More Reasons to Love Colored Pencils

Some time ago, I wrote a fun post called 12 Reasons to Love Colored Pencils. Today, I thought I’d list a few more reasons to love colored pencils.

More Reasons to Love Colored Pencils

More Reasons to Love Colored Pencils

All Those New Pencils

Colored pencils have come a long way since I started using them in the mid 1990s. New brands have entered the market. When I started there was only Prismacolor (so far as I knew.) Now beginners can chose from dozens of brands.

And yes, most of them work well with all the others.

New Drawing Surfaces

Pencils aren’t the only things being updated and improved. Drawing surfaces continue to develop too.

As of the writing of this post, Brush & Pencil has launched a brand new, fully archival sanded art paper that takes sanded art paper to a new level. Lux Archival is the latest product from this artist-run company and it’s getting rave reviews.

New Accessory Products

New products are now available that make painting with colors pencils more like painting with colored pencils. I refer, of course, to Brush & Pencil’s texture fixative, which is sprayed over a work in progress to restore tooth. Back in the day, there was only workable fixative and it was usually unsatisfactory.

And you simply can’t beat Titanium white mixture for adding bright white highlights to colored pencil.

Actually, Brush & Pencil has become one more reason to love colored pencils for a lot of artists. Their fully archival line of products transformed colored pencils in a big way.

(No, this isn’t a sponsored post. It’s just Brush & Pencil has developed so many great new products in the last few years that it’s impossible not to find one that excites you!)

Exploration is Easier

And usually more fun, too.

I’m not sure why that is. All those years (over 40) that I created horse portraits in oils, portrait work is about all I did. I had no interest in landscapes, still life paintings, or just playing with the paint. About the only time I did anything different was when I got so disgusted with a piece that I slapped paint all over it and made an abstract out of it.

But put a colored pencil in my hand, and all that changes!

In the last few years, I’ve drawn a still life or two, food, and fabric. I’ve drawn from life (something else I never felt the need to do with oils.)

I’ve even dabbled with mixed media by doing watercolor under paintings!

It’s Easier to Have Fun

It’s also easier to just have fun with colored pencils. I do understand that. It was next to impossible to carry oil paints, brushes, and cleaner with me all the time. Painting was always in the studio, so it was always work.

But I keep a few pencil stubs in my purse all the time and also have a field kit that’s more completely stocked. That means I can draw wherever I happen to be, and that makes it fun!

There’s So Much Great Colored Pencil Art Out There

Finally (for today,) there are so many wonderful artists creating great colored pencil art that it’s easy to be motivated to create my own. Subjects are as varied as the artists and so are their drawing methods. There’s always something to learn from each one, and that’s the most exciting reason of all to love colored pencils.

So there are a few more reasons to love colored pencils.

What are some of your reasons for loving colored pencils?

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How to Draw White Objects

I recently received the following question from a reader who wanted to know how to draw white objects on white paper. It’s a good question and one I’ve struggled with in the past.

Here’s the question.

There are several occasions where the subject I am working on has white areas such as a bird, flower, or animals that should be left white.  How should these areas be treated if you are using white paper? Or there whites in some brands of colored pencil that lighten better than others?

How to Draw White Objects

This reader is talking about drawing white parts in otherwise colorful subjects. The white blaze on a horse or the white parts of a flower.

But let’s be honest. We also have trouble—and sometimes a lot of trouble—drawing things that are entirely white.

How to Draw White Objects

A lot of things come into play when drawing white things. Is the object smooth or rough? Is the surface shiny or dull? What is the setting like?

You have to ask the same questions for objects of any color, but for some reason, white objects throw us into more confusion than the same object in a different color. I dare say most of us know how to start drawing a red mug (or are willing to just pick a red and start drawing.) Give us a white mug, though, and we’re stuck.

Why?

The Real Question

So far as I’m able to tell based on personal experience, the biggest problem isn’t with drawing a white mug or anything else. The biggest problem is how I approach the drawing.

For example, if I’m drawing a black horse, I don’t ask what color of black I should use. I ask what colors I see in the horse.

But if I’m drawing a white horse, I start fretting over how to draw a white horse and don’t look for the colors in the horse.

The next time you prepare to draw something white, ask yourself what other colors you see in the reference photo. If you accurately identify the other colors and draw them, you won’t need a white pencil.

That’s because you can’t really draw white, especially on white paper. You have create the illusion of white through the colors you use on the white subject AND on everything around it.

Here are four other things to consider.

Is the object smooth or rough?

Smooth surfaces catch and reflect light and color better than rough objects. The smoother a surface, the more likely it will show hints of the colors that appear around it.

The petals on this flower are smooth and velvety.

How to Draw White Objects - Is the surface rough or smooth?

This snow has a more granular surface. It’s still influenced by the colors around it (especially the sky,) but the granular surface texture gives it a different look. A rough surface would look different from both the flower and the snow.

Is the surface shiny or dull?

Smooth or rough is not the same as shiny or dull. A smooth surface can be either shiny or dull.

This coffee cup has a smooth surface and it is also shiny. The flower petals also have a smooth surface, but they are not shiny.

The shiny surface of the mug shows clearer reflections of the things and colors around it than the dull surface of the white flowers.

What colors are around the object?

