Do you have favourite colored pencils? You know those colors that you just use over and over, that get used at some point in nearly every drawing? Or colors that just don’t come in any other brand that you just have to have? I thought l would share some of my favorites with you, really useful colors that if you can buy open stock will enhance any sets of pencils that you already own. When l look at these pencils l can’t say that they are mostly the prettiest colors, but as you see from my photo they are very well used!
l realized that l would have to write this blog in parts though - there are too many for one blog. So l thought l would begin with the darks and lights.
So beginning with the very lightest, my white selection. I really wouldn’t want to be without any of these, as they are all useful in different ways.
Faber Castell Polychromos White - not very good as a white over other colors, but sharpens to, and holds, an amazing point, so absolutely wonderful for embossing detail such as tiny hairs or whiskers. Other colors used over the top miss the embossed area leaving it white (a bit like doing a bark or coin rubbing when you were a kid).
Caran D’ache Luminance White - excellent when used with heavy pressure at resisting other colors used on top, so l use this where l want to keep an area white or l add a layer with a lighter pressure first where l want a very pale pastel color.
Caran D’ache Pablo’s White - the best white l have found for working over other colors. It doesn’t come out bright white, but will usually show up.
Caran D’ache Luminance Buff Titanium - this is an off white, an amazing color for blonde hair or fur, but l have also found that it often shows better over darker layers than any of the above true whites. This is a great color as it isn’t cream or yellow tinted. I always keep lots of these in my spare stash!
Faber Castell Polychromos Black - always used very sparingly - but always used! This pencil never makes it back to the tin. One of the darkest blacks, but hands down the best because of its ability to hold the sharpest point. For sharpening edges and pulling out tiny lowlights, the best by far.
Faber Castell Polychromos Dark Indigo - as dark as blue gets and used often for shadows when l want to avoid blacks and greys. Much more lively to look at.
Caran D’ache Pablo’s Indigo - l absolutely love this color, more purply than the Polychromos Indigo above, but used in the same way. A color that isn’t in any of the other sets l use.
Faber Castell Polychromos Dark Sepia - the darkest brown l have found and again often gives a nicer result than blacks and greys.
Holbein Raisin - really hard to describe this color but like a rich black cherry, stunning for shadows. Completely unique to this range, l have nothing near it in any of the other brands that l use.
Holbein Grape - a very dark purple, again used for shadows and darker than any of the purples in my other brands.
So there you have the lights and darks l would hate to be without.
For more about the brands of pencils l use click the link below.
As l get asked this question all the time l thought l would answer it here. This is of course only my personal opinion, but l will give you my reasons.
Anyone who knows me will know that l use several brands of pencil (and if you want to read about the other brands and see a comparison photo click the link at the bottom of this blog). I love colored pencils, each brand has its own unique textures, many unique colors and each has things l particularly like them for.
But if you could only purchase one set, which set would that be? Without a doubt, hands down, Faber Castell Polychromos!
Why? There are so many reasons. This pencil has very high pigment levels and the color lay down is very smooth. It is very difficult to overwork the layers with these pencils. Some of the other brands you need to be careful because you can easily build pigment to a point where you can’t add more layers, the color just balls up on the surface. I have never had this happen with Polychromos.You can layer, upon layer, upon layer, which l found really useful as a beginner when layers perhaps didn’t turn out quite the right shade or to look quite how l wanted them to. It does take more layering than some of the other brands to get the vibrancy, but you can get it and learning the patience of layering is no bad thing.
The color range is excellent and they blend beautifully either by just letting the pencils do the work or with a little odorless mineral spirits. So new colors are easily made and shading is seamless.
They sharpen to the finest point of any of the brands that l use and best of all they hold that point really well. No other pencil l use is as good for fine detail. The Panther Chameleon you see above was worked almost entirely with Polychromos- it was the only pencil that would hold a fine enough point for the detail l needed to get. Every piece l work on the edges and detail will be sharpened with my Polychromos. This is especially helpful when you are a beginner and you feel awkward anyway. Trying to get really fine detail with Holbeins feels a bit like trying to cut a slice of bread with a carpenters saw!
