Sunday, October 3, 2021

Tomatoes on the Vine (and My Polychromos Renaissance)


9/30/21 heirloom tomatoes (Polychromos pencils on Stonehenge hot press paper)

Our friend Alice spoiled us again: Hearing about the heavy rain forecast, she quickly harvested her remaining tomatoes, and we were lucky recipients of a generous bagful. I was especially thrilled to get several still on the vine – instant still life! The rain arrived as steadily as predicted, giving me an ideal opportunity to draw them.

Day 3: A tomato a day keeps the rainy-day blahs away.

Process notes: I don’t usually enjoy spending more than one sitting on a single drawing, but this time the conditions were ideal. I worked on this for four consecutive days, an hour or two per day. What surprised me about this longer process was nothing more than natural: The tomatoes ripened, and their colors changed continually! The green one on the right changed the most (see photo series below). Fortunately, I work from right to left, so I finished the green one first before it turned. Each day I colored a tomato based on whatever it looked like that day.

In addition, somewhere along the way, I inadvertently jostled the arrangement. Since the tomatoes were all connected by the same vine, I thought they would be easy to put back into place, but somehow I couldn’t get them back into their original positions.

The result is that my drawing “ripened” along with the tomatoes, and the final drawing resembles neither the actual fruits nor a photograph taken on any given day. Something about this process tickled me: It felt like urban sketching, when I have to adjust to and accommodate rapidly changing conditions like sunlight or wind or rain (though I admit I have never made an urban sketch over the course of four days).

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Technical notes: Ever since early summer, I have been using Prismacolors more than ever, influenced by instructor Kathleen Moore. It was my first solid use of Prismacolors, and the more I used them, the more I appreciated the rich hues possible with them. For this drawing of the tomatoes, however, I made a switch – back to my beloved Faber-Castell Polychromos. This was partly a whim but also influenced by my paper choice, Legion Stonehenge hot press. Although I’ve made a couple of location sketches with watercolor pencils on this paper, which is the smoothest of the Stonehenge papers I’ve tried, I wanted to give it a shot with traditional colored pencils in the studio to see how it takes multiple layered applications. Compared to Strathmore Bristol Smooth and other drawing papers, Stonehenge hot press has a noticeable but fine tooth. It seemed ideal for Polychromos, which is much harder than Prismacolor.

Legion Stonehenge Aqua Hotpress

I’m having a Polychromos renaissance! Day after day as I worked on the tomatoes, I marveled at how much pigment I could keep applying, layer after layer. It felt like I could have kept going forever. (The single worst characteristic of low-quality colored pencils is that it becomes increasingly difficult to apply more pigment. Yech.) Not that Prismacolors can’t do this – they can – but Polychromos’ harder core sharpens up so beautifully and stays sharp for much longer. I find it easier to apply consistent layers with Polychromos. And being able to keep a fine, sharp point makes tiny details a snap. I fell in love all over again with these fabulous pencils.

To my delight, Polychromos and Stonehenge hot press turned out to be a perfect partnership. Polychromos’ hard core got into the paper’s fine tooth, yet the result still has enough texture to look natural.

It doesn’t happen often, but in this case, it did: The subject, the weather, the prolonged process and the materials all conspired in my favor.

I heart Polychromos


  1. Wow, you really made the tomatoes shine! Love these beautiful sketches!

    1. Thank you, Cathy! I don't do this type of studied still life often, but when I do, I really enjoy it.


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