Drawing Basics: Preserving the Landscape in Colored Pencil

16 Dec 2006

Dance of Light, colored pencil drawing by Linda WesnerOhio artist Linda Wesner depicts American scenes that are quickly disappearing because she feels it is important that the viewer recognize the universal theme of change.    

by Bob Bahr

Light Along the Hudson, colored pencil drawing by Linda Wesner
Light Along the Hudson
2006, colored pencil, 25 x 12¾.
All artwork this article
collection the artist.

Says the artist, “In
this interior view of FDR’s bedroom
in his boyhood home overlooking
the Hudson River, I wanted
to explore this former president’s
fascinating life through architectural elements,
both interior and exterior.”

Linda Wesner wants you to notice the landscape zipping past your car. A former caretaker of a historic home in Oswego County, New York, Wesner is a colored-pencil artist who values the preservation of buildings and landscapes. She knows change is inevitable; she merely wants people to realize it is happening. “People pass the scenes I depict on their way to work and don’t really see them,” she says. “I want to start a dialogue with the viewer so that he or she will be more aware that the landscape is evolving. I’m a realist, I understand that changes will occur, that it is nothing new. I am just trying to capture these moments when it seems that nothing is changing, but it really is.

“This is a universal theme,” Wesner continues. “I depict local scenes wherever I may live—and we have moved a lot through a corporate career. Change occurs two ways: The first is the passage of time, the very slow change, such as a barn sagging and a tree falling over. A field becomes a forest. This happens so gradually you barely notice it. The other is manmade changes, which happen much more quickly—it’s jarring. What has been there for a hundred years is now rubble. A road is carved through fields that, only months earlier, were thick with corn. I have often heard people lament the demolishing of familiar buildings, saying, ‘Oh, if only we had preserved them!’ I would like to see more thought put into preserving some remnants of the past.”

Wesner is not drawing quaint or nostalgic scenes. Her images instead suggest a calm quiet, a stateliness. One is prepared to flinch at the seemingly inevitable sounds of a backhoe or a chain saw, entering stage right. Beyond the subject matter, the drawings work as beautiful compositions built on sound drawing basics. The artist has a photojournalist’s eye and a perceptive romantic’s heart that come together in her drawing ideas. The technique behind the images mixes the traditional, the painterly, and the intuitive.

Like many colored-pencil artists, Wesner works in layers; some areas may get three layers, others will have as many as 10. She starts with what she calls a grisaille—a term that technically means an underpainting done in shades of gray but, in Wesner’s case, suggests a muted underdrawing of a dark color such as black cherry, black grape, indigo blue, or Tuscan red. She likes to work on toned paper, either Fabriano Tiziano or Canson Mi-Teintes. The artist has two trains of thought on this issue: In some cases, she chooses a paper with a color that matches the mood and overall color scheme in the scene. A relatively light or midtone color is ideal for landscapes, says Wesner, because it allows her to work up the lights and down the darks in the traditional way. But choosing a dark color or a complement to the prevalent color scheme can result in very dynamic work. “Sometimes I take the opposite approach to get myself out of a rut,” she explains. “A dark color makes you think differently. It can be a struggle, but it may help me produce one of my strongest pieces. For example, painting the dark-green leaves on the complementary, burgundy paper in Dance of Light gave it a life I didn’t even know was there. I had to overcome the dark paper for the light white-and-pink blossoms—I felt like I was fighting the paper even on the dark masses. But, in the end, the delicate petals of the hydrangeas suggested light flickering across the page. I enjoyed the challenge.”

House at Field's Edge, No. 2, colored pencil drawing by Linda Wesner
House at Field’s Edge, No. 2
2006, colored pencil, 10 x 20.

“I wanted to convey the isolation
and stillness of a Sunday morning
in this piece,” says Wesner.

