How to Choose Reference Photos

Let’s take a short break from talking about making art to talk about reference photos. Specifically, how to choose reference photos for your next art piece.

For most of us, our artwork is usually not much better than the reference photos we use. It is true that the more skilled we become, the better able we are compensate for less than ideal photos. But still, the better the reference we start with, the more likely our work will succeed.

But what makes for a good reference photo?

How to Choose Reference Photos

Let me share four things I look for (other than an attention-grabbing subject) when choosing reference photos.

How to Choose Reference Photos

Composition

Whether or not you do your own photography, the composition of the image is important. You most likely will not use everything that appears in the photograph in your artwork, but a nicely composed photograph gives you a head start.

I prefer working from my own photographs, so I do a lot of composing through the lens of a camera. Even though I’ll never use most of those images as references, composing through the lens has become second nature.

Even so, not every image is perfect (or close to it.)

I took the two images that follow the same day.

The first one is well composed, though it could be improved. But I like the overall look and think it could make a fantastic (if somewhat complex) colored pencil piece.

The second one looks like I shot it a little carelessly. I’ve inadvertently cut off the bottom part of the spiny plant (which is what drew my attention.) There’s too much sky, too.

The slightly off-center position of the “spiny plant” is better than the dead-center position in the first photograph, but a lot of detail is missing.

And, to be honest, its easier to import the right hand details from the second photo into the first photo than it would be to make up the missing details in the second photo.

How to Choose Reference Photos

In this example, the best solution is to use both photos to improve on the composition for the artwork.

That is totally acceptable. Many artists use more than one reference photo to create their artwork, choosing the best parts of each photo.

Lighting

The next thing—and probably the most important thing for most of us—is the lighting.

As artists, we work with light no matter what our subject. The nature of the light gives the image it’s character. Dim light conceals things. Bright light emphasizes them. The color of the light changes the way things look, too.

Skilled artists can accurately fill in a lot of information that might be missing from a reference photo. Changing the lighting is next to impossible for most of us, so look for reference photos with the kind of lighting you want to draw.

Following are two similar scenes. Forget the slanting horizon line in the first one, and the rather sparse compositions. Look at the lighting.

The first photo shows dim light in the distance, with much of the land in shadow, while the second photo is fully lighted.

Also notice how cool the light is in the first photograph, while the second is much warmer.

How to Choose Reference Photos

The lighting is good enough in both photos for artwork, but they create two different moods. They almost look like two different times of year, don’t they? Spring and summer, maybe? (Ironically, I took both at the same location on the same day.)

Natural light in the middle of the day also creates a different mood than the light of dawn or evening. Artificial light comes in many colors and presents challenges of its own.

So look for reference photos that fit your idea for your drawing.

Distortion

Photographic distortion happens with every photo. That’s because the camera sees everything with equal clarity, unlike the human eye. In addition, cameras have no depth perception.

Cameras also have a tendency to make things up close look bigger than they are relative to things a little bit further away. This is especially noticeable with animals and people, but can also be seen in other subjects.

I photographed this miniature horse over the stall door. Cute, isn’t he?

I’m not sure why I took the photograph because I’d never use it as a reference. The head is far too big for the body (photographic distortion.) The angle is also wrong for a portrait. The horse is looking up at me. A good portrait shows the subject at eye level.

The image below, however, is good for a reference photo. In fact, I’ve considered using it more than once over the years.

The horse and rider are accurately captured. Their parts all fit together in proper relationship. The atmosphere and lighting reflect my idea of showing a race horse and exercise rider during a morning workout.

How to Choose Reference Photos

Value

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that value is the most important thing to get right in any art you do. Value (the difference between lights and darks) is what makes your subject look three-dimensional.

So it’s important to look for reference photos that have a good value range.

Take a look at these two photos of cattle.

I took this photo on a cloudy morning with flat light. The most contrast is between the lightest colored cow and the darkest cow. The shadows aren’t much darker than the middle values on any of the cattle and there are no highlights at all.

Later the same day, and a different group of cattle….

The sky is clear and the sun is bright, creating distinct shadows and highlights.

Or, in other words, the values are more striking.

Yes, it is easier to ramp up the values than to make almost any other improvement, but it’s still a good idea to look for reference photos that have strong contrasts.

