This is the drawing I made using the powder blender for my review. This piece only took me 6 hours!!! That is SUPER fast considering most pieces of this size, without the background, can take me upwards of 12+ hours usually! I still can’t believe how quickly I flew through this piece! I also made a commentated video tutorial for this drawing too which you can see below, which shows you just how easy the powder blender is to use with coloured pencil!
And last but not least, this drawing was fresh off the easel last night. Again, created with the Colored Pencil Painting Kit by Brush and Pencil. I love jumping spiders, they are such inquisitive little guys! The video tutorial of me drawing this little guy will be out on Friday next week! Reference photo used from Roverhate on Pixabay.
That’s about it for this week! Phew! I think I need to lie down and sleep now! Stay tuned next week as Monday’s Art Tips video will be a mini-tutorial on how to spray fixative onto your drawings properly, and on Friday I’ll be posting the fully-commentated tutorial of my jumping spider drawing!
I am very excited to announce that you can read my article, “Is Tracing Cheating?” in the August 2016 issue of Colored Pencil Magazine! You can purchase a digital or physical copy of the magazine here: www.coloredpencilmag.com/issues
I recently started this drawing of a Great Crested Grebe using my own reference photo. This grebe is one of a mated pair on a lake near where I live. I’ve spent a lot of time watching them both throughout winter and have amassed a lot of photographs of them! They are such beautiful birds and I’ve been really looking forward to drawing them.
I walked down to the lake yesterday after not going for a while and they have sucessfully had two chicks! Exciting times!
A new Art Tips video has just gone live on my YouTube channel. In this video I show you how I keep track of which pencils I’ve used in my coloured pencil pieces. Please do check it out!
A short time ago I was describing how I get such detailed rough sketches to someone on Facebook, when an ill-informed person commented on the post with an outcry of “Tracing is cheating!” I thought that this would make a good topic to talk about in this article.
“Hmm tracing…why don’t you draw it out yourself rather than cheating?”
Is tracing cheating? When I was fifteen and still drawing anime and cartoon dragons (which, to be fair, I still draw!), the answer was a vehement YES. For me and many other teens this was an inflammatory topic. In the environment that I grew up in, both at school and on the internet we were repeatedly told that tracing was cheating and you are not a real artist if you trace. You are a dirty, dirty cheater!
In truth, the only time tracing becomes cheating is when you trace someone’s art, without their permission, to steal it and claim it as your own work. And it is cheating for a very good reason –because you are breaking copyright law. As a result of this fact being pounded into people’s heads in online art communities and in real life, many people make the somewhat illogical jump that all tracing is wrong, and this opinion has somehow become entrenched.
It was many years later, when I got into realism, that I finally changed my mind.
I’ve learnt that when I am creating highly realistic artwork for pet portraits I need to be sure that I have every little detail perfectly accurate, every patch of fur and every pattern in the right place, or the outcome will look nothing like the owner’s pet. Tracing is a basic skill that many realism artists use. The reality is that it’s the end result that matters – not the way you do things.
Artists who trace are not photocopying machines like the aforementioned commenter on Facebook claimed. All tracing involves is getting the outline down onto the paper quickly and efficiently. Tracing doesn’t do all the work for you. You have to have a good understanding of shape, colour, lighting, texture, how your art tools work and most importantly, you have to have experience. A novice tracing out their rough sketch will result in the finished artwork looking nothing even close to the end result of an experienced artist’s work, no matter how good the novice’s trace was. They simply just don’t have the drawing skills.
“Optical devices certainly don’t paint pictures.”
– David Hockney
That said, tracing is an excellent way to learn how to draw. Only drawing freehand, especially when you have no one to go to for critique, can result in you making the same mistakes over and over again. Tracing is a good way to counter this and greatly improve your freehanding skills. It forces you to see shapes as they actually are, not how your brain thinks they look. A great example of this is a rose – when you look at a rose your brain only sees the overall shape and colour – it won’t break it down into smaller segments unless you train it to. When you trace, breaking objects down into shapes becomes a lot easier. You train yourself to see each rose petal as a combination of curves, triangles and ovals.
