5 Most Common Drawing Mistakes Beginners Make

5 Most Common Mistakes for Beginners
Charcoal masks small

When you are starting out with anything there is a learning curve. There are common mistakes that all beginners make that can slow down your progress with drawing. Don’t worry everyone makes these mistakes the important thing is to break these tendencies so your drawings will improve.

1. Too Much Pressure on Your Pencil
When you are using your pencils be careful not to use too much pressure. If you push too hard you will destroy the texture of the paper. This will be very noticeable in your drawing. It also makes it more difficult to control your drawing if you want to modify the area where the texture has been destroyed.
To preserve the texture of the paper use light pressure. No more pressure than you would use with a stylus on the surface of a smart phone. If you use less pressure and take more time building up your values you will have more control over your drawing in general.

2. Not Using Rich Darks
It takes time with graphite to establish rich darks (not a challenge with charcoal). Learning to see and increase the value range in your drawing will help your drawings have more visual impact and more depth. Sometimes fear of going too dark can keep us from establishing rich values. However if you use a light touch and know how to use your erasers this will not be a problem.

drawing light too light

3. Outlining Everything in Your Drawing
Nothing will kill the depth in a drawing quicker than outlining everything. If you use hard lines to outline everything, you will destroy the illusion depth. There are times when you use lines to create value for reasons of style such as cross hatching, but as a beginner we usually rely on outlines instead of value to separate and define objects. Look instead for “edges”. Edges are created by the value of a particular shape in context to another shape. Example of the outside of the bag where it touches the darker shadow shape of the wall creates the edge of the bag in the drawing.

paper bag drawingsm

4. Using the Wrong Paper
If you are having problems with your drawing it could be the paper. If you are using cheap printer paper you are going to have a harder time getting a decent drawing. How thick the paper is makes a difference. Thickness of paper is measured by pounds or lbs. Usually for drawing paper you want something that is 70 lbs or higher. Paper texture is also a factor for beginning students find paper that had a medium texture. If it is art drawing paper it will list on the drawing pad or roll or paper of what texture it has. Avoid smooth or plate surfaces because they have no texture the marks of your pencil show the slightest variation making smooth values difficult. Also with smooth papers you can’t get deep values. Medium texture or other medium textures like bristol will work the best


5. Using Scribbled Lines instead of Value and Shapes
Many times when we find something difficult to draw with lots of details it can overwhelm us. A good example is drawing Trees. The first time I tried to draw trees my brain turned off and I instead began using scribbling instead of good drawing decisions about shapes and values, it was easy to just scribble in a little something to represent the leaves. This is a mistake everyone makes when drawing detailed objects. Whenever you find yourself just scribbling in stuff look back at you object blur your vision and try to find a definite shape and a definite value. Then put that down on your paper. You will find your drawings will improve by leaps and bounds when you do this


Why and How to Use Watercolor Mediums

Watercolor using Distilled water and Mediums

So with watercolor painting for some reason there is a lot of misinformation out there and other information that is completely lacking. Three of the most misunderstood subjects is using watercolor mediums and the use of distilled water vs. tap water. Let’s start with using distilled water to thin your paints. I have heard the rumors that using distilled water is superior to using tap water since I began watercolor painting back in high school. I have continued to hear it over the 20 or so years since then. I finally broke down to experiment with the possibilities of using distilled water. First off distilled water is slightly more acidic than tap water the higher ph could potentially be detrimental to your watercolor paper. That not withstanding I experimented using distilled water on different papers hot pressed, cold pressed, and rough watercolor paper. I also used distilled water in several watercolor painting techniques including gradient washes, flat washes,wet in wet, and wet into semi-wet and so forth. The verdict is there is no difference between tap water and distilled water. In fact distilled water didn’t perform as well as tap water. So in watercolor painting tap water is just fine. Let’s move on to watercolor mediums what they are for and how to use them.

Watercolor Mediums

Why and How to Use them Gum Arabic

Most watercolors contain a portion of gum arabic. It has the consistency of honey or light corn syrup it is used as a binder for watercolor paints. As a medium gum arabic increases the gloss and transparency of watercolors. Gum Arabic also helps slow down the drying time of paint giving you more time to work with you washes.

