Coloring Tips: What We Learned
Greetings from my little studio! As promised, I am back with a few coloring tips related to what we learned during the time we spent together at the beach house. As mentioned in my last post, Betty was our star because she showed us how she colors fur, eyes, feathers, and bokeh. Watching her color with pencils in person was an absolute joy, and it helped take some of the mystery out of how she achieves such beautiful, almost painterly effects. It has become her signature style, and though not everyone will want to copy it (we all have our own style of coloring after all), it can help us see and understand coloring in a new way, and you might even incorporate some of these techniques into your own work. Betty’s soft, dream-like backgrounds are created with plenty of blending multiple colors and incorporating the bokeh effect. She also adds background elements like leaves and flowers for more depth and interest (depending on the design).
Below is the final version of the Tigerlily bird Betty Hung colored. Even though her color palette appears to be fairly limited (purples, blues, greens and browns), there is actually a lot of variation in her colors and that comes from multiple hues within these color families, and from blending as well as pressure applied to create shadow and depth.
But why does her coloring look so soft? Where are the lines of the original black and white design? How does she do it?
Spend a few moments carefully looking at Betty’s coloring above. What do you notice?
The first thing we learned about what makes Betty’s coloring so amazing is that she deletes a lot of lines. Not all of them⏤she does keep many of the black lines in the darker areas of her colorings. She starts by adding some color to an area (to have a base so you can see a shape emerge) and then she uses an opaque white pen to draw over (or “erase”) the lines. We used white Sakura Gellyroll pens but you can also use a fine, white Posca marker, a white Arteza gel pen, or any other opaque white pen you have. I suspect white acrylic or gauche would work just as well if you are comfortable painting fine lines.
In the example below (left), I started coloring a lily petal with Prismacolor Periwinkle, Blue Lake and Parma Violet⏤just a very light layer of each and blending a bit from one color to the next using small, straight strokes (instead of the small circular strokes I usually color with). Notice that I left some white areas. This is important because they will become the highlighted area of the petal.
Next, I used a white Gellyroll to trace over the black lines and dots on the petal (see pic above on right and video below). Sometimes gel pens can be a pain (you might have to tap them a few times to get them to work) but be patient. And you don’t have to be perfect or cover the lines completely (there might be some streaks that show through) but you do want the ink to dry completely before you proceed to the next step.
Once the white is dry, I start working more light layers of color on the petal (staying away from the areas I purposely left white for now). I am coloring up to and over the white lines I drew with the three original colors I picked, and then worked in a little Kelly Green to add some streaks, and Mahogany Red for the spots on the flowers. Close up, your coloring might look a bit bumpy and lumpy, but from a normal viewing distance, the petal should look pretty good.
In the set of pics below, you can start to see how the petal starts to take shape. I used a light layer of Cobalt Blue Hue to nudge color along the edge of the petal which creates some shadow and depth before covering more lines with white. Only white out small areas of the design at a time, as you work. You can still see the lines, but if you were to white out all lines on a page at once, it might create a real challenge.
After the lines dried, I worked in more colors (from the six I have used so far) and added a darker blue (Copenhagen) to make the edge stand out a little more, and more Kelly Green where the petal emerges from the stem:
The key is choosing where to darken areas to create form and depth, so I am slowly darkening the area behind the part of the petal that curls up. In the words of Betty, don’t darken by outlining⏤use small, feathery strokes to pull your darker colors from the sharp edge you want to create out toward the lighter areas. And it might take a little pressure with your darker color to cover the white pen along that bottom edge. I then used a Tombow Irojiten Indigo pencil to further darken and added a faint edge along some of the white veins in the petal. I really like the Irojiten pencils for small areas and detail work because they are quite hard and I can get a fine point on them.
Don’t be afraid to use black! I know many artists caution against black for shadows, but used sparingly, black is great. You can also use the darkest shade of the color family you are working with (even if you need to use a different brand pencil). Introducing a new color (as long as it is dark) can add more interest to your shadow areas, too. For instance, if the primary color is green, try a dark purple, brown or blue for shadows. If you are not sure if it will work, test it out on a scrap piece of paper. Never be afraid to experiment!
To show how to get the subject (the lily) to pop out of the background, I used Prismacolor Dark Umber and Terra Cotta (see below) to create contrast. Betty told us that she really pays attention to the triangular areas of the background areas and darkens them with a bit more pressure to start creating depth. For the background areas, you don’t have to use straight strokes⏤circular motions with your pencils are fine.
The key is to continue applying darker colors (creating more background contrast) until your petals come forward and appear more three dimensional. At this point, I started bouncing back and forth between the background and the petals. I used the Caran d’Ache Buff Titanium pencil to go over some of my lighter (white) areas to blend and add a tinge of color for the highlights (where I imagine light would be reflecting off the surface of the petals).
Tip: if you are not sure about where shadows and highlights should appear, do a Google image search for “tiger lily flower” and study close-ups of the flowers. Some photos are better than others, of course, but you can see where some petals have a light sheen in spots where the light hits them, and shadows where petals overlap or bend downward. You can do this with any subject you are coloring and it really helps you understand the concept of shadow and light. I sometimes pick one corner or edge of my paper where an imaginary light source lives⏤whether it’s a light bulb or the sun to help keep my highlights and shadows consistent, but not always. It really depends on the style of coloring one is going for (photo realism, realism, abstract, expressionism, impressionism, etc.).
