Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Making Black with pencils

(click on this to see it bigger on another page, if you like)

(this is the same swatch board, only switched to greyscale)

In the last post I was talking about black colored pencil and said I should do some swatches.
So I did.

(I also have to say that I misspoke about the Polychromo black being a blue-black - it isn't at all, its rather grey in fact. I must have tweaked the image in Photoshop at some point and corrected the color for some reason. So apologies.)

I did a 1 inch x 2 inch swatch of all the blacks from all the different brands of colored pencils I have. This is by no means a complete list - I don't have any Luminance, or Verithins, or several others. What I DO have (and swatched) are Polychromo, Prismacolor, Coloursoft, Blick Studio, Lyra Polycolor, Graphitint, Inktense and Derwent Drawing. I also did some graphite - Cretacolor Monolith, Prismacolor Turquoise, and Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100. Then I played with making some combinations of colors to try to get a sort of black without using any actual black.

I was surprised at the results of this little swatching exercise, I must say!
I used a piece of white Stonehenge for the support, used a tight circular stroke and light pressure to build the color, and kept them all "dry" (Inktense and Graphitints can be used with water) since that's how I like to work - dry. I also didn't burnish or use a blender or anything like that. Just straight pencil.

Check out the second version of the swatches, which I switched to greyscale in Photoshop.
The really blackest blacks by far were the Coloursoft Black, Prismacolor Black and Inktense Black.
Lyra Polycolor Black Medium and Derwent Drawing Ivory Black were the next 'blackest'.
Then after that everything was a bit disappointing. Oh, they'd all work as 'black' just fine, depending on the value range in a piece, but most were more like a nice dark or medium grey rather than inky black.
Lyra makes 3 blacks - Medium, Hard, and Soft. The Black Hard looks a lot like the Cretacolor Monolith 8B Graphite.
The Polychromo Black is a very warm dark grey, really, and has a very tight good coverage.
The oil based ones (Polychromos and Lyras) are similar in the way they 'feel' going down, the Blick Studio feels dry to me, the Coloursoft is "like buttah", etc.
Each one has its pluses and minuses - one might be 'grainier', one might have a softer look, one might be a perfect black for shadows on concrete, one might be a perfect black for something else, etc. etc. etc.

I had fun playing with layers of color to try to make black. None of them came out actually 'black', but in a piece with a particular color scheme, they could all work I guess. The one thing I did find is that its very easy to make grey or brown, but a really dark black is another thing.
The first swatch (on the right column) is Prismacolor Black Raspberry and Indigo Blue. The second one is Prismacolor Dark Green and Black Grape. The third is Prismacolor Sepia, Black Cherry, Imperial Violet and Violet Blue. After that we have Polychromo Chrome Oxide Green, Dark Indigo, Mauve and Sepia. The the last one is Coloursoft Dark Green, Indigo, Purple and Brown Black.
You could go on forever trying different combinations.

I should really do this with all of my colored pencils - I've done it with all my watercolors and gouache, and refer to those swatch boards almost every time I paint! So let's see ... 132 Prismacolors, 120 Polychromos, 72 of this, 72 of that ... sigh. Sounds like a semester - long school project, doesn't it? Well, maybe I'll do a few at a time. I know that I do get frustrated with my Prismas, since a lot of the lead colors don't seem to accurately match the wood casing, and with the Polychromos so many of those cool pinkish reds like Geranium Lake look very much alike sitting in the tray next to one another.

You're welcome to pull this off to use as reference, but really, I suggest you make your own swatches because the whole point of the exercise is to understand your pencils and to have a 'live' set of true color swatches to refer to.
Have fun!


acornmoon said...

That's what I call dedication!

CC said...

Fantastic visual evidence of the fact that there is really no such thing as one black, or any other color really.

And you have the patience and dedication of a saint. The Saint of colored pencils.

Rose Welty said...

This is a really good idea Paula. I have been making some color charts recently as well (for testing out layering of different colors and temperatures). I, too had the thought that I should do the same for all of my pencils. It's a daunting thought. Then I decided that I would do one for each new piece that I do - sort of a reference to look at when I need to adjust something in a piece. So, I've only got two charts, but combined with 3 from a previous "I will chart everything" moment, I'm getting there. So, yeah, do your charts, just one here and there and eventually you will have alot. :D

I definitely need to do a black one though - that is fascinating!

Gillian said...

Thank you for showing this - I don't think I have that kind of patience. Very interesting results though. I fight shy of using black in CP work - a hang-up from painting techniques maybe. I think it does serve a purpose in colour layering though. x

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Wonderful stuff Paula - and I only regret not spotting this post sooner. It'll be featured in "who's made a mark this week?"

I was also very pleased to see that my general impression about degrees of blackness was born out by your tests!