Especially with highly reflective objects, you have to pay attention to the things and colors around whatever you’re drawing. Why? Because they influence the colors you see in your subject.

Look at all the shapes, values, and colors in this coffee cup. Light is shining on it directly and also indirectly. The saucer is shown in reflection on the lower half of the cup, and so on. Just drawing this cup with the dark background and shading it without all those details may produce a good drawing, but it will lack life.

What is the lighting like?

Perhaps the biggest factor in drawing accurate white objects is the lighting.

In the example above, the mug is brightly lighted by sunlight coming from the upper left.

This mug is lighted in artificial light with a bluish (cool) cast.

This mug is back lighted, and the light has a warm cast.

They’re both white, but you would use different colors to draw each one because of the lighting.

How to Draw White Objects Accurately: 4 Tips

Believe it or not, it’s easier than you think.

Tip 1: Study Your Reference Photo

Look at the colors in the photo. Set aside the idea that you’re drawing something white. Also set aside the notion that you’ll use white in your drawing. If you’re working on white paper, you won’t need a lot of white, if any at all. The photo below has very little white in it, yet the cup and book both look white.

If it helps, use a photo editor to isolate colors, as shown below. You can select colors as you draw, or make a digital palette before you start, then choose the best colors based on that.

How to Draw White Objects - Use a photo editors to isolate colors.

Tip 2: Follow the Reference Photo

Draw the shapes, values, and colors you see as you see them. Study the reference, even when you think you know what to draw. Nothing gets me into trouble with a drawing more quickly than thinking I know what’s in the photo instead of studying the photo to make sure.

Tip 3: Light Pressure, Sharp Pencils, Lots of Layers

Use sharp pencils and light pressure to add color. Build the values and colors layer by layer. Consult your reference photo often before, during and after each layer.

Tip 4: Work Around the Brightest Highlights

The best way to get good whites in a colored pencil drawing is to work around the area you want white. You can lift small amounts of color if you’ve used light pressure to layer them. But even then, you won’t be able to get all the way back to the original white of the paper.

How to Draw White Objects in Conclusion

If you remember nothing else, remember that even the whitest object shows other colors. Shiny surfaces show those colors more clearly, but even dull surfaces show them.

The egg drawing below shows how I drew a white egg on white paper. Only the brightest area (the top part) is pure white and that’s the color of the paper.

To draw the shadows, I used the same colors I used in the background and on the cloth. To draw the reflected light (lower left part of the egg), I used a light yellow and light grays.

How to Draw White Objects on White Paper

As with all subjects of any color, accurately drawing white objects is a matter of knowing what colors you see in your reference photo, then reproducing them as accurately as possible.

For further help, read Drawing Vibrant Highlights with Colored Pencils.

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The Difference Between Hot Press and Cold Press Papers

Let’s take a moment talk about the difference between hot press and cold press papers.

I know this subject can easily become complex, especially to those of us who have never used watercolors. But watercolor paper is a great paper for colored pencil work, too, so knowing a little about it can help you make a better choice.

So I’m keeping this discussion short and sweet by concentrating on the primary difference.

The Difference Between Hot Press and Cold Press Papers

The Difference Between Hot Press and Cold Press Papers

The biggest difference between hot press and cold press papers is surface texture. Hot press papers are generally smoother (sometimes much smoother) than cold press papers.

Cold press paper is pressed with cold rollers or plates. These plates press the surface fibers down somewhat, leaving some surface texture. The amount of texture varies from paper to paper and company to company, but in all cases, cold press paper is toothier than hot press paper.

Cold-press paper is the most popular and versatile and is suitable for most media, depending on its weight. It’s a favorite for watercolor artists because it’s more absorbent and tends to stay wet a little longer than hot press paper.

Hot press paper passes through heated rollers or plates. The heated presses press the paper fibers down more completely, producing a smoother paper. Some texture remains. Hot press paper is not as smooth as Bristol, for example, but it’s much smoother than cold press paper.

Hot pressed paper is ideal for highly-detailed illustrations, printmaking, etching, drafting, sketching, and drawing. Yes. Even colored pencil drawing.

Read Which Paper is Best for Colored Pencils? for more paper basics.

How to Decide Which Paper to Use

The type of watercolor paper (or any paper) you use depends largely on the art you want to create. If you like highly detailed artwork, use a paper sturdy enough to handle lots of layers and smooth enough to easily fill the tooth. Weight is important, but so is surface texture.

If you prefer a more painterly look, then choose paper with a bit more surface texture.

The watercolor papers I use are Canson L’Aquarelle and Stonehenge Aqua, both 140lb hot press. Both look and feel like Stonehenge traditional paper. I use watercolor or watercolor pencil under traditional pencils on both papers.

I also use only traditional colored pencils on both with good results.

Both papers—and probably any other artist grade 140lb hot press paper—are good for my drawing methods for landscapes. I’ve yet to do an animal portrait on either.

Nor have I tried cold press watercolor paper because I prefer smoother papers. But as I mentioned above, if you prefer a more painterly look for your art, give them a try.

For more detailed information on hot and cold press watercolor papers, read Cold Press vs Hot Press watercolor paper – Here’s how to choose ! It’s written for watercolor artists, but the paper information is good for colored pencil artists, as well.

Still Undecided?

Buy the smallest pad of each you can find and experiment. If you know a watercolor artist, ask him or her for advice. Or maybe a small demo.

