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Colored Pencil art lesson

Colored Pencils

If you are considering creating artwork using colored pencils, you might have one or two questions about their properties, uses and applications.  The following paragraphs address concerns and/or obstacles that you might have encountered.

What is a colored pencil and of what is it made?  Are there different grades or qualities of pigment?  Colored pencils are made in many styles.  Most have a wooden body, usually round or hexagonal, into which is placed a round column of pigmented material.  The pigment can be either a thin column or a thick one.  Different brands choose different styles.  But in all cases, the colored pigment yields a smooth, even colored line when stroked across a paper, panel or illustration board.  In the higher quality pencils, pigment is usually bound with some type of oil.  This creates a consistent and uniform firmness, which helps control the degree of color, the smear-proof properties, the blending capabilities, and the overall application of the pencil "lead."

The grades of colored pencils available range from very inexpensive student grades, which usually consist of a limited number of colors, to very high quality, professional materials that can be purchased in a wide range of colors.  While most colored pencils are offered in groups or sets, pencils of the highest quality are often available individually.  This means that the artist can augment his/her palette, creating a customized array of hues, or can replace those pigments used most frequently.

Some manufacturers offer two different styles of color applicators—pencils as described above and sticks of pure color, without any wood surround.  These are most often square sticks that offer great hard edges and extra coverage for bold, dramatic color use.  There is even a style of pencil that is woodless. The entire pencil shape is colored "lead," sealed with a light plastic-style covering. Either the stick or the woodless pencil can be sharpened if desired.

Additionally, there are a few types of colored pencils that are created with the express purpose of being easily erased.  These can be very useful in design layout work-ups where changes of tone and color might be anticipated; and they often come with erasers attached, making the removal process easy.

Colored pencils are usually sharpened with a good quality hand sharpener.  There is a real split between the professional pencil artist and the amateur on this issue.  The professional feels that the unnecessary loss of even the slightest amount of pencil length and pigment is an unforgivable waste and that the use of an electric sharpener is unthinkable.  There are several high quality hand sharpeners that also include a collection cup, making the sharpening process neat and fast.

Working surfaces that are recommended for use with colored pencils vary widely.  Certainly the most popular are any of the wide range of colored papers created with a slight tooth and a strong surface.  This makes these special papers very useful for overlaying of color, blending, and scrubbing the surface during the blending process.  Look for papers that indicate they are suitable for pencil, pastel, charcoal or pen work.  These come in a variety of fiber contents, but the most colorfast and strong include those made of cotton fiber.  Most of these are also acid-free.  One paper that is not used with colored pencil, as a general rule, is the family of sand-surfaced papers.  These erode the pencil and are not soft enough to hold the pigment.

Blending colors is one of the strong points of colored pencils.  The colors easily overlay and are blended by the overlapping process.  Fingertips can be used for blending, although the degree of blend is very limited.  Stumps and tortillons are not very applicable, as there are fewer floating particles for capture and blending.  There is a new family of pencils that actually is a topical addition that helps visually blend tones beneath it.  It does not change the colors or make dark colors milky the way white or ivory pencils do.

You may experience a time with colored pencils when error correction is desired.  This can be a touchy technique, but there is one long-standing method that seems to provide an answer.  Light surface abrasion with a sharp, pointed tool such as a needle or straight pin will loosen the pigment and the paper fibers beneath it.  Very gentle erasing with a magic rub or similar oil-free eraser is recommended.  Because this technique removes a portion of the actual paper beneath the pigment, extreme caution should be used. Holes can be rubbed through the surface if one is not careful.

About now you might be wondering what the difference between colored pencils and watercolor pencils might be.  Of course, watercolor pencils are water-soluble. Colored pencils, as a rule, are not.  One can dip the tip of colored pencils in water for a wider, richer, though sometimes more primitive line, but the product is not designed to be wet-blendable.

It's time for you to investigate the advantages of colored pencils!  Consider how compact they are, how lightweight and easy to transport.  Remember, too, that they can be used in virtually any location, without water, medium, easel or other support materials.  All you need is a surface on which to draw and the pencils themselves.  Nothing could be more direct or more fun.

Colored Pencil Lesson Written by


Prints Vs. Posters


by Janean S. Thompson

Both prints and posters offer you variety and economy, but there are some distinctions between them from an investment standpoint. Prints can be categorized into two groups: limited edition and unlimited. Limited editions have "limitations" in that a set number only is printed, and no additional copies will be available. This means that, quite likely, limited prints will steadily escalate in value as time passes and they are sought after by more people. Quality prints are available in both limited editions and unlimited series. Each artist chooses the type of print to offer.

