Q&A: How to Achieve Realistic Texture Using Colored Pencil Techniques

Q: Lee, can you write a blog post about achieving realistic textures like fur/feathers or bark with colored pencil techniques? I love doing wildlife/nature. I just find it hard to get a solid or smooth look with colored pencils, even though they’re my favorite medium. I take a really long time layering and burnishing to get the effect I want … the amount of time I take seems to be my biggest drawback to overcome.

Colored pencil still life painting

Still life (Prismacolor colored pencils). I used a colored pencil technique we call “scratching” to create the highlights in this caning.

A: First, it sounds as if you’re doing everything right, for it’s a back-and-forth process of burnishing and layering that gets the job done. Realism in colored pencil is created with many layers and repeated additions of color. Nothing is ever just one color, and texture must be added AFTER the colors are fully developed. This takes time and patience.

I love using an X-Acto knife for scraping small lines and texture into colored pencil, especially when I’m using Prismacolor. The rich color and heavy wax content of Prismacolor pencil builds up a thick layer on the paper. It’s then very receptive to the scraping technique, allowing small lines to be scratched out. These lines appear much more fine and delicate than you could ever draw in with your pencil. It’s a perfect technique for creating small hairs and whiskers in animals, veins and ridges in flowers and leaves, and texture in woodgrain and tree bark.

This process takes time because the drawing must be built up in order for it to work. Many of my students will try to rush the process, which becomes a problem. They start scratching too soon, and can inadvertently gouge and damage their paper. Once this happens, it’s a hard thing to overcome.

Damaged colored pencil drawing

Unfortunate damage due to my impatience

Close inspection of my drawing of my dining room table will reveal a “hole” I created in my drawing. This wasn’t a gouge with an X-Acto knife, however. It was a case of over-zealous burnishing. This particular drawing was done on mat board, which is made in ply’s. These layers of fused paper can’t take the abuse that I dished out. After too many hard layers of white to create a highlight, the ply’s separated and pulled off. I was heartbroken. I did my best to camouflage it with color. I pushed down the edges of the hole to make them lay down and stick to the wax around it, and then I sprayed fixative to seal it. Under glass, and from a distance, few would notice. Unfortunately, it’s the first thing I see when I look at my drawing. I had gotten in a hurry, wanting to finish the piece. I paid the price for my impatience.

The coolest part of this drawing though is the scraping. Look at the wicker caning on the chair back. Each one of those holes gathered an edge of reflected light. I scratched out the light in each one, and yes, it took days and days.

Colored pencil art

Scratching can be used for hair and fur, and small details like you see in this colored pencil art.

This leads me to my second comment, which is: “What is everyone’s hurry when it comes to their art?” Why are we so darned impatient? SLOW DOWN! It’s the most common trait I deal with as an art instructor. Everyone wants it done in one session, yet, they look at my work and say they want theirs to look like mine. Well folks, unless you spend the umpteen hours I do on a single area of a drawing like I do, it’ll never happen. It’s a shame too, because often the only difference between my work and the work of my student isn’t the skill level. It isn’t lack of experience compared to me either. No–it’s often just the difference of the time devoted to the project. I’ve found that few are willing or able to toil relentlessly on a single piece like me. I’ve been known to work on something off and on for years. I’ve been known to draw for 18 hours straight without food or sleep. It’s an obsession I never want relief from. (Tweet this!)

So, the moral to this story is: Take your time. And to the reader who submitted the question above, keep up what you’re doing! Just spend more time doing it! Your work will only be as good as the amount of time you invest in it. Your process sounds to me as if you’re on the right track (just the short track). Try the scenic route instead!

Until next time!
Lee


Edited by Cherie Haas, online editor of ArtistsNetwork.com

Lee Hammond has been called the Queen of Drawing. That may not be fair these days, since in addition to providing the best drawing lessons, she has also created fantastic books and videos filled with the same easy to follow acrylic painting techniques, colored pencil techniques and more. Click here to see all of the instructional books and DVDs that Lee Hammond has to offer!

Free download! Easy Acrylic Painting Techniques by Lee Hammond

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