Up close with my iphone camera my strokes look a bit rough, but from a normal viewing distance things are starting to take shape and look pretty okay.
The photos below show my very first attempt at coloring the petals Betty-style using Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils (at the beach house). I used more greens, purples, yellows and a few pinks. At first, I used pencils to start darkening my background (the deep brownish-reds in the photo at the left) but then switched to Derwent Inktense to cover the background areas more quickly, and help make my bokeh a little easier to color (more on that later).
Tips for Coloring Eyes
Next, let’s talk about coloring an eye. Again, we use the white-out method to remove the black lines, and then colored over them. My first layer of white was a bit rough so I added a second coat of white gel pen and let it thoroughly dry before coloring with my pencils. I used Chartreuse for the iris and added Indigo and black as I worked toward the edges to create an orb. The pupil is black. I also used indigo and black to add darker areas around the eyes leaving a bit of white. Once I started coloring the head of the bird (feathers) I carefully blended with my darker colors outward. Slow, careful process.
To finish the eye, I used my white gel pen to create a reflection of light. In retrospect, one white dot is not very realistic, so if I were to rework this eye, I’d add a few lighter spots like Betty, Lora and Paula did in their colorings. Below are close-ups of each of the eyes we colored at the beach house, and if you want more detailed information about how Betty colors eyes, be sure to visit her post and bookmark it.
How Betty Does Bokeh
Bokeh is an effect found in photography where circles of light and/or blurred areas appear in an image, but it can also be created using colored pencils and can add beauty and interest to your backgrounds. Bokeh is fairly easy to create once you understand the basics and practice a little.
Using a plastic circle stencil, Betty had us use a light colored pencil (white, buff, cream … whatever light color you like) to fill in circles of different sizes in parts of the background areas. Apply a lot of pressure when coloring in the circle because (especially if you use watercolor pencils or watercolor paints) as your base layer, the water will resist the lighter circles that have been colored. You can overlap your circles if you like, and you can also draw them freehand if you don’t have a stencil as they don’t have to be perfect⏤just apply pressure to get a heavy layer.
In the example I colored for this demonstration, I used the Caran d’Ache Buff Titanium for my circles and then colored the background with Inktense Chili Red and Burnt Orange. I colored in various directions knowing that once wet, the colors would blend.
Once the watercolor dried fully, I used Prismacolor Tuscan Red, Henna and Mineral Orange to start darkening the background while avoiding the circles I previously drew. Instead of pulling my pencils around the circles (as though outlining) I colored around them with short strokes back and forth around the edges of the circles essentially pushing colors up to and away from the edges so they appear a little fuzzy, or out of focus. I switched colors frequently and just kept blending with short strokes. Once I was happy with my colors, I pulled out my Faber-Castell Perfection 7058 Pencil Eraser and cleaned up some of the blotches on my circles and fuzzed them out a little more. It’s not a perfect example of bokeh, but hopefully you get the gist of it and give it a try.
Oh! The white Perfection eraser is one of my favorites because it’s fairly aggressive and lifts pencil marks pretty well. It sometimes comes packaged with the 7056 Pink Eraser (which I don’t like much at all because it leaves a pink tint behind). But you can order just the white eraser through Blick.
Also, be sure to check out Betty’s post on creating bokeh because the more we learn from different sources, the more we take away and can apply to our own work.
Feathers and Fur, Betty Style
If your goal is to color feathers and fur more realistically, you can use the same process used for coloring the flower petals at the beginning of this post. White out the black lines and spots with an opaque, white gel pen after laying down a very light base layer of color using short strokes. From there, use short strokes that run in the direction of an animal’s natural fur (or a bird’s feather directions). Imagine an inverted V pattern when you start to form the feathers. Use a darker shade of whichever color palette you are working with to create an upside down V and this will create enough contrast to shape lighter feathers. Look at the feathers in the pics below to see how we each tackled this noting the light areas and darker strokes. Again, use short stokes that run in the direction of the animal’s natural fur/feather direction, and if you are not sure, remember that Google is your friend. Search for a photo of the animal you are coloring and use that as a model to keep your fur/feather lines moving in the right direction. Betty also has some helpful tips here if you are curious to learn more.
It is a long process to complete a coloring using Betty’s techniques, but the results are well worth it if you are looking for a more realistic (yet also soft and dreamy) look. Working section by section, everything eventually all comes together in the end.
If you want to try some of these techniques using the same design, you can find the Tigerlily Tweet line art for coloring in the following places and formats:
- An instantly downloadable & printable PDF on Etsy (2 page PDF)
- An instantly downloadable & printable PDF direct from the artist at RubyCharmColors (2 page PDF)
- Standard Edition Birdy book on Amazon
- Artist Edition on Etsy (spiral-bound book on heavier paper)
- Artist Edition direct from the artist at RubyCharmColors (spiral-bound book on heavier paper)
You can also find plenty of art supplies (and see some of my favorites) on my Adult Coloring Art Supplies page. Please note, if you order using some of the links on my website, I may get a small commission as a Blick Affiliate. This does not negatively affect your pricing in any way, but it does help me continue my work as an artist. Thanks in advance if you bookmark my art supplies page to make purchases!
Until then, happy coloring and cheers to the people and places that inspire us!