Making hundreds of colours from only 12 pencils

When you start using colour pencils as a medium, those giant,rainbow coloured packs of 120 pencils can seem like a must have item….

until you see the price tag!!

I don’t know about you, but it sure is hard to justify spending such a huge amount of money on a medium you are not yet familiar with. Colour pencils can be a tricky medium to master, they take a lot of time and practice and at first you don’t even know if you will enjoy the process!

We can start practicing with colour pencils without destroying our bank balance though. The first option is to start off with student grade pencils. These can be a great introduction to the medium, and I started my own collection of pencils with a $17 set of Monte Marte colour pencils. Unfortunately Student grade pencils are just not as pigmented, can blend unevenly or unpredictably,  and are not as light fast as the artist grade pencils. Most serious art students will find they “grow out” of these sets very quickly.

The second beginners option can be go whole hog and start off with the artist grade pencils… just not the whole collection! Most brands offer sets starting with as few as 12 pencils, which is a much more affordable option, especially if you can get a good sale price or manage to wrangle them as a gift!! *wink wink santa claus!!* 

To a beginner artist, it may seem that 12 pencils could not possibly be enough, but I assure you it can be. Colour pencils are just like paint, they can be mixed and blended to create endless combinations, the only difference is with the pencils we mix our colours directly on the paper instead of on the palette. Let me show you how many combinations we can create with just a basic 12 pencil set.

Polychromos 12 pack

In this grid I have blended each of the Polychromos pencils. Each square is a 50-50 mix of each pencil.

  • White
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Dark Cadmium Orange
  • Deep Scarlet Red
  • Magenta
  • Light Ultramarine
  • Pthalo Blue
  • Emerald Green
  • Light Green
  • Burnt Ochre
  • Walnut brown
  • Black

 

 

 

Prismacolor 12 pack

This grid shows the same 50-50 blend of the 12 pack Prismacolor premier pencils

  • White
  • Canary Yellow
  • Orange
  • Crimson Red
  • Violet
  • Violet Blue
  • True blue
  • Emerald Green
  • Apple Green
  • Sienna Brown
  • Dark Brown
  • Black

 

 

The colours in these charts are just the very tip of the iceberg! These are the colours than can be achieved by simple 50-50 blending of each colour, and doesn’t even start to take into account all the blends than can be created in different ratios or by adding a 3rd or 4th pencil to each blend. The possibilities are endless… which can be a little bit daunting.

Generally when I am mixing my pencils I choose the colour closest to my goal as possible, then use the colours I have available to warm up, or cool down, Lift or desaturate the colour as necessary. A lot of this is done through trial and error, so I find it is always best to have a piece of scrap paper on hand as I work, to test out how the colours will mix together before I use them together on the final product. Luckily the more experience you have, the easier it becomes to predict how the colours will react together. Unfortunately for the beginner there is no “recipe” book I can give you to create the colours you wish to achieve. The list of possible hues is endless, and most colours can be achieved by combining pencils in more than one way! Learning to mix your own colours Is best achieved through experimentation and practice, lots and lots of practice.

 

 

 

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Beginners color pencil tutorial. Blending colors on a Mango

Here is another tutorial for beginner colour pencil artists. I have chosen this mango, as the shape is very easy to draw and the different colours will give us a chance to practice blending our pencils together to get a smooth gradient.

Reference Picture 

I used Polychromos pencils:

  • White
  • Cadmium yellow
  • Pompeian red
  • Indian red
  • May green
  • Green gold
  • Cinnamon
  • Payne’s grey
  • Cold grey III

Equivalent Prismacolor pencils,  (I find them to be a little more difficult to control with the solvent, they will spread VERY easily…  but will give a slightly more vibrant result.)

  • White
  • Canary yellow
  • Carmine red ( makes the blush a little more pink, but quite pretty)
  • Henna
  • Lime peel
  • Artichoke
  • Nectar
  • Warm grey 90%
  • Cool grey 30%

I used Arches Hot pressed watercolour paper for this example, however this is quite extravagant. My favorite budget friendly paper is Fabriano accademia paper. I like a sturdy paper with a medium tooth for colour pencil work.

Step 1. Transfer the image to your paper.  If you feel confident, you can use a light graphite pencil to draw out the outline directly onto your paper, but be careful not to erase too heavily! We need to take care of the paper surface and excessive erasing can damage the tooth of the paper, or leave unsightly marks. Extra care needs to be taken to keep the graphite outline very light along the top of the mango, as it will show through the yellow in the final product.

This is quite a simple shape to draw out. I have provided a line drawing to trace if you wish, but there are many varieties and shapes in fruit and perfection is not required!

