lynxgriffin (lynxgriffin) wrote in fan_tutorials,

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How to create rich colors with colored pencils

Title: How to create rich colors with colored pencils
Fandom: Kingdom Hearts 2, but can be used anywhere
Fanwork type: Traditional art (colored pencils)
Difficulty: Advanced (Just 'cause it takes awhile to do...)
Additional Notes: Rather long, rambly tutorial, with a bunch of notes on what I did for this particular picture. Warning: image-heavy!
LJ-cut or Link:

This is a tutorial for creating really rich, deep colors with colored pencils. There are many different ways you can use colored pencils for fanart, but this is a method I really like using, so I thought I'd share it. I used this in particular for a fanart of BHK (Blonde-Haired Kid) in Twilight Town from Kingdom Hearts 2, but it can be used anywhere, obviously.
Righty we go!


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While I don't always do this (in fact, I don't do it nearly often enough) for this particular picture I wanted to have a bit of extra reference. Since I had a friend in a few of my classes who was a really good harmonica player, I asked him to pose for me so I could get a sense of how hands are positioned when playing the harmonica. The sketches are really rough (with a few random doodles thrown in) but it helped me get a better sense of how playing the harmonica should actually look. Hooray for references!


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First and foremost comes the initial pencil sketch! Normally, my sketches are a lot messier and darker. However, when dealing with colored pencils (or any traditional media) I try to make sure that the lines are much lighter and neater. Even fairly light lines can get caught up in the colored pencils and smear a little. I also used a ruler on the places that needed straight edges, when normally I'd pencil them by hand and then use the ruler to ink. Even with the reference pics, I still had to do a ton of redrawing on BHK's hands! Anyways, with a colored pencil pic, it helps to keep the first sketch as clean as possible.


And now, onto getting started!
For colored pencils, I use Prismacolors. They're generally considered the best "artist-type" pencils out there, and for good reason. Prang colored pencils also work fairly well...basically, you want pencils with a soft lead. Softer lead pencils are easier to blend and get richer colors from, which is what we want. Hard lead pencils include Crayola and *shudder* RoseArt pencils, or any other cheap store-brand. Hard lead pencils will create about the same color consistency no matter how hard you press, while soft lead will vary greatly depending on how much pressure you apply. Soft lead pencils also tend to create a lot of extra "chalk" residue when you use them, and are harder to keep pointy for long. For paper, I used Deleter brand comic paper, since I had it on hand and I really like the smooth surface it provides. You can use any paper you want, although keep in mind that the rougher a surface you draw on, the harder it will be to control little details. However, certain textured surfaces can also create interesting effects. I just like the smoothness Deleter provides.

The most important points for doing rich colors with colored pencils are layering your colors properly, and applying pressure properly. Generally speaking, the harder you press, the deeper and richer a color you're going to get. However, you don't want to start adding rich colors right away. Which is where layering comes in!
As a general rule: for colored pencils, you want to start with your lightest hues and go darker. Unlike with CG programs (or even traditional paint) it's a lot more difficult to make something lighter once it's already dark. However, with colored pencils you can always go darker than before.

Here's how it went with this pic!

Coloring 1:

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I started laying base colors in the background sky and hills. Since these are just the first stages, the pencils went on light, and you can see all of the strokes I used. Generally, the lighter you press, the more you can see the pencil strokes. One of the benefits of rich coloring is that the pencil strokes are much harder to pick out, making the drawing seem cleaner. Even with rich coloring, you generally want to draw your pencil strokes in the same direction as the "grain of the object." Having your strokes all over the place (heh, such as I've done here slightly) can make the coloring look more amateur. While it is possible to just color the picture lightly like this and leave it, there will be much more done to it!

Coloring 2:

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Light base pencils continue on more buildings of the foreground. Now, the issue with the buildings of Twilight Town is that they're all close to an off-white color. Whites and grays are one of the harder things to do in rich coloring, since by nature they're supposed to stay lighter than other colors. Since I didn't have white per se, I used the next closest color, called 'cream.' There's a lot of cream and light peach in this picture used as a base color. There was also a lot of layering used in the early stages of the picture to try and find the color I wanted. For example, during this time, I used ten different colors on the ledge BHK is sitting on alone! Cream, copper, silver, gold, yellow, peach, lilac, maroon, light umber, and violet-blue all just on one layer that is basically an off-white color...although you can sort of tell that the off-whiteness of it was finally lost. The point is, a lot of extra colors can go into what can normally be done with a few quick swabs of color in a CG program. However, I'm still only putting the colors on lightly.
Why is the building on the right pink? In coloring this, I am keeping in mind that the sunset in the distance is going to put all of the picture into shadow. So nearly everything in the picture is going to have a pink-purple-blue tint. Since I'm probably going to use cream as my first thick color later, I need to make sure I establish some of these tints and shadows early on.