Posters are classified as unlimited. This means that there may be several hundred or several thousand posters exactly alike available on the market. They often are created in support of special events or for gallery openings, etc. Because of their availability in such numbers, posters are usually not costly, nor do they escalate in value. Posters are nevertheless great ways to decorate and can be framed in ways that belie the fact that they are less expensive. Posters can be signed or "remarked" by the artist during special promotions, and although such additions make them more "collectable" and special, this does not add greatly to their value.

If you received a beautiful print or poster as a holiday gift, you might be considering ways to mount, mat and frame the work. Prints are often matted and framed as if they were original works. That is, the mats and backing might be all-rag content and archival. Posters are usually matted and framed with less expensive materials, as they are changed or replaced frequently. These decisions are up to you, but matching the quality of work with the quality of presentation materials is always a good practice.

Let's consider the differences in framing a limited edition print and framing a poster. Since the purchase price for the limited edition is higher and the paper is usually of better quality, archival materials are usually warranted to preserve the artwork. The nature of posters makes them more "recyclable," so investing in all-rag content matting and mounting board is usually unnecessary. While the specialty features offered in frame shops might increase the eye-appeal of any print or poster, limited prints are far more likely to be worth those additional investments.

Posters are economical and full of the vitality of the original work of art, yet printed on paper and with printing methods that do not support long life. True, posters can be matted and framed exactly as any original or limited edition print and look very nice, but the trend is not to do so. Poster art is likely used in places where the subject matter, color and emotion are the issues, not the creation of an heirloom art presentation.

The difference in framing limited edition prints and unlimited

prints/posters is the method by which the artwork is held in place behind the mats. Mounting is a crucial factor in the care of an artwork--no matter what type of art--because improper mounting can diminish or destroy the value. Any alteration that is not fully reversible has the potential to affect the value of the work, so it is unwise to use masking tape, duct tape, white glue, rubber cement, double-faced tape or any other material that cannot be removed without surface change to the artwork.

Although this may sound difficult, in actuality there are many products that will make mounting simple. Special framers' corner pockets or mounting strips hold the corners and edges of the work in place and allow mats to surround the image so that not a single drop of glue or other adhesive touches the artwork. Other methods are documented in framing books, such as Matting and Framing Made Easy (by Janean S. Thompson, Watson-Guptill Publications). There are several easy methods for which materials are available in any art supply store.

Posters, on the other hand, lend themselves to mounting in other ways. Spray adhesive or roll-on/brush-on adhesives are great to attach posters and unlimited prints to backing and substrate. They are not major investments and can be approached with a bit more directness in their attachment and positioning in a frame. Often, because mats are not part of the plan when framing posters, attaching them directly to a substrate will keep them flat and allow for an acceptable and appealing presentation.

There is no way to get around the fact that, in order to frame an artwork, you have to consider several points--not only the quality of the art itself, but the materials you decide to use in the presentation of that art. You may choose to mount, mat and frame any work in any way, but attention to preservation methods is the best way to protect a work that is important to you. And it may be important for sentimental reasons (such as an heirloom) and not necessarily because of its economic value.

Additionally, decorations on the mat might be something you want to include with your print or poster framing. There are many simple yet dramatic methods to create a "one-of-a-kind" look--perhaps a mat that you paint on or add a decorative marbled paper strip. Possibly a couple of gold metallic or complementary colored lines around the window would set off the image nicely. You can even faux finish the surface of the top mat with acrylic paints and sponge "stamping".

But whether or not you choose to decorate the mats, your color and texture choices in matting--as well as the border width choices--will help create a look that is uniquely your own. Framing can be very creative and offers much latitude for personal expression, not to mention a sense of accomplishment each time you view that special print or poster hanging on the wall.

Framing technique lesson written by

Lesson 1

A Quick Lesson in Color Composition

Color blending is both a thrilling and often challenging aspect of painting. There are so many premixed colors available, the mind becomes overwhelmed with choices and bogged into thinking color experience is unnecessary. But, if you understand a couple simple concepts, blending becomes a joy rather than a fearful experience.

