One of the most magical things to me about colored pencils is the way that you can mix new colors. I still don’t really understand how it happens, it isn’t like paint where you can physically mix a new color, yet simply by layering one color on top of another you get new shades. To me one of the most fun and challenging parts of using colored pencils is knowing how to mix colors, because it doesn’t matter how many pencils you have (and l have over 600 in constant use!) you never have quite the right shade.
When you start drawing and you want new colors or to alter the shade of one you already have you tend to reach for the obvious. You want to go darker - add some black or a darker shade of the color you have been using. As you draw more you start to realize that more exciting colors can be made by not going for the obvious. Adding blue or purple or red to green creates lots of exciting new dark greens that are usually more interesting than adding black.
Sometimes you just need to create a totally new color that you just don’t have in your pencil selection. And you wonder how are you going to get that color you want? I wanted to get a darker shade of red on this bird’s wings. I had already used indigo and purple in the shadows and l didn’t want to use them to make the main areas darker.
The more l draw, the more easily l can think of what colors might look good, but l pulled out my Magic Palette for this one. (If you want to see one and how to use it visit my tips page on mixing colors, l will put the link at the bottom of this blog). I honestly love this simple chart. Although designed for paint it works perfectly well for colored pencil. Guess what color l came up with to layer on top of my red? Phthalo Green! A green l rarely use and certainly wouldn’t have thought of using myself. I layered this over the red l already had and sure enough l got the deeper shade f red l was looking for. I have also used this to get the perfect natural lip color and to pick out the right colors to use for watermelon flesh - a color l tried to mix for ages on my own and failed!
And if you don’t have that many colors, knowing which ones to mix gives you so many more options.
It is really hard, especially when you start with colored pencil to know how to make certain colors and you can spend a lot of time and suffer much frustration trialing colors. So l really wanted to encourage anyone who is struggling, to go and get hold of a Magic Palette (and no, l don’t get paid for writing this! ) because for a very tiny outlay you can learn so much about color and save a whole load of time in trial and error. Plus, best of all you get a better end result as your art is full of beautiful colors.
So you have spent a long time choosing a beautiful reference photo. You have spent hours carefully drawing your outline. You open your beautiful tin of pencils and suddenly you have to decide which color to start with. You look at your photo, should be obvious shouldn't it? After all we learned our colors before we started school. We pick our obvious color from the tin and start working. We quickly realise that our work doesn't look much like the photo. Very often this is because our colors are not right.
One thing l learned very early on, is that the colors we think we see are often quite different from the colors that are really there, and sometimes when you expand a photo to look at the color it gets even more confusing, you are not even sure if it is red or brown or purple and you stand there scratching your head and wondering why you can't tell something so obvious as a colour? At other times you can see the color but can't determine whether it is blue/green or moss green or yellow/green! Sometimes you simply can't tell how dark it is.
So l thought l would give you all a little test and took a sample of a part of the reference photo of the Sun Conures that l worked on. I pinpointed a group of feathers and thought it might be fun before you scroll down the page to imagine in your head what color you think you are seeing and which of your pencils you would pick up to work these feathers?
Now l don't know about you, but l see a nice sunny yellow when l look at those feathers? This is not a tricky photo to work out. However, there is something l do with nearly every photo at some point during my work and that is to upload my photo to a very cool little app. The one that l use is Pixelpicker, but l am sure there are lots of others. It is a very simple free app. It has a little eye dropper tool that allows you to hover over any area of a photo, right down to an actual pixel and see exactly what color each pixel is. The results are often VERY surprising. Below are four colors from this reference photo, three come from other areas of the photo all together, only one is from the photo above. Can you pick the area highlighted?
l have found that colours are often a bit sludgier than l imagine them to be and very often darker. Not that l think as an artist you have to be tied to using exact colors, if you want to change them a bit, go for it, but if you want your work to be realistic you have to stay within certain bounds. I love to add a few unusual colors here and there to my work, but when l began l didn't have the confidence to do that. If you are aiming for realism in your work it is really good to start with an understanding of the colors in a piece and especially good to understand how dark you need to go, as contrast contributes enormously to realistic looking pieces. Sometimes l just use the app to hover lightly over all the areas of an image, just helping to create an idea in my head of the sort of colors l am going to be using and to get an idea of what the lightest shades should be and the darkest. Occasionally l want to find the exact color of a very tiny spec in a photo. As l get more experienced l find l am better able to see and understand the colors in a photo but l still like the app as a kind of check that l am right.
So the photo above, if you picked the bottom right square - yes, the orange one - you were right! And that first yellow square top left, is actually the very lightest yellow on the top of the head (surprisingly darker than it appears don't you think?). So that is my tip for today, download yourself a little eye dropper app and start to really understand the colors you are seeing.
Next week l want to talk about how to mix those colors you see, that is something l find really fun and is one of the most magical things about colored pencil.
For some reason, as l am definitely no expert photographer! I get a lot of questions on photographing art for Instagram, so l thought l would share with you the few things l do know and a few things l guess at! The first thing l really want to say because l think it is important, is that how many likes or followers your art gets on Instagram does NOT reflect how good or bad you are as an artist. There are phenomenal artists on there with hardly any followers (and a few pretty poor ones who have amazing support), followers and likes are mostly a matter of luck. An account can do badly one week and fly another, only to do badly a week later! Never judge your art by social media. Draw because you love drawing and want to produce your best work and you will always be happy regardless of what social media appears to say.
