Well, l could talk about pencils all day! And l could probably write at least a dozen blog posts. But today l want to talk about something that isn’t often discussed and most artists don’t even think about it when purchasing pencils.
Value for money.
There are just so many pencil brands on the market. You can spend anything up to around $5 per pencil. You can buy them for less than $1 per pencil.
Now l am always going to tell you that personally, l would rather have fewer colors of higher quality, than a 100 colors of a poor quality pencil. But the point l would really like to make is that whilst you might think you are getting a bargain with the cheap pencil sets (and occasionally you might be) they usually work out more expensive in the long run. This is the reason why.
Cost per use. The purchase price is one thing. The cost to use a pencil is another. To give you an example, in the USA Prismacolor are not far off half the price of Faber Castell Polychromos - a full set of 150 Prismacolor at Dickblick will cost you $124.99, a full set of 120 Faber Castell Polychromos will cost you $179.99. The Prismacolor cost 83c per pencil and the Polychromos $1.50 approximately.
So the Prismacolor seem to be a real bargain.
But .... l can use half a Prismacolor pencil easily in one piece because 1. The core is so soft it wears down fast and 2. They are terrible to sharpen, sometimes taking several goes with breaking cores until you get a useable point.
So my Prismacolor pencil costs around 40c per piece.
My Polychromos never break, the core is harder and the point does not wear down fast. Polychromos pencils will last me many, many pieces before they need replacing (so long that l have no idea how many pieces l get from one pencil) and in the long run work out much cheaper than the Prismacolor.
The cost may be even higher with the entry level pencils because they also tend to have less pigment as well as more breakage issues. Meaning a lot more layers and a lot more sharpening.
You could also add to this the cost of replacing pencils that only come in sets. If you use all of one color you must buy another full set to replace it (or buy a different brand open stock).
If you take all these factors into consideration what appears to be cheap on first impression may actually be more expensive. Personally I would buy fewer of the high quality pencils. Add to them as you can afford it. Not only will you save money in the long run but you will find it much easier to create beautiful work as you will be working with tools that make the job so much easier.
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I was thinking about this the other day because l thought l was done! At least with the first part of the drawing. Until l took a photo! And what a disappointment that was! It certainly no longer looked finished!
This is my tip for today. Take a photo. Then really look at it. For some reason it seems that when you look at a photo you suddenly see what you could not see when the piece was in front of your eyes. Sometimes l will see that a shape is a little off, sometimes l will see that l need more contrast or darker colors or more highlights. Sometimes as in the photo below l will see that it needs more layers.
Even allowing for the different daylight (which as you can see has bleached out the paper slightly on the first shot) you can see a huge difference between the two pieces.
The first piece is nearly there, the second one has reached a point where l feel l can call it finished, or near enough.
As soon as l took that first photo l could see that my work was not popping off the page and therefore it was not finished.
The only difference between photo one and photo two here, is more layers. There is no extra detail, l just punched the colour home using a heavier pressure. And l kept on layering until that color popped off the page.
Of course in truth, there is always something more that we could do to a piece of work and we could work on one piece for the rest of our lives. But if it doesn’t look exciting and vibrant in a photo then it probably doesn’t in real life either.
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I got asked this question recently and it is also one l have been thinking about for a while.
To a certain extent it depends what you are drawing, if you are drawing someone’s pet it may be more important to be exact. Too much ‘artistic license’ and they might not recognize their pet.
But what about when you are just using a beautiful photo as a reference?
l used to think that l must copy exactly every little detail. I will say that l learned a lot from trying to copy every little detail, even if l wasn’t always successful. Then l read an interview with a famous artist and the way that they spoke about photos changed my thinking.
It suddenly dawned on me that l am drawing, it is art. I can change a color, l can change a shape, l can take out shadows, l can add in a color. It was really very freeing to realize this. And it doesn’t have to make the finished piece unrealistic, it just makes it your own.
So for example with the Tree Swallow above, the eye is slightly larger (something l often do), the colors are clearly bluer and whiter. The shadows are pinkier. The eye l have kept a little lighter than the photo. The beak is more blue.
