Drawing with coloured pencil & other coloured media

This exercise began by looking at methods of blending colour. I began by using blends of soluble and insoluble coloured pencils, adding colour over a wash, and also exploring the effect of differences in fineness of hatching. I explored the use of analogous and complementary colours, and also effects of variations in pencil pressure and in colour proportions.

Blending colour, page 1
Blending colour, page 2

Main findings:

1. Hatching carried out in two colours using perpendicular strokes resulted in both colours being visible close-to and yet appearing blended at a short distance. The end result is richer and darker than either colour alone. When the colours used are complementary, the result is a more neutral shade.

2. Washes produced very uneven finishes – sometimes this might be desirable but at other times not.

3. Oil-based pencils do not “sit” well on a water-soluble surface, producing uneven tone. Washes applied over insoluble pencil resulted in the underlying colour coming through, creating interesting uneven blends but unpredictable.

4.The length of the stroke affects the evenness of tone. Shorter, stronger marks produce less evenness of coverage.

5. Washes produce more intensity of colour, which is difficult to achieve with dry pencil alone. Although building up with layers is possible, it risks “muddiness”.

6. The most attractive blends – in my opinion – and also relatively easy to control, were the use of short hatch marks in the colour combination of choice. I also tried squiggles which produced an attractive blend when complementary colours were used and suggested depth when analogous colours were used. Intensity of colour can be varied with pressure and also with the relative proportions of individual colours in the blends. Applying the lighter colour first is probably best. I have taken separate shots of these from my sketchbook for comparison – see below.

Blending hatch marks in analogous colours
Blending hatchmarks in complementary colours
Blending squiggles - analogous colours
Blending squiggles in complementary colours


This preparatory exercise led into one on which I had to focus on plants and flowers to produce two A2 drawings of the same subject, one in coloured pencil and one in another coloured medium.

I used a mixture of Faber-Castell Polychromos and Derwent Inktense pencils, as dry media for the first drawing. In the second drawing, I used Caran d’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble crayons, with a wash. These latter are one of my favourites because I find that they encourage freedom in mark-making and tone can be deepened by adding water using a Pentel water brush.

The drawing process was lengthy, especially for the first drawing, and often frustrating. However, it built on the previous exercise on negative space logically and I chose a subject, a bougainvillea overwintering in my living room and bright with blooms in the middle of January, which offered lots of practice with negative space, with its supporting trellis and myriad twisting stems. The plant has very few leaves at this time of year until after it has finished its winter blooming, so limited green tones. However, I made up for this by turning the terracotta flower pot into a bright blue-green china pot in the drawings so that there was bright colour to balance the pink / magenta of the flowers.

I was not sure what to include in the composition because the bougainvillea is about a meter tall and, being a climber, a lot of its height is just stems. In the end, I chose to include a group of cast iron sculptures, a violin trio who sit in a corner of my living room. The tallest one is not even half the height of the bougainvillea but I thought that the ambiguity of the image might work, a group of musicians playing under the branches of a “tree”, only an interior, not a summer outdoor scene.

I planned the drawing in my A3 sketchbook before beginning:

Initial ideas ....
Initial ideas - the trio
Trying out colour blends

I reached a point of impasse with the first drawing which seemed to be pushing me in a direction in which I was unwilling to go, perhaps because it seemed too risky to work on the background after HOURS of trouble with foreground detail. However, the foreground detail lacked the intensity of colour that I envisaged and I was not sure what to do. First of all, I tried a thumbnail sketch to consider possible colours. My walls are white but I wanted colour in the background.

Mid-point sketch to clarify background colours

At this point, I decided to abandon the drawing temporarily and begin the second one. This took much less time as I was by now familiar with the intricacies of the subject and the second drawing is more fluid and confident than the first. Here is the second drawing, which was completed first!

Drawing 2

Having completed this drawing, I had a better idea of how to use colour in the background. I chose to use the pinks and mauves of the flowers with some of the blues that had been used in the trio as shadows. Here is the first drawing:

Drawing 1

The two drawings differ in many different respects. Drawing 1 is more detailed and controlled. Drawing 2 is livelier due to its more fluid lines as well as its brighter colours and greater contrasts.

I enjoyed the second drawing much more – I had less fear of getting it wrong because overall I had invested less time in it and decided at the outset that it was not going to be as fussy as the first one. The choice of medium helped. The drawings also differed in the angle of the trellis. I judged it better the second time around. The height of the woman in the trio, however, was better judged in the first drawing; in the second, she is slightly too tall. The second drawing was drawn against daylight and a window. The first drawing was done in artificial light – the curtains were drawn in the background because of this. This makes the first drawing slightly less balanced colour-wise, than the first, perhaps, because the yellows and tans of the stems cannot be echoed in the tree trunks outside the window. I paid attention to the direction of light in both drawings. Knowing that the lighting conditions were different and would have to be addressed helped me to focus more carefully on shadows and tonal differences.


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