Unless your goal is a moody, evocative image. In that case, low contrast fits your needs better and you need to choose reference photos that reflect that idea.

Choosing Reference Photos Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

Are you surprised color isn’t on this short list? That’s because I don’t usually think of color as being that important overall. Yes, I like color, but when everything else is in place, color is usually also correct.

Most of the time, the good reference photos appeal you at once and there’s no doubt.

But these tips will help you choose reference photos when you have two or more choices that appeal to you with no clear choice between them.

Choose the photo with the best combination of these options and you’re on your way!

Ask Carrie a Question

CP Magic February 2021 is Here!

CP Magic February 2021 is

CP Magic February 2021

What’s in CP Magic February 2021

The Featured Artist for This Month

February 2021 features California artist Denise Howard. A versatile creator, she’s worked in a number of mediums, but has chosen colored pencil as her primary medium. She pursues her art with energy and dedication while also continuing a full-time career as a software engineer.

February Tutorial

Denise draws many subjects, but nature and animals are among her favorites. She draws a collection of autumn leaves graced with raindrops for this month’s tutorial, and you’ll learn how she creates a wide range of colors and values using similar colors. You’ll also get a look at many of her drawing methods, as well her thoughts on a new paper recently introduced by Royal Talens, Royal Talens Toned Colour Paper.

The Great Art Adventure

Do you wonder if your artwork is good enough?

Carrie shares her thoughts on one of the least often noticed, but most important skill every artist needs.

Also in This Issue

Nothing But Pencils & Paper

This column continues with a list of basic colored pencil terms and definitions for those among us who are just beginning.

The Final Pencil Strokes

Have you ever reached the end of an issue of CP Magic, and wished there was more to read? The Final Pencil Strokes wraps up the February 2021 issue with links to three colored pencil blog posts for further information on the wonderful world of colored pencils.

Also in CP Magic February 2021

Ask Carrie

Featured Photo

About CP Magic

CP Magic is a monthly digital publication written by a colored pencil artist—yours truly—for colored pencil artists at all levels. That’s you!

Each month features an artist interview and tutorial so you can meet the artist and see how they work. Other columns include the Great Art Adventure, CP Clinic, a featured photo, and more.

Get your copy of CP Magic February 2021 today.

Drawing on Drafting Film with Peggy Osborne

If you’re like me, you’ve seen a lot of artists drawing on drafting film with colored pencils. You love the work they’re doing and, maybe (like me,) you’ve also wondered what that’s all about.

I haven’t yet tried drafting film. I’m having too much fun with Pastelmat and have some of the new Lux Archival to play with, so drafting film is way down my list.

Even so, I’m thrilled to let you know that if you want to try drafting film and are waiting for the right tutorial, you’re in luck. Peggy Osborne tried drafting film and wrote her January tutorial about her experiences.

Drawing on Drafting Film

Drawing on Drafting Film

In short, she loves it!

Peggy’s new tutorial tackles a favorite subject by drawing cat eyes. The perfect subject to show you how much color and life you can put into a drawing when you draw on both sides of drafting film.

Drafting film is not your typical drawing surface, however, and Peggy also shares valuable tips for selecting colors and layering for maximum impact.

The tutorial includes a full supply list, a color chart so you can match colors if you don’t have Prismacolor pencils, and a line drawing. A full-size reference photo is also included. No additional downloads after you purchase the tutorial. It’s all included!

Are You Ready to Draw on Drafting Film?

This tutorial is perfect if you’ve never tried drafting film but are ready to try it out. You can’t do better than Peggy’s easy-to-read and follow instructions and beautiful illustrations.

And if you’re just looking for a new project to draw, then why not give this tutorial a try?

Click here to buy your copy of Peggy’s Cat Eyes on Drafting Film tutorial.

About Peggy Osborne

See more of Peggy’s work at Pet Portraits by Peggy. You can also meet Peggy in the January issue of CP Magic.

Peggy is an accomplished self-taught artist living in Canada specializing in creating beautiful realistic portraits of pets and family members. She’s had an on going love affair with colored pencils, loving their simplicity, for as long as she can remember.

She started out using graphite pencil so it was an easy transition to carry on with colored pencils. Love of animals and art go hand in hand. Peggy is in awe of what can be accomplished with colored pencils.

