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)
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.
You don’t need a dedicated studio or a large amount of time to get back to (or continue) with your creative pursuits.
Dedicated studio = a place where you can leave things set up; where you don’t have to pack things away; where you can step back in and carry on where you left off. What a great luxury that not many of us have. I’ve got a great excuse to have a studio for myself – I have over a hundred students coming through my large teaching art studio every week so I’ve kept a corner for myself. Perfect.
So, how do you keep the creative spark going? The first thing you need is the attitude that art can happen anywhere and anytime and drawing is the perfect vehicle for that. An A5 visual diary and a pen is all you need to start. It can be a simple ball point pen, a special waterproof ink pen or anything in between. It doesn’t even matter what colour it is.
A pen works instead of a pencil (although that’s also fine) because you don’t have to sharpen it (and carry a sharpener or knife), it won’t break or mess up a bag . You won’t get your hands covered in graphite as you draw and you won’t have to worry about erasing! Believe me, all of that frees you up.
You can draw for one minute or many.
Just draw something you see or doodle as your mood takes you.
Don’t wait for a spare half an hour or a beautiful subject.
Draw something small.
Draw a part of something.
Draw leaf litter, a half eaten apple or dirty dishes before you wash them.
Don’t be perfect.
Don’t wait for inspiration.
If it’s not working then work over it or turn the page and draw something else.
It actually doesn’t matter what the end result looks like. It matters that you are involved, observing and following where the line takes you.
We began our new term this week and, as usual, the mix of students, drawing, painting, catching up, laughing and story telling has filled the studio once again – Yay!
My favourite thing to to with the adult drawing students is to take them out of their comfort zone. However, I do have to remind them that the reason I do that is not for my pleasure but to show them how far they can go and to learn from the process. Most of us fall straight back into that zone when teacher stops bugging us!
So I devised some warm up exercises that you might like to try too. Use the photo below or set up your own crazy and full still life. For all the exercises it is not necessary to draw everything that you see and your drawing shouldn’t take up too much space (about A5) size as you will only take 5 minutes for each.
Leave your pencil down and simply observe your subject (or part of the subject). Look at the proportions, tones, shapes, directions of line etc. You are observing the still life so that you can draw it without referring back to it. Time yourself for 2 minutes.Then cover your still life with a cloth or place something between yourself and the subject. How about moving to another room? For the next 3 minutes draw what you remember. Don’t cheat as you’re only cheating yourself and that’ll defeat the object of the exercise. One of my students remembered that there was a pear in a short bowl and so drew a pear in a short bowl. However she drew a pear standing the right way up. So take note of the kind of observations you had to make so that you could draw the subject as accurately as possible. Interesting, isn’t it?
Do a blind contour drawing for 5 minutes. Imagine a tiny tiny creature traveling along the edge of each item that makes up the still life. Follow that creature with your eyes and don’t take your eyes off it. Use your pencil to move and draw in exactly the same direction that your eyes are going – automatically! Don’t think about what you’re drawing. Don’t lift your pencil off the paper just as you don’t lift your eyes from the edges you’re following. Draw and draw and draw for 5 minutes. Draw all the details if you get that far but DON’T LOOK AT YOUR PAPER. Everyone laughs nervously at their work because it often looks dreadful to their eyes which are expecting something that, at least, looks like what they are drawing. On closer inspection they begin to find a surprising amount of accuracy in proportions, correct shapes and directions of line even if the whole piece doesn’t come together. This is a great way to connect your eyes with your hand i.e. warm up.
Hold your pencil in your non-dominant hand. (If you’re right handed use your left and vice versa) Now draw your subject again. No rules except don’t use your usual drawing hand. At first you may try hard to control your lines and hand. However pretty soon your brain decides for you that it’s all too hard. So you begin to relax a bit and just draw softly and as best you can. That’s the point! Just relax and let the marks go down on the paper. Stop worrying so much. One long standing student wrote (with his non-dominant left hand – CRUEL KAREN! and the proceeded with the exercise.
For the last warm up exercise we ‘took a line for a walk’. Use a pen and, once again, for 5 minutes, draw a part of the subject. This time the only rule is that you may not lift your pen off the paper. You can look at both the subject and your work but you must connect items together.
The point of all these warm ups is to relax and have a free flowing drawing that does not have to be exactly the same as the subject. When you look at your work you may find that you quite like some of it even though it is less than perfect. I hope so. Please feel free to post your results so that we can all see. I’d love to see how you go.
Take time to look. Take time to observe. Take time to respond. Take some time before you launch into your drawing. Draw with your eyes, look at spaces between items, find shapes of tones. Breathe, relax.