Ever a story... waiting to be told

Friday, June 20, 2014

Getting Out of Those Old Ruts

Don't get me wrong... I am all about adhering to good habits, not just in art making, but in every aspect of our lives. However sometimes we have to stop and examine our habits, and decide whether or not they are helping us in the long run, or holding us back. There is a fine line between a habit... and a rut.
I want to break a particularly deep rut that I've been in with my artwork. I'm determined to finally develop a composition that has large areas of deeply contrasting values. I have such admiration for that type of composition when I see it in other artists' work. I'm pretty confident that I can use line, shape, color and form to establish a fairly strong composition, but my use of value contrast is still too weak and ineffective. Therefore, my mantra while I worked on drawing the lower bookshelf here, has been, "darker... darker... darker..." 
However, it hasn't been easy for me. Dark colors can be scary! I had to come up with a slight variation in my technique, which seems to help. Instead of starting each item with a layer of the lightest value, and then gradually layering on different pencils of darker and darker values.... I STARTED with a middle value, but still applied just as many different layers of pigment as I always do, which brought me to the darkest pencils very quickly, and I found myself applying layer upon layer of the darkest darks. That's unusual for me, but I like the effects so far! 
Another old habit that had become a rut for me, was the habit of always saving the most important part for last. That's not a good practice, and I know that... but I keep doing it! I delay tackling that final focal point, which is usually the person's face, or an intricate little area that pulls the whole composition together.  If I do those crucial spots first, I can look back at what I've done, and tweak it again and again, as the rest of the piece progresses. That's probably a good strategy, huh?
I went ahead and drew the boy first this time. Doing that led to some other changes in my approach that I hadn't anticipated. I didn't plan my palette colors ahead of time! Instead, I used the same pencils from the boy's skin, hair and shirt, to create the rest of the drawing! I brought in a few new colors, but  not too many! I'm letting the main subject dictate the surrounding colors. And I've already gone back and added more depth and layers to his skin and hair, which is what I was hoping would happen. He is going to be more a part of the scene, rather than being stuck on separately at the end.
If you are actually reading what I wrote today, and not just looking at the artwork then quickly moving on... you are in luck! I'm going to reveal a well-guarded secret: my favorite colors that I use in every piece I draw! The Katherine Thomas signature palette! Shhh.... don't tell everybody....
Cream, Sand, Jasmine, yellow ochre, goldenrod, eggshell, venetian red, green ochre, bronze, artichoke, orangish yellow, mineral orange, light peach, beige, beige sienna, blush pink, nectar, henna, rosy beige, pink rose, deco pink, peach, mahogany red, chestnut, cloud blue, indigo, periwinkle, cloud blue, blue slate, indanthrone blue, black grape, , jade, celadon, dark green, lime peel, prussian green, kelp green, crimson lake, tuscan, sienna brown, dark brown, light umber, dark umber, chocolate, terra cotta, burnt ochre, and all the french grays and cool grays.
Okay... I shared mine, now YOU have to share yours with me! 


  1. I think it's easy to get into ruts regardless of our profession. I think we all need a breather sometimes, even if for a day. Oftentimes, I like to take a walk outside during my lunch hour and it can really help :)

  2. OH, my! I LOVED reading about your thoughts and the process you use to create something so amazing and eye-filling as this! Wow! Your list of colors is impressive. I don't actually have a list of colors I use on a regular basis--but I will tell you that when I am doing a watercolor which includes people, (heehee) I use coffee and cream for the skin color. Nothing else works as well. I just wet the area to be painted, dip my brush into the coffee&cream and touch the bristles to where I want...the color spreads beautifully and smoothly. SO, that's my secret!!! lol

  3. Katherine - such an interesting post...it is nice to see how you work. Darks are always very hard for me...in watercolor it is so easy to get into "mud" when using them that I really struggle with values. This piece is coming together so well. Looks like your palette has to have so many more colors when using colored pencil. My palette changes often with the seasons so can not really say I have a signature one. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts as well as your work my friend. Hope you have a great weekend.

  4. Good for you for trying to mix things up with different approaches. I know that lots of painters are advised to lay in the darkest darks and lightest lights first to establish parameters. Recently I have tried starting with the mid range tones first and working out from there. I've tried beginning with the focal point and also saving it for last. I often wish for a set procedure but each piece seems to call for something a little different.

    What a great group of gorgeous colors! Your results are lovely so I am not too surprised:)

  5. Coming out so well!
    Observing one's own process and finding the key for improvement spells growth , glad you could do that Kathrine.

  6. This looks absolutely amazing, Katherine!!! Loved reading that you approaching this in a new way for you. Personally, I never find fault with any of your pieces, ever. This was always one of my favorite compositions, as I've said, so seeing it in color is wonderful. Now I find myself wanting to see what is in those great old books!

