Colored Pencil Sketchbook

My new fascination with colored pencils has been, well, fascinating. I purchased a set of 40 Caran D’Ache Luminance pencils, which I’ve since heard are among the most expensive due to their exceptional lightfast ratings.

The texture samples are all from Denise Howard’s book, 101 Textures for Colored Pencil.

Having only used Prismacolor, I don’t have much to compare them with but I can guarantee they are very nice. The color is strong and covers easily. I find, too, that I’m not going over and over areas, so I have a feeling theses pencils will last longer than other brands–perhaps they’re not quite as expensive as it seems. The main reason I chose Luminance pencils is the color choice. I was thrilled with the earth tones and grays.

I also bought a Strathmore 400 sketchbook, and I’ve been following some tutorials and playing around with blending, which seems to be at the heart of colored pencil work. Above I tried many different blending techniques, all of which I like for different reasons. I’ll stay away from oil, however, because it soaks through the paper and doesn’t dissipate. One of my favorites is using colored pencil over Inktense. I’ve used this in various ways, and I always like the effect. I never thought I’d enjoy mixed media, but never say never.

I came into this medium thinking it would be a great combination of painting and drawing, but I think it’s more accurate to say it’s like shaping and shading.

Yet Another Hobby: African Violets

Two years ago I bought a dozen African Violet leaf cuttings of miniature violets. Two years later, my hobby is going strong. I’ve lost a few but had success with most. They’ve all decided to bloom this month and put on a spring show.

African Violets don’t require as much care as most people think. Because the roots remain fairly shallow, using a light soil and repotting about twice a year is needed. About a month after repotting, I switch from plain water to a diluted African Violet fertilizer every other watering. My plants are under lights but they get plenty of indirect light, too. That’s about it!

Colored Pencil Fun

I’m experimenting with my new Caran D’Ache Luminance colored pencils. It’s so different from watercolor, so I’m starting with some tutorials where I use watercolor in the background. These are from the Virtual Instructor. I’m using a 90 lb. sketchbook, which is pretty thin, so I’m getting a lot of paper warping. Colored pencil is a totally new world, and although I’m kind of intimidated by it, it’s really versatile and intriguing.

Bunka Embroidery

Bunka is a style of embroidery from Japan using a tightly-woven polyester backing and a four-ply rayon yarn (chainette). The yarn is unraveled before punching it into the canvas with a punch needle. Unlike other punch needle projects I’ve done, the goal isn’t to cluster many loops in a small space; rather, the threads can be extended up to about a half-inch. They lay flatter against the surface, although there’s definitely a dimensional result that’s fascinating to look at. The kinks left in the yarn after unraveling keep the loops secure on the backside of the fabric. Because bunka is stitched face forward after tacking it on a frame, it feels much more like painting on a canvas. However, the final product is not sturdy like a punch needle or hooked rug or even stitched embroidery. In fact, I think a bunka painting is meant to be just that–a painting.

I bought a vintage bunka kit off Etsy. It came with a design on the backing–a lovely woodcut by Hokusai–the bunka yarn, and a small printout, one side with a color painting and the other with a lined drawing of the project with numbers written in that correspond to the yarn colors. It’s exactly like a paint-by-number kit. With instructions in Japanese and only a handful of instructional videos available on Youtube, however, I’m fumbling my way through this, but I’m enjoying it tremendously. The wavy rayon thread and synthetic backing give the piece a unique shimmery, dimensional feeling. I love the look of bunka.

Bunka gained popularity in the 1960s but it may have seen its heyday, although there are a few companies out there as well as an organization or two devoted to it. I’m on the hunt to find supplies in order to try a few designs of my own.

Mineral Paper Experiments

The more I paint on Terraskin and Yasutomo, the more I like it. There’s no need to stretch the paper because it never buckles. I can simply start painting, so I seem to be painting more than ever. Joy!

Painting water is especially fun because adding water to the paint creates, well, a watery effect. Above are some waves, below a moody lighthouse. I followed Nita Engle for the waves and a highly modified YouTube tutorial for below.

My smaller Terraskin journal is a good size for quick sketches. Below is a second lighthouse painted during a hurried lunch break.

Using crinkled up plastic wrap on wet paint creates wild textures. I thought it would take forever to dry on mineral paper as it doesn’t absorb water, but it only took about 45 minutes. My goldfish were far too dark. I like the flowers better.

Mineral or Stone Paper: Terraskin and Yasutomo

I bought a DVD by artist Ann Pember, Painting in the Flow of Watercolor, where she paints a beautiful watercolor on a smooth illustration board. I’ve been using 140 lb. Arches, and I haven’t had an urge to change paper other than trying 300 lb., but I was up for painting on a totally different surface, hoping I could find one that wasn’t terribly expensive. On her website, she mentioned that Yupo, a synthetic paper, could give a similar effect to the board she uses. I wasn’t taken in by a 100% plastic paper, but I did bump into stone paper products, which haven’t been around all that long, and felt they could be interesting. Made of crushed stone and 20% plastic resin, there are no trees used. The surface is slick, the paper is very light and flexible, and it needs no stretching. It’s also fairly inexpensive to try.

I bought a Terraskin notebook, which has a strange quality. Paint adheres on the back side of the page but not the front. It’s sold in rolls and large sheets of varying thicknesses, so I don’t know if that’s always the case. Here’s a look at a few quick tests.

Pigments settle on the surface, and granulating colors leave either dark or light flecks. It’s hard to get a smooth wash with granulating pigments. However, the dreamy effect that takes place is really wonderful. Spritzing water creates a instant salt effect that I used heavily.

I then bought a pad of another brand, Yasutomo. It works very similarly. I’ve found that painting on this surface makes me slow down as the drying takes a very long time (and you can’t use heat to speed it up). I’m content to see what the paint will do. Also, layering is possible, but pigment dries very bright so it may not be necessary.

Here’s the Ann Pember tutorial painting done on the larger Yasutomo on top, where I took a few hours to complete it, and the smaller Terraskin on bottom, which I did quickly, in less than an hour. They don’t really resemble the original, but they were delightful to paint. I can see how I need to spend more time with shadows to create depth. The speckled sky on the bottom is how cobalt blue dries on the Terraskin notebook. Also, on the top painting, I followed Ann’s advice and used a limited palette. I chose French ultramarine, burnt sienna, transparent yellow oxide, and a small amount of cobalt blue. I’m really pleased with the variety of mixes I achieved.