I have been drawing portraits since 2001 but I have always focused on black and white drawings. I use a basic set of drawing pencils that are just like normal writing pencils except that they have a range of shades, allowing for softer and darker tones without needing to press harder on the paper. After 8 years, I reached a point where I wasn’t challenged anymore. I wanted to do something that would be new and refreshing.
Over the years, many people have told me that I should try color. In 2005 I made an attempt with a drawing of my cousin Noelle when she was very young. The problem with this drawing was that I drew it and shaded it in pencil and then added color. I was surprised to find that, even though it wasn’t near one of my best drawings of that time, more people liked it than my black and white.
The difficulty is that black and white is two dimensional and color is three dimensional. Black and white only deals with shades whereas color deals with shades and hues.
As an experiment, I decided to try again. I chose a picture of Noelle that I took as a reference but decided that I wanted to do more than just "copy" it. I wanted to allow myself more creative freedom in this drawing than I normally do when I try to perfectly replicate a photo, allowing a better ability to experiment with the color. I used a basic set of colored pencils that could be bought at any random store.
Over the years I have heard "tidbits" of knowledge relating to color that I decided to try and apply. The first was that you should have one central color that flows into all sections of a drawing or painting even if that object is not that color. It is supposed to allow for consistency and flow. Since her hair and the bricks are red-orange, I decided to choose that as my central color. I used that colored pencil to do my basic sketch.
Another tidbit was that you should never use black in a colored piece. The reasoning is that there is no true black in reality, that everything "black" is just a very dark version of an actual color. When I draw, I almost always start (after my rough sketch for proportions) with the right eye. There is no particular reason; it’s just a personal habit. Because of the black rule, I attempted using dark brown for the dark areas of the eye: the upper curve, the circle around the areola, the eyelashes. It didn’t work and was not dark enough so I gave in and used black. I figured it would be my exception. If you look at the lips, you can see that I used blue for my darker shadows.
Remember in elementary school when you learned the primary and secondary colors? The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow whereas the secondary colors are orange, green, and purple (the ones that are made by mixing the primary colors). What you probably did not learn about were complementary colors. These are colors that can be mixed together when painting to form a darker version. For example, if you have something that is red and you wanted to create a shadow over that red object, you would use green (not black) to darken the red paint because that is its complement. Red goes with green, orange with blue, and yellow with purple. This isn’t painting but I decided to use a similar outlook with this drawing and try to mix colors whenever possible (unlike my first colored drawing of Noelle four years ago).
If you look closely on her skin you can see where I mixed colors but you can see it the best in the hair where I went a little more rebellious, adding pinks and yellows to the red-orange as well as some blues for shadowing.
Now that I’m done, I can immediately pick out many flaws. For example, the left eye is lower than it should be and her shoulder is way too big. On a similar token, if you compare the original photo and the drawing side by side, they are very different. I guess it would be like based on a true story as opposed to a true story. Half of me is disappointed because, with color, I do not yet have the accuracy that I do with black and white. The other half of me is thrilled because I’m growing as an artist and don’t need to just copy a photo. I will say that, knowing Noelle, I think the drawing captures her personality way more than the photo does which is the best reward.
My goals for the next are to continue experimenting with color and work on putting more emotion and accuracy into the finished product.