Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil

Sometime ago, I shared a few ways colored pencil artists can adapt the Flemish painting method to colored pencil work. Today’s post continues with more general tips for adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil.

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil

Also known as the Seven Step Method, the Flemish method involves seven distinct steps:

  1. Imprimatura (toning the canvas)
  2. First Umber Layer (values)
  3. Second Umber Layer (values and details)
  4. Dead Layer (gray scale)
  5. First Color Glaze
  6. Second Color Glaze
  7. Detailing

Each layer builds on the work of the previous layers. The method is capable of producing rich, luminous colors because it utilizes the way light passes through layers of colors and bounces back out again. Every layer of paint influences the quality of the light both in color and in intensity. The thinner the paint, the more light gets through the paint, and the deeper a painting appears.

Much the same thing happens with colored pencils, because most colored pencils are translucent. No color is completely opaque, so light goes through all of the layers.

In other words, you can layer colored pencil in the same way oil painters layer paint to get deep, rich color. The results differ, but the basic principles are the same.

The purpose of this article is share a few basic tips that will help you adapt this method of painting to your colored pencil work.

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil

There are some supplies on the market that make adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil much easier. Brush and Pencil’s Advanced Colored Pencil Texture Fixative is one such.

You may not want to invest in new supplies just to try the Flemish method with colored pencils. So we’ll look at techniques using the things you already have.

Make Maximum Use of All of Your Tools

It’s easy to layer oil paints one over another. Just wait for each layer to dry fully and you’re ready for the next layer.

You don’t have to wait for colored pencils to dry before adding the next layer. Even so, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Pencils

It’s quite likely to take three or four layers for each of the steps of the Flemish method, except for the first step (Imprimatura) which you won’t need.

To make sure you can draw all the layers you need and still have enough paper texture to finish the drawing, begin with colored pencils that have harder pigment cores. Prismacolor Verithin and Caran d’Ache Pablo are two such pencils, but any artist grade pencil with a harder lead will work.

Pencils with harder pigment cores leave less color on the paper, but they also leave less wax.  They don’t fill the tooth of the paper as much as softer pencils. They also do not become as slick as softer pencils can after multiple layers.

I like to push the drawing as far as possible with hard pencils, up to and including the first color glaze.

Paper

Choose a paper of medium texture. Stonehenge (either regular drawing paper or Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press) are good examples.

Stay away from heavily textured papers, because it will be very difficult to draw even layers of color, and evenly applied color is vital to this method.

However, you can use toned or tinted paper if you wish. Earth tone papers are ideal for this method because they can replace some of the work of the umber layers. Try a medium value color, so you can draw lights and darks.

Solvent

If you use a heavier paper or a paper designed for wet media, you can also use solvent blending. Mona Lisa Odorless Mineral Spirits and Gamblin’s Gamsol are the most often recommended, but any odorless mineral spirit, white spirit, or even turpentine works.

If you choose to use solvents, make sure to use them safely. Store solvents in air-tight containers, and keep small quantities available for use. Keep them covered when not in use (yes, even between blending sessions), work in a well-ventilated area, and whatever you do, do not keep them in containers commonly used for food storage or drinking!

Plan Your Drawing

Although it’s not recommended that you make dramatic changes to an oil painting when painting with the Flemish method, it can be done.

You can also make changes to a colored pencil drawing in progress, but it’s a lot more difficult.

It’s better to plan your composition completely beforehand, and to draw every detail you want to include in the drawing. That includes highlights and shadows as well as outside edges. It’s far easier to work around or within those details than to restore them after accidentally shading over them.

That kind of drawing can get confusing fast, so use line quality to clarify things, as I’ve done with the drawing below.

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil - Detailed Line Drawing

Draw outside edges with solid lines. Use either dotted or dashed lines for shadows and highlights, and directional lines for contour edges. For a little more detail, draw foreground and background elements the same way.

You don’t have to use this combination of lines, but developing your own method of keeping all the shapes in proper order pays dividends when you start adding color, especially if you decide to use the Flemish method more often.

Take Your Time

Finally, take your time. No matter what method of drawing you use, colored pencils take a lot of time. That’s their nature.

Since the key to successfully adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil is even layers, it’s important to take your time and exercise patience.

If you find yourself getting careless or impatient, set the drawing aside for a while. Take  a break, take a walk, do some housework, or tidy the studio. You’ll find that it takes less time to finish a drawing if you take a break when you need it. If you push through, you may end up having to do something over.

Trust me. This is my biggest hurdle when it comes to colored pencils! I want things done now! That simply does not work.

Adapting the Flemish Method to Colored Pencil

Adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil is possible. Although I’ve yet to use all seven distinct layers, I have worked over an umber layer many times. I’ve been very pleased with the results.

Keys to remember are planning your work, focusing on value in the initial layers, and developing color layer by layer. This process allows you to take full advantage of the translucent nature of colored pencil.

Did I mention patience is also key?

For a more detailed, step-by-step explanation of adapting the Flemish method to colored pencil, here’s an article I wrote for EmptyEasel.

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