Drawing Basics: Dee Overly's Colored Pencil and Graphite Drawings

7 Jul 2008

Dee Overly Raindrops colored pencil drawingIn her colored pencil and graphite drawings, Dee Overly invites viewers to admire the unique details of natural objects.

by Lynne Moss Perricelli

Dee Overly Raindrops colored pencil drawing
Raindrops
2007, colored pencil drawing, 8½ x 7.
This piece won second place in
American Artist’s
70th Anniversary competition in the colored pencil category.

Raised on a farm in Ohio, Dee Overly was a tomboy who collected rocks and spent hours examining their crevices, a pursuit she still enjoys today. “I always had pockets full of stones,” she recalls, “and I guess that never went away.” An avid gardener, she takes time to look carefully at the stones and plants in her yard, and she makes a regular practice of picking up objects that have special appeal. She can then refer to these items in addition to her close-up photos of them in developing her drawings. Focusing on the qualities that capture her attention and magnifying them in her compositions, she explores every nuance and detail while building on the basic methods of drawing. “For me, it’s all in the details,” she says.

Although Overly relies to a great extent on her digital camera to inform her drawing ideas, she finds looking closely at the leaves and plants an indispensable part of her creative process, even when the objects become so brittle she must handle them with the utmost care. “I refer to the actual subject when I can, and sometimes I sketch outside, but with colored pencil I’m in the studio for many hours, and I always end up relying on the photos,” she explains. The artist works in both graphite and colored pencil, finding that drawing with the two media offer different effects and techniques, all of which keep her inspired and motivated, despite the long hours required to draw each piece.

 

“I always worked in graphite when I was growing up,” she says. “It’s just what I had. I’ve always been a pencil pusher, and I love the feel of the pencil in my hand.” When she first began creating drawings, she used pen-and-ink in addition to graphite, and when she wanted to add color, she washed over the drawing with watercolor. She practiced this method until she took a workshop with colored pencil artist Linda Lucas Hardy, whose work so impressed Overly that she immediately adopted colored pencil as one of her primary media. “Now I can be a pencil pusher and use color,” she comments.

Dee Overly Leaf Study graphite pencil drawing
Leaf Study
2007, graphite drawing, 8 x 11.

Once Overly has selected a photo to use as reference and examined the subject closely, her first step is to make a light sketch on the surface, usually a sheet of Stonehenge paper. Typically she starts with a pale blue pigment that will cover easily with subsequent layers. She then starts laying down the colors with a light touch, slowly building six to 15 layers. In developing the forms and details, she uses a tiny circular motion. The translucent color allows for easy mixing.

In some of her work, Overly uses many heavy layers, which require a surface with more grit. For these pieces she favors Uart paper, a pastel paper in grits of 400 to 800, rough to fine. For a drawing of few layers, on the other hand, she relies on Bristol board, which offers a smooth surface that has worked especially well for a recent series of miniature drawings measuring about 21/2" x 31/2". “The Bristol board allows me to lay down heavier layers of color a lot faster,” she says.

Dee Overly Rock Bed 1 colored pencil drawing Dee Overly Rock Bed 2 colored pencil drawing Dee Overly Rock Bed 3 colored pencil drawing
Rock Bed 1
2007, colored pencil drawing, 4½ x 9.
Rock Bed 2
2007, colored pencil drawing, 4½ x 9.
Rock Bed 3
2007, colored pencil drawing, 4½ x 9.

Despite the detail in her drawings, Overly strives to achieve a painterly effect. To this end she at times blends pigments with a brush after she’s laid in several layers, and also burnishes to create richer color. “Once I have the color as I want it, I take a pencil that is lighter in color and go over the area,” the artist explains. “I may have to build the original colors back up, but it usually only takes a layer or two.” Primarily she uses Prismacolor pencils, which are wax-based, although for some pieces she uses the oil-based Derwent pencils. She rarely mixes them. If the wax from the Prismacolors starts to build, she uses a tissue or her finger to wipe it away. When a piece is complete, she sprays it with Krylon UV-resistant clear acrylic coating.

Dee Overly Daffodil colored pencil drawing
Daffodil
2007, colored pencil drawing, 11½ x 15.

The artist refers to the photos of her subject as she develops the piece, but once the work is well underway, she no longer needs to look at them. “It’s different with every piece, but at a certain point the drawing has a life of its own, and I’m responding to the work itself,” she describes. “The colors don’t match, and I throw the photos back in the box. They’re of no use anymore.”

For graphite drawings, Overly typically uses a mechanical pencil, a preference that stems from her former career as an irrigation designer. “I use mechanical pencils for the entire drawing,” she describes. “I can get tiny delicate lines, down to a .3-mm lead, and I don’t need to sharpen the pencil.” In these she employs the same process as with the colored pencils, working in soft, smooth movements to build up the values.

Overly favors the delicate look that the mechanical pencil imparts to natural subjects. Using .3-mm, .5-mm, and .7-mm lead sizes, she can vary the thickness of the line by changing the leads. Some of the lines are harder or softer depending on the lead used, but she tends not to use heavy, dark leads. “I like to keep it light and feathery,” she adds.

Dee Overly Looking for a Home colored pencil drawing
Looking for a Home
2007, colored pencil drawing,
11½ x 9. Collection Tom Holly.

Erasing is an important aspect of Overly’s process, but she tends to think of her approach in terms of what she adds rather than what she takes away. To lift out or erase areas in the graphite drawings, she uses a kneaded eraser. For colored pencil, she uses white putty. Although she owns an electric eraser, she uses it cautiously to avoid creating a hole in the paper. “I use erasing to both adjust values and make corrections,” she notes. “With all the layering I do, I can always add another layer, so I don’t erase all that much. I’m more likely to add more layers than to subtract.”

The artist says her interest in detail has much to do with how easy it is to move through life without really looking at anything. “You pull out of the driveway, and you know there’s a bush there but you don’t stop to examine it,” she says. “The world is full of so many wonderful details. My mission with my art is to help viewers see things anew. It’s only a small portion—one area of a leaf, a small petal of a flower—but I want them to really look at it.”

About the Artist
Dee Overly, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, worked as an irrigation designer before becoming a full-time fine artist in 2001. A member of the Riverside Arts Center, Ann Arbor Women Artists, Chelsea Painters, and the Colored Pencil Society of America, she has participated in many juried exhibitions. Among her most recent awards are Second Place in Colored Pencil in American Artist’s 70th Anniversary Art Competition and a Merit Award in the Colored Pencil Society of America’s fall 2007 exhibition in Livonia, Michigan. Learn more about the artist at www.deeoverly.com.


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Comments

Tom wrote
on 17 May 2008 1:11 AM
I am simply Astounded, I do a little rough work in colored pencils, I love to hike, photo, work outside. I honestly would not have imagined such photo-realistic work was possible with the medium. Thankyou, I've learned alot today. BB.
Barb Goodsitt wrote
on 7 Jun 2008 10:35 AM
As a friend and colleague, I am tickled pink at Dee's success. Her joy and originality carries over into her wonderful art work.
on 14 Aug 2009 3:20 PM

Beautiful work. I love how it is detailed but not busy. Dee is like a magician in that I look at a piece like Raindrops and wonder, "How'd she do that?"