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Colored Pencils and Juxtaposed Color

Bet Borgeson demonstrates how to achieve brilliant artworks using colored pencils and juxtaposed color

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In this close-up view of the railroad symbol that is inverted in the composition, the hues should appear more visible because they are juxtaposed with a neutral black. Compare this hue-laden black to the small neutral black area beneath the engine that was rendered with a single black pencil. Even though the engine was rendered with color and the other was not, in the context of the entire drawing, both read as black.

It is the artist's choice how thoroughly or loosely to knit all the edges. Some of the Impressionists let full gaps of blank canvas occur between strokes. Others painted strokes of colors more tightly packed, even overlapped, but while doing so allowed the hues to vary greatly. There are endless possibilities with juxtaposed color.

When I work with colored pencils I use two color mixing strategies: layering one color over another, and juxtaposing colors side-by-side. But I juxtapose color more than I layer it.

What I gain by applying colors side-by-side in a single layer is a net color effect that tends to have a simple ringing clarity that is almost impossible to achieve with deep layering. These combined straight-from-the-pencil colors can be bold and room filling. They can also be as quietly complex and nuance-filled as those of traditional layering. An important additional bonus of juxtaposing is its spontaneity and speed. Because of these qualities, the simple technique of juxtaposing colored pencils with some layering may offer exciting opportunities for artists already working with layering only. It also may seem like a friendlier medium to artists made shy of colored pencils due to misconceptions about there being an absolute need for deep layering. Deep layering is just one technique among many.

Basically, juxtaposing colors simply means arranging different colors side-by-side for creating optical effects in a viewer's eye. The art of the Impressionists leaps to mind as examples of this color mixing strategy. But while their vibrant method of painting was often characterized by short vigorous and highly textured juxtaposed strokes, this technique can also be done successfully in a more conservative manner--smoothly and seamlessly. It can be used in a single layer or also in two or three layers. In fact color may be juxtaposed in any style or manner an artist wants. In this method, when a smooth color passage is wanted (and smooth grain is a dominant texture used in much colored pencil realism done today in the U.S.) a color is first applied. It is then knitted to its different but related neighboring colors with some abbreviated layering-all within a single layer. Here's how three different characters of juxtaposing can be used in a colored pencil drawing or painting, step-by-step:

"a simple ringing clarity that is almost impossible to achieve with deep layering"

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Step 1
The first task here was to establish all the main compositional elements in lightly applied graphite, which will be later erased or covered with colored pencil. The graphite details of the money however, are to be saved and lightly overlaid with pencil. To keep the graphite from smearing under the stroking of a colored pencil, it was sprayed lightly with a workable fixative. To render the game board's bold black lines, an oil-based Faber-Castell Black pencil was used. This oil-based pencil will not later bloom (appear fogged), as a wax-based black pencil likely will.

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Step 2
I like to work all over a piece rather than finish one element at a time before moving on. This helps me see how everything is working together and to maintain an overall natural unity. So before rendering any more black details, I moved to the warm elements and applied most of the dominant red and other warm colors. To juxtapose colors using only one layer I usually select a handful of different but related colors. For the red-orange dice-patterned fabric I used several colors across two brands of pencils: Prismacolor 922 Poppy Red, 923 Scarlet Lake, 926 Carmine Red, and Faber-Castell 115 Dark Orange and 111 Tangerine.

All these colored pencil points were kept sharp and were applied in a near random order. I continued to use these pencils until they all needed sharpening, then I took a break and sharpened them all at once. In the transition where two colors came together they were often layered so that the color change would be seamless. If the two colors were only slightly different or if a sudden change in color was okay, I didn't layer them, I just joined them. For the yellow property banners I used a single Faber-Castell 108 Canary Yellow (a great non-greasy appearing yellow) and for the orange banners I used Prismacolor 918 Orange.

