The following is a full step by step tutorial on How to Draw a Horse with Colored Pencils by artist Carrie L. Lewis. You can learn more about her in the bio section at the end of this drawing lesson.
Colored Pencil Drawing Tutorial – Palomino Arabian Filly – Direct Drawing Method
8×10 Original Colored Pencil on Rising Stonehenge, 90 lb., Natural
The subject of this portrait is a yearling filly. She’s an Arabian that has the typical Arabian “look” and a unique color. The lighting was good and color saturation on the photograph was also good. The icing on the cake was that I had the opportunity to observe this beautiful horse. Personal observation provides a little bit more information for drawings than working solely from pictures.
The method I used for this drawing was the direct method. I also chose a colored paper that provides a base for both the filly and the background in order to reduce the amount of drawing time necessary.
Unless otherwise stated, all the pencil I used are Prismacolor Thick Lead pencils. Color names are for those pencils and may vary depending on the brand you use.
The Reference Photo
The first step for any drawing or painting is preparing the reference photo. I put a grid over the part of the photo I want to draw using photo processing software. When I’m finished, my reference photo looks like this.
I also print a grid on paper at full size if the drawing will be 8-1/2 x 14 or smaller, as this one is. For larger drawings I either print a grid on regular printer paper and enlarge the finished line drawing or hand draw a full size grid. Since I’m not naturally a technical artist, I prefer the first of those two methods.
The colored pencil drawing passes through several revisions, as shown below, beginning with a rough drawing on the grid.
The rough drawing is then refined on the gridded paper. It may take only a day or two to reach this point (as with this drawing) or it may take a week, depending on the size and complexity of the drawing.
When the drawing has advanced as much as possible with the use of the grid, I transfer it to tracing paper and redraw it. I make changes and corrections throughout this process, refining the drawing, increasing the level of detail, and making the drawing as accurate as possible.
The next step is making a reverse drawing. I turn the tracing paper over and redraw the drawing from the back. Again, I make corrections and adjustments. I also flip the reference photo on the computer. I repeat this process until the drawing is as correct as possible from both sides (front and back).
The reason for this is that I draw with a natural right-handed bias. Working on a reverse image of the drawing and from a reversed reference photo helps correct that bias.
A final round of revisions and corrections on the front and the drawing is ready to be transferred to the art paper.
This is a limited palette work, so I selected the appropriate pencils at the beginning. Colors ranged from Cream and White for light colors to Sienna Brown for the darkest color.
I’m using a direct method of color application, so when I began color work, I matched the pencils as closely as possible to the shades on the reference photo. Shadows were outlined, then shaded with Sienna Brown, followed by Burnt Ochre in the middle tones.
In some areas, I applied color fairly heavily and used the pencil held upright, with a blunt tip, and tight, circular strokes to get an even color layer.
In other areas, I used a sharp point and applied color in the direction of hair growth with short, crisp strokes. I didn’t do anything with the highlights because the paper color closely approximates the color of most of the highlights. They will appear as darker colors are applied around them, so I outlined and worked around them.
I used White on the blaze.
I glazed Sand over all parts of the filly except the blaze, brightest highlights, and the areas inside the ears and around the muzzle. I started with a sharp pencil, but continued to use it as the tip blunted, working with directional and circular strokes holding the pencil upright and with directional strokes applied with the side of the pencil.
When I finished the body, I add a second layer of Sand in the shadows of the mane and forelock.
With the basic color in place, I began work on the eyes and muzzle, outlining each area with French Grey 50% in order to establish the lights and darks and the shapes of otherwise vague areas. Colors I used were Black, Peacock Blue, Dark Umber, Burnt Ochre, French Grey 50%. I kept my pencils very sharp to define details and to cover the paper as completely as possible with minimal pressure.
At this stage in this lesson on How to Draw a Horse with Colored Pencils, I use medium pressure or less, often working with such light pressure that it’s difficult to see in a photo or scan. It’s much easier to make corrections if color is lightly applied. Working on multiple, light layers also allows me to continue refining and correcting the image as I add color.
