Pet Portraits in coloured pencils

Experimenting with new mediums I think is vital to grow as an artist. I have been experimenting quite a bit with different mediums. Starting with watercolours a few years back. It started with the pen and watercolour pet portraits followed quickly by an exciting experiment with colour and Jolly Splashes was created. 

Both these styles have proved very popular by clients and the enquiries for the pen and watercolour sketches seem to have increased in popularity again. 

By working in different mediums it challenges me as an artist constantly meaning my work never get stale and I am constantly growing, learning and changing as an artist. 

One medium that I have been nervous to try is coloured pencil. I follow some amazingly skilled artists that use this often overlooked medium, who create the most amazingly life like pet portraits. I know many people who are cautious of pastels, but for me they are a medium that have come naturally to me. Coloured pencil have me puzzled. You have to work in a totally the opposite way to pastels and can’t really layer light over dark which is something I do regularly in my pastel pet portraits. It is totally the opposite process. 

Knowing what these amazing tools are capable off they have have been taunting and daring me to pick them up and use them for a long time. 

Four or five years ago I won a competion with my Jolly Splashes Paintings to spend £500.00 with Cass Art. I bought a full set of Albert Durer watercolour pencils by facer castell and there they have sat ever since. I had a limited selection of polychromos made by faber castell also and finally two weeks ago I gave into their constant taunting! 

I researched a little bit in using them, but I am a bit like a male with an instruction manual when it comes to my art. Completely ignore it and make it up as I go along haha! Armed with my little bit of knowledge, particularly it is hard to layer light over dar, my biggest fear, and my trusty pastelmat I took the plunge

Stepping Into the World of Cloured Pencils

Horse portraits are one of my favourite animals to paint so it seemed a logical subject to start with, especially if it proved to be a struggle it would be something that held my interest. I chose a beautiful bay from Wildlife Reference Photos. This site is a great resource for artists looking for copyright free reference photos for a very, very small fee.

I am very familiar with how pastelmat works with pastels, but it felt very strange with pencils. I started very slowly with building up layers and also lightly. I certainly didn’t want to go in to heavy handed. The first discovery made is not to use a totally sharp pencil for the blocking in, only for the very fine details is it needed or if you want to layer a paler colour over a darker one it works better with a very sharp point.

There are going to be no backgrounds with these pieces and I have to be careful not smudge the pencil. This is because I want to leave the colour of the pastelmat paper I use to be the background colour. I use sheets of glassine to go under my hand to prevent smudging. If you buy the pads of pastelmat it has sheets between each sheet, otherwise you can buy large sheets from Jacksons Art. 

It is quite useful to have some sheets as I sometimes use it when packing up artwork or storing it as it is acid free and won’t damage it and prevents it from being smudged.

I very carefully applied the coloured pencils to the paper to begin with. I am particularly cautious as I don’t want to make a mistake I can’t correct. Pastels are so easy in this respect and fear that coloured pencils won’t be so straight forward. I have learnt through my reading of them that pastelmat is one of the most forgiving surfaces for coloured pencils. I may dabble with some of the others in due course.

The initial process is pretty much the same as my pastel pet portraits, but I am constantly trying to remember the light over dark issues. So more care is being taken over placement of the shadows and highlights. There are ways to add in lighter areas or remove pigment but I want to make sure I get it right in case they don’t work very well. I will add I was pleasantly surprised with the results. More on these in another blog I think, so we can focus in on them.

Making Good Progress.

The layers are gradually being built up slowly and it was tricky to find the right colours for this bay’s coat. I am afraid I didn’t make a note of which ones I used, but I shall do so for the next pet portrait I do a blog on in detail.

I have to bear in mind the whiole time that it is harder to put light colours over dark in coloured pencils. If you do too much it can make the colours below look chalky so it is really best left to a minimum think. Although it is good to know it can be done for adding in those final highlights and details such as whiskers.

I do love the fact you can get to the really tiny itty bitty detail with coloured pencils. I can sharpen to a really good point using my swordfish sharpener. I didn’t have much success with this on my pastel pencil as they tended to break the lead to often and jam it up! Not with these beauties!! 

Again the mane was tricky and I had to really concentrate on the shapes it made to make sure I had all the shadows and highlights mapped in properly. This was time consuming. I can add the tiny stray hairs ofter with white pencil as I mentioned above which is useful. I believe pastelmat is one of the only papers you can do this on with coloured pencils. With watercolour papers and smoother ones it really is a strict light to dark procedure!

The only downside to this some artists may find is it can leave some of the grain or texture of the papaershowing. It certainly take a lot more effort to cover it. I don’t mind a little showing as I like my work to be realistic, but I don’t want it to look like a photograph either. It seems to be a good compromise.

What I have noticed is my scanner does make the grainess look worse so I do soften it slightly in photoshop.