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  • Writer's pictureKevin Roeckl

Remmy portrait in progress 6

I’ve been working on the background river scene — the trees and sky. This post shows how I get a nice light-blue sky on darker grey paper with colored pencils.

Most people think a whole sky is just “sky-blue” - one color - and they'd use just that one color of paint to make sky in a painting. But in reality sky is lighter pale-blue at the bottom, going gradually to a deeper sky-blue at the top. With colored pencils it requires layering and blending.

I was working my way across the background of the river scene, putting in the trees and rocks on the shore. There is a patch of blue sky about halfway across. In this pic you can see that I’ve outlined the area where the sky will be with white pencil. I will put down a light layer of white pencil in that area first….

Colored pencil portrait of Doberman in progress

Here’s a closeup of the area where the sky will be. As you can see, I outlined it with a sharp white pencil, pressing down so the white line is pretty solid. That shows me how light the sky will be. The sky is very light/bright compared to the trees. Then I filled in the tree limbs and leaves that are adjacent to the sky area. I do that because I need to have the “value” (lightness or darkness) of the trees’ “edge leaves” (where they meet the sky) correct.

It would not be accurate to do those tree edge-leaves on just the grey paper, because they are lighter than the grey. Then it’s hard to judge how light/dark they need to be compared to sky. So I put that white line there as a comparison edge. The leaves are much lighter than the grey paper, but they have to be darker then the blue sky so they stand out against the sky.

Detail of landscape background of Doberman portrait in progress with colored pencils

After the edge-leaves on the left and right were put in, I did the sky.

First I filled the whole sky area with a layer of white pencil — very lightly. Then light blue pencil over that, to get a nice bright blue sky — lighter at the bottom. You can see the 4 colors of blue pencil I used. And of course the white pencil.

If I just did light-blue pencil directly on the grey paper, it would be dull, because of the grey paper partially showing through pale-blue pencil. When I put down white first, it’s like doing blue pencil over white paper…much brighter. I have to be careful how much white pencil I lay onto the paper though. It’s only possible to build up layers of colored pencils one-over-another to a limited degree. After that, the colors on top are just smearing the lower layer(s) around.

The sky is a lighter pale-blue at the bottom and goes smoothly up to a richer blue at the top. Skies are always darker as you go upward in the sky. Most people think a sky is just “sky-blue”, one color. To make it look realistic, I have to get a smooth gradation of lighter to darker blue. That takes more than two layers of pencil on the sky area. I built them up pretty thickly, to cover that grey paper solidly and make the sky look bright. The final layer, I was pretty much just smearing the previous layers to blend them as much as possible, to try to get a smooth-looking sky. Colored pencils don’t really lend themselves to big areas of smooth color like paint does.

Detail of landscape background of Doberman portrait in progress with colored pencils

Here is my studio set-up with my layout on the monitor. The two sets of pencil colors near the monitor are the ones I've been using for Remmy (on the right) and for the background greens of trees and bushes.

(This was taken with my phone in the studio. The sky color on the monitor doesn’t look accurate in this pic because I was photographing a monitor with a phone.)

Doberman portrait in progress with colored pencils in Kevin's art studio

It took several days to do the river trees. Today I finished that hill that is below the blue sky, part of the riverbank on the right, and started working on the upper right Remmy head. I want to do the head first, then fill in the background trees around it.

Colored pencil portrait of Doberman in progress

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