Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Painterly Lessons

2/13/19 Caran d'Ache Supracolor pencils (all sketches in Stillman & Birn Beta)

In my efforts to practice a more painterly approach to using watercolor pencils, I’ve learned a few things that weren’t as apparent to me when I took a more pencil-ly approach (for lack of a better term).

For one thing, to take a painterly approach, it’s vital that the pencils contain a generous amount of pigment. When using them dry or in a series of dry-wet/dry-wet applications (the method I learned in Suzanne’s class), pencils can contain a mediocre level of pigment and still produce acceptable results because more layers can be applied. But after applying a wetter brush load of water, it’s more difficult to continue applying many more layers of dry pigment, so the initial application had better be fairly heavy. This approach suits me fine, as it’s what I’m used to when out in the field: I like to apply as much pigment as possible in one shot and activate only once.
2/11/19 Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer
(Irony: In an effort to make my still lives more like urban sketching, I’m applying techniques that I already know from urban sketching to my still lives. Maybe I’m not really teaching myself anything new – maybe I’m just tricking myself into believing apples and bananas are buildings and trees!)

Another thing I’m learning is to blend and mix colors in a more painterly way. In the sketch below of a tomato and garlic, I had chosen complementary blue for the shadow cast by the garlic on the tomato, which seemed mostly orange when I colored it. When I activated the blue, though, I saw that the shadow had turned out too green because the tomato contained more yellow than I realized. It also wasn’t dark enough. I made a few test swatches, and I saw that applying more blue over that yellow/orange/blue combo would not improve the shadow color.

Trying to think like a painter in this situation, I considered adding red to the mix – the complement of green. Red pencil applied dry looked strange, but when activated, the resulting brown, though muddier than I prefer, was an acceptable shadow in that it was the right value. I don’t know how painterly the result looks, but since I had to think like a painter to achieve it, I still consider it a painterly approach.

In progress -- I didn't like the green shadow cast by the garlic onto the tomato.

2/16/19 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle


  1. LOL That shadow on the yellow tomato is a painterly problem. It is difficult to do a shadow side on something yellow. You add blue for the shadow and the next thing you know you've got green. Yellow is a very difficult color.

    1. I knew you'd understand this issue, Joan! If I'd seen more of that yellow right away, I probably would have tried purple.


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