I ordered a set of Derwent Inktense pencils from Blick Art Materials and I’m doing my first project in them. Inktense are water soluble ink in pencil and block form. This makes it easier to work with than traditional ink in liquid form. I’d worked with India Ink a while back and really enjoyed it.
Since Inktense is a water soluble medium, I'm working on watercolor paper. Inktense pencils should not be confused with watercolor pencils, however. Inktense will not lift like watercolor. Once it's dry, it's permanent. Don't worry, though. If you don't like a color you put down, you can always go over it later.
For best results, I’ve learned that it’s best not to apply the pencils directly to your project. If you do this, the pencil will appear gritty even after you blend it out with water. Instead, rub your pencil on a separate piece of paper or board, add water, and apply that mixture to your project with a brush. To mix two or more colors together, layer them on top of each other and do the same thing you would do to blend out one color.
I’ve recently dove back into oil pastels. I’m reminding myself that most of the same principals I’ve been practicing when it comes to color use with acrylics and watercolor will apply with these.
One of these principles is to layer multiple colors in one place. The grass will have a yellowish green base, darker green strips and brown spots. Besides being blue, the lake will have the green reflections from the bushes that are above it.
Another one is to use less of "strong" colors, like red and purple, and more of "weak" colors", like yellow and orange. For some of the green in the grass, I put red down first and then green on top, because I knew the green could not overpower the red as easily as the other way around and so I would get a nice, muted green color.
When you start with another medium, you don’t have to start from zero.
I made a video about what I was learning when I first started using oil pastels. You can watch it here.
I had been looking at the grass for a while and feeling overwhelmed by all the detail. I told myself I would just find one aspect of each section to focus on. These were the slightly lighter green marks on the grass across the street and the tiny yellowish blades in the grass on the opposite side of the sidewalk from the goose.
While I was working on those sections, I only allowed myself to focus on these things. This made the process far less daunting. My brain doesn't get as tired because it's not trying to figure out half a dozen things at once. Later I can look for another type of detail to add, or add more of this one.
I made my strokes somewhat follow the reference photo, although, since there is a lot of detail close together, I didn't put pressure on myself to copy it exactly. To paint the yellowish blades of grass, I used my smallest filbert brush and just put paint on the tip. This process didn’t take long and after doing it, the grass was coming to life.
The goose’s body has dark gray patterns on his wing. I was careful to follow the pattern in my reference photo as closely as possible while painting these.
I started by my first layers of color on this painting by glazing over the grass with a green made my mixing permanent green with yellow. I mixed a bit of magenta into this so it wouldn’t be too bright. I was careful to keep my paint transparent so that the detail I'd painted in my underpainting would show through.
I mixed more magenta into the green for the grass across the street, because it’s darker in my reference photo. I’ll probably go over this area with more green when I go back to the painting because it needs to be brighter.
Telling myself I'll go back to the grass later, I started painting the first layers on the bird. I mixed zinc white ivory black and burnt umber to make a grayish brown. I mixed my gray first and then slowly brought my brown into it. There are varying shades of this color on the goose’s neck and wings, so I’m starting with a very light shade and I’ll layer darker shades over it.
While doing my underpainting, I added black where the edge of the grass met the sidewalk. This gives the effect of the former being up slightly higher than the latter.
I’d been thinking about glazing red over the green of the bushes and trees to darken them and push them further away. I was scared, though because red is a very intense color and can easily overwhelm other colors that it’s mixed with or put on top of. I came up with a plan of mixing green into some red only applying a little bit of this to the paper.
When I first put my red/green mixture on, I thought, already it was getting to be too much. I took a wet brush and thinned that out. I only dipped my brush back in the paint two or three times for to get the color across the entire length of the bush. The rest was pulled along with water. Layering this red/green mixture over my trees and bushes in the background helps to create the illusion that they're farther away, by making them less bright. It also makes the little bit of the light part that I leave showing more noticeable, creating the look of light hitting those parts.
Today I painted more of the red/green mixture onto the dark blades of grass and extended the reflection of the trees and bushes into the water.
I’m experimenting with my French ultramarine from Winsor & Newton. I was a bit alarmed by how dark it looked coming out of the tube. I knew I would have to wet my paper to lighten it. As you can see, thanks to this water and the water in my brush, my blue came out nice and pale. I made sure to mix some orange with the blue too.
I'm using a mix of cool blue-greens and warm yellow-greens for the grass, buses and trees, adding more yellow or blue to the same mixture that was on my pallet, depending on what I needed. I painted the palm trees with a layer of very light yellow green and later when that was dry, I painted my darker color, letting the original layer show where it needed to. Where I left the yellow green showing is of course where the sun is hitting the trees.
I’m concerned with working on creating as much contrast between the shadowy parts of the bushes and trees and the parts where the light is hitting. To achieve this, I’ve been mixing red into green to darken and mute it and applying layer after layer of this onto the parts of my trees and bushes that are in shadow.
I’m using this same mixture for my blades of grass, which I'm making a warmer color overall because it's closer to the viewer. By making the buses and trees duller and darker, I'm pushing them further back.
I’m feeling intimidated by the painting I want to do next. That’s why I’m easing into it by doing practice, or what you might call, thumbnail, pieces. A couple weeks ago I wrote about practicing doing a smooth wash. This last Thursday, I made two small sketches of bushes and trees reflected in water on paper from a mixed media pad. Making these trial paintings gives me more confidence that I can do the real thing.