How to Use it:

Never use gum arabic straight out of the bottle. Always use it with water. At the very least use a small water resevoir with 8 oz water about 20 drops of Gum arabic. I also will sometimes use Gum arabic in my main painting water. Then you just use your water the same as you would if it didn’t have gum arabic. Something to be aware of if you use gum arabic your paint will lift off the paper more easily,so if you plan to use several layers of colors over other colors don’t use gum arabic.

Ox Gall Liquid

Ox gall increases the wetting properties and flow of watercolors with a few drops to your painting water. The colors will soften and blend together easier. The medium can be useful for ‘marbling’ or creating textures. It will also set your colors into the paper and make them harder to lift. If you want to create paintings with several color layers ox gall is the way to go.

How to Use it:

Using about 8 oz of water add 10 drops ox gall liquid. Use the medium to wet the paper for wet into wet or wet into semi wet techniques painting techniques.

Painting: How to Buy the Right Colors


Why is Buying Oil Paints So Confusing

If you have ever had a to buy paints, gone to the art store and found yourself staring at the paints wondering why so few have the same names for their paint colors. It’s a problem that has plagued the art world since they began manufacturing oil paint over 150 years ago. Companies are more interested in great sounding color names than accurate color descriptions. So let’s demystify some of the ambiguity.

Here are some ways of buying the correct colors

1. Every paint color lists the pigment or pigments used to make that tube color(it’s required by law). Not only the pigment name is listed but also the color index number. So for instance I need to find a paint color Phalo Blue, the problem is the manufacturer paint names for this color varies. Here are some of the common names across manufacturers : Thalo blue, Monestial Blue, Winsor Blue, Monastral Blue, Phthalocyanine Blue, Phalo Blue, Heliogen Blue, Intense Blue, Old Holland Blue, Rembrandt Blue. I however know the color pigment name is Copper Thalocyanine and that color index number is PB15 or PB16(either works but one is greener and the other slightly bluer). By looking at the pigment name or the color index number listed on the paint tubes you can be sure you have the right color no matter what.

Below I list some of the paint colors whose names vary the most between manufacturers

The paints that vary the most in terms of paint names are the following:

Thalo Blue – copper phthalocyanine – PB 15 or PB 16 Hansa Yellow Light – arylide yellow – PY 3 Hansa Yellow Medium – arylide yellow PY 74 Hansa Yellow Deep – arylide yellow PY 75 Thalo Green – copper phthalocyanine -PG7 or PG36 Thio Voilet – quinacridone – PR122 Thalo Rose- quinacridone – PV19 Dioxizine Purple- carbazole dioxazine – PV23 ]

Be Aware of Color Hues

“Color Hues”- Cadmium, cobalts and Chromes are all paints made with metals. Many companies make paints that look similar to these colors they are less expensive but don’t mix the same as the real paints. These are named “hues” such as Cadmium Red Light Hue. These paints don’t actually contain any cadmiums, cobalts or chromes. Don’t buy the “hues” if you can avoid it. They are harder to control as a beginning or intermediate painter.

Metal Paints are Always named Accurately

The good news is the Classic metals paints are always named by their pigments names. So for example it will says it’s Cadmium Red Light or Cadmium Red Light Medium, Cobalt Blue or Chrome Yellow and so forth, you will know you are buying the actual metals based paints. Use these tips and save yourself  a headache at the art store.

Painting Techniques and Tips: It’s all About the Angle


The Angle of the Brush is Key to Learning to Paint

When painting no matter how long you have done it it’s always best to remember the basics. Sometimes this doesn’t happen either because you are just learning and still figuring out exactly what to do or you have experience painting aren’t giving it much thought. It’s the most basic of concepts and yet it has one of the greatest impacts on the look of your painting, it’s the angle you hold your brush in relation to the canvas. Using a paint brush at an angle close to 90 degrees to the canvas will cause the paint you apply to  mix with whatever paint is on the canvas or if there is already thick paint on the canvas then applying paint this way will carve into the layers of paint on the canvas. However when painting with a brush at an angle that is almost parallel to the canvas it will lay the paint onto the surface differently, spreading it on almost like butter on toast, when using this stroke on an area with thick paint layers this will lay down paint onto of the earlier layers of paint beneath. Varying the angle of your stroke somewhere between these two extremes will give you slightly different effects, somewhere between carving through the paint and spreading it over the paint beneath. Experiment with the possibilities and your control over your painting will increase dramatically.

