I've been thinking about what I could post here, and I think progress pictures of some of my favorite pieces may make sense. Let me know if these are helpful and I'll continue the series!
Kevin is one of my two rescue babies. He came to us a mess from Sunny Sky's Animal Rescue in Puyallup, WA. He was dropped off covered in scabs, scars, and emaciated. Because of his overall condition, we assumed he had too little to eat, but it turned out he had some major health issues. After going on a prescription diet, he is one of the prettiest dogs I've ever owned. He's also the biggest cuddle bug.
I draw my two dogs all the time, and the funny thing is Kevin hates it. He goes to war with colored pencils, rolling across paper and pawing at pencils. He loves being held and looks at anything that takes my attention away from him as competition.
Noses are interesting to me, and Kevin has a good one with a lot of variation in color, although you wouldn't think of it at first glance. It ranges from flesh tones to a solid dark gray with some nice browns in the mix. I started by drawing the little white circles in the highlight area. I encourage you to look closely at the texture of dog noses. It's very interesting with a tightly packed area of circular cells.
Because of the black paper, what seems initially bright, isn't. It takes many many layers to build up a piece. In this shot, I had layered down a lot of color, trying to keep the strokes in the direction of his fur. some areas have the right texture, such has the bumpy landscape of the nose, the glassy roundness of the eyes, and the fine hairs on the muzzle beneath the nose, but some of it is still a chalky looking mess. The nose also has some highlights in the wrong places, making it look flat rather than rounded around the nostrils. The color is good and close to where he is with his red hues, but the black paper is still showing through.
In the final piece, he has some softness to him. Kevin is actually velvet soft to the touch, so it was important to me to show that a bit in the drawing. I also love, love, love his random eyebrow whiskers winging off in front of his ears. I added a little more color and detail in the eyes and some additional shading to give depth to the nose. The color is much lighter, and I'm happy with how it turned out. You'll notice the typical broad swaths of color such as the pink on the left ear and some thick bans of white that are very much part of my style.
Here are some of the sample photos I worked from:
Let me know what you think! I'll go over a few new pieces in the coming weeks and would love to hear from you.
Friday was a big night! I packed up eight pieces and brought them to the Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery. Several businesses in the Phinney neighborhood make an Art Walk possible by allowing artists to come in and showcase their work. My artwork perched on one of the many walls, allowing me to talk shop with patrons and, because it was Flying Bike, ogle some adorable golden retriever puppies, a cattle dog, a spicy little chow, and a gorgeous German shepherd. I narrowly resisted caving into my usual behavior and rolling around on the ground to interact with the puppies, but I digress (seriously, they were so stinking cute).
The one thing I was surprised to hear from a number of people is that they have a desire to learn how to paint, but don't try because they "know it would suck."
This makes me so sad!
Do art for you. Don’t hold yourself to the expectation of selling, gifting, or hanging on the wall.
The process is the most valuable part for those of us called to create. I do it for the thinking I do while sketching, painting, or coloring. Art and writing is how I get through physically tough times, how I process grief, and how I connect with what I’m feeling. It’s even how I express love and joy when verbal interactions aren’t enough.
Remove your judgment from the process. That’s when art brings the greatest joy.
I love hosting art classes for friends. The one thing I challenge them to do before starting is to leave judgement at the door. I don't want them evaluating themselves against their neighbor or what someone has hanging on the wall. I want them to give themselves permission to put a brush on the page without the expectation that it will resemble anything.
To help perpetuate this expectation, I start the session always by exploring. Many of the people who participate have never interacted with watercolors before. We start with experimenting. First wet the page in one section and then add a small amount of paint on a brush. Seeing how the paint reacts on wet paper is always fascinating and resembles a bloom. I love the reaction it brings from first timers. It's a magical moment when people forget about structure and resemblance and just marvel at how weird the process is.