Hyperrealists, who spend upwards of hundreds of hours on their work rely on tracing -because if even the tiniest little detail is in the wrong place it will throw the whole painting off. Even Leonardo Da Vinci and many other old masters traced by using camera obscura -an optical technique that projects scenery onto a wall in a dark room from outside. Camera obscura was the forerunner for the invention of photographic cameras.
One final thing I would also like to add – many photos provided to me by clients of their pets are low quality, in bad lighting, and/or lacking in detail. In most cases this can’t be helped due to the pet sadly passing away or the client being unable to get photos of a friend’s pet for their top-secret gift. It is the job of the artist to turn that into a detailed, realistic and beautiful bespoke piece of artwork that immortalises the client’s loved ones. Tracing doesn’t do that work for you especially when the photo provided is poor – often I find myself having to guess parts! Here’s one such example:
So that was my stance on tracing. If you are one of those people who is vehemently against it, then don’t trace! I am not forcing you or anyone else to use this method. My aim when working is to produce beautiful, personalised, accuraterepresentations of clients’ pets. If tracing allows me to achieve that while also taking me considerably less time than sketching freehand or using a grid, then I have no issues with it. This is the way that I do things. There is no such thing as the wrong way in art, and in my opinion suggesting otherwise is a little close-minded.
Let me start off by saying that I absolutely love Caran d’Ache to bits. They are my favourite brand of art supplies. This review might be a little biased in favor of their products, but I am biased towards them for a reason as Caran d’Ache really do make excellent art products.
Described as “water soluble wax pastels,” Neocolor IIs are part of an increasingly popular but reletively new emerging medium.
The set consists of 126 colours, 10 of which are metallic. The full set contains a very nice, wide range of greens, blues and purples. There are perhaps not as many greys and browns as I would like – but because the crayons are so versitile it’s not that much of an issue. You can just mix colours with water until you find the one you need. Because of this, if you don’t feel you can afford the rather steep price of the full set of 126, it’s still worth getting even just a small set to play with for the time being (which is what I actually did initially, back in August). The metallic crayons are a nice addition but are perhaps not quite metallic enough in my eye – much of the shine disappears when water is added.
Unfortunately I experienced issues with the ‘metallic silver’ Neocolor II. It was dried out and cracked, and would not activate with water – this is probably a manufacturing fault as I’ve seen a lot of people have had issues with it, including JenW Fine Arts and my artist friend Sian Morgan. After contacting the art store she bought it from, Sian was sent a working replacement and was told that the issues she was having were probably due to a bad batch.
The set also comes with an inculded metal tin containing a 2-hole KUM Magnesium pencil sharpener, one Technalo B watersoluble graphite pencil, two sponges, a hog hair brush, and a metal scraper. These are very nice additions to the set though it’s a shame that no proper paintbrush was included. The hog hair brush is far too wide and stiff to get any good detail or small brushstrokes and is in my opinion much more suited to mixing colours on a pallette, and the sponges are not much more suitible for similar reasons. The KUM pencil sharpener is very, very good – it’s the only sharpener I can find that you can sharpen Neocolors with, without them gumming up the sharpener or not even fitting in the hole. It works really well for fragile pencils too. I don’t know where I’d be without this sharpener, it’s brilliant.
Test Paintings and Techniques
To put this medium to the test, I decided to do a couple of test paintings, trying out and combining different techniques. This included wetting the crayon itself, or using dry crayons over washes, heating up the paper with a hair dryer to melt the crayons onto the paper, and creating my own pan palette by disolving shavings of crayon with water onto my palette as if I were using watercolours.
Using the Neocolor IIs dry with hard pressure creates a very nice, thick and solid layer of colour, with a look and feel that is very similar to oil pastels. This effect is even easier to achieve when heating up the paper or the pastels with a hair dryer or using tools such as the Icarus Board. Using them dry with light pressure creates a crayon-like texture, showing the tooth of the paper underneath. I think this is my favourite technique especially when done over the top of an underpainting (as shown in “Coastal Sunset” above). You can also add water after laying down the crayons dry or paint with a paintbrush and use the crayons as a palette to create a painted look very reminiscent of gouache.