Want to see a free sample of Peggy’s dog portrait tutorials and writing style first? Read How to Draw a Golden Retriever on this blog.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

Today, I want to show you one of my favorite ways of creating digital line drawings from digital photos using GIMP.

GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, and it’s a free, open source photo editor available for PC and Mac. If you’ve never used GIMP before, prepare for a fairly steep learning curve. Once you grasp the basics, however, GIMP is versatile, powerful, and an excellent alternative for Photoshop. It’s a great app if you prefer downloadable software.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

I’ve already written about how easy it is to square up photos in GIMP. If you have problems getting good, square photos of your artwork, you’ll want to read that.

Now on to today’s subject.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

Convert the Image to Gray Scale

Converting an image to grayscale removes all the color and turns the image into a black-and-white image. GIMP refers to this process as desaturation.

Select COLORS from the drop-down menu along the top of the GIMP window. Then choose DESATURATE and DESATURATE as shown below.

A dialog box will open that allows you to adjust the level of de-saturation. I usually click OK.

Here’s my sample image in full, glorious color.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

And here is the fully de-saturated (converted to grayscale) image.

NOTE: Some photo editors automatically remove the color when you do an edge detection. Some do not, so you may or may not need to do this step.

Look for an Edge Detect or Find Edges Option

The next step is to reduce the image to edges.

In GIMP, you do that with the EDGE DETECT tool under the FILTERS drop down menu as shown here. I also use the DIFFERENCE OF GAUSSIANS option, which other photo editors may or may not have. If you don’t have that option, then choose the default. Most of the time, that option works best.

TIP: Set your photo editor up to show a preview of the changes you make, if possible. That way, you can see how the image is going to look before you apply the edge detect tool, and you can make adjustments if necessary.

This is how my image looked after finishing this step.

Adjust Brightness and Contrast

Next, adjust the brightness and contrast of the image. The goal is the best possible level of details with the least amount of distraction.

The BRIGHTNESS-CONTRAST settings in GIMP are under the COLORS drop down menu.

Another way to adjust the brightness and contrast is by selecting LEVELS (just below Brightness-Contrast in this illustration.)

Creating Digital Line Drawings with GIMP

There’s so much contrast in my sample image that the Brightness-Contrast setting didn’t help much, so I tried Levels instead.

There is still quite a bit of “noise” (unwanted details) in the background, but that’s easily enough ignored in the drawing process. The level of detail and value gradations in the subject is excellent.

Creating Line Drawings from Digital Photos

Next….

Print the resulting image as is, or continue adjusting it until you have the level of detail you want.

You can also print this image and use it as a simplified reference to hand draw your own line drawing if you prefer.

Personally, I would print this image, then transfer only the details I thought absolutely necessary.

This process can be hit-and-miss sometimes. While default settings work most of the time, they may not be satisfactory with some photos. The problem is in the photos themselves. Lighting levels, clarity, and contrast all play a role. The better the photo is in each area, the better results you’ll get.

No matter what photo editor you use, you will have to make adjustments with some photos.

My sample required different settings in Brightness-Contrast, Levels, and in other places, than the last horse image I put through the process.

Creating Digital Line Drawings with a Photo Editor

This is a wonderful way to save time creating line drawings.

But no two photo editors are exactly alike, so explore your favorite photo editor and see what it can do.

After that, practice, practice, practice!

The only easier way to do this is to find someone else to do these conversions for you!

Ask Carrie a Question

My Thoughts on Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

Today’s post question comes from a reader who wants to know how to get bright highlights in eyes. The reader also mentions using gel pens to create highlights, so I’ll answer the question with two posts. Today, I’ll share my thoughts on gel pens and acrylic paint.

Next week, I’ll show you how to get bright highlights in eyes using archival materials.

But first, here’s the question.

How do you get that realistic look of a shiny glaze in eyes, besides just having a white dot from a jelly roll pen? Please, I’m lost on making this seem real, Thanks.

Danny,

Thank you for the question!

Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

My Thoughts on Gel Pens and Acrylic Paint

A lot of artists use gel pens, acrylic paint, and other similar tools to add bright highlights to their colored pencil drawings. Many of those artists are artists whose work and talent I respect. They get excellent results, in most cases.

Acrylic paints are another medium I’m often asked about for adding highlights to colored pencil drawings.

Acrylics seemed to make sense when I tried them decades ago. I was a painter, after all, so using a brush and paint came naturally. What better way to add highlights and accents than by brushing them on with acrylic paint?

