Also, this is Drawing-a-Day number 18! A double-duty drawing!
A few weeks ago, I had a request from Ilex of Midwestern Plants (check out her wonderful blog here!) for a tutorial on how to do flowers in coloured pencils, also known as pencil crayons. It’s been a while before I could get to it, because I’ve been so busy making comics and, well, coloured pencil is the sloooooowest of all the mediums I use. It’s very meditative and the results are satisfying, but it takes a lot of time to do properly.
She also raised the excellent subject of how to create compositions with flowers — what angles to use to make a picture of flowers more interesting. That’s a little much to cover in this post, so I’ll tackle that next Saturday using some of my photos (I have a zillion photos of flowers). Please check back!
So — here I’ve put together the in-progress shots of a little coloured pencil painting (when they reach this stage of finish, they are truly more painting than drawing, even though they are a dry medium). I’m not sure what kind of flower this is; I took the picture at Butchart Gardens, which is just north of where I live in Victoria, BC. Feel free to use it if you want to try following along with my steps here.
I used some very soft Fabriano paper that someone had given me as offcuts from a printmaking project. It is a cream colour, so that carries over into the painting as a sort of overall warm tone. Good papers for coloured pencil are thick, relatively smooth but not slick, and tough enough to withstand a lot of layering. My usual standby is Rising Stonehenge.
My pencils in this case were Derwent Coloursoft. I have a set of seventy-two, but you don’t really need that many, since blending the colours gives you the most richness. The more colours you have to blend, of course, the more nuanced your mixtures can be, but wonders can be worked with a basic set of twelve. If you intend to get into this medium, though, spring for as many colours as you can afford. I also use Prismacolors, which have some different colours (they make a huge range) and are a little bit firmer than the Derwents. Prismacolour also make a harder pencil called Verithin, which is great for detail work, and they also make Prismacolor Stix, which are big like crayons — ideal for covering large areas.
Here’s a bit about Coloured Pencils from one of my art class handouts:
Introduction to Coloured Pencils
©2009 Karen Gillmore
What Are Coloured Pencils?
Coloured pencils, sometimes called pencil crayons, have a core of pigments and fillers held together with wax or oil-based binders. Artist grade brands are quite different from the cheap ones made for children — you get what you pay for! Pigments and binders are of higher quality in artist-grade materials, and will stand the test of time better. After all the work of creating a coloured pencil drawing, you don’t want to see it fade over time!
Coloured pencils come in a range of hardness or softness, to be used according to specific purposes. In general, hard pencils are used for detail work, and soft ones to layer for rich colours. The soft ones can be used for detail, but require more frequent sharpening.
When buying coloured pencils, look for a nicely centered core within the wood casing. Off-centre cores will not sharpen properly. Also, do not drop your pencils, as the soft cores will break and you will find that they keep breaking off as they are sharpened
How are Coloured Pencils used?
Coloured pencils can be used on almost any surface. Paper, board, canvas, wood, unglazed ceramic and more are all possibilities. They can be used with almost any other medium, and are often used in mixed media compositions. They are valuable in laying down a non-intrusive sketch for a painting, by using similar colours to those you intend to use in the paint.
Different surfaces can vary the look and behaviour of your coloured pencils considerably. In general, the more tooth (roughness) the surface has, the more colour will rub off on it. On a very slick surface you may find it very difficult to get deep colours, but the coverage will be smooth; on a very rough surface, you may not be able to cover all the “valleys”, leaving only colour on the “hilltops”. Both of these extremes have their uses, but for general drawing purposes, I recommend a medium-toothed paper, Stonehenge (by Rising). Try your pencils later on all kinds of different papers and surfaces, to explore their capabilities further.
Coloured pencils can be difficult to erase. Standard pencil erasers generally do not have much effect beyond smearing them around (which can be used to blend them, by the way). Kneaded erasers, mounting putty, and tape can all be used to lift colour from an area, and white plastic erasers can sometimes be used with good results. Luckily, the slow, controlled manner of laying down colour necessitated by the pencils themselves make erasing a seldom-needed option.
Where does one start?
Get to know your coloured pencils by experimentally playing with them. Doodle a bit, make a chart of your colours. Try overlapping some colours and see what happens. Now overlap them in the opposite sequence — do the resulting colours look the same or slightly different? What happens if you use white on top of a colour? What happens if you put colour on top of white?
After you have tested them out in this way, try making a drawing, from life or a photograph, or even from your head (you have a vast storage of visual imagery in there, learn how to access it!). Try matching the colours you see by blending colours, or laying them side by side in an impressionistic way.