You may even contact some of the more popular paper companies. Many of them offer free samples. The samples are often small—5×7 or less—but they’re large enough to find out what works and what doesn’t.

And you can’t ask for more than that!

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Review of Colors A Workbook

Today, I want to share my review of Colors A Workbook, by Amy Lindenberger.

I don’t often review new products. So many new tools and products enter the market every week that it wouldn’t take long for this blog to become a product review blog if I tried to review everything.

Ann Kullberg released a new book May 1 that I wanted the moment I saw it. I bought it the same day.

Colors Workbook Review

Before I begin the review, however, I need to issue a caveat or two.

Caveat #1: Colors – A Workbook is not a casual read. Yes, you can pick up a few things just by reading it, but you will not get full benefit from just reading.

Author Amy Lindenberger has designed several exercises to download and do (that’s why this book is called a workbook.) One of two exercises are fairly easy. The rest are more in-depth.

Caveat #2: This book is designed for artists serious about learning how to choose colors. Every subject. Every brand of pencil. Exercises include a color wheel, blending bars, and drawing projects.

No hand holding involved! The author designed each exercise for a specific purpose. Give them the same attention you give regular drawing projects, and by the time you finish, you won’t have to ask someone else which colors to use.

Now for my review!

Colors Workbook Review

My Review of Colors A Workbook

Long-time artist Amy Lindenberger has several tutorials published by Ann Kullberg, so you may already be familiar with her work. In addition, she also teaches in person, so it’s possible you’ve attended one of her classes or workshops.

Having said that, this book is not a tutorial in the traditional sense. It’s very in-depth. Amy covers many general color-related topics beginning with color perception and the basics of color theory.

She also designed drawing exercises that walk you through basic color mixing. And I do mean color mixing. Students start with three colors—the primaries—and graduate to a total of twelve colors. You complete every exercise in the book except for the first two with twelve colors.

You need only three colors for the first two exercises.

My Experience So Far

I say “so far,” because although I bought the book the day it was released, I ‘m still reading it. Quite frankly, it’s taken nearly two weeks to finish the color wheel.

That in no way reflects on my level of interest in the book or the exercises. It’s just that there’s no way to rush through the material or the exercises and do a good job.

The first exercise is probably the easiest one in the book. Making color isolation cards. Basically, punching two holes in a small piece of medium gray paper (I used Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Grey.) My color isolation card is shown here.

Use a color isolation card to look at a color without also seeing the colors around it.

The next exercise is a color wheel, which you can download and print on Bristol (Amy’s recommendation) or printer paper. I spent at least an hour on my color wheel to reach the point below, just to show you this is no fast exercise.

I used Faber-Castell Polychromos Fuchia, Light Cadmium Yellow, and Medium Phthalo Blue for my color wheel. Amy recommends colors to use in other brands, though she says she gets the best results with Prismacolor pencils.

I finished the color wheel in eight days.

Granted, I try to give at least half an hour a day to drawing, but don’t always succeed. Artists with more time to draw will finish more quickly.

Colors A Workbook includes practical drawing exercises in addition to exercises in which students create their own drawing tools.

These pages show one of these projects, a collection of colored eggs, but students also draw cherries and pears.

Review of Colors A Workbook

The Bottom Line in My Review of Colors A Workbook

Colors – A Workbook is 80 pages in length and stuffed full of encouragement as well as instruction. It’s available in print format or as a PDF download.

The individual exercises are also available for download and I highly recommend them.

In fact, I highly recommend this book. The content and drawing exercises benefit every artist willing to treat them like a course, no matter your level.

After all, if I can learn more about color matching, mixing and selection after over 20 years of using colored pencils, you can too!

Review of Colors A Workbook
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Long Haired Cat Tutorial from Peggy Osborne

Introducing the latest from Peggy Osborne: a long haired cat tutorial.

Beautiful, full-color illustrations provide step-by-step progress images of the portrait. Easy-to-read and follow descriptions tell you what Peggy did at each step.

But there’s more.

Long Haired Cat Tutorial - Ginger Cat Tutorial Cover

What I like best about this tutorial isn’t Peggy’s conversational style of teaching. Yes, she makes you feel like she’s sitting beside you while you work, and that’s great. What I like best about this tutorial is the personality and character of her subject.

As she says in her introduction, cats are natural subjects because they’re so unique and individual. No two are alike.

Maine Coon cat lovers already know that these cats are even more unique. From their tufted ears and luxurious manes to their attitude. They’re perfect portrait subjects!

That’s why I think this is Peggy’s best tutorial yet.

Long Haired Cat Tutorial from Peggy Osborne

This a must-have tutorial if you’re at all interested in drawing pets. Or animals of any type, for that matter.

With the Ginger Cat tutorial, you’ll learn how to draw fur of different lengths and color transitions. Peggy demonstrates how to lay down base colors, then add details layer-by-layer to draw thick, long fur. Create color, value, depth and realism!

See how Peggy mixes and uses Brush & Pencil’s Titanium White mixture to add detail. She includes tips for easy mixing and easier clean up.

She uses Strathmore toned grey mixed media paper and Prismacolor pencils, but you can successfully complete the portrait with supplies you have.

Skill Level

Intermediate and higher.

