Monday, June 29, 2020

Plum for Plums

6/25/20 Green Lake neighborhood

A few days ago I showed you a sketch of some ornamental plum trees. I had a used a russet pencil for the trees’ intensely dark purplish-red foliage because it was the only dark red I had with me at the time, but I wasn’t happy with it. I’ve been digging through my pencils to see if I had something closer to the right hue, and wouldn’t you know it, the best color I could find was a Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Dark Plum (106). I went back to the same dead-end street a few days later and made the sketch above.

A tricky hue to capture!
I’m happy with the color this time in addressing the question that my previous sketch might have raised: Are those red-orangy trees supposed to be maples in November…? Even if a viewer weren’t necessarily able to identify these trees as plums, I hope they would still see from the unusual color that these aren’t maples.

The big challenge with a hue this dark is conveying enough contrast between the highlighted parts and the shaded parts. My intention was for the paper’s texture showing through to impart some of the sparkle of the leaves reflecting light, but I’m still missing more contrast. A painter would probably leave most of the highlights paper-white and paint only the shadows. I’ve occasionally tried that technique, but it doesn’t seem to translate well to colored pencils.

6/28/20 color study of ornamental plum
A comment from a reader on that earlier post prompted me to try Prismacolors in Black Cherry (1078) and Black Grape (996). Sue had also suggested Black Raspberry, which I don’t have, but I substituted a Faber-Castell Polychromos in Dark Red (225). I have become so reliant on the fast, easy richness of both hue and texture possible with watercolor pencils that I don’t typically use traditional (non-water-soluble) colored pencils in the field because they take longer to achieve those effects with layers. But I was curious enough about finding the elusive color for this tree that I grabbed those three pencils and took them out on our upstairs deck to make the color study at right. (Usually I curse this rather unkempt tree next door because it blocks so much of the view down the street, but on this day, it came in handy.) At a much closer distance to the tree than when I made the sketch above, I noticed that some of the top-most leaves have a brighter red tone, where the Polychromos was just right. I would have to spend more time on it to get the same richness of tone that I obtained with a spurt from my spritzer on the sketch at the top, but the colors are a good choice.


  1. It looks like your top sketch is pretty close to the color of the tree. Love the shape of the trees together in that one. The bottom one is great too but a little lighter. I was looking at some of our red maple trees today while I was driving and they are so dark in spots that they look black. Sadly, no time to sketch them.

    1. I think if I kept going on the second sketch, I would have gotten the color to be darker. But that's what I love so much about watercolor pencils -- a blast of water really deepens the hues instantly!


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