But unless you’re drawing for your own pleasure, it’s wise to avoid gel pens, acrylic paint, and any similar substances. They look good when you first use them, but they won’t stick well to the colored pencils. Sooner or later, they will flake off.

Why That Doesn’t Work

No matter what brand of colored pencils you use, the pigment is held together in lead form by binders. The binder is made up of a mixture of wax, oil, clay and fillers.

Gel pens and acrylics are water-based.

You can safely use water-based mediums under oil- or wax-based mediums. Artists have been using acrylics under oils for decades.

Many colored pencil artists use watercolors, watercolor pencils, India ink and even acrylics under colored pencils. In most cases, you can use colored pencil over any water-based medium as long as you use the wet medium as intended, and let the paper dry thoroughly.

But using a water-based medium of any kind over a wax- or oil-based medium of any kind often leads to problems down the road.

That’s because water and oil (or wax) do not mix.

If it helps, try a little experiment. Fill a glass with water, then pour a little vegetable oil into it. You’ll get something that looks like this.

Leave the glass sit for a moment or two and the oil rises to the surface. Once all the oil is on the surface, it’s fairly easy to skim the oil off the water.’s surface If you’re careful, you might even be able to pour most of the water out of the glass and leave most of the oil behind.

The same is true for dry mediums. It takes longer for the separation to happen, but it will happen. Since the pencils are dry and the gel pen or acrylic dries after application, the two will eventually separate cleanly. The gel pen or acrylic flakes off and your drawing is without those lovely highlights.

Is There Ever a time to Use Gel Pens or Acrylic Paints?

Yes.

If you’re doing artwork in which permanence isn’t important, then you can use whatever tool or material gives you the result you want.

Greeting cards are an excellent example. A lot of people make their own greeting cards with stamping, colored pencils, markers, stickers, and other things. Greeting cards aren’t meant to last for decades, and they’re not usually framed or displayed. So it doesn’t matter if they’re absolutely archival.

Any type of craft use involving colored pencils is also suitable for using gel pens and acrylic paints to create highlights are accents. And, of course, adult coloring books are good places for gel pens.

And as I mentioned at the beginning, if you’re making art for your own pleasure, then by all means make use of those gel pens.

So if you shouldn’t use gel pens, how do you make bright, realistic highlights in eyes? I’ll answer that question next week.

Ask Carrie a Question

CP Magic January 2021 is Here!

CP Magic January 2021 starts the new year off right with versatile colored pencil artist John Stansfield.

And a new look!

CP Magic January 2021

The new cover design is only the beginning, and continues with new features inside, as well as some of your favorite columns.

What’s in CP Magic January 2021

The Featured Artist for This Month

John Stansfield joins CP Magic from the United Kingdom as the first featured artist of 2021. A long-time artist with interests in portraits of all types, and botanical subjects, life-like detail and a depth of realistic color fills John’s work. His artist’s journey is at once unique and common to many other artists.

January Tutorial

A beautiful silver tabby cat named Vinny is John’s subject for the January tutorial. Work with John to draw this lovely fellow. The tutorial includes links to the reference photo and line drawing.

The Great Art Adventure

For many artists, the beginning of the year means goal setting. For a lot of us, goal setting is one of those things that must be done whether we like it or not.

This year, however, Carrie takes a look at goal setting as though it were a journey. A great art journey, with suggestions for identifying your main destination as well as rest stops along the way.

New in This Issue

Nothing But Pencils & Paper

Are you new at colored pencils or do you know someone who is? If so, then this column is for you. The column begins with a list of the three must have things to begin using colored pencils.

The Final Pencil Strokes

Have you ever reached the end of an issue of CP Magic, and wished there was more to read? The Final Pencil Strokes wraps up the January 2021 issue with links to three colored pencil blog posts for further information on the wonderful world of colored pencils.

Also in CP Magic January 2021

Ask Carrie

Featured Photo

About CP Magic

CP Magic is a monthly digital publication written by a colored pencil artist—yours truly—for colored pencil artists at all levels. That’s you!

Each month features an artist interview and tutorial so you can meet the artist and see how they work. Other columns include the Great Art Adventure, CP Clinic, a featured photo, and more.

Get your copy of CP Magic January 2021 today.

