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!
My latest illustration for coloring, the Lion, Hare & Moon, was a learning lesson once I starting filling it with color, so I thought it might be useful to share my mistakes with those of you who use (or want to try) watercolor pencils in conjunction with regular colored pencils.
The illustration itself was inspired by wondering about our perceptions of strength and weakness, the fierce and the tame. And do we always know which is which?
I wasn’t thinking ahead about doing a blog post about this piece until I was nearly done, but I usually try to snap a few pics of my work in progress. The lighting is a little off in the pic above (my apologies) but you can see how pale the first layer is on the moon.
Once the basic colors were down in a few light layers, I used Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils (Brown Ochre and Yellow Ochre) to blend in the body. For the mane, I used one of my favorite pencils, a Derwent Studio (Rexel Cumberland) Burnt Carmine, which has deep wine undertones. I also used a Luminance Buff Titanium pencil to work in highlights under the eyes and cheeks. I then used a Crimson Irojiten pencil (which I order individually as needed through Blick) to work in the reds I put down in the mane and the sun ray lines with Prismacolor Tuscan Red and the Derwent Burnt Carmine (see below). I probably grabbed a few other similar colors during this process as well.
The colored pencils went down quite smoothly over the Faber-Castell Bistre watercolor once it dried. Per usual, it gave my colored pencils a nice “tooth” to grab onto.
Next: the grass. No watercolor pencils, but a variety of Prismacolor (Kelp, Prussian, Artichoke, Moss and Olive), Luminance (Moss, Olive Yellow and Olive Brown 50%) and Polychromos (Permanent Green Olive and Chromium Green Opaque) were used in multiple layers and then I burnished the colors using Irojitens (Cactus, Lettuce, Verdi and Forest).
Because the Irojitens are harder than other pencils, they work well for burnishing since they push the pigments around and, depending on how hard you press, deeper into the fiber of the paper. This helps to get rid of the small white dots that can appear in the coloring.
I try to work in small circle to avoid streaks, but sometimes my fingers get cramped and I get anxious and more concerned about finishing an area than making sure my colors are smooth. I am sure this happens to a lot of colorists. Sometimes time is running out and you just want to finish. Or move on to the next thing.
I also get a little sloppy (especially with watercolor layers) but that’s okay. I am constantly going back to areas that need a little more work and yep, sometimes I need a break from the larger, more monotonous parts of a page (like when I was coloring the grass).
Here’s when one of the biggest issues came in with this piece. Once I started working on the moon with regular colored pencils, I noticed that the turquoise Derwent watercolor pencil started flaking off in spots. It was most noticeable with the darker blues. The painted pigment would come up and leave small white flecks that were really difficult to color over, blend back in, and burnish.
My fix? I used small dabs of watercolor to help fill in the white spots in the dark areas, and I also realized that once I added my gel pen embellishments at the very end, the white flecks probably wouldn’t stand out as much. And I figured small dabs of ink would work too, so I tried not to panic and overwork those darker areas. With all of the pressure I had already used, I didn’t want to risk damaging the paper.
I used Titanium Buff again (Luminance) to work in the highlighted areas and blend my lighter blues and greens together. The flaking was not as noticeable with the lighter colors, thankfully.
The lesson here is that it really does pay to test out your ideas and tools before working on a final piece–especially if you are using a brand or color combo you haven’t tried before.
In this case, I used my Derwent Watercolour which is a fairly old pencil (15 years?) and got unexpected results. It could be the age of the pencil, or it could be the pigment in this particular pencil that doesn’t like being colored over with regular colored pencils. Hard to say. I have used lots of Derwents and have not noticed this issue until now. I have an even older collection of Staedtler Aquarelle pencils that all seem to behave beautifully.
But again, the point it … unless you are certain you’ll get the results you want with whichever tools you are using (paper included), try it out first on a scrap page of the same paper. There have been many times a design colored beautifully on one type of paper, but then total crud on another.
As I was working on the moon, I decided to try something a little new (for me, at least). I didn’t want the the rays coming off the moon to be a solid color, or just use a gradient, so I grabbed an Indigo Irojiten and drew a paisley-like pattern in that space after very lightly coloring a layer of Prismacolor Black and Indigo closest to the edge of the moon.
