Milkweed

Milkweed is a plant the oozes a milky substance when injured, such as cutting it. This ooze is rather thick and can irritate some people. When I was a kid, the milkweed in our area produced big pods that split open, and all the seeds flew off in the wind. It was always a fun thing to see.

Here in California – and I expect much of the western US – there is a different type of milkweed. This one is vital for the health of Monarch butterflies, and sadly, its presence is diminishing. The result is fewer butterflies every year. There is a concerted effort by gardeners and conservationists to propagate the milkweed, as well as to preserve it in the wild. Like the plant of my childhood, this one oozes and has windborne seeds, but has flowers (don’t recall ever seeing milkweed flowers as a kid) that come in yellow and dark orange.

I have milkweed in my garden, thanks to Am, my lovely auntie! Last year I lost it all because of rats, along with my lilies, but this year, thanks to bait stations, it is surviving. So, yesterday, a bit restless, I took out some Polychromos pencils, a pad of paper, and got to work.

Soap Bubbles

Black paper with metallic colored pencils make for a great study of soap bubbles! Here, the rougher surface of Mi Teintes pastel paper was used. Circular templates with very sharp pencils created the outlines of the bubbles, and then the pencils were used to create the reflections inside the bubbles and the iridescent qualities that make soap bubbles so beautiful. Below, same technique but on the smoother side of the black Mi Teintes paper.

Apple Without A Stem

If you read my blog at all, you know I think that you can, and I do, learn a lot from watching “how to” videos. YouTube is my favorite resource. Today, an apple without a stem. The video I followed is by Chris Cheng, which you can see below.

This video is rather long, no sound, but references to Prismacolor pencils by their names and numbers. She used Strathmore colored pencil paper, which has a bit of tooth compared to the Canson XL bristol I used. My paper is very smooth, and the difference of tooth / no tooth becomes apparent by the end. I completed the shadow too soon, and think it would have been best completed closer to the end of the project. It would work better at grounding the apple.

I spent about 90 minutes doing this drawing. Altogether I am pleased with the results.

Cherry Blossom Bokeh

Sometimes I have too much fun making up titles for my posts!

This is a colored pencil exercise I did, just because. I used the more highly textured side of a piece of Mi Teintes pastel paper, choosing a rather grey paper with threads of darker grey running through it. I drew the cherry blossoms on with a graphite pencil and then laid down a rather heavy layer of whites, greens and brown for the blossoms, leaves, and branch. From there, more colors, burnishing and blending. Finally, I scribbled in a turquoise background, followed by layers of blues and lighter colors as well.

Initially, I decided to use a tortillon to blend the background colors, attempting to emulate the bokeh one sees in photographs. Bokeh is a wonderful bit of photography at times, achieved either via the lens itself, or distance between the object in focus and the next object behind the primary one. To blur colored pencil requires a lot of pencil color and a bit of elbow grease. Not quite what you would get when blending pastels.

Never having done it, but interested in the effect, I took a small amount of odorless mineral spirits, a soft brush, and began to blend the colors in the background. Where there were heavier layers, the colors blurred and blended more readily. I waited for the mineral spirits to evaporate and then added more color. More blending, this time painting around the cherry blossoms and branch with the loosened pigment. More drying. Finally, a bit of blending – very little, with a very light touch – of the leaves and blossoms. To complete the drawing, sharp colored pencils were used to enhance the branches and yellow pollen in the center of the blossoms.

I decided to try bokeh in colored pencil as I think that is what my teacher said we will be doing in our class Thursday morning, as well as drawing on black paper. This was a fun exercise and like everything, doing equates learning and understanding. Let’s see what Thursday class will bring . . .

1st Colored Pencil Class

Nothing like learning a few things! I’ve drawn with colored pencils on a very causal basis, but what I learned today included: use of Saral, a waxy transfer paper; use of burnishing and blending pencils. Never heard of those before today, but used all three.

Where to begin? I got there 30 minutes late – I thought class began at 9:30 but, no, 9:00. Oh, well.

Subject was a rose. Place the Saral between the picture you are going to use as reference and the paper you are going to draw upon – like carbon paper. Press hard to be sure it is on the drawing surface. Then, remove the Saral, and use a rubber eraser to blot the lines. This lightens them so you can still see them, but not so dark they are obvious. The paper we used had a bit of tooth, to catch the colors, and we worked from light to dark, white to reds and pinks and into the greens of the leaves. The suggestion was to moosh up a background to keep the rose from floating in space, so I did.

When I got home, I was interested in trying my hand on different papers. I have some bristol paper, which is a very smooth and very white paper.

This paper is so, so smooth that it is actually slick. As a result, colors are blended into one another very easily. I think the Prismacolor Premier pencils may be too soft for this paper and a harder, oil-based pencils, such as Polychromos, may be better suited for bristol.

The next experiment was done on some of my MiTeintes pastel paper; here, a mid-blue. I sketched directly onto the paper, using a very pale yellow pencil to create the general shapes as well as limn in the lights and darks. I decided to look at values the best I could, as well as whether they values tended toward warm or cold. The sunlight was dappled on the leaves, with some bright yellow green, and other a deep, blue-green tending toward black.

Out of all of these, I like the galangal the best. I like it because I had gotten a better sense of how to use the colored pencils, learning some of their characteristics and qualities. The blue background adds to the picture. The light and dark colors worked pretty well, and remembering to use complementary colors to dull down shadow areas I think kept the vibrancy. So, for a yellow-green leaf, the shadow colors were a purplish red, or a layer or two of each.

I don’t know if colored pencils will become a big love in my life, but I do enjoy drawing. My Pencil Portrait class was a real joy. I think I learned a lot in it, and moving to colored pencils is interesting. Shades of grey in graphite now are translated (or attempted to be translated) into values in color – something that is very, very challenging for me.

Magnolia Blossom

The last day of my Pencil Portrait class was last Wednesday morning, and it was a rather sad time for me. I have learned so much. The next session will be in the classroom, on a morning which is not good for me. Interestingly, by happenstance, by good luck, I came home and found out that a colored pencil drawing class begins this coming Thursday! Thursdays are always open in my schedule . . . . Email can be great – if you read it!

I am not sure what to expect from a colored pencil class, much less in a socially distanced and masked classroom. Hopefully it will work out well, and the teacher will be logical and good. It is not often that you see such an offering as more traditional media classes are apt to be offered.

In my library I have a few books on colored pencils, so I dug them out. One that is really a rather interesting one is called “Creative Colored Pencil Workshop” by Carlynne Hershberger and Kelli Money Huff. It combines pencils with other media. The magnolia blossom is a quick take on one of their very first studies. I like to warm up so I will be doing a bit of colored pencil drawing over the next few weeks, but plan to really continue to work on painting in gouache and / or watercolor as well.