One of the coolest things about the creative arts is the fact that an artist will continue to evolve as long as they continue to practice. Some of my biggest changes come about through experimentation with materials. The image on the left below was four months prior to the image on the right. Since the first image, I've discovered colored pencils that leave behind much more vibrant pigment, allow for more details, and handle layering much differently. I've also found that drawing on pigmented paper allows for more contrast. I can tell it's the same dog in the drawings, but the materials, a more interesting pose, and taking more license with contrast led to what I strongly feel is a better piece.
The one subject I continue to struggle with is people. My artist grandmother and mother continue to remind me how much better I would be at human portrait work if I had spent as much time drawing humans as animals.
I'm sure some of you can relate to why I generally like animals so much more than many humans.
There are exceptions though, and it's something I'm continuing to work through. Perhaps I'll have some inspiring before and after posts in the next year or two.
Another visually interesting change: I tend to go back and forth on is how painterly or loose my drawings are, which isn't good or bad. There are days when I aspire to achieve photo realism, but the longer I'm practicing again, I spend less time on details and more time on structure, colors, and contrast. Art is so subjective, and I'm not sure what I prefer from day to day.
The two images above were created with the same materials, on the same paper, but the output is very different. I like them both.
Hopefully I've provided a little bit of inspiration and you feel compelled to create. If not, what's holding you back?
I'm new to the colored pencil game and the learning curve has been steep! I have always admired the photo realism that a few monstrously talented artists can achieve. I wanted to retain my painterly affection for smooshing colors together (very technical term) and using tones one wouldn't think of for people or animals, but I needed to understand how the heck those masters achieved textural perfection.
Naturally I turned to YouTube.
In case you're curious, I've linked a few of my favorites here:
Each of the specific videos I've linked covers different styles, materials, and preferences. I had no idea how many options are out there before browsing videos.
Paper is Everything
In my years of oil painting, I learned that you can get by with less expensive materials, particularly brushes and canvas. Synthetic brushes can last some time with the proper care, and achieving detail and textures isn't very inhibited by a more economical choice. Paper for colored pencils is an entirely different game.
Left to Right: Stonehenge paper with 11 yo Berner subject, sketch paper with Berner puppy, Strathmore toned paper featuring Kevin
The key to finding the right paper involves a lot of trial and error and is greatly up to personal preference. Some artists swear by Stonehenge, but the texture doesn't work for me. It's similar to watercolor and I find that I'm not good at wearing down the tooth (texture that grabs pigment). Pastelmat gives a very luxuriant texture, but some of the detail is sacrificed in exchange for a blended look.
I've landed on toned paper with a smooth finish for now. It's far from the most expensive option, but I love the way colors pop and the way textures play on the page. Unfortunately, because of the lack of tooth, color will smear and smudge, so I take extra care during the shipment process.
Colored Pencil Brands Do Matter
Paper is important but not necessarily expensive. Pencils on the other hand... I'm finding you get what you pay for. Right now I'm loyal to Faber-Castell Polychromos. I've tried discount brands and not so discount brands, and I'm in love with the pigment and texture I can get with Polychromos.
The key to texture and pigment layering is an ultra sharp pencil. See the first video I linked above for excellent pointers.
It's not that the drawing of "Champ" is bad. In fact, I rather like the wilder colors. However, the amount of detail I've found possible with the Polychromos on smooth paper is amazing. For example, the little bumps and texture on Kevin's nose are fascinating. I genuinely thought I was having some hand-eye coordination issues during my first several rounds with colored pencil, but changing the pencil brand was life altering.
I even texted my mom. Seriously. The change was amazing.
Because having a sharp tipped pencil is so critical in this form of art, I recommend putting some thought into a pencil sharpener. I've found that even the best brands last through only 15-20 portraits, so bulk or auto repeat ordering makes sense here.
Derwent or Faber-Castell erasers are best so far.
Lastly, I really like my Faber-Castell 60 color tin. I burn through some colors much faster than others, and simply order those in bulk online and then place them in the tin when I'm ready. My dog, Kevin, enjoys walking on my stuff and I don't enjoy busted color fragments in my pencils. The tin helps!
Do you have any brands you prefer or questions about details I've left out? Please comment below.