New York fashion Week; colour pencil illustration

This is part 2 of my most recent colour pencil adventures.  You can read part 1 here.    To quickly recap the most important lessons / tips I learnt at last weekend’s colour pencil class;

  1. Use a sharp pencil held upright (i.e. perpendicular to the page) in small circular strokes.
  2. Smooth paper is essential to creating a smooth finish.
  3. Three methods of blending;
    1. layering colour pencils
    2. solvents
    3. colourless pencil blender
  4. Use a burnishing pencil to “polish’ the paper to create a shiny surface.
  5. Hold the tip of the pencil against the object you are drawing to achieve the best colour match for your base layers.
  6. Create shadows using a complementary colour and analogue colours for a smooth transition.

This week I put these tips to the test on my New York Fashion Week illustration.  I took at tonne of work-in-progress photos this time to document the process.  I am a little bit reluctant to share them as colour pencil is seriously best viewed at a bit of a distance.  It looks terribly grainy up close especially with unforgiving overhead lighting.

You can read all about the process of putting these tips in to action below or, just cut to the end for a look at the final image.

Sharp Pencils: use a sharp pencil with an upright circular motion to get an even layer of colour on the paper.  Just to reiterate the thought process behind this is that a sharp-pointed pencil held upright is more able to fill all the dips or undulations (i.e. the tooth) of the paper.

I’m still not entirely convinced that a circular stroke is always necessary/appropriate.  I think it probably depends on what you are drawing (different strokes for different folks?).  With my graphite I always (initially for the first layer/s at least) try to go in the direction of the fabric/skin so using a circular motion seemed a bit counterintuitive to me.  In this particular drawing, however, for the tweed skirt and woollen jumper it makes perfect sense to use a circular stroke to give that kind of “knotty” texture.  Perhaps the leather bag would. have been better done with a directional stroke.

I will definitely try some different stroke techniques in the future (wowsers… that sound a bit… suggestive!

Paper: The smoother the paper the better as smooth paper means less undulations to start with.  For this piece I used  Arches Watercolour Smooth paper.  I think I have previously overemphasised the importance of the smoothness paper.   The perceived “smoothness” of the paper is just a way to excuse my substandard blending skills!.  So yes smooth paper is necessary but I don’t actually think there is a substantial difference between the Winsor and Newton Smooth Surface Cartridge Pad and the Arches Watercolour.

Creating shadows: Create shadows using a complementary colour.  I’ve been doing this for a while so it was not really a revelation.  It was, however, suggested to use a deep analogue colour to create an effective tonal change.  I found this quite a useful step in creating the transition from mid tone to shadow.   I am happy with the shadow the red pencil created on the green bag.  However, I struggled to pick the “right” shade of purple for the shadow area in the yellow top.  I think it looks a little …ugly.

work in progress2

Colour matching: Colour match by holding the pencil tip against the subject.  At the time I thought this was pure genius and I still do, however, it’s not as fool-proof as I initially thought.  In the image below (original on the left) you can tell I failed a bit with this on the colour of the bag (I went a bit grass-green rather than bottle-bluish green) and the skirt.  I definitely think this technique is a good starting point to narrow down the number of potential matches but I still need to create a few test patches (of a single or multiple colours) to achieve the perfect match.  Like anything its a skill I need to work on a bit more.


Blending: – this is the business end of things.  I tried out all three methods in this piece.

So first off I layered the pencils light to dark and concentrated on getting the smoothest finish possible.  A lot of this comes down the practice makes perfect and a lot of patience.  I can see little areas where I nailed it and then other areas where I got impatient and worked too quickly without enough care and the results are not as good.

first scan unblended

Colourless pencil blender.  I used a Derwent Colourless Blender which according to the label “blends colours together easily.  Helps artists to apply more layers of colour.  Enhances the intensity of colour pencil”.  I liked the textured feel of the skirt so I decide to try blending it with the blender pencil with a very lighter pressure just to even things out a little but still retain some texture.  The skin and shoes I used a much firmer pressure to achieve a smoother finish.  In the below image I have blended the back leg but not the front.  I think you can see the difference.

work in progress one leg blended

Solvents.  We only briefly played with solvents during class and the effect was very similar to using a blending pencil.  Only the tiniest bit of solvent is required.   The idea being the solvent melts the binders in wax/oil pencils and smooths out the surface the work. I read somewhere it works better on darker surfaces but I actually liked it better on the lighter surface (yellow top) probably because the effect was less dramatic.

I found that I had to be a bit mindful when using the solvent and not get too heavy-handed particularly in dark areas as the colour tends to shift a little bit.  Also, don’t panic when you put too much solvent down and the paper turns dark because it’s wet.  It will evaporate.  And don’t forget to work in a well ventilated area or you will get high on solvent fumes (unless you use the super expensive proper stuff that doesn’t smell.  I just used turpentine from the shed!).

The picture below is a comparison of all three steps.  Image one is just “unblended’.  Image two is using a pencil blender on the legs, shoes, and a little on the skirt.  Image three is using solvent to blend the yellow top.


Burnishing: Obviously I was high as a kite on solvent fumes at this point because I decided to burnish! (my husband has since informed me you can’t get “high” on turps but just get a headache).  Anyway I was not so high that I didn’t make a final scan just in case it all turned to poo.  In my botanical class burnishing was dismissed pretty quickly as not really useful.

According to my Derwent Burnisher packet, a burnishing pencil “used over colour creates a burnish (or shine) without changing the colour of your artwork”.  (Side note: Once again I believe I may have stumble upon another pencil company conspiracy.  Is there a discernible difference between a burnishing pencil and a blending pencil?  Are they the same shit but marketed as different things? At some point I will do a Mythbusters style test to sort this issue out.)

I had to use significant pressure to get the ‘shine’ happening but it was pretty effective.  What I also discovered to my delight was that you can put additional colour after burnishing and it increases the glow.   (Image left: unburnished.  Image right: burnished green bag)

original v final.jpg

I don’t feel like I have clearly established a preference for blender pencil vs solvent.  The solvent is obviously much quicker but also feels like you have less control or less ability to fine tune it (blend a lot or a little).  I can see solvent being great for covering large areas but would stick to the blender pencil for finer  more detailed work.

Obviously you can also get away with not blending at all or rather just blending by building up layers of colour pencil.  Like everything it is just a matter of working out what is best for the end result you are trying to achieve.

All in all this process has made me a lot more confident in using colour pencils.  I feel like there is a lot more scope to their use than I originally thought and I look forward to trying out some new things.  Well here is the final piece!


3 thoughts on “New York fashion Week; colour pencil illustration

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