How This Artist Found Herself in Her Colored Pencil Portraits

Colored pencil portrait artist Diane Edison dipped her brush into pastel before she found her way to the drawing medium. Once she started, she couldn’t stop.

Artists Magazine editor, Austin Williams, sat down for a conversation with the artist to discuss her interest in the medium and in her subjects. Below is what she shared with him. Enjoy!

 

Colored Pencil Portraits | Diane Edison | Artists Network

My Brother Gary Edison by Diane Edison, colored pencil on black paper

From Paint to Colored Pencil Portraits

I’ve worked in pastel. And at some point, I started working just with pencil. One day I was on a plane and read in a magazine that designers liked to use colored pencil on black paper. I tried that out, and I liked it so much I never went back to painting.

I love the look of black paper. It’s not blank, whereas white paper feels blank to me. I also like black paper because I get to do the usual process in reverse.

 

Colored Pencil Portraits | Diane Edison | Artists Network

Daphne by Diane Edison, colored pencil on black paper

 

I can’t go for the darkest mark. I work up slowly, keeping it dark, keeping just the ghost of the image as long as I can. Then I gradually fill in some areas. Then the areas next to those need to be lightened. I go back and forth, back and forth.

I worked with color on black paper for several years. Then 10 years ago, my gallery asked its artists to each do a tribute piece to an artist who had influenced us. I chose Chuck Close.

I wanted to do my portrait the way he did his. I traced it out, drew it very exactly, and then used white colored pencil. I’ve been working in grayscale ever since.

 

Colored Pencil Portraits | Diane Edison | Artists Network

Luis Cruz Azaceta by Diane Edison (colored pencil on black paper

Finding Myself in Other People

I came around to the idea of painting portraits as a way of finding myself. I started doing portraits in 1986, and I’ve been doing them ever since.

I want to draw someone I can be honest with. It’s not just about the likeness — I feel the likeness is the last thing.

Colored Pencil Portraits | Diane Edison | Artists Network

Margaret by Diane Edison, colored pencil on black paper

 

To me, it’s all about the face. You’re making eye contact, and there’s something so real about it, so intimate, that anything else is a distraction. I just want that close-up of a person. I want the viewer to lock eyes with the portrait and stay with it. What you see is what you get.

Materials

I’ve been working with Prismacolor pencils for years. I work with about six pencils as my grayscale. I try to keep the colors rather cool, not too warm. I always keep a very sharp pencil. I’ll work with one, put it aside, then pick up another.

I draw on black sheets of Arches cover, which is the only paper I’ve found that accepts those pencils. They sell 44 by 30 sheets, which is what I work on. They used to sell larger rolls; I once did an 8-foot drawing of myself.

 

Colored Pencil Portraits | Diane Edison | Artists Network

Radcliffe Bailey by Diane Edison, colored pencil on black paper

Her Advice to Students

I teach both undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Georgia. Mostly, I teach painting, not drawing. Every semester I like to teach a beginning class and an advanced class. I love the beginning students, especially, because they’re so open. I get some of my best work from beginning painting students.

“From the general to the specific.” Those are words I’m always saying. I’ll tell students I’m zeroing in on fine details in their work. In a group critique, students will often say they really like part of a painting, meaning it as a compliment. But I say that if you really like one part, then the whole thing isn’t working. It has to be holistic.

With my advanced students, I don’t tell them what to do in their subject matter, but I help them with what they choose. Whatever they decide to do, I’ll walk that road with them.

 

 

 

Colored Pencil Portraits | Diane Edison | Artists Network

Mary’s Baby, Mommy’s Daughter by Diane Edison, colored pencil on black paper

 

You can read the full interview in Artists Magazine‘s December issue, coming soon. In the meantime, peruse through past issues for more great artist interviews, tips and techniques, and demonstrations here.


Are you a colored pencil artist? Comment below with your advice for artists looking to get into this medium!

 

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