A quick basic overview of color composition is pretty easy to grasp. Primary colors, those not combined with others, are those that stand as the basis for the "color wheel." They include a clear red, clear blue and clear yellow. Analogous colors are those colors next to one another on the color wheel, and they are closely related in hue. Colors that occupy opposite positions on the color wheel are called complementary colors. They are the colors most often used to enrich, tone and strengthen one another.For instance, red and green are complements. If you have a "hot" red that you wish to tone slightly to take the edge off its brightness, yet not obliterate the tone, use its complement, green, to tone it down. Use the complements sparingly, as their strength can overtake the original tone. This complementary relationship and application holds true with all colors on the color wheel. Each color has a complement that can tone or enhance.

One of the most sought after tones is that of human skin. Creating flesh tones, because of their variety from subject to subject, without even taking into consideration the fact that facial tone changes from place to place on a single subject, can be daunting. One successful combination is cadmium red light and cadmium green light mixed in even proportions. This combination yields a rich brown that, when mixed with white, can produce most natural skin tones. Increasing the red in the mix gives a rosier tone, while increasing green gives an olive tone. Some yellow can be added very carefully to replicate a sallow tone. Always consider using deeper shades of the basic tone for shading and detail.

Landscape painters often want to create original tones,really jazzy, personal "statement" tones. One such color can be the greens created by mixing cadmium yellow with black (lamp, jet, almost any will create a fabulous tone). By mixing greens, or any tones, you are able to create the precise look you desire, while establishing a look that may become your signature.

One of the best ways to understand color relationships is to accept the challenge of creating a color wheel using only primary colors. The time is a good investment. You will learn much about how colors interact and perform and will be able to control the tone of your work. Some artists mix all of their tones. Maybe that could be your ultimate goal!

This Color Composition lesson written by

Airbrush Lesson

Airbrush Glossary

The following terms are specific to airbrush technique and refer to airbrush types, methods of propelling air, processes, and tools. An understanding of these will make airbrushing clearer to the novice.

internal mix—a type of airbrush where the paint is atomized (mixed with air) inside the airbrush tip and results in a soft spray.

external mix—a type of airbrush where the paint is atomized (mixed with air) outside the airbrush tip and results in a coarse spray.

single action—a method of activating a specific airbrush whereby depressing the trigger delivers both air and paint simultaneously; and a preset spray width is produced.

dual or double action—a method of activating a specific airbrush whereby depressing the trigger delivers air and then drawing back on the trigger releases paint; and spray width can be altered contiuously.

bottom feed—a siphon feed system where paint is drawn up into the airbrush from a reservoir (jar or color cup) mounted underneath.

side feed—a siphon feed system where paint is drawn into the airbrush from a reservoir (color cup) mounted on the side.

gravity feed—a system where paint is drawn down into the airbrush from a reservoir mounted on top.

air source—a device or unit containing, or capable of producing, pressurized air (compressor, carbonic gas tank, propellant can).

cfm—a measurement of air flow: cubic feet per minute.

moisture filter—a device attached to either the compressor or the airbrush hose to remove water from air.

oil filter—a device attached to the compressor to remove oil from the air source.

psi—a measurement of air pressure: pounds per square inch.

air regulator—a device attached to a compressor to adjust air pressure (psi).

frisket film—a transparent, self adhering stencil material with a peel off backing used to create exact or hard edges.

overspray—sprayed medium that drifts above and beyond the intended focus of the spray.

dagger stroke—a stroke used in freehand airbrushing that goes from wide to narrow in one pass.

stipple—the controlled spraying of dots that results in a textured appearance. (The lower the air pressure, the larger the dots.)


Air brush technique lesson written by

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Lesson 2

Soap Making For Beginners – Melt And Pour Process

As you will learn, soap making can be simple or complex. Some people enjoy the challenge of going all out professionally, which is fine. However, other people simply want to make soap for personal use or to give as an occasional gift.

Keep in mind that safety precautions should still be followed because soap becomes dangerously hot when melted, regardless of the skill level involved. Here, we will discuss easy melt and pour techniques, perfect for the novice or skilled soap maker!

First, keep in mind that most handmade soap is made from glycerin. When you purchase store-bought soap, the majority of the glycerin has been processed out. Therefore, when you make your own soap, you have a great opportunity to create something that is glycerin rich and soft.

Although “glycerin” is usually clear, with today’s colors and fragrances, you can create beautiful soaps that not only make your skin soft but also look great. With glycerin, because it is a humectant, moisture is drawn out of itself. That means when you use glycerin soap while bathing, a very fine layer will stay on the skin, adding moisture.


To go through the easy melt and pour method, you want to stop by your soap-making supply or hobby store, or online soap supply store. There, you will find large blocks of clear soap. These vary in size and type. Remember, the prices will vary depending on where you live and the store or business where you buy.