They are very good value for money, much more affordable than the other brands l use. And for those that are thinking that you can get a full set of Prismacolors for a third of the price of the Polychromos - you can, but you won’t save any money. In two and a half years of drawing l have used up only eight Polychromos completely (excluding black and white which l go through a lot of), l can use half of a pencil on one piece with Prismacolor because they are so soft they just vanish. I watch them disappear in front of my eyes! And that is if you haven’t lost half your Prismacolor trying to sharpen it before you even begin! Long term the Polychromos are much cheaper. (And it is easier to get a good result).
Polychromos are also widely available to buy open stock in all the colors so you can easily replace just your favorite color not have to buy a complete set of pencils.
So, if you can only buy one brand these are the ones l would choose.
Now here is a funny thing l hadn’t really thought about until this week and drawing this Grasshopper. I mean l had thought about it a bit, but it dawned on me properly this week, that l love texture!
One of the big appeals in drawing birds and fish and lizards and insects is their varied textures. How do you make pencil look textured?
Someone pointed out to me this week that l don’t work in the usual tiny circles, they said that l, ‘use dots, dashes and lines’. I had never thought about this, but actually it is true. I don’t think l ever use tiny circles (unless l am creating the bumps on a lizards skin).
What l realized for the first time this week was that l don’t just like the appearance of texture, l like real texture, that you can see. It is true that you can only see it if you hold it at the right angle in the light, but it is there.
l was probably thinking of this because this grasshopper is so full of texture.
One very subtle way of creating texture that l always use (and is why l never work in little circles) is simply by making your pencil strokes follow the texture. So for a cats fur you work strands of fur in the direction of the fur, at the length of a strand of fur. An eye wants to be smooth but by working in curved lines of the shape of the eye ball you create a subtle roundness along with the smoothness. The upper body of this grasshopper was very dimpled looking, so l worked in dots.
But l have found that more and more l am creating texture then adding color. So on this grasshopper wing, l drew in all the veins and dots in pale colors, working with very heavy pressure to emboss them into the paper (there is a link below to a step by step guide for doing this showing you exactly how l did it and a complete color list).
When l draw feathers l often use a pale color to emboss the paper with individual strands. With lizards l will emboss small circles. With fish l will emboss tiny dots to make the texture of the scales.
At the end when a piece is burnished and you hold it up to the light all that embossing adds a little three dimensional quality to the beautiful, magical sheen that you get with colored pencils. It is subtle but beautiful. If you haven’t tried a little embossing on your work, you really should try it at least once and see if you like it.
Another week has flown past and l thought l would finally get around to talking about something l have never really talked about before. Paper. Perhaps because l have at last written a page on it (l will put the link at the bottom of this blog).
I get asked a lot which paper l use? So my page will tell you which ones l use, or have tried, and my opinion of them.
There is really only one important thing about the surface you draw on with colored pencils (unless you want to sell your work or are otherwise worried about longevity, when you will need to choose acid free, archival quality paper), and that is .... it must be able to take lots of layers.
Many papers on the market either will not take all the layers you need to use or will buckle or tear as you use more pressure.
Colored pencil work is tough on paper. And some of us are harder on paper than others. I often use a very sharp pencil to emboss texture and certainly as l reach the last layers l use fairly heavy pencil pressure. Many papers simply can’t take this.
Nearly all paper, even that, that looks and feels smooth has some sort of tooth to it. Tooth is just the proper term for the tiny dents and dimples that make up the surface of the paper. To get a nice, smooth color layer all the tooth - or little dents - must be filled with color.
Strangely it is not always the case that the smoothest paper covers the most easily. It may depend on the pressure that you use, the pencils that you use, your blending techniques or the amount of layers you like to use.
Then too you have to think about the finished piece, do you like the texture of the paper to show or not?
The paper that you will like best will definitely be to your personal taste and style. But, and this is something l learned very quickly working on good quality paper makes a big difference to the ease with which you can achieve the results that you want.
l know people think that good quality paper is expensive, l used to think so too. But then l worked out the cost per piece of art, and l use one piece of paper a week - the cost is less than buying a cup of coffee! So don’t skimp on paper.
To see which ones l use click the link below.
Finally before l shut up for the week, l am absolutely delighted to have been awarded this from Feedspot!
