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Medium: Colored Pencil
Category: Still Life

Seven-step demonstration from the book, Colored Pencil for the Serious Beginner by Bet Borgeson, published by Watson-Guptill Publications an imprint of Crown Publishing Group a division of Random House. All illustrations included.

A Colored Pencil Demonstration

"From Aunt Wilmot's Things"
by Bet Borgeson

Colored Pencil on 2-ply white
Rising Museum Board,
9" x 7" (23 x 18 cm)

Step 1
Step 1. Tonal drawing reveals any false starts or misplaced lines that may occur in the inital drawing stage. Therefore I like to work out a drawing's basic elements on an intermediate tracing sheet, then transfer these to drawing paper, rather then have early mistakes show as blemishes on the finished drawing.

Another benefit of tracing paper is that it can be cut into pieces, and elements moved around. Here I had to cut out and realign the cup and saucer so the cup's top ellipse was parallel to the picture plane.

Step 2
Step 2. Transferring guidelines to the drawing sheet can be done with a lightbox or table (as shown) or with a daylit window Even though my drawing sheet is a two-ply museum board, firmly drawn graphite lines show through it. (Inked lines on the tracing paper were only used here for photographic visibility.)

Both tracing and drawing papers have matching frames of reference and when these are lined up, I tape them down together. Using a graphite pencil I very lightly trace the guidelines, ending up with a faint layout image on my drawing sheet. Most such light lines will not have to be erased later.

Step 3A. My plan is to establish color area by area, rather than element by element. Working alla prima ensures good continuity throughout. Things should coexist better, rather than appearing separate and seemingly appliqued against their background.

As I select an area in which to work, I first quickly lay down some of its surrounding or adjoining color. This enables me to make decisions about hue, value, and intensity relevant to this background color instead of to a white that is only temporary.

Step 3B. I continue adding color to additional areas, always being sure that there is some adjoining color in place. Where needed, I revise shapes slightly as I concentrate on color and form.

The saucer will be the next place to work, so I lay down some of the tabletop color and cast shadow in order to have some basis on which to judge its subtle value gradations. The tabletop value at the back of the saucer seems all right now, with a feeling that it recedes. But it may have to be darkened or lightened later as the saucer develops. My original setup cannot provide the answers I'm looking for. Only the drawing as it develops can tell me what adjustments are needed.

Step 4. The cup and saucer are turning out to be my most challenging elements. The soldiers are complex but the complexity itself is like a series of road signs telling me where to go with a line, an edge or a color passage. The simple light-valued elements of cup and saucer, with their slow value gradations, make for more difficult rendering.

In this medium it is often difficult to apply very light values with good control. I apply the light passages of the cup and saucer more darkly than wanted and with very sharp pencils, then lift excess color to get the desired lightness. The residual color is all that is needed.

There are many pencil choices for expressing white in shadow. Because I like to keep my lights cool I used a light violet with a light blue and some warmer colors to suggest reflected color from the soldier's coats.

But we have a value problem. Value has a special task in this piece--to provide a dark enough environment for the medium light cup and saucer to read as a slightly shaded white. But the negative space is now too light, causing the cup's handle to merge with its background, making it and the saucer appear too dark.

Step 5. I darken the negative space with my original yellow-green, allowing the pencil to be rounded instead of sharp. I juxtapose yellow-ochre, purple, a vivid yellow-green, and a dark beige to begin developing the tabletop. I plan to lift some of this at a later stage to further manipulate the table's surface. Now the cup and saucer begin to look lighter even though I haven't altered them.

The close-up view at left shows a lack of contrast between the handle and the negative space. This causes the handle to appear too dark. The version at right, with negative space values darkened, presents a more appropriate contrast. The handle, which has not been altered, now appears lighter while still looking shaded.

Step 6. I now apply color to the rose, relying on the background values to suggest how dark or how light it should be. Since the rose is not a major player, its values can be similar to the background's values.

I also establish the colors and forms of the soldiers. Although the light has changed, I use the center soldier drawn earlier as a model for where highlights and shade are placed on all the others.

Close up. In most of my work I try to strike a moderate balance between crispness and softness of edges by including different edge qualities. In this close-up view of the rose, a painterly edge can be seen as some of the orange color slips from the petal into the negative space. This kind of easing of edges helps create a more gentle effect where wanted, rather than an unrelenting hard edge throughout.

by Bet Borgeson

Demonstration from Borgeson's book, Colored Pencil for the Serious Beginner
published by Watson-Guptill Publications, NY

See book's listing on

Bet Borgeson's website

Artwork and Text copyright 2013 by Bet Borgeson. All Rights Reserved.

Step 7/FINISH. After appraising the preceding stage of this drawing, two main tasks emerged for finishing it. The first was that white granular flecks all over the piece needed refining to increase color intensity. The second was that many of the darks needed additional darkening to increase the illusion of three-dimensional modeling of the various forms.

Scanning from top left to right: The darks of the flower and the right side of the cup were darkened using sharp pencils. I also lifted one of the cup's painted flowers and restated it in blue for added interest. The fairly coarse and open grain of the background was refined by putting two very intense greens (again with sharp points) into the white flecks. The plate was finished by restating what was there with a lower value, and putting in additional vivid colors.

On the tabletop, I lifted, added, and adjusted color, and finished the cast shadows of the soldiers. To make the lead soldiers more strongly take stage, I darkened darks and added some analogous colors to their uniforms. I also resisted the temptation to straighten out their badly painted faces and other details. This was a judgment call, and keeping these little relics true to their actual primitive state seemed in keeping with the nostalgic mood of this piece.

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