Though the phrase has become cliche, it’s true. Team work does make the dream work. I am lucky to have such a smart, talented and kind coloring team who support what I do, and want to share a little of what these amazing ladies do behind the scenes for Ruby Charm Colors. First and foremost, they truly motivate and inspire me to keep moving forward. And that’s half the battle, yes?
There have been times I’ve been close to giving up. Afraid I couldn’t do it all myself. Worried that devoting all my time to the project and not a “real job” was not going to help keep my head above water. The list goes on and on. And I am still dog-paddling. But a few kind words and caring gestures from the team at just the right times (and the support of my wise-beyond-her-years daughter and my amazing sister) helps me see that yes, I am going to be okay. I can do this. My team’s genuine interest in my art, and willingness to not only color it but help promote it, is my life boat.
Amazing things can happen when people believe in you.
I met my team members last year through Instagram originally, and we struck up conversations through comments and private messages. They had purchased my art through Etsy and colored it, and each time they shared what they had done over social media, I was in awe. They were not only coloring my art, but having fun with it. And even more exciting? They were taking my designs to the next level, each in their own creative way.
Once the team was together (virtually, since we are spread across the globe) we came up with a loose and fairly organic plan to help promote my work. Loose because I have always felt that too many rules stifle creativity, and organic in that the actions the team takes should always be fluid and grow and change as needed. And some great ideas have come out of this arrangement as well as some wonderful videos, promotional materials, and even tutorials. I keep the team supplied with line art to color (and other goodies when I can), and they rally around my latest ideas and work and help cast it out to a wider audience.
The team started a Colorist of the Month celebration through our Facebook community, and ran contests and color-alongs (which would be really difficult to keep up on my own). And when it was time for me to start working on my first self-published books through Amazon, they were there to help me sort through the good and bad ideas and deal with snafus. I spent hours upon hours staring at my computer screen working on the layout and making sure all of my designs fit, and felt lucky to have such smart, talented people just an email or text away. Friends to give me a pep talk when I was close to tossing my laptop out the window. Friends I could confess my frustrations about print quality and paper quality to. Friends to just say “hey, we got this.”
And over the past year, we have become friends. We jump online now and then to share stories and have a few laughs about our lives, and yes, plenty of talk about art supplies and coloring, too. I feel lucky.
So thank you, Paula, Lora, Betty, Steph and Lucia for being my dream team. You are all so very special to me in your own unique ways, and you are all appreciated.
Cheers to art supplies, coloring, creativity, and a very happy 2019 and beyond!
My review proof of the Ruby Charm Colors Adult Coloring Art Journal arrived in the mail yesterday and I took a moment this morning to create a quick flip-through of the contents if you are interested in checking it out. My video skills are not the best, so my apologies, but here it is …
Like Volume 1, this book was designed especially for colored pencil fanatics and has full plate illustrations (22 in v1 and 24 in v2) along with room to test your colors and play around with smaller bits taken from the illustrations, plus new tips, color charts and room for notes. It should be available on Amazon later this week!
If there were a space for a subtitle, it would read: The Making of a Book – How I Nearly Lost my Marbles
The past few months, I have been diligently working on producing a two-volume collection of the art I created especially for coloring over the past year or so, and I can finally hold the fruits of my labor in my hands—the very first proof copy of Volume 1.
It is equally exciting and terrifying.
Exciting to feel the velvety, matte black cover and finally be able to flip through a professionally bound version of my book instead of the messy draft I cobbled together in a 3-ring binder. Terrified because my work is headed out into the world, and what if I missed a stupid typo, or what if there is a quality problem with Print-on-Demand I can’t control? What if people hate the paper? So many what-if’s, yet an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment holds me steady and keeps me moving forward. I finally did what I set out to do, and I can now offer my art on Amazon to a wider audience as a less-expensive version of the locally-printed, hand-made books I currently sell on Etsy.
Mapping out the draft of the book took a lot of time and loads of paper and printer ink. My poor old Epson was put to the test this summer and it’s tired. And I used an awful lot of tape. In addition to each of the 22 plates (full illustrations), I recreated isolated parts of the plates to build the art journal pages. I could have used simple boxes or circles colorists could use as swatches to test out their colors, but thought it would be even more useful if people could experiment with the actual parts of each illustration before working on the plates if they wanted. In the video below, you can see how I built mock-ups of the pages. The ring-binder and tape method worked pretty well because it allowed me to move things around as needed.