I darkened the eye to bring out the highlight and reflected blues, then worked on the lids and the surrounding face by layering Sienna Brown, Burnt Ochre, and Sand in the shadows and middle tones, especially around the head.
All of the work was done with sharp pencils and short strokes, usually in the direction of either hair growth or body contours. In the jowl and a couple other areas, I cross hatched.
I also impressed a few flyaway hairs around the head and face using my favorite impressing tool, an old Zebra ball point pen with no ink and a fine point.
I layered Yellow Ochre over all of the horse, including the muzzle and parts of the mane. The only areas I worked around were the blaze and the brightest highlights on the face, neck and shoulder.
Beginning with the offside ear, I began defining shadows and middle tones with Sienna Brown. I outlined the bolder shadows, then filled them in. For the shadows with softer lines, I either outlined them very lightly (the left side of the upper blaze) or shaded very lightly to an undefined edge (the right side of the upper blaze.
I used pressure of 2 to 3 (on a scale of 0 to 10) and sharpened my pencil frequently.
For the shadow inside the offside ear, I layered Yellow Chartreuse to see what affect a yellow-green had on the tone of the color. There was some change, but not as much as is called for.
I wanted the appearance of blurred foliage for the background. Something to complement the filly’s coat color without overpowering her. I began with a layer of Limepeel hatched and cross-hatched in short, parallel, diagonal strokes. I also used horizontal, vertical and circular strokes. Edges were random on undefined from the start. Lights and darks were established in a totally random pattern based on the number of layers of Limepeel. The more layers, the darker the value. Since I used light pressure, none of the values were very dark.
The next color was True Blue, which I applied with a variety of strokes throughout the background. Non Photo Blue was next layered over most of the background.
The addition of darker colors made the mane pop, but I couldn’t get a decent blend. So I worked over it with Faber-Castell Art Grip Light Blue. That color was a shade or two darker than Non Photo and it was much dryer (less wax binder). The resulting color was darker and smoother. I worked in several directions with this color, even doing some shading along the edges in an attempt to even out the color.
Because greens can get very bold very fast, I next layered Light Umber over the background. I used light pressure to apply two layers of opposing diagonal strokes in a random pattern.
There isn’t much difference between this illustration and the previous illustration, but adding Light Umber did create a more natural green.
I also used a blunt tip, as you can see below. The tip of this pencil has two surfaces. The ‘long’ side, which you can see on the pencil itself, and a short side, which is visible in the pencil’s shadow. Between these two edges, I was able to apply broader, less sharply defined strokes and to create the ‘soft focus’ look I want for the background.
Notice the slanted side of the pencil itself and the blunt edge of the pencil’s shadow. Those are two different edges. Making use of both of them aided in creating the look I wanted with a minimum of effort.
Next, a few layers of Grass Green.
The only way these layers differed from what I did with Light Umber in the previous layers was that I worked more carefully around the filly. I also used circular strokes in some areas and I sharpened the pencil once or twice to get better coverage and a more even layer of color.
I next layered Yellow Chartreuse over the top half of the background and Copenhagen Blue over the bottom half. The purpose of using two colors was to begin creating a cooler, darker lower background with a warmer, lighter upper background, thus creating a little bit of pictorial depth without adding a lot of detail.
I applied each color with a variety of strokes ranging from hatching and crosshatching to tight circular strokes. I used medium pressure for both colors and kept the pencils as sharp as possible.
Next, I glazed Copenhagen Blue over all of the background, followed by another layer of Yellow Chartreuse. I finished with a final layer of Yellow Chartreuse applied with a blunt point and medium heavy pressure over the top half.
The greens were still a little too bold, so I layered Tuscan Red over most of the background. To create brighter color and focus attention on the filly’s face, I didn’t tone down the greens around her ears or near the off side eye. I used medium light pressure (handwriting pressure) and a sharp pencil. I also worked primarily in diagonal crosshatching strokes.
Finishing work on the background began with Peacock Green and Yellow Ochre and a colorless blender (also by Prismacolor). Using heavy pressure, I applied Peacock Green or Yellow Ochre in each area. In some areas, I layered colors; glazing Peacock Green first and burnishing with Yellow Ochre or glazing with Yellow Ochre and burnishing with Peacock Green. Since the burnishing color affects the overall color, I was able to create subtle gradations in color depending on the color I used for burnishing.
