Tag Archives: colour

Quick Tip#7 – Coffee Anyone?


Cafe style coffee is delivered to the studio every day by Gabriel of Kiss Cafe.  He is usually met with gasping relieved sounds of creative types waiting for their espresso coffee fix.  Donald’s is double strength in half a cup of water!  It tastes perfect, smells wonderful and looks good too.

Donald is a regular  student to the studio and his beautiful pen and wash drawings continue to improve and charm us all.  Most of his work is done with a black waterproof ink pen with a wash of vibrant colour from a palette of Derwent Inktense blocks….. and the recently discovered perfect background colour – coffee!

  • Drink the coffee until there is about one cm (half an inch) in the bottom of the cup.
  • Lay down a wash of clear water to dampen the page where you want to the colour to go.  (watercolour paper works best)
  • Dry the brush off slightly on a sponge and then load with coffee. (This time it’s not an accidental dipping in the wrong liquid)
  • Wash the golden brown into the damp areas creating a gentle wet in wet background.
  • Let the piece dry naturally.
  • Don’t use coffee with milk.  It’s not the correct colour, isn’t gloriously translucent and the milk will probably turn sour before you can brew your next cup.
  • In a pinch you can make up some black coffee with instant coffee and boiling water but it doesn’t quite have the same style.

Get Drawing






Colour sketching

Adding colour to drawings is often a nerve wracking experience.  Limiting our colour options helps us to be creative without being overwhelmed with all the wonderful colours to choose from.  My favourite coloured tools are watercolour pencils – Faber Castell – Albrecht Durer and Derwent – Inktense pencils are fantastic artist quality and my preference.  You can buy them individually or in different sized sets.

A basic kit of cool and warm primaries (more on that soon)  plus a few extra is  all you need.  I often use only Indigo, ultramarine, a dark crimson, cad red and cad yellow or raw sienna (although I did sneak in a grey green in the sketch below)

I talk a lot when teaching. Traveling down South with my music player on shuffle was wonderful!
I talk a lot when teaching. Traveling down South with my music player on shuffle was wonderful!

All my recommended do’s and don’ts of the Space & Time post apply to working in colour as well.  However there is something else that is crucial to remember when working with colour.

Colour does not replace tonal variation.

Many drawers forget about shapes of tone and replace them with shapes of colour regardless of what the tone is.  Colour provides an additional layer of interest on a work that should stand up tonally as a well balanced composition even without colour.  When you see a boring watercolour painting it is likely so because the artist has not paid attention to the darks and lights.

Ok ok…. I’ll jump down off my favourite soap box…. back to sketching in colour.  Some tips regarding using watercolour pencils.  This is not an exhaustive list so I hope you find your own techniques as well (and share them)

  • Experiment, experiment and experiment some more.
  • Mix colours to see what you come up with.
  • Choose a blue and yellow along with or instead of a green.
  • The marks you make will remain even once you wet them.
  • Draw with your watercolor pencils (not graphite first) and mix and match as your eyes, mood and artistic license suggest.
  • Don’t worry about getting the colour exactly right.  As sketchers we are capturing impressions and playing with colour to  enhance and enrich our work.
  • Draw with the pencils then wet and spread the marks you’ve made with the brush.
  • Take some colour off the tip of the pencil with your wet brush and paint with the pigment or even wet the tip of the pencil and draw with that to get a rich textural line.
  • Using a travel water-brush (as seen above) makes watercolour pencil sketching  easier.
  • Although watercolour pencils will work on drawing cartridge, it is preferable to work on heavier cartridge paper or watercolour paper as some paper will not stand up to too much wetting.

Get Drawing

Get your creative juices flowing

Try this short exercise


  • Take a random set of coloured pencils – your children’s school ones will do. Watercolour pencils can also be used.
  • On a piece of drawing paper (or any paper if you don’t have cartridge) – about A5 is good – colour in small patches in random directions next to and over each other. Make sure that you have two or more patches of the same colour. Don’t worry about whether colours match. It’s best to choose them at random so that you don’t have any preconceived ideas.


  • You need to have at least three layers of colour everywhere. Don’t press too hard because we don’t want to fill in all the tooth of the paper.  (Tooth is the texture of the paper, eg. a little rough, bumpy or smooth. If all the valleys are filled then there is nowhere else for more colour to go.) If you are drawing on cartridge paper you should be able to put quite a few layers on before the tooth is filled. Make sure that you still have some white spaces showing between colours.  This means that you still have place to layer more colour on.
  •  Once your first three layers of colour are down you should have a fairly uniform layer of mid-tone. You are now going to apply the dark and light tones to create your picture.
  • Use a simple piece of fruit either in reality or from you head. You are not going to depict exact colours and it really doesn’t matter what shape you end up with. Just enjoy the colouring. Imagine a light source from the top right of your piece of fruit. This will mean that there is a shadow on the bottom left and a cast shadow on the imaginary table surface. (it’s not necessary to set one up unless you really want pear3to).
  •  Choose a colour that is close to the one you imagine for your fruit. You can use completely unreal colours as takes your fancy. Draw the fruit by layering on colours in the shape of the fruit.  You can draw a soft line if you need to.  Press a bit harder to develop the subject.
  • Add shadows with darker colours so that you develop a darker tone on the shadowed side. Layer in the shape of the cast shadow as well. (This is the shadow on the ‘table’ .) Remember that you cannot darken the tone simply by pressing hard. You need to have a darker colour to begin with. No amount of pressure will change yellow to a dark tone.
  • Try to make sure that your coloured layers make a block of tone. If you have drawn your fruit with a line then make sure that it blends in with the blocks of coloured tone so that you can no longer see it as a line.
  • It is not a good idea to use black or dark brown as this will deaden the work. You can mix darker colours if you don’t have a single one that works. For example use a graphite pencil to add dark or use your black sparingly with another colour layered over it. Mixing complementary colours will give you lovely and unexpected greys. Red and green, orange and blue, yellow and purple – These make fantastic shadow tones.
  • Now that you have your darks you need to put some light back in. Use a plastic white eraser pear5to rub out some of the colour. The purpose is to lighten it, not to get back to the white paper. You still want to see some of the original colour although you may need to press quite hard to remove the colour you want. If you wish the contrast between tones to be greater it is a good idea to lift off some of the colour from the background behind the dark side. You can also add a darker tone behind the light side of you fruit. This will enhance the tonal contrast again. This colour doesn’t need to be as dark as the dark shadows .
  • To finish off, put a table edge in behind the fruit. Colour a final layer over the background, on the table, or both. The purpose is not to obliterate the random colours underneath but just to bring everything together. If you put a layer of colour on the table surface then make sure that it covers the shadow as well. The shadow is not separate from the table.final pear

I’d love to see your finished result and hear how you enjoyed this small project. Please feel free to share.

Get Drawing!