical division of space was forgotten during the medieval period and revived in Renaissance Italy. Wildly applied in art and photography today, the concept is easy to grasp. Divide your space into three parts and place your center of interest on one third of the image. By shifting your focal point to the side, you break away from possible monotony, keeping the viewer's eye moving around the picture.

This balanced proportion is often used in landscape art, figurative painting, and even still life.

Placed off-center, these two figures lead us to contemplate the moon. The tree, which is painted at the diagonal, rotates left in the sky to keep viewers in the loop visually.

In this picture we can see a clear division of space: one third is the land and two thirds is taken up by the sky. The tall tree "connects" the sky with the ground.

Background/negative space

The background, its color, value, and texture should support your center of interest, not interfere with it. Artists carefully consider what to place in the background to help tell a story, but those elements receive much less light, texture, and detail compared to the subject itself.


Excerpted from "The Colored Pencil Manual"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Veronica Winters.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction, v,
Materials, 1,
Chapter 1: The Importance of Light and a Setup, 11,
Chapter 2: Composition and the Focal Point, 22,
Chapter 3: How to Turn the Form, 33,
Chapter 4: How to Create Volume, 48,
Chapter 5: How to Blend Colored Pencils, 59,
Chapter 6: Color Theory in Practice, 72,
Chapter 7: How to Draw Fabric, 95,
Chapter 8: How to Create Symmetrical Shapes, 105,
Chapter 9: How to Draw Metal, Reflective Surfaces, and Crystal, 117,
Chapter 10: How to Draw Textures, 135,
Troubleshooting, 169,

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