Can’t quite believe it, but thank you so much to Feedspot and to all you lovely people who read my ramblings!
Are you like me? Do you expect yourself to do everything perfectly, all the time - even though you know it isn’t actually possible! I hope some of you are like me! I can’t be the only one! It has been one of the hardest lessons of my life and l am still learning it! Why do we expect perfection of ourselves and yet make allowances for others? I am so hard on myself at times and l have been like that over the past week with this piece. It just won’t do what l want it to do. And l have spent sooo long working on it. Far too long. Going back and back. Adding layers, adding color. And at the end of it all, it still isn’t quite right and l have no idea what to do about it!
On one hand there is an upside to relentless perfectionism - it pushes you to progress. I never want to lose that desire to get better at something. But the downsides really outweigh the up. Being continually dissatisfied with what you do is not a good place to be. There has to be balance. Whether it is art or life finding balance is so difficult.
Somewhere along the way we have to learn to accept the way things are, recognizing that we cannot always make them the way we want them to be. A few things in life can never be changed by us (the advance of time, the cost of living, the idiot at work who treats everyone badly), but most things can be improved with persistence and determination. By picking yourself up and trying again.
I was thinking it is like a baby taking its first steps, and it takes two little wobbly steps and falls over! We don’t say, ‘two steps! And you have fallen over already! You might as well not bother, you will never walk!’. No, the camera comes out and photos and videos are made and granny gets rung up and everyone is excited because baby is ‘walking’. The truth is baby is on the floor more often than baby is walking, but we see only the progress. We need to start thinking of ourselves like that. Be excited about each baby step of progress. Keep picking ourselves up, make another baby step and be excited about that too.
So my flower didn’t work as well as l wanted it to. I will pick myself up, draw my next piece and move on, and the next time l draw a flower it will be better - not perfect, but better! And l am ok with that.
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.
Well, just a wee bit more than a year! I have been drawing for two and a half years now and this drawing of a Violet Tailed Sylph Hummingbird was one of the first where l finally felt l was starting to make progress. Well l looked at it a few weeks back and thought, 'l am sure l could do it better now' so l set out to redraw it. I used my exact same outline (l keep all my outlines, l use transfer paper to put them on my paper), so no cheating by having one bigger making it easier to get detail, the only difference between the two pieces is paper, the new one is on off white paper. The photos were taken on the same day, at the same time, with the same camera settings. I actually wasn't expecting to see much difference (even l struggled last time l did a comparison piece!), but l surprised myself! I can see a clear difference between the two pieces.
The first thing l noticed was how much less outline l now use. I actually now draw a very basic, actually pretty crude, outline and l found the markings on this old one a bit annoying. I feel like they confuse me, l draw far more totally freehand as l go now. My outline is usually just the basic shape and a mark where the eye should go and any major lines that will serve as guides.
The next thing l noticed was the difference in the sharpness of my drawing, it has become more defined. Because l am not so tied to my outline and feel more comfortable just drawing individual feathers totally freehand (and because l have now drawn a number of hummingbirds and know better how the feathers go) the newer piece has much better feather shape and texture, plus my new hummingbird must have twice as many feathers as the original!
I can see that the vibrancy has improved, which l have really been working hard to achieve, so l was happy to see that and the other nice thing is that my colors are cleaner. I am more confident in my use of color and l actually left (or altered) a few parts. I left out the sludge gold brown from under the bill as l thought it just muddied the green, and l brought more purple in to the dark feathers you can't really see at the sides. Subtle but actually ties the piece together better l think. I didn't use green over the body feathers like l did in the original (partly because l think it muddies the color and partly because it is not really there to that degree, l ended up with it in the original trying to achieve iridescence).
I also see that l have used more contrast in the newer piece which helps to give it better shape and a more three dimensional effect.
So overall, subtle differences, but l was so happy because l can see such a definite improvement. For me that is what motivates me to keep drawing. It doesn't matter that there are people doing far more amazing work than me, knowing that l can make progress and get closer and closer to where l would like to be is just so exciting and l hope that anyone reading this will feel the same motivation, because anyone can do it, l really believe that, it just takes practice.
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