Painting Light with Colored Pencil

(Book Review)

Painting Light with Colored Pencil

Painting Light with Colored Pencil is a 128-page book of inspiration and instruction, showing you how to create colored pencil drawings so rich in color they resemble oil paintings!

Colored pencils are a convenient medium for people seeking to achieve a high degree of realism in their art. The supplies needed are minimal, compared with many other mediums. Colored pencils create minimal mess and require little to no prep or clean-up. Because colored pencils can be sharpened to a fine point, they are a natural medium for creating tight details.

Author Cecile Baird is an award-winning artist who is well known in the colored pencil world for her skill in creating luminous, highly realistic still life paintings using colored pencils. In her book, she shows you how to create realistic colored pencil paintings with an emphasis on capturing the special qualities of light and shadow to create rich, luminous works of art.

Read on for a detailed review of what you'll find in Cecile Baird's Painting Light with Colored Pencil.

One of Cecile Baird's colored pencil still life paintings, as seen in her book Painting Light with Colored Pencil

One of Cecile Baird's colored pencil still life paintings, as seen in her book Painting Light with Colored Pencil

Chapter 1: Inspiration, Composition and Lighting

Painting Light with Colored Pencil begins with a 14-page intro chapter that covers a lot of useful information about setting up your still life, which is especially great info for beginners. Setting up a still life correctly is an essential part of the art-making process, because the whole strength of your drawing will depend on the strength of your still life composition.

Cecile encourages you to choose subject matter that calls to you, and demonstrates how to set up successful still life compositions, keeping in mind factors such as color, shape, repetition, texture, light, reflections, and shadows. She provides examples to illustrate each of these points.

Shell Colored Pencil Drawing

She explains how to set up a good still life composition, being aware of focal point, value, harmony, balance, point of view, and depth, with different examples to illustrate these points, explaining what works and what doesn't work in each sample composition.

Lighting is another important factor that deserves a lot of attention when setting up a still life. Lighting can affect your composition by determining the brightness of the highlights and depth of the shadows. You can use artificial lighting or natural lighting. Natural lighting can change quickly but if you photograph the still life then you don't need to worry about the light changing while you're working on your drawing. The use of artificial lighting is common when setting up still lifes because it allows you to direct the light just how you want it. Cecile includes a lot of handy tips, such as a reminder to use a single light source to get good highlights and shadows, rather than two competing light sources which will wash out the values.

There is also a section about photographing still lifes. This book was originally published in 2005 so it mentions film photography, but these days most people use digital cameras. Cecile encourages you to take lots of photos of your composition, from different angles and with different lighting, which gives you a greater chance of coming upon the composition that is just right.

A lesson on setting up strong still life compositions

A lesson on setting up strong still life compositions

Chapter 2: Tools and Techniques for Painting Light

This 19-page chapter is packed with information. Now that you've learned how to set up your still life, you're ready to get acquainted with your materials and learn basic colored pencil drawing techniques. Chapter 2 starts with a discussion of paper, pencils and accessories.

One of the sections in Chapter 2 of Painting Light with Colored Pencil

One of the sections in Chapter 2 of Painting Light with Colored Pencil

When choosing paper to use with colored pencils, you'll need to take into account the color, texture, heaviness/weight of the paper. Cecile lists her favorite paper for using with colored pencils.

There are three categories of colored pencils that are suitable for fine art: wax-based, oil-based, and water-soluble. Cecile describes her favorite colored pencils (Prismacolor) and provides an overview of several other brands and their qualities.

Cecile rounds out the discussion of supplies by explaining several accessories that come in handy for colored pencil artists, such as pencil storage / carrying case, pencil carousel, pencil sharpeners, erasers, adjustable drawing surface, desk brush, colorless blender, color lifters, solvent, glue, fixative and other tools.

Next the chapter moves along to discuss techniques for transferring your photo onto paper as a line drawing. The author describes three methods for creating a line drawing from your photo: the grid method, the projector method, and the copier method. She recommends drawing onto tracing paper so as not to ruin your final paper, and then transferring that drawing onto your final paper using either a lightbox, transfer paper.

One of the examples of Cecile Baird's colored pencil art, shown in her book Painting Light with Colored Pencil

One of the examples of Cecile Baird's colored pencil art, shown in her book Painting Light with Colored Pencil

When you photograph your still life composition, the camera may distort the image in some ways. When you transfer your drawing, you may need to make some corrections to the perspective and composition to compensate for any camera distortions. Cecile includes before and after images to illustrate her points about correcting perspective and composition.

Now the colored pencil instruction begins. Cecile shows you different types of pencil strokes: circular, linear, and multidirectional. She explains why it's important to keep your colored pencils sharp, and describes three types of pencil points, how they differ and what each one is for. She covers the importance of pencil pressure and saturation point. She demonstrates three different burnishing techniques, with visual examples, and discusses the "wax bloom" phenomenon. This is excellent info for beginning colored pencil artists, because it sets the foundation for all your drawings.

This chapter also covers the use of solvents. When you use a solvent to dissolve and spread the color, you can quickly fill an area with color. Solvents can also blend colors so that the color of the paper is no longer seen in between the pigment marks. Cecile cautions you to practice using solvents before trying them on one of your colored pencil paintings, because using too much solvent can remove color.

Next, Cecile covers the concepts of value and color. You'll learn how to see values and how to draw value scales. She also shows you how to analyze the colors in your reference photo, and lists the colors she consistently uses. You'll learn how complementary colors can enhance one another when placed next to each other or layered on top of one another. There is also an overview of how layering with colored pencils can create luminosity, resulting in rich, compelling colors. Since colored pencils are semi-transparent, they can be layered in limitless ways to create interesting hues. 