Once the draft was in good shape and I knew the final page count would be at about 140, I used Adobe InDesign to build the file I would need to submit the book to the publisher. I had to keep Illustrator and Photoshop open on my computer (and keep my iPad with all my illustrations on it handy) since I was adding in so many smaller designs to my pages and they all needed a little fussing and nudging. I work on a small MacBook Air I’ve had for ages and it’s plugged into a second monitor, but it’s not very big either. I think this is partly why I felt I needed a physical copy to work with so I could see whole pages at their actual size.
The cover design went through a few different iterations and I finally settled on a black cover with a circle of colorful art in the center. I also spent a ton of time searching for the perfect title font and found it through Emily Spadoni. And then once I committed to and paid for it, decided to go back into the interior of the book and change all my headings to that playful font, too. Seemingly little changes can sometimes take hours of work.
Once the interior and cover were done, I submitted my files to CreateSpace and held my breath. The digital proof came back with errors. So many errors. A bunch of my graphics had somehow converted to a lower ppi between Photoshop and Illustrator before making it into InDesign, and the margins and bleeds were mucked up in spots. I had to redo a bunch of graphics and fiddle with the margins and bleeds which was tricky for some of the graphics since they overlapped and purposely fell off the pages in areas. And I intentionally rotated some of the images so that caused even more chaos during the review process. It was a lot of excruciating nit-picking to get it all right. When the proverbial light turned green after a few more rounds of submissions (days and days of back-and-forth), I ordered physical proofs with expedited shipping. Whoo-hoo!
As soon as I got the proofs in the mail, I sent copies to my trusty coloring team so they could take their own book for a test drive and help me with a little feedback. Their comments were incredibly useful and reassuring, and I’ll be forever grateful to them. Paula, Lora, and Lucia—you are a dream team—thank you!
Since July, I have put in an average of 8 to 10 hours a day planning the layout, writing text for the introduction and “coloring tips” pages, creating smaller versions of my illustrations to build the art journal pages, and designing the cover. It’s been a long process and I’ve learned so much along the way. Not only about how to create a book, but about what makes me tick and how dedication and hard work can turn into something tangible—something to be proud of seeing through from inception to reality, start to finish.
Notes and binders during the planning stages of the Ruby Charm Colors Adult Coloring Art Journal (with Starbucks – coffee was a critical part of the work process)
This book is a little different from other coloring books. A lot of thought went into the concept and layout. I didn’t want the book to be a simple collection of drawings to color, I wanted it to be an art journal—a place where colorists could play and experiment and exercise their creative muscles. I am fairly new to coloring (I really only started when I began creating line art specifically for coloring last year) and admittedly have very few coloring books.
What I noticed about my coloring habits, though, is that I always needed a few scraps of paper nearby to test my colors. I would jot down notes about which pencils I was using, and had lots of scribbles and color swatches. A lot of times, those swatches and notes would get lost, so if I went back to finish a piece days or weeks later, I’d have to try to retrace where I started and what I used. I knew that others had the same issue and this is where the idea of a coloring art journal came into play.
My marked up proof of the Ruby Charm Colors book showing the art journal page on the left and the full plate for coloring on the right.
I want colorists to have a place to keep their ideas together—all those little notes and blended color swatches. A go-to journal that can store ideas and coloring discoveries that can be applied not only to my art in this book, but to other pieces of art in other books as well. Each art journal (or worksheet) page is a little different from the others and directly relates to the illustration from the full plate. And colorists can fill these pages out however they see fit. There are no rules for how something is colored, what is tracked or what is scribbled—it’s all up to the colorist.
Since I knew going into this project using CreateSpace meant the book’s paper would not be ideal for everyone (some love it, some hate it) I decided to back each plate with a black page to help obscure color bleed-through. It’s not an issue with colored pencils at all, but some markers (especially Copics and Sharpies) can make a huge mess. I had my daughter try her Copics in the book, and though the effect of the bleed looked pretty cool through the black back, it’s probably not ideal.
So fair warning: I do not recommend heavy markers for this book at all. Watercolors can be used sparingly. It’s thin paper, and there is not much independent coloring book artists can do about it until CreateSpace hears our pleas for thicker paper, perforated pages and spiral-binding (which in my opinion would be ideal).
Here is a sample of Caran d’Ache Muesum and Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils using a Kurtake waterbrush (easy on the water). The paper warped a little, but not terrible. And while it was damp, a little of the black from the page behind it showed through. But once it completely dried, it was fine. Coloring over it with regular colored pencils helped flatten it back out. I wouldn’t recommend washing an entire page with water, but in small doses, it seems to be fine. This is partly why I encourage colorists to copy plates from the book onto their favorite type of paper or card stock if they would like. It also saves them a clean version to copy again if needed.