My Swallow is altogether cooler in tone. It was a choice l made when l started working it and realized that to get the greenish tint on the feathers l would lose a lot of the shine l had spent ages working to establish and that l rather liked the blue particularly against the color of paper l was using.
l have no idea why it has taken me so long to realize that if a fin makes a funny shape that l don’t like, l can just change it! If l don’t like the brown in a wing l can use a different color.
And the best thing of all is, it makes it your unique work. It is art, have fun!
I feel like there should be a prize for guessing correctly?
How many layers do you think to go from photo 1 to photo 2?
I am working on a tutorial and l decided to photograph every single layer. And actually the photo on the right had more layers added after l took that shot!
I was thinking about this because l often get asked by people what they can do to improve their work and you know most of the time their work is excellent. It just needs more time spent on it. More layers.
Which is interesting because the difference between something that looks average and something that looks good can really be as simple as time.
You don’t need to learn any new skills to add more layers. You don’t need any special technique. You just need patience to keep layering long after you think you are done! And yes, sometimes that is boring. But if you want vibrant colour that pops off the page dealing with the boredom is part of it!
So how many layers to get from photo one to photo two? Twenty!
Well, l think it has been over two years since l wrote a post! And l feel just like l did at the start, that weird feeling of talking to myself!
l wanted to spend a bit of time talking about white pencils. I get asked repeatedly about white pencils.
So first of all let me tell you right off that none of them will give you a brilliant white highlight over a darker colour. If you are seeing brilliant white highlights in a colored pencil drawing it is being achieved using a different method or a different medium and l will discuss ways of achieving a bright white in my next post.
Here l will talk about the brands of white pencil l have used and what l think of them and what l use them for.
Below is a photo showing different brands of white over dark.
As you can see from the above photo, they are all useless! With no.1. the Polychromos being the most useless of the lot as l had to go over it four or five times to get that much color! The brightest there is no.8. the Holbein Soft White. Second best and my go to for adding ‘white’ (or more accurately lighter) highlights on top of dark colors is no.6 Caran D’ache Luminance in the Buff Titanium which despite being just off white is much better than the true white.
However, l do use most of these whites a lot and it different ways. So l thought l would explain how l use them because they are all better for different things.
1. Faber Castell Polychromos white, l use this a lot because it holds the sharpest point. I use this pencil to emboss white lines into the paper before adding other colors over the top. For example cats whiskers. I use heavy pressure to really texture the paper and the resulting indents won’t pick up as much of the darker colours over the top.
2&3. Caran D’ache Pablo’s and Supracolor they work equally the same and will often show up reasonably well over darker colors and oddly they show better if the darker color has been left for a few hours before adding them.
l tend to use these where l want to lighten something (say feathers of fur and l want lighter strands) but still want to go over the top with other colors.
4. Prismacolor. Truthfully l never really use it. It is no better or worse than any of the other whites. It is good for blending final layers if you want a soft look, but not easy to layer over again.
5. Caran D’ache Luminance White. I use these where l want to preserve a layer of white or make a pastel color. Because it is more waxy than Polychromos or Pablo’s it resists darker colors on top better.
6. Luminance Buff Titanium l find gives me the brightest highlights over dark colours of all the readily available pencils.
7. Holbein White. Nothing special and l wouldn’t bother with the effort of trying to get hold of it.
8. Holbein Soft White. Now this is significantly better than all the other whites. It is a weird texture,
feeling a little like an oil pastel to work with. But the huge downside is that unless you live in Japan it is really difficult to source individual pencils. In fact, l have not been able to. Which means to replace it you have to buy a set of pencils and the cheapest smaller set of pencils l found with it in was around £50 last time l looked! That makes it a very expensive pencil indeed and until l find a source for individual ones, l won’t be replacing it.
9. An odd ball thrown in because l saw it recommended , Conte a Paris, is actually a pastel pencil. As you see no better than anything else. Add to that the very thick core and it not fitting standard sharpeners, for me not worth bothering with.
