Colored Pencils? Aren’t Those for Kids?

Last night was FINALLY the long-awaited night for the Artist Exhibit Program (AEP)  orientation. The AEP is a terrific program through the Clackamas County Arts Alliance that puts local artists’ work into various venues across the county (if you missed my super excited post about my unbelievable acceptance to the program, you can read it here).

Up until the orientation (okay, even during the orientation), I kept expecting someone from the Alliance to say, “Oh sorry, we sent your acceptance letter to the wrong person.” But last night, I managed to sneak in, sign my name on the registry, snagged a plateful of snacks, got my handy dandy folder of info, and no one told me to get out. I’m seriously beginning to feel like a real artist or something.

As part of the orientation everyone had to introduce themselves, say where they’re from, and explain what medium they work in. An overwhelming percentage of people were either photographers or painted in acrylics, there were a handful of watercolor artists and sculptors, and then there was me. The lone colored pencil artist.

And as always when I said I worked in colored pencil, I had the feeling that everyone was thinking, “Aren’t those for third graders?”

colored pencil

Image courtesy of FreeImages.com

High School Art Class Made Me Do It

With a last name like “Painter” you don’t escape getting signed up for art classes in school, which was fine because I always enjoyed them. In high school we were taught some calligraphy and drawing, but then mainly focused on painting (first with tempura, then with acrylics).

Although I liked painting it wasn’t like I was given a choice of medium…I either worked in acrylics or I’d be out of the class. Since I was never one to pass up an easy A on my report card, I painted with acrylics.

zebra, graphite, wildlife, animal

But teacher, i like to draw. Why can’t I just use my pencil?!

Fast forward a few years (okay A LOT of years) and me wanting to get back into doing something artistic. Of course I fell right back to the old stand by of acrylics. And I found I didn’t really like them anymore.

I enjoy doing fairly detailed work. Unfortunately, my brush skills aren’t quite up to the standards required to create the fine lines and minute details I wanted to create, so I ended up frustrated. I dabbled in watercolors a bit. They’re fun and I still play with them a bit, but I just couldn’t get what I was after.

Learning What I Like

So what was I after? Although I like to play around with more creative stuff now and then, for the majority of my work I wanted to make images that were fairly realistic. If someone could mistake something I put on paper for a photo I would be uber happy*.

But the only way I could get realistic was with the control I had while drawing with graphite pencils. And since I love color (seriously, you should see my house), I knew I had to toss a splash of something to my drawings so I got out my old pack of Crayola colored pencils and set to work.

*Recently someone in an online art group said they thought one of my pieces was a photograph. That was a very good day!

Can't resist sneaking a bit of color in during my drawing class.

Can’t resist sneaking a bit of color in during my drawing class.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Pencil

Once I bought an artist-quality set of colored pencils, I knew I had found my dream medium. I had the control of drawing, the layering of color of watercolors, and the crisp color of acrylics.

But there’s still a weird – I won’t say “non-acceptance,” but sort of – of colored pencils not being a serious medium for art. Perhaps because there’s been no colored pencil Van Gogh or Rembrandt, or perhaps because they are seen as one step up from kids’ crayons. I don’t know. There’s not even a real consensus on what a colored pencil piece of art is – is it a drawing or is it a painting? Even I don’t know what to call it!

colored pencil art, insect, wildlife art

Painting? Drawing? What are you?!?!

Regardless of any confusion or lack of understanding, colored pencil works take a very long time. If time-to-completion is any measure of a serious art medium, colored pencils take the artistic cake (mmm….cake…).

The colors in any of my pieces take layer after layer after layer of color (sometimes up to ten layers). Each of those layers is being put down by a tiny pencil point. There’s no broad brush strokes in this medium and a two-inch square section can take me an hour or more to complete (and sometimes a fair amount of eye strain depending on how detailed the section is).

So if you come across one of the rare colored pencil artists out there, give them a hand massage (believe me, we need it), and ask to see their work. You may be surprised at what a little pencil can do.

* * * 

TAMMIE PAINTER IS THE AUTHOR OF THE TRIALS OF HERCULES: BOOK ONE OF THE OSTERIA CHRONICLES AND AN ARTIST WHO DEDICATES HERSELF TO THE TEDIUM OF CREATING IMAGES WITH COLORED PENCIL. YOU CAN FIND HER WORK AT TAMMIE PAINTER’S BOOKSTORE & GALLERY.

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