Each plate has a dark background on the reverse side and includes the name of the plate and room for you to add your name if you like to give your art away, or if you like to cut it out of the book and store it in a binder.
I also tried coloring a fiddlehead fern design on the back of one plate and yes, coloring on black works pretty well and is a lot of fun. Don’t be surprised to see a Black Magic Art Journal before too long.
I couldn’t resist coloring on the black page
The final book proof should arrive in the mail any day and I am anxious to go through it one last time before bringing it to life on Amazon. In the meantime, I am working my way through Volume 2 (same format but with 24 full illustration plates to complete the collection, and new, more advanced advanced coloring tips) as well as ideas for a Journal, a “Just the Plates” companion (with all 46 plates), and a Black Magic volume. Will I make it for the holidays? Only time will tell!
Below is a quick flip-through of my first proof if you want to take a peek. It shows the color charts at the end of the book, the plates and art journal pages, the tips pages and the front matter. I may have skipped a few pages—I am not the best flipper. 😉
Give my blog a follow for updates, and I promise I won’t fill your inbox up with spam. You can also find me on Instagram and Facebook @RubyCharmColors and, pssst! My coloring team is hosting a Color-Along from September 7 to October 7 if you want to get your hands on an excerpt from the book to color … Autumn Cat! Join the RubyCharmColors FB group, look for the Color-Along event, download the file, and happy coloring!
The past month has been busy for the Ruby Charm Colors project. In addition to working on an upcoming book (which has somehow morphed into two 100+ page volumes) I’ve created a few new illustrations for my Etsy shop and have released several sets of cards for coloring.
The first illustration I completed was actually started a few months ago and was a special request by a fan, Lucia, who is now on my coloring team. Lucia’s Crestie gecko, Nacho, was the inspiration for this illustration and I finally got around to finishing up the background in July. The gecko itself was done quite some time ago, but as with several of my mini projects, sometimes they fall by the wayside until I have a reminder to git ‘er done, as they say. The line art, if you would like to color this finished design yourself, can be found here in the RubyCharmColors Etsy shop.
I started coloring this illustration using a mix of Caran d’Ache Neocolor II pastels and colored pencils. I had ordered about 8 individual (open-stock) pastels from Blick to try them out as I had seen a number of beautiful colorings on Instagram and Facebook using the Neocolors. I was attracted to their intense hues and how they appeared to blend really well. I used Turquoise, Chromium Oxide Green, Olive Brown, and Fast Orange for the background, sun and leaves for this piece. Though it was my first time using the pastels and I was still getting the hang of blending them with my Kurtake and Aquash Pentel water brushes, I was pretty happy with the outcome and decided to order a set of the Neocolors through Amazon so I would have more colors to work with in future projects.
Gecko line art for coloring books and pages (c) 2018 by S. Carlson / Ruby Charm Colors, colored by the artist
Once the pastels dried, I started going over different areas of the illustration with a mix of colored pencils – mostly Caran d’Ache Luminance and Pablo pencils, Polychromos, and Prismacolors. Once my overall colors were in place (lots and lots of layers as usual) I started burnishing the colors using my Irojiten pencils.
Close-up of Gecko line art for coloring books and pages (c) 2018 by S. Carlson / Ruby Charm Colors, colored by the artist
The final step for the gecko was to add small embellishments with Sakura Souffle gel pens. This piece has a long way to go before it’s complete, so it’s now living in one of my “unfinished projects” folders for safe-keeping. I am sure I’ll pull it back out again when I have some free time.
Gecko line art for coloring books and pages (c) 2018 by S. Carlson / Ruby Charm Colors, colored by Lora King
The next illustration I completed recently was the Toutterkoi. It started out as a butterfly but I added a toucan’s face to the tips of the wings on a lark. It was weird but I liked it enough and decided to work in some koi on the bottom wings and tail. I really enjoyed fitting creatures into the butterfly and had fun color-testing this piece with a mix of Polychromos, Prismacolors and Irojitens. I really appreciate the sharp tips I can get on the Irojiten pencils for small details.
Toutterkoi line art for coloring books and pages (c) 2018 by S. Carlson / Ruby Charm Colors, colored by the artist
Toutterkoi line art for coloring books and pages (c) 2018 by S. Carlson / Ruby Charm Colors, colored by Vanessa Black
Paula Leach used Schpirerr Farben pencils for her Toutterkoi. Using a blend of greys moves her fronds to the background while the brighter colors move the Tourrtekoi forward.