Step 2. Use the white pencil to lightly colour the area of highlight. While I am not looking for a brilliant white highlight this time, it can be helpful to protect this area a little, and this layer of white will mean we will be able to lift any colour that we may decide is too dark later on.

Step 3. Very lightly plot your lines for where you wish the colours to blend. You can change the size and shape of this area if you wish, but I recommend using the reference photo and trying to get as close as possible for practice. Once you have a clear idea where you wish you colours to be,  lightly start colouring the yellow area of the mango with the cadmium yellow pencil. When you get to the boundaries where the colours are to blend together, allow the yellow to drift slightly into the next colour area, this will be where our pencils will mix together.

Step 4. Next we will add our first layers of the Pompeian red to the blushed area. Start by working at the edge of the fruit and work towards the yellow. As you reach the transition, lightly colour the red pencil over the top of the existing yellow pencil. Remember to keep your hand very light; if you are pressing to hard it will be difficult to get a nice soft blend. Small light circular movements are best to allow you to fade one colour into another effectively.  When you are happy with coverage of the red pencil, you can go back over the blended are again with the cadmium yellow to blend even further.

Step 5. With the blushed end of the mango coloured, you can now move on to the greenish tip of the mango. Use the may green pencil in the same manner as you did with the red, blending the green slightly into the yellow and bring some of that yellow back over the green to let the pencils blend seamlessly together

Step 6. At this point you can add more areas of reds or greens if you wish, however I caution you not to allow the red and the green to touch or blend at any point on the mango. The red and the green are complimentary colours , which means that blending between these hues will create a darker, muddy color, which is not the goal for this brightly coloured piece!

Step 7. You should now have a reasonably solid coverage of pencil on your paper. While you will still be able to see small areas of white showing through, the overall coverage of the mango should be fairly even. Now it is time to use the Odorless mineral spirits. Use a soft brush, and blot most of the thinners off your brush before starting to blend, make small circular motions to push the pigment into the pits of the paper. **Warning!!** The yellow will be very easy to accidentally stain with red or green at this point, so be careful to clean off your brush before blending each area! Move slowly and soon you should have a nice solid base for your piece. Allow the thinners to dry completely before moving on the next layer.

Step 8. With the base colours established we can start applying some shadows to the fruit. Using the green gold pencil, add a light layer across the bottom of the mango. It is important to look closely at the reference image at this point as changes to the shape of this shadow can drastically change the overall form of the fruit. When you are happy with the placement of this main shadow, you can move on to adding the Indian red to the blushed area of the fruit. This will be darkest along the base and along the crease in the fruit.

Step 9. At this point, add a little bit of the cinnamon pencil along the inside crease of the fruit. This is a small step, but it makes a big difference to the overall look of the piece. This little touch of reflected light really helps to bring the shape to life!

Step 10. When you are satisfied with the form and coverage of the shadows, add another layer of each of the base colours (cad yellow, Pompeian red and may green)  to the whole piece, and blend out, using only a very small amount of thinners on your brush.

Step 11. While waiting for the thinners to dry, you can move on to the stem and shadow on the table. The stem is very simply completed by drawing a few darker lines using the Payne’s grey pencil and colouring over the top with the green gold. The stem takes surprisingly little work, needing only just a hint of detail to come together. Before drawing in the main shadow take time again to study the reference photo. Carefully add a strong area of Payne’s grey just underneath the fruit where it touches the table. Then use the cold grey III and with a feather light touch, add the rest of the shadow as it fades out to the white. Blend this area carefully with Odorless thinners on a dry brush.

Step 12. Now is a good time to step back and asses how your piece looks to you. Are there any areas of shadow that need darkening? Is there any area colour you would like to see stronger or more blended? Go over the whole piece again, adding your base and shadow colours, making any adjustments you feel necessary. These last layers should make your piece completely solid and bring the whole thing together.

Step 13. Before blending out these last layers, take the time to add a few marks or blemishes with your Payne’s grey pencil.  Only tiny dots of the pencil are necessary here, but they add just an extra element of realism to the drawing. Try to keep these blemishes as random as you can; it can be easy to accidental create unintentional patterns, so pay attention as you work.

Step 14. The last step is to take your brush and lightly blend the blemishes into the top layers of colour, just knocking them back slightly so they are not too stark against the bright fruit. I cannot stress enough how little thinner needs to be on your brush to achieve this, just the softest touch will be enough to do the job.

