top of page

Exercise 4.1: Identifying Tools & Materials

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

This research based task asked me to explore the different ways that artists and illustrators have used the same medium in their own styles and techniques. When considering what medium to pick as a focus for this exercise. I wanted to continue to explore materials that I don’t usually use in more of a traditional realm as although I also appreciate digital work, the massive range of different styles digital platforms can emulate would be tricky to distil for this kind of exercise.

A few things came to mind as potentially interesting directions to explore. Gouache is something I’ve not yet used as a base medium for a project and cut paper illustration is something that I definitely want to give a try at some point too. However, after looking ahead on what exercises are coming up, I can see some later opportunities to explore these two mediums further down the line. For now I chose to look at coloured pencils in more detail as although I often use them in the planning stages and mixed media work, I have rarely used them as the principle medium to create complete artworks myself.

I found artists and illustrators with similar workflows that used pencil crayons in mixed media projects as I did in my second assignment and similarly I found examples used in tandem with watercolour and ink washes. After digging a little deeper I gravitated towards artists that use coloured pencil for the majority of their work.

I ended up with five rough categories for the styles and uses for pencil crayons by other illustrators and have listed these below with examples. These pairings range from the quality of the visuals to where they are used and I found them tricky to sort at times as the amount of variety was more than I expected for a single medium such as this. All these artists show just how varied and versatile coloured pencils in expressing the different design choices that make up an artists style.



A common visual approach that coloured pencil illustrators use is to push the medium to achieve realistic representations of what they are drawing. Through building up many soft layers, the waxy core of a coloured pencil scatters slightly as it is picked up on the raised surface of the paper grain in ways that can increase the colour depth of objects that mimic real gradients. Accurately drawn and natural subject matters such as these have been popular choices for greetings cards and recipe books.

Ann Swan demonstrates this particularly well through her well-lit botanical drawings that still retain the warmth of a painting due to her use of strong light and saturation across the earthy tones. Emily Smalley is a local artist whose work I have appreciated for a while now and in her portraits of British wildlife, the animals appear uniquely overexposed as the white of the paper blends in with the brighter areas of fur and feathers.


In contrast to representational drawing, coloured pencils can offer artists a great degree of control in creating surreal images that rely less on early automatism and more on considered juxtapositions and metaphors. uses for this can range from fine art prints to tattoo designs and decorative graphics for products such as phone cases.

Although both of the above artists use similar animal and plant subject matters, the ways that they have combined them does have its differences. Marco Mazzoni leaves many of his human subjects blank faced and uses graceful flows of thin fabric around his structures whereas Courtney Brims uses objects inspired by Alice In Wonderland and literary fairy tales to adorn her doll like portraits.

Saturated Colour

Although using soft pencils can create subtle gradients, increasing the pressure on the paper can ensure a really rich and vivid rendering of colour. The higher the saturation of an object the more it draws the viewer's eye and when this is applied across everything within a frame, the result is a loud image that demands attention as it jumps out of the frame, ideal for use in posters and advertising.

Morgana Davidson and Tim Jeffs are really engaging examples here. Jeffs has chosen to enhance the natural colours in his animal subjects as he works scale by feather on his birds and reptiles, whereas Davidson chooses her colours to be deliberately unreal by bringing out some dramatic effects in her oversaturated neon colours.

Product Illustration

The illustrators in this category have taken a practical and instructional role in their drawings that are still able to be engaging images in their own right. Even quick sketches and roughs can still hold a lot of approaches that are individual to the illustrator.

Industrial designer Hakan Gürsu has a very distinctive look to his designs that makes his work easily recognisable with his visible construction lines

Children's Illustration

Children's Illustration was one of the first search terms I came up with for coloured pencils and demonstrate the more unique feel of coloured pencil drawings from other mediums. These illustrations have been achieved with fewer lines and a lot more visible texture that gives characters and environments a softness that children find appealing. I think this can also make these more relatable to children as coloured pencils are one of the first mediums that they are encouraged to use from an early age.

