My Colored Pencil Journey...So Far

My Colored Pencil Journey...So Far

by Paulette Morrissey

Colored pencil as an art form that came to me completely by accident. The year was 2006, and I was spending most of my summer weekends with my husband Frank, going to radio-controlled airplane competitions all over the Midwest. Frank was an avid competitor and I was his sidekick for the events, meaning he flew his planes a few times each day and I stood next to him calling out patterns for him to fly. The rest of the time we sat in folding chairs under our fold-up tent and watched others do their flying. Needless to say, this got pretty boring pretty quickly for me. So on these weekends, I started bringing projects with me to pass the time. I tried knitting, rug hooking, crocheting, and reading, but none of it held my interest for any length of time.

Applying the base color to the entire artwork.

Then I happened to see a colored pencil instruction book by Gary Greene and was mesmerized by it. I had dabbled in graphite, watercolor, oils, and acrylics off and on in the past, but without any real passion for any of it. But this colored pencil book got my interest in a big way. I bought a set of pencils and a sketchbook and I was ready for the next weekend's outing. You have to understand that these contests are held at small airstrips or in open fields, with not a lot of interesting objects to look at. So I started sketching the cars, vans, and airplanes that were all around me. I couldn’t believe how much easier it was for me to draw something with colored pencils than it was with a graphite pencil, but by the end of that first weekend, I was hooked. My first attempts weren’t great, but good enough to make me want to try more.

Planes and cars ended up being my first subjects and I learned a lot by drawing them; since there were a lot of surfaces and textures to deal with. Once I tired of drawing the same things over and over, I went in search of new subjects. Flowers were a favorite for a while, especially extreme closeups of them. In time, I tried a good many different subjects, always drawing from real life or my own photographs.

“I couldn’t believe how much easier it was for me to draw something with colored pencils...My first attempts weren’t great, but good enough to make me want to try more.”

Fast-forward through several years of playing with all the different colored pencil brands, solvents, and other tools. I needed more reference pictures, so I started composing my own by using three, four or even five photos to make one reference image. Perhaps a pretty park scene from one, a couple of simple houses from another, a bridge from a third, and wildflowers from a fourth photo. I tweaked them and played with size, direction, and composition in photo apps on my computer until I got a scene put together how I wanted it to be. One thing I learned pretty quickly if you do this, is you’ll need to make your own shadows and highlights in the correct places on each element, because they won’t be correct on all the segments. Don’t get so caught up in the individual elements that you overlook this — don’t ask me how I know this.

Starting to add color, using a lot of layers in the darkest areas.

I was able to compose some great images with this technique that I wouldn’t have been able to find and photograph all as one image, so this is a great way to expand one’s reference library and create totally unique art that no one can duplicate. Then I tried different surfaces like wood, drafting film, stretched canvas, sanded papers, and watercolor paper. Each taught me a little more about what my pencils could do.

“By using only one color to create the base, I am able to concentrate on shading and details much easier than if I was using all the colors right away.”

Finally, after a lot of experimentation, some successes, and interesting failures, I came up with something similar to what old-world artists did with their oil paints. They did an entire monochrome underpainting with all the shading and detail, but in one color. For portraits, it was commonly a grey or another neutral. This technique was called “Grisaille” and though I hadn’t heard of it at the time, it was unknowingly what I had started to do with my colored pencils. I take one pencil, usually in a color that may not make any sense for the piece I am planning, and do my entire drawing, varying the pressure. Once the entire picture is done, it seemingly looks like there is no way I’m going to cover the darkest areas with any other colors. Then I get started on adding all the colors I want in the piece. Little by little the color gets added and the whole picture seems to have more depth than if I had just applied many layers like I was used to doing. By using only one color to create the base, I am able to concentrate on shading and details much easier than if I was using all the colors right away.

Finished artwork "Queen of Hearts", on Bristol Vellum.

This is as far as my colored pencil journey has taken me so far. Who knows what direction I will take tomorrow, but whatever it is, it will be interesting I’m sure.

About Paulette Morrissey:

Tell something about yourself. Write in the third person.
Paulette Morrissey has been playing with colored pencils since about 2006. She has won awards in local, regional, and international exhibits, both in-person and online. She taught beginning colored pencil techniques for a few years before moving to Florida to spend more time on her artistic interests. When she is not drawing, she enjoys a wide variety of fiber arts and is always looking for new techniques to master.

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Comments (2)

Your colouring looks fantastic , what pencils and books do you use please , thank you , Barry

Barry Brown - Oct 12, 2022

My wife and I got introduced to colored pencil art work when we was going to the Village’s in Florida. We did this for about three years then it got to the point where we could not go to Florida, we live in Fort Wayne Indiana and are having trouble finding some one to instruct us. Can you work with us or instruct us on the internet because we really enjoy colored pencil art work!

Darrell Tackett - Oct 12, 2022

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