Finally! Assess your piece. Check shadows and sharpen a few  blemishes. Now is the time to step back a little and look for ways in which you think your piece can be improved. When you feel you have done all you can, you’re all done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beginner’s Colour Pencil Tutorial – Pear

This is an excellent project for a beginner colour pencil artist. The simple shape is very forgiving,  and the shading and texture does not need to be perfect to make a good-looking final product.  This drawing only uses 7 pencils and uses odorless mineral spirit to blend.

Reference Photo.

 

I used Polychromos pencils:

  • May Green
  • Permanent Green Olive
  • Van Dyke Brown
  • Nougat
  • Payne’s grey
  • Warm Grey II
  • White

If you wish to use Prismacolor pencils ( I find them to be a little more difficult to control with the solvent, they will spread VERY easily…  but will give a slightly more vibrant result. )

  • Lime Peel
  • Olive Green
  • Light Umber
  • Sepia
  • Warm Grey 90%
  • Warm Grey 30%
  • White

Step 1.

Transfer the image to your paper.  If you feel confident, you can use a light graphite pencil to draw out the outline directly onto your paper, but be careful not to erase too heavily! We need to take care of the paper surface and excessive erasing can damage the tooth of the paper, or leave unsightly marks.

I like to draw out my pieces on sketchbook paper, then use transfer paper to put my final drawing onto my good paper. However, if you are not as confident in your drawing skills and you just want to get to the good stuff, you can use this line drawing to trace. Whichever method you choose, try to keep your line work as light as possible, so you don’t see the graphite in your final image.

Don’t worry too much about the line drawing. The pear is a simple shape that does not need to be perfectly drawn to create a good finished drawing. All pears are different, no one will know if yours is a little wonky! 

 

Step 2. Use the white pencil to lightly colour the area of highlight. This will keep your highlight nice and bright , and safe from accidental colouring with your greens.

Step 3. Give the pear a light layer of May Green. With a sharpened pencil and holding the pencil away from the tip, create a light layer over the main area, avoiding the highlighted areas. When complete this area will look patchy and there will be patches of white paper showing through. We will use the thinners to fill in these areas later.

Step 4.  Define the areas of shadow with Permanent Olive green. Following the reference photo carefully, use the darker green pencil to start to define the shadows. The darkest areas are at the base of the pear, and to the right hand side.

Switching a reference photo to B&W can sometimes make it easier to see subtle differences is value and makes identifying these shadowed areas easier.

 

 

Step 5. Add the major brown blemishes, especially around the stem.

Step 6Blend colours using Odorless mineral spirits. Use a soft brush, and blot some of the thinners off your brush before starting to blend, make small circular motions to push the pigment into the pits of the paper

Step 7. Add shadow to the base while waiting for the thinners to dry. The lighter area of the shadow is created by using a feather light touch of the light grey pencil on the paper

Step 8 When Thinners are dry, add another layer of the greens all over the pear, this time you can start to blend into the white highlight a little, so it is not too separate from the rest of the pear. The White pencil you used on the first step should protect your highlight from being darkened too much.

Step 9 Blend, but this time using much less thinner on your brush, the brush must be quite dry, as too much thinner now will start to lift colour from your paper!! You only need the slightest bit of moisture in the brush. Since we already covered the paper with a base layer, we only need to move the top layer of pencil, and it takes very little solvent to achieve this.

Step 10. Colour the Lights and shadows on stem, colouring in the direction of the texture of the stem. and blend using thinners

Step 11. Deepen shadows and start to add textures to the skin. Try to keep the small brown blemishes as random as you can; it can be easy to accidental create unintentional patterns, so pay attention as you work. Areas in shadow can be marked with darker spots, highlighted areas should only have very small/light spots.

Step 12. Add a slight halo around your blemishes using the darker green. Then  lightly blend the blemishes into the skin with very dry brush. This is simply to soften the look of the blemishes, so only a very light touch with the brush is needed.

Step 13. Assess your piece. Check shadows and sharpen a few  blemishes. Now is the time to step back a little and look for ways in which you think your piece can be improved. When you feel you have done all you can, You’re all done!!

 

Looking back and what’s next?

Sometimes it can feel like you’re not making any progress as an artist. Practice is slow and improvements can seem to take forever, if at all. So it can nice to look back occasionally and see just how far you have come. So this New Year, I  am taking a few moments to look back on my progress and achievements and putting some thought into what I would like to see happen in the year to come.

"All the blues"" colour pencil on paper 41x29cm

“All the blues”” colour pencil on paper 41x29cm


My year started in chaos. We moved house and my precious pencils were packed away and left untouched for a month! I felt incredibly anxious to get back to the drawing table. I suppose some part of me was afraid I would lose momentum and neglect my art for another 10 years! But I shouldn’t have worried. “All the blues” was my first full piece for 2016, and I loved it! This piece went on to become my profile picture for my burgeoning social media pages and was the first piece I uploaded to my Redbubble page to be made available as prints.