Toutterkoi line art for coloring books and pages (c) 2018 by S. Carlson / Ruby Charm Colors, colored by Paula Leach
Here is a close-up of Paula’s work including her signature sparkles as embellishments on the body and wings – lovely color choices.
Close-up of the Toutterkoi line art for coloring books and pages (c) 2018 by S. Carlson / Ruby Charm Colors, colored by Paula Leach
My next project consisted of modifying some of my line art to make greeting cards that can be printed at home, colored and given away. There are 6 designs in the first set: Little Bird; Horse with Flowers; Insects; Lion, Hare and Moon; Mice in Freesia; and Spring Hare.
Little Bird line art for coloring books, pages and greeting cards (c) 2018 by S. Carlson / Ruby Charm Colors, colored by the artist
After that, I modified a collection of my moth and butterfly illustrations and turned them into greeting cards, too. This set of 8 designs can be printed at home (card stock is best), trimmed to size and colored with your favorite media.
So about the Caran d’Ache Neocolor II pastels …. I did order a set of 40 off of Amazon and I was so excited to get them in the mail. After opening the box and grabbing a few pastels to try out of a scrap of paper, though, my heart sank. They did not blend at all with my water brush. What the hell? And then it dawned on me … I had mistakenly ordered the Neocolor I pastels (which happen to be water-resistant) instead of the Neocolor II pastels which are meant to be blended with water! The Neocolor I pastels are beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but they were not what I needed. I repacked the box and sent them back.
If you order Neocolors through Amazon, be sure you are ordering the correct type of pastel you need (I or II)! The item description did not specify which set I was ordering, and since there was a picture of paintbrushes next to the pastels, I assumed I was getting the watercolors. Nope.
Just a few days later I opened my mailbox to discover a rather large and heavy package inside. I carefully slid it out (because I didn’t want the ginormous black spider who has taken up residence in said mailbox to hitch a ride on my package). It was a full set of gorgeous Neocolor II pastels gifted to me by a dear fellow artist! I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that someone would send me art supplies – such a thoughtful and generous gesture and I am still in awe. i got to work right away using the pastels (and some colored pencils) to color in one of the greeting cards I designed as a thank card.
Horse with flowers line art for coloring books, pages and greeting cards (c) 2018 by S. Carlson / Ruby Charm Colors, colored by the artist
Horse with flowers line art for coloring books, pages and greeting cards (c) 2018 by S. Carlson / Ruby Charm Colors, finished card colored by the artist
So that’s what I’ve been up to the past few weeks. My gardens are going wild and I really need to do more weeding, my tomatoes are finally ripening, the cicadas are buzzing, and I have fresh flowers in the kitchen each day.
Now back to the business of making the book(s), and I’ll have a teaser about that in the coming days ….
Flowers from my gardens-gone-wild: Tree Lily, Phlox, Lavender, Day Lily, Crocosmia, and Jerusalem Artichokes
Last year, I painted a collection of 6 fruits and vegetables in acrylics on 24″ square canvases, and I’ve been wanting to convert them into line drawings especially for coloring. I finally had a chance to do this over the past few weeks and am happy to announce they are ready and listed in the RubyCharmColors Etsy shop. If you enjoy coloring, gardening or cooking (or know someone who does) these illustrations might be a perfect way to while away a rainy day!
There are six designs in this first collection: pears, peppers, pumpkins, beets, tomatoes and garlic. The beets illustration below was tested out by two members on my coloring team, Paula Leach and Lora King (thank you, ladies!). To see the full collection, take a look at the samples included in my Etsy listing.
Here is a close-up of the pumpkin illustration I started coloring. I used a mix of colored pencils including Caran d’Ache Luminance and Pablo, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Prismacolors, Verithins, Derwent ProColor and Irojiten. In the drawing above, you can see where I used the Irojiten pencils to blend and burnish the other layers (many, many light layers) of pencil. The burnished areas are much more blended and saturated.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how one piece of art can multiply and transform into many different versions as colorists (people who love to color in coloring books) approach the same line drawing with their own color preferences, creative vision, tools, technical skills, and experiences.
The tools or media a colorist chooses to work with plays an important role in the overall appearance of a coloring. Some colorists like to mix things up and use not only a blend of different colored pencils, but also other media like watercolor, markers, chalk, gel pens, pastels and even eye shadow. Others prefer to stick with their favorite pencil brand. Either way, gorgeous results are within everyone’s reach— it just takes is time, practice, and a willingness to learn and experiment. And sometimes a little luck!
