Monday, July 24, 2017

Tree Studies in Color (Or a Lesson in Patience)

7/17/17 water-soluble colored pencils (noon)
One thing I studied in my colored pencil class last winter that is especially applicable to sketching on location is rendering the forms of trees. Every drawing exercise took many hours of work at my desk, but I think all that work helped me to finally observe landscape forms in a way that I never had before. Although all our practice was done from photographs, some of scenes I probably would never choose to sketch on location (or ever), like nothing but a sky full of clouds, our exercises with trees were very helpful to urban sketching.

I’ve been practicing my (hopefully) improved observational skills of trees with graphite, and last week I did a few studies in color. From our tiny upper-level deck, my view of our neighbor’s tree is unobstructed, but I can’t move around to get different perspectives, so I thought it would be interesting to change it up by varying the time of day that I sketched it. (We’d been having an unbelievable streak of sunshine and clear skies every day for weeks, so I didn’t even have to deal with clouds changing the light quality.) On two days, the top sketch was done around noon, the second at 9 a.m., and the last one around 4 p.m. I used some of the same pencils on all three sketches, and I varied at least a couple pencils in each one to experiment with mixes, especially in the shading.

7/19/17 water-soluble colored pencils (9 a.m.)
My favorite is the first one I did, at high noon (at top of page). Maybe it was just freshest because I hadn’t attempted it before, but I also like the mix of colors I used ranging from yellow-green to violet. In addition, although the sun was high up overhead, it was also coming from the south, so the tree was nicely lit from one side.

Two days later I did one at 9 a.m. (at left), which turned into a mess. I think I didn’t get enough pigment down with the water-soluble pencils because the colors are not nearly as intense as in the other two. And here’s where the lesson in patience comes in. Suzanne Brooker, my colored pencil instructor, repeatedly stressed the importance of waiting for water applied to watercolor pencils to dry completely before adding more color. Applying dry pencil even to slightly damp paper could be a problem because friction can damage the wet paper’s fragile surface. She said it often enough that I knew this very well. (I’ve also used watercolor paints enough to know that nothing makes a muddy mess faster than applying more paint in the wrong colors on a previously painted area that’s still wet.)

See those dark blobs and streaks on either side of the tree’s trunk? I had sprayed the foliage with water to bring out the pigment, and I thought it was all dry (OK, I wasn’t sure, but I decided it was dry enough). I started to apply dry pencil under the tree for the large shadow, and that’s when I hit the spots where the paper was still wet. The pencil made huge, intense blobs of pigment in the wet spots. I tried to fix them by dabbing with a tissue, but that picked up more pigment than I wanted. So I went back in with more pencil, but my previous dabbing had roughed up the paper, so the pigment applied unevenly. I went through a couple more rounds of this before I realized I was only making it worse, so I finally stopped. (I could hear Suzanne’s voice admonishing us over and over, “Patience! Wait for the water to dry completely!”) I wouldn’t have even needed much patience because I was standing in the blazing sun, and the paper dried in a few minutes! Lesson learned.
7/19/17 water-soluble colored pencils (4 p.m.)
Several hours later that same day, I tried again, and this time the tree was fully backlit (at right). Typically, I wouldn’t choose to sketch a subject that is backlit if I can simply walk around it to the lighted side, but since I’d decided to sketch only from our deck, it became an interesting challenge. I used a different combination of dark green, blue and violet for the shading, and I like the glow of yellow around its edges. I sprayed the foliage, then went inside for a half-hour so I wouldn’t be tempted to keep going before the paper was completely dry. 

I like the 4 p.m. sketch too, if only because it shows that I can learn.


  1. Great shading on your trees. I like the first and last ones best, probably because they have the strongest shading. I've done the same thing many times with the pencils...thinking things were "dry enough" and then getting the marks that are impossible to get rid of.

    The countdown is on. I'm done packing except for last minute things. I'll be heading to the airport in the morning with lots of extra time...just in case. See you in Chicago.

    1. I'm leaving tomorrow morning, too! See you very soon, Joan! :-)

  2. Great trees! I love the colors and the shapes. I, too, like the first and last sketches, I continue to learn about watercolor pencils from your postings!

    1. Thank you! Glad to hear you find my colored pencil explorations useful!

      - Tina


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