But don’t let the skill level sway you. This tutorial contains information for students at any level. If you’ve found Peggy’s tutorial posts helpful, then you can successfully complete this tutorial.

The tutorial is designed for students who have a basic understanding of colored pencil methods, but it’s also ideal for artists who want to stretch their skills.

It’s suitable for ages 12 and up.

Get your Ginger Cat tutorial today.

3 Great Strategies for Getting Things Done

Today, I want to share three strategies for getting things done.

I decided to address this topic because several of you have remarked on my level of busy-ness so far this year, and it’s true. I don’t remember the last time I had so many things going at the same time for so long.

I’m guessing a lot of you are experiencing the same thing, and wondering how in the world to keep everything on track! So let’s talk about three things that help me stay on top of my work load.

I’ve already written about finding enough time for art, so lets talk about studio life (and life) in general today.

3 Great Strategies for Getting Things Done

Before I get to those strategies, let me set the record straight on one thing: Balance.

There’s a rumor that you need to balance work. I’m not sure what that means to you, but when I hear that word, I see a pair of scales. You know. The old-fashion, scales of justice type scales.

The theory so far as I understand it is that you must give equal amounts of time to each area of work or each task every day. Nice theory. Not practical.

At least not for me.

Most days, one of my tasks requires the bulk of my attention for a short period of time. A week or maybe two. I must set aside other things until that task is finished in order to meet a deadline. In the old days, portraits often demanded my full attention. These days, I dedicate the last week to ten days of each month to finishing and publishing the magazine.

I simply cannot “balance” all of the things I want to do every day and get that Must Do thing done on time. Something has to give, and it’s almost always “balance.”

So if balance doesn’t work, what does? Here are the three most productive strategies I use for getting things in a timely fashion.

3 Great Strategies for Getting Things Done

Strategy #1: Prioritize

The first strategy is prioritizing: Looking at the things I need to do, and deciding the in order in which they need to be done.

Prioritizing happens at several levels. Some tasks—like the magazine—can be prioritized on a monthly basis. I know when I need to give my full attention to layout, design, and publication and I block those days off on a monthly basis.

Some things are on a weekly cycle. The weekly blog post and newsletter fall into this category.

And then there are daily priorities. Usually cat chores and house chores, but also drawing or sketching.

At the beginning of the work day, I look at what needs attention that day and list those items with brief descriptions. For example, on Tuesday of this week, part of my list looked like this.

Strategies for Getting Things Done - Prioritizing

I know the blog and newsletter needs to be finished, proofread, and scheduled by the end of the day Friday. It’s possible to do everything in an afternoon if necessary, but I prefer to take my time and be more careful.

I could have added a number of other things to that list, but they weren’t priorities on Tuesday, so would have presented distractions.

When I finish the priorities, I move on to other things.

How Do You Get Started?

Take a look at what you need to do this month, this week, and today.

The absolute best way to do this is to have an ongoing or long-term list. Why? You probably have things that need to be done on a repeating basis and other things that are accomplished over a period of time. Long-term things may become lost in the day-to-day without a long-term list. It’s happened to me!

Block out time to do the things that Must Be Done this month.

Set aside a specific amount of time each work day to work on that project, or block out a few days dedicated to that project. Do the same thing across multiple months for those projects that are too big to finish in 30 days or less. Give priority to projects with a specific due date, like portraits.

Block out time week-by-week for weekly work.

Do the same thing for weekly tasks. I know a blog post is due every Saturday, so I automatically plan writing, editing, illustrating, and proofreading a blog post into the weekly routine. Usually, I give a little bit of time three or four days a week to various parts of it. See more in Strategy 3.

Block out time each day for daily work.

I include cat chores, house chores, and sometimes yard work in this category. I do these tasks every day regardless of whatever else is waiting, so I set aside an hour or so at the beginning of the day for them.

Some basic business-related tasks also happen every day. Checking for blog updates and doing social media, for example. Once done in the morning, and they’re finished for the day.

It’s always most productive to prioritize the big things first, then fit the little things in around them.

Strategy #2: Discipline

Discipline is also important. Prioritizing your work does no good at all if you lack the discipline to stick to your priorities.

I confess. Discipline is my weak link. Prioritizing is easy because a lot of what I do includes a deadline. I know how much time most of those things take, but I have difficulty preserving that time. It’s kind of like preserving the highlights in a drawing. I tend to work right over them!

How Do You Get Started?

How you implement discipline depends largely on your daily routine and your personality. If you work best under a little pressure, set a timer when you start a task, and stop when the timer goes off. You can use an egg timer or a digital timer. The type matters less than having a timer of some kind.

My best advice on this is to figure out how you work best, then devise your routine based on that.

Maybe you work best in total silence or with music in the background. Or maybe you like a visible list posted in a prominent location, reminding you what still needs to be done.

The key is finding the method that works best for you and using it faithfully.

What helps me most with discipline? A 15-minute task list.

Strategy #3: 15 Minute Task List

One of the most helpful things I do is what I call a 15-minute task list. Repeating tasks (like checking websites for updates to install) are on the 15-minute task list.

So are things that take a week or more to accomplish. When I work on a book, for example, I give 15 minutes a day five days a week (and sometimes six days) to writing. 15 minutes doesn’t seem like enough time to finish anything, but it’s amazing how those minutes add up.

