Drawing Basics: Arlene Steinberg on Colored Pencil

Arlene Steinberg colored pencil drawingRead the transcript from yesterday’s live online chat and drawing tutorial with colored pencil artist Arlene Steinberg.

Be sure to attend our next live chat with pastel artist Janet Monafo on Monday, June 9 at 2pm EST.


2008-05-12 11:00:03.0
Administrator: You have joined a chat with Arlene Steinberg, a top colored pencil artist who has been highlighted in American Artist magazine. Feel free to ask her some questions about colored pencil drawing basics and beyond. Join in the discussion! Sponsored by Legion Paper.

2008-05-12 11:00:33.0
Arlene: Hello everybody!

2008-05-12 11:01:09.0
NE: hi arlene! i loved your article in American Artist!

2008-05-12 11:01:18.0
Arlene: Thank you!

2008-05-12 11:01:28.0
NE: I had a question about how you started using colored pencils. you said you used them for paper sculptures. can you explain how you did this?

2008-05-12 11:02:23.0
Arlene: When I was doing paper sculptures I would cut out the shapes of the flower petals, and then to get the different colors on the petals I would add white, yellow, etc on top of the pink paper.

2008-05-12 11:04:19.0
Arlene: By cutting out the shapes, I could just glue them together to make the flower. I had to know just where the petal was going to be. Some petals would be behind other flowers, so this way it was easier for me to understand where they would be.

2008-05-12 11:05:01.0
Tenacious B: Hi Arlene. I was wondering, have you ever experimented with watercolor pencils?

2008-05-12 11:05:56.0
Arlene: Yes, I’ve experimented with them. I personally don’t like them much because of the way the color spreads. I do like the Inktense pencils by Derwent. They seem to spread a little more evenly–and they are ink, permanent when dry.

2008-05-12 11:06:43.0
Arlene: You can scribble on the color with the pencil, and then you take a brush with water to spread the color.

2008-05-12 11:06:18.0
Cecile: Hi Arlene. As a fellow colored pencil artist I am always concerned that colored pencils are not considered a serious art medium. Do you think any progress is being made in this regard?

2008-05-12 11:07:45.0
Arlene: Cecile, yes, I think progress is being made for colored pencil as a medium, but it’s about where watercolor was about 30 years ago. I think in another 5 or 10 years, maybe 15 years, colored pencil will be at the same level.

2008-05-12 11:10:07.0
Arlene: People think of colored pencil that way because, even when I was in school, it was considered that unless you painted with oils, you were not a serious artists. Watercolor, colored pencil were always what illustrators were used, so some people didn’t consider pieces made with them to be serious art. That has changed in recent years…why, I’m not sure. People are finding out how wonderful they are to draw with. Plus, mfgrs are figuring out how to produce lightfast colors, so they are more permanent.

2008-05-12 11:09:51.0
Cecile: Thanks Arlene. You will certainly be one of the pioneers who helped cp get there

2008-05-12 11:09:32.0
Jesse: Only took 15 minutes to figure out how to get here.

2008-05-12 11:09:59.0
Administrator: Sorry you had trouble Jesse. Welcome!

2008-05-12 11:10:27.0
Arlene: Cecile will be one of the pioneers also.

2008-05-12 11:10:37.0
Administrator: You have joined a chat with Arlene Steinberg, a top colored pencil artist who has been highlighted in American Artist magazine. Feel free to ask her some questions and to join in the discussion. Sponsored by Legion Paper (http://www.legionpaper.com/).

2008-05-12 11:10:58.0
Alli: Hi, Arlene. What papers and pencils are you using these days?

2008-05-12 11:11:49.0
Arlene: Alli, I’m using mostly Prismacolor pencils, the Derwent Inktense pencils, which are considered colored pencils, and I’m waiting for the Luminesence pencils to come out.

2008-05-12 11:12:04.0
Arlene: Caran d’Ache will make them.

2008-05-12 11:13:03.0
Arlene: As for paper, I use Stonehenge. I’ve tried others but I keep coming back to Stonehenge. They have a new form of Stonehenge coming out soon and I’m waiting for that to come out. It’s a 1/8″ thick rigid board with Stonehenge paper adhered to it on both sides.