Learning to Paint Landscapes

Painting the Landscape Outdoors

studio icon

There is no better way to learn to paint the landscape than to get outside and paint it live and on location. People did this for hundreds of years.  To learn to paint the landscape an artist went out into nature to learn to understand depth, perspective and most importantly color. This was an important part of the training of any artist so they could paint landscapes that felt natural and believable.

Entering the 20th century photography became more affordable. Many artists began to use photography as reference for their landscape painting this trend continued to become more and more common until by the later part of the 20th century most artists used just photography and didn’t even bother going outside to learn to paint. Many times they hadn’t visited the location they were painting they were painting from other people’s photographs. The problem with using this photography is the art suffered from using photographs.

Some of you may be asking yourselves why is using photography a problem? What does it matter if one uses photography to paint a landscape. The are several problems the biggest is no photograph sees color as well as the human eye. Our eyes can see and detect color in a way that cameras can compete with on their best day. They have yet to make a camera that can compete with the human eye. The next problem in photos are the way they reproduce shadows. In photographs shadows lose their depth so it’s always very evident when someone has painted from photos because the shadows in their paintings are flat and lifeless.  Photos are always taken with a photo lens that has a camera distortion. Different lens lengths will all distort the photos differently. If you don’t correct this distortion by leaving this in your paintings it will be a clear sign that you used a photograph. This is why it is better to learn to create landscapes by being out in the landscape. Artists learned these drawbacks of using photographs so artists began to return to nature.

A movement started back in the 1970’s to get artists back out into nature and learn to draw and paint better landscapes. This movement was called painting or drawing in “Plein Air”,it’s a french term for drawing or painting outdoors. I believe in the importance of Plein Air painting and drawing though I find it  a little ironic that we have come full circle to learning to paint the same ways they did over a hundreds of years ago.

To learn more about drawing or painting landscapes take one of my outdoor art classes where we visit wonderful places around Boise and learn the art of creating wonderful landscapes.

How to Paint Landscapes

How to Paint the Landscape, It’s a Process


There are hundreds of books that describe how to paint landscapes. I usually can’t stand most of these so called instructional books because there isn’t enough information on the process used to create a finished landscape. Before I start I will assume the reader has a basic understanding of color, color mixing and working with oil paint. If not you may not get as much out of this article. The good news is I have plenty of blog posts that talk about the fundamentals of oil painting. Now let’s return to the landscape painting. When I start a landscape I look for something that catches my attention which usually is the light and the color. I have always been fascinated by color and I am drawn to the artists who use it and use it well. I was raised in Arizona where the sun it intense and bright even sometimes overwhelming. This light reveals the wonderful color of the Senora Desert which I enjoy painting because of it’s diversity. As I travel looking for inspiration I am looking for the color and light that I find so fascinating. Once I find something that inspires me the real fun begins. That means it’s time to start painting and my paintings almost always start with the drawing.

Where to Start 1. The Drawing

Drawing is the most important thing in you painting because it defines the structure, perspective and edge relationships. It helps to work out initial ideas of composition and most importantly it helps you understand what needs to be changed to make the drawing and eventually the painting to look better. A solid drawing is the foundation of a good painting. Never underestimate the importance of a good under drawing. Many times I draw out my paintings completely. Especially if they are complex subjects or compositions. Most of my drawings are completely free hand to describe the gesture and composition. This time I used the grid method for proportion and perspective. There are several reasons to use grids other than trying to copy photographs to get accurate placement, the reason this time was to help the perspective or size proportion of the foreground vs. the bluff and mountains in the background. I used an hb charcoal pencil to begin the grid. I divided my 48″ x 36″ canvas into six inch squares which worked out to be 6 rows and 8 columns. I used several sources for reference, about four photos, as well as 2 plein air paint sketches and one studio painting using these I drew out my composition. Changing and positions of cactus and redrawing bushes that didn’t look right or were unclear. With something as complex as this drawing I began to wash in some basic colors as I develop the drawing. This paint is very thin about the consistency of  whole milk or half and half. It’s slightly transparent and doesn’t hardly cover the charcoal lines. This bit or color helped to clarify the sky from the background and so forth. I wasn’t done the with drawing of the foreground, but these areas of color helped me as I continued to draw in the foreground. I quickly saw some problems in the foreground I decided to place the same sort of bushes from the right side on the left side as well, that way the right and left sides of the painting would look unified and I could use the repeating shapes and their relationships to create more depth in the painting.


