Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Forsythia Values Study

7/26/20 forsythia in our backyard

You saw this forsythia tree back in April when it was ablaze with yellow blossoms, now long gone. As I mentioned then, our backyard rarely calls to me with sketching inspiration, but what did call to me on this hot afternoon was our shady deck. With a kitchen chair and a small selection of traditional colored pencils I’ve been playing with, I got comfy.

Last time, my sketch was about capturing the forsythia’s color. Without the bright yellow to confuse me (no values were attempted in that sketch), this time I decided to make a values study in color. The lightest value green I chose is nearly yellow, which may be confusing to viewers by resembling blossoms, but I thought it would be the clearest “code” to myself to remember that it’s the sunlit areas of foliage.

The greens I used are Caran dAche Pablo Olive Yellow (015), Caran dAche Luminance Moss Green (225) and Uni Posca 18 (color name not given, but its the darkest green). Sketchbook is Stillman & Birn Zeta.

Stage 1: I drew the sunlit areas first so that I wouldn't inadvertently cover them
with too much of the darker colors. I suddenly noticed my neighbor's feet,
so I put them in immediately to scale them accurately. 
As I sketched, I also recalled a question from an Instagram follower/blog reader who was curious about the process I used for foliage – the sunlit color everywhere, then the shadows added later. . .? So I took a few process photos along the way to help show what I do. (Process notes are in the captions.)

Stage 2: I used the medium and darkest green next to indicate the general
shapes of the areas in shade. Even at this stage, if my objective
is to make the plant realistic and specific, my pencil marks are made in
the general shapes of the leaves. I avoid scribbling generically (which I do
at the bottom where I'm indicating shadows in the grass).
At the same time, I was also thinking about a conversation I had had with another sketcher about how different subject matter seem to call for different media. For example, sometimes when I’m trying to sketch a large area of trees and foliage, I start thinking that colored pencils, even watercolor pencils, are not an ideal medium for that. And whenever I see how beautifully some artists paint foliage with watercolors, I see how well that medium can capture the luminosity of trees partially in sunlight. If I knew how to use watercolors, I might be able to achieve that same quality a lot more easily (and certainly faster) than trying to do the job with colored pencils.

Stage 3: I filled in all the foliage more fully with the 3 greens. Toward the end,
I used the medium green to give the sunlit leaves more definition.
In the finished sketch, the medium green is not even apparent as a third color
and probably wasn't necessary. Instead, I applied the darkest green
more heavily in the deepest areas.
If I had been using watercolors to paint this forsythia, though, I might have gotten the broad shapes, hues and light, but I would have lost the slightly curving shapes of the leaves, which I appreciated observing and trying to capture. This one isn’t a detailed botanical drawing (of the scientifically accurate type that I learned to make last winter), but it falls somewhere between that and the slightly more painterly sketch I made when the blossoms were in bloom. Sometimes I want the general; sometimes I want the specific.

Every medium has its strengths and weaknesses. If I had the time, energy and commitment to master every medium that appealed to me, I could use whichever one best captured whatever subject I’m sketching at the moment. But since I’ve chosen to focus on colored pencils, I enjoy challenging myself to find ways to use this chosen medium in whatever way that best takes advantage of its strengths.

(Did you catch the pair of sandaled feet near the base of the tree? I hadn’t seen my neighbor at first, quietly reading, but I put him in as soon as I noticed, just in case he left before I was done. I may have looked like a backyard sketcher that day, but I’m always an urban sketcher at heart.)


  1. I don't remember seeing this one on FB before. You really did a nice job capturing the light areas with the yellow and showing the shading of the dark areas too. I had to smile at the foot sticking out. You are right that each medium has its strengths and weaknesses. It is too difficult to find the time to master them all. lol

    1. I'll be happy if I can ever master just one! ;-)

  2. Not sure how I missed this one! I love the shape and how organic it looks. I think thats why I like the “look” of watercolor pencils, you do get that texture (paper effects too).

    1. Yes, the texture that's apparent is one of the main reasons I love watercolor pencils, too!


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