Words of Wisdom
By Joanna Hill
Published in Colored Pencil Magazine Sept.2020
Hey fellow artists! I'm Joanna! I am a colored pencil artist currently residing in Washington State. I have always wondered what I would say to a reader if I ever wrote an article. I'm not a woman of many words, but I do have a lot to say when it comes to art! Art has always been my first love. I have been drawing and painting for over 18 years, primarily working with colored pencils. I work a day job as a hairstylist, and on the side, I take commissions and teach private art lessons. I could say I am self-taught, but that would not be entirely true as I went to art school for a semester before I dropped out. My education as an artist has been a patchwork of tips and tricks from other artists and a lot of trial and error. Below are some words of wisdom I have learned on my journey as an artist that have greatly improved the quality of my work. I hope they will be useful to you too!
Your Sketchbook is your diary: It’s your safe place for all your good and bad ideas and doodles. I keep a small sketchbook with me wherever I go and try to draw anything as frequently as I can. Don't think that every page has to be a masterpiece. You'll stress yourself out. Loosen up. You MUST have many doozies to get to that really great one. There is a lot to learn from ugly drawings.
Your skills are only as good as your foundation: Everything starts with the basics. It helps to break down your subject into its simplest shape. I start with the most obvious larger shapes and start building on that, leaving the details for last. Concentrate on the proportions and perspective. Before you add lights and darks make sure your drawing is solid. It’s hard to fix your drawing when you are halfway done coloring it.
Identify your light source: I purchased wooden blocks to simulate the objects in my composition. When combine with my light source I can see how the light casts its shadows over the forms I am using for my art piece. Look at your reference a lot to get the lighting in the right place. That will make your artwork more realistic.
Know your color-wheel: When I color, I try to choose colors that harmonize together. Think of the basic color schemes like analogous, triad, monochromatic. Colors that go together just feel better. If I don't have a color, I use the colors I do have to make the color I need. When I paint, I mix all my colors from the primary's. There is nothing wrong with buying paint colors pre-made but knowing how to mix what you need is a valuable skill.
Work in layers: When I have transferred my drawing onto my coloring surface I sometimes begin with an under-painting. Under-painting allows me to set the tone of the painting and color block the whole picture fairly quickly and then I can layer my colored pencil on top without compromising the tooth of the paper. It’s easier to achieve this with a watercolor wash or even alcohol markers. I recently discovered I liked using Derwent Inktense Pencils for the base layers for colored pencil.
Opposites attract: You can achieve a lot when you use one color and its complement. This is one thing that has changed the way I color. Using complementary colors to color, shade, and under-paint, creates beautiful and realistic colors. When you choose your colors complement, make sure the value of that color is the same as well. Example: Skin tone. Try layering a very pale green under a pale pink. They will neutralize and create a beautiful neutral color. Or for shadows on a red apple. Adding a bit of dark green into the dark red will create a more natural looking shadow. Utilizing the color wheels in digital art programs are helpful as some already have the complementary color listed when you select a color.
Take it slow: Taking your time is key to producing quality work. A quality piece should take you several hours to complete. A lot of beginners think spending only 30 minutes will create a masterpiece. Going too fast leads to sloppy work. Start with your basics and make a game plan. Take it one section at a time and enjoy the process. Don’t be discourage when it doesn’t look great for a while. All great artwork goes through many ugly stages. Trust the process and keep working it.
Keep it simple: Words to live by. I spent many years trying many mediums and always feeling like I never improved. I gained a lot of knowledge about the mediums but never mastered them. I discovered that you got to keep it simple. I had too many options which led to too much anxiety and not a lot of work produced. I re-homed a lot of my art supplies and chose 1 to focus on which was colored pencil. I still dabble in painting, but I find if you keep it simple you get more done. Using this rule, you can cut out a lot of overthinking. Pick less colors, you don't need to use them all. Keep your composition simple. Don't have too many projects going at once. I had a bad habit of always starting a new project and never finishing a previous one because I was stuck. That just lead to the overwhelming feeling of having too much to do.
You are worth investing in: I always advise my students to invest in their supplies. Quality art supplies really do make a difference. Using low quality pencils or paper will just fight with you and can leave you feeling frustrated. Do your research, read reviews, and find the best brand and quality that you can afford. As an artist I highly recommend supplies that are light fast and have quality pigments and surfaces that won't yellow over time. You want your clients to have a quality piece that will last.