King Charles Spaniel Tutorial by Peggy Osborne

Are you looking for a fun way to relax after the holidays? Peggy Osborne’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Tutorial may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Tutorial Cover

About the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Tutorial

The subject for this new tutorial is an adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Brie. The photo was provided by Brie’s loving owner and rescuer, Verity Camp.

Verity rescued Brie from life in a puppy mill, giving her the love and affection she’d missed all those years of producing litters of puppies.

“That makes this tutorial very special to me,” says artist Peggy Osborne. “I wanted to honor the life of this precious pup.”

Those who have rescued small animals will also find a unique significance in doing this tutorial.

You’ll Learn…

valuable skills like layering and blending, using different types of pencil strokes to create textures, and how to draw realistic grass.

Peggy also shows you how to draw that lovely, long fur on Brie’s ears, and how to create the illusion of distance in drawing the dog and the grass.

The tutorial includes a full supply list, a color chart so you can match colors if you don’t have Prismacolor pencils, and a line drawing. It also includes a full-size reference photo! Download the tutorial and start this delightful project today.

Are You Ready to Draw on Strathmore Toned Paper?

This tutorial is perfect if you’ve never before used Strathmore’s toned drawing paper but are ready to try it. You can’t do better than Peggy’s easy-to-read and follow instructions and beautiful illustrations.

And if you’re just looking for a new project to draw, then why not give this tutorial a try?

Click here to buy your copy of Peggy’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel tutorial.

About Peggy Osborne

See more of Peggy’s work at Pet Portraits by Peggy. You can also meet Peggy in the January issue of CP Magic.

Peggy is an accomplished self-taught artist living in Canada specializing in creating beautiful realistic portraits of pets and family members. She’s had an on going love affair with colored pencils, loving their simplicity, for as long as she can remember.

She started out using graphite pencil so it was an easy transition to carry on with colored pencils. Love of animals and art go hand in hand. Peggy is in awe of what can be accomplished with colored pencils.

Want to see a free sample of Peggy’s dog portrait tutorials and writing style first? Read How to Draw a Golden Retriever on this blog.

Colored Pencil Painting Portraits Book

Christmas arrived early! The mail carrier delivered a box containing Alyona Nickelsnen’s Colored Pencil Painting Portraits book and several free samples!

If you’re looking for a way to treat yourself this Christmas, this may interest you.

Colored Pencil Painting Portraits Book

Alyona has published two books. The other is her Colored Pencil Painting Bible. Both are well-written and packed with information, and once I decided to buy one, it took a while to decide which one.

My choice might surprise you because I don’t do portraits of people. My favorite subjects are horses and other animals, and landscapes.

Colored Pencil Painting Portraits Book Cover

But I’ve been an artist long enough to know that sound art principles are sound art principles regardless of the subject. Whatever Alyona teaches about painting people also applies to the next horse, dog, cat or landscape I draw.

That wasn’t the only reason I chose this book, however.

The book comes with a collection of free samples. I ask you, how could I pass up free samples? Especially when some of them are on my art supply wish list?

And The Free Samples Are…

Colored Pencils

The package includes five pencils. In order of the illustration below:

Faber-Castell Polychromos (Crimson.) I already use and like these pencils, so the big surprise was the color.

Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer (Purple Violet) is the artist grade watercolor companion line to the Polychromos pencils. I’ve had my eye on a set of these for a year or two, so I look forward to trying this pencil.

Caran d’Ache Pablo (Salmon) is a thinner, harder pencil than the popular Caran d’Ache Luminance. They are to Luminance what Prismacolor Verithin are to Prismacolor Premier pencils. I’ve heard artists say they hate them because they’re hard while other artists talk about how smoothly they layer over Pastelmat.

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor (True Blue.) I have vague memories of having used Lyra pencils in the distant past. I know I had one of their Splender Blenders and loved it. These pencils are oil-based (as are the Polychromos,) so should be a good fit.

Caran d’Ache Supracolor II Soft (Salmon) is similar in appearance to the Pablos, but is a watercolor pencil.

Powder Blender & Titanium White

Two small packets with sponge applicators also accompanied the book and pencils. One is Colored Pencil Titanium White, the other is Colored Pencil Powder Blender.

As I write this post, I have a couple of portraits on Pastelmat on my easel, and I’m eager to see how the Powder Blender performs.

