Thursday, July 1, 2021

Polychromos Primary Triad on a Blistering Day


6/28/21 Polychromos pencils in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook

A reader of my recent primary triad experiments asked which hues I would choose from the Faber-Castell palette. Always more than thrilled to answer a question that requires me to fly my geek flag, I tripped over myself to find out. Since I have the full palette in both oil-based Polychromos and water-soluble Albrecht Durer, I didn’t have to wonder if some colors I was missing might fit the bill better.

Once again using the Prismacolor triad – Process Red (994), Canary Yellow (916) and True Blue (903) – as my model, I looked for the closest matches among Polychromos hues and chose Fuchsia (125), Cadmium Yellow (107) and Phthalo Blue (110). Then I sketched the same beautiful, deeply lobed heirloom tomato that I had used for my Uni Colored Pencil review, this time from a different angle.

Every time I try these triads, the magenta (Process Red) hue always seems like it will be too pinkish to be used as a primary “red,” but that perception comes from all I’ve learned about the traditional color wheel. When mixed with a warm yellow, it makes a lovely red that can be pushed in either a cool or warm direction. I now believe I can’t go wrong with a triad based on this principle, but it’s still a bit surprising to see the results.

Having fought mightily with the Uni pencils just the day before, using Polychromos was pure pleasure. I spent a bit more time on this one than I did on the Uni tomato, but it didn’t feel that way because the experience was more enjoyable: It was easy to see the pigment as I applied more and more to the paper. With pencils containing low pigment, it feels like I’m working hard applying pencil to paper, but nothing appears. It’s just binding material sliding around on itself.

It’s strange to make a still life in summer when the sun is shining brightly in a clear sky. Typically, I sketch most still lives in winter when it’s too wet or too cold to sketch outdoors. The early part of this week, however, the Pacific Northwest broke every high heat record in the books. When I made this sketch on Monday, Seattle topped out at 108 degrees (Oregon and British Columbia were in the hundred-teens). We are fortunate to have installed split-ductless heating/cooling units in a few rooms several years ago, so we were fine hunkering down in those rooms, but others were not as fortunate. Most houses around here do not have AC, and of course, many residents are without housing. It’s been a tough week.

The last time I saw triple digits on my phone’s weather app, we were in Amsterdam in 2019. Before that, the only other time I had experience triple digits was in Seattle in 2009, when we set the previous record at 103. That one felt like a fluke. This time, it feels portentous of a terrifying trend.

104 was the highest temp I saw on my phone,
but the highest reported within the city was 108.


  1. Gorgeous tomato! But what about the Albrecht Durer triad? ;)

  2. Yes, I agree, gorgeous tomato! And yes, please, Albrecht Durer triad? Sorry you had to deal with the heat, and hoping it’s not a trend.

  3. OK, OK, twist my arm ;-) ... Albrecht Durer coming up!

  4. Wow! This sketch looks so realistic. Great job! I am enjoying seeing what you can do with these triads.


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