 


I picked up a paintbrush! After many failed attempts in the past, I took just one more shot. I hurt my wallet and bought some quality oil paints and started painting fruit on cheap canvas pads. For the first time in my life the paint did what I wanted. Each painting has been a bit better than the last and I am keen to paint more.


In March, I saw one of my pieces published in the gallery section of Colour pencil magazine. This was huge for me! I made sure I bought a paper copy of that month’s issue, you can’t just download something like that!


spilled bouquet 29x41 colour pencil

spilled bouquet 29×41 colour pencil

In November, I saw one of my drawings voted to be the banner for the Colored Pencils, Graphite & Pastels Facebook group. I see so many amazing works of art posted to that page, I was humbled to see my piece gracing the top of their page for a month!

 

 


In May, I took a massive leap of faith, strapped my iPhone to a plank of wood and uploaded my first YouTube video. I have since upgraded to adding voice overs and I am constantly learning new editing techniques. With 15 videos now created, I have managed to consistently upload videos fortnightly and I am really enjoying the process.


And finally, in March I opened up my own little corner of the internet and started this humble blog. Although it is a little neglected, I have thoroughly enjoyed taking the time to write about my journey.

Looking back, this year has seen some HUGE leaps for me. I am quite proud of many of the colour pencil pieces I produced and never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how much progress would be made. It would seem that all the time and efforts have made quite an impact and this is very reassuring for the future.

So whats next?

Well, I am very excited to keep working on that YouTube channel. Recording my work is hard work and time-consuming, but it is so much fun and I really hope that I can inspire others to create through it.

I have purchased Scott Christensens Paint the ocean course. I live so close to the water, but I have had no success in painting it. I cant wait to use some of those scenic photos on my phone for reference, and apply some of his techniques to create my own water filled landscapes

I hope to learn to be a better salesperson. The more art I can sell, the more time I can dedicate to my passion ( instead of dedicating time to that dreary retail job!) While I have that redbubble site, I feel very self conscious in letting people know it is there. I need to learn how to feel comfortable in marketing myself.

On the topic of sales, I will soon be setting up shop for original artwork. While I do occasionally sell pieces through Facebook, I have not set up a dedicated platform for sales. I have no idea how to do this…. but like so many things this past year,  I will learn.

I am so excited to see what opprtunites 2017 will bring. I hope I to create even better art and more and more of it. Bring it on!

img_4063

what will be the first piece of 2017

 

 

 

Getting my own reference pictures

So, I admit… I have been somewhat lazy in the past when it comes to reference images for my artwork. I am a huge fan of photo sharing sites like Paint my photo. com  and I certainly don’t mind paying for the super high quality of the photos found on wildlife reference photos.com. I often turn to sites like these when I’m looking for inspiration.. or when I have a “Great idea” which i need to research further.

However, relying on outside sources for reference photos can be very limiting. When I have a great composition in mind, and no one has taken a photo that fits what is in my mind…  ugh!! well it can be extremely frustrating, and I can waste hours searching for the right image.

I recently purchased a DSLR camera, which I intended to use mostly as a video camera for YouTube. Although the camera is doing a fabulous job so far, it does seem like a waste of a rather nice (and reasonably expensive!) camera to relegate it solely to this task.

Small problem… the last SLR camera I used took film, and I only used it for a few months with  black and white film for a photography class. This new camera came with a thick booklet, and WAY too many buttons; and once again I leave myself in a position of having no idea what I’m doing.

So I have been watching videos and reading magazines and trying to get my head around this thing so I can get out and document some of the things that inspire me. My daughter and I went for an early morning trip to my local beach to see what we could do. A local bushfire gave the morning light a strange red cast, but we both got some great shots to add to my big book (file)  of reference photos.

That afternoon I set up a still life with a wine bottle, glass and some fairy lights and fired away. It took some efforts to get the look I wanted. My black glass table stared again, and with the help of a stereo speaker, my iPhone torch and a bottle of ajax to prop things up, I had some great successes (and many, many, many failures) getting the right reference for my next colour pencil piece.

Ooooh, the opportunities this opens up for me! I can’t wait to get out and take as many photos as I can!

But, what does it mean???

Ugh, the big questions!!

So many great pieces of art come with considerable meaning attached to them. The teachers and historians explain with great detail the significance of each element of the piece and how the artist was trying to tell some great story, highlight a social issue, or depict their own personal struggles.

