Project: Stay

Note: This is a longer post, but you can just scroll through the pictures if you’re in a hurry!

Finally, finally, I was inspired to complete a piece. In the past, I haven’t given much thought to what I’m drawing. I was just imitating what I saw, usually something that looked pretty or interesting to me. This time, I actually had a specific idea and planned it out. The project ended up a little differently from the way it started in my mind, but I like where it went. This was a challenge for me in that I ventured away from the reference, inventing a scene through the window and changing up the placement and type of wood for the table and window frame. I took more pictures than usual because I wanted to show some more of my layering process.

This is not a self-portrait, per se, but I did have my husband take a photo of me that I used as a reference. I do see some of myself in her (at least, how I see myself). I drew my initial sketch using a 4H graphite pencil. After I took the picture below, I erased as much of the graphite as I could, particularly in places where I knew I would be using light colors.


First I put down some light layers, starting with the main figure.


I probably should have taken another picture or two in between these stages, but when I get going I sometimes forget. I used a few different shades of brown for the hair, leaving lighter areas which I then blended with White to achieve the highlights. I rarely use straight Black pencil but I thought it appropriate for the pupil. I knew what color I wanted the wall to be at this point, but hadn’t yet made a plan for the table or the window. This is always a problem for me when I create projects in my mind that aren’t entirely based on something I’m looking at: I get excited, get started, and then am left to complete the concept at the last minute, often unsatisfactorily.


At this point, while I wasn’t quite ready to work on the window, I dove in anyway. I knew that the view through the window, while not the central focus of the drawing, was nevertheless significant. I didn’t want something too mundane, or unattractive and therefore distracting. I practiced blending some colors on a scrap paper and liked the effect I came up with, which reminded me of an abstract version of how it might look through the window of a moving train. This actually took the idea in a slightly different direction and helped me come up with the title. Again, I started with light layers of the base colors I wanted to use.


Then I layered additional colors and blended with my colorless blender left to right until I achieved the desired effect. Honestly, I had been hoping to create a warmer feeling, but it shouldn’t be all that surprising that I didn’t succeed considering I used so many cool colors. I’m not entirely happy with how this aspect of the drawing turned out, as it wasn’t what I had imagined at the beginning. But to be realistic, I hadn’t made much of a plan for that part anyway. I had decided that I wanted a watercolor effect (without the watercolors, which I am not practiced with and feared would drip down and ruin what I already had). I am glad that I took a risk and did something a little abstract, which is totally new for me.


Now, I had come to the stage where I needed to make a few more decisions. I had originally imagined dark wood for the table and the window frame, but I realized that this would make a whole lot of the drawing dark brown, and be noticeable for the wrong reason. I settled on a lighter wood for the table (vaguely reminiscent of oak) and a darker wood for the window frame. This was my first light layer of color for the table and window frame. I did look online at different types of wood to get a slightly more realistic idea of what the colors might look like. I also realized that I had given no indication that the scene was being viewed through a window so I went in with White to suggest some reflections on the glass.


Second layer of color:


Even more layers of color:


Next, I blended everything out with colorless blender pencil and added a shadow to the table (there’s that warmth I wanted! Although I later realized the placement of the shadow is probably way off from where it should be, depending on the actual angle of the window and the light coming in).


Finally, I made some minor adjustments and put on the finishing touches, like filling in any blank spaces with white (when you skip this step, the drawing tends to look slightly incomplete). I added some more color to the eye, darkened the pupil, and added a tiny bit of pink on the cheeks. I also fixed a few hairs, added/ enhanced some shadows, and completed the hand. This was one area that frustrated me because the shadows came out too dark and I couldn’t lighten them enough with White/ blending. However, I think it is still an improvement over the ghostly hand in the previous stages.

StayStay, colored pencil on Bristol paper, 2018 (11×14)

I don’t know how realistic this drawing ultimately is in terms of proportions and shading, but I like that I came up with the idea and actually drew it. It mostly fits with my usual style, which I think is a little reserved/ conservative (clean, straight lines, aiming for realism), but veers away in the sense that I drew partially from my imagination. I’ve still got some work to do as far as the colored pencils go. For example, even though I used my drafting brush excessively to clear away debris, I still got some clumps of pencil stuck in the paper, particularly on the table.

I don’t want to do too much explaining about the piece, because I don’t want to take away the enjoyment of letting the picture mean whatever it might mean to you, but I’m happy to answer any of your questions.

Sketch: Red Onion

Colors used (all Prismacolor Premier):

Dark Purple
Dark Umber
Crimson Red
Light Peach
Indigo Blue
50% Warm Gray

For this sketch, I did something I almost never do: I started over. Even though I was almost finished, I wasn’t happy with how it turned out. Usually at that point I just give up and move on to something else. But for some reason this time I gave it a second chance.

I drew the first version on recycled sketchbook paper with a medium tooth. It was very hard to layer enough color to mask the white flecks of paper showing through, even after blending multiple times. I’m sure that the paper was part of my difficulty. Another problem was that I forgot to leave the paper blank in areas of highlight. It’s very easy to get coloring and go right over places that were supposed to be light or white. This leaves the sketch looking one-dimensional. The first sketch:


For the second sketch, I used my Mixed Media paper, which has a smoother vellum surface. This took the color so much better. I still had to do a lot of layering and blending, but it was a lost less frustrating. I will have to try to find a similar paper that costs less for when I’m just practicing.

My initial sketch was very similar to the first sketch but there were slight variations (one being that I centered it better on the page).


I started off by making an underpainting with Dark Umber to get a feel for the dark and light areas. I was careful to mark areas of highlight.


Next, I added Dark Purple with relatively light pressure.


Then I put in some Pink.


I didn’t take any other pictures before I was finished, but the majority of completing the sketch was layering and blending the colors to reduce white flecks showing through. I blended out using a colorless blender pencil and then went over some areas again and blended in lighter areas with White or Light Peach. I also used Light Peach for the top of the onion. I used Indigo Blue and 50% Warm Gray (in addition to Dark Umber) for the shadow underneath the onion and layered Crimson Red on top of Dark Purple for the part of the onion that is showing through the skin.


It’s not perfect, but I definitely think it’s an improvement over the original! I’m glad that I started over and I will have to keep that in mind in the future, especially when it’s not just a sketch. I think part of the reason I don’t typically start drawings over is fear that I just can’t do it. But if I keep trying, it ultimately gives me the chance to produce something better. And that’s totally worth it.

Project: An Apartment in Germany

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.

German ApartmentAn 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.