Old Dog, New Tricks

Old Dog, New Tricks

by Spencer Phillips

It must be said that as a child I was noted by my art teachers to be spectacularly incapable of grasping even the most basic concepts of art. On the plus side, one teacher even went so far as to commend me for being the very worst art student he had ever known, I was so proud! With the benefit of a few years’ life experience and a few extra pounds upon me, I took this as an excellent starting point because clearly the only way was up. I have the utmost admiration for those who conjure up magical creations seemingly at will and it inspired me in middle-age to try to remedy my own many artistic shortcomings.

Railway Roundhouse Worker 1942, color pencil with soft pastel background

Pencils attracted for a number of reasons, notably their familiarity and living room friendly nature. So, I picked up some graphite pencils and tried creating, just enough to whet my appetite and get me yearning to advance from shades of gray to color. It seemed such an intimidating step having to consider hue as well as value, but it was so very worth it.

“One teacher even went so far as to commend me for being the very worst art student he had ever known.”

As a great lover of books, I amassed a huge number of color pencil books with authors old and new, absorbing all the treasured information with a passion. But reading is not doing of course, so I put myself to work on gaining that essential practical experience which started to bring together into my own creations all that I was trying to learn from the leading lights of color pencil.

Gaining experience and a feel for lots of different materials and how they interact, learning techniques and when they may be usefully applied, different approaches to a piece and how to break complex elements down. Time and again I would court disaster and it could be said I failed a lot as I progressed, but every issue was a learning opportunity… how to overcome problems, how to avoid them or even just learning something that stuck in the mind as a cautionary tale for future work. It was all a very valuable addition to the wonderful information available from the professionals.

Sunset Belaire, watercolor pencil and dry color pencil

Color pencil is not necessarily known for being a light speed kind of medium of course. Like many, having limited available time and energy encouraged me to start to learn other mediums as well to help me accomplish more in the time I had by incorporating them with color pencil. So now I will sometimes prefer pure color pencil pieces and I have definitely got faster with time, whilst on others I will employ and enjoy mixed media, particularly pastel and watercolor and utilising the strengths of each.

“I think my journey and that of so many others before me does clearly show that we are never too old to learn new tricks, even where no previous artistic ability seemed apparent.”

When I started, I really was only interested in portraits… but I quickly learned that the fastest way to advance for me was to identify and tackle my weakest areas. I started taking on subjects that I felt would help me advance in a specific area or with a specific technique. It exposed me to different textures, different creative riddles to solve and forced me not to build a comfort zone where my progress slowed. Along the way, it helped me build confidence and develop an appreciation and enjoyment of many subject types along the way.

The Cormorant Fisherman, watercolor pencil and dry color pencil

So, after a few years striving to learn and enjoying creating, I now find color pencils and the whole creative process so very rewarding. Relaxing and inspiring in equal measure, our beloved color pencils can even be wonderfully aromatic too which is surely a plus! It is a pastime that has so much to offer, not least that wonderful feeling of taking a blank sheet and creating something on it. It is just magical. Whether creating for yourself or sharing art with friends and family, taking your first steps into exhibitions or entering challenges, there is something so very rewarding about nurturing, embracing and freeing our creativity.

And so dear reader, whilst I am a work in progress, I think my journey and that of so many others before me does clearly show that we are never too old to learn new tricks, even where no previous artistic ability seemed apparent. So, take heart those of you in the early stages of your color pencil journey. It can be frustrating, but be assured that it will be so very rewarding. Throw caution to the wind and release that creativity. With a dash of application, a stubborn streak of perseverance and some investment in time, the World really is our color pencil oyster.

ABOUT Spencer Phillips:

Spencer had no formal training in art but had always admired those who could create. He bought his first set of pencils in 2018 and swiftly became one of the fastest color pencil collectors in the West. A member of the UKCPS, he enjoys tackling varying subjects in pure color pencil or combining with watercolor or pastel. His work has appeared in various exhibitions and publications, including in CP Treasures, and he loves to encourage others along their own creative path.

See more at: https://www.facebook.com/SpencerPhillipsArt

Comments (4)

Spencer! I can’t tell you how elated I am to see this blog. It brings my heart joy to see , not only your beautiful art, but that we get to enjoy your wonderful ability to put words to paper as well. Your gifts deserve to be shared with the world. Way to go!

Jeni kelleher - Oct 05, 2021

Thank you ever so much Jeni, very much appreciated ☺

Spencer Phillips - Oct 05, 2021

Spencer!! You began in 2018 and you’re at this level??? A*M*A*Z*I*N*G!! I can hear your voice thru and thru in this article. Well you certainly showed THAT are teacher!! Lol. Well done you!!

Claire Claire - Oct 05, 2021

Thank you ever so much Claire, I am hoping that if I did meet that art teacher again that they may, albeit begrudgingly, say I am no longer the worst they ever did see! I haven’t been working in color pencil so long it is true, but am hopelessly besotted with pencils of all pigments!

Spencer Phillips - Oct 05, 2021

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