Saturday, April 14, 2018

Back to Basics

You know how when you watch an old black and white movie, after a minute or two you don't even notice it's black and white anymore? The light and shadows, forms and contrast take the place of color, keeping you a captive audience.

But people do love color, especially aspiring artists. It's hard to explain to them that learning about color takes time and effort just as learning to draw does. Yet every beginning field sketching class I teach has my students pulling out their markers, watercolor pencils, crayons and pastels. I have to be the bad guy and ask that we take a little time with just a pencil first and learn some basics.

Once they have gotten the hang of it, then they can take out their color and begin the long, learning process, working their way down the yellow brick road by looking, experimenting and always learning. But I want to instill the simplicity and beauty that can be achieved with just a pencil and paper, especially in the field when things move quickly and the light changes rapidly.

Even after 30 plus years of keeping sketchbooks, I still love to work with just a pencil, sometimes a blue one or sepia one. It reminds me to really see my subject and make it as interesting as possible instead of pondering the muted shade of green on an alligator's back or the golden tone of the creek water.
My favorite pencil is a General's Sketch and Wash pencil. It produces intense darks, and by using a brush and water, you can spread that graphite. You can also dip the pencil into water and draw with it or go back into wet areas and draw. The beauty of this tool is that once dried, it is permanent, no smudging.

I always give my students one of these pencils which most of them have nicknamed the "magic pencil." I've yet to hear someone say they didn't like it.

So all that being said, here's a few more black and white sketches ending with a finished painting and a drawing from the sketches you see here, in color.

Welcome to Oz.


  1. Enjoyed all of the sketches, and the final painting! Yes, sometimes color takes us away from seeing so going back to black and white (the Sketch and Wash is a great pencil and I think it comes in 3 lead hardnesses?) is a good idea at any time, but especially for beginners who can be overwhelmed with all that green and gold and blue outside! I bet you are a great teacher.

  2. You get it!!! I think I am a good teacher. I know I absolutely love it. Nothing beats the reaction when someone realizes they can draw!