I love drawing with limited palette. It’s a great exercise in coming up with colors for which I don’t have a pencil. It eliminates the agony of going through a hundred and a half colored pencils trying to figure out which ones to layer (and in which order!) to get what I want. And as a bonus, it feels a bit like doing magic.
Here, Kirsty Partridge shows how to approach one of the most complex subjects, human skin, with just a few carefully selected colored pencils.
Delivered my latest drawing to the Sequoia Gallery today. It is for the HIP 2B Square show that benefits this nice and cozy cooperative gallery and its artist studios. The show opens on April 2nd with a reception and award announcements and runs through May 3.
Sequoia Gallery is located at 136 SE 3rd Avenue, Hillsboro, OR 97123. Hours: Tuesday – Saturday from 10 am – 5 pm.
The gallery provided an option of a 12″ x 12″ Blick canvas or primed and cradled wood panel, and I chose the panel.
After the fiasco with an Ampersand panel it was interesting to try something different. To my delight, the texture of the gessoed wooden surface was strong but pretty even and was almost as easy to work with as good textured paper. I will do more with it, just maybe without cradles. Not a big fan of working edges of those things.
This is take two. Take one happened two weeks ago and went so wrong that the piece could not be saved. I started with darker colors thinking I would lighten distant ridges later. But apparently at a certain number of layers pigment clings to the surface for dear life and refuses to be lifted with any kind of eraser. So I am going with a much lighter hand now, and it seems to be better that way. The surface is not as smooth as it looks. I am glad it’s mountains and not some young face.
Updated: May 17, 2018
I am working on this between other things, but here is what I’ve learned so far. Darks are more work on a gesso board than on paper. Even canvas is more agreeable. It’s not that the board doesn’t accept dark pigments. It does, but the wavy texture lines on it that go vaguely vertical keep some narrow areas persistently lighter than the rest and require ongoing touchups. But I like the sturdiness of a gesso board very much. I am starting to wonder if maybe graphite or charcoal would be easier, but that’s for the next test or two. Also need to look up other brands in case some have a really even texture.
Updated: July 23, 2018
What I thought would be a quick experiment turned into a long argument with the gesso surface. Mountains changed their look at least 4 times, and I am not touching them again. The future sunset sky is all mapped, and the gesso texture that gives me so many headaches is showing in its full glory right now.
Updated: September 29, 2018
Well… I am going to admit the defeat. This is not working. The texture of the surface is too weird for colored pencils, and I am tired of fighting it. It will not cooperate no matter what I do. Time to move on!
That’s my sketch on the go from earlier this week finished. I wanted to see how much texture could be built on Canson drawing paper with pencils only, without any other tools. To my surprise, the paper let be create quite a few nice subtle patterns. I especially like those crossing lines on the horse.
I started with lush lichen I saw here in Oregon during winter, but it ended looking like something that would be at home in the swamps of Florida. Sometimes non-committed sketching takes you to unexpected places.
Decided to make progress with the horse first and with the window frame later. Both are going to differ a bit from my reference, and because the horse is more important I am going to figure out where his colors end before touching the window. I am now debating between natural wood and old paint that would compliment the horse.
Updated: April 26th, 2016
So it was a good idea to use graphite first, then continue with color on top of it. Maybe a softer grade like H6 would be more efficient, especially on a textured paper like this one. The disorganized colors that are already there are from different kinds of strokes I tried to see what works better.
Updated: December 10th, 2015
Back to the unfortunate horse who is now ready for color! I am done with the graphite underdrawing (if this is not a word it should be) and securing it with a workable fixative. Let’s see if that speeds up adding darks with colored pencils. Rainy shooting conditions made it look like there are at least two different tones of graphite, but in reality it’s the same tone.
Original post: Feb 21, 2015
I don’t think I have ever been this excited to see a rough drawing of a horse head finally appearing on a piece of paper as planned. There were at least two iterations that were not to my liking at all, but finally everything is where it should be, the sketch is transferred to the final watercolor paper (it’s a Strathmore one with nice slightly uneven surface), and I can move on to preliminary shading with graphite.