2. The Rough in

After I finished my drawing I began to lay in my basic colors and values. I kept the paint thin about the consistency of half and half. I thinned my paints using turpenoid(basically a refined paint thinner) not turpentine. I tried to get the values and colors as accurate as possible and I worked until I covered the entire surface of the canvas to see how the colors would look in context to one another. I am someone who really needs all the canvas covered in order to decide what to change. I am made the colors more vibrant than they naturally were, I played up the blue and violets in shadow colors in the background that way the yellows, oranges and warm reds would feel brighter. Some of the colors were flat in through the rocks,  saguaros and sky.  It’s not apparent in the photo but the paint was too thin to cover the drawing underneath. The rough in is just that your filling in the basic colors so you can see the basic colors together then with the second layer of paint you cover up the under drawing, strengthen the colors, and put in the half tones and more details and or smooth transitions of color. I put a second layer of thin paint over the sky. The first layer of oil paint had already dried. I worked quickly to get the second layer of paint down quickly so I could work wet into wet. That way I could blend and easily soften any edges in the sky that seemed too harsh and add subtle colors as needed. The paint was kept thin so as not to create texture, texture catches the eye and has a tendency to advance(too much texture in the background makes the background push forward and compete with the foregound) so keep the least amount of texture in the background, slight textures in the middle ground and the most texture in the foreground. This being such a big painting it took a lot of time to cover the canvas. So I continued with the rough in

3. Rough In Continued-Try to Get the Canvas Covered

As I continued to work to cover the canvas I decided I wanted to put a second layer on the mountains to correct some of the drawing. So the basics shapes I modified some things were left in other shapes I took out completely. I looked for the lighter values and smaller shapes to clarify what is happening on the bluff. The previous picture looks flat and without a lot of form. I looked for changes in direction on the bluff I looked for where the wall was flat and where it popeds out a bit or cut back a bit. The changes in direction will change value and color slightly so basically I took the large shapes and added the smaller shapes which represent the changes in direction. These read as details.  I also added detail to the furthest ridges in the background some of the initial drawing was clumsy so I redefined and redrew that area in paint. I got to a point where I was satisfied with the background so I returned to work on the foreground.

I made the contrast on the front bushes in the foreground much brighter. I needed more contrast of value and color in the foreground and less in the background if I didn’t do this the background would try to jump into the foreground and the painting would appear flat. This stage is kind of like cleaning a messy garage where there is a time while you are cleaning that it looks messier than when you started. So as I continued to workout basic shape and ideas some areas looked almost finished while others not only look unfinished but completely wrong. I wasn’t worried because this was still the “rough in” stage. There is a saying with painting or drawing that it has a life cycle to a painting or drawing there are times when you are bringing the art to life and other times when you are killing it, this bringing art to life and killing it can happen several times on long paintings or drawings. The important thing is to quit working on the art when it is coming to life once again.

When things don’t look right in the artwork don’t get too discouraged,  stick to your plan that will help to stay motivated and likely end in a successful piece of art. Here was my game plan because too much of the painting was a mess at this point. The front bushes didn’t look right they were frumpy and clumsy. The little multi-branched cactus behind the bush on the left was too distracting. So I took mental notes about what was working and what was not working in the painting. The important thing at this point was to get the entire canvas covered and then I could make better notes about what I would change. Biggest Changes I decided to make at this point were

1. Soften the mid-ground Trees in the middle of the painting

2. Repaint the bushes in the foreground especially the largest one that seemed to glow.

3. Repaint the rocks and dirt in the front to clarify, give more detail and help the foreground come forward.

4. Background cliffs on the left were confusing and unclear I needed to restudy the values and shapes to clarify that area.