But there are a few basic things that you can do to give your photo a chance of doing well. The first seems obvious (but many people don't do it) - only post your best work. Don't post something just for the sake of posting. My heart sinks when a caption starts with,'l haven't posted anything for ages, so here's a quick sketch l did....'. It is almost always better to post NOTHING than to post ANYTHING. In my experience there is no quicker way to make people bored of your account than posting poor work. And really, why would anyone want to? Wherever you are on your artistic journey, do your best work and show your best work. I love to see pieces from artists of all ages and abilities when it is clear they have put their heart into their work and you can feel happy for them because you can see that.
My next piece of advice is to take a photo of your piece early on just to get a feel for how it is photographing and also more importantly how it working. Below is a photo l won't share (l hope l can get the piece to a stage where l will share it) and these are the reasons why. I can see immediately on photographing it that it doesn't jump off the screen at me, so l ask myself why? I can tell you, it needs more layers, the colors are not vibrant enough. It needs more contrast especially in the beak area and it needs a little more definition and detail. It is getting there, but it is not there yet. It is a bit flat. Now l only saw these things when l took the photo, so taking photos is a really helpful way of seeing what needs to be improved. But how to take a good photo of your work?
I do very little. I know nothing about cameras and photography. I don't take the best photos, but here are some simple things l do that allow me to produce a reasonable photo.
Having experimented with all kinds of light, l now take all my photos indoors in natural daylight. I choose the lightest room in the house and rather than worrying about where the light is coming from l look at the camera screen to see if there are any nasty shadows and adjust my art (if l can) to get rid of them.
I take my photos very slightly underexposed (they will be slightly dark when you upload them), l do this because when l brighten them it bleaches the color out, slightly under exposed helps me to keep the color true to life when they are brightened.
The only editing l do aside from cropping, is lightening/brightening/whitening (whatever your photo editor app calls it) to bring the paper to the right color. Again my work has to be really vibrant to take this as this does leach the color a bit, and l never adjust color or contrast or anything. I like to keep things simple.
Do brighten your photos, but only as much as your color can stand.
Crop to square if at all possible. Instagram lets you crop and adjust your photo, but the thumbnail that comes up in the searches may not be pretty if you don't have a square photo.
Crop close to your art. People follow art accounts because they want to see art. I know l love it when l can see close enough to see the pencil strokes and how someone has done something. It isn't always possible to show really close up, especially with a finished piece when you have to be further away to get it all in shot, but don't have a tiny little piece of art in the centre and a huge area of plain paper.
Don't upload too big an image. This was one that changed things for me, l couldn't understand why my photos always looked blurred and pixelated and to try and remedy the problem kept uploading higher and higher quality images. Instagram has a maximum upload size 1024x1024 or (2048). My photo editor allows me to save images as 'small 2048', this is the perfect size for Instagram and since l have done that l have had no more blurry images. If you do still have trouble with your image blurring or pixelating you can try using the sharpening tool on the Instagram editor to sharpen your photos a little.
That is my simple advice! I like to keep things simple. If you follow these steps you should have a photo that will enhance your art when you post it.
Happy Thursday! A sneaky look at my new piece today. I am experimenting. I know it doesn't look like it, but l am. The thing is, l just haven't been happy with my parrot feathers! I know if you are not a bird lover it seems a feather is a feather. Seen one, seen them all - if you can draw one you can draw them all? So not true! There are so many variations on feathers, little fluffy feathers, great big sleak feathers, little iridescent discs, feathers with strands..... and Parrot feathers! Parrot feathers when you look at them have blunt, almost straight edges and they are really hard to recreate. My last attempt was the Love Birds that l drew, and l am not happy with them because they look too clumpy and clumsy and well...just not feathery enough! The trick is to get a fairly blunt edge whilst still keeping a light and feathery look. I keep looking at those Love Birds and finding myself frowning. There is only one thing for it. If you can't do something, keep trying until you can. One thing l do believe, if you keep trying, eventually you WILL. So l decided to draw this picture of a pair of Sun Conures. I have had the reference photo sitting around for a while and even better both birds are showing all their chest, so lots of room for practise on those feathers! Plus they are all yellow and l really wanted another go at working in yellow because it is so hard to create depth without ending up with sludge. Yellow turns to sludge so easily. You think you are adding a nice bit of shade or shadow and next thing you know the yellow has vanished and been replaced with khaki!
So, this time l took a different approach to the feathers (and l am quite excited to share it with you as there is a definite improvement, you probably can't see so well here but when it gets to the chest you can hopefully tell, that will probably be next week on Instagram). I found that my Faber Castell Polychromos were the most useful to me here as l can get the finest lines with them, but even these are getting a fair amount of point breakage because of the heavy pressure l have been using. (I probably haven't mentioned this before, but sometimes l like to use a heavier pressure for the bit of texture it creates). I am still in the middle of working these feathers as l write this, but l am taking photos of each step and there will be a new guide to drawing them on my tips page next week. I can't wait to share it with you. For me this is the excitement of drawing, constantly finding a new way to do something or the challenge of a new shape, color or texture. In the meantime l do have other feather step by step guides you can look at and l will pop the link below.
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