I then used Holbein Ice Green (aren’t they just the most dreamy pencils!?!) to add small dabs of color to the shapes I drew. I didn’t take my time drawing the paisley shapes or coloring them in perfectly because I thought that if everything went as planned, it really wouldn’t matter….
Here’s where the fun part comes in–blending these simple little lines and shapes with the Luminance Buff Titanium pencil. I colored with lots of small, fairly hard, circular strokes to push the color around and soften up the paisley lines and shapes. I also followed up with Irojiten Eggshell and Cascade (a light aqua hue) for more blending and burnishing after this pic was taken to smooth things out even more. The overall effect looks like fabric or even batik in spots.
My wheels are turning and I’d like to experiment with this technique even more in the future.
Here’s where we are at so far (below and about 6 or 7 hours into it). I also added some rainbow colors to the rays, and somewhere along the way I colored in the hare. I forgot to mention that little guy! Same pencil brands, same technique using the Irojitens to burnish.
Here I go again saving the background for last! A few colorists on Facebook and Instagram have been chatting about this dilemma, and I really don’t know what the answer is. Sometimes I can picture the color scheme of the entire piece in my mind when I start–other times I just grab pencils and start working on a focal point.
I considered a black background for the contrast it would provide, but then thought that would be too harsh and might even obscure the lion’s mane and tips of the grass if it was too dark. So I settled on a combination of Black, Indigo and Grey. The Prismacolor Black was used in the U-shapes closest to the moon. Just a few light layers but progressively darker as I worked toward the center…
Then I added a few layers of Prismacolor Indigo (again layering progressively deeper toward the center and blending into the Black).
The layers started looking a little streaky as my fingers were cramping up again and I just wanted to get all of the blue filled. I am sure many of you can relate!
To avoid streaks, it does help to keep turning your paper so that you are not always coloring in the same direction. For this piece, though, I planned to burnish these areas and go back over them a few times so I didn’t worry about the streaks too much.
And that’s what I did–first with the Irojiten Indigo pencil pushing the Black and Indigo Prismacolor layers around and blending them together …
… and then with Irojiten Taupe. I also went over all the sky areas yet again with Pigeon Grey, which is a little lighter than Taupe, toward the outside areas.
Using Irojiten shades close to the original layers of colored pencil you put down can provide rich saturation levels and also slightly change the tint of your original layers depending on what you choose.
The Pigeon Grey gives the Indigo a nice smokey look, for example, while using Eggshell will inject a slight yellow tint into your original colors. Don’t be afraid to experiment with this if you decide to use the Irojitens the way I do. And remember that I am not a colored pencil expert–I am still learning as I go and still making mistakes!
Here is a quick video of blending and burnishing with the grey Irojiten over part of the sky. You can see how it really adds depth to the existing light layer of Indigo:
Once I finished the sky, I was left with the mostly blank white circle inside the moon shape. Another dilemma. I settled on trying out the soft paisley-effect again, but with a few slightly different colors including Faber-Castell Permanent Green Olive. I kept the tip of my Luminance Buff Titanium pencil fairly blunt, but again, used lots and lots of circular blending as you can see in the video below:
I did a few touch-ups in spots, but once all the colored pencil work was complete, I added a bunch of dots using Sakura Souffle gel pens (and a darker Turquoise Moolight pen). It can be tricky to work with these pens because they take a few minutes to dry and can smudge easily until then, so I usually work on a small few sections at a time and let it dry under my hot little Halogen desk lamp before moving on.
And here you go … the finished piece! Except that I just realized I never colored the stars … hmmm. For another day! I think they should be dark Indigo, yes?
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.
Oh why didn’t I title this one March Hare when I had the chance? Too late now … it’s up on Etsy and ready for your coloring enjoyment!
I spent about 12 hours on this illustration from rough sketch to finished black and white line drawing and it was an enjoyable piece to work on … though all the curls and leaves of the fiddle-head ferns caused my hands to cramp up last night. Oh to be young again with better eyesight, too. My glasses are getting a little loose and I am tired of continually pushing them back up my nose.
