Why Not Abstract Art in Colored Pencil?

Why Not Abstract Art in Colored Pencil?

by Maryann DellaRocco

I love abstraction and distortion in colored pencil, but it wasn’t always that way. When I first started out in the colored pencil world, I was enamored with all the amazing realistic work I was seeing. I created quite a few pieces like that, even some portraiture, but somehow, I felt my work was lacking. Inside, where my art was resonating from, I realized I had not found my style in colored pencil. I was just sort of going this way and that. Then one day luck, and my children intervened. My kids had thrown some berries and leaves on the kitchen table while I was having something to drink. I was kind of just looking in my glass, thinking to myself, when I realized the liquid, glass, light, berries and leaves were making the most beautiful distorted pattern—and I started taking photos.

A Story of Fae and Whiskey, 13" x 15" colored pencil on Bristol Vellum

“I felt my work was lacking. Inside, where my art was resonating from, I realized I had not found my style in colored pencil.”

From there I created a small four-piece series based on the seasons, and low and behold the very first one, the one with the berries and leaves, was accepted into the Colored Pencil Society of America’s International Exhibition that year. It was my first entry and my first acceptance. Since it was accepted into the show, I decided to attend the convention in Tacoma, Washington. I even got to meet Ann Kullberg while there! But even more importantly I met two other artists, Suzanne Vigil (the winner of The Best in Show that year) and Tracy Frein, who encouraged me to drop everything else I was doing and to focus my attention on distorted abstraction. It appears as if nearly no one else was taking colored pencils in that direction. I found that I really enjoyed creating something less representational. I could exaggerate colors or details and push my artwork more towards the impressionistic over the real. Abstraction had allowed me to see the world, and my artwork, differently.

Potable Autumn, 12" x 17", First abstract piece created from berries and leaves

I really began delving into distortion and developed a way to get reference photos from everyday objects around my home. I especially love working with flowers and you will see a floral element in almost everything I produce. But I also am drawn to patterns, especially circular forms. Since I take most of my reference photos on my iPhone, I began to look for editing apps that could help me quickly edit my photos for immediate use. But what I found was a plethora of apps with built-in distortion capabilities, many of which add circular forms to my already existing distorted photos. This allowed me to further manipulate my photos which gave me endless possibilities. This makes it easy to create series based off of one photo. I highly encourage you to experiment with photo editing apps you find on the app store.

“Abstraction had allowed me to see the world, and my artwork, differently.”

Side Mirror, Colored Pencil on Drafting Film, reference photo manipulated with apps

Not long after I started working in this distorted genre, Vera Curnow, of The Colored Pencil Society of America, (CPSA) wrote a piece in the To The Point publication stating that one of the society’s goals is to get colored pencil art more widely accepted as a fine art. She believes one of the best ways to do this is to show that colored pencils can be used to create all sorts of art genres. She encouraged artists to play with abstraction specifically, and asked artists to send in photos of their creations to be included in the next To The Point. I was thrilled and sent in a piece. People have responded positively to my work and because of that I was asked to show my local chapter of CPSA how to use my method to capture their own reference photos and how to use some of my favorite apps to distort and manipulate their photos even more. I was even asked to write an article for To The Point to give a detailed explanation of my method. I believe colored pencils are capable of mimicking any art style out there and encourage my fellow colored pencil artists to give them a try. I have often considered how I could recreate the look of encaustic works or even palette knife oil paintings. I would love to see what you have created and ask that you leave a photo or comment below.


Maryann DellaRocco holds signature status with the CPSA. Her works have been featured in Colored Pencil Treasures and Colored Pencil Hidden Treasures. Orb Weaver won the Conté de Paris/Colart America Award for Exceptional Merit at the 26th annual CPSA International Exhibition. She has also won a number of juror selected awards both locally and nationally. Now living in Ellicott City, MD, she continues to create her colored pencil pieces in her home studio.

See more at: https://www.maryanndellaroccofinearts.com

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