Take 2 (or 3) of the flowered horse

I’ve probably colored this horse illustration (which I designed as a coloring page) at least three times now, though I’ve finished none. Yet. I get sidetracked with new projects and once set aside, a colored illustration might not see the light of day for months. But I do like to experiment with different color schemes and I use the partially colored pieces in various marketing efforts, so the work is never wasted. This one might end up on a tote bag or some other product if it turns out the way I am hoping.

I printed this horse on charcoal tinted card stock (not quite as dark) so I could play with some warm colors. I am still patiently waiting for warmer weather, green grass and yard work in a t-shirt. April has been especially cold so far and I am feeling it.

My first step for this piece was to use my Holbein Naples Yellow pencil to lightly fill in the body areas of the horse. Just one layer to help define the spaces around the flowers, leaves and mane before using a little Holbein Salmon Pink to build up my base (video below). After that, I grabbed a Caran d’Ache Luminance Yellow Ochre to add a little more pigment to these areas.

Once I had the body a little more defined, I started adding more Luminance Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna and Orange to the horse’s face using small, light circular motions and feathered strokes. In some ways, taking pics of this process with my iPhone can be helpful because the lens catches all of the pencils marks so you can see how “rough” the coloring looks at this point.

I didn’t do it in this video (because I was afraid I end up with a chaotic recording) but I move my page around. A lot. When I rotate my page, it helps me color at slightly different and over-lapping angles and this, ultimately, helps to not only blend but also fill in some of the black spots that appear under the pencil layers. Not sure how you work, but I find taping my art to a board is too constrictive.

You can see, in the photo below, the difference between my first layer of Holbein and the face where I am starting to build my layers. I used Luminance Alizarin Crimson along the inside edge of the swirl on the cheek and worked some of it up into the areas under the mane, then started blending with more Orange as well as Yellow Ochre and Raw Sienna. Luminance Buff Titanium was used at the tips of the ears, along the lightest edge of the cheek swirl, around the eye, and also in the lighter areas of the nose. I like the Luminance Titanium Buff over the White pencil since it seems to naturally blend better, but when I really want a white to stand out, it’s hard to beat Luminance White.

Ruby Charm Colors Horse with Flowers illustration

One note about the paper. It is Recollections brand from Michael’s and I pick up packages of 50 sheets when they go on sale. They offer both solid color packs as well as mixed collections. The charcoal grey I am using is from the Architecture collection. It handles most of my pencils fairly well, though I have noticed differences in tooth between different Recollections color collections. Mostly consistent, but not always–just an FYI.

The good news is that this paper is acid and lignin free meaning there are no chemicals that will eventually cause the paper (and consequently your artwork) to deteriorate. If you are coloring just for fun, using paper that is acidic or contains lignen is probably not a big deal … but if you want your work to last over the years, always look for “archival” quality paper or stock (meaning it is acid and lignen free).


After I warmed up the horse’s face with about six or seven light layers of yellows, orange and red Luminance, I worked with Polychromos Dark Chrome Yellow, Cadmium Orange, Orange Glaze and Middle Cadmium Red is small light circles “pushing” the Luminance pigments deeper into the paper. Oh, and a Derwent Studio Burnt Carmine pencil for the darkest edges. It is a brownish-purple-red tone that really helps to add depth in the more shadowed areas.

Funny how we all seem to have a collection of serious go-to pencils … I love all my pencils but my “can’t live without” and “worn to a nub quickest” pencils are as follows:

There are probably a few more I am forgetting, but these pencils get used a lot due to their colors, but more because of their ability to blend and define the way I need them to.

One interesting thing I have noticed about colored pencils is that after a period of “rest” (and I know this sounds crazy), it is easier to add new layers. My theory is that after a few hours or so, the waxes and oils from the pencils on the paper somehow relax (or more fully attach to the paper) and it becomes a little easier to apply new colors. I tried to find out if there is something to this, but didn’t spend much time searching on Google. Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon?

I then started working on the leaves and mane (below) using mostly greens: Luminance Olive Yellow, Olive Brown 50%, Olive Brown, Moss and Dark Sap Green. I also used a little Spring Green at the tips. Again, very light layers and not a lot of concern about “perfection” yet. My layers are starting to blend a little (see photo below), but you can still see a lot of strokes and where I started using the Luminance Prussian blue in the darkest areas. I used Prussian blue instead of black (or Dark Sap Green) because it adds a more rich and varied tone to the piece overall. It also contrasts nicely with the warm hues. Using the Irojiten Indigo pencil in the deepest areas adds a little more definition, and I plan to go back to those areas before the piece is finished.I used my black Verithin pencil to start adding some definition to the eyes, swirl, nose and mouth features. I’ll likely go back to those lines at a later time, too.