What’s usually on my 15-minute list? Checking for blog updates tops the list. I write home every month, so adding to my letter also has a place on this list. When I need to write a freelance article, that’s on the list.

But you don’t have to do 15 minutes. Any short length of time works.

Right now, I’m trying to set aside 30 minutes a day to do a quick sketch or work on a more involved project. When I’m able to do that, my projects make progress. Plus, it’s more satisfying to spend that half hour a day and make a little progress, than to wait for a larger block of time and make no progress because that big block of time never happened.

How Do You Get Started?

Identify the things you do every day or the things that could progress if you worked on them a little bit each.

Set a time limit for each thing. You can start with 15 minutes like I did, or ten or twenty.

Work on each thing on that list for the set amount of time. When the time is up, move on to the next thing.

Those Are My Strategies for Getting Things Done

These are the three that help me most, but I know there are other strategies, as well. What works for you? Share your tips in the comments below!

Looking for more strategies for getting things done? I’ve written a more in-depth article on EmptyEasel on getting things done. Read How to Get Things Done Even When You’re Swamped.

Tips for Choosing Reference Photos

If you’ve ever been stumped in choosing reference photos, I know you’d love a few tips from another artist.

John Ursillo has been painting and drawing for many years, so he’s the ideal person to help us all choose better reference photos.

Please welcome John Ursillo back to the blog.

Tips for Choosing Reference Photos

Tips for Choosing Reference Photos

by John Ursillo, CPSA

I am a strong advocate for any artist who decides to take on a realist piece to:

First, become familiar with why the objects and overall “look” of an attracting reference looks as it does; and,

Second, acquire knowledge about the subject, the light it was taken under, and surrounding surfaces that can contribute to reflected light shining into shadows, etc.

True, an adept artist may get by with directly copying a reference without this knowledge, but IMHO it will show.  Snapshot photographs are notorious for deceiving the eye. Shadows are often too dark and light areas overexposed, or the reverse. Calendar photos with blown out supersaturated sunsets  are the worst examples to follow.

That’s also why copies of portraits of people or pets taken with an indoor flash or outdoor, bright frontal sunlit photos often just do not look “right”. Viewers of the finished piece can see when something is “not quite right,” even if they cannot put their finger on just what the cause is.

A Compulsive Realist and Photographer

Enough philosophy! I confess to being a compulsive “Realist”. That was my training and still gives me and my clients satisfaction with my work. Thus, good reference material is essential to my creative process. After all, I was an engineer professionally and thus strongly “left” brained. I seldom use subjects drawn solely from my imagination. IDEAS, yes, of course, but always followed by real world reference materials that give substance to these “bolts of inspiration.”

I am also a compulsive photographer when I travel (even about the yard). That tendency adds body to my store of references which dates back into the 1980’s – the days of something we actually called “film”.

In my art I use only images I capture myself – never the work of anyone else without permission, giving attribution to the giver. And that rarely.

Digital photography has been a boon to me, especially the cameras now built into our cell phones. These have opened documentation of worlds of subjects in numbers (regarding storage, retrieval, quality and internal image manipulation) that were far less practical before.

Keys for Choosing which Reference to Use:

Interesting

A “good” idea – something that grabs my attention and will not let go until fed. I do not access images on the internet as a source of ideas – public domain notwithstanding. Those are someone else’s ideas, not mine.

Realist, detailed, with a strong potential focal point and lines, value forms, etc. that contribute, with some effort, to making a good composition.

Close to the Originating Idea

Must come close to what my mental concept is. An exact match is often not possible but close enough is good. Sometimes this may take several references if specific details are missing or other subject elements are required. The rest is supplied by imagination.

Researchable

If I need a specific atmospheric effect I don’t have a reference for: e.g. a fog bank or cloud effect.

I never use copyright protected material – ever!

I may, rarely, need to use the internet or my non-digital (paper) library to find exact information for a subject to flesh out the subject from an environmental or historical context. For example, when drawing a historical scene, I may need to see exactly the way a particular ship is rigged, constructed, etc.

The reference for my tutorial in Carrie’s magazine is a close-up from a digital photo of the movie ship “SS Venture”.

This is the original photo, taken in New Zealand.

This is the composition I cropped from the original photo.

As with many references captured during a trip, the snapshot collecting is quick but the resulting photographs often throw the balance between light and dark off kilter. Should one follow this image literally the shadows would be too dark, losing most of the detail within, and the highlights too light, ditto.

If you have access to a computer you can push the values so that the shadows become full of detail and the highlights likewise. That’s what I usually do, (either digitally or by careful observation) because it’s necessary

Now You Know John’s Method for Choosing Reference Photos

Are you more confident is choosing the reference for your next piece? I hope so!

My thanks to John for sharing his experiences with using canvas with colored pencils.

John is the featured artist in the May issue of CP Magic. Get your copy here and read more about his unique technique and his artistic journey.

Reasons to Try Canvas with Colored Pencils

Are you looking for a durable support that can stand up to deep solvent blending and erasing without damage? Have you considered trying canvas with colored pencils?

I know you have questions. I sure do, and I can’t think of anyone better able to answer them than today’s guest blogger, John Ursillo. John has been using colored pencils on canvas since 2007. Today, he’ll tell you how he came to canvas as a colored pencil support, and why he likes it.