Regardless, the following are the types of melt and pour soaps you would need to make your homemade soap.

Hemp Glycerin Soap

This type of glycerin is great for the “melt and pour” system, creating semi transparent soap with the benefit of hemp. Hemp oil is rich with essential fatty acids, enzymes, Omega 3 and 6, and vitamins A, D, & E. When buying hemp glycerin, you should look for blocks that are around 20% glycerin, is alcohol free, and free of any harsh detergents.

Typically, you will find 11-pound slabs, which will make approximately 44 bars of soap, each four ounces. If that is too much, you might try to find smaller slabs or go in with another soap maker to split the soap. This size slab will average $40.

Olive Oil Soap

Olive oil soap is semi-transparent with just a slight tan color. However, the benefits and features are very close to that of hemp glycerin. The only difference is that instead of hemp, olive oil is used. When buying, look for cold pressed olive oil that contains essential fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, and as close to 20% glycerin as possible. Again, an 11-pound slab for olive oil soap runs around $40.

Clear Glycerin Soap

This type of soap is transparent and has low shrinkage qualities. In addition, clear glycerin soap has very little problem with discoloration. This soap is vegetable derived and an excellent choice for “melt and pour” soap bars. You can add color or fragrance easily and the soap will leave your skin feeling soft and smooth.

Clear glycerin soap is also a great choice for making soap with multiple layers, novelty soaps (those with toys, flowers, or other objects inside), and yet the clarity is exactly what you would buy from your favorite boutique. If you want a good daily soap, one that is fun for the kids, and makes an excellent gift, clear glycerin is it.

Goat’s Milk Glycerin Soap

This type of soap originates from the beautiful Rocky Mountains. The feel is creamy and rich, and very luxurious. The appearance of this soap is off white. Many people shy away from goat’s milk glycerin because of the name but you will find that it has no fragrance and actually takes both color and fragrance perfectly.

If you want soap that is natural, this is a great choice. Typically, goat’s milk glycerin soap is slightly higher than the other types of soaps but still very affordable and well worth the investment.

Melt and Pour SOAP MAKING Equipment and Ingredients

The great thing about using melt and pour is that you can use equipment you typically have on hand. With this method, you can use the base of a double boiler or your microwave oven.

Keep in mind that if you choose the microwave, the bowl with the soap substance will need to be covered with plastic wrap to keep it from splattering but more importantly, to help keep the excess moisture from evaporating. For the microwave method, you would melt the base soap on high for about one minute, stirring in the remaining pieces not yet melted.

For the double boiler option, bring the water to a boil. Then, add your melt and pour soap of choice, cover, and leave on low. This will take quite some time to melt so about every 10 minutes, check the base to see if it is melted. If you like, you can stir occasionally to ensure an even melt.


For both methods of melt and pour, if you want to add in fragrance, once the base soap has melted, then you would add the fragrance oil. Be sure the fragrance is mixed in completely and that the base of the soap does not have a cloudy appearance.

Although you can use more or less fragrance according to personal preference, typically a good rule to follow is to use .25 ounces to every one pound of soap base. In addition to fragrances, you can also use essential oils.


Now for the color, if you want to create colored soap, add approximately one-eighth teaspoon to one-quarter teaspoon mica in with the melting soap base, making sure to mix in it well.

If any bubbles form on top of the soap, you can leave them for design effect or spray them with rubbing alcohol. If you want to use food coloring, start with just one drop to the melted base, stirring well. Then, you can add one additional drop until you find the color of preference.

After the fragrance and color have been added to the soap base, pour the melted base into the mold of your choice. Again, if you want to remove any bubbles that will settle on top, spray them with rubbing alcohol. After the soap has hardened, generally a few hours, you can use it and enjoy!


As you can see, to make your own soap at home, you would pay around $40 for the slab of base, a few dollars for fragrance, a few dollars for coloring, and that is about it. The process is very cost effective, fun, and you end up with exactly the type of soap you love most.

Most people figure that one bar of homemade soap will average .50, far less than you would pay elsewhere. In addition, you can add in special items or effects to jazz things up.

Making soap using the melt and pour process is easy and fun… and makes for very inexpensive soap. Not only is it great for making your own soap, but it makes for truly unique and creative gifts.

Dave Cushion is the creator of the very popular book "Soap Making Made Simple!" To get additional soap making tips, go to and learn much more about this very fun and useful craft.