But reading time comes first. I need to see how these two excellent tools should be used before I start experimenting.

Especially since one of the portraits is paid for!

Powder Blender and Titanium White

If you’ve been following this blog for very long, I hope you’ve read some of Peggy Osborne’s excellent tutorials. My personal favorite is the rooster on black paper. Peggy uses Titanium White with Touch-Up Texture with tutorial.

So I’m eager to see how it works for me.

Lux Archival Paper

The sample I’m most interested in, however, is this one. Alyona’s Lux Archival paper.

Lux Archival Paper Sample

I’ve been using sanded art papers of one kind and another for years, beginning with Uart’s Premium Sanded art papers. It took a while to get used to the feel, but one I learned how to make the best use of them, they became favorites.

Since that sample pack from Uart, I’ve also tried Fisher 400, and Clairefontaine Pastelmat. Pastelmat is currently my preference.

Although no two brands of sanded art papers are identical, they do have two things in common.

First, the drawing surfaces are archival. They don’t fade, and they don’t get brittle or fragile with age.

Second, the substrates aren’t archival. Most of them are buffered, so whatever acids they might contain can’t easily reach the drawing surface.

Most of them are also moisture intolerant. You can use solvent on them, but they don’t play well with liquid mediums. Not even oil paints, which I have tried.

Lux Archival, on the other hand, is fully archival and acid-free, front and back. It’s also suitable for liquid mediums, as well as most traditional dry mediums. I read that to mean that I can use watercolor pencils on it as well as dry colored pencils!

Colored Pencil Painting Portraits Book

I’m planning a review of the Colored Pencil Painting Portraits book after I’ve read through it.

It’s also my plan to review the paper and products, possibly with a short tutorial. That sample paper is only 4×6 inches, after all. The perfect size for a quick landscape or tree study.

As I mentioned at the beginning, if you’re looking for something special for yourself, consider this book and accessories. You don’t have to be a portrait artist to make good use of it. At $25.99 plus shipping, you can hardly go wrong.

Why Prismacolor Pencils Break so Often

Today’s reader question comes from a frustrated Prismacolor pencil user who wants to know why I think Prismacolor pencils break so often.

That’s a weighty question and open to all kinds of speculation. But before I share my thoughts, let me share the question.

Hi Carrie,

Prismacolor pencils break and break and break. Do you have an explanation and a solution? (I do, but I want to hear yours!)

Jana

Thank you for your question, Jana. I know you’re not the only artist interested in this answer!

Why Prismacolor Pencils Break so Often

Since Jana asked a two-part question, my answer is also two part.

Why Prismacolor Pencils Break so Often

The reason I believe Prismacolor pencils break so easily is the overall quality of the pencil.

Problems I’ve seen personally include pigment cores that are not centered, pencils that are warped, and casings that are split.

Any one of those problems contribute to breakage when you sharpen a pencil. Get a pencil with two of those conditions (or all three) and you may as well toss it or learn to sharpen it by hand, because most sharpeners are going to break the pigment cores.

So what’s the solution?

Leave your pencils in a sunny window for a few hours on a sunny day. The gentle heat softens the pigment cores. If the pigment core is cracked inside the pencil, the crack will “heal” when the pigment core cools and hardens again. Depending on where you are, I suggest two to three hours in the full sun in a sunny window.

If you can, buy pencils in person. That gives you the opportunity to check the cores, and look for warped pencils and cracked casings. Avoiding those things reduces the amount of breakage.

Off Center Pigment Cores

Off center pigment cores are easy to spot. In this illustration, two of the blue pencils are badly off center and a couple of the other pencils are somewhat off center. If I were buying pencils, I would put these back on the shelf.

Uncentered pigment cores are a problem because they don’t sharpen evenly. When you sharpen an off center pencil, the wood casing extends further down one side of the pencil than the other. The pigment core itself is also not sharpened on the “center.”

When you sharpen pencils like this, the sharpener puts unequal pressure on the wood casing and the pigment core, which can cause them to break.

(There are other problems in this batch of pencils that could cause breakage. For example, the dull green pencil at the bottom is actual oval shaped, not round. The blue pencil next to it has a slightly porous casing, which could also cause problems.)

Warped Pencils

Warped pencils have a curve in them from one end to the next, as shown below.