Each version of the Mice in Freesia has its own unique feel, and different elements of the design are brought forward (or pushed back) through use of color, shading, pattern, and different applications of the media.
The next set of drawings are examples of colorists seeing past the lines of the original Insects illustration into completely new and original creative territory. Some may be worried by the idea of altering an artist’s work (and I have seen colorists on social media flip out on other colorists about how they don’t think it is okay at all) but I think it is fantastic!
I don’t mind being the catapult if someone has a vision they want to reach in their own coloring. If my work can inspire new ideas, then I feel I have accomplished something special. I include the simple black and white illustration above the work of Fumiko and Valencia (below) so you can see how they altered the original work to fit their individual visions.
Valencia Venter Van Zyl took her coloring of the same Insect design (but printed on white card stock) in a completely different direction by adding strawberries and roses. The way she approached the circles by adding borders and tiny flowers is reminiscent of an heirloom teacup saucer which gives the design a more antique feel. Here is Valencia’s coloring up close. And I am sorry I don’t which pencils or other media she used …
All of these colorists have beautiful, individual approaches that bring the original art to new levels. As an artist, I find this very exciting and feel that there is a collaboration between creatives not typically found in other art forms. When we see a painting in a gallery, or a sculpture on a table, or view photos or films, we participate to a degree, of course. But not to the extent people interact with the art in the adult coloring book world. Colorists take the line art—the basic framework—and transform it through their own creative lens. They truly involve themselves—physically and mentally—in the art.
Adult coloring as a hobby is sometimes ridiculed for being childish, but those who ridicule may not be looking close enough to see the beautiful art that’s being produced by colorists around the world. And they may not understand the truly therapeutic effect putting a pencil (or other media) to paper can have. For me, coloring or drawing puts me in a state of focus I don’t find elsewhere. Keen focus. And at the same time, a state of catharsis. My mind feels clear and sharp, and overall I feel relaxed and more centered. A sort of yin and yang effect.
Sometimes I think that we are too bombarded by distracting “little bits” that throw us off track. Every waking moment. Cell phones are continually dinging at us, we see a flash of the “news” on TV or one of our other devices that barely scratches the surface of a story before jumping to the next “bombshell”, we read newspaper and magazine articles that are so short it’s a wonder anyone gets paid to write them. I sometimes worry that our ability to focus and think deeply about much of anything will someday disappear. So yeah, I get the adult coloring craze that surfaced a few years back, and those who dismiss or ridicule it are missing out. I think a lot of people crave something real and tactile—something they can start, see their progress, make their own decisions, hold in their hands and say “I did that.”
Coloring can be “mindless” but it can also be mindful.
This next batch of colorings (above) have unique qualities, too. Lisa Duggan colored two different versions of the Lion Fish design. Her first version (a close-up here), was colored in September of 2017, and she used Prismacolor and Polychromos pencils. In her second version (completed more recently), Lisa used Derwent Inktense, a little layering on top of that with Polychromos, and then added embellishments with gel pens. Click here for a close-up of Lisa’s second coloring. Her color choices for the Lion Fish and the background uniquely alters the mood of each version.
Again, the media we work with can make a huge difference in the overall look and feel of a piece. And I probably say this more than I need to, but never be afraid to experiment! Even if a coloring turns into a disaster, there were probably some useful skills learned in the process.
Here’s another set of colorings that beautifully highlight the variety of work being done by colorists working with the RubyCharmColors illustrations. This is Gazelles.
Lisa’s warm hues, blending of the sky with a few hazy clouds hanging in the air, and her coloring technique effectively brings us to the African savanna (see close-up) while Fumiko’s blue gazelles and and striped planet looks like a mystical scene from Avatar (here’s her close-up). On Instagram Lisa commented that Fumiko’s coloring looks like night photography and I tend to agree. Both colorings are uniquely beautiful!
Now this is pretty cool … same colorist, different versions of the original line drawing: one was printed in black while the other was printed at about 50% grey-scale. Colorist Beth Hovey told the RubyCharmColors group on Facebook that she used the Sun & Moon illustration as an art lesson for her granddaughter!
After coloring the black line version, she printed out the grey line version to help her granddaughter understand how black lines and gray lines can have an affect how a coloring turns out. She used the same color palette for each version—and even though she said the purple pastel chalk on the black line coloring was applied a little heavier—we can still see the nuances between the two different versions.