Lesson 3

Egg Tempera

Perhaps you have read about some of the famous artists who use egg tempera and wondered what egg tempera is and how it is different from the simple tempera paints used by fledgling artists.  If so, you are not alone. Egg tempera is a unique type of painting material.  Today, popularity of the material is not widespread, but it was the most widely used material before the advent of quality oil paints.  For those artists who have embraced it, artists of both old and contemporary times, there is no media that begins to approach the look of that achieved with egg tempera.  It is rich, exceedingly permanent paint that can be applied in opaque or translucent layers.  Two of the most recognized egg tempera artists of contemporary times are Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and Andrew Wyeth (1917- ).

There are a few commercially made egg temperas in tube form that follow the standards and formulation of the classic egg tempera used by artists since the Renaissance.  Considering that most of the religious panels painted between the 12th and 15th centuries were done in egg tempera, those formulas have a rich history.  These prepared egg tempera paints work well with acrylic gessoed panels.

Contemporary artists, those that are purists, prefer to create their own mixtures of pigments for this media.  There is a strong satisfaction in the actual creation of your paint, no matter what the formula might be.  And with egg tempera, once you create your paint, you have to use it immediately because there are no preservatives in the mixture.  Pigments used should be of the highest quality available, and a full color spectrum is available through art supply stores.  Formulas vary, but there are three constants in the recipe: egg yolk, pigment and distilled water.  (Simple tempera contains no yolk and doesn't require distilled water.)

To prepare the yolk for use, crack an eggshell into halves; then shift the yolk from shell to shell, removing as much of the white as possible.  (Or you can use an egg separator, available in the housewares section of supermarkets or stores.)  Discard the white and "dry" the yolk.  One way is to carefully pool the yolk in the palm of one hand, then shift to the other palm. Dry the first palm.  Shift to the dry palm, and repeat the shift/dry steps until the skin on the yolk starts to get "leathery."  You can also lay the yolk onto paper toweling and carefully dry off any remaining fluid.  Pinch the yolk gently between the thumb and forefinger of one hand, hold the yolk above a clean mixing/storage jar, and then pierce the yolk with a blade.  Catch the yolk fluid and use it in combination with dry pigments and water to create your palette of colors.

In order for the dry pigments to mix readily with the yolk, it may be necessary to create a paste of dry pigment and distilled water and then add the yolk.  This will help eliminate lumps of unmixed powder pigment.  Add pigment paste in small portions to egg (equal portions of each); then add small quantities of water to create a paint of workable texture.  The correct consistency is that of thick oil paint.  Note: When using any dry pigments, always exercise caution - do not inhale the powder and do wear disposable gloves.  When working with the paints, always wash your hands before eating or smoking.

The surface onto which you apply egg tempera needs to be "accepting" of the pigment and absorbent by nature.  Oil gessoed panels work best because they grip the pigment and offer a dry surface on which to lay the yolk mixture.  But this absorbency compounds the fast drying properties of the mixture, so one must work quickly.  A technique used by many to overcome this fast drying is to create planes of color using hatching and crosshatching.  These two application methods offer a way to achieve varied degrees of tone and depth.

Some manufacturers offer panels coated with an oil-based gesso, but they are more costly.  Acrylic gesso is unsuitable for handmade egg tempera, so you may want to create your own panels on any one of several substrates.  The most popular are Masonite and plywood, although historically egg tempera was done on solid wood panels.  Apply oil gesso in overlapping layers, allowing each to dry between coats.  Do at least three crisscrossing layers.  Scrape with a sharp blade or sand the final coat smooth to remove all brush marks and to create as smooth a surface as possible.  A spare utility knife blade can be scraped over the surface as can a window cleaning razor knife.  Use care when scraping and try to avoid pits and cuts.  NOTE: Claybord is a panel created and ready to go with a soft, smooth gessoed surface perfect for egg tempera and is available wherever art materials are sold.


--Some pigments have a higher absorbency than others. Test your dry pigments in small batches.

--Avoid storage for more than a couple days and always place the paint in the refrigerator between painting sessions.

--Create a reference card file to record the quantities of pigment and the resulting color. Color tests created by painting grids of measured quantities of combined colors are very helpful in recapturing a tone or shade used at another time.

--As an alternative ground, use heavy watercolor paper that has been coated with two to three even coats of rabbit skin glue.

--Wash and condition brushes well between painting sessions.

The Society of Tempera Painters is dedicated to the improvement of the art of tempera painting by the interchange of the knowledge and experience of the members. See their informative web site at

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These web art lessons are listed as a convenience to my visitors. If you use these lessons, I can take no responsibility and give no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of these lessons.

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