Wesner uses the “wrong” side of the paper because she likes the way the smooth side allows for faster application of the waxy pigment from her pencils. She favors Prismacolor colored pencils because she’s very familiar with them, and she finds them to be pleasingly opaque with saturated color, but she also occasionally uses Caran d’Ache or Faber-Castell Polychromos. Her goal is to choose colors intuitively, and to do so she relies on many choices and a thorough knowledge of the various pigments. Wesner likes to have multiple pencils in the same hue sharpened and ready to go on her right side so she can draw without interruption. She employs a kneaded eraser when she wants to lift off some pigment.

Like many colored-pencil artists, Wesner works methodically, and an evident passion for the job powers her through the painstaking process. As with any artist working in any medium, she pays much attention to the center of interest in her compositions. This usually means carefully treating the lightest lights and the darkest darks, in particular the area in the image where the strongest value contrast occurs. Wesner handles this task like an oil painter, applying the darks in thin, matte layers and boosting the lightest lights with thick texture. Most colored-pencil artists burnish the entire page, but Wesner has found that if she only burnishes the lightest areas, they pop off the page to great effect. Extra layers of white, beige, cream, and cloud blue usually serve this purpose. Wesner says thin darks also allow more paper texture to show through, which pleases her.

Dance of Light, colored pencil drawing by Linda Wesner
Dance of Light
2006, colored pencil on
burgundy paper, 22 x 30.

Colored pencil is an exacting medium that requires an artist to enter a nearly meditative state of mind. Wesner, ever up for a challenge, mixes her careful studio work with plein air outings with like-minded friend and artist Lauren Richards. For these swiftly executed pieces, she limits her palette to two or three hues to create an effect similar to trois-crayons drawings. “This is really hard to do in colored pencil,” remarks Wesner. “We plan to keep going to the same location over a year’s time to document the changes.” In this way, Wesner ensures that she won’t be the only person to recognize the often elegant passage of time.    

Copse Study, No. 1: August, colored pencil drawing by Linda Wesner Copse Study, No. 2: September, colored pencil drawing by Linda Wesner
Copse Study, No. 1: August
2006, colored pencil on
eggshell-colored
paper, 10 x 17.


Copse Study, No. 2: September

2006, colored pencil on
red-earth-colored
paper, 11 x 25½.
These two plein air studies of the same subject illustrate how Wesner used her materials to great effect. In Copse Study No. 1: August, the artist employed a Prismacolor Art Stix burnt-umber colored pencil to sketch a quick, half-hour sketch on eggshell-colored paper. In Copse Study No. 2: September, Wesner used burnt-umber and beige colored pencils but decided to execute the study on a red-earth-colored paper, which she says greatly improved the appearance of the work and saved her time. “I was able to get better results in less time because of the wonderful contrast that the toned paper afforded me,” she says.

About the Artist
Linda Wesner lives in Lewis Center, Ohio, which is less than a half-hour from Columbus. This Colored Pencil Society of America signature member has been juried into a number of exhibitions and has been the focus of several solo shows. Wesner earned a B.A. and an M.A. from State University of New York at Oswego, and she is represented by Clayton Galleries, in Tampa; Fogle Fine Art, in Jacksonville, Florida; GJ Cloniger and Co., in Morris Plains, New Jersey; The Art Exchange, in Columbus, Ohio; and The Gallery, in Cazenovia, New York.

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Comments

John Delaney wrote
on 25 Nov 2006 3:58 PM
I loved looking at the work of Linda Wesner. I am totally amazed of the realism that was obtained while using colored pencils. I have just started to work them myself but for some reason they turn out to look as if the work was from a coloring book. I would love to see the process to one of her pieces.
Wayne Miller wrote
on 29 Dec 2006 6:34 PM
This is more of a question than a comment. I have a print by L. Richards and I wondered if it might be Lauren Richards who is mentioned as a fellow artist and friend of Linda Wesner. The print is a mixture red and white candy sticks and nuts (pecans). It is kind of unusual. Sorry to be a pain but I though you might help me. Thanks
amanda cooper wrote
on 28 Jul 2008 2:06 PM
my husband and i have a piece of artwork by linda wesner from sept 1975 it was for mary pat and tim? she gave it in may of 1976