2008-05-12 11:12:58.0
Jesse: Arlene, tell us about the kinds of layering you are doing with Prismacolor.

2008-05-12 11:13:06.0
Nysha: Hi Arlene, do you have problems with the Prismacolor leads breaking inside the wood?

2008-05-12 11:14:03.0
Arlene: Jesse, I start with a complementary color tonal underpainting. I use a very sharp point and a very light touch, and IE layer many colors on top of the underpainting. The underpainting establishes my values.

2008-05-12 11:15:57.0
Arlene: Nysha, the only time i have a problem with breaking leads is when I drop a pencil. I use an electric sharpener that creates shavings that look like sawdust. It’s a spiral blade as opposed to the straight blade you get in a handheld sharpener. You’re not pushing against one side.

2008-05-12 11:16:26.0
Nysha: Ok that explains alot!

2008-05-12 11:14:55.0
Jesse: Is that a watercolor or acrylic underpainting?

2008-05-12 11:16:43.0
Arlene: Jesse, it’s an underpainting with either Inktense pencils or Prismacolor pencils, or sometimes both. I never use an acrylic underpainting, and only in three or four instances did I use a watercolor underpainting.

2008-05-12 11:17:16.0
Arlene: Watercolor would be a lot faster, but then I wouldn’t be able to enter CPSA competitions.

2008-05-12 11:17:11.0
Jesse: Do you ever dissolve Prismacolors with alcohol?

2008-05-12 11:17:43.0
Arlene: Jesse, rarely do I dissolve them with alcohol. Only when I need to darken a dark even more. Such as a deeper, rich black or brown.

2008-05-12 11:18:36.0
Administrator: You have joined a chat with Arlene Steinberg, a top colored pencil artist who has been highlighted in American Artist magazine. Feel free to ask her some questions and to join in the discussion. Sponsored by Legion Paper (http://www.legionpaper.com/).

2008-05-12 11:18:59.0
MSD: Do you ever scrape off some of the wax build up in order to make changes?

2008-05-12 11:19:07.0
Arlene: I’m finding the new Derwents act very similarly to watercolor pencils in that you can dissolve the leads and spread it around and create very interesting effects with it.

2008-05-12 11:20:06.0
Arlene: MSD, no, if I need to make changes I use mounting putty. I knead a piece in my hand, press it down, and then lift. That will get rid of not only the wax but the color. If they doesn’t give me enough of a clean surface I’ll go back in with an electric eraser.

2008-05-12 11:20:12.0
Jesse: I was taught to dissolve the Prismacolor underpainting and build layers with acrylic medium isolating the layers. I suppose CPSA frowns on that, too?

2008-05-12 11:20:53.0
Arlene: Jesse, yes it does, but they allow it in their Explore This competition.

2008-05-12 11:20:57.0
Nysha: When you mentioned ‘complementary underpainting’ are you referring to each object’s local color complement?

2008-05-12 11:21:48.0
Arlene: Nysha, yes, the local color. For example, if you have a red tomato, the underpainting would be a dark green. Not a true green, but a grayed one. For the stem, it would be the opposite–a darker red.

2008-05-12 11:22:50.0
Arlene: All this is in my book. So for example, for the tomato I would use dark green and maybe some celadon green to establish the underpainting under a red object.

2008-05-12 11:25:09.0
Arlene: For the green stem I would use black grape, black cherry or tuscan red for the underpainting. For the lightest shadow areas I may use clay rose.

2008-05-12 11:22:07.0
Nysha: Thanks

2008-05-12 11:22:13.0
Jesse: If you don’t isolate your layers, how are you getting the bright white highlights in your pictures?

2008-05-12 11:23:27.0
Arlene: Jesse, I save my white highlights similar to what people do in watercolor. Sometimes I use frisket, but rarely.

2008-05-12 11:24:19.0
Arlene: After I finish with the major drawing and I’m at the point where I’m almost ready to spray, I come back in with the eraser and lift up any specks that may have fallen in that area, then I go over it with white pencil.

2008-05-12 11:24:44.0
Jesse: Liquid frisket or tape? I’ve tried liquid frisket but gotten lousy results. It moves and tears.