You always know what colours to expect when using Neocolor IIs wet or dry. A lot of other brands in this medium look a little dull when used dry and get a lot more vibrant when water is added, which personally I have never liked. Neocolor IIs have the rare advantage in this medium to look nearly exactly the same colour dry as when wet, making it much easier to judge values and hues, and thusly to combine wet and dry techniques.
Once the crayons have been water activated, they can be repetedly wet and reworked as many times as you like. This may be a turn off for some, but I think this is one of the strengths of the Neocolor IIs. The crayons are so opaque that layering is still very easy, even with them remaining water soluble after the first wash. You can work from dark to light or light to dark, both work really well.
Another strength of them being rewettable is erasing – if you make a mistake, most of the pigment can be lifted off by dabbing it with a damp cloth and the remaining errant pigment can be covered up with additional layers of crayon.
Mixed Media Possibilities
Neocolor IIs are great for mixed media projects and cover well on many different kinds of surface because they are so opaque. Pretty much the only thing they don’t work very well on is glass.
These crayons work very well with coloured pencils and also permanent markers. They are best used as an underpainting when combined with coloured pencils. As usual with coloured pencils you are best working from light to dark as lighter shades of coloured pencil don’t show up very well over the top of a dark neocolor II wash. Another caveat to bear in mind is that you can’t use paint thinner when mixing coloured pencils and neocolors as it will cause the neocolor underpainting to shift and lift all of your coloured pencil layers off.
With markers, I found that they are best used on top, after adding a “base” layer of marker underneath. You can start dark or light with the markers, the neocolours are so opaque that they easily show up over the markers.
All in all I am very excited about the posibilities of using these in conjunction with coloured pencils. It would certainly signitificantly cut down the time it takes to draw backgrounds and large areas of flat colour!
I love the way they work with my Faber Castell Pitt pens too – though I don’t use markers all that much.
Because they are so versitile, Caran d’Ache Neocolor IIs are a great tool for any artist, be it realism, impressionism, abstract, illustration, the list goes on. This medium works really well for all of them! You can use so many different techniques with them too, I only barely touched the tip of the iceberg in this review and I could go on forever about them (though I think this review is far too long as it is!). You are hard pressed to find a better watersoluble crayon with lightfastness ratings as good as the Neocolor II line too – see the below section for more information.
There’s no contest, really. These watersoluble pastels are a cut above the rest. All in all I rate the Caran d’Ache Neocolor II line…
Excellent quality, fun and versatile. If you can afford them, they are worth it!
Amazon normally have some fantastic offers going on sets of these – you can purchase them via the links below:
The lightfastness ratings for the Neocolor II line have proved somewhat difficult to chase down. The only mention of it in the set’s brochure and packaging is the statement that the pastels have “excellent lightfastness.” Not including the lightfastness information in the packaging seems like a bit of an oversight, as it is usually readily available and easily accessable for most of Caran D’ache’s products.
There was also next to no further information online, so I contacted Caran D’ache directly requesting the individual lightfastness ratings of each crayon. They very kindly replied back with all the star ratings and gave me permission to share them all with you. To my surprise and delight, only 12 out of the set of 126 colours for the Neocolor II line are not lightfast, two of which being fugitive colours. Water soluble mediums tend to be a little iffy when it comes to fading over time, so this is fantastic news for fine artists hoping to create works that will last. I would still err on the side of caution however – be sure to frame your work using archival quality materials and put it behind UV glass just in case.
Below are the ratings for each pastel. Pastels given a three-star rating will last for 100 years or more, two-star rating for 20 years, one star for 5 years and a slash (/) denotes fugitive colours that fade quickly. Generally speaking three-star and two-star rated colours are sufficiently lightfast. Avoid using one star and slashed colours in work that you wish to preserve.
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