Two popular british artists that demonstrate this well are Raymond Briggs of The Snowman and Father Christmas fame and Judith Kerr who is best known for her book The Tiger Who Came To Tea and the Mog series of adventures. Kerr uses flat textures with watercolours that she overlays with pencil crayons that created flatter colour and textures than Brigg's who primarily shows his pencil marks in his textures.


For the second part of this exercise I have taken the work of two of the above illustrators to adapt into my own style through reworking visuals from other previous exercises.

Chosen Illustrator 1: Hakan Gürsu

For my first attempt at emulating an artists style, I looked at more of Hakan Gürsu's drawings. What I like the most about his freehand product illustrations is how he incorporates visible construction lines into his work that accentuate the angles of his objects and become almost abstract in places on toned paper. His images are centered neatly in the frame with no suggestion of background as they focus solely on the product. The textures are usually smooth and metallic as his chosen objects usually contain many metallic and plastic based materials that reflect light.

For an appropriate subject matter I returned to the thumbnails of tools that I looked at in workshop based exercise 3.6. I observed from videos of Gürsu sketching that he doesn't always draw strictly isometrically and offers variations in his accurate perspective drawings that match his viewpoint of smaller objects as they he view them on the desk in front of him. I took the same approach with a set of pliers by drawing them from life.

Pliers in the style of Hakan Gürsu

Gürsu sketches using a range of mixed drawing implements, but for my version I used only pencil for the initial outline then filled out the rest with coloured pencils on lightly toned paper.

I haven't done any product design sketching since I was in school, but despite not having the amount of experience and technical skill that Gürsu has built up over his career, I'm still fairly pleased with this attempt. I did miss a few features from his work though as he tends to leave sections unrendered with a visible wire frame whereas I have covered the full surface area with solid colour in a way that appears flatter than his work.


Chosen Illustrator 2: Raymond Briggs

The wartime sections of Brigg's graphic novel Ethel and Ernest reminded me of the same time period I had tried to capture in exercise 2.10 when I had used watercolours and graphite to create a muddy and moody cover for The Daffodil Affair. The subject of this book might initially appear to be unusually dark choice to leap to for a style of illustration that's commonly associated with children's books, but Briggs has never been afraid to cover tragic subjects in his other works such as When the Wind Blows.

The simple features on the round faces of his always rosy cheeked characters are often constructed with only a few lines and dots for the eyes nose and mouth, but the level of realism does increase slightly in the case of Ethel and Ernest. The titular characters of this book are based on Brigg's own parents and upbringing so he has increased the accuracy of his sketching here to capture an appropriate likeness in the character designs.

To get a better idea of how Briggs draws his, I firstly reproduced some of his characters and quickly discovered that his style actually does vary per book. Although the general palette and textures remain much the same between his books with the brighter colours dulled down by overlays of brown and grey, The Snowman appears to be made completely with coloured pencil whereas I can see from the background textures of Ethel and Ernest that watercolours seem to be layered down as a base first. In all cases, Briggs outlines the edges of his objects with a darker variation of the same colour as his fills that helps them to stand out from the rest of their environment. Although many of Brigg's fantastical characters are larger than life, he intends to make the worlds they live in feel very real.

After experimenting with converting the character from my original drawing into one that uses similar techniques to Briggs, I filled out the full frame on a separate piece. I added an addition hat stand prop between the character and the wall that I feel helps to fill out some of the space within the scene.

I feel that I managed to translate the same mood and expression as the original through Brigg's style and I like the additional textures to the walls and clothes that comes from the visible cross hatching, yet I still feel that there is something missing from the image in the same way as I did originally.

Perhaps on this occasion the hybrid between a previous brief and two varying visual styles from the same artist has over complicated the attempt and I could have dug deeper into Brigg's style of compositions with a different subject matter.


This exercise was a lot of information to digest but it has changed how I view my approach using coloured pencil. I'm not sure that it will become first choice for a primary medium, but I now know the scope of what can be achieved with it and I can see the possibilities of pushing a single medium to achieve radically different end results.

Recent Posts

See All

Reflections: Key Steps In Illustration (Part 4)

I've now completed Part 4 and it has been assessed, so it's time to review how I'm doing. Part 4 was a challenging one for me, but I'm happy to see that my feedback has been more positive that what I


bottom of page