I recently went to Michael’s (the arts/ crafts store) and picked up some supplies, including a drawing board, artist’s tape, and a fabulous Faber Castell sharpener that has a section specifically for colored pencils.
I also picked up some new paper, Strathmore Bristol. It is still a vellum surface like my mixed media paper, and it seems to accept the pencil in a similar way. It is acid-free, 100lb, and intended specifically for finished works in dry media.
I decided to make this an 8×10 drawing for a few reasons, including variety and a small reference photo. Working on the Bristol paper (with my Prismacolors, of course), I outlined the image. I tried to be as detailed and accurate as possible, since I knew how much it would affect the outcome of the final work. I still missed a few details that I found and added later. Some simply got lost in the shuffle. The windows did not appear to be straight up and down in the image, but I think I ended up with more of a tilt than I intended to. Another challenge was that the photo was somewhat washed out, making it difficult to select and blend colors.
I started by filling in the sidewalk, the bottom of the piece. I don’t really have a method to where I start; it’s just what I feel like at the moment. I suppose it might be smart to be more intentional with this. But in charcoal I have had successful drawings that moved from left to right and ones where I went all over the place. I wanted to use a range of colors to try to imitate how things really look to the eye, and to avoid ending up with a flat or monochromatic drawing, but I had the same problem starting out here as I have had on other projects: making the colors too vibrant in comparison with what I’m seeing. Working with color will still take some getting used to.
One reason I chose to draw this image was that it had an element that I find difficult, and that I had never attempted in colored pencil: a lot of greenery. It is one thing to draw straight lines and curves, even by hand, and another to mimic the natural shapes found in foliage. I tried to use a loose hand with short strokes to imitate the leaves and filled in larger, darker sections to represent shape and shadow. I realized that I needed to map out the trees first so that I wouldn’t accidentally go over spots where leaves should be. Because I completed the tree on the right first, I wanted to consistently repeat the same method for the other trees. This involved layering lighter and darker greens, along with an indigo blue for the darkest spots, burnishing with a colorless blender, and then layering white on top for highlight. I like the overall effect and the fact that no white from the paper is showing through, as if the image had been painted, but in the future I would be more careful to better suggest distinct leaves if aiming for realism.
The small details that make up this image break up the background into manageable pieces, and that, coupled with the smaller paper size I chose to draw on, allowed me to stick strictly to the colored pencils and blender and not use any paint thinner to finish off larger expanses of color.
At first, it was fun to dig in to the reflections in the windows, but it eventually became frustrating and I started to get bored. I was also discouraged that the drawing was not looking realistic enough. I briefly set the piece aside, but soon after became determined to complete it.
My ambition for ultra-realism may not have been fulfilled by this drawing, but I think I was still able to create an attractive scene. It turned out more like an illustration, which is something I’ve wanted to try in the past. I just wish that had been my intention all along. Part of me also wishes that I had been more imaginative with my color choices—why not try out a façade of blues and purples, for example—but I’m still at the stage where I’m trying my best to imitate what I see in front of me.
I think that I completed some of the details very successfully, such as the window reflections on the balconies on the left. Others suffered (like the greenery and some of the shadows). I may have taken on too ambitious of a drawing as a beginner with colored pencils, especially since I was going for realism. But what I like about the finished drawing is that it is interesting to look at. There are many places to look, but the color scheme makes everything cohesive, so it’s not too distracting.
An Apartment in Germany, colored pencil on Bristol paper, 2018 (8×10)
Projects like this make me think about what I really want to be drawing and portraying in my work; do I want someone to simply say “Wow, that looks exactly like what she was trying to draw,” or “I’m interested” and maybe even “I connect with this” or “I’m moved”? That is the goal that I’m starting to work toward.