There is one more white l tried from Derwent, the Coloursoft. I couldn’t find it for this photo. Which should tell you, l don’t use it. The results are pretty much the same as all of the above. But it has a thicker core meaning l can’t get such fine detail.
So there you have it. If you are looking for a white pencil that comes out white over dark colors you are on a fruitless quest. Although if you have found one please, please share.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have bright white in your work if you want it. My next blog post will cover that.
It’s good if your drawing looks bad! You think l am crazy l know, but actually this is true.
I was still thinking about my last blog post and how we all go through times when we don’t feel happy with anything we draw. At least, l think that most of us do. And we can get down and beat ourselves up and think we will never get any better etc. etc.
I am sure that there are lots of you, who like me look at their work and think that they wish it was more realistic, vibrant, cleaner, creative ..... or a million other things.
lt seems like very negative thinking (and if we just get stuck on that thought it is), but actually this is something that l think of as very positive. Because the truth is that we won’t make any progress if we don’t see what is wrong!
And the reason l was thinking about this is because someone said to me the other day that they couldn’t see any difference between these four pieces below.
Now l know my progress is not fast, the difference between 2016 and 2019 is not that great, especially when you consider how much time l spend drawing. But l do see a difference, in the vibrancy, the sharpness, the use of color. And as l told you in my last blog post this progress (however small or slow) is what motivates me.
That comment made me think about what we see when we look at our work.
You see, how can you put right what you don’t know is wrong? An alcoholic can never recover from their alcohol addiction until they acknowledge that they have a problem. The beginning of any change in life is the recognition of the need for change. Until that happens we go along making the same mistakes we always make. It is just the same with art.
Seeing the flaws in our work is the beginning of progress. If l don’t recognize that l need to use more contrast in my work l will never add it. If l can’t see that a composition doesn’t work l won’t make a better one.
Sometimes l think l see more and more things wrong with my work, l realize now that this is part of progress, the better you get the more flaws you see, the more areas you want to improve. The important thing is to use what you see is wrong as incentive for change. Never get down about it, it shows that you are getting better.
In my last blog post l told you how l was feeling fed up because l have had so many disasters lately. It is so easy to get discouraged about our work. It doesn’t take much to knock my confidence. Four pieces gone to the cupboard of no return - that had definitely left me feeling bad. But it can be something as simple as looking through too much amazing art on social media or a strange comment someone makes. We all know the feeling. And when you start feeling discouraged you don’t produce your best work and feel more discouraged and start a downward cycle.
So what can we do to make ourselves feel better and quickly? This is one thing I do. It is guaranteed to make you feel better in a few hours.
Find an old piece of art. Make sure you take a photo of it, just as it is. And then spend a few hours working on it.
You want to know why this is so motivating?
Well, the first reason that this is a really good pick me up, is that it is fun. All the tedious under layers are done, all you are doing is tweaking a piece. The best bits!
The second reason is that it is quick (comparatively). A piece like the one above would take me around a week from scratch. But l spent just five hours working on the old piece to improve it. So you see results fast.
And finally of course you see the progress you have made, l can see that the colors are richer and deeper. I can see that l have added more detail. I can see much more contrast. And l can see that the whole piece is much sharper.
After spending a few hours working on this piece l felt so much more motivated and ready to start on a fresh piece in a much more positive frame of mind.
Such a simple thing to do. So, if you are feeling a bit demotivated go and have a look for an older piece and give it a try. You will soon feel so much better.
l don’t know what has happened just lately - but l can’t produce a piece l feel even remotely happy with! This is the fourth piece in two weeks to go behind the cupboard of no return! It looks like scribble! It won’t pop! And l am feeling pretty fed up with it!
The image you see is four days work, a lot of hours for something to end up unfinished!
l really try to finish every piece, but occasionally l start to feel as though by carrying on l am wasting my precious time. And l feel like that with this piece. I was so excited to start it as well!
You wonder why l am sharing another disaster?