Please welcome John Ursillo.

Reasons to Try Canvas with Colored Pencils, Guest Post from John Ursillo

Canvas with Colored Pencils

by John Ursillo, CPSA

When discussing technique with fellow colored pencil (CP) artists, I sometimes meet with a doubtful look should the subject of using canvas as a support come up. “Why canvas? What’s wrong with paper? What made you go there and why?”

This has changed over the years as other artists have adopted the canvas…but I still get the soft-voiced comments of gallery viewers of “How the h… does he do that?” I like to explain, and Carrie has given me a wonderful chance here.

Anything wrong with paper?

Absolutely nothing! I have nothing against paper as a support, having done and continue doing many pieces on a wide variety of papers from the time I picked up my first set of colored pencils in 1984. Paper was all I knew to use!

Life is Like a River, 18 x 24 Colored Pencil on Canvas

How I Started Using Canvas with Colored Pencils

I caught on to using canvas in 2007 as the coming together of two seeming separate events:

First, I had my interest focused on doing a nautical piece based on a ship I photographed in New Zealand in 2004. Much of the drawing involved weathered, rusted hull plating with a unique, surface texture–right “down my alley”!

Second, I tried, but could not capture it in test runs on the papers used for my normal colored pencil (CP) techniques no matter how I tried. Not just the texture but also the luminosity of the color was off–it just would not seem real–in fact it seemed very “ho hum” and “why bother?”

As a possible “what if?” solution I remembered a snippet I had recently read in the CPSA publication To The Point. It discussed small scale use of odorless mineral spirits to dissolve CP when working on paper. I had already tried that and liked it–for small areas. Would it work on a larger scale?

Seen Better Days, 24 x 11 Colored Pencil on Canvas

Yes…sort of!

The hardware store variety mineral spirits from my garage did dissolve the CP but when used over more than a small area it soaked into the paper and even left some color blooming out around the wet spot when it dried. Further experiment didn’t resolve these problems and I was about to give up.

A “What If” Moment

But, I’m an engineer and problems are our daily bread. My Left-brain Engineer side determined to get an answer, one way or the other.

Then…another brainstorm. In those days I was painting in oils as well as doing CP pieces. I had a piece of canvas board sitting around waiting for a project. Engineer said “Canvas doesn’t absorb mineral spirits right?. Hmmm…what if?”

My first attempts were messy. But as I got the “hang of” this new support and the new way of using CP, my left brain told my Right Brain everything was “OK, go ahead, what are you waiting for?”

The result was a 20 x 16” piece, “The Venture” (see below) that became my second acceptance to the CPSA International (2010), led to an invitation to conduct workshops at the 2012 CPSA Convention, and the work was subsequently accepted by the American Society of Marine Artists (ASMA) for their 16th traveling exhibit.

The Venture. Original artwork using canvas with colored pencils.

The vessel depicted is the actual tramp steamer used as the set for and digital model prototype of the “SS Venture” featured in the 2005 film “King Kong”.

I was visiting my daughter ‘down under’ when she worked with Weta Digital on the film. She got us onto the secured quay where the ship was moored, so it was a unique “up close and personal” experience of a piece of maritime history. I discovered this gallant lady was eventually declared unseaworthy and too expensive to restore or maintain. She was ceremoniously scuttled (sunk on purpose) in the deep, stormy waters of Cook Strait, between the North and South Islands of New Zealand in 2010.

A fitting end.

Why I Like Canvas

I was, and continue to be, sold on canvas as a support for CP and artist’s mineral spirits as a solvent. Perfecting the technique took time, and I continue to surprise myself with each new piece’s opportunity to learn more.

I continue to use various papers as well, but canvas has been adopted as my primary support.

In my opinion there are some salient advantages to using canvas as a support for Colored Pencil work.

Deep Saturated Color

Getting deep saturated color using CP dry on canvas involves much pressure and a very sharp pencil to get color down into the weave of the canvas. Pencil wear is high. Why? The white of the canvas shows through in the pits of the weave. Easily build up lighter passages using the white weave of the canvas just as with a rougher paper. This is valuable for doing work that requires an “airy” feeling, especially skies and atmospheric effects.

Vibrant Color

Vibrant colors can be built up by using an under drawing/painting to fill in the tooth without killing it. Use complementary colors in the under drawing/painting to add interest and vibrance to colors laid over them.

Durability

The weave of good canvas is very tough and difficult to destroy, either by burnishing or erasing thoroughly with a white eraser and water, making both small and major changes possible.

No Framing Necessary

Canvas is available pre-mounted in both large and small sizes. The lack of need for a frame makes large CP pieces possible that would otherwise be prohibitive to glaze, frame and ship. An unglazed (no glass) CP work on canvas is no more fragile that an oil or acrylic on canvas when properly handled.

Excellent for Solvent Blending

The appearance of lightfast CP applied dry is greatly enhanced through use of solvent UV protective coating such as fixative and varnish.

Color Saturation

Color saturation is easier to achieve when solvent is used–even for very thin, single layer passages. The colors in a finished piece on canvas have a vibrance different from works on paper because of the property of light penetrating the color layers and reflecting off the brilliant white surface.

