Tuesday, May 5, 2020

What Color is Your Kestrel?

Potential kestrel colors

A reader asked the Colored Pencil Geek a very specific color-related question: She was drawing an adult male American kestrel from a photo on the Audubon site, and she realized she didn’t have a pencil in a hue that sufficiently captured the rusty reddish-brown of the bird’s back and chest feathers. Which pencils would the Colored Pencil Geek recommend? Thrilled by the question, CPG happily spent part of a rainy afternoon researching the answer.

The research turned out to be an interesting test of my color memory: Several hours after I had seen the images of the kestrel, I started looking through my pencils to find possible colors, but I decided not to look at the photos again. I had an image of the color in my memory, and I wanted to see how close I could get to matching it by looking only at the pencil hues. I picked out 14 pencils, made swatches, and then compared the swatches to the photos. I was disappointed that I was off by quite a bit – my memory of the color was a cooler reddish rust, while the actual feather hues are warmer. In fact, as with most bird feathers, a wide range of hues is visible, so one pencil couldn’t accurately capture the full range. 

Shown above are the swatches I tried. The first three rows are colors I chose from memory (rows 1 and 2 are traditional colored pencils; row 3 is watercolor pencils). When I saw that the color in my memory was off, I searched further and found the six pencils in the fourth row. I knew a few would be too yellow, but by that point I had decided that a blend was necessary. So the final blend (shown at the bottom of the sheet) includes four pencils that I thought I would use if I were trying to accurately capture the range of hues I see. The swatches I check-marked were used in the blend.

At least two other observations resulted from this exercise. One is how many hues are called “terracotta” by various pencil manufacturers, but they bear little resemblance to each other. This reinforces the importance of seeing all colored pencils on paper before selecting them for a work, since names and even barrel colors are often deceptive. The second is that in both Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle and Caran d’Ache Supracolor lines, there’s a color called Russet (65), which you’d expect to be the same, since Cd’A makes both from presumably the same pigments – but they are very different.

If you have questions for the Colored Pencil Geek, feel free to ask anytime!

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