2008-05-12 11:24:52.0
Connie: Hi Arlene – I worry about cp drawings fading? Other than not hanging in direct sunlight and spraying with the Prismacolor final spray is there anything else that can or should be done? I do work with the Prismacolor brand.

2008-05-12 11:25:22.0
Arlene: I’ve used both, Jesse.

2008-05-12 11:25:55.0
Arlene: Connie, yes, it should be framed with conservation glass. I’ve never had a problem with fading.

2008-05-12 11:26:16.0
Connie: okay – thanks!

2008-05-12 11:26:56.0
Arlene: I use to do my own framing but now I buy my frames wholesale and take them to a friend who cuts the glass and mats them and puts it all together.

2008-05-12 11:27:19.0
Jesse: Arlene, are there subjects or designs or drawing ideas you think are particularly appropriate to pencil as a medium?

2008-05-12 11:27:54.0
Arlene: Jesse, I think anything is appropriate. I’ve seen fabulous landscapes, still lifes, portraits, abstracts.

2008-05-12 11:28:34.0
Administrator: You have joined a chat with Arlene Steinberg, a top colored pencil artist who has been highlighted in American Artist magazine. Feel free to ask her some questions and to join in the discussion. Sponsored by Legion Paper (http://www.legionpaper.com/).

2008-05-12 11:28:40.0
Sherese Mesko: Do you use lightfast pencils, or do you consider the work protected by the final spray?

2008-05-12 11:28:41.0
Arlene: I used to think it was a medium for those of us with a tight hand but seeing work from Carlynne Hershberger and John Smolko, I see that’s not the case.

2008-05-12 11:29:04.0
Jesse: Your marbles, with their high contract, subtle shading, and highlights are impressive. How did you approach creating this work?

2008-05-12 11:31:39.0
Arlene: Jesse, I can’t take 100% credit for that. i was given the rights to a photo by Emily Lagore. The photo had many more marbles in it. I played around with the photo, cropping, moving them around, making some larger or smaller, and made it my own. But i was fascinated by her photograph and the way the light was used there. Most time, I work from my own photographs.

2008-05-12 11:30:12.0
Arlene: Sherese, I try to stay away from colors that are not as lightfast as others but sometimes it can’t be helped. I sparingly use a violet or a pink for a highlight that needs it but I stay away from those that fade immediately like process red.

2008-05-12 11:30:14.0
Nysha: Is the work in the online gallery representative of the size you prefer or do you work larger?

2008-05-12 11:32:49.0
Arlene: Nysha, I assume you are talking about the online gallery here at www.myamericanartist.com. I have larger works on my website, the largest is 16 x 20. Because of the slowness of the medium, I wouldn’t want to go much larger than that.

2008-05-12 11:33:02.0
Nysha: gottcha!

2008-05-12 11:33:04.0
Jesse: Then you prefer to work from a photo rather than plein air or using a model?

2008-05-12 11:33:35.0
katydid: Arlene: Could you talk a little about yellows? Even with your book I find them difficult to use. So much so I find myself avoiding them.

2008-05-12 11:35:40.0
Arlene: Kay, don’t avoid them. If you get the value right with your underpainting of lavenders and purples, then by layering first with either goldenrod or yellow ochre, then layering lighter colors of yellow on top, you’ll find you get a nice range of yellow values. you have to use a light touch to build up your values.

2008-05-12 11:34:37.0
Arlene: Jesse, I don’t work plein air. In the majority of cases I set up a still life and photograph it. Anything not perishable I leave in place so I can work from that. But sometimes if I am doing a complicated piece of crystal I will pick it up and work from it in my left hand.

2008-05-12 11:35:24.0
None: What do you like about “burnishing” or dislike? And do you use it or avoid it?

2008-05-12 11:36:56.0
Arlene: None, I don’t like the pressure put on my hand and arm, so I try to avoid it until the very end so I don’t have to burnish much. But I do burnish almost my full drawing. Exceptions are textures or areas in which I want to leave some white of the paper showing.

2008-05-12 11:37:35.0
Jesse: Prismacolor offers a wide range of warm, cool, and French grays. Have you worked with them? What use do you make of them?