You can just jump into a painting. I do that a lot. But taking baby steps can take enough of the fear out doing a difficult piece for you to actually have the confidence to do it. I like doing pieces that scare me and I encourage you to do pieces that scare you, because those are the pieces that really help you grow. One of those pieces for me was this one, since I'd never done a landscape before.
I’ve had a habit, for quite a while of drawing my subject onto a piece of scratch paper before starting my actual piece. This is so I have something to transfer onto my canvases, but it also is a sort of dress rehearsal. I give myself practice drawing those lines without putting pressure on myself.
Making these practice sketches also helps you stay in the habit of painting or drawing, which improves your skill and confidence.
When I started on this painting, which is for my mom’s birthday card, and I looked at the rocks the turtle was coming out of in the reference photo, I thought, what if that was the ocean. My mom loves the ocean, so I chose to paint the rocks to look like the waves were washing up on the shore and the turtle was crawling out of them.
I’m using my set of Kimberly watercolor pencils. I don’t have a lot of colors, so I have to rely on layering to get the colors I need. Putting green on top of blue was how I colored made my sea. I saw a couple of times that I needed to add more layers of blue after my paper had dried.
I used a tan shade all over for the turtle and blue for the edging around his scales. I painted my tan layer, waited for it to try, then shaded in my blue, then blended that with water, and waited for it to try. If I’d shaded in the tan, then the blue, and blended them all at once, the colors would’ve all run together and the the blue needed to be in a distinct pattern.
I wanted the turtle to look as three dimensional as possible, so I drew a purple shadow around him. Layering yellow and black over this shadow helped to get it just right. This time, I started layering colors while my paper was still wet. This was to intensify the shades and make them blend more thoroughly.
I added more layers to the blue on the turtle’s shell sections to give them more oomph. The shell sections had a darker brown pattern on them, so I used my terra cotta pencil. Adding extra layers to reinforce certain shades adds a lot to my painting, even if it doesn’t necessarily look like that in the reference photo. If you’re looking at your piece and thinking, should I add more color here, should I make this darker, go for it.
I could see that there were some pencil marks on my ocean that didn't seem to want to blend out. Rather than fight these, I chose to make them work for me by turning them into ripples, ie, I emphasized them.
I shaded some small “triangles” around the turtle’s neck. The negative space between them created a pattern of wrinkles.
The painting I want to do next requires me to do a smooth wash. I recently practiced this in watercolor. When I was almost finished, I accidentally dropped a big bead of water on the paper and I got a bloom. Now I understand that blooms happen when I get too much water in one area and to avoid them, I need to keep my water even.
I wouldn’t have noticed this if I’d been working on a full project. When I'm also focused on all the elements of a piece, there's no way I'm going to see that that unsightly edge was the result of more water being in that part of the paper than the rest. But since all I was focused on were the strokes for this wash, I clearly saw that bead drop and create that bloom. Stripping back to the basics adds clarity
This is the painting I want to do, by the way. You can see why the wash has to be so smooth. ;)
Also, don't touch your paper while it's wet.
I've made posts about portraits before, but this time, I'd like to make a guide for the absolute beginner to portraits.
In an earlier post, I told you about how to apply the golden ratio to drawing a face, but in this post, I'd like to show you a more simplified version of this.
Placement Of Features
As you can see, all I've done is draw a basic face, then draw a horizontal line at the halfway mark, a vertical line down the middle and another horizontal line at approximately one third the distance from the bottom of my vertical line and the bottom of of my face.
I drew my eyes along the top horizontal line, my nose around the vertical line and my mouth along the bottom horizontal line. This keeps everything lined up. I drew my eyebrows right under where the top of the nose was.
I just want to note that I used pen because that's what I had available to me and so that the lines would show up. When you do this yourself, you'll use a light pencil so that you can either erase these lines when you don't need them any more or they'll get blended in when you do your shading.
You don't always have to use these lines. I don't. I just draw by eye, but they can be helpful for people getting started. It goes without saying, though, if you're going to use these lines, make sure you draw them very lightly. You should be able to erase them easily, or cover them up with your shading.
You're also not going to draw the same shapes I drew. You're going to draw whatever shape eyes, nose and mouth that your subject has.
I imagine most people probably don't pay a lot of attention to this, but the size of your subject's pupils will send a big message about their mood and demeanor. If you draw your subject's pupil's pinpoint small, like this
they'll look angry, disgusted or just shocked. Most of the time we don't want our subjects to look this way, so we want to open up the pupil a bit, more like this.
Subjects with pupils like this will look friendly, open, and interested. They will also come across as being generally more attractive.
But don't go the other extreme, ie this.
If you draw your subject's pupils like this, they'll look like they're on drugs or concussed.
Start In Black and White
I think the best advice I can give you for when you're getting started on portraits is to start out working in black and white. I'm not saying you need to work in graphite. You can use paint if you'd like, but I think you'll be less stressed if you don't worry about color for a bit.
Working in black and white will help you to perfect your shading and your highlighting.
This brings me to my next point...
Pay Attention To Value
Here are some examples of portraits I've done and where I put the shading and highlighting. In these two, I put shading only on the left-hand side of the nose.
In this one, I put shading on the top and bottom of the nose, but nothing in between.
It's not about a streak of highlight down the middle and blocks of shading on the side, like this,
Also, you'll find that most of the time, you'll get the best results if you layer your shading and highlighting.
I hope you find these tips useful. If you use them and want to share your work with me, please post it to social media and tag me. I'm Sara Makes Art on Youtube, Facebook, and MeWe and @_saramakesart on Instagram.
Painter of portraits and wildlife