The horse is picking out of a barn door window, but it is barely visible right now. I need to decide whether to keep it white like in the reference photo or make it natural wood. The horse is going to be light chestnut with a lot of color nuances in the face, and even weathered white seems to be too stark next to all that, so most likely I will use some kind of amber or light wood for the window.
It seems that the impending move to Oregon only leaves me time for quick sketches. My poor horse stays practically untouched since I defined main features of his face, several other serious drawings are also stuck at whatever stages they were when the decision was made.
Sorting out and getting rid of stuff (and now packing) is the exact opposite of fun, but sometimes nice discoveries happen. As I go through shelves of books I find all sorts of things in them: bookmarks made by kids, old postcards, images from copiers, and as of recently, dried flowers.
I am not even sure what kinds of flowers those are. They were very discolored, and as soon as I tied to remove them from a book promptly fell apart…
A kind visitor at the third weekend of recent Open Studios came up with the title, not me. I often draw during SVOS. People like to see how art is created, and whatever I am working on easily becomes a conversation piece. Sometimes I get a free benefit of getting stuff named for me.
Here is my newest tiny digital canvas. I haven’t done any for a few months and completely forgot my past experience with colored pencil on this kind of surface. It is a bit slippery and does not allow to build up really dark darks unless you carefully plan for them from the beginning and use very sharp pencils all the time. Unlike with paper or traditional linen canvas it is not possible to start with lighter colors everywhere and then go darker in as many layers as necessary. Darker colors on a digital canvas start to chip off relatively quickly if you are not careful.
So with a refreshed memory, I am now going to use digital canvas with soft graphite pencils only and leave colors to linen ones. Or maybe it’s worth trying to gesso a digital canvas and see if it becomes more tolerant to dark colored pencils.
And it’s done! I don’t think there is anything to add to it, but if I were to do this piece all over again I would approach it completely differently. It was a nice detour from fully realistic colors and a few purely technique-related things I usually use.
He looks more like a living creature now and almost ready for darks to be added. The white stripe will need some gentle work first.
Updated: April 21, 2014
Well, it’s been a while since I started this portrait, several different small projects got in the way, but finally I am back to the little foal.
In the end, he won’t be nearly as colorful as right now (or at least I hope for that), but it will be interesting to see what bright violet and yellows will be able to add to regular coat colors.
Original post: Jan 18, 2014
I think it’s been a terrible while since I drew a horse that fits on piece of paper bigger that 4″ x 6″. Time to change that, so here’s the beginning of a very young foal’s head. Because for some reason I chose rough Bienfang watercolor paper, it may take a while to build up colors in this one. And it’s not just rough, it’s somewhat slippery too. But we will see. So far it was mostly working on the background to get a better feel of the paper that is new to me before adding much detail to the foal.
University Art carries something I never saw before: a canvas mounted on a cardboard. 5″ x 7″ pieces are sold unprotected, unlike canvases and real sturdy canvas boards. They come in white and black versions. Naturally, I had to buy both to see what can be done with them.
This white horse was done on a black one. Even though the canvas accepts many layers of color the result is not purely white (hence the “ghostly” reference). Alas, colored pencils are not completely opaque.
Lady’s smock (cuckoo flowers) are tiny and very unassuming when we walk past them or over them. Their beautiful purple, lilac, and whitish colors is about all that can be easily appreciated when they form a patch. I love shooting and drawing little things like these and then look closely at the shapes, lines, and colors that make them up and draw it all bigger than in real life.
This was my first attempt to use colored pencils on wood and do a three-dimensional piece. While it was an interesting experience spreading a drawing over more than one plane I think I will stick to my usual two dimensions. But I do want to continue experimenting with drawing on wood. It adds a unique glow that shines through pencilwork and makes it look quite different. I like that.
As it turned out, I need to be careful placing strokes over wood; the same color will look differently as wooden textures change over the board, as strokes are laid along the fibers, across them, or at an angle. And forget about scanning the finished piece. A lot of fine color details get lost along with the wonderful glowing effect of the wood.