Art Supplies for Control Freaks — Coloured Pencils

Although I adore watercolours, and enjoy the give-and-take partnership between me and my medium when I’m using them, sometimes I want a medium that I can order around. That I can say “Sit, Stay!” to it, and know that it’s not going to go romping around the paper, making indiscriminate friends with other colours and having surprising interactions with puddles lurking invisibly on the page. That’s when I get out my coloured pencils.

I was never a real fan of coloured pencils when I was young because I couldn’t afford good ones. But somewhere back in the mists of time, I discovered Prismacolors, and started buying them one by one in open stock, and had amassed a rag-tag collection. I used them to hand-colour my prints of my pen-and-ink work when someone wanted a colour version. When my husband-to-be bought me a glorious, 120-pencil set, the biggest box Prismacolor made, I knew for sure I’d found a keeper (the man, I mean, but yes, the pencils too). I spent two whole days sharpening them and putting them in chromatic order. I set them up in their box where I could look at them, and smell them, and touch them, and admire them in all their rainbow beauty. I used them sometimes as an addition to my watercolours, sometimes to colour my pen-and-ink work, and sometimes by themselves. I still use Prismacolors, but have added Derwent’s Coloursoft pencils to my favourites, especially when I want to do a lot of blending.

Coloured pencis are a slow medium. It takes time to build up the colour blends, a lot of time. It’s hard on the hands and the wrist, so I don’t work for many hours at a time. But the result is worth it. You can use them in a sketchy way, that has a fresh, child-like feel, or in a soft way, that looks kind of dream-like, or you can build up layers and burnish them until it’s hard to tell from an oil or acrylic painting if seen behind glass or in a computer image.

Here are some of my favourites:

"Sheltered" — a demonstration on doing an underpainting in dark grey pencil to establish the values turned into this.

“Sheltered” — a demonstration on doing an underpainting in dark grey pencil to establish the values turned into this.

"Broken Seashell" — I like to pick up broken seashells, because their curves are challenging and fun to draw. For this one, I used a technique I often use for figure drawing — woking on toned paper and just picking out the deepest shadow and the highlights with white and black pencils.

“Broken Seashell” — I like to pick up broken seashells, because their curves are challenging and fun to draw. For this one, I used a technique I often use for figure drawing — woking on toned paper and just picking out the deepest shadow and the highlights with white and black pencils.

"Falling Apples" — When I teach a coloured pencil workshop, I often go buy a bag of apples and hand one out to everyone. Apples are excellent subjects for learning how to build up colour from light to dark. After my demo, he whole class goes back to their tables and becomes very quiet for a while — silence is the sound of creativity! One class I actually had time to draw my apple several times on the same page.

“Falling Apples” — When I teach a coloured pencil workshop, I often go buy a bag of apples and hand one out to everyone. Apples are excellent subjects for learning how to build up colour from light to dark. After my demo, the whole class goes back to the tables and becomes very quiet for a while — silence is the sound of creativity! One class was so absorbed that I actually had time to draw my apple several times on the same page.

"El Morro" — the famous landmark fort at the mouth of Havana harbour. I got really caught up in the rocks on this one.

“El Morro” — the famous landmark fort at the mouth of Havana harbour. I got really caught up in the rocks on this one.

"Pink Rose" — One of the most burnished coloured pencil paintings I have ever produced. This little thing is  the size of a greeting card, and it took me many hours.

“Pink Rose” — One of the most burnished coloured pencil paintings I have ever produced. This little thing is the size of a greeting card, and it took me many hours.

"Bear Hangout" — from a photo I took in Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. There were no visible fences, and everyone wanted to know how I'd gotten so close to the bears! Usually I would just smile and look mysterious.

“Bear Hangout” — from a photo I took in Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. There were no visible fences, and everyone wanted to know how I’d gotten so close to the bears! Usually I would just smile and look mysterious.

"White Rose" — I took a bunch of white silk roses into a class I was teaching one day, and we all had a good time trying to make them look natural, adding backgrounds and suggestions of colour.

“White Rose” — I took a bunch of white silk roses into a class I was teaching one day, and we all had a good time trying to make them look natural, adding backgrounds and suggestions of colour.

"Two Lips" — from a photo I snapped of a bunch of tulips someone had given me. As the petals started to fall away, they got more and more interesting. This one took quite a long time, lots of burnishing.

“Two Lips” — from a photo I snapped of a bunch of tulips someone had given me. As the petals started to fall away, they got more and more interesting. This one took quite a long time, lots of burnishing.

 

I'd love to know — what do you think about this?

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