Chapter 3: Create Fruit and Flowers That Glow

Chapter 3 is when the step-by-step demonstrations begin. For each demo, the author lists the specific colored pencils she uses (the brand names and colors).

In this chapter, Cecile explores how the use and placement of light can make fruit and flowers glow, resulting in radiant still lifes.

The step by step demos include:

On the left you can see her finished colored pencil painting of an orchid - hard to believe that's not a photo! On the right you can see the begining of her rose lesson.

On the left you can see her finished colored pencil painting of an orchid - hard to believe that's not a photo! On the right you can see the begining of her rose lesson.

  • Kiwi fruit - back-lit with strong shadows

  • Juicy cantaloupe - you'll examine and identify color variations in an object that appears mostly monochromatic

  • Apple with crock - learn how to render two different shiny surfaces with full range of values, plus capture the reflective light of the apple on the crock

  • Money plant - learn to capture light coming through the transparent leaves, and how to do a still life with a dark background

  • Rose - This lesson pinpoints which specific colors to put where to create the inner glow of the petals, which colors to use for defining the petals, and which colors to burnish with and the final colors to enhance with. Having these colors specifically pointed to in the progress images is very handy, and it's a feature that is lacking in the other demos.

  • Orchid

  • Autumn Leaves

  • Shiny green leaf

Chapter 4: Capture Light and Water

In this chapter, you'll learn how to capture the glow of light, the intricacy of reflections and the transparency of water.

The step-by-step demos include:

  • Candlelight - a still life where the only light source is the candle's flame, which creates soft, faded edges between the candle and the background

  • Oil lamp - tackles both soft candlelight and glass reflections

  • Cobalt blue glass - create a variety of blues and sharp shadow

  • Spilled water - master the transparent and reflective qualities of water

  • Water fountain - tackle the characteristics of moving water

Drawing Candlelight in Colored Pencil

Chapter 5: Bring Textures to Life

Capturing texture is an important aspect of drawing realistic still lifes. Chapter 5 shows you how to capture a variety of textures, such as:

  • Copper cup - notice how the shiny surface is made up of reflections of its surroundings

  • Cast iron kettle - a dull and dark object with low contrast

  • Freshwater shell - a smooth surface with a spiral shape

  • Linen tablecloth - rough weave

  • Weathered wood box

  • Velvet drape

Chapter 6: Paint the Total Picture

In this final chapter of Painting Light with Colored Pencil, author Cecile Baird shows you how to tie all the previous techniques together to create more complex still lifes. This chapter contains only two demos but they are quite in-depth (10 and 12 pages, respectively).

Step-by-step colored pencil demos:

  • Combine textures in soft light: Capture a wide range of values, textures and subjects

  • Paint light-filled surfaces with texture: Depict a variety of vases of different colors and textures atop a bamboo mat

A page from one of Cecile Baird's final lessons in Painting Light with Colored Pencil

A page from one of Cecile Baird's final lessons in Painting Light with Colored Pencil


As you flip through Painting Light with Colored Pencil, you can easily see that Cecile Baird is a master of colored pencil techniques. Her beautiful art serves as inspiring examples throughout the book of what can be accomplished with this medium.

Painting Light with Colored Pencil contains lots of demos, along with ample introductory material to get you going. For colored pencil artists who want to achieve this style of realism in their still life art, this book will be a wonderful guide.

Who is this book for?

Painting Light with Colored Pencil is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn to create realistic still lifes using colored pencils. This book is so full of tips and information that even advanced colored pencil artists may learn something new. 

Colored Pencil Still Life

Beginners will appreciate the introductory material, although total beginners might feel a little overwhelmed by the demos, because most of the demos do not pinpoint what colors to put where (the explanation of what colors to put where is usually described in words, without arrows pointing to the actual drawing, which can be a bit challenging to follow). Beginners who can feel comfortable taking charge and practicing the techniques even if they're feeling unsure of where exactly to place certain colors will benefit from the info in this book, although beginners who need more guidance might feel lost. Intermediate colored pencil artists will probably feel more comfortable following along with these lessons.

If beginners feel lost, they can take note of the specific colors Cecile uses in each stage of a particular demo and practice using those colors to achieve similar results, without worrying about copying her artwork exactly. As she notes at the end of the book, "the goal is not necessarily for you to re-create these paintings exactly as they appear here. Your goal is to master the techniques used to create these paintings. Then use these techniques for your own creations."

Who is this book not for?

If you are a total beginner to drawing in general and you are seeking instruction on basic drawing techniques, Painting Light with Colored Pencil will not be the book for you at this stage in your artistic journey, because this book is focused on a specific media - colored pencils - and teaches techniques for achieving realism in that medium only, rather than basic drawing principles.

If you are not interested in drawing realistic still lifes, then this book is not for you, because it only focuses on still lifes and only aims for realism (rather than expressionism, impressionism, whimsical, etc).

If you want to draw portraits or landscapes in colored pencils, you would be able to adapt the techniques you learn from this book to other subject matter, but you might prefer to get a book that focuses on your desired subject matter as it would be more directly useful to you.

Advanced artists will probably know most of the techniques described in this book, although you may pick up a tip or technique or two. This book is more ideal for beginners and intermediate colored pencil artists.

Where to Buy

If you're interested in purchasing Painting Light with Colored Pencil, you can find it at Amazon via the link below

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

A complimentary copy of Painting Light with Colored Pencil was provided to me by North Light Books for this review, which is based on my honest assessment of the book. All images in this review are displayed with permission and are copyrighted by their respective owners.

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