by Carol Hoffnagle
I have always enjoyed drawing flowers. Over the years I have done them as oil paintings, pastel drawings, batik fabric paintings, etchings, limited edition relief prints and photography. For the last few years I have concentrated on using colored pencils. Pencils may at first seem more limiting than other media, like oils, but are actually very flexible and can be used in many different ways.
The imagery is always from photographs I have taken. With well over 2,000 on my computer plus hundreds more in boxes, pre-computer, I have a pretty endless supply of images but still can’t help taking more. That is the thing about flowers that I both dislike and like. I dislike that they fade so quickly but then each one is entirely new and beautiful.
Why flowers? No other reason than I love to look at them. I am quite at a loss when it comes to knowing their names, or any of their characteristics, or how to grow and nurture them. I’m afraid I have a brown thumb. I think that I use this lack of knowledge to my advantage -– I enjoy and treat all flowers equally, whether a tiny Trillium or a big showy Bird-of-Paradise. Every flower, no matter its size or rarity, gets equal treatment. This has caused a few problems when someone has informed me that I had just done a beautiful drawing of a particularly obnoxious weed.
Flowers also give me the opportunity to exploit my two favorite aspects of art: line and color. A well-drawn line is the basis for making a drawing or painting work. If the petal and leaf shapes are wrong, no amount of color will make it a success. I first draw the flower in pencil on a sheet of Kraft paper then transfer it to good drawing paper, usually Arches or Rives BFK. I spend many hours drawing and re-drawing the lines — then it’s time to color.
Due to the fact that I am left-handed and have inherited hand tremors I work right to left so I can lean my hand on the paper. I do that also with oil on canvas, although that is a bit trickier. I have tried pastels but oh! what a mess. The pencil colors by themselves are quite strong and once laid down are hard to blend over. Therefore I put a light base layer of white, beige or grey over the areas that will be colored, preserving both the paper color and defining the edges.
I have all my pencils arranged in color groups. Nothing official, just the way I personally see them. There are 132 individual colors in the set I use, but I usually only work with 10-15 of them. I rarely need more than one or two reds or yellows, etc. I can achieve all the subtleties of color necessary by layering and blending the colors.
Experimenting with the pencils, I really take a look at the flowers. Red isn’t just red, it has yellows and blues in it, especially in the shadow area. I never use black, even in the center of a pansy. Layers of red, brown and purple make a much richer black. I have a favorite color, Black Cherry, that works great as a darkener for almost any color. The direction of the pencil strokes is also very important; I go with the how the petals grow. I also don’t over-emphasize deep shadows; the essence and feeling of the flower is what I’m trying to convey, rather than a photographic illustration of a single bloom.
When I pencil in the petals I pretty much complete an entire petal first, figuring that if I can make one look right then I can do the same with the rest. Same with the leaves, working one section at a time. Each area is layered with many colors and I press hard on the lines so when complete the strokes aren’t very apparent and there is no texture left on the paper. Only when it is nearly finished do I go back and adjust lights and darks over the entire drawing.
Please refer to Flower Drawing In Progress