I’m doing this mainly for my own record as a way of documenting my personal exploration of using coloured pencils so it’s not intended as an instructional article as such! But I hope that you will find something that will be useful for your own sketching. If you are someone who has used coloured pencils a lot in the past, I’d love to hear your tips and preferences in the comments section below. I’m still very much in an intensive learning mode!
And BTW, it’s nearly 3 weeks since I touched my watercolour paints and I haven’t been missing them as much as I expected! This is definitely not a permanent change of media but to get the most out of the experience I want to finish my current sketchbook using coloured pencils exclusively (another 2 weeks’ worth of sketching).
In just over a week, I managed to put together a selection of coloured pencils that I was happy with and then I started getting to know them individually and how they worked together. Getting to know the colours by name was easier than I expected, but I’m still experimenting with ways of layering the different colours. Note: I’m intentionally not sharing the colours as it will change and I don’t want anyone to blindly go out and buy exactly what I’m using.:-)
My current selection contains around 36 pencils which is more than I would like to carry around… but there are just so many nice colours – particularly in the pastel shades!
This is the pencil case that I’m using (purchased from Larrypost but currently out of stock) and it comfortably fits all these pencils plus a pen or two. There is room for a few more pencils but I can’t go crazy and expand my collection too much!
What about watercolour pencils?
A few people have asked about using Watercolour Pencils (WCP) dry – without adding water – instead of Coloured Pencils (wax or oil-based). As mentioned in my last article, I don’t want to have the temptation to add water at the moment so I’ve decided to use coloured pencils for now. However, I wanted to see how they differ in a dry state.
I did this quick test to compare Faber Castell Polychromos (oil-based) vs Albrecht Durer (WCP) and Caran d’ache Luminance (wax-based) vs Museum (WCP). In both cases the WCP was softer and stronger – this was quite noticeable with the Faber Castell pencils.
My guess is that the WCPs might not layer as well as the CPs if you are working realistically with many layers (if you have experience with this I would love to know for sure) but as I want to develop a quick loose approach for my pencil sketches I don’t think there would be a huge difference. But of course, I’m just in the early stages of this journey so I expect to have a greater understanding of the different brands down the track.
Using coloured pencils in a sketchbook
While I am loving not having any buckling in my sketchbook at all ( generally I don’t mind a little buckling but it’s nice not to have any at all in an Alpha book) I am interleaving my spreads with some loose paper trimmed down to the size of the book (it’s just some thin paper I found in my cupboard). This reduces smudging/ transferring onto the opposite page and is working fine for me.
I also recently bought some workable fixative and have sprayed a few pages with it to see how it performs. If you have any comments on the best brand or any problems with using fixative in a sketchbook I would love to hear them in the comments below.
This is another example – the view of Roseville Bridge from Echo Point – drawn at about the same size (24 x 12cm). At this scale, there are only a few large areas (foreground and sky) and the rest of the subject matter easily able to be covered with coloured pencils quickly.
On the other hand, I haven’t yet found an approach for objects or more zoomed-in scenes where there are plain surfaces. I’ve always had a somewhat messy approach to colouring in, so the traditional approach of doing multiple layers of even shading is not in my style.
I’m also finding it harder when I work larger out on location as I then feel compelled to include lots of texture. This is a quick rough late afternoon sketch of a local church – expressing the brickwork is SO out of character! Ha!
Just for the record… not all of my coloured pencil sketches at the moment are successful. You will see the full collection later in the week when I share the full spreads from my sketchbook.
As I’ve been reviewing these thoughts I’ve come to an interesting conclusion:
At the moment, I’m finding that working small, sketching complex scenes or subjects with lots of texture are the best for coloured pencils. I still have to find a technique for larger sketches and/or ones with plain surfaces. This is opposite to my preference when I work in watercolour – I love zooming in, working larger and adding watercolour texture/variety to plain surfaces and find doing small complex scenes in watercolour more of a challenge (unless I really simplify). So it seems that using coloured pencils could complement watercolour sketching well.
I’ve been researching a number of books too!
Most coloured pencil books are geared towards multi-layered realistic work but this book by Judy Martin does have a number of examples of loose sketches.
As I continued going through my library I suddenly thought that it would be good to check out a few graphite pencil books, realising that these are probably more relevant to the way I want to use CPs.
Both of these graphite pencil books emphasise deliberate strong marks with a chiselled pencil point.
To date, I’ve not done this much as I’ve mainly been adding colour to ink drawings.
I also came across this book (by Noriyoshi Hasegawa) from my days working as an architect. It describes a technique of very rapid diagonal hatching that doesn’t stay within the lines. I was more interested in markers at the time so didn’t really use this much.
It has lots of different interior examples and some fun floor plans. It demonstrates a really cool way of using coloured pencils in a rapid sketchy way. I like this style a lot but not sure how easy it would be to incorporate into my sketching with lots of different subject matter. The most important aspect of revisiting this book now is reminding me of leaving lots of white space. For some reason, I haven’t done much of that so far in my own coloured pencil sketches.
Only pencil and heavier texture
I’ve spent most of the last two weeks simply getting to know my pencils and establishing a way of using them for sketching at home and out on location. And as mentioned above, most of my work has started with an ink drawing and then applying the coloured pencils.
But in the last few days, I’ve been making a more concerted effort to draw and colour with pencils and not use ink at all!
I was really inspired by some recent work of Maru Godas and this fun illustrative use of coloured pencils is what I want to try next!
Ah! there is so much still to explore and I’m loving every minute of this coloured pencil journey!