Thursday, September 12, 2019

Sept. 11 (Plus Mumblings About Color and Paper)

9/11/19 Fire Station 38 in the Wedgwood neighborhood

On my way to the grocery store, I always pass Fire Station 38 in the Wedgwood neighborhood. Yesterday its flag was at half-staff.

Technical note: Ever since I stopped using a gray marker as a grisaille to tone colored pencils, I’ve been trying different techniques to achieve varying values in hues, some more successful than others.

Red is such a tricky color. It seems bright, but its value is relatively dark. This fire station has vivid red accents on some parts of the building. I thought that if I had colored all the red parts fully with red pigment, then it would be difficult to make the few shaded parts darker (the areas under the two awnings – a triangle on the upper level and a horizontal stripe above the front doors). This corner of the building was mostly in light, so I left the lighter side of the gray building areas paper white, and used dark gray pigment to indicate shadows on the gray building areas. I fully activated red pigment only to convey the red areas that were in shade. For the red areas in full sun, I barely activated some red lines to suggest red. And then I used dry pencil to lightly shade the walls that were slightly away from the sun, just to give the building some dimension. This sketch is a less successful attempt, and I’m not happy with most of it.

Occasionally, I’ve tried adding green or dark gray to red to indicate the darker value, but sometimes I can’t get enough contrast if the red is intense.

Back when I was still using watercolors, I battled all these same value issues (though I don’t think I understood values then as much as I do now), and it was even more difficult. At least with pencils, I’m less likely to get five different shades of mud. Color is challenging in any medium!

Second technical note: I’m really loving the richer hues and better sky washes I’m able to get on Stillman & Birn Beta compared to Zeta. But Beta’s tooth, which eats colored pencil pigment for lunch and dinner, is making me sharpen all the more frequently. When I’m trying to draw small details, I can’t seem to get super-soft Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles sharp enough. (This is not really a complaint; I don’t want to encourage myself to make tiny details.) I recall that this was also the case with cold press Canson XL, which I used for years, but Zeta’s smooth surface made me forget.

Every paper choice is a compromise.


  1. I agree that red is a very tricky color and very difficult to show in a shaded way. With watercolors I tend to use alizarin crimson added into the red for my shaded side.

    1. I've tried the alizarin equivalent in pencils, but it doesn't have enough contrast with the sunny-side red to really show the shading.


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