Friday, June 4, 2021



6/2/21 Prismacolor on Stonehenge Lenox Cotton paper
This week’s class lesson was drawing a flower of our choice. In the bouquets I had purchased at the farmers market last Saturday were some irises with distinct, mostly non-overlapping petals that might have been easier. Since Kathleen used a rose for her demo, though, I knew that something with lots of spiraling, overlapping petals would be a better challenge. I chose the brilliant pink peony that I had already attempted (not very successfully) to sketch loosely a few days ago.

By the time I began drawing my class assignment, it was Tuesday. In the morning when I started, the blossom was already past its prime, but I like the look of flowers at that stage, so I thought it was perfect. During the two hours that I worked, I could see that the peony was changing before my eyes: I kept looking at it and thinking, “How could my drawing be that far off?” when I’d realize that the petals had drooped further. The temperature was heading toward 80 degrees.

My plan was to finish the drawing the next day, but by that afternoon, I realized I would not have a model by then, so I needed to continue immediately. Of course, I had taken a photo when I began (it’s part of our assignment to show a photo of the subject), but the colors, lighting and perspective are slightly different in the photo from reality, so my preference was to work from the actual peony as long as I could.

My peony on Day 1... 

Thankfully, I had focused on the blossom first, so the next day all I had left to do were the stem and leaves. (This is my urban sketching training at work: Always sketch first the people, cars or other things that may move or disappear.) The petals had drooped further, completely obscuring the leaves, so I gently lifted them, and that’s when the whole blossom fell apart.

Drawing this peony was informative and illuminating in several ways. One thing I’ve learned about using traditional (wax- or oil-based, not water-soluble) colored pencils is that as soon as I put them in my hand, my tendency is to make a tight drawing that ends up overworked and lacking freshness. I had been feeling that using colored pencils wasn’t conducive to the type of drawing I wanted to do with them, so this class with Kathleen Moore was an opportunity for a self-challenge: How can I learn to use colored pencils while retaining freshness (if not looseness)?

...and on Day 2.

My second day with the peony was the point when I would normally start to overwork a drawing. The flower was now a pile of petals, but I pulled out the photo to see if I could use that to continue poking away at it. Looking at the drawing with fresh eyes in the morning, however, I realized I liked it the way it was. It still had some freshness left without looking unfinished. Maybe I should stop! And I did.

This drawing gave me another insight: In her demo, Kathleen had used mineral spirits to “melt” the pigment after each layer of application. Doing so took away the visible pencil strokes, giving her resulting drawing a strong painterly effect. Since using mineral spirits is optional, I decided against it for this assignment (though I have kept my mind open about it for future assignments). By avoiding its use, many of my pencil strokes are still visible and “unmelted,” which I think helps to retain the drawing’s freshness.

Beyond the relative freshness of my drawing is the larger question of what I want to do with colored pencils: Am I trying to emulate a painterly effect? If so, why not use paint?

These questions evoke conversations I’ve had with some sketchers who did not have much experience with either watercolor pencils or paints. They had hoped to achieve watercolor-painting effects with pencils, which seemed easier to use than paint. I told them that if they want the look of watercolor paintings, they should learn to use watercolor paints. Watercolor pencils have their own unique qualities (and it’s obvious that I love them for those qualities), but emulating paints is not their best.

If I wanted to achieve a painterly result from colored pencils, then using mineral spirits would help me do that. But one quality that I love about colored pencils is that they are not paints; I like seeing visible pencil strokes and the delicacy they can impart. I appreciate the beauty of the medium without trying to emulate another.

Maybe my path to achieving the look I want is to continue refining my technique with colored pencils while also learning to STOP before I pass the point of freshness. That’s a good skill to have with any medium! Anyway, writing this post has made me think more about the difference between “looseness” and “freshness.” I’ll have more to say about this later, I’m sure.

Prismacolor colors used in the peony


  1. Tina, this came out beautiful! I like seeing the pencil strokes.

  2. Lovely picture! I am looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts about watercolor pencils, looseness & freshness in a drawing.

    1. Thanks, Cathy! My thoughts are still mostly unformed yet, but writing my blog helps me articulate ideas, so I'm certain that you'll be reading more sometime!


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