Why Prismacolor Pencils Break so Often

They don’t sharpen well either because the pencil isn’t straight. The more a pencil is warped, the more problems you’re likely to have with sharpening and breakage.

When I shop for pencils, I lay the pencils on a flat surface and roll them under my palm. That’s a fast and easy way to find warped pencils.

You can also just lay them side by side as shown below. It’s easy to see one of these pencils is warped! Roll the other to make sure it isn’t also warped.

Split Casings

Splits or cracks in the wood casing of the pencil is also a major contributor to breakage. A split wood casing is not as strong as an solid wood casing. Sharpening a split or cracked casing puts uneven pressure on the casing, sometimes causing it to break, like the peach-colored pencil shown below.

Why Prismacolor Pencils Break so Often

A weakened casing doesn’t protect the pigment core very well. Dropping a solidly made pencil isn’t likely to cause damage to the pigment core. Dropping a pencil with a weakened casing is.

Prismacolor Pencils May Break for Other Reasons, too.

Well-made pencils can be damaged in shipment, for example. The possibilities are too numerous to address in this post.

But it is my opinion that most problems are avoidable if you follow the suggestions above. There’s no reason to avoid Prismacolor pencils if you shop and purchase wisely.

Ask Carrie a Question

Removing Color from Digital Photos

Stephanie Speisman wants to know about removing color from digital photos. Here’s her question.

Good morning. I would like to know and I believe that there are many others who would like to know how to turn a photo into a black and white image that I can then use to copy the hues and values with my colored pencils.

I have used various methods such as graphite transfer paper, rubbing the picture on the back with graphite, a light box, etc.

For me, the fun part is using the colored pencils and I would rather not have to draw the image. I guess you could also say it’s like making the photo into a coloring book page.

I know it can be done with Photoshop, Photo Elements, and a number of apps that are so so, but each time I do it it seems to be hit or miss.  I’d love to see a tutorial on the steps to take so that I can produce it each time with ease and without frustration.

Thank you!

Stephanie Speisman

What a thorough and in-depth question! Thank you, Stephanie.

Removing Color from Digital Photos

Unfortunately, there are so many different photo editing programs available, that I can’t cover them all in one post.

In addition, I’ve used only four programs for work like this, so can give you personal, hands-on tutorials only on those.

Today, I’ll show you how to convert color digital photos to grayscale using GIMP and Preview.

Removing Color from Digital Photos

I created my examples on a free open source photo editor called GIMP, which is available for download. Preview is the default photo editor for Macintosh.

GIMP

Here’s my sample image in full, glorious color.

Removing Color from Digital Photos

There are a couple of ways to remove the color in GIMP.

First is choosing DESATURATE in the COLORS drop down menu, then selecting DESATURATE. That’s what I did in this illustration.

Here is the fully desaturated (converted to grayscale) image.

For a different look, select COLORS>DESATURATE>COLOR TO GRAY, as shown here.

This is what the grayscale image looks like with this selection.

Removing Color from Digital Photos

Either image can be used as Stephanie is thinking of using them, and they can be printed as is, or adjusted for brightness and contrast.

Which one is best? I don’t know. I’d probably choose the one on the right below because it’s lighter and shows more of the fine details.

Preview

I use a MacBook Pro with High Sierra as the operating system. A nifty little photo editor comes with that machine, so I tried creating a black-and-white version of the same image. Just to see if I could.

It turns out I could and it was quite easy.

First, I selected ADJUST COLOR in the TOOLS drop down menu, as shown here.

Removing Color from Digital Photos

Next, I found the Saturation option at the top of the middle section. I’ve marked it with the red line.

The default setting is with the slider in the middle of the horizontal bar. Slide it all the way to the left, and all color is removed from the image.

This is the result.

Chances are good that your electronic device has a built-in photo editor that will let you remove color from digital photos. In my case, that default program was easier to figure out than GIMP. At least for this process.

Getting It Right Every Time

Stephanie also said she wanted a program that she could learn and get the right results every time. I’m not sure there is such a program, since photos vary so much.

But either one of these programs can easily convert color photos to black-and-white. Adjustments to brightness and contrast are also possible with both, and with most other photo editors.

What’s the best advice?

Take the time to experiment with whatever photo editor you have available. Remember my Preview sample? That little app is free with my computer and it’s just as capable as GIMP.

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