Ruby Charm Colors Horse with Flowers illustration

I couldn’t resist adding a little Prismacolor Light Aqua into the small circles on the mane because I love the way it looks with green–a nice little accent of color. The next step was to start filling in the flowers. I knew I wanted to work in some purples and almost went with a purple and blue combination, but decided to stay true to the warmer hues (aside from the turquoise accents). I tested a few colors on the back of my paper and fell in love with how Prismacolor Black Cherry, Tuscan Red, Crimson Lake and Pumpkin Orange worked together.

I put down a light layer of Black Cherry (which has a purple tone) and then graduated layers of the other three colors to the tips of the petals. Still not blended yet and that’s especially apparent in the harsh light of the iPhone. To really bring out the purple and give the innermost parts of the petals more depth, I used Irojiten Mulberry and Iris Violet pencils to start pushing my colors together. At this point, I try not to apply too much pressure with the Irojiten pencils. They are pretty hard, and if I use too much pressure, burnishing occurs. This is fine in the final steps of my coloring process, but since I may come back to the flowers with more layers, I am not yet ready to burnish (which can really lock in a layer and make it almost impossible to color over unless you use a fixative which I don’t do).


Now that I’ve got the basic colors of the flowers colored, I go back to the yellows in the body. Basically, I just refine the yellows with more layers and add a little more orange so these areas don’t end up looking too flat.

I also used my black Verithin to add filament lines, and Luminance Olive Brown  to add a quick layer around the center circle of the flowers. Prismacolor Pumpkin was used for the centers. It may not see like it makes much of a difference, but a little squiggle of Irojiten Crimson along a few edges of the Pumpkin add a little depth and interest. And to balance out my accent color, I used the Prismacolor Light Aqua again for the flower anthers. Here is a close up:

Ruby Charm Colors Horse with Flowers illustration

The video clip below shows how I use the black Irojiten pencil to define the leaves a bit (the Verithin black works too). I never realized, until I started recording myself coloring, how I continually spin my pencil as I color. For certain areas, it’s important to have a sharp point, so I think I do this subconsciously in order to avoid dulling my pencil tips. In addition to defining the leaves, I used Sepia and a little Prussian Blu (both Luminance) to create more shadow around the belly and legs. And a little black Irojiten to further blend.

When people talk about the Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils being creamy, I don’t see it. These oil pencils are highly pigmented and fabulous, but I feel they are more gritty than creamy. And this is good and serves a purpose as they can help blend by breaking up the waxes from other pencils and move them around on an almost microscopic level. I’ve noticed I really love the way they behave on certain papers while on others, they tend to be a little more temperamental. Especially when combined with more waxy pencils. And it’s hard to predict so experimenting is key. When I am working on a new paper (or on the same paper but from a different batch), I always test out how different pencil brands will (or will not) play together first. Most mistakes can be fixed, but I have made of mess of things enough to be a little more careful. Ever have an area you are coloring turn to a glob of colors that refuse to blend and just clump up? No fun.

After I defined the leaves a bit, I grabbed my Rotring Isograph technical pen and realized it was almost empty. I wanted to use it around parts of the flowers, but had to do a refill first. Always a messy job:

Ruby Charm Colors Horse with Flowers illustration

Post pen-filling: I am not too happy with the results –my lines look too harsh (especially in photographs) but I can probably fix that and do a little more blending with the Mulberry Irojiten pencil. No worries–I’ll go back to it later.

Instead, I grabbed a white Soufflé gel pen (Sakura) to add dots to the anthers and a few on the horse’s face, and blue and copper metallic gel pens to add dots around the centers of the flowers. And a few Sakura Soufflé turquoise dots to the mane…


The art doesn’t look as harsh in person. Anyone who has tried photographing colored pencil on a dark background (especially when there are metallics involved) knows what I am talking about. I don’t have the right lighting in my studio and I get a lot of glare. I keep a few small gooseneck lamps on my desk and am constantly moving them around to get the best light when I am coloring, but have to turn them off when I take pictures. Someday I’ll get that all figured out.

I can’t imagine coloring on anything other than this old artist board (below) I bought back in college. I keep a small brass sharpener in a dish handy, as well as a brush to flick off any junk that lands on my paper and keep the wax bloom at bay.

Once I have a bunch of pencils I’ve pulled out of my cases to work with on a given piece, I store them in a tin drawer so I can keep track of them when I come back to the drawing. I used to write my colors down, but I don’t anymore.

Ruby Charm Colors Horse with Flowers illustration

Here is where I am leaving off on this piece for now. I have plenty more to do and will post a follow-up when I have a chance. For now, off to book work and and other tasks that need my attention…

Ruby Charm Colors Horse with Flowers illustration

Please feel free to leave questions or comments –I am always curious to learn how others tackle their art and channel their creativity, and no question is too silly. I may not have the answers, but I’ll give it an honest try.

Cheers to art!