2008-05-12 11:37:35.0
garriottporterart: Arlene, I love how creative minded you are with your work and the technique you use of making things look like a collage also the use of scotch tape and masking tape in your paintings. Do you set up a still life visual to do these?

2008-05-12 11:39:39.0
Arlene: garriott, when i am setting up a trompe l’oeil still life, I photograph it like I do any other still life. I then print off that photo and add the bends of the paper and the folds and the rips in almost the same proportions and same lighting, and then photograph it again. I play with it in Photoshop to create what it will look like when I finish.

2008-05-12 11:41:10.0
Arlene: In other words, I photograph the still life setup and then transform it into a trompe l’oeil.

2008-05-12 11:38:16.0
Administrator: You have joined a chat with Arlene Steinberg, a top colored pencil artist who has been highlighted in American Artist magazine. Feel free to ask her some questions and to join in the discussion. Sponsored by Legion Paper (http://www.legionpaper.com/).

2008-05-12 11:39:02.0
None: What do you notice in using Legion paper versus Stonehenge?

2008-05-12 11:42:00.0
Arlene: Jesse, I am now working in French grays in a series of trompe l’oeil pieces, otherwise I don’t use any grays in my regular drawings. I prefer to mix my grays.

2008-05-12 11:42:23.0
Arlene: It’s only for this series where all the backgrounds are French grays that i am using that pigment.

2008-05-12 11:42:09.0
Sherese Mesko: Have you ever used drafting film as a surface? I’ve used it once, and it seems to go faster, and you can layer by using multiple sheets. I think your work would translate great on it.

2008-05-12 11:42:47.0
Arlene: none, Legion Paper produces the Stonehenge paper.

2008-05-12 11:43:11.0
Arlene: Sherese, no I haven’t tried it. It’s on my to do list. I’ve seen the wonderful results.

2008-05-12 11:43:40.0
Arlene: My concern would be that the layers would eventually separate when framed.

2008-05-12 11:44:29.0
Administrator: Don’t be shy. There must be some more questions out there.

2008-05-12 11:44:45.0
Alli: Do you use PhotoShop at all, Arlene?

2008-05-12 11:45:12.0
Nysha: Your work is beautiful — how do you approach a new piece? Where does you inspiration come from?

2008-05-12 11:45:18.0
Arlene: Alli, Photoshop is the new tracing paper. I use it for almost all my compositions. I move things, cut out things, add things.

2008-05-12 11:45:40.0
None: Did you always work in color pencil — or what other mediums did you prefer/use? And how long?

2008-05-12 11:46:13.0
Arlene: Nysha, sometimes it’s something I see–a vase, an apple. Sometimes the Old Masters inspire me. Sometimes it’s an idea to make a statement.

2008-05-12 11:46:57.0
Arlene: None, no I started out as a textile wallpaper designer working mostly in gouache. I have done paper sculpture, collage, oil, acrylic, some watercolor. But I have always loved drawing the best.

2008-05-12 11:47:21.0
Administrator: You have joined a chat with Arlene Steinberg, a top colored pencil artist who has been highlighted in American Artist magazine. Feel free to ask her some questions and to join in the discussion. Sponsored by Legion Paper (http://www.legionpaper.com/).

2008-05-12 11:47:47.0
garriottporterart: I’ve never used the Caran d’Ache Pencils. I use mostly Prismacolor wax pencils, Faber Castell watercolor pencils, and have begun using some Lyra Rembrandt Oil base pencils. I was wondering if the Caran and the Faber Castell Polychromos are oil based and if you could tell me if these blend well with your other pencils?

2008-05-12 11:48:35.0
Arlene: garriott, yes you can blend all the pencils together. I haven’t found that they burnish well, but they work well for the underpainting stage.

2008-05-12 11:47:48.0
Administrator: Only 10 minutes left. Ask those questions now!

2008-05-12 11:48:15.0
None: How many hours are in some of your pieces?

2008-05-12 11:49:23.0
Arlene: None, it varies. My smallest pieces, 20 to 25 hours. I’ve gone up to 200 hours on a piece. My last piece gave me fits, so what should have been 100 hours took me close to 300 hours. I wound up doing a lot of erasing.

