EBSQ Live Studio – Hand-tinted Photographs

This demonstration was originally presented by Sherry Key on 17 May 2010.

Photos-Hand Coloring with pencils-Basics

Welcome to my presentation on hand coloring black and white photos with colored pencils.  I use several different mediums to hand color, but today I’ll be talking about using colored pencils and the basic steps to get started. Hand coloring photos is more complicated than most people think. It is not just as simple as coloring in a coloring book. I hope you will come away with a new respect for the process and realize that it really does take an artist’s eye and an artist’s hand.

Supplies-First you’ll want to have on hand a good supply of quality colored pencils. Good quality pencils may seem expensive to start, but are surprisingly long-lasting, which makes them cheaper, the longer you have them. I started out with a set of Prismacolor brand pencils and have just kept adding to my collection of those. I probably have about 200 pencils now in a large variety of colors. There are certain colors I find myself using all the time, and there are others that I haven’t even gotten around to sharpening yet. Black and white prints and colored pencils are not too forgiving when it comes to corrections, but if I have an area where I think I can get by with a correction, I use an electric eraser which you can usually find for around $10.00.

Papers-I have printed black and white on just about every type of paper a printer will take, (without eating it.) Matte photo, watercolor, cardstock, etc., and they all have different qualities that you can play with. They also have their own headaches when you are combining printer ink into the mix. Glossy papers don’t work with most hand coloring processes and

the one I am using for this demonstration is a 67 lb. matte paper, that is a medium weight and nap, and falls somewhere in between a card stock, and matte photo paper.

Printing and ink-You will probably go through a lot of black ink to get the range of tones you want to color. Ideally you want to darken and lighten before you print to get a good contrast of darks AND lights in your photo. So if you just make your photo black and white before you print it that might not be good enough. You will have to work on adjusting your contrast, brightness, etc. to get what you need. Another thing is, not every photo is a good candidate for hand coloring. If you are doing a portrait it really works best when you have things to focus your color on like sunglasses, jewelry, hair decorations, fingernail decorations, etc. Medium to light objects are also better. I personally prefer to usually leave the skin uncolored, and I think you actually focus more on the facial features when color is surrounding them…than on them. That is just my personal preference. I use a printer that only has a black toner cartridge so it easily prints only black and white for me… (-: Now enough of the pre-technical mumbo jumbo…let’s get started!

This is the colors I use the most. 70% cool grey, 50% warm and cool greys, 20% cool grey, black and white. To me most of the blacks and whites and tones in between that the printer prints out, are cool shades. I use these colors the most for shading, re-shading and highlighting certain areas.

I use a hard surface such as a portable art easel (lap kind) a dining table or desktop. I use this big easel to clip my photos to when I want to take a step back to look at my progress or finished work. I like to step back from my work periodically to make color comparisons, look at overall composition, and where do I want to focus color, etc.

The image on the right in pink is the one I will be demonstrating today. I also did one in lavenders to show how different the mood can be depending on what colors you use.

Here is the black and white printed photo I will be using.

Doesn’t look like much now, but what is exciting to me is where, and how far can I take it with color, to really make the photo “pop.” First I decide which color scheme I feel like going with. Also, I want to make a note here that if you have black areas that get color rubbed off, markers do not usually work well to cover up those spots. Printer inks on paper have sheen. Markers are a FLAT black that will show up when you try to take final photos. It is better to color these tiny areas with black pencil. Here is an example of the contrast with printer ink and black marker. It doesn’t look so bad here, but believe me, if you have light shining on it in a certain way, it will be glaring.

Next I have outlined the t-shirt with black to make it stand out more.

In the next image I started coloring the headband and hair. On the headband I used varying shades of pinks, reds and purples. Start out with a light touch and go from using your dark colors to your lights. Go easy on the dark until you see if you are getting a color you want then you can start getting heavier handed with your pencils. I could have done Nicole’s hair any color I wanted, that’s what is nice about having a black and white palette to begin with. But her real hair color is a funky mix of dyed shades of red, black and white so I decided to go along those lines. I started with light strokes of reds, oranges and yellows.

This is a little closer shot of the hair and headband. You can also see in the picture (above the headband, to the left) how the ink from the printer is deposited and kind of has a sheen to it like I mentioned previously, when I talked about using a flat black marker in those areas.

Now I am filling in and deepening the colors on the headband. That’s Process Red (which looks like a hot pink to me) that I have in my hand. I am blending as I go, with a little more pressure each time, leaving some white at the crest of the headband to keep part of it looking like it has light shining on it.

The eyes are next starting with adding shades of blue and purple for my shadow, and under eye liner. On a portrait if you aren’t coloring the face, then the eyelids and irises are places you get to add some color if you want.

Because it’s easier to color over the lashes instead of in between each one, and it looks more uniform, the next thing I did was take a Micron .005 pen to go back and draw each lash individually. That brings the lashes back into focus and I can even add some extra ones if I want too.

At this point I think my headband and hair are really starting to come together so I am going to work on her t-shirt. I start with re-shading the dark areas with 70% cool grey to get more contrast. I also blackened the blacks on the bear logo with black pencil.

Then I started shading with light and dark pinks and purples, similar to what was done on the headband. I colored her irises green. I do a lot of blue and green eyes because it stands out more to me. Nicole’s eyes are brown but she loved the green iris when she saw this picture.

Here I am using a pale pink to blend some of the color on the t-shirt. Look how that headband and the eye “pop.” The outlining on the shirt and more black in the bear is really making those stand out as well.

I use a cheap .99 cent soft paint brush to brush off my painting. You will need to brush your painting periodically because you will have debris building up on your photo from using your pencils. Always use a brush because if you use your hand to brush away particles it may smear into your paper, instead of brush off.

In this photo I have outlined the face, nose and lips with grey. I colored the lip pink and finished adding pink to the lower part of the shirt.

I went back and added lots more yellow, oranges and red to the hair. Then I used dark gray and black to separate some hair strands.  I put it up on my standing easel so I could step back from my work and see what final touches it needed. I finished with going back to each area using more pressure with white, light colors, and black to finish blending and adding my final touches. Here is the final piece called “Nicole on Edge.” The colors are even richer and more defined in person, than I could get to come out in my photo of the picture.

Here is the original print before hand coloring as a comparison.
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5 thoughts on “EBSQ Live Studio – Hand-tinted Photographs

  1. I love that! I find the process of other’s art fascinating and enjoy reading and seeing the picture progression. I really need to do that with my metal clay, but it would be far messier!

  2. Thanks Robin and Carmen! Carmen I too love the how to’s, and to watch the progression. I look forward to watching one from you if you decide to do one in the future.

  3. Wonderful article, thanks so much. Very informative and your expertise is really appreciated. You know I want to try it! Thanks again

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