Thursday, May 2, 2019

Red/Blue Pencil: the Ultimate Minimalism?

4/24/19 Wedgwood neighborhood

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m always looking for ways to minimize my sketch kit, even if my attempts are more hypothetical than real. Both last winter and this year, I included a red/blue editing pencil in my minimal kit simply because it conveniently enabled me to carry two colors in the space of one stick. But I had it all wrong.

I’m starting to learn that the real talent of a red/blue editing pencil is that it may be the ultimate minimal sketch kit. I’ve been using bicolors to help me see and interpret values more accurately, and the red/blue pencil is proving to be an excellent tool for that. While a single graphite pencil could be used to study values (Eduardo Bajzek’s workshop was all about that), it takes me a long time to express a full range of values that way. Using red and blue together, on the other hand, works like a shortcut in getting that job done. I’m diggin’ it!

The house below in the Green Lake neighborhood (which you saw a while back in ballpoint from a different angle) was actually yellow (another mind-bender for literal me), and the roof was dark gray. Since both the front and the rooftop were in sunlight, I could have made the roof red also, but it was still darker than the yellow siding, so I made it blue. I also liked the contrast between the red and blue, which was in keeping with the warm yellow front and the cool gray roof.

4/27/19 Green Lake neighborhood

4/26/19 Seattle Center
Of course, the red/blue concept as I’ve been using it – with red representing warm/lighter values and blue representing cool/darker ones – works best when both light and dark are easily apparent. In the sketch below (which you saw a few days ago), I realized after I began that the composition I chose was all in shade, so it ended up a mostly monochrome sketch. In fact, I pulled out my much darker Prussian blue Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencil to give the paler bicolor blue a hand with the darks. Ironically, the green grassy field between the machinery and the Space Needle was in full light – so I had to color it red!

One more irony: Although I worked as an editor for more than 30 years, I never used these red/blue pencils for editing. It’s never too late to find the right tool for the job.

Top: vintage Mitsubishi red/blue editing pencil; bottom: contemporary version. The contemporary vermilion is a touch warmer than the vintage red, but they are otherwise identical in look and feel.


  1. This seems to be working well for you!

    1. Thanks -- I'm really enjoying experimenting with these colors!


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