I burnished all of the background with the colorless blender, then added a final glaze of Peacock Green to finish it. The portion of the background that is finished is the lower half in this illustration. The top half still needs the final burnishing.
I continued layering and burnishing Peacock Green and Yellow Ochre throughout the background. I burnished each area with the colorless blender, then used rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab to further blend and smooth the background.
Once the paper was dry, I touched up a couple remaining areas with Peacock Green using the side of a sharpened pencil and light pressure to blur some of the transitions that were too bold.
That was helpful but didn’t completely tone down the colors, so I layered Dark Green over much of the background. In the areas I wanted to smooth out, I used the side of the pencil and light pressure. In other areas, particularly in the corners and the background around the mane, I used the tip of the pencil and heavier pressure.
To finish, I polished most of the background with a piece of paper towel folded two or three times.
Next was finishing the horse.
Beginning with the ears, I layered Terra Cotta into the shadows and darker mid tones. The reference (which I enlarged and viewed on the computer) showed a lot of red tones in the shadows of the mane, so I layered Terra Cotta into those areas, as well.
Well defined shadows inside the ears, under the mane, under the jowl were outlined with a sharp pencil and light pressure. I also adjusted contours where necessary.
Those shapes were then filled in with a sharp pencil and short, closely spaced strokes. In most areas, I used a combination of strokes to get even coverage.
With the less defined shadows and in the places where shadow blended into mid-tone, I used directional strokes, light pressure, and a sharp pencil, but didn’t outline the shapes.
In the areas where hair growth is visible, I used short, directional strokes to mimic the look of hair growth patterns.
I next used Dark Green to darken the darkest shadows in the ears, under the head, and beneath the mane. I also worked around the muzzle. Again, I outlined well defined shapes and filled them in. In the remaining shapes, I added color without outlining.
I used green at this stage to add darkness to the reds and golds without making them too brassy. Any cool color would have worked. My colors of preference are either Indigo Blue or Black Grape.
For this drawing, I chose Dark Green because the background is green. The color will not be obvious in the horse, but having it in the mix creates color harmony.
Finally, I layered Dark Umber over the same areas and along the bottom of the lower neck to warm up those cool greens.
Back to The Horse
The final phase of this tutorial on How to Draw a Horse with Colored Pencils now begins; deepening color and saturation, broadening values, and building details on previous work. If I’ve done things right, this is the fun part!
To begin, I layered Yellow Ochre over most of the horse. The only areas I worked around were the bright highlights on the head and shoulder, the white blaze, and the strands of hair overlapping the forehead and neck.
I used the side of a very sharp pencil and light to medium pressure for most of this work, matching pressure to value. Light pressure in lighter value areas; heavier pressure in the darker areas.
Right now, the goal is to layer color to build saturation, color, and value. I don’t know how many layers that will take, so I keep pressure light. This preserves the tooth of the paper as long as possible.
When working around the highlights, I used the point of the pencil and directional strokes to create softer edges.
I also worked on the mane and forelock, adding warm middle tones to some areas and glazing Yellow Ochre over the darker shadows.
Using very light strokes and working in the direction of hair growth, I layered Mediterranean Blue over the filly’s coat. I also stroked it into the mane in the shadowed areas using long strokes, and added a very light glaze to the muzzle and inside the ears using a blunt tip and tight, circular strokes.
Next, I layered Sienna Brown into the same areas using the same pressure and strokes.
Finally, I darkened the darkest shadows under the mane, along the throat and inside the ears with Dark Umber, which I applied with heavy pressure (not quite burnishing).
Almost done with this tutorial on How to Draw a Horse with Colored Pencils. Hang in there!
Using light to medium pressure, I layered Burnt Ochre over the dark middle tones throughout the filly, beginning with her body and working my way forward and upward.
I sharpened the pencil frequently and used a sharp tip to create the texture of hair and to work around some of the highlights. But I also used a more blunt tip to lay down even layers of color with little or no visible pencil strokes wherever necessary.
