Today’s topic covers one of my favorite subjects: How to adapt the Flemish painting method to colored pencil.
I spent several years experimenting with and learning the Flemish painting method in oils. There were more than a few missteps along the way, but there were also some great results. I describe the oil painting process step-by-step on EmptyEasel.
When I started doing more colored pencil, it was natural to adapt the Flemish painting method to colored pencil.
Can You Do Just a Dead Layer?
Since it’s not possible to do both the umber layer and the dead layer, is it possible to substitute the latter if the subject hues are cooler?
You can substitute the umber layer and the dead layer with a single layer, then select the color temperature of that under drawing based on the final colors of the drawing.
The final drawing won’t show the full effects of a drawing incorporating all seven layers, but you will have more paper tooth available for later layers by combining the umber and dead layers, or by doing only one or the other.
Restoring Tooth to the Paper
Does use of a workable fixative restore enough tooth on the paper to add detail with colored pencil?
This has been the biggest challenge of using the Flemish method with colored pencil: The need to do at least seven distinct layers. The problem is with wax buildup. The more layers, the more wax on the paper. The more wax on the paper, the more difficult to add more layers.
I’ve used retouch varnish to restore the tooth to paper and have been able to draw over it, but it’s effectiveness is limited. At most, you can probably add three or four more layers. You can spray the drawing again, but each time you do that, the result is less satisfactory, so I don’t recommend it.
I’ve also tried workable fixative, but it’s even less helpful than retouch varnish.
One thing you don’t want to try is the final finish made for oil paintings. Not only may that flake off a waxy drawing, it may also discolor the paper and the drawing.
Alternatives to Restoring Paper Tooth
Rather than restoring tooth to the paper, it’s better to work in a way that preserves the tooth as long as possible.
Use Verithin pencils (or similar) in the early stages. These are harder versions of Prismacolor Premier. The pigment cores are harder and thinner, and contain less wax binder. You can develop an umber layer completely with them, and still have plenty of paper tooth left.
The purpose of the imprimatura step in the Flemish method is to tone the canvas, so you’re not painting on a white surface. If you want to work on a toned surface with colored pencil, use a light-colored paper. Using a colored paper eliminates the need to shade an imprimatura and thus preserves the natural tooth of the paper.
You can also tone white paper by rubbing color onto it with paper towel or bath tissue. That’s a time consuming task though. You can get wonderful, soft color so if that’s what you need, give it a try.
A third way to tone the paper is by using water soluble colored pencils, then drawing over them with regular pencils.
To truly restore the tooth of the paper after you’ve started drawing, about the only thing you can use is Brush & Pencil’s texture fixative. This spray-on product restores texture over colored pencil so you can continue to layer color as much as you wish. Here’s a great video on using texture fixative and companion products with a method similar to the Flemish method.
I have yet to try this product, but confess that it intrigues me!