This will be one of many regular posts about different techniques I use in my colored pencil work. I haven’t decided yet how often they will be but right now I’m thinking once a month or bi-weekly. I’m in the midst of preparing a tutorial for a magazine so once I’m done with that I’ll be able to get my plan for the next six months down and prepare my ideas. I hope you’ll follow my posts and share them with others.
This article is about blending colors and by that I don’t mean the layering of two or more colors to achieve another color. I’m talking about working with two or more colors that need to meet at some point but their marriage must be almost undetectable. I prepared a series of images in stages and I’ll explain the process as I go. For the purpose of this exercise I am using my favorite brand of colors – Faber Castell Polychromos. In this example I’m using two colors relatively close together on the color wheel – Cadmium Orange and Deep Red. Choose any two analogous colors you like. You can do this same exercise with more than two colors and using colors vastly different from one another but the challenge becomes greater to make two opposites blend smoothly with only soft edges. For my paper, I’m using some scraps of Stonehenge paper, also one of my favorite brands. Whatever brand you use, you will have slightly different results, but the techniques will be the same so don’t go run out and buy all new materials. Work with what you have and focus on the technique.
Using a 1 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch piece of Stonehenge or whatever type of paper you are using, begin by kind of scribbling in some cad orange at one end and bringing it up to within a half inch let’s say of the middle of the piece. Then do the same at the other end with the deep red. Don’t press hard as you will damage the tooth of the paper, just fill it in remembering also that you are not trying to eliminate any white showing through at this point. You’re piece should look something like this:
You’ll notice that I was not concerned about the direction of my strokes. That is not always the case, because for some pieces, right from the beginning you would want to maintain your sense of direction with your strokes so that in the end your time detailing is not spent trying to correct what you’ve already laid down. For this example I’m deliberately filling it in at random so you can see how to make it work in the end.
For this step you want to begin to marry the two colors together but if you are too heavy handed, especially with the darker color your meeting place may have to be adjusted and in this case we want them to blend more or less in the middle. So we begin by using our orange and begin to cover the blank space right across to the red and into it and then turning your piece around do the same with the red but use a lighter touch especially at the edges as it’s easier to fill in dark than to remove it. Repeat this process until you have a number of orange/red layers drawing them into each other. In addition you can layer a little more on the two ends bringing the color relatively even with the middle.
Now the fun part really begins – bringing it all together in a soft blend so that it is hard to tell where the colors begin or end. To do a really good job of blending your colors together you need to keep your pencils needle sharp. The reason for this is that you will basically be filling in all the valleys between the color strokes. If you simply color over with more color you will eventually fill in most of the white but you will also have areas of darker color and that is not what we are trying to achieve – SO NO COLORING! At this point we are painting and bringing harmony to our work of art. Is it time-consuming? Yes it is, but the end result is worth it. If your desire is to create art that you can do in a day then color pencil art is not for you. Does it require patience – no, not at all – at least not if you love what you’re doing. So let’s get working on the blending of these colors.
Again, using a sharp pencil you are going to begin filling in the area of orange moving across to where the red and orange were layered. Work on this area until you feel it is complete. Do the same with the red area. These two areas should be within an inch of each other now leaving the layered area to be completed. Here we begin by dropping in the small dots or strokes of color to both sides to get a diluted mixture of both colors working out toward the solid areas. From here on it’s a matter of standing back and seeing where you were too heavy (hopefully not) and where you were too light and gradually work the colors together to create a very soft edge that makes the colors appear without a defined transition. My photography is not that of a pro but I hope you get the idea here. For some pieces I would fill in even more so there is no white showing or do a watercolor pencil underpainting.
When doing a portrait or still life or whatever subject you’re working on and you need to create this effect, the trick is to map out lightly what color(s) you want to bring together and gradually layer them into one another to create the soft effect. If within this soft area you need to add shadows or highlights it is then much easier to tie it all together.
I hope this little tutorial has been helpful and I look forward to doing more. Please check back to see the next one.