  7. Fantastic! This is looking so good. You are going to think I'm crazy but I could see this standing alone with just the table done and leaving the rest showing your pencil line drawing - it would be so unique and interesting like that. Just my opinion, though; I am struggling with wanting more in my work = more telling a story or more about me and less about a "good" painting regarding technique. I'm getting to that point where I'm thinking I'm not good enough - yet - and need to break free into another area as far as the watercolors go...we'll see if I can break some habits and climb out of ruts, too! Congratulations on getting into the International Show!!

  8. I enjoy reading about your thought processes Katherine. The names of those colours sound very luscious and the list of them en masse resonated like a work of art in themselves!!

  9. Go darker, go darker was a constant refrain from Mike Sibley when I attended one of his 3 day workshops. Mike works only in graphite but the same principle applies in making the work 'pop' by really pushing the darks. This is coming along beautifully Katherine

  10. Not only your art Katherine, but you are so unique.

  11. Your work is evolving beautifully, Katherine. I love reading about your thought process, your darker colors are working great. You have a wonderful list of colors, I am wondering what brand of pencils you prefer to use.

  12. Now I can't compete with all your colors Katherine. :) What rainbows of colors! I'm using less colors and let them do the work on paper, it's easy with waterpainting. I find your painting is coming along nicely and already the contrasts are good. Can't wait to see the rest! Have a good week!

  13. Ah yes! The old "Land of the Rut". A place we all have to visit, whether we want to or not. I spent some time there recently on a different matter.

    You got through step 1, recognizing it yourself. Step 2, you are on your way. Try something different, a different approach. It's working.
    And don't forget, doing small value thumbnails ahead of time then holding yourself to them really helps too.
    I would think because of the nature of colored pencil and its slowish layering process it might be easy to forget.
    I find working against large white areas really difficult, unless white is part of the finished value pattern. The problem for me is I am working 'off' the white areas and getting a skewed sense of the value pattern as I work. In other words the areas with color/value look darker (or brighter in color) against the white as I'm working when they may not actual be that dark.
    As I approach the finish I realize I've missed the value pattern I began with in my head or a study.
    I have to cover the whole surface early on, only sparing the white areas as I would in a watercolor, instead of developing near finish selected areas.
    And yet I see it all the time, artists who can work that way so it is not wrong, I just can't do it.

  14. I think you have always found a way to grow by challenging yourself almost every time you come to your studio - at least thats the wonderful impression I have of you from reading and seeing your work! And this is coming along gloriously :)

  15. great post...I once took a workshop with Tony Couch (watercolour) he was emphatic about the importance of the value pattern in a painting. It kind of stuck with me. I think about it now almost every time I begin to paint.
    I agree with your comment about there being a fine line between a habit and a rut. It's always good to shake things up a little, approach things in new ways where possible...the challenge of learning something new. art making versus production.
    I usually squeeze out: white, naples yellow, cad yellow pale, cad red light, alizarin, ultramarine blue, cobalt teal, burnt umber. Sometimes I change it up and add a few other zingy colours.

  16. Love this post!! This drawing is coming along so beautifully, Katherine! I really look forward to seeing your next post. Excellent work!!!

  17. Hey K!

    Wow! Understudy is traveling internationally! Congratulations, that is fantastic! Also that two of your envelope drawings on currently on display. I am so glad that you are entering your work into the available competitions because you are most certainly going to get the recognition--and admiration--of your talent that you deserve.

    Your WIP is turning out so well. The boy is beautiful and I love the dark colors. They are so rich. I can smell the books!

    Your go-to colors sound luscious. Are they generally an artist's "secret," like a secret recipe?

  18. Way to flex those artistic muscles Katherine...shake things up...you go girl. It always pays off in my opinion. Your approach...old and new is so interesting. I would have to sit down and really think about my own approach. I think it changes from piece to piece. This includes my choice colors. I love the colors you use, most of them I've never heard of. I think if I had to share my go-to colors it would be any shade of brown...raw umber, burnt umber, van dyke brown...and I love how they mix with prussian blue...such a dark rich color. I love to use titan buff instead of titanium white also. It makes just about anything you mix with it look more earthy and toned down.

    Great post!

  19. It's easy to share my palette: black and white :D

    I find it amazing that you finish a part of your drawing to such a high state. I try, not always successfully, to work all over, and then find it easier to build up the tones. If I worked like you, I'd have to have a detailed value study first otherwise the drawing would probably tip. (LIke a photo of the sea with a wonky horizon)

  20. I don't think "rut" is the appropriate word. You have developed a successful process and it has become a habit when you approach your art. But, you are correct, event good habits can be changed and improved - so good luck! I will take you advice and make of list of my fav pencils. I tend to choose them by how it looks and how much I like the color, not paying any attention to its name. Then when I need to replace it - I'm back to square one!