Drawing Basics: Arlene Steinberg on How Colored Pencil Techniques Relate to Painting

Ripped Off by Arlene Steinberg, 2008, colored pencil, 17 x 8½.

Arlene Steinberg develops her detailed colored pencil drawings in much the same way as an oil painter would proceed. She carefully determines a composition, builds from dark shadows to bright highlights, and underpaints complementary colors to enrich the image.


by M. Stephen Doherty

Steinberg Calla Lilies and Fruit colored pencil drawing Steinberg Key to My Heart colored pencil drawing
Calla Lilies and Fruit
2006, colored pencil,
12 x 10¼. Collection
the artist.
Key to My Heart
2007, colored pencil,
8 x 7¾. Collection Gil Weiner.

New York artist Arlene Steinberg established herself as one of the top colored pencil artists in the country after only a few years of using the drawing medium. Her lifelong love of drawing and her background as an artist and textile designer served as a solid basis on which to explore colored pencils. “I first used them to enhance the surface of paper sculptures, but eventually I switched to working with them as my primary medium,” she explains. “I developed a set of procedures based on my background in painting, whereby I work from dark to light rather than follow the standard procedure of building to the darks; and I layer complementary colors as one would a series of watercolor or oil washes.”

Steinberg’s artwork was always carefully planned and detailed, so it’s easy to understand why the three major categories of her colored pencil drawings—florals, still lifes, and trompe l’oeil illusions—include well-composed and elaborately refined images. The process by which they are created begins with the artist arranging the elements in her studio, making thumbnail sketches of possible combinations, and then taking a battery of digital photographs. “There is usually some connection between the elements of the picture,” the artist explains. “Sometimes there is a theme or story, such as the state of the environment, scenes from a country I visited, or fool-the-eye illusions. I’m also attracted to the abstract relationships between surfaces, colors, textures, and shapes. Since I spend so much time on each drawing, it helps to have an idea or an emotion to consider as I progress through the stages of development.

SingleTitle Small http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1256302615http://www.brightcove.com/channel.jsp?channel=1213988131

“Composition is always an overriding concern, no matter what the subject,” Steinberg continues. “I spend a lot of time evaluating the shapes, colors, and values within a grouping of flowers or objects. Even after I’m satisfied with what I see, I make adjustments to the photographs in my computer using Photoshop. As I often say, photographs lie. I have to adjust the perspective lines, correct the colors, move objects closer or farther away from the picture plane, and adjust values while I consider different ways to crop the images. I keep the objects close at hand in my studio so I can verify the accuracy of the images in the photographs.”

Once satisfied that she has a strong image, Steinberg makes large color prints, converts the computer image to gray and white, and prints that image on a sheet of Legion Stonehenge paper or on treated acetate. Her printer handles sheets of paper up to 13" x 44", so she can transfer an image directly on to the Stonehenge paper she will draw on, or onto a transparent sheet where she will trace the major lines of the composition with a Prismacolor Col-ERASE pencil. “Stonehenge is an excellent surface for colored pencil because it is heavy and has enough tooth to hold the wax-based lead,” the artist explains. “It’s also available in several archival colors. I can make a freehand drawing of small images on the surface, but the larger and more complicated designs need to be either traced or printed directly. Of course I never work over a computer-generated image if I intend to enter the finished drawing in a juried competition.”

Steinberg Breaking Bread colored pencil drawing Steinberg Reflections of the Past colored pencil drawing
Breaking Bread
2007, colored pencil, 4½ x 6½. Collection Marsha Wolf.
Reflections of the Past
2007, colored pencil, 4 x 6¼. Collection the artist.

Focusing on the dark shadows first, Steinberg uses a variety of Prismacolor colored pencils to establish the deepest values in the composition. “Shadows are made of several colors, not just black or gray, so I work with blues, browns, purples, and touches of the reflected colors from the objects around them,” the artist comments. “One of the exercises I recommend to beginners is drawing a red apple on a white table. That’s a simple way to see how many colors can be used to render the skin of the apple and give it a three-dimensional form, and it also helps in understanding how to draw the shadows and reflected color on the white table.”

Using the techniques common to watercolor, oil, and pastel painting, Steinberg applies complementary colors to block in the shapes of every object in her drawing before dealing with the surface appearance of those elements. “For example, I will use several reds to draw the shadow patterns in the green leaves, purples for the shadows in yellow flowers, and blues for the folds in orange fabric,” she explains. “For the sake of efficiency, I work on similarly colored objects at the same time. However, I stop periodically to make sure the composition is still working effectively in terms of the movement of shapes, repetition of colors, and center of interest.”

Steinberg Ripped Off colored pencil drawing
Ripped Off
2008, colored pencil, 17 x 8½. Collection the artist.

In the final stages of a drawing, Steinberg uses a Prismacolor colorless blender pencil to burnish the entire surface, then she spays two or three light coats of fixative and lets the surface dry thoroughly. She then adds bright highlights and dark accents to punctuate the image. In total, she spends two to three months on each drawing, depending on the size and degree of complexity, although small drawings can be completed in less time.

Steinberg has been sharing her techniques and her enthusiasm for colored pencil with other artists for a number of years as a regular contributor to www.scribbletalk.com, a teacher of courses on drawing and composition, and the author of Masterful Color: Vibrant Colored Pencil Paintings Layer by Layer (North Light Publications, Cincinnati, Ohio).

About the Artist
Arlene Steinberg earned a B.F.A. from Syracuse University, in New York, and worked as a textile and wallpaper designer before establishing herself as a fine artist. She is a signature member of the Colored Pencil Society of America (CSPA), and is a member of the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club and the International Guild of Realism. Her drawings have been included in a number of juried exhibitions, art magazines, and books; and she has received awards in shows organized by the CPSA, the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Club, Allied Artists of America, The Salmagundi Art Club, the Colored Pencil Society of New England, and Drawing magazine. For more information on Steinberg, visit her website at www.arlenesteinberg.com.

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2 thoughts on “Drawing Basics: Arlene Steinberg on How Colored Pencil Techniques Relate to Painting

  1. Do you have colored pencil patterns that you sell. I am attempting to learn techniques of colored pencil. I have trouble with picking colors that work with the color paper I choose and then layering colors.

    Any advice is appreciated.
    Thank you
    Kathe Rathbun