Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Color Mapping Shine

When creating an animal portrait, especially if the animal is short-coated, accurate shine patterns are critical to getting the image to look "right."

As shine patterns can be confusing to read even when you have good reference photos, I will sometimes use my computer to help me see and make sense of them.

Here is an image of a shiny, short-coated dog that I photographically enhanced and then used to create a topographic landscape map of the dog’s shine pattern.
Color shine map of dog with a shiny coat
For a dog with a mottled coat,a shine map may only need cover the solid colored areas as in the next example.
Color shine map of dog with a mottled coat
Creating shine maps is a useful technique that can help provide a solid planning platform to making your pet portraits look much more realistic.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Masterful Color

As I’m sure all of you do, I collect art instruction books. I’m always looking for that new and unthought-of tidbit that will make my technique jump up to a new level. Today I found such a book. It’s called Masterful Color by Arlene Steinberg.

The author is interested in creating colored pencil pieces that look like Old Master’s works, her subjects being mainly still lifes. She has created a very workable approach to producing rich and vibrant pieces with Prismacolor pencils that look amazingly like oil paintings.

The richness Arlene achieves is due in part to her system of grayed complements for under paintings. She has a most wonderful chart in the book outlining which grayed complements will add richness to specific top colors. That in itself is worth the price of the book to me. Beyond that were many other useful tips including easy to understand pressure and stroke charts, pin holing through a piece of paper to check for local value and color, and ways of burnishing and fixing the final layers help create paintings of incredible smoothness.

What a winner! I am looking forward to integrating many of her techniques into the colored pencils pieces I’m about to start. Masterful Color seems most useful for people already using colored pencils, certainly intermediate and professional colored pencil artists. It could also be used by a beginner, but they might find it a bit overwhelming.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Colorful “Bradley”

"Bradley" 9" x 12" colored pencils on cold press watercolor paper.

“Bradley” is completed! What do you think? I’m not sure he’s my most successful piece, but he has been a great learning experience for me. Here's a link to the previous entries about this piece.

My goal for this piece was to start with a watercolor pencil base and add Polychromos colored pencils on the top. I started with an under painting as I would in a watercolor, using a complementary monochromatic color. I chose blue-violet. In watercolor, this would have worked to my satisfaction. With colored pencils, the yellows and ochres didn’t cover as well as I'd hoped and the piece ended up being a bit dark. On the other hand, the under painting did make the dog look quite solid, and that's a plus.

The cold press watercolor paper I used here was a new twist on a colored pencil surface for me. It felt unusual but ended up working well.

“Bradley” gives the impression of being a wheat-colored dog, more or less, despite being a little extra-colorful. Is he too colorful for a dog? I think like the result.

Next time I might try another approach to the under painting and work a bit harder at preserving my lights. That having been said, I give “Bradley” a conditional thumbs up.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Winter's Foal completed!

"Winter's Foal" 8”x10” Colored Pencils on Canson paper.

Here is “Winter’s Foal,” completed at last. You can see the rest of the progression of this piece by looking here. I have intentions of making this piece into an art card and will post the card design here when it’s completed. :-)

Knowing I am a colored pencil artist, a clerk at the art supply store asked me yesterday whether I preferred Prismacolor or Polychromos colored pencils. I told him quite honestly that I was experimenting with the oil-based Polychromos pencils and hadn’t yet formulated an opinion.

“Winter’s Foal” is my first colored pencil piece using only Polychromos pencils. I must say that I love the colors in the Faber-Castell color-matching system. They’re actually more rich and lovely than the Prismacolor pigments. I also like the way you can exactly mix and match the Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils to the Polychromos and the brush pens. But for me the jury’s still out on my preference for the oil-based pencils (Polychromos). True you don’t need to fix them after completion, and that is a plus. But Prismacolors look pretty amazing when laid on heavily and burnished. They can make a piece look like it's an oil painting and that is quite beautiful. I am about to start a commission that will be done in Prismacolors. I’m curious to see what I think about them after having used the Polychromos for a while.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Creating colored pencil chits

In my spare time (haha) I've decided to create a library of colored pencil chits for color study. I have already made them for my Polychromos pencils and now I'm creating them for my collection of Prismacolors. Some of my Prismacolor pencils are so old that the color names have changed (but not the numbers) while others have been discontinued. In some cases this is a shame as I liked the "Deco" line of colors while they were around. It's an interesting thing to do and I find it very useful when picking out the color palette for a new piece. I have a particular hard-bound sketchbook that I use as a reference manual for these sorts of color library things. I don't intend to lose it...it would be hard to recreate what's in there!

