During the previous fortnight while I worked on a commission of a Japanese lantern, I reminded myself of the principle of undercover white. What do I mean by this? The same colour (let’s say red) when mixed with white, results in a different pink/light-red depending on whether white is put down underneath the red, or over it. The following diagram illustrates this…
The first swatch in the diagram is Caran d’Ache Permanent Red 061. In the middle swatch I have put down a layer of Holbein Soft White 501 and THEN layered Permanent Red 061 over the top. Notice how soft and glowing the result is – perfect for creating luminosity – as in lanterns. The final swatch is the result of Permanent Red 061 underneath with Soft White on top. This is the SAME red with white, but mixed in reverse order. TOTALLY DIFFERENT!
In the above drawing “Wafting” the entire area of the lantern has Soft White underneath. White acts like a secret agent; Undercover White. This method creates glow.
Four years ago I wrote a post about this use of white (which I taught myself) however after doing the current drawing, it seems like a good idea to repeat the lesson. It is useful knowledge to have up your sleeve.
https://juliepodstolski.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/the-power-of-glow/ – the link to the first post on this subject in 2015.
“Good thinking, 99”.
In case it is still confusing here is another colour chart: –
The first column shows three primary colours; red, yellow and blue. In the second column I have put down a layer of white pencil directly onto the paper and then put colour on top. Compare this to the third column where red, yellow and blue went onto the paper FIRST with a layer of white over the top. Can you see in each case that the colour produced in column 2 is more luminous and bright than the colour in column 3?
Conclusion: The result of putting white underneath a colour is NOT the same as the result of putting white over the top of a colour.
Undercover white is not only a useful method for rendering neon, lanterns, and lamps. It can be used in a universe of subject matter – anything that requires a bit of zing.
Two small drawings in stages to illustrate my theory of undercover white.
I made two drawings, photographing them in stages, to show my undercover white process. The first work is on Arches Aquarelle hot-pressed (smooth) paper using Caran d’Ache Neocolor wax pastels and Luminance 6901 coloured pencils. The exercise was for the Colored Pencil Society of America publication “To the Point” magazine, November 2020. Click on the images to enlarge them for better viewing.
I took the source photo for the drawing “Art” in Paris. I had stood transfixed looking at a blue neon sign in an art gallery window which read, “The Liberation of Art”. At the time I had wondered to myself, “But what IS the liberation of art?”
Figure 1: What you see here is mostly paper without pigment on. The letters ‘art’ and any other patches of colour you can see already have white pencil underneath them. These are the areas that will be glowing in the finished piece. (At this stage all areas of colour you can see are made with Luminance pencil, not Neocolor.)
Figure 2: I lightly under-painted with Neocolor all the areas except for the lettering and the other small areas of colour already seen on Figure 1. Then I put the Neocolor away and only used pencils from this point onwards. After the underpainting I set the darkest tone with heavy-pressured Luminance.
Figure 3: With the darkest area in place, I began building up and intensifying other colours, not touching the letters ‘art’ for the time being.
Figure 4: There was a dance between blue and purple going on in this drawing. But what was blue and what was purple? Where did one begin and the other end? Blue and purple are so close to one another that whenever I adjusted one colour, I needed to adjust its neighbour. There was constant readjusting happening just as if I was putting ingredients into a recipe; a bit more of this, less of that, more, less, more – ad infinitum – trying to achieve exactly the flavour required.
Figure 5: At this point I built up the blues on the three letters. This was a matter of careful gradation; pale to deep blue on top of undercover white, trying to be even-handed at all times. I called the painting finished at this stage. But it wasn’t. It looked very much like the source photo I was working from, but it wasn’t glowing like it was supposed to. I wanted the painting to be a statement – “ART!” But it was more of a sigh – “ho hum…art”. So I put the source photo away in a drawer and rolled up my sleeves. It was time to leave the source behind – and see what I could do by myself.
