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In a recent class, I had the pleasure of teaching students how to draw birds and butterflies in colored pencil. Birds are perfect subjects for capturing the beauty of nature and all of its magnificent colors.
Drawing birds and butterflies isn’t just about replicating their patterns and colors. It’s important to know how to capture the essence of the nature surrounding them as well. Learning how to draw flowers, busy backgrounds, and skies becomes essential. Often, the background is out of focus and obscure, so knowing how to blur the details becomes necessary.
When drawing in colored pencil, there are a lot of different brands to choose from. Each will require a certain technique, and provide a unique look when applied. I usually don’t decide on a pencil until after I have chosen my subject matter, and which paper or board I want to use to create it. Each surface requires a different colored pencil.
One of my favorite boards to draw on is suede board. It’s only found in professional frame shops, for it’s meant for framing. The soft, velvety surface is perfect for using the Derwent Coloursoft pencils. These are clay-based pencils that closely resemble pastel when applied to this board’s soft surface.
Because the Coloursoft pencils are clay-based, they work wonderfully in conjunction with pastels. I use soft pastel along with them to create my backgrounds. In the example shown above, the butterfly is drawn in the Coloursoft for sharp detail, making them appear “in focus,” and the background is done in soft pastel to make it appear “out of focus.” This gives you the camera affect of “depth of field.” It helps make your work look 3-D.
I also like to switch it round and mix it up a bit. This means there are times when I like to draw something in pastel first, and do the details with Coloursoft colored pencils on top. Pastel keeps the base colors smooth and delicate; I create the crisper details last with the colored pencil. You can see in this turtle dove drawing above how smooth the undertones of the bird are due to the pastel. The essence of shadow and feathers were applied with the Coloursoft pencils on top.
But to really mix it up, I sometimes use my soft pastels with Prismacolor pencils. Prismacolors are heavy wax-based pencils with a lot of pigment. I use them when something needs to be very distinct and brightly colored. They can provide a sharp point that doesn’t crumble, so small, crisp details are easily achieved. When using Prismacolor, my personal favorite surfaces are Stonehenge, regular surface bristol, and illustration or matboard. I also like the toned gray and toned brown paper by Strathmore. I highly recommend experimenting to see what your favorites are. Each artist has a different approach, and we must all find our own preferences.
In these examples, you can see how the birds really stand out due to their colors and textures. Prismacolor is great for this. I used the soft pastel behind the birds to create a subtle layer of color in the background. For these drawings (the dove above and the anhinga above) I used bristol with the rougher texture. Be sure it’s the regular surface that has a bit of tooth to it. I use the smooth for graphite only.
For the bluebirds (above), I used a tan mat board. This and the paper surfaces I mentioned before are perfect for using Prismacolor. Because of their surfaces, you can use pressure and build up your colors. Prismacolor can also be used on the suede board, but you must go lightly. If you use too much pressure, or build up the colors too much, the heavy wax will tend to mash down the soft texture of the board and ruin it.
As you can see, there is a myriad of ways to use your art supplies. Don’t be afraid to experiment and mix things up to see what works for you. Yes, you will make mistakes, but that’s how you learn. The only way I can effectively teach is to make the mistakes first, find out what does work, and then share both results with my students to spare them the problems. I’m still trying new things to mix up and mix in, and for that reason, I will never stop learning!
I hope you keep learning new artistic approaches as well!
Until next time,
Lee Hammond has been called the Queen of Drawing. That may not be fair these days, since in addition to providing the best drawing lessons, she has also created fantastic books and videos filled with the same easy to follow acrylic painting techniques, colored pencil techniques and more.