I was thinking about the Easter bunny the other day and how rotten it is that I lied to my daughter about the Easter Bunny (and Santa for that matter) yet try to teach her that lying is wrong. What’s wrong with that picture? At any rate, I’ve been wanting to draw fiddle-head ferns and thought this would make a good composition for a coloring page – Easter and Spring themed without the plastic eggs and candy.
I started to color the illustration in (partly to test out the design but also to have a partially colored piece to show in my Etsy listing) and used a base layer of Caran d’Ache Museum, Faber-Castell Albrect Durer, and Staedtler Aquarelle (though mine are very old) watercolor pencils. I blended with a water brush, and then once it dried, started refining and blending with layers of colored pencils (mostly the same brands plus Prismacolor and Irojiten pencils). I also hit it with a few dabs of Sakura Souffle gel pens. It will be a while before this one is done – too much on my plate to play – but it was fun to get a start on it. And this rabbit’s face just makes me giggle.
Hello! It’s Superbowl Sunday and I’ve been working on a special gift for the fabulous people I have met through Instagram, Etsy, and Facebook – an original Ruby Charm Colors Valentine Butterfly drawn especially for you to download and color–no strings attached! It’s the best way I know to extend a sincere and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way this past year. Your kind words and willingness to answer my questions, talk about art, and purchase my books, illustrations and other creative projects, help motivate and inspire me to keep moving forward and creating new illustrations, paintings, and even beaded and embroidered projects.
So thank you!
If you are new to my art, this is a great opportunity to take it for a test drive and play with a little color. I recommend printing on card stock (if you have it) and be sure to check that the image “fits on the page” in your printer settings. If you need to take the PDF to an office supply store or printer, you should be able to save the PDF file to a thumb drive. And because this is a vector image, you can print this illustration on larger sized sheets of paper if you have the means.
All of the illustrations I sell through my Etsy shop include a complimentary grey-line version of the artwork, so you’ll notice the PDF is two pages long. I am growing very fond of the grey-line versions as they allow me to focus more on my colors and shapes and less on the black lines when I color. Having both versions gives us more options.
I originally sketched this botanical butterfly and heart on my iPad Pro with an Apple pencil on Saturday, and used several layers to create a clean black line drawing. I then pulled the black & white illustration into Adobe Illustrator to create a vector file, and to create a grey line version, and then saved both into a PDF just for you. The whole process, from rough sketches to final product, took about 10 hours. And then I printed a copy and started playing with a little color … because I can’t help myself.
Actually, those who know me and my work know that I typically “color-test” each one of my illustrations before letting them go to their new homes. I like to be sure the designs are workable, and that there are no glaring mistakes that can mess up an otherwise enjoyable coloring experience.
Please note: This illustration is (c) by Susan Carlson (Ruby Charms Colors) and is for personal use only. You may print and color as many personal copies as you like, and use your colored pieces as gifts or valentine cards, but the art may not be distributed, sold or used commercially in whole or in part without my express written permission. Thank you.
This week, I finally completed a color-test of my latest illustration for a new adult coloring book in the works and wanted to share my approach, tools and tips. I learned a few things about my process during this piece—things some of you more experienced colorists probably already know—but I thought they would be worth mentioning. The illustration took approximately 15 hours to draw, and probably about the same to color. It is 7×10 inches and the black and white line version is currently available on Etsy.
The butterfly is based on a pencil sketch I did a few years ago. I pulled it into Procreate and used layers to create a clean black and white line drawing, then added in the spheres, leaf vines, and two other butterflies. I drew one sphere and duplicated it three times, resizing and rotating each layer until I was happy with the composition.
When I save a digital file for future listing in my Etsy shop, I always create two images: one with pure black lines, and then another with lines that have reduced opacity to about 40-50%. I am starting to prefer coloring on the grey-line versions of my work because it allows me to focus more on hue and shape instead those black lines. I can then go back and darken or add lines where I would like to emphasize them.
I print my illustrations on card stock (in this case, it was Neenah Exact Index, 110 lb) with my Epson Stylus NX625 printer, and for the butterfly, I chose the grey-line version from the PDF.