Figure 6 – the finished piece: I figured out the problem by turning the composition upside down. Sometimes I turn a work on its head or sideways in order to see it with a fresh eye or (another method) look at it reversed in a mirror. When I saw it upside down I realised that one half was working while the other half wasn’t. Why? The top half had the intensity I wanted – that strong contrast between pale blue neon letters and bottomless blue/blackness behind. The panel of colour on the lower half was wishy-washy, neither here nor there. It needed to be as intense as the saturated black of the upper half.
I made minimal adjustments to the word ‘art’ when I was fine-tuning the drawing, mostly adding more blue to the outer edges of the letters. The bulk of the changes were made outside of those letters. Once I altered the lower panel by deepening and enriching its colours, the neon lettering came into its own.
Problem solving can be like that, where the thing you thought was wrong actually isn’t wrong – but some other part is. Fix that other area and the initial thing which was worrying you suddenly and mysteriously works. That reminds me, another problem-solving technique is to cover a section of your work. Is the part you can still see problematic or is it not? Then move the cover around so that you are isolating different sections for critiquing.
The second drawing was composed from a detail of a photo I took in downtown Osaka. The composition shows part of a neon advertisement for Asahi Beer with some traffic signage on the left.
Figure 1: The first image of “Super Dry” shows the underpainting completed. I did the underpainting with Neocolor wax pastels except for the letters which were layered in white coloured pencil only. There is white Neocolor underneath the yellow area. I put yellow over the white Neocolor before taking the photo so that the word ‘dry’ (while still only in white pencil) could be distinguished from its surrounds.
Figure 2: The only difference between Figure 1 and Figure 2 is that in this one a layer of red pencil was gently worked over the white area of the letters. After the underpainting was completed in Figure 1 I finished with the Neocolor and from here on all else was (and will be) worked in Luminance.
Figure 3: More layering has taken place, especially in the dark area above the word ‘super’. Because I wanted the neon red to ‘pop’ I worked red’s complement – green – into the coloured panels surrounding the letters. From the top to the bottom of the artwork everything around those red letters contains green except the left-hand street signs.
Figure 4: At this middle stage of the work I was continuing the colour intensification process by methodically adding more layers of colour. I mixed the complementary colours red and green to produce the dark tertiary colour which surrounds the word ‘super’. Mixing any two complementary colours together (red/green; orange/blue; yellow/purple) make richer tertiary colours than, say, using one tertiary (for example grey) coloured pencil.
Figure 5: I worked on the traffic signs on the composition’s left side. Not influenced by electricity, these plain street signs didn’t need to glow. Their muted tones don’t compete with the bright red and yellow of the neon but drive your eye towards it. In fact there is an arrow directing your eye away from the left edge.
Figure 6: “Super Dry” is complete. Undercover white pencil was used on the lettering. Undercover white Neocolor was used on the bright yellow area. Although it is not obvious, there was liberal use of green all through the work to bring out the luminous red letter as much as possible.
A recent glow piece I drew is of a railway station at night. The title is “Europe Endless”. I show it in three stages. The first image shows the drawing fully undercoated in Neocolor II. It looks like you can see nothing but Neocolor, however underneath the white lamps and their yellow halos, the tracks, fence railings and circular signals there is a layer of white coloured pencil. Keep an eye on these pale areas because these are going to be the glowing areas in the finished drawing.
In the following image the top section of the drawing has Luminance worked over the top of the Neocolor but the lower part (the tracks) are still only undercoat. Note at the undercoat stage that when I put Neocolor on, I have not been overly careful. I use Neocolor with light pressure so it fully disappears under Luminance, therefore it does not have to be tidy.
Finally you see the finished work. The joy of the ‘glow’ genre is in the contrast between extremely light areas and the equally extreme inky dark areas. This is a simple composition which only took six days from start to finish (which is fast for me). While the shapes are uncomplicated and there is not much detail, the power of the piece is in the colour intensity and the contrast of electricity lighting up the night. Putting white pencil underneath the light areas increases their brightness immeasurably.