Coloring 3:

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Here, you can see the colors in the far background starting to get richer as I use more pressure on the pencils. In this case, I'm using richer colors because the very tight details of the far-away buildings are hard to use lighter colors on. I filled in the speck-like houses with one solid color each without doing extensive shading on them. The surrounding hills I used a variety of colors on to get the effect I wanted...reds, purples, browns, yellows and blues are all involved. Don't limit yourself to a lot of the same hue (dark blue on top of true blue on top of light blue, etc.) Oftentimes the effect you want comes from mixing lots of different strange colors together, especially when doing rich coloring!

Coloring 4:

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All of the base colors for the background are now on at this point; although some areas have more layers on them than others. I still haven't applied too much pressure to any one area. Also, I used a lot of cream and light peach bases. In some cases, I re-outlined the edges with a purple or pink color, both to add some hue from the sunset, and to help me keep track of where my original lines are! Once you add layer upon layer of colors, the original pencil sketch can sometimes get lost beneath them.
Here's something to watch out for, though: the light peach and cream colors can often smudge with a nearby darker color, especially if that color is laid on thicker. Watch and makes sure you don't throw the light colors around all over the place, or they can easily smear!

Coloring 5:

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Now we're finally starting to get into the richer colors! With the base colors on, we have a good idea of which colors need to go where. I added richer, thicker colors on the hills, the clouds, the ledge and part of the sunset.
When starting on rich colors, obviously you need to apply a lot more pressure to the pencil than when the light bases were first being applied. It's also best to work in shorter strokes, which you'll have more control over. In fact, it's almost a necessity to do short strokes, as long, broad ones simply won't be able to put down as thick a color.
Laying down thick, rich color with lots of pressure has a few different effects:
First, whichever color you lay down thickly first, will be the color you stick with from then on out. The base colors you put down previously help to establish this thick color, but will ultimately still be overwhelmed by it. This is why the rich coloring is filled with more primary colors than something lighter. Once you've put down this thick color, you definitely can't go any lighter: you can either neutralize it with a cream or silver, mix it with another color to make a gradient, or add shadows to make it darker (this almost always involves adding blue.)
Second, the rich coloring tends to cancel out whatever strokes you put down first, or at least smudge them together. You can see how this happened with the heavy cream layer I put over the initial pinks and blues on the ledge. However, the first strokes can still sort of be seen. To cancel out these strokes even more, color the thick layer *against* the strokes of the previous light layer.
Third, using so much pressure tends to curl the paper a little. It's not as bad as, say, watercolors, but it is slight. It also depends on what type of paper you're using...the thicker it is, the less likely it is to curl.
Fourth, when using a lot of pressure with soft-lead colored pencils, lots of chalk-like "color dust" will be coming off of the lead. You'll need to constantly swipe or blow off the dust to keep it from sticking to the helps even more if you have a small brush nearby to sweep the dust off!

Coloring 6:

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Layering to get the colors I want continues on the foreground buildings. I added more purple and pink shades to the front building, and put the heavy cream layer over it. However, because that color is still so light, the strokes are visible on the layer of blue above it. While the cream layer I put on was very thick, the blue shadow that followed was a lighter layer again. A thick, high-pressure layer of blue or purple would have completely overwhelmed the cream and made the shadow too dark. Remember: whichever you color you put on first and thickest is the one that will stand out the most! In this case, we want the shadow to be slight, but still keep the lighter cream aspect of it.

Coloring 7:

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Here, all of the buildings in the middle and far background have been completed. Almost all of the buildings are a thick cream or peach base, with lighter layers of blue and purple on top for the shadows. And of course, many browns, yellows, coppers, reds and other colors were added for variety! Oftentimes it's just fun to mix up whatever colors you want and see what effects you get.
Also, if you ever find that your rich colors are getting too deep and contrasted, a thin layer of Metallic Silver will help neutralize the colors down a notch (with Prismacolors, that is) without much drastic change to what's already there.
I also started to lay down thicker colors in the sunset. In some places you can still see the strokes, while further down the coloring is thick enough that the strokes are harder to pick out. When doing something like a sunset gradient in rich coloring, you'll generally want to add more colors than may have initially been in the lighter base layer. And again, you'll want to put down the lighter colors first, and perhaps even further up than they were before...once the darker colors come along and are blended in, they tend to swallow up the lighter ones already there!

Coloring 8:

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The background is close to being done now! More and more purples and blues have been added to the frontal buildings to put it into deeper shadow, although none of these shadow layers have been put on thick. More layers have been added to the atrium in the bottom center, although again, nothing terribly thick. The sunset is close to being completed: you can see in some areas where the strokes are barely visible now, because thicker and thicker layers have been put on top of them.