More Painterly Affects

Lastly, and in my opinion, a deciding factor. Because of the nature of the surface, CP work on canvas compels a more “painterly” and immediate technique than dry CP on paper. Don’t get me wrong. Both approaches have their important place in the genre of CP works. But some subjects obviously work better on one versus the other. I work on both.

Christmas Chickadee III, 8 x 10 Colored Pencil on Canvas

Choosing the Right Canvas

Canvas brands, like papers, vary widely in texture from coarse to ultra-fine. I have tested many of the brands commonly available in local art supply houses or from internet vendors with high customer ratings. The only ones I looked at were: archival throughout, had brilliant white gesso coating, Fine, regular weave, lack of foreign matter in the coating, and a finger-touch texture like velvet. But these stood out:

Blick’s Premiere canvas line: a consistently fine product for this use.

Archival Watercolor Canvas made by Fredrix. Its texture is more like a portrait canvas that Blick’s.

Both come in stretched or board-mounted and have well aligned, regular medium-smooth weave and brilliant white gessoed working surface – archival throughout. Each has a feeling like velvet of a very fine

paper. They also come in common rectangular dimensions as well as square, oblong and curved shapes (Blick).The Fredrix Canvas has a very fine weave, much like portrait canvas. I choose this when I want the canvas weave to be almost, but not quite, inconspicuous.

For artists new to CP on canvas I recommend a canvas board. If you get your canvas from a local art supply store, review the criteria I described about and require the clerk to let you open and feel the surface. If he/she won’t, go to a store that will.

For an overall look at my many pieces done on canvas I direct the reader to my website, www.bearcubstudio.com.

So What do You Think about Canvas with Colored Pencils?

My thanks to John for sharing his experiences with using canvas with colored pencils.

I started out using oil paints on canvas, so John’s method intrigues me. What about you?

John is the featured artist in the May issue of CP Magic, where you can read more about his unique technique, as well as his artistic journey.

Framing Colored Pencil Drawings: Must You Use Glass?

You know framing colored pencil drawings can be expensive due to a variety of factors. The frame itself, matting costs, and glazing. Often, the glazing is the most expensive item, especially if you opt for UV resistant glass.

Must you use glass for framing?

This is a great question.

For the longest time, my answer was always the same. Yes.

Framing Colored Pencil Drawings Must You Use Glass?

Why Framing Under Glass Is Usually Necessary

The reason is simple.

For many years, colored pencil drawings were almost always on paper. Paper is vulnerable to damage by tearing, puncturing, or denting if not properly protected. Stains also pose significant risk to unprotected paper. Unprotected paper also tends to absorb moisture and dirt out of the atmosphere.

So when framing drawings on paper under glass, it’s the paper more than the drawing itself that needs protection.

Alternatives for Framing Colored Pencil Drawings

However, there are other supports available that do not require this degree of protection. If you work on any one of these, you can safely frame your drawing without glass.

Rigid Supports

The best way to eliminate the need for glass in framing is to use a rigid support to begin with. These days, there are plenty of options. Here are just a few.

Pastelbord and Similar Supports

Originally designed for pastel work, these supports are, in essence, pastel papers mounted to a rigid support such as gatorboard or wood. They come in a variety of sizes and some of them also come in a variety of colors.

However, they’re great for colored pencil work, too, and your finished drawing needs only a light coat of varnish. Frame like an oil painting.

Some popular drawing papers are also now available mounted on rigid supports. You can also mount your favorite paper to a rigid support and use it that way. Make sure you use an archival adhesive.

Keep in mind that these drawing supports are less vulnerable to mechanical damage. It’s much more difficult to puncture or tear them. But paper is paper and it tends to absorb moisture out of the atmosphere if framed without glass.

It also gets dirty just as easily on a rigid support.

If you want to frame it without glass, take care to hang it in a place that’s as free of contaminants as possible and is temperature and humidity controlled.

Wood

Wood is another rigid support suitable for colored pencil drawings. Look for the same types of wood the Old Masters used for painting. Many online art supply companies offer wood supports like Birch or Basswood precut to standard sizes. I have a 16×20 inch piece of Baltic Birch originally purchased for oil painting, but waiting now for colored pencil work.

Most of the time, a good sanding is all it takes to prepare a wood panel for drawing, especially if you want to use the wood grain and color as a background or for accents.

The larger panel is a prepared panel purchased for an oil painting. Panels like this are available from Dick Blick and other suppliers. The rough-cut piece is from a Silver Maple cut from my own front yard. The small planed piece is a scrap. All three are suitable for colored pencil work with proper preparation.

But you can also paint it with acrylic paint or gesso before drawing. In this way, you can work on a background of any color you wish. You can even do preliminary work with the paint for a mixed media drawing.

Varnish finished artwork like any other painting with an final fixative made for colored pencil. When that’s dry, the artwork is ready to hang with or without a frame, depending on the thickness of the wood.

Semi Rigid Supports

Semi rigid supports offer additional alternatives to drawing on paper. These supports are thicker than paper and often behave like rigid supports in smaller sizes.

Mat Board

Mat board is perfect for colored pencils. If you draw on it unprepared, as I did with this portrait, you will need to frame it under glass.

But if you prepare the mat board by gessoing all sides, the mat board is properly sealed and will not absorb moisture from the atmosphere. While the layers of gesso do not protect the mat board from impact damage, it will allow you to frame smaller works without glass if you protect the back with a rigid support or foam core.

