Colour first….Have I said that before…..

I have mentioned colour first in several of my posts of late so at the risk of sounding a bit like a stuck record, I will talk about it again here.  I am talking about it because I want to develop the approach, (lots of others do it as a matter of course), but I want to see how I can progress it for my own needs and in specific ways.  Over the last couple of weeks, I have used colour first in many situations and I want to share those drawings as a way of unpicking where I might be heading with it.  Results have been variable, leading to a whole lot of questions and clarifications and I am going to share some of those thoughts here.

  • In some cases, colour-first has enabled me, in my view, to do a more expressive, meaningful sketch




  •  In other cases it has made for  messy but expressive and lively outcomes



  • In others, I have had to pull back and try to take it somewhere else (i.e. I didn’t think it was working)


  • Finally, in one situation, it was so, well, not working, that I actually threw the sketch away and went in with linework before colour.  The later was a case where I was trying to do something quite specific and accurate, in a loose and free way.  The result was a child-like drawing that lacked believability!

By way of a summary, here are my current thoughts on colour-first:

  • You need to be very clear with yourself at the outset, what the purpose of your colour-first approach is: is it to provide a looseness and a lack of need to have colour in exactly the right place (which all sounds a bit wooly!) or is it to enable you to build up a drawing whereby the linework is not necessarily the dominant element.  I am currently focusing on the former, but recognise that a lot of what I have been observing is probably the later.  With this in mind it is a good idea not to mix your metaphors so to speak or you may end up not achieving your end goal.
  • Using colour first in my preferred looseness approach means that I do not want to be too specific with the colour; placement in approximately the right location and with a certain abstractedness is important.  When I do this, as in the first 3 sketches above, then going in with clean linework that gives the sketch its structural framework works well.  The colour does provide volume and dimension but it is loose and free, not constrained by the lines and it is not critical that all the colour is in the right place.
  • Being too specific with the colour, especially in a complex scene such as the bottom panoramic leads to an overly busy effect and spoils the clarity of the drawing.  Even if a more precise drawing is required in the end, it is important to abstract the scene for the initial colour so the panoramic should have had 4 key layers: the buildings in the foreground; the rooftops, the landscape in the background and the sky.  The lifework could then have been used alone or, as I have done, more detail worked in with media including watercolour pencils.  Initially I was trying to put in individual buildings but without careful placement and this led to an overly cluttered effect because the line work was fighting with the overly elaborate yet inaccurate colour work.
  • With colour-first, don’t forget the white space (as I have almost done on the bottom sketch). It prevents the drawing from breathing.
  • Colour-first works well with both life/clothed model drawing and animals and can convey a looseness and movement that adds meaning to a drawing   In the case of the Drink and Draw clothed models above, it gives a much looser, messier look and the speed of working means that pencil rather than pen have to be used (as the watercolour isn’t dry enough for pen).  In addition, for facial features you have to be careful that the pencils are very well sharpened as the pencil bleeds out in the damp of the paper so it can be difficult to get the precision for facial features required.  However, on the positive side, for some reason, the colour first makes it easier to do more effectively proportioned and effective gesture drawings.  The use of colour first also provides a very quick capture so for example,with a dog, who is wriggling or moving a lot, the initial paint work can convey something of that original position and the movement involved.
  • The working into the drawing after the initial linework is dependent upon what the sketch is trying to convey and the depth required.  In the panoramic view it was clear that the houses needed to be brought forward as the foreground dominant structures.   Putting the detail of the brickwork using coloured pencil and glen was a good way of achieving that.  With the Trafford Centre entrance, additional detail with other coloured media wasn’t really necessary as the depth in the drawing was already being conveyed through the people, steps etc.  In this case the clarity and simplicity of line was more important.

I have just enrolled on Liz Steel’s Buildings Course and I will be reporting on that soon, especially given the overlap with my discussions here.  Although I have not been talking about Edges, Shapes and Volumes, its time to sharpen up my act and talk more about the subject matter and in less general and perhaps ambiguous terms!  Watch this space!