Touchable Textures in Colored Pencil
by Gary Greene
In colored pencil, underpainting involves first tinting the paper surface with the subject’s light, underlying color. To do this, you apply solvent or water. This is a technique that doesn’t destroy the tooth of the paper, so you can create, with subsequent layers in colored pencil, visually tactile textures and other effects—from the illusion of splintery, weathered wood to smooth stones to soft, velvety rose petals.
You can layer pale colors of wax and oil-based colored pencil—such as cream, yellow, beige and sky blue—and then dissolve them with a solvent. Then layer or burnish darker values and hues on top to convey the desired texture. By keeping the value of the underpainted hue light, you can preserve enough tooth in the paper to layer or burnish darker colors in subsequent layers. Solvents are best used to create underpaintings with evenly distributed applications of color.
The Effects of Solvents on Colored Pencil
Different solvents react to wax and oil-based colored pencils in subtle ways:
• Bestine rubber cement thinner dries quickly, produces smooth, even layers of color and works best in smaller areas. (Brands other than Bestine react differently to colored pencil.)
• Turpenoid, which bills itself as odorless turpentine, is best suited for blending large areas because of its longer drying time.
• Rubbing alcohol also takes a while to dry. Unlike Bestine and Turpenoid, it doesn’t completely dissolve colored pencil but produces a granular effect.
Solvents You Can Use
Solvents dissolve the binder in the wax or oil-based colored pencil lead, allowing pigment to be spread around. Solvents of all kinds work with colored pencil—Bestine rubber cement thinner, Turpenoid (turpentine), isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, mineral oil, bleach, lighter fluid, vodka, gin, rocket fuel—as long as the solvent is clear. Each solvent has different working characteristics: how it dissolves the binder, how it spreads, how it’s absorbed or reacts with the paper surface and how quickly it evaporates or dries—in every instance creating a different result (see The Effects of Solvents on Colored Pencil, opposite page). The number of solvents that can be used depends on how much toxicity you’re willing to tolerate.
Applying solvents with a cotton swab aggressively blends color into the surface while a brush application creates a less intense effect. Solvents should be applied only with inexpensive synthetic brushes due to the solvents’ corrosive nature.
Instead of simply applying layers of colored pencil for the rose painting (step 10), I decided to underpaint the rose using yellow and a solvent, to give it a golden glow. In preparation I digitally combined two reference photos, giving the background more interest and depth. (A canary yellow Prismacolor Art Stix, No. 1916, can be substituted for the underpainting to speed up the process—just be sure not to apply it too heavily. It still will be necessary to fill in the tooth with the pencil.)
1. The Layout: After my graphite drawing was complete, I used Prismacolor Verithins (hard colored pencils) of the appropriate color (outline a green object with a green pencil, etc.), to redraw the outlines, using the lighter color when two or more areas bordered one another. I placed the colored pencil outlines adjacent to the graphite lines so I could carefully remove the graphite with a kneaded eraser.
I drew the lines inside the rose slightly darker so they would show through the yellow underpainting. At every stage of the layout or line drawing process, sharp pencils, light pressure and light lines are a must. If too much pressure is applied, lines will be impressed in the paper surface and will become visible when color is added.
2. Underpaint With Yellow: Apply canary yellow over the entire rose.
3. Apply Solvent: Apply Bestine or Turpenoid with a saturated cotton ball.
4. Layer the Rose Petals: With an electric eraser, I removed some yellow underpainting for the petal highlights. I painted each petal separately because the colors and values differ from petal to petal. This practice also reduces the chance of smudging. Steps 4 through 8 show a typical color sequence for a selected area, but you’ll need to refer to the reference photo or the completed art to determine where additional colors are necessary.
5. Begin Layering Colors: Apply layers of Tuscan red to the shadow areas.
6. Develop Shadows: Apply layers of raspberry in the shadow areas.
7. Continue Layering: Add magenta to the petals as shown.
8. Apply Final layer: Layer pink carmine over the entire petal as shown.
9. Use Color Key: Here’s the approximate color sequence I used for painting other areas of the rose. The letters tell you the order in which I painted each layer.
a. Layer dark umber and Tuscan red to the darkest areas.
b. Layer Tuscan red, raspberry and burnt ochre to darkest shadows cast on red areas.
c. Layer raspberry and burnt ochre to middark shadows cast on red areas.
d. Layer raspberry to lighter shadows cast on red areas.
e. Layer burnt ochre, terracotta and orange to middark values on yellow areas.
f. Layer burnt ochre and yellowed orange to midvalues on yellow areas.
g. Leave underpainting free of color in lightest yellow areas.
10. Layer the Background: Using small, circular strokes, I layered the background with cool gray 70 percent, dark green and apple green. Finally I checked my entire painting and made adjustments as needed.
Using an Eraser to Adjust Color
Areas with solvent applied to the pigment can be easily lightened and adjusted with a kneaded or electric eraser.
Colored Pencils: Sanford Prismacolor—apple green, burnt ochre, canary yellow, cool gray 70 percent, dark green, dark umber, magenta, orange, raspberry, Tuscan red, yellowed orange; Faber-Castell Polychromos—pink carmine, terracotta; Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor—light carmine
Surface: 3-ply bristol vellum paper, regular surface
Solvent: Bestine rubber cement thinner or Martin/F. Weber (odorless) Turpenoid
Other: cotton balls, electric eraser, kneaded eraser
Safely Storing and Applying Solvents
Due to potential toxicity, care should always be taken when using solvents. Aside from common sense instructions such as using solvents in a well-ventilated room, avoiding open flames, smoking, and contact with skin and eyes, there are special procedures to follow when using solvents with colored pencil.
A minuscule amount of solvent will be used at any given time, so it’s better to pour it into a small, resealable glass container. When not in use, the container can remain capped, minimizing fumes. Storage in small containers also prevents contaminating the entire batch of solvent by inadvertently introducing colored pencil into the main container.
Gary Greene has been working as a full-time artist since 1967. Colored pencil has been his artistic passion since 1983. He’s a pioneer in the use of water-soluble colored pencils as a mainline fine art medium and has developed or refined new techniques for colored pencil. Visit his website, www.ggart.biz.
The material in this article has been excerpted and adapted from his latest book, The Ultimate Guide to Colored Pencil, ©2010 by Gary Greene, used with permission of North Light Books, an imprint of F+W Media Inc. Visit your local bookseller, call 800/258-0929 or visit www.northlightshop.com to learn about his books and video workshops.