|8/28/17 water-soluble colored pencils|
This intersection near the Green Lake Starbucks is not especially inspiring or pretty, but the trees on both sides of the street – one side lit by the early sun, the other side in shade – are always a challenge. Below is the same view I did with watercolors about a year ago at the same time of day. I always had difficulty managing values when I worked with watercolors, which is a challenging medium under any circumstance (don’t even get me started on mixing colors and controlling the water levels!). I am having a much easier time with water-soluble colored pencils (above), especially for tricky subject matter like trees.
I might go back to watercolors again someday – there’s nothing like them in capturing the luminosity of a scene – but I feel like I’m finally hitting my sketching stride with a medium that is friendly toward me. Sometimes I wish I had discovered colored pencils for on-location sketching early on, because if I had stuck to that medium, maybe I would have mastered it by now. But I guess I could say the same about watercolors – I did start using them at the very beginning, and yet five years later, I still didn’t feel like I was improving much. That’s when I decided to give colored pencils a serious try and eliminated watercolors altogether, and I’ve stuck to pencils ever since.
It made a huge difference to commit to learning to use colored pencils for 10 weeks last winter. While regular practice and self-study through books and videos (which have been my basic learning tools most of the past six years) are probably the most essential steps toward general improvement, I’ve come to realize that learning to use a specific medium is limited without some direct feedback. It’s discouraging to keep making the same mistakes over and over, knowing enough to see that something’s wrong but not knowing how to correct them. Taking Suzanne Brooker’s class at Gage and seriously committing to doing all the exercises (even though I didn’t enjoy working from photos and still don’t) made me see the value in that kind of intensive work with a single medium. In addition, if I knew I was having difficulty with something specific, I could just ask for help – and her feedback was invaluable. If I’d done the same with watercolors, perhaps I’d have seen more progress.
It’s not just the intensive work, though. I’ve loved colored pencils my whole life; they have always been a technically friendly medium to me. While I still have much to learn before I am anywhere near mastering them, that learning curve might be shorter simply because I have no resistance to using something I love. It’s important to use a medium that is comfortable and right for me – regardless of what most other sketchers are using.
Perhaps I also just need time to grow into a medium – any medium – as a separate function from growing as an urban sketcher in general. Composition, values, battling the elements, sketching within time and changing light constraints – those are all things we learn over time through practice, regardless of the medium we choose. If it’s on top of all that, it’s even more difficult to learn the technicalities of a medium. I’m still teaching myself how to fit colored pencils into sketching on location, but learning to use them first at my desk and in the classroom is much easier than learning in the field. Understanding that makes me realize that regardless of the medium I might have started with, I probably still would have traveled a similar path and ended up here.
Learning just takes time. And practice. And feedback from a good teacher. And lots and lots of practice (my very first blog post more than five years ago was on this topic, and I could have written that same post today).