Coloring 9:

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The background is now entirely done, hooray!
All of the colors have been laid down with at least two thick coats, so that they all look the same consistency.
One of the issues with rich coloring is that blue hues in particular pop out as exceedingly rich. They even outdo purple on sheer richness, and are generally the darkest colors you'll get just from primaries. If it's what you want, then great...but if not, the blues have a tendency to take over the picture. (You can see a rich-color picture with a lot of heavy blues here.) If you try to reprint a colored pencil picture later with a lot of rich blue, the printer will often have trouble with it. With that previous picture, it looked like a large gray mass with gamut warning turned on!
To help bring down the stark color of the blue, you can often mix in browns, yellows, or occasionally lighter reds. Or, if you want to keep the blue but tone it down, a soft layer of metallic silver again helps. Greens don't seem to help much, as they only accentuate the brightness of the blue. On occasion, a light baby blue against a darker true blue will help neutralize the effect, although metallic silver generally works better.
And one other nifty trick: want to make black without actually using black? Mix together two very heavy layers of blue-violet and crimson red. While lighter shades of these two would make purple, heavier layers of them will create a dark color that's more vibrant than black in of itself. It will also allow you to add extra shadows in ways that straight black can't. To make the shade even darker and closer to true black, add a multitude of more colors: browns, purples and such. (Although surprisingly, green seems to lessen this effect.) Generally, you want to put the blue-violet down first, then add the crimson red on top of that. That technique was used to make the darkest shades in the previous picture as well. Here, it was used at the darkest corners of the sunset.
Although the background is finished, I haven't even touched BHK yet...he's coming next. I saved him for last since I wanted to pay special attention to him and add in extra details not found in the rest of the picture. It's generally a good idea to color in the background before you do the subject of a picture, anyway.

Coloring 10:

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Like the rest of the background, I started coloring BHK with several light layers. These base layers look odd at first, since his clothes are actually supposed to be white, black and gray. However, since I don't just want to put white on black and call it done, I started with the different tints each gray would be: blues, browns, reds, etc. Very rarely is gray just straight black and white! The only time I used a very heavy layer of color was the cream on BHK's jacket. Since his jacket is supposed to be white, I wanted to keep it as light as possible right off the bat. Only a few very light layers of blue and purple were added for shadows on the jacket.

Coloring 11:

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Thicker layers were added to parts of BHK's pants and shoes. Since the only gray I had was a Crayola pencil that didn't work well, I used a lot of metallic silver to neutralize the blues and purples and give them a gray tint. Like with the dark colors in the sunset, I used crimson red on top of the dark blue to create the darkest shades. You can also see where I started to shade the main part of his pants with blues and purples, still using light layers.

Coloring 12:

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Even more thick layers were added: I started to shade in BHK's skin and hair, as well as the rest of his pants. The thick layer of metallic silver knocked out the shadows so much that I had to re-apply them again to bring them back out. Sometimes you have to go over the same layer multiple times to get it at the consistency you want, while still keeping the colors you need.
Shading skin in particular is also tricky business. If you put too many heavy layers of shadow on it, it can make the skin look metallic and unrealistic. (This sort of thing happened on that previous picture as well.) It's generally best to put down the shadow colors in very light layers, and put lighter colors such as cream, peach and yellow on thick. That is, unless you're going for a very stark-contrast look.

Coloring 13:

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Very nearly done! All of the colors have been put on thick and rich now: his hair has been filled in, and I made BHK's shadow deeper. For the black trim on his sleeve, I again used the crimon red on dark blue method. Any last-minute light layers of purple shadow have been added as well. One thing left to do!


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Since BHK was the subject of the picture and I wanted him to stand out against the buildings, I went back over and outlined him with a black colored pencil. Keep in mind that this is the very first time I've even picked up the black in the entire picture! If blue hues have a habit of jumping out of a picture, black does so even worse, especially when laid on thick. Very rarely do you want to put straight black on a picture, as it tends to overwhelm everything around it. And you hardly *ever* want to use black as a shadow, unless you're doing something with *very* stark and brilliant lighting (and even then, a pure black shadow looks better with an ink picture than colored pencil, anyway.) Usually, using purples and blues will create a much better effect, and can still be messed with a bit once you put them down. Blacks are permanent, which is why I saved these for last. In this case, I used the black only to outline BHK, and to add some small details, such as the checker pattern on his jacket. Even so, I avoided using black to outline BHK's skin and hair, instead opting for dark brown or umber.
And now, it's finally done! XD

Some detail shots:

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Detail shot of BHK! I had to keep the black pencil at a very fine point to get the thin lines I wanted, and therefore had to keep sharpening it a lot. With small details like this, it's best to work slowly, sometimes going over your lines several times. Pressing too hard with the black here can make your lines more shaky, or worse, cause the lead to crumble and break.

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For the background buildings, I used reds, purples and blues to outline them and help distinguish them from the surrounding hills. The dark blue was especially helpful to bring out the silver of the train track, which kept getting lost in the rest of the background. You can also see where I didn't catch some of the lead dust that came off, and it stuck to the page. So, make sure you keep blowing or brushing away the dust as you work!

And holy schnikes, that's the end of the tutorial! If you actually read through this entire thing, then you are made of stronger stuff than I am. If you didn't, I don't blame you at all. I really hope this was helpful to people in some way...if it was, then please leave a comment! I'd greatly appreciate it!

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