2008-05-12 11:49:42.0
Jesse: Earlier you mentioned Stonehenge papers. What weights work best for you?

2008-05-12 11:50:09.0
None: Can you use Caran also at the end or middle — or just in the begining —?

2008-05-12 11:50:30.0
Arlene: Jesse, I’ve used both the lighter weight and heavier weight. I prefer the heavier weight. This comes up a lot on my website, www.scribbletalk.com.

2008-05-12 11:51:01.0
Arlene: none, I believe you can use the Caran luminescence pencils at the end.

2008-05-12 11:51:07.0
garriottporterart: Do you only use bright white papers or do you ever use colored papers?

2008-05-12 11:51:42.0
Arlene: garriott, I’ve tried white papers, I’ve used black–my Prelude is on black–I prefer white because I feel the color is more luminous.

2008-05-12 11:52:44.0
Arlene: if you put a color behind the pigment–if you used a toned support, many times that color will mix with the pencil you are using, because colored pencil is a semi-transparent medium.

2008-05-12 11:52:40.0
Jesse: What about heavier supports like architectural board and double Bristol boards?

2008-05-12 11:53:33.0
Arlene: Jesse, Bristol board doesn’t take as many layers as I use–20 to 30. I’ve never used architectural board. But Legion Paper is coming out with the Plein Air board, which I do like. It comes out the end of this year or the beginning of next year. I’ve had a chance to try it, a sneak preview.

2008-05-12 11:53:40.0
Sherese Mesko: Do you underpaint differently on black paper?

2008-05-12 11:54:28.0
Arlene: Sherese, yes. I start with white. Then i use the white to shade my highlighted and light areas, and under colors I want to be a little brigher. It gives a slightly cleaner surface.

2008-05-12 11:54:50.0
Arlene: It’s similar to doing a reverse painting by filling in the light areas and leaving the dark areas alone.

2008-05-12 11:54:15.0
Jesse: Are you going for weight (to support the pencil technique) or tooth (to take up the color)?

2008-05-12 11:55:32.0
Arlene: Jesse, I’m going for a vellum type finish such as the Stonehenge. I don’t like too toothy a paper.

2008-05-12 11:55:36.0
Arlene: Or too smooth a paper.

2008-05-12 11:56:19.0
Administrator: Last call for questions

2008-05-12 11:56:48.0
Jesse: Arlene, what new directions are you thinking of taking?

2008-05-12 11:57:01.0
Nysha: Thanks for yourtime adn information Arlene.

2008-05-12 11:57:05.0
None: I missedwhat you spray with?

2008-05-12 11:57:09.0
Arlene: Jesse, don’t know until something presents itself!

2008-05-12 11:57:23.0
Administrator: We will post the chat transcript on the site if you missed something

2008-05-12 11:57:55.0
Arlene: None, I use Lascaux fixative spray, matte finish.

2008-05-12 11:58:06.0
Jesse: Thank you, Arlene. This was very interesting. I hope you’ll do a class near me in 2009.

2008-05-12 11:58:14.0
Arlene: You’re welcome, Nysha!

2008-05-12 11:58:28.0
Arlene: Jesse, where’s “near me”?

2008-05-12 11:58:39.0
None: Ditto !!! would lovea class!!

2008-05-12 11:58:44.0
Administrator: Thanks for coming everyone! Feel free to consider the conversation in the Drawing section of our message board, Artists’ Forum.

2008-05-12 11:59:13.0
Arlene: Drop me a note through my site and I’ll keep you informed of my upcoming workshops.

2008-05-12 11:59:38.0
Arlene: I’ll put you on the list and contact you when I’m in your area. Thanks, everyone!

2008-05-12 11:59:52.0
Administrator: Thanks Arlene

Have more to say about working with colored pencils? Chat with fellow artists on our message board, Artists’ Forum.

Related Posts:


Drawing Blog

One thought on “Drawing Basics: Arlene Steinberg on Colored Pencil

  1. am a student of amibs academy of art and design in the central region of ghana. and i would be much plz with you if you can help me get someone who can help me sell my art works outside ghana.plzzzzzzzzzz