4.  Second Paint Layer – Refining and Developing This was a very important stage of the painting. I went back and made the corrections I noted earlier and the painting was really starting to come together after the changes. I used thicker paint in the foreground to not only cover any left over under drawing but many develop and clarify the half tones. The paint I used in the second layer was thicker about the consistency of soft sour cream or softened butter. I took my time to develop the details in the foremost bush in the foreground. I also did a little redrawing of the other front bushes changing their shapes and redefining their colors. There are still areas that haven’t been touched since the” rough in” like the saguaros. The reason for this was I knew that if I didn’t get the foreground to work correctly with the bushes and rock and dirt it wouldn’t matter how well done the saguaros were painted. So I was still looking  at the broad relationships such as are the shapes interesting enough, is there enough contrast in the foreground and less contrast in the background, is there a definite middle ground and are there any colors too bright or in the wrong place . I began to introduce more texture into the bushes and the rocks and earth. This was helping but it still looked like I needed to increase the contrast in the foreground overall with brighter lights and richer darks. The rocks and dirt weren’t finished nor did they look convincing so I noted that I needed to change that as well. I used a very direct type of painting technique there was no glazing, or even dry brushing it was painted with opaque colors over other opaque colors. There were places that I still hadn’t addressed, because there were still too many big issues to resolve between the background and foreground. So I continued to tackle the big issues.


 5. Second Layer Continued and Final Touches

So I darkened the trees in the middle ground these were silhouetted against the brighter light of the background and helped to separate the background from foreground. I finished the bushes and the rocks and dirt which I gave more details higher contrast and help the foreground to come forward visually. I finally finished the saguaros and then decided to darken them slightly again to increase contrast. I softened the multi-branched cactus. I made sure to keep the reds in the rocks and dirt in the foreground slightly bluer red so it didn’t read as warm light. I needed the oranges and yellow on the distant mountains to be the only colors to look warm. If the red of the rocks and dirt had been too warm or orange red they would have felt like they were in light not shadow. With all these changes finally I was happy with the painting and it did everything I wanted. So it was time to stop and call it finished.

Here is the final painting below


Mixing Colors: Paint and Tinting Strength

Mixing Colors:

Tinting Strength of Colors

All colors have a different tinting strength. For instance on our palette yellow have the least tinting strength you will need  more yellow(about 2/3 more than red to get an orange mixture .  Now I don’t want to start getting into recipes just note you will generally need more yellow. Blue is higher in tinting strength than red in general. A word of caution our green blue has the highest tinting strength of any color the palette  you will normally use ten times less Thalo blue to a mixture or less so for a green it would be 10 to one: 10 parts yellow to one part Thalo blue(green blue) a little of this blue goes a very very long way.

Just in general to get a feel for what I am saying about tinting strength or portions of color, lets talk about creating grays with black and white, to get a #6 on the value scale you can usually mix equal parts white and black, to mix a step# 7 you need to add 4 parts white to 1 part black, to mix a step #8 you may need to add 16 parts white to 1 part black,  to mix a step #9 you may need to mix 40 parts white to 1 part black to get to step 10# you may need to add 100 parts white or more to 1 part black. You should see that as you go higher up the value the amount of white needed doesn’t just double or even triple it rises quickly the higher you make the value.  This tinting strength principle applies in general to any paint color.  if I have a red that is a #6 on the value scale and I want to make it a #10 I could need as much a 100 parts white to one part red.

This is something to be aware I have seen students going through all the right steps to get a certain color only to forget this principle. They end up fighting to get a light gray a number #9 or something on the value scale. Normally they have this huge puddle of gray and they have used up their white puddle and their mixing puddle is a step #7 needing to lighten but 2 steps in value. I sit down squeeze out more white take a pea sized bit from their color puddle and add 6 to 7 times as much white and there is the color they needed . What went wrong is there wasn’t enough white in their mixture. To try and  make the entire puddle light enough I  would have had to add a 150ml of white to their puddle to make it light enough but instead I took just a bit from the original mixing pile so I could add the needed amount of white to get the right mixture .

The best way to avoid burning through more paint than you are prepared to use try this method of keeping in mind the tinting strength of your paint and you will be able to control the accuracy of your color mixtures but you will also control how much paint you use. Further this is a tip to help your control your color mixtures even better.

