I followed along to a tutorial by the virtual instructor, Matt Fussell, to draw this Kingfisher in colored pencil. I think it was the first time I totally focused on creating a finished-looking colored pencil portrait, and I’m really pleased with it.
As always, I struggle with perspective. My bird has a few issues, but I won’t dwell.
I used Strathmore 500 Bristol and a variety of colored pencils, mostly Caran d’ache and Derwent. He used Prismacolor, and the few I have are nearly gone. The course is called Three Little Birds, and there’s also a Bluejay and a hummingbird.
I’m continuing my endeavor of sketching all 47 birds in the book Identify and Draw North American Birds. I’m swapping between Caran D’ache Luminance and Derwent Drawing Pencils. The Derwent pencils don’t have many bright colors, but the birds often call for vivid reds, blues, and greens, so I often reach for the luminous Luminance.
Honestly, I’m not spending much time with these birds. Each one is about a thirty-minute sketch. I’m finding that the paper isn’t allowing for very many layers, maybe three, so I tend to call it quits without adding in that final layer of detail.
My goals are more about basic shape, proportion, and color. That and drawing 47.
I picked up a copy of the book Identify and Draw North American Birds and spent a few hours doing just that. The book is awesome as it gives a photo, facts, and a sketching progression in colored pencil. However, if you’re not comfortable with sketching birds, you may want to trace the bird first. The emphasis is on using colored pencils and not on bird anatomy and drawing.
But for me, this is perfect. There are 47 birds total, and I happen to have a new sketching journal, the ForestChoice John Muir Observer Journal, and I’m dedicating it to bird sketches.
It stands to reason that something with wax in it will melt. Colored pencil as a medium is new to me and I’m still figuring things out, so I was pleasantly surprised one day to discover that my pencils seemed brighter and more vivid than usual. They also filled the texture of the paper evenly. What was happening?
We were having a heat wave compared to the cold winter weather. The temperature inside the house was over 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and my pencils were ever so slightly warmed up compared to normal, so the wax was melting with a light touch. This got me to thinking about things like encaustic art, and I came across a clever product created by artist Ester Roi called the Icarus Board, a heated surface meant to melt the wax in your pencil or oil pastel to produce smooth and rich color.
Icarus Boards are an investment, however, so I decided to try before I buy, and I took out a heating pad, set it on high, and started to color. I immediately noticed a difference in how the pigment acted. I didn’t have to do more than two layers to completely fill the surface. I haven’t spent much time using the heating pad, however, as a hard surface would be preferable, and I didn’t find having something like a baking sheet over it worked. Maybe a different heating pad that gets warmer would be an improvement. However, if someone wanted to get me an Icarus board for Christmas, I would hardly complain.
Some colored pencil artists use the pencil as a pencil, and it looks lovely and serene. The tooth of the paper shows, and it has its own distinctive look. Other artists like to fill in all the light color on the paper, making the pencils resemble paint. They either burnish by using multiple layers and firm pressure, use a blender pencil (usually a clear or gray wax), or use a solvent. I’ve tried all of the above, and so realize I lean toward using a pencil as a pencil or add in a blender pencil from time to time. I don’t care for solvents at all, and burnishing makes my hand and fingers ache even into the following day. However, something like a heated surface may help if I ever decide to head in other directions.
Another option is to use an underpainting of a different medium and draw with colored pencils over it. I’ve tried this many times and enjoy it. I recently tried the amazing tutorial by Ester Roi of four pebbles to get that heated look. My underpainting was Neocolor II, and I used some Derwent Coloursoft pencils over the top. I’m convinced I can achieve a blended look with Neocolor II pastels as they provide a rich, smooth background once blended out with water. I know a heated drawing surface is a superior tool, but in the meantime, I’ll play with crayons.