Well, l am sharing it because l want everyone to know that we all get pieces that don’t work. We all get times when we feel not good enough! It is normal to feel that way sometimes.
So, what have l done to make myself feel better? Something l have done before which l find very interesting and very motivating.
I went through my artwork and found a piece from a couple of years ago that l was quite happy with at the time. Actually, l have been saving it to frame it. But when I looked at it again, it didn’t look so good! Two years down the line, l can do better.
So l have taken a day out and spent 5 hours working on it. It is a fun thing to do as all the boring work is done. I just get to play around with the fun bits, and yes, at the end of five hours l see a noticeable improvement. That is really motivating when you are going through a bad patch.
l will share it with you on my next blog, but l would seriously recommend this as therapy to anyone who feels they are just not progressing! I feel better and ready to move on to something new, which hopefully won’t end up behind the cupboard of no return!
So l have had a full set of Derwent Inktense pencils sitting in my art room unused for nearly two years! I was so excited to get them, l couldn’t wait! I tried them once - didn’t like them and gave up! I bought the Inktense blocks at the same time and for some reason liked them better. I used them for several backgrounds. But the pencils, l was really disappointed with.
I don’t like the feel of the color lay down, it isn’t very smooth. The dry pencils don’t blend very well. And l can’t sharpen them to a fine enough point or get them to hold it.
A long and major list of dislikes here! But over the past few weeks l have been looking at them sitting there and been thinking l should really give them another try. They are unique pencils, like no other on the market and one try is really not a fair assessment. So, determined to give them another chance l got them out.
This time l decided that rather than trying to get all the detail with the pencils, l would use them to create a base layer to work my usual coloured pencils over. They still didn’t lay down smoothly (although l suspect a more toothy paper than l use might help with that), they still didn’t blend well dry. But when l used my favourite Artnfly water brush pens to blend them, the colors just popped off the page. They blended together with the beauty and softness of water color. The base they created was amazingly vibrant.
l am not actually certain whether l like the absolutely smooth blending result l got because it looks almost like digital art to me (and l promise you l have done no editing to blend the colors more smoothly). I would like to try adding more detail with the Inktense on top next time.
The vibrancy and saturation of the base layer meant that far fewer pencil layers were needed. This saved a huge amount of time but l do miss the subtlety of only colored pencil layers and the texture that can be seen from many layers of pencil in real life.
My other issue with Inktense is that they are not light fast rated which means l would be unhappy to sell pieces drawn using these pencils.
However, after a second attempt with these pencils l feel that l should have further experiments with them. They are a very unique and interesting pencil to work with. And l am really looking forward to trying them again.
l am finally back with a post! I try to be regular with these things but l am not good at it at all! However, p have something l really want to share with you. I know l have discussed many times about not giving up on drawings, but here l have learned a little more!
l drew the Betta Fish below a few months ago, the fish you see on your left as you look at the photo. It took me around 80 hours, and whatever l did l could not make it look interesting. I exaggerated the colors l could see in the reference photo, l added more contrast. Yet every time l looked at it my heart sank. It was just boring to my eyes. Same, same, same mid tones that l didn’t even like in combination!
l have actually become very good at completing things and sure enough l made myself finish this piece, but l hated it!
So all that work went behind the cupboard of no return! Only this time something returned! I looked at it again over the holidays and at all the work l had put into it. I decided that whatever l did to it, l couldn’t like it less than l already did! So l took out my pencils and began having fun with color.
Now you obviously l was limited to some extent because this is pencil. You can’t make it lighter, you can’t change blue to yellow. But allowing for those limits l was free to play. I added greens and purples and pinks and just kept adding. I increased the contrast for more depth and sharpened everything up.
lt was really fun just throwing the reference photo out of the window and doing whatever l felt like. The end piece might not be very realistic but at least it isn’t boring! And l have saved a piece l spent a very long time on!
Lesson - don’t be too quick to give up on a piece, a little more time and a bit of creativity can take something you don’t like into something totally different.
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