Start with the color you need for the color mixture to be or the value you need it to be so if I am painting a sky and I need a light blue I will start be pulling out a small pile of white paint. Then I add small bits of blue to that white until I have the value of light blue I want  if I need to make the blue greener or more violet add small bits of green or purple to shift the hue it shouldn’t take much the value shouldn’t shift much unless you are adding a very dark blue even then a small amount of white will lighten the value of the mixture to where you will need it. If you are creating a dark mixture start with your dark color and then lighten it as needed with lighter colors to control the value shifting the hue and chroma as needed this will help you control your color mixture much easier. So always remember the tinting strength of the paints you use.

Using Black and White a Cautionary Tale

How to Use Black and White in Oil Painting

One thing that happens with mixing paint is people reach for white or black too quickly when they are mixing colors. The biggest thing to remember is white or black will desaturate your color mixtures very quickly. When mixing your colors mix your hue first remember the colors your mix together will affect the value and chroma of the final color mixture. Get as close to the color you need before you add white. Also remember when you add white the color will get lighter but will also get cooler oranges, yellows and reds will shift more than other colors. So if I am adding white to an orange mixture the mixture will get cooler. After adding white I will have to add a warm yellow to shift the mixture warmer. It’s intuitive like with cooking you make the soup and then taste it sometimes it needs a little more salt, pepper or whatever. It’s the same thing with mixing color. Just remember to add white at the end of your mixture. To avoid times when you might add white to early in a mixture. If I am creating a very light blue green for instance and using a dark blue such as thalo or ultramarine. These colors are so dark in value it is hard to see what the color is doing when it is so dark. I could lighten the mixture with lemon yellow but that will also shift the mixture more yellow. I might add a little white to make the blue higher in value just so I can see the hue a little clearer and control my mixture much better.
The paint color Black has gotten a bad rap over the years. There are two camps those that swear that black should never find its way onto your palette and others that say good paintings can’t be done without it. I say good paintings can be done with or without black. I do enjoy having black on my palette. You can certainly paint without black and many great artists don’t use black. However there are just as many great colorists and impressionists who used black including Degas, Manet, Zorn and others. The best thing to remember is add black to a color mixture containing one or two other colors. Avoid having white in the mixture since that will lower the chroma or intensity of the mixture considerably. Use black with a transparent color like alizarin crimson or ultramarine blue and others this will give the black more translucency and add some depth to the black. Also remember in your mixtures that black is nothing more than a very dark low intensity blue. So remember black is a blue use it that way in your mixtures.
By understanding how to use white and black and how they affect your color mixtures you can use them effectively to lower and lighten the value of your colors while controlling their intensity. This will give your paintings more depth.

What are Warm and Cool Colors

Is That Color Warm or Cold

You hear a lot about the terms warm or cool colors. There is a broad definition and a more detailed explanation for warm and cool colors. The basic definition for your primary colors are red is warm and blue is cold some refer to yellow as warm but I consider it a neutral color meaning it can lean either warm or cool. Next you have your secondary colors Orange is warm and Violet is cool but once again I consider green to be neutral because it can be warm or cool.

General Definition

Warm Colors Neutral Colors Cool Colors
Red Yellow Blue
Orange Green Violet


There is a more detailed definition of warm or cool and it is applied to every color on color wheel and the colors you have on your palette. Here is a break down of the warm an cool versions of each color.

Warm and Cool of each Primary and Secondary Color

Warm Colors Cool Colors
Yellow – Orange Yellows  yellow-orange Yellow – Greener Yellows yellow-green
Blue – Blue Greens  blue-green Blue- Violet Blues voilet-blue
Red – Red Orange  red-orange Red – Red Purples  red-voilet
Orange- Orange Reds  orange-red Orange – Orange Yellows orange-yellow
Purple – Purple Reds red-purple Purple – Purple Blues blue-purple
Greens-Yellow Greens Greens – Blue Greens green-blue

There is an even more detailed definition and probably the most important

Warm or Cool Depends on the surrounding colors

Colors can be warmer or cooler in context to one another, you can take a cool color from a overall warm painting(one with mostly oranges and reds) and put it in an overall cool painting(one with a a lot of purple and blues) and the color that was cool in one context can be warm in another. Below is a good example.

The Violet Color Seems Warm among blues and greens but cool among yellows and reds


To see videos on Color Theory and Mixing visit my YouTube channel

Here is a video on Warm and Cool colors