And so many artists have impressive stories to tell!  They have seen something in the world and they wish to show their vision through their art. These artists are story tellers. Sometimes it is the good and sometimes it is the bad, but these artists hold a mirror up the world and demand that we LOOK!

I always quietly wished I was one of these artists. I wanted to have some huge, important story to tell as I handed over my pieces for assessment at school.  I wanted to be able to stand up and hold my art to the world and say  “This means something!!” However I have never found it to be in my personality to intentionally create art for this purpose, and at times this has made me feel like “less” of an artist.

I certainly have my own share of personal demons, and I see so many things in the world which I think demand a closer look. But I am not as bold as those story tellers. While I see plenty of stories to tell, my personal approach to life is quieter and much more optimistic. While the storms of life rage on, I take time to look for the little things, the pretty things, the millions of tiny wonders that surround me every single day. While the daily news jabbers in the background telling me to be afraid, and the thousand pressures of modern life try to grind me into submission, I try to shift my focus to studying a bee working on a flower or breathing in the colours of the afternoon light.

Now I am older, I understand that my outlook on the world IS the meaning behind my art! The two concepts are inseparable.  I want the people who see my art to stop for a moment and appreciate the little things; for example, the way the light shines through an onion skin like a stained glass window, or the moment a frog is balanced precariously amongst the flowers.  I want to hold up that artists mirror and show you magnificent things and uplifting moments! If I don’t achieve this lofty goal, I hope that my art gifts the viewer  a brief moment in their day to let go of the stresses of the world and rest their mind upon something beautiful. That is more than enough meaning for me.

Love, hate and every feeling in between

 

Every single piece of art I create sends me on an emotional roller coaster.

It starts with the inspiration! The adrenaline rush and excitement that comes with the new idea! Yes!! this is a great idea!! This is the most amazing reference photo! This will be the BEST thing I will ever make! Yayyyyy!! I write these ideas down, make a sketch, or find and file reference images. This is the top of the hill at the start of the ride.

Sometimes the idea stops right here at the planning stage… The excitement builds up, I get on with my daily chores, go to work, head to bed full of enthusiasm for my next project… Then by the time I wake up and look at what I have planned… It suddenly doesn’t inspire anymore. Sometimes the ride just stops and everyone gets off.

For the pieces that retain my interest, I am held at the top of the ride. Before I set to work, I need to prepare. I need to get on top of my housework, because I know my art will hold my attention for the next few days and the washing pile will be left ignored. I need to prepare my space, make sure I have the tools, I may need to purchase some supplies. I take the time to draw out my image; measuring, comparing, laying down the skeleton of the piece…I am at the top of the ride, anticipating the moment I can start.

When I finally set to work, I immediately plunge right down to the bottom of the ride. “Oh no, what have I started? I can’t do this! I don’t have the skills… this is too hard?”  the first layers of any drawing always look like crayon or scribble. My colour choices seem ridiculous. I doubt that I can ever build it up into something that passes for art. My hand tightens up and the self-doubt is crushing. This is the biggest dip in the ride. When I was younger many pieces ended at this point, but experience has taught me to hang on tight.

The first  rise comes when the initial section starts to look complete… I usually start with the eyes so I can reach this hill faster. A well drawn eye breathes  the first life into the piece.. and I can start to see how it just might turn out right. “Yes!! I can do this”

And so it goes over the whole drawing,  as I finish and start each section…

I can do this,

No I can’t

I Iove it, this is turning out GREAT!!

I hate it, It’s all going wrong!!

love it,

hate it,

love,

hate.

Up and down around the roller coaster. Until the finish is in sight. And I can settle on my  feelings toward the piece as a whole, good, bad or indifferent..

I have had a good run of late, many of my drawings have turned out better than I expected. They truly are the BEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE!! and the ride leaves me on a glowing high point.  But I don’t feel that way this week. I like my giraffes, they have pretty faces they are fairly accurately drawn …but it is not the BEST thing I have ever done… and it leaves me feeling a little in between.

I wish I had chosen a different paper. I wish I had spent more time planning the composition. I wish I was able to put down more layers of colour before the paper would take no more. To be brutally honest, this ride has left me a little disappointed.

However this ride is not over, and it never really will be over. Now the drawing is complete I will put it away in its folder, post the images and the video. I will see this drawing many times, and each glance will bring me back to the ride. Today I feel deflated, however in a month, or a year I could feel very differently.Time and distance from the project sometimes allows the love to come back into it. I will see the things I did right, and I will probably judge the flaws less harshly or at least appreciate the lessons I have learned from those mistakes.

Why do I do this to myself?

This battle between expectation and ability is one of the things I love most from practicing art…  I suppose I must like roller coasters