Every now and again, finding a topic for the Saturday post is a challenge. I have two art pieces in progress, but they’re both connected to an email drawing class, so I can’t use them.
Taking care of kittens, the house, a Facebook page makeover, and a number of other things have eaten up the hours on a daily basis, so there has been no time for other artwork. That means, no tutorials.
And this is the month I need to write an article for COLOR Magazine, so that’s been a top priority this week (one of many, I might add.)
But joy really does come in the morning! As I was writing my article for COLOR Magazine, I discovered the topic for this post! Hooray!
So what is it?
Who hasn’t encountered problems, and looked for solutions? Answer? We all have.
Everything comes with a learning curve. Even our beloved colored pencils.
The problems you faced may not be the same as mine, but I’m certain that sooner or later, we’ve all had to find solutions to these three problems.
The trick is finding the right solutions for each problem.
So I’m not only telling your about the biggest problems I faced when I started using colored pencils; I’ll share my solutions.
3 Beginner Colored Pencil Problems
Problem #1: Filling in Paper Holes
I spent the first 30 or 40 years of my art career oil painting. Horses. Landscapes. Horses in landscapes. An occasional deer or dog and even a cow or two.
From the beginning, I hated being able to see light peeking through a painting if I held the canvas up to the light. That’s one of the reasons I started painting on panels.
So while I was able to get a lot of detail with colored pencils, I was immediately disappointed by the amount of paper that showed through no matter what I did.
It didn’t matter all that much back then, because I was still primarily an oil painter. But it was an annoyance, to be sure.
And it kept me from doing more colored pencil work than I did.
My first solution was changing paper. I’d been drawing on mat board because it was rigid and I liked the selection of colors. It was also big enough to do larger pieces.
But it’s not always very smooth. The rougher the paper, the more difficult it is to fill in the paper holes.
So I started experimenting with smoother paper. Stonehenge was the first high-quality paper I remember using. I loved the feel of it from the first touch, and filling in paper holes was a lot easier.
Bristol vellum, Bristol regular, and Strathmore Artagain papers have also found a place in my paper drawer, though I use them less frequently these days.
Using a colored paper may not help fill in the paper holes, but it does disguise them.
The portrait below was drawn on gray paper, which served as the middle values, as well as the background. Suddenly, paper showing through the colored pencil was a good thing!
Problem #2: Blending
Blending oil paints is easy. Colors can be mixed on a palette, or you can put one color directly into another on the canvas.
Not so with colored pencils. They’re a dry medium, so they don’t mix the same way.
I struggled with blending them for a long time before finally learning how to get the results I wanted.
The best and easiest-to-use solution I found for this problem is slowing down, and taking the time to add enough layers of color.
As I look back on some of those early pieces, like the dog above, I can see how unfinished they look. Another hour or two and a few more layers would have made a huge difference.
Don’t think that makes much difference? Here’s a drawing that I thought might be finished.
And here’s the same drawing after an additional day of work and a few more layers. That extra day made a lot of difference.
No, it’s not easy to go slow. I still get impatient and want to finish a drawing. But if I don’t force myself to slow down, I end up with the same disappointing results that were so common in the early days.
Solvent blending was also a major step forward. Learning how to use painting solvents like turpentine and odorless mineral spirits on colored pencils was a game-changer.
I’ve also since discovered the joys of blending with paper towel and bath tissue.
Both blending methods have helped me get the results I want.
Problem #3: Time
Of all the problems I faced when I started using colored pencils, this one is still the biggest challenge. Let’s face it.
Colored pencils are SLOW!
Yes, you can blend with solvents, and yes, there are watercolor pencils, and both of those solutions speed up the process. But you still have to put the color on the paper, and you’re still using a pencil with a pigment core that isn’t very wide.
With oil painting, I could thin paint and use a big brush to cover a lot of canvas in a hurry.
Not so with colored pencils.
Honest answer? I haven’t yet found the perfect solution, and I doubt there is one!
And sometimes that’s enough to get me thinking about taking out the oils again and dashing something off, just to see if I still can.
But I have found some ways to deal with impatience (and that is what it all comes down to, isn’t it?)
15-minute work sessions have been the biggest help. It’s a lot easier to give a drawing the time it needs if I’m not punishing myself by working for hours at a time.
Working in small areas is also helpful. I can see progress more quickly when I can bring an area to completion, before moving on to the next area.
When I can’t easily work in one small area at a time, I alternate between two larger areas. I might work on the background a while, then switch to the foreground if I’m doing a landscape or portrait.
Of course, those weren’t the only beginner colored pencil problems I faced. There were many others.
And the more I use colored pencils, the more challenges arise. That’s just part of the learning process.
But most of my students struggle with these issues, and they are among the most frequently asked questions from readers.
So I hope my solutions help you solve these problems.
Or at least get you one step closer to finding your own solutions!