Coloring the grey line version (which I include with all of the PDFs I offer on Etsy as a bonus) puts more emphasis on shapes and colors and less emphasis on the sometimes heavy black lines themselves. Working with grey line versions can also make it a little easier to veer from the original design and add more of your own details since the lines are much lighter and easier to color over. And you don’t have to have a grey-line PDF to do this. Depending on your printer’s settings, you can can either choose “Greyscale” or even print at a lower “economy” setting which spits less ink on the page (if you have an inkjet printer). Laser printer? Not sure … but you can always poke around your printer’s settings and try a few experiments.
The next three images are from colorists Sandy Kinzer, Lucia Brown and Paula Leach, each working their own magic on the same image. Here, it’s all about the color combos. The simple butterfly design was offered as a freebie through the RubyCharmColors group on Facebook (you need to join and participate to get the freebies) as a teaser and as a practice run for the more complicated “Butterfly with Spheres” design that was released shortly after as a downloadable, printable PDF.
Sandy’s butterfly feels like spring with a lovely mix of pastels and a few bright colors we associate with the season of growth and awakenings. Lucia’s butterfly uses a pallet that is a little more limited, and her use of pinks and turquoise create playful, modern looking contrasts.
The close up of Paula’s butterfly in more muted tones above shows the metallic, glittery pens she used to embellish some of her detail work. Below is her coloring of the full version of “Butterfly with Spheres.” Her color pallet is intentionally limited and gives the piece a soft, romantic unified look.
Having a little time to think about colors before approaching a final piece can be helpful. And being able to experiment with different media on a more simple piece before committing to the final can take away some of the pressure, too. Not everyone is concerned about the final outcome (and that is perfectly fine), but there are a lot of colorists who are, and who want to keep learning and pushing themselves creatively.
Now how about these rabbits? Again, color changes everything! These three colorings below are of the Spring Rabbit illustration.
Horse with Flowers is a more recent drawing, and I have three colorings I’d like to share though I know there are more floating around out there. Betty Hung, a colorist and blogger (check out her beautiful and helpful blog about coloring here) used Chameleon pens and Colortone pencils in her beautifully balanced piece. Her blending of the background is soft and exquisite (zoom in here).
There are so many other colorings I’d love to include in this post, and so many wonderful colorists that I’d love to tip my hat to, but I’ve run out of time. I would love to do this again in a few more months, though, so keep those colorings coming, please use the #RubyCharmColors hashtag on Instagram, and please tag RubyCharmColors on Facebook.
I’d really love to see your work!
A big THANK YOU to all the colorists willing to share their work and joy of coloring with us all! Show them some love and give them a follow on Instagram!
I’ve probably colored this horse illustration (which I designed as a coloring page) at least three times now, though I’ve finished none. Yet. I get sidetracked with new projects and once set aside, a colored illustration might not see the light of day for months. But I do like to experiment with different color schemes and I use the partially colored pieces in various marketing efforts, so the work is never wasted. This one might end up on a tote bag or some other product if it turns out the way I am hoping.
I printed this horse on charcoal tinted card stock (not quite as dark) so I could play with some warm colors. I am still patiently waiting for warmer weather, green grass and yard work in a t-shirt. April has been especially cold so far and I am feeling it.
My first step for this piece was to use my Holbein Naples Yellow pencil to lightly fill in the body areas of the horse. Just one layer to help define the spaces around the flowers, leaves and mane before using a little Holbein Salmon Pink to build up my base (video below). After that, I grabbed a Caran d’Ache Luminance Yellow Ochre to add a little more pigment to these areas.
Once I had the body a little more defined, I started adding more Luminance Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna and Orange to the horse’s face using small, light circular motions and feathered strokes. In some ways, taking pics of this process with my iPhone can be helpful because the lens catches all of the pencils marks so you can see how “rough” the coloring looks at this point.
I didn’t do it in this video (because I was afraid I end up with a chaotic recording) but I move my page around. A lot. When I rotate my page, it helps me color at slightly different and over-lapping angles and this, ultimately, helps to not only blend but also fill in some of the black spots that appear under the pencil layers. Not sure how you work, but I find taping my art to a board is too constrictive.
You can see, in the photo below, the difference between my first layer of Holbein and the face where I am starting to build my layers. I used Luminance Alizarin Crimson along the inside edge of the swirl on the cheek and worked some of it up into the areas under the mane, then started blending with more Orange as well as Yellow Ochre and Raw Sienna. Luminance Buff Titanium was used at the tips of the ears, along the lightest edge of the cheek swirl, around the eye, and also in the lighter areas of the nose. I like the Luminance Titanium Buff over the White pencil since it seems to naturally blend better, but when I really want a white to stand out, it’s hard to beat Luminance White.
