Preferred Medium, Process, and Frequently Used Colors
A few days ago, there was a comment asking about which medium I use. This is a simple question, but a really great one – especially considering I never talk about that! I think from time to time, I may mention the types of pencils I use or answer a question in comments about paper. But, I don’t think I’ve ever discussed preferred mediums and supplies in detail. Time to correct that!
Now, many artists have the smarts to include that information in each post, whether that means just mentioning it, or even including photos of pencils/pens/paint. Unfortunately, I have made 65 (!) art posts to this point, and I haven’t done that in any of them. Rather than breaking my streak, I’ve decided to create one post in which I talk about what I use and how I do things. I’m a creature of habit and tend to do things the same way every time anyway, so I think this post will carry forward to everything.
For this example, I took a random WordPress theme advertisement and made that my subject. This was just done as a relatively easy and quick example, so it’s not the highest quality. I just wanted to have something I could show a flow for, without spending too much time drawing. Before I get into the drawing though, let’s take stock of the necessary equipment.
Above, I’ve included an image of all the supplies I use. We’re going to get into the details of how they’re used, but this is my go-to kit. I use these colors vastly more than any others in my way-too-large Prismacolor Premier box. I’ve already had to buy replacements for many of these, and will probably continue to burn through them. Here are my vital tools:
- Dixon Ticonderoga Soft Lead #2 Pencil
- Prismacolor Premier: Colorless, White, Light Peach, Peach, Blush Pink, Warm Grey Set (30%, 50%, 70%, 90%), French Grey Set (10%, 30%, 50%, 90%)
- Strathmore Medium Surface 200 Series 9in X 12in Paper
- Pencil Sharpener
- Pencil Extenders
The Prismacolor Premiers are my favorite colored pencil because their soft cores allow for pretty smooth blending. I’ll get more into that later, but laying it down thickly gives a paint-like effect that I like. I use this Strathmore paper because it’s inexpensive and durable; I know there are better options, but because it’s cheap I feel zero pressure not to waste it. The pencil extenders I linked fit perfectly with the Prismacolors, and are very useful when a pencil becomes a stub. And the graphite pencils I use are nothing special, but it does have soft lead which I really like.
This is the process I typically follow, for anyone who is curious about how these drawings come together. I’m definitely not advocating this as any sort of “best practice” or anything; in fact, a professional artist would likely say my routine is flawed in ways I can’t even imagine. This is just my usual flow, for better or worse.
I’ll include an image of each step, which shows the pencils I used along with the drawing at that stage (with corresponding color from those pencils added to the sketch).
Step 1: Draw an outline using a graphite pencil. I try to sketch just the bare minimum lines, without any shading or definition. I don’t worry if it’s not perfect, or if it doesn’t look good. It usually won’t in this basic state; the depth and realism will come together once we’ve layered the color. Sometimes, my outlines look terrible and that’s okay.
Step 2: Create a heavy/thick base layer. In this example, I’m using Light Peach (PC 927). I really push down hard on these pencils to lay down a thick layer for the base. Depending on the skin tone of the subject, I’ll swap out different shades to start with instead of Light Peach. The base layer step may require multiple shades. Think of it like pencil painting; my goal is to somewhat simulate that paint look.
Step 3: With the base layer(s) down, fill in the shadows. The grey I use depends on the required contrast, but I often use 30% Warm Grey (PC 1052) for this step. I fill the shadows in pretty darkly, because they will lighten up through blending in the next step. In this step, the subject should start to look sort of like a zombie.
Step 4: Blend everything together using White (PC 938). This step will pull all the colors together, and soften them a bit. The shadows will become less harsh, and if you use multiple colors for the base skin tone layer, it will blend them together pretty smoothly. The subject will finally start to look a bit more like a normal human.
Step 5: Add definition using darker colors. Typically, I use 70% Warm Grey (PC 1056) and 90% Warm Grey (PC 1058) for this step. Now I’ll fill in the pupils, darker eye shading, nostrils, underside of the nose, ears, and anything else that has deeper shadows. At this point, the drawing will probably start to come into focus.
Step 6: Incorporate pink tones for the mouth and anywhere else needed. This step is primarily for lips, but some subjects need more pinkish color in their cheeks and other areas of the face. In this example, I’m using Blush Pink (PC 928) and Peach (PC 939) on the lips, cheek, and side of the nose. If necessary, there might be some areas requiring a 50% Warm Grey (PC 1054).
