Prismacolor Realism, Colored Pencil Painting
ACEO Lilacs was a twenty hour production, not counting the time it took to take the photo reference and wait till the lilac bush in our back yard bloomed in 2007 to get it. I did this from one of my own flower macro photographs although I cropped it to balance the painting in a better composition than the photo.
I used techniques based on Masterful Color by Arlene Steinberg, and will also be adding another illustration of the project I created adapting one of her demos in the book. I used the reference in the book but changed it substantially by moving the marbles around and eliminating most of them, then enlarging some to give it more dramatic perspective. Much to my surprise, when I looked at her website I found out she'd also done one like that with more dramatic foreshortening -- not identical to mine by any means, but still it was startling to see one big marble closer than all the rest. I guess it was a natural idea looking at the reference.
Once I had finished My Marbles, which is permanently in my collection and took much more than 20 hours to finish, I tried the same technique with a smaller project. The one with the marbles is 5" x 7" and took me a couple of months to finish that carefully. This one I chose all the colors, used my own photo reference and set out to do one at a manageable size -- ACEO, the size of a trading card.
The original is 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" and so I could get four of them from a 5" x 7" sheet of white Stonehenge. I picked up a pad that size for about $5 and if you want to try Stonehenge, that's an economical way to get going on colored pencils realism. You won't be tempted to try something 12" x 16" that takes you a year to finish and may get pinned to the wall till someone pins coffee on it destroying months of work.
Start small and once you're used to working over something that slow and careful, gradually move up in size to reach your comfort zone for projects that take forever but come out spectacular when you do them right. Colored pencils realism in Ms. Steinberg's dry on dry style is a very slow painstaking meticulous process.
No shortcuts, no underpainting, no thinners, no tricks like I found in Alyona Nickelsen's Colored Pencil Painting Bible.
Steinberg's method demands extra layers because you start out by using the right values and the complements -- complete opposites -- of the colors you want in the finish.
The effect in real life is indescribably beautiful. Color shimmers through all the layers with incredible richness and things look so real you could pick them up by mistake. The one I did with the marbles drove me nuts looking like they were going to roll off the wall when I hung it exactly where the light from the real window was falling more or less at that angle on the wall -- not really onto the painting but near it. They looked like I'd glued them to a backing and put that in a frame.
Try it on something very small if you don't believe me -- the effect is uncanny.
Anyway, begin with a value drawing focusing mostly on the darkest darks and using the opposite colors across the color wheel, the complements. That meant that for the deep purples, I needed a dark value yellow, so I chose a yellowish brown, Sepia, for the deepest darks and went up through other browns and golden yellows and golds till I had done a thin shaded drawing of all the flowers in their complements. I used Tuscan Red for the deep darks in the leaves and shaded up through reds and pinks, purplish pinks because I knew some of my light greens were very yellowish.
The first layer of my Onion Demo from the six-color Coloursoft article shows what I mean by light tonal layers and start with deepest darks, except that one I didn't use complements.
Example of Tonal Drawing in Dark Colors -- Onion in Coloursoft
Derwent Coloursoft are more opaque colored pencils than Prismacolor Premier. Prismacolors are translucent -- not quite transparent, not quite opaque, and so they will cover their opposites but still let some of the complementary pigment particles shine through like micro-miniature pointillism. On the Coloursoft version I didn't go for complements.
If I were to redo it in the Masterful Color technique, I would use a monochrome deep violet like Black Grape or Blue-Violet, whichever worked opposite the deep browns of the deepest darks in the photo reference or a real reddish gold onion. Black Grape might have been a bit reddish but would be a good choice for the very deepest darks that I did in Black on the Onion demo. Blue-Violet would be closest to the golden ochre sort of browns and I'd shift toward blue and blue-green as I worked over to where the reds go on the next layer -- but not put those layers over each other.
The complements layer is only one layer to establish where lights and darks are. Stonehenge is the very best paper for it because if you go lightly you can do twenty or thirty layers before getting to the point you can't add any more and ought to be burnishing to kill the last little white specks.
The shadow would have been in a reddish dark brown, not the Indigo on the bottom.
You then need to have at least half a dozen layers moving toward the true color over that first layer to start getting it to be the true local color you want in the final painting. If you do more layers, gradually using the colors closer and closer to the final color and glazing over dark colors with light colors to shift them closer to the true color, you get the shimmering color and unbelievable realism effect. It's beautiful, takes forever and is worth the time especially on something as small as an ACEO.
Now let's look at the marbles I did from the book.
White Stuff Is Not White, It's Gray
Framed Under Glass
I've got this one framed under glass. Much more than 20 colors went into it. One of the big points I want to make with it in this Hub is that white objects like the white tabletop or wall are not white.
If you were to paint a white teapot in oils or colored pencils painting or any realist technique, the only parts of it that are bright white the color of the Stonehenge paper with white Prismacolor over them are the super bright highlights on shiny things.