Color swatches are the kinds of things I add to my sketchbook reference manual.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On pencil marks and hair tracks

"Bradley" Stage 5

This piece is definitely providing me with some distinct challenges. Not because I haven’t created a portrait of a terrier before. On the contrary, I have done many portraits of terriers in colored pencils. But this pup is being done in oil, not waxy, colored pencils and they’re providing me with a completely different drawing experience. At many points in this piece’s creation, I have wanted to blend the pencils, as I would with my waxy Prismacolors. But the oil-based Polychromos, acting much more like hard graphite in some ways, do smudge but don’t blend.

In my pen and ink artwork I’m very used to drawing distinct hair tracks. In fact, I plan for it. But in colored pencil work I’m realizing that I expect a completely different effect. I’m finding that I’m using a needlessly heavy hand trying to get the oil-like painterly effects that I’m used to getting in my colored pencil pieces.

How frustrating! And humbling… This piece has shown me that either A., I really like my Prismacolors. I understand their use and feel comfortable using them. OR, B., that I have been complacent with my colored pencil technique for too long and it’s now time for a well-needed refresher course. I’m not sure which it is yet. What I do know is that being willing to continue on with a piece that you feel is sub-standard is sometimes necessary. Why? Because learning depends on it. Mistakes seem to provide the absolute height of embarrassment. But making them allows you to figure out where you are, and maybe, what you need to change. I will certainly finish this piece and, in all likelihood, it won’t be all that bad. But it is teaching me a lot and for that I am most grateful. ;-)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

More Bradley

"Bradley" Stage 4

"Bradley" continues today. At this point the color is beginning to overtake the under painting. What a relief! For a moment I had my doubts as to whether the non-waxy Polychromos pencils would do the job. I had to control myself and not reach for my usual Prismacolors.

Learning new techniques (like learning anything) takes courage and the willingness to make mistakes. When trying out something new, I always have to discipline myself to stay out of my comfort zone. Not always easy!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Toothy Dog

"Bradley" Stage three. Starting color.
Until this very piece I had studiously avoided using cold press watercolor paper as a support for colored pencils. Why? Because of the large amount of “tooth” (texture) in the surface of the paper. That tooth is what makes cold press and rough watercolor papers so fabulously forgiving for painting. You can scrub them, scrape them, and, to a certain degree, abuse them, all without destroying the surface. Colored pencil pieces rarely create so much havoc for their support.

Papers used for colored pencil work are considered either fast, medium, or slow. Surfaces with little paper tooth are considered fast. Tracing paper, Vellum, Bristol plate, and frosted acetate all fall into this “fast” category. Fast surfaces are so because you can fill the paper’s tooth and create dense color rather quickly. Papers with a moderate amount of tooth like Canson and Stonehenge are commonly used in colored pencil pieces. Cold press watercolor paper has a lot of tooth and is considered slow for use as a colored pencil support. I chose it for “Bradley” for the sake of the wet medium under-painting.

As you can see in today’s update, I have begun to lay down color in the piece. At this stage the purple under- painting is still pretty evident. Hopefully, given time, the purple will blend back and the other colors will step forward. But oh there is a lot of tooth to fill here! Much more than I am used to. All the same, I suppose it’s good to get out of your comfort zone on occasion. Lead on Bradley! On to full color! :-)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bradley portrait

"Winter’s Foal" has now reached the stage where it gets to go into seclusion for a few days so that I can assess whether or not it is actually finished. When it’s truly “done” I’ll post it here first. :-) That also goes for the card that I’m going to make from it.

