Highlights, Not Mistakes

Soft core colored pencil is a medium that doesn’t require many additional materials, but one essential tool is the battery operated eraser. These pencils are highly pigmented and waxy, so when you build up multiple layers, your drawing will take on a lustrous, painting-like quality. The downside is that soft core colored pencils are a bit unforgiving in terms of erasing. You can never erase completely, and manual erasers tend to smudge the pencil, rather than lifting it off the paper. This is where the battery operated eraser becomes so important, because it will effortlessly lift off multiple layers of pencil.

That being said, a hint of color will always remain on the paper, and erasing becomes a different process with soft core colored pencils. Rather than eliminating or correcting mistakes, erasing is a step in refining your drawing. It removes material that will later need to be replaced with new layers of pencil. In some cases, there is no way around having to start over completely. Some errant marks simply cannot be covered.

This can definitely be a little frustrating, especially if you’re new to colored pencils. It requires a bit more planning ahead in your initial sketches. I’ve gotten used to the limitations of erasing mistakes and instead rely more on my battery operated eraser as a drawing tool. While the pencils add material and create values, the eraser removes material and creates highlights. This is an invaluable technique for making a bounce of light. Once the darker values are in place, you can erase and then fill in with a white or a light colored pencil to create a dramatic highlight.

Battery operated erasers come with removable eraser heads that are easily replaced when they wear down. A useful trick I’ve discovered is that I can shape the tip of the eraser by holding it at an angle and buzzing it against a piece of artist’s sandpaper. This creates a finer eraser point for creating tiny highlights, such as a bounce of light on an eye.

Once you accept and overcome the limitations of erasing soft core colored pencils, your battery operated eraser will become your best friend. It’s a super drawing tool, and quite frankly, a lot of fun to use!

A Great Photo is King

I rely on photos rather than drawing from life, so a great photo is king. My commissioned portrait clients supply me with their own photos, which can sometimes be challenging. I strive for hyperrealism, so I really need to see every detail in the photo. These days, most of us take pictures with our smart phones (myself included), but with a few tips in mind, you can take a clear, well-posed shot of your pet. This high resolution photo of my dog, Toby, taken on my iPhone, is the type of photo I look for.

First, lighting is very important to achieve a high resolution photo. If you were to expand the photo on a screen, the details would become more visible. In the case of a low resolution photo, you lose detail as you expand the photo, and it becomes fuzzy or grainy. A lot of natural light is key. If you take an indoor photo, make sure a lot of sunlight is flooding into the room. Outdoor photos can often be a better alternative. If the file size is at least 1 MB, you can be sure the photo is a high enough resolution.

Let’s face it, pets aren’t always the easiest to photograph, because they don’t always cooperate. Sometimes it takes a little persistence and patience. The best way to capture a great pose is to get down to their level. I receive so many photos that are taken while standing and looking down at the pet. This doesn’t make for a good pose. You need to get down and see them at eye level in order to capture their personality. The dog or cat can be lying down, sitting or standing. It’s really a matter of personal preference.

Finally, choose a photo that best represents your pet and try to picture it as a portrait hanging on the wall. Some dogs naturally show their tongues and pant or “smile,” while others don’t. Certain breeds have very distinctive faces and work well close up, while others look better showing the full head and body. In some cases, large dogs look better as a “head shot,” and smaller dogs are better suited to a full portrait.

A perfect colored pencil portrait starts with a great reference photo. Follow these tips, and you’ll capture your pet’s image like a pro.