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Step 3
Now most all of the remaining color is applied. The money with its protected graphite details was overlaid with a single Faber-Castell 171 Light Green for the $20 bills and Prismacolor 940 Sand for the $100 bills. The boards blue edge was rendered with juxtaposed Prismacolor 903 True Blue and 905 Aquamarine. And the colors of the Community Chest cards were juxtaposed using Faber-Castell 111 Tangerine and 109 Orange-Yellow with a little Prismacolor 918 used as a darkener. This last mix of colors was also used in the inverted question mark symbol. The values of the dice were further modulated with 931 Dark Purple.

The game board's background in reality is a smooth light green but I wanted to integrate a little more vitality by using texture. So two different pencils were juxtaposed in a single layer a little darker than wanted. These were then overlaid with frisket film and lightly burnished with a flat-nibbed burnishing tool. After lifting off the film, the resulting residue is lighter and slightly choppy. The two pencils used were Prismacolor s 1016 Deco Aqua and 910 True Green.

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Step 4
In this last step, the remaining black elements were tackled. All of the small lettering was done with a single Faber-Castell Black pencil. But the letters MONO were juxtaposed with several dark colors plus outlined with three different vivid colors. Why not just use a single black pencil? Because neutral black tends to appear lifeless. Constructing a black using several either very loosely layered or juxtaposed dark pencil colors will enliven the effect. Dark hues combined in this way will read as black, but will be hue-laden on close inspection.

For MONO I juxtaposed a neutral and three hues: Faber-Castell Black, 143 Deep Cobalt, Prismacolor 901 Indigo Blue, and 931 Dark Purple. For the outlining, I chose several vivid colors to contrast with the black: Prismacolor 910 True Green, 913 Spring Green, 1006 Parrot Green, 916 Canary Yellow, 918 Orange and 922 Poppy Red. For the dice's cast shadows I lightly applied a sharp Prismacolor 1078 Black Cherry as a second layer right over the light green background. Lastly, the entire piece was very lightly sprayed with a finishing fixative to keep the pencil color from blooming.

Three different kinds of juxtaposing were used in this colored pencil piece (the printing process and small size may make these difficult to see). (1.) The fabric's smooth and seamless texture was maintained by layering together the edges of juxtaposed colors, and by keeping values as consistent as possible. (2.) For a livelier textural use of juxtaposing, the board's background colors were applied darker than needed, then lifted in order to lighten them and to generate random edges that are ragged and disconnected or of different values. (3.) For the letters MONO the values were held constant, but the various juxtaposed hues were much more visible because the dominant pencil was a neutral, black.

Juxtaposing color is not new. All artists in all media have always availed themselves of this technique. Artists working in colored pencil too have used it--mostly in small events or in details too small for layering. But there are many opportunities for using it on a broader scale. And this can lead to much more direct and spontaneous results. And in only a fraction of the time.

Bet Borgeson

About the Author
Bet Borgeson is the author of the classic text, The Colored Pencil, plus other titles including Basic Colored Pencil Techniques. Her artwork is in public and private art collections worldwide and she has taught many workshops in universities and art centers across the U.S.

Visit me at: www.BorgesonStudio.com

Materials List

12" x 8-3/4" Rising Museum Board, 4-ply white

Faber-Castell 9000 Artist Graphite Pencil,HB Grade

• Krylon Workable Fixatif

Hand-held Metal Sharpener

Original Frisket Film, matte

• Lascaux Fixative

• Prismacolor Art Pencils:
901 Indigo Blue
903 True Blue
905 Aquamarine
910 True Green
913 Spring Green
916 Canary Yellow
918 Orange
922 Poppy Red
923 Scarlet Lake
926 Carmine Red
931 Dark Purple
• 940 Sand
• 1016 Deco Aqua
• 1078 Black Cherry


Faber-Castell Polychromos Artist Colored Pencil
• 108 Canary Yellow
• 109 Orange-Yellow
• 111 Tangerine
• 115 Dark Orange
• 143 Deep Cobalt
• 171 Light Green
• Black