Monday, March 24, 2008

Holbein Teaches Colored Pencils

Hans Holbein the Younger, brilliant German-born painter of the English court (and other things), taught me something about colored pencils last week! Not that he used CPs, as they didn't exist in his lifetime, but nonetheless, I really feel like I learned something.

Recently, I picked up Hans Holbein by Norbert Wolf on clearance. I decided to read it while exercising. I had picked it up just to learn a bit about him, but I've found that there are some drawings in the book, chalk drawings, that really look like colored pencil works. I keep turning back to them and studying them.

As I'm a hands-on learner, I tried copying the self-portrait that is reproduced on the back of the book, it's a chalk drawing, but again, you'd think CPs if you saw it now. It was fascinating to copy. Many of his lines are gentle, soft, almost tenuous, or unsure, until you look again and they blend into soft folds of skin. He clearly had great control of his chalk, the lines are masterfully weighted.

Then came the coloring part, I tried to just pick the closest thing to what I saw (I was using my new 36 set of Polychromos). They weren't the choices that I probably would normally have made, but they worked (or least I think so). I did the underlying sketch with walnut brown, laid on a base coat of the rose carmine, then shaded with middle cadmium red, walnut brown, and warm grey. I also tried a little indigo blue in the darkest shading, although I wasn't that happy with it.

All that to say, I saw the benefits of soft shading and the gentle touch. I've always admired that kind of work, but I've never been able to discipline myself to do it. Also, I think I saw a bit of how a painter thinks. This is a little more difficult to put into words, but I guess what I mean is, I look at paintings and wonder how they got a certain effect or how they built it up. Therein lies the mystery of painting for me. Somehow, looking at Holbein's preparatory pieces, I think I got a bit of an idea of how his brain built up to the finished piece.

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