One note about the paper. It is Recollections brand from Michael’s and I pick up packages of 50 sheets when they go on sale. They offer both solid color packs as well as mixed collections. The charcoal grey I am using is from the Architecture collection. It handles most of my pencils fairly well, though I have noticed differences in tooth between different Recollections color collections. Mostly consistent, but not always–just an FYI.
The good news is that this paper is acid and lignin free meaning there are no chemicals that will eventually cause the paper (and consequently your artwork) to deteriorate. If you are coloring just for fun, using paper that is acidic or contains lignen is probably not a big deal … but if you want your work to last over the years, always look for “archival” quality paper or stock (meaning it is acid and lignen free).
After I warmed up the horse’s face with about six or seven light layers of yellows, orange and red Luminance, I worked with Polychromos Dark Chrome Yellow, Cadmium Orange, Orange Glaze and Middle Cadmium Red is small light circles “pushing” the Luminance pigments deeper into the paper. Oh, and a Derwent Studio Burnt Carmine pencil for the darkest edges. It is a brownish-purple-red tone that really helps to add depth in the more shadowed areas.
Funny how we all seem to have a collection of serious go-to pencils … I love all my pencils but my “can’t live without” and “worn to a nub quickest” pencils are as follows:
Polychromos Chrome Oxide Green, Olive Green Yellowish, Cobalt Turquoise, Dark Red, Bistre (I get these through Blick, open stock as well)
There are probably a few more I am forgetting, but these pencils get used a lot due to their colors, but more because of their ability to blend and define the way I need them to.
One interesting thing I have noticed about colored pencils is that after a period of “rest” (and I know this sounds crazy), it is easier to add new layers. My theory is that after a few hours or so, the waxes and oils from the pencils on the paper somehow relax (or more fully attach to the paper) and it becomes a little easier to apply new colors. I tried to find out if there is something to this, but didn’t spend much time searching on Google. Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon?
I then started working on the leaves and mane (below) using mostly greens: Luminance Olive Yellow, Olive Brown 50%, Olive Brown, Moss and Dark Sap Green. I also used a little Spring Green at the tips. Again, very light layers and not a lot of concern about “perfection” yet. My layers are starting to blend a little (see photo below), but you can still see a lot of strokes and where I started using the Luminance Prussian blue in the darkest areas. I used Prussian blue instead of black (or Dark Sap Green) because it adds a more rich and varied tone to the piece overall. It also contrasts nicely with the warm hues. Using the Irojiten Indigo pencil in the deepest areas adds a little more definition, and I plan to go back to those areas before the piece is finished.I used my black Verithin pencil to start adding some definition to the eyes, swirl, nose and mouth features. I’ll likely go back to those lines at a later time, too.
I couldn’t resist adding a little Prismacolor Light Aqua into the small circles on the mane because I love the way it looks with green–a nice little accent of color. The next step was to start filling in the flowers. I knew I wanted to work in some purples and almost went with a purple and blue combination, but decided to stay true to the warmer hues (aside from the turquoise accents). I tested a few colors on the back of my paper and fell in love with how Prismacolor Black Cherry, Tuscan Red, Crimson Lake and Pumpkin Orange worked together.
I put down a light layer of Black Cherry (which has a purple tone) and then graduated layers of the other three colors to the tips of the petals. Still not blended yet and that’s especially apparent in the harsh light of the iPhone. To really bring out the purple and give the innermost parts of the petals more depth, I used Irojiten Mulberry and Iris Violet pencils to start pushing my colors together. At this point, I try not to apply too much pressure with the Irojiten pencils. They are pretty hard, and if I use too much pressure, burnishing occurs. This is fine in the final steps of my coloring process, but since I may come back to the flowers with more layers, I am not yet ready to burnish (which can really lock in a layer and make it almost impossible to color over unless you use a fixative which I don’t do).
Now that I’ve got the basic colors of the flowers colored, I go back to the yellows in the body. Basically, I just refine the yellows with more layers and add a little more orange so these areas don’t end up looking too flat.
