Steps I take before starting an art project

I always find that having a specific routine for creating any art project helps me stay on track with what I am doing and I don’t make as many mistakes.

Having order while I am working stops me from working aimlessly and not knowing where I am going with the project.

The following steps have occurred naturally over time and now I use the same procedure every time.

STEP 1 Look for a reference photo

This step can take a couple of hours and sometimes it can take minutes. It really depends on where you look and what is out there that captures your attention. I do love this step as it usually gives me inspiration for future art projects.

At the moment I am using:


Most of the time I tend to get the majority of my reference images from Unsplash and if I can’t find any from there I go to Pixabay. However, I have gotten some great images from the others. All the sites are great for copyright-free images. An awesome tool is that you have the ability to save your images into collections that you name yourself. I title my collections with what images I have saved into them. For example Animals, People, Objects.

While I am looking for the perfect reference photo, I usually come across one that I can use in the future. So I save it to a relevant collection.

STEP 2 Download and print

Once I have decided on the perfect image I then download it ready to print. If it needs editing to make it stand out better I will do that before I print it off. Sometimes I will print off a black and white copy so I can see the light, medium and dark tones clearly.

STEP 3 Sketch it out

Now that I have it printed I can go ahead and sketch the image out onto the paper that I will be using. See blog post about choosing the right paper. Sometimes I will use my lightbox or trace the outline but most of the time I will draw free-hand. It really depends on the image that I am using.

STEP 4 Selecting colours

I love selecting the colours using the image as a guide. I have a book with all my colour swatches inside it. This little book is one of the best things I have bought.


As you can see from the image, I can easily match the right colour to the reference photo.

I hold the image as close to the colour swatch as I can because you will see that not all blues or green etc are the same. One colour could be a cool tone or a warm tone.

STEP 5 Get it on paper

Before I even get my pencils out I write all the colours I need onto a piece of paper so I can use it as my own reference. There have been many times that I have forgotten why I chose a certain colour. See the image below.

As you can see from the image I have divided it into relevant sections and added the colour names that will be needed.

STEP 6 Gather art supplies

Now I will get all my pencils out and put them into a paper cup for easy access and to keep my workstation neat and tidy.

I will also have:

STEP 7 Lighten the sketch

To prevent the graphite pencil from showing through the coloured pencil layers it is important to lighten the sketch. I do this with a kneadable eraser. All you have to do is press it over the sketch lines and it will pick up some of the graphite off the paper. A normal eraser doesn’t allow you to do this properly. You just want to barely see the pencil sketch but still be able to make out the lines.

STEP 8 Sharpen pencils

I tend to sharpen all the pencils I am using in one go before I start. Doing it this way saves having to stop and sharpen all the time as you use a new colour. However, I do have to resharpen them when they wear down.

STEP 9 One section at a time

Working on small sections a ta time is a lot easier than going all in. I add light layers and build the section up until you can hardly see the paper underneath. Then I will move on to the next section.

STEP 10 Blending out

Once all the sections are complete with the first layers (quite a lot of layers actually) I can start to blend them out with the blending solution. First I make sure my brush is super clean by dipping it into the solution and then scrubbing the brush onto a tissue. Then I dip the brush in again and dab it gently onto the tissue to remove excess fluid (very important) and start blending from light to dark in either small circular motions or directional strokes (depending on the type of drawing).

STEP 11 Let it dry

It is important to leave the solution to dry on the paper (preferably overnight) because layering on top of the wet solution will ruin the paper and the drawing.

STEP 12 Take a break

While I am waiting for the solution to dry I will either, go and read, live my life, do necessary chores or even start thinking about my next project. So be patient and go do something while you wait.

STEP 13 Finishing stages

Now that the blending solution has completely dried I can add more layers with more precision and pressure.

STEP 14 Details

I will start to add the details that will bring the artwork to life. I will also darken the darkest areas and lighten up the lightest areas. This is the time to create texture if needed. For example, using the craft knife to add any fly-away hair. This really gives your drawing a realistic look. (The same with animal fur too).

STEP 15 Last touches

This is where I will add any highlights with my Gelly Roll pen and also spray the finished picture with a fixative. See the image below.


STEP 16 Ready for sale or for keeps

When the fixative is dry (overnight) I sign my artwork and frame it ready for sale or to hang in my home.

I hope these steps have helped you plan out your future art projects. If you want more hints and tips, come and join us at 



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