In the mane and forelock, I kept the pencil sharp and used the tip to darken the middle tones and shadows and begin defining hair masses.
Next, I layered Goldenrod over all of the same areas and into the highlights over the shoulder and along the neck, where they are not quite as bright. I used light to medium light pressure and a variety of strokes ranging from short, directional strokes with a sharp pencil to broad strokes using the side of the pencil and following the contours of muscle and body.
I used French Grey 20%, 50% and 70%; Blush and Light Blush; Dark Brown, Indigo Blue, Light Umber, Black, Cloud Blue, and White. I worked out the details of shadows and highlights, the shapes of nostrils and mouth, and the markings. Once the shapes were established, I alternated layers of color with burnishing. Most of the burnishing was done with White. The shadows were burnished with Light Umber or French Grey 70%, then glazed with black.
I also worked the background around the muzzle, softening, and manipulating edges.
I used the same basic method – layer, burnish, layer, burnish – to work up into the face. For this part of the work, my fistful of pencils included White, Cream, Sand, Yellow Ochre, Pumpkin Orange, Mineral Orange, Light Umber, the French Greys, Cloud Blue, and Black. Since I’d already put a lot of work into this part of the portrait, my attention was given to smoothing out color, punching up highlights and fine-tuning details.
I used the same colors to do the ears, which proved to be the most difficult part of the portrait.
The forelock was detailed with touches of Sienna Brown, Yellow Ochre, Indigo Blue and Dark Brown Layered and White in the highlights.
I used the same colors I used in the face to finish the neck and shoulders. I concentrated on getting the highlights, middle tones, and shadows right, then burnished with Cloud Blue in the reflected light areas, Sand in the middle tones, and White and/or Cream in the highlights. In some areas, I used a colorless blender, but I much prefer the look of color burnished with color.
I used the same combination of colors and the same layer-burnish process to finish the neck, the shoulder, and the body.
At this point, it’s all a matter of examining the painting from edge to edge, cleaning up edges, smoothing out color, and making whatever other adjustments need to be made.
This is the finished portrait.
If you enjoyed this demonstration, you might also enjoy Carrie’s book, Colored Pencils: The Direct Method Step-by-Step. The book is available for Kindle at Amazon.
Prints, Greeting Cards, cell phone covers of this image are available through Fine Art America
I hope you enjoyed this step by step lesson on How to Draw a Horse with Colored Pencils. Find more colored pencil lessons from our site here.
About the Artist
Carrie L. Lewis has been drawing and painting for over 35 years. Her interest in art began very early, with parents providing crayons and paper. She sold her first horse portrait at the age of seventeen and has been painting beautifully detailed portraits of horses for clients all over the United States ever since.
Her oil painting technique draws from the work Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) and William Bouguereau (1825-1905). In addition to borrowing their techniques, she uses as many classical materials as possible, including best possible oil paints.
Carrie also works in colored pencil using many of the same techniques used for oil painting.
Carrie has participated in exhibits in such locations as Lone Star Park Race Track, Grand Prairie, Texas and Remington Park Race Track, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In 2003, she participated in Village Place, a one-time show in Louisville, Kentucky during Kentucky Derby weekend.
Since the early 90s, she has worked with the Michigan Harness Horseman’s Association, donating custom portraits to their annual benefit auction. Monies raised during this annual art auction help fund a scholarship for the son or daughter of a member horseman.
In 2007, Carrie’s painting, “A New Day”, was short listed in the Shadwell Estates Ltd. 2007-08 Stallion Brochure Competition.
“I have always loved horses. It is a joy born within, placed deep inside by God above.
“Classical art has been a love since my first encounter with it. The works of such Great Masters as Rembrandt, Vermeer and Bouguereau have the ability to stir the soul and inspire my own creativity like no other art form.
“I suppose, given those two passions, it was natural that I should eventually learn and adapt the techniques of those Old Masters to my own attempts at capturing the spirit of the horse in oils.”
Carrie’s art instruction books are as detailed as her artwork. Her goal is to pass on her love for art and for drawing horses and the landscape to others.
Visit Carrie’s website at Carrie L. Lewis Horse Painter