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 lightfast 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 to 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.
Here are some links to purchase the packs I have used for these charts.
In this grid I have blended each of the Polychromos pencils. Each square is a 50-50 mix of each pencil.
Dark Cadmium Orange
Deep Scarlet Red
Prismacolor 12 pack
This grid shows the same 50-50 blend of the 12 pack Prismacolor premier pencils
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.
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.
I used Polychromos pencils:
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.)
Carmine red ( makes the blush a little more pink, but quite pretty)
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!