Step 7: To achieve a muted brown, use French Grey for hair. In this case, I’m using 30% French Grey (PC 1070), 50% French Grey (PC 1072), and 90% French Grey (PC 1076). Again, I’m laying down these colors very heavily, which is why I use multiple variants of French Gray, rather than just achieving variation through pressure. For areas not reflecting light, blend with a Colorless (PC 962) pencil. For areas with light reflection, blend with White.
Step 8: For anything that needs more definition, return to the graphite pencil. In this step, areas that don’t appear sharp enough get some touch up using the standard graphite pencil. I don’t always feel like this step is necessary, but sometimes it looks like certain areas need to be better defined or are too soft.
I’ve rolled all of these steps into a progression .gif (below):
I am an amateur artist and have a lot to learn, but I do feel that I’m improving over time and gaining knowledge through experience. Where I am now compared to six months ago is well beyond what I ever could have expected. I chalk much of that up to practice, but I also have to credit advice I’ve received from artists (and/or learned from their sites) like Blu-Art, Hilda Rogers, As Much Cake, Anna Pishko, and many others.
With this post, I wanted to respond to the question, “what medium do you use?” But, more than that, I hope someone might stumble across this and get some ideas. I doubt my full process is actually good for anyone but me, but maybe there are small pieces that could give another person ideas. I don’t have the artist experience to give advice about techniques that would carry any weight, but I can share what I learn as I learn it. And maybe that can help someone.
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That’s quite instructive!
Much appreciated – I’m glad you enjoyed it!
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wow. you really are amazing!
That’s kind of you, thank you Crismar!
These are great details about your process. I too love colored pencils, but use Caran D’Ache Luminance almost exclusively because they are lightfast and incredibly buttery…Extremely expensive too, so that is a really negative thing about them. But once I switched from Prismacolors to Luminance, there was no going back!
Wow those pencils sound like something I should never use, because I already think prismacolors are expensive! But “buttery” actually sounds quite awesome
Maybe I can float that idea for a birthday present or something…now I’m really curious about Luminance…
Hi Jon, yeah, in a really weird way it was the WORST thing I have ever done, letting myself experiment around with other pencils than my beloved Prismacolors. Luminance pencils eat a big chunk out of, well, everything! On the other hand, with certain colors, the pigment just lays down so deeply and beautifully with one or two layers…Okay, so the “buttery” is maybe over the top, but here’s a plug for drawing with sennelier oil pastels, if you are ever so inclined: drawing with those truly is buttery and like drawing with lipstick!!! (no not all the colors are that wonderful, I have trouble with prussian blue for instance, but all in all those oil pastels let you paint with a drawing feel to it. And like you (I think) I prefer drawing most of the time to painting with a brush…
Anyhow,that’s my little advertisement for the best oil pastels you can get, imho…but then again I could wax rather extreme in my singing the praises of oil pastels in general, which i think have been not taken as seriously as a medium as they should be. On the other, other hand, I admire your ability to stick with a medium and perfect it. I am MUCH too scattered to do that…alas. But I can see how you get better and better with each one…
That’s so funny, I guess you get what you pay for eh?
Yes, you are definitely right about my preference for drawing. In fact, it’s pretty much all I have experience with! I’m relatively new to drawing; I used to sketch a bit in high school, but until last fall I hadn’t drawn anything in at least a decade. So, I’m definitely a rookie still trying to learn the ropes. I love the way paint looks, but honestly I’m a bit intimidated by the technical and gear requirements. So for now, smooth pencils are fun until I get a bit braver.
Actually, you mentioned pastels – that might be the next thing I try. I almost bought a set today, in fact. How do you like working with pastels compared to using those top tier pencils (Luminance)?
Love the sketch. Great work.
Wow very nice breakdown. And thank you for the insight. I felt like a newb when I read the comment you are referring to! I was first like, what? OK language barrier. But what, does he use a psychic? No, that can’t be right… 😀
Ha ha, and if I did use a psychic, then we might be talking about what medium my medium likes?
Fantastic step-by-step and the image is great!
I appreciate that, As Much Cake!
(The first thing I typed was “much appreciation much cake” which didn’t make any sense, and sort of cracked me up. When I read what I typed, it sounded like a cave man describing his birthday party or something)
Too funny! I’d be happy to get that as a comment:-).
Fun to see your process, and interesting where our approaches differ. Great post !
Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the process stuff!
I may have mentioned this at some point (I can’t remember), but I think the first place I read about this thick layering/pencil painting stuff was on your website. I’m glad you shared that! I’ve been really fortunate to come across so many people with valuable insights into art.
It’s a good technique, thanks for sharing x
Absolutely! And thank you as well, Christine