You’ll have to keep artwork relatively small—11×14 inches or less—but anything that size or smaller should be quite safe without glass. Provide proper back support for larger works on mat board.

Consider a protective coating of final fixative no matter what size the drawing.

Sanded Art Paper

Sanded art paper is another good drawing support, and doesn’t need to be framed under glass. Even if you don’t mount it to a rigid support, most sand paper is sturdy enough to do quite well with a rigid back board of some type when you frame it. It’s also less likely to absorb moisture or dirt out of the atmosphere.

This colored pencil landscape is drawn on Uart Sanded Pastel Papers, which comes in a variety of grits and makes for a very “painterly” drawing.

Final Thoughts on Framing Colored Pencil Drawings

There are, of course, other options available that allow you to frame colored pencil drawings without glass. Canvas is one that comes immediately to mind.

Although a drawing on a rigid support is less likely to be torn or punctured, it’s still susceptible to other hazards if framed without glass, so take appropriate precautions.

I prefer glass for the simple reason that a colored pencil drawing framed under glass looks more complete and is easier to clean. If you get UV protective glass, framing under glass also keeps light from altering the appearance of your artwork.

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The Best Black Paper for Colored Pencil Art

Today I’d like to talk about black paper; specifically, the best black paper for colored pencil art.

The post comes in response to a reader question. Here’s the question.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to ask for information. As a very senior citizen, one of my joys is and has been doing colored pencil work. I would like to try doing colored pencil work on a black surface. I love doing wildlife and so I thought the process would be dramatic.

Can you please suggest the proper black surface on which to do colored pencil work and what type of colored pencil [oil or wax? brand?] that would be most effective.

The Best Black Paper for Colored Pencil Art

First of all, thank you to the reader for the question. I’m always happy to make recommendations and suggestions based on personal experience and observation.

The Best Black Paper for Colored Pencil Art

The reader is right. Black paper can make for very dramatic drawings. I’ve used it several times with wonderful results.

And I’ve used a few different types of paper, so can offer suggestions for that, as well.

But there are other questions, too, so let’s tackle each one of them.

Pencils to Use on Black Paper

Both wax- and oil-based pencils work well with black paper. I’ve used Prismacolor Premier and Faber-Castell pencils on colored paper. Both are suitable either by themselves or in combination.

Caran d’Ache Luminance are reported to be more opaque than most other colored pencils. If that is true (I haven’t used them so can’t say one way or another,) then they would be a good pencil for use on darker and black paper.

In short, the best thing to do is test the pencils you have on small pieces of paper first. If you’re dissatisfied with those, try other pencils. Buy two or three pencils at a time to see which work best for you. Then buy as many colors as you need (or a full set) of that brand.

A good way to try more expensive pencils is to buy just a few open stock to try. I bought these two Derwent Lightfast pencils when ordering other supplies. Choose your favorite colors in each brand for th best comparisons.

My Favorite Black Paper

As for the best paper, the papers that suit my drawing style (I do lots of layering) best are Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Tientes. Both come in black.

Stonehenge is a 90-pound paper with a smooth, velvety texture. It stands up well under layering and can take a lot of color. If you mount it to a rigid support, it also performs well with moderate solvent blending and dries flat.

Canson Mi-Teintes is pastel paper, so it’s quite rough on the front. The back is ideal for colored pencil, but it is still rougher than Stonehenge. It’s a little bit heavier than Stonehenge—98-pounds—so is my personal preference. It’s good with moderate amounts of solvent and holds up well under layering.

Canson Mi-Teintes is among the best black papers for colored pencil art.
Christmas Tree-O was drawn on dark, blue-black or black Canson Mi-Teintes. The brighter colors required a lot of layering, but I used no solvent blending on this piece.

Other Black Papers I’ve Used

Strathmore Artagain art paper is another black paper I’ve used and liked. Artagain is a 60-pound paper made from 30% post consumer paper. It feels almost like Bristol, but with a bit more tooth.

I used Strathmore Artagain paper for this more stylized portrait. Artagain is a nice, Bristol-like paper, but it isn’t quite a black as some of the other papers. You can see the dark shading I did with Black around the dog.

You might also try mat board. Mat board comes in a variety of types and textures. For the best results, use a museum quality mat board such as Crescent so your artwork lasts for years.

Mat board is a rigid support. Don’t blend with solvent or use wet media. Do layer color to your heart’s content!

I always liked mat board because I could get large sheets for bigger projects. And matting a piece with the same mat board it’s drawn on gives it a bit more sparkle (in my opinion.)

White Legs Running is a very old piece that I THINK was drawn on a rough-surface mat board. Mat board is great because it comes in so many surface textures, as well as colors.

The Most Important Thing to Remember About Using Black Paper of Any Kind

The most important thing to remember about using black paper is that the colors you put on it look different than they look on white paper. Sometimes, the black paper seems to “absorb” the color, so you have to put more layers of the light colors on the paper to make them look bright.

A white under drawing is also a good way to start a drawing on black paper. Peggy Osborne recently drew a rooster on black paper and you can read her tutorial here.

Whatever paper you draw on and whatever pencils you use, have fun and experiment a little before doing a serious piece. That’s the absolute best way to find best black paper for colored pencil for your art.

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