In the meantime, I have started a portrait of Irish Terrier, “Bradley.” This portrait is a bit different for me as I’m starting with an under-drawing in watercolor pencils (in this case Albrecht Durer Purple-Violet pencil), before adding the subsequent layers in non-soluble (Polychromos) colored pencils. This is a technique I’ve wanted to explore for quite some time, but am only getting around to now. I have high hopes for it. ;-)

Here is the beginning of the piece. Please check back soon for more updates.

Stage one of "Bradley," watercolor pencil has been applied dry.
Stage two, the watercolor pencil have been wet.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Goodbye to the old, hello to the new

Welcome to 2011! Having summed up 2010 in my last post, I thought it might be interesting to add some thoughts about the new year to this one.

I have great hopes for an art-filled year in 2011. What do I mean by that? I would like to see a continuing flow of portraits being created in my studio throughout the year. I would also like to see a thriving Etsy shop which will feature my greeting cards, fine art giclee prints, and ACEO cards. I would also like to see my cards and prints in some physical stores in my area. I would like to be included in several more art events and shows. I would also like to remind myself to take the time every day to noodle and experiment. Also to draw outside when the weather is nice (and sometimes even when it isn’t!) I have several old art projects that have been on my mind lately. They may not ultimately marketable but might be fun to do. I would like to take some time to explore them as well.

One never knows just how the year will turn out when you sit down to write your resolutions for the year. We all hope that the new year will be a good one filled with completed projects that have brought both joy and growth. We can also hope that we didn’t make too many outrageous mistakes along the way.

I wish you all an outrageously happy 2011 filled with the very best of all you can imagine!

Monday, January 3, 2011

The year in review – 2010

Courage in adversity
2010 was a year of both highs and lows for me. I spent the first several months of the year in a constant state of stress over my mother’s worsening health. She was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive form of Gall Bladder cancer in early December 2009 and we had no idea how long she would survive. The doctors gave her two to three months to live. As it was she stayed with us until April 15th when she passed away quietly in hospice. Adding to our health stress was the fresh sadness from my mother-in-law’s passing nine months before (also from aggressive cancer), and my father-in-law’s declining health.

I had officially opened the doors to my new art business, Flying Pony Studios, at the beginning of December 2009, a mere two weeks before the doctors diagnosed my Mom.

Beyond being an artist, I am also a professional massage therapist. The first few month of 2010 were filled with my active massage practice. Once my mother passed away I took a hiatus from my human massage practice but continued to work with my animal massage clients.

In May of 2010, my dear friend Tracy and I took a cross-country trek to pick up my mother’s possessions (along with her old car) and drive them back across the country. This proved quite an adventure as the car had some major mechanical issues. We did make it, and in good time too, considering we broke down several times along the way.

While all this was going on, I was rather heroically trying to keep up with my sketching and doing whatever I could to keep my fingers artistically busy. Not an easy task!

Second part of the year 
In June and July I was back out in public as a professional artist. I had pieces hanging in two art shows simultaneously, at the Gift Horse Saddlery, in Woodinville and in the WA State Thoroughbred Breeder’s Art Show in Auburn, WA. By summer, I was drawing and painting in earnest and spent many happy hours sketching and painting at several large horse events including the Evergreen Classic horse show in Carnation, WA and the Fall Hunter Classic in Monroe, WA.

In late September and early October we took a 20th Anniversary holiday trip to Hawaii and had a most wonderful time. I sketched constantly on the trip, always having sketchbook and pencil close at hand.

After returning from Hawaii, I was invited by Flying Changes magazine to be a featured artist in their December (holiday) issue. I was delighted. It was so exciting seeing things finally coming together in my new art business.

In the Fall I knew it was time to put some long dormant plans into play to create images suitable for greeting cards. It took some time to actually get my images together, but by the end of the year I had three card designs that sold well! I opened an Etsy shop, which, although still very small, will be a big part of my business in 2011.

By the end of the year I had also taken on several pet portrait commissions including a few that squeezed themselves in right at the end of 2010.

Phew! What a year!

The Bottom Line
While 2010 brought about some stark and painful endings, it also brought with it some bright new beginnings which truly rose from the ashes. Although 2010 was not my favorite year, it was a significant one. One I will remember for a very long time.