Technique-of-the-Week — Coloured Pencil Flower

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.

My materials:

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.

The flower — anyone who knows what this is, please leave me a comment!

The flower — anyone who knows what this is, please leave me a comment! I thought it was an osteospermum, but they seem to have lots more petals.

Sometimes it's helpful to see a picture in black-&-white, even if you are going to do it in colour, to get a sense of the range of values (dark and light). You can also get this by squinting at your subject to filter out extraneous detail.

Sometimes it’s helpful to see a picture in black-&-white, even if you are going to do it in colour, to get a sense of the range of values (dark and light). You can also get this by squinting at your subject to filter out extraneous detail.

I started off with a drawing in yellow pencil, since that was going to be an underlying colour through most of the flower. Regular graphite pencils can smudge and cause your colours to get greyed wherever they connect. Pick a very light colour to sketch in, that will show up in most of your painting. You may need to use different colours for different areas. I photoshopped this a bit so it would show up more clearly; it was very pale.

I started off with a drawing in yellow pencil, since that was going to be an underlying colour through most of the flower. Regular graphite pencils can smudge and cause your colours to get greyed wherever they connect. Pick a very light colour to sketch in, that will show up in most of your painting. You may need to use different colours for different areas. I photoshopped this a bit so it would show up more clearly; it was very pale.

Next I started filling in some of the areas that had the most intense yellow, and started filling in the darker areas of the background so that I could see the flower better. If something  has a lot of yellow in, I generally do that first, using it as an undertone to tie everything together. If you wait until the end to put on the lighter colours, they can get contaminated easily by the dark. On the background, I started with the darkest, because I knew I was going to use mostly dark, harmonious colours that would blend well. This way I could just keep layering them back and forth, dark and light.

Next I started filling in some of the areas that had the most intense yellow, and started filling in the darker areas of the background so that I could see the flower better. If something has a lot of yellow in, I generally do that first, using it as an undertone to tie everything together. If you wait until the end to put on the lighter colours, they can get contaminated easily by the dark. On the background, I started with the darkest, because I knew I was going to use mostly dark, harmonious colours that would blend well. This way I could just keep layering them back and forth, dark and light.

I added some reds to start defining the centre disc, and start filling in the darker areas of the petals. I've also added some more colour in the background. The strokes I'm using throughout this are very light so as not to crush the tooth of the paper too early.

I added some reds to start defining the centre disc, and start filling in the darker areas of the petals. I’ve also added some more colour in the background. The strokes I’m using throughout this are very light so as not to crush the tooth of the paper too early.

Starting to define the form of the little side florets, and I've covered the central disc with orange, in preparation for the next step. Notice that my strokes are circular or scribbly anyplace I just want to cover, but on the petals they are directional to emphasize the texture of the petals (although these petals also have colour lines that are directional, this applies to any type of flower).

Starting to define the form of the little side florets, and I’ve covered the central disc with orange, in preparation for the next step. Notice that my strokes are circular or scribbly anyplace I just want to cover, but on the petals they are directional to emphasize the texture of the petals (although these petals also have colour lines that are directional, this applies to any type of flower).

Continuing to fill in. I've added little circles in the centre to define the tiny buds; since I had already filled it in with orange, I don't have to worry about spotting in the lighter colour.

Continuing to fill in. I’ve added little circles in the centre to define the tiny buds; since I had already filled it in with orange, I don’t have to worry about spotting in the lighter colour.

It's beginning to take on dimensionality with the addition of some pink. The colours are still showing a lot of texture; at this stage, that is a good thing, because it means I haven't filled up all the little valleys in the paper with colour, at which point I would no longer be able to apply any more.

It’s beginning to take on dimensionality with the addition of some pink. The colours are still showing a lot of texture; at this stage, that is a good thing, because it means I haven’t filled up all the little valleys in the paper with colour, at which point I would no longer be able to apply any more. I even remembered that I’d need some space to sign it (which I sometimes forget until the end, then — uh-oh!).

Here I've begun burnishing. This is the process of using a light coloured pencil (or a special colourless pencil) to blend the colours and push them down into the paper a bit. Here I used a white pencil to burnish some of the pink; compare it with the last photo.

I’ve begun burnishing. This is the process of using a light coloured pencil (or a special colourless pencil) to blend the colours and push them down into the paper a bit. Here I used a white pencil to burnish  and smooth some of the pink; compare it with the last photo.

More burnishing and pumping up the darks a bit. I rarely use black in a mix, but here is was just right to add some depth to the area around the central disc, and to bring out the definition of the buds.

More burnishing and pumping up the darks a bit. I rarely use black in a mix, but here is was just right to add some depth to the area around the central disc, and to bring out the definition of the buds.

Adjusted the values a bit more, added some purple to give more depth to the darks and the background, and a bit more burnishing. There are many colours layered over each other for richness. Just colouring in a single colour of pencil, no matter how many colours you have in your set, cannot give you the richness and depth that layering different colours can give you. Knowing which ones will go best together is partly a matter of knowing the colour wheel, but also partly experimentation.

Adjusted the values a bit more, added some purple to give more depth to the darks and the background, and a bit more burnishing. There are many colours layered over each other for richness. Just colouring in a single colour of pencil, no matter how many colours you have in your set, cannot give you the richness and depth that layering different colours can give you. Knowing which ones will go best together is partly a matter of knowing the colour wheel, but also partly experimentation.

Much burnishing and colour adjusting later, I have  a picture I'm happy with!

Much burnishing and colour adjusting later, I have a picture I’m happy with!

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.

 

9 responses to “Technique-of-the-Week — Coloured Pencil Flower

  1. Thanks so much Karen! I am going to print this post to help me this season with my drawing. I have dropped the hint to my drawing hubby to not just stop and smell the flowers, but to draw them also! Your post has helped me understand more of the techniques involved I would have never thought of, like type of paper.
    Embassingly enough, you got me on the id of the flower. .. When was it blooming? If fall, I’d guess anemone, but there are also so many annuals that I’m unfamiliar with. ..
    Thanks again! And thanks for the plug! 🌼🌻🌺

    Like

    • That’s wonderful! You’ll have to do a post with both of your drawings in it sometime — and let me know!

      I don’t know if you saw it, but Lani has identified it as a dwarf singular dahlia. The gardens where I took the photo have an amazing dahlia border (my own hubby was so enthralled one time that he did a very long video of it from one end to the other and top to bottom (it’s very tall) while I was taking my usual thousands of pictures). I’ll include some shots next week in my composition post.

      Like

  2. Good morning Karen Love your posts and I believe this flower is a dahlia..the dwarf singular variety.

    Lani (Marci’s friend)

    >

    Like

    • Thank you, Lani! That makes sense, as Butchart Gardens has a huge dahlia border. I have taken so many pictures there over so many trips that I can’t remember where in the gardens each one was taken anymore!

      Like

  3. Pingback: Technique-of-the-Week — Through the Eye of a Flower | Karen Gillmore Art·

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