Sunday, May 28, 2023

“Painting” Without Brushes


5/22/23 thumbnail study

Here’s how an interesting process unfolded:

On my walk near Green Lake, I made a one-minute thumbnail study (at right) capturing the shapes of organic foliage next to stark, straight utility poles – my favorite compositional contrasts. I thought the composition had potential for further study, so I snapped a photo reference. Just as I did, a woman and her dog walked through – but unlike most photobombs, they improved the composition and added interest!

Reference photo fortuitously photobombed. 

Among the darkest values in the scene are the shaded parts of the trees, so I thought my dark maroon
Uglybook would make an intriguing complementary “underpainting.” Using it for other light-on-dark sketches, I’ve found the color to be difficult to use. It doesn’t exactly “read” like darkness, and it seems like it should be warm, but it’s so dark that it looks cool next to most colors. With those challenges in mind, I decided to treat it the way painters treat an underpainting – by covering the entire “canvas” instead of using the maroon as the darkest dark.

To do that was a brain buster! The woman and the dog were also among the darkest values, but it was difficult to draw around them with white, and dark colors are hard to see on dark paper. I employed the colored pencil technique of applying white first, then coloring over it with the desired color, which makes the intended color appear brighter. This stage looks sort of like a photo negative.

Most areas covered with white, even where dark colors would ultimately appear.

Finally, I went in with the colors I wanted to use. I think the only part of the sketch revealing the actual paper color is the dark part of the stairway behind the woman. But the little bits that show through do provide a subtle complexity that would be missing if I used, say, black paper or white paper. It’s like the “sparkle” that watercolor painters revere, but in reverse – dark instead of paper white.

5/22/23 Prismacolor and Derwent colored pencils in Uglybook (photo reference)

Unbelievably, this little sketch (4-by-6 inches) took more than an hour because I had to think so much! Fortunately, it was evening, because by the time I was done, I needed a nap.

A couple of my social media followers keep accusing me of being a painter. Others ask when I’m going to give in and start painting. I say I’m already doing the fun part – who needs brushes to clean? 😉

"Painting" without the cleanup.


  1. Interesting approach and result, Tina.

    1. Thanks! I enjoyed this experiment a lot and plan to try it again sometime.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...