The white parts like the sides of the teapot will range down to surprisingly dark grays that may lean bluish or brownish but are still definitely gray. Ms. Steinberg does not stop there -- and her color tricks are echoed by Deborah Secor's Painting in Pastels DVD, the beginner one where she does some clouds.
You mix gray by using lavender and peach and pale green and all the very light colors that complement each other in very delicate layers, blending over and over till they all mix to what seems a neutral gray but sizzles off the paper. At the scale of Prismacolor realism, you do not see the separate specks of the different colors. They blur and mix in the eye -- but the gray is lively and bright in ways that just using the Warm Gray 10% or 30% pencils aren't.
I went darker to one side on the wall behind the marbles on the left, and darker to the right on the table so there came a point at the horizon where you can't quite see the line. The mind fills in that line. It's there as a three dimensional element. You know the table doesn't melt into the wall there. But it's an optical trick that was definitely at least implied in the photo reference and I enhanced it and made sure the transition didn't fall behind a marble -- because I liked that weirdness in the background.
The value changes are very slight but none of those background areas are pure white, the only pure white spots are highlights on the marbles.
Complementary underpainting is a slow technique but a joy when you get it right. I've got one more image to add to this article.
About the Tree Frog
This little guy sizzled off the Stonehenge. I spent almost as long on him as I did on the lilacs and still used the complementary underdrawing, dry on dry technique from Arlene Steinberg's technique. This time my photo reference was contributed by a friend in an eBay group, wish I could remember which one but I didn't save the photo reference to my computer so I don't have his handle handy. I just remember it was one of the guys.
If you recognize it -- please comment and give your eBay handle! If I'm wrong about your gender, oops and sorry, but I'm pretty sure it was one of the guys in the big ACEO group! The art is long since sold and was one of my most bid-up paintings with a whole lot of bidders.
Bright green eyes, red body, lavender belly -- you can imagine how this thing looked at first sketch. They always look silly in color negative at the sketch underdrawing stage. I created some of the foliage just as abstract curves and shapes and moved some of the leaves to make the background frame the little frog. Then I went over and over and over and over him in variations of his true local colors till I had the shining true local colors of those screaming bright eyes and his muted green body and bright yellow belly.
The final stages on any of these take using a Colorless Blender. Prismacolor's Colorless Blender is a short cut that can save you several layers, used to be that to get that burnished smooth painted look you had to go over the painting with White and then darken all the colors by repeating them one more time. That still works if you don't have a Colorless Blender -- but it's cheap and useful.
Where the White technique is handy is if all the layering darkened an area one value step too dark beyond what you want. Then burnish with White and just leave it or touch in bright accents in light bright colors to keep it from looking faded. I recall using White and Cream on some of his lighter areas to do just that as they'd darkened a little in all the reworking.
It's a great technique. To do it from scratch, it takes a skill at sketching in graphite and controlling the value of an area you're doing by how much pressure you put on the pencil. Start with soft graphite pencils 6B or softer, to get used to the feel of Prismacolors and how smudgy they are. Derwent Graphitints are good for this -- just don't burnish, try for tonal drawings and get used to a little color.
Then on every successive layer keep going that lightly till the very last burnishing layers, where you go hard in order to blend everything together smoothly to a burnished waxy surface.
Last important tip:
Absolutely, at the end, give your Prismacolor painting a light spray or two of Krylon or Blick or some other brand of Workable Matte Fixative. This may deepen the colors slightly, but it will prevent Wax Bloom, when oils within the heavy waxy layers seep to the surface to make it pale and cloudy. If it happens because you forgot, wipe the painting gently with a soft cloth and then use the fixative.
If you can't add any more layers and do need to, spraying the fixative will create new tooth for another two or three layers, which is useful to be able to do.
Always hang Prismacolor paintings in frames protected by glass and not in the path of direct sun at any time of day. Right next to the window on the wall it's on is good, anywhere the sunpatch never goes over them. Some very useful colors in the 132 color set are less lightfast than others, but the texture of Prismacolors and the working qualities of Prismacolors and the enormous range of Prismacolors are too good to just walk away from Prismacolor Premier. Too many prizewinning brilliant artists use them anyway.
If you're concerned about lightfastness, you lose the range by this but you can switch entirely over to using Prismacolor Premier Lightfast, which are all very good lightfastness and come in 48 colors. A decent range but nothing like the grand 132 color range. Happily the texture is the same. So you can use them together because only three colors in that 48 color set really match -- lemon yellow, white and black. The rest are all great new colors done with traditional artist pigments and have the same awesome Prismacolor texture and transparency.
Enjoy. They are available anywhere in the USA. For UK folks, they are called Karismacolour, also the Derwent Inktense used dry have exactly the same texture as Prismacolor Premier and can be used in the same ways.