My working space
I have a few hard artist boards I use to draw and color on because they provide a firm, smooth surface, and are easy to move around my desk (and off my desk if I need the space for something else). I also use an OTT Lite above my workspace as well as a small halogen desk lamp with a goose-neck. I also have another OTT light I can pull in if needed. Until I can get bionic eyes, I need to work fairly close to my illustrations. It’s frustrating sometimes, but being able to adjust the angle of my lighting helps.
My small desk area gets pretty messy while I am working.and I only clean up once a project is finished. I store all my pencils in BTSKY and Soucolor cases (which I found on Amazon) and organize them by color and brand and pull them out as needed. The reason I organize them by brand is because they behave a little differently on paper and I want to see my color options for a given need in one place. But more on that in a minute.
Even though the pallet appears to be somewhat limited for this particular illustration, I used many different pencils—brands as well as colors. I wanted to work purples and greens into the spheres, and over time, the colors sort of started dictating themselves. I sometimes have a loose color plan going in, but I don’t always stick to it. I admire colorists who can stick to a specific pallet—especially if it is a limited pallet. I’ve yet to try.
I usually start with the Caran d’Ache Luminance, Pablo, Prismacolor and Polychromos pencils, They provide a nice, soft base of color to build upon. I wish I could say I have one method I always follow but I don’t when it comes to blending. Sometimes I work from darker colors to lighter, sometimes lighter to dark. And I sometimes start wth my mid-tones and work out from there. My favorite pencil for lightening areas and adding highlights is the Luminance white pencil. I’ve used a variety of brands, and this one has become my go-to. It effectively blends underlying colors, but lays down white pigment more effectively than my other white pencils.
With the purple triangular areas for my spheres, I put down a very light layer of Prismacolor Parma violet from the points to about 3/4 of the way down the triangle shape. Then I used Black Cherry from the base (with a heavier hand but decreasing pressure back up to the point. Bistre (#179), one of my favorite Polychromos pencils, was then used to blend the Black Cherry and Parma together from the point about halfway down. The brown really warmed up the violet hues. I blended a little more with those base colors, then used my black Irojiten pencil to deepen the shadows at the base of the triangles. And added a touch of Irojiten Crimson to the tips. Finally, I finished off the triangles with a mix of Irojiten Iris, Plum and Crocus to burnish and seal my colors.
I tend to work with a lot of layers – maybe too many – and I also feel the need to practically push my colors right into the paper. I don’t necessarily recommend this practice (I am not a colored pencil expert) – it’s simply the way I work to get the effects I want. And I experiment a lot and may change my ways over time. But for now, I like to burnish my colors with a final layer using the Irojiten pencils. Because they are harder than most pencils (especially the Prismacolors and Polychromos) they help “press” or “melt” the pigments into one another. Burnishing is typical done with a colorless blender (like the Caran d’Ache full blender) but I discovered I like using the Irojitens instead. The provide a touch of pigment in addition to burnished results and add a little more saturation and depth to my work. You have to choose your colors carefully, but it works for me. So with the purple triangles, using the Plum Irojiten gives a little more reddish saturation to the violets, while the Iris plus in a little more blue. Since Crocus is rather light, it works well as an overall blender with this set of colors.
Another tip with the Irojiten pencils – using Eggshell (which has a very pale yellow tint) is wonderful for burnishing greens. Don’t be afraid to experiment with these lovely wax-based pencils if you own a set. It seems people either love them or hate them, but do give them a chance. Play with your colors on scrap pieces of paper while working to see how different tints will react to your base layers. I purchase my Irojiten pencils through Blick as they have both sets and open stock as well. Since I use black and eggshell the most, I can easily purchase individual pencils.
Another reason I love the Irojitens is that they help give a little sheen to my work and they get rid of any small white spots that may have been left behind from my pencils skipping over minute “pits” that may exist in the paper.
My final step after burnishing (and sometimes during) is using my Verithin pencils (which have a fine, hard point) to sharpen and enhance some of my lines and refine shapes. Sometimes I’ll use a Faber-Castell PITT pen to add darker lines and details as well, plus a few gel pens to add small dots and other embellishments. I prefer matte over metallic Sakura gel pens (because they don’t reflect as much when I scan or photograph my work for other uses) and have a set of Soufflé pens.
That’s about all for now! Feel free to bookmark or follow my blog as I plan to start adding videos as time allows.