I also used my black Verithin to add filament lines, and Luminance Olive Brown to add a quick layer around the center circle of the flowers. Prismacolor Pumpkin was used for the centers. It may not see like it makes much of a difference, but a little squiggle of Irojiten Crimson along a few edges of the Pumpkin add a little depth and interest. And to balance out my accent color, I used the Prismacolor Light Aqua again for the flower anthers. Here is a close up:
The video clip below shows how I use the black Irojiten pencil to define the leaves a bit (the Verithin black works too). I never realized, until I started recording myself coloring, how I continually spin my pencil as I color. For certain areas, it’s important to have a sharp point, so I think I do this subconsciously in order to avoid dulling my pencil tips. In addition to defining the leaves, I used Sepia and a little Prussian Blu (both Luminance) to create more shadow around the belly and legs. And a little black Irojiten to further blend.
When people talk about the Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils being creamy, I don’t see it. These oil pencils are highly pigmented and fabulous, but I feel they are more gritty than creamy. And this is good and serves a purpose as they can help blend by breaking up the waxes from other pencils and move them around on an almost microscopic level. I’ve noticed I really love the way they behave on certain papers while on others, they tend to be a little more temperamental. Especially when combined with more waxy pencils. And it’s hard to predict so experimenting is key. When I am working on a new paper (or on the same paper but from a different batch), I always test out how different pencil brands will (or will not) play together first. Most mistakes can be fixed, but I have made of mess of things enough to be a little more careful. Ever have an area you are coloring turn to a glob of colors that refuse to blend and just clump up? No fun.
After I defined the leaves a bit, I grabbed my Rotring Isograph technical pen and realized it was almost empty. I wanted to use it around parts of the flowers, but had to do a refill first. Always a messy job:
Post pen-filling: I am not too happy with the results –my lines look too harsh (especially in photographs) but I can probably fix that and do a little more blending with the Mulberry Irojiten pencil. No worries–I’ll go back to it later.
Instead, I grabbed a white Soufflé gel pen (Sakura) to add dots to the anthers and a few on the horse’s face, and blue and copper metallic gel pens to add dots around the centers of the flowers. And a few Sakura Soufflé turquoise dots to the mane…
The art doesn’t look as harsh in person. Anyone who has tried photographing colored pencil on a dark background (especially when there are metallics involved) knows what I am talking about. I don’t have the right lighting in my studio and I get a lot of glare. I keep a few small gooseneck lamps on my desk and am constantly moving them around to get the best light when I am coloring, but have to turn them off when I take pictures. Someday I’ll get that all figured out.
I can’t imagine coloring on anything other than this old artist board (below) I bought back in college. I keep a small brass sharpener in a dish handy, as well as a brush to flick off any junk that lands on my paper and keep the wax bloom at bay.
Once I have a bunch of pencils I’ve pulled out of my cases to work with on a given piece, I store them in a tin drawer so I can keep track of them when I come back to the drawing. I used to write my colors down, but I don’t anymore.
Here is where I am leaving off on this piece for now. I have plenty more to do and will post a follow-up when I have a chance. For now, off to book work and and other tasks that need my attention…
Please feel free to leave questions or comments –I am always curious to learn how others tackle their art and channel their creativity, and no question is too silly. I may not have the answers, but I’ll give it an honest try.
I feel very lucky to have seen African wild dogs (also called painted dogs or painted wolves) at the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe over twenty years ago. Even then, their numbers were perilously low and the park rangers said we were very fortunate to have seen them in the wild.
I love how unique each dog’s splotchy-spotty coat is, and their rounded upright ears. The dogs I drew somehow morphed into leafy, flowery specimens … but I like to let my imagination run where it wants to more often than not.
After the black and white illustration was completed (about 14 hours from idea sketches to final product), I printed a copy on grey card stock, then got out my watercolor pencils to give the sky some color using Albrecht Dürer 154 Kobalttürkis Hell (aka Light Cobalt Turquoise) by Faber-Castell.
I was a little sloppy with the turquoise, but once I add more color with my regular colored pencils, it will all come together. I used Caran d’Ache Luminance (I get mine as open stock through Blick) as well as Faber-Castell Polychromos and Tombow Irojiten pencils for the dog so far. As much as I dream about having full sets of my favorite pencils, I prefer purchasing them “open stock” so I can get the colors I use most. I have quite a few pink pencils that have been used only once – to make a color chart. I don’t dislike pinks necessarily … I just rarely think about using them.
Does anyone else love the Luminance Titanium Buff pencil as much as I do for blending and highlighting?
It will be a while before I have time to finish this piece. In the meantime, the illustration is now available in my Etsy shop as an instantly downloadable and printable PDF if you would like to play around with whichever color scheme appeals to you. And if you are not sure about colors (or which pencils or papers to use), print a few copies and play around until you are happy with the results (the beauty of PDF coloring pages).
Less expensive than a bag of chips and far healthier for you. 😉