I recently taught a ten week drawing course and where we were working mostly with pencil and charcoal. One week I introduced a small bit of colour by asking the learners to use ink with charcoal.
I noticed some relished the work with the inks but a few were reluctant, only ‘tinting’ small areas of the drawing as an afterthought rather than a feature of the drawing. As the sessions continued we used more colour including one session using pastels to draw brightly coloured flowers. The colours were vibrant many of the learners enjoyed using these colours, layering them, darkening them and smudging them to get an array of colours not always true to the real flower.
One learner spent most of the session drawing the flower but could not be encouraged to cover the drawing with any of the bright colours. She explained that ‘she was scared of colour’ so I suggested some experiments in a sketchpad just getting used to the feel and look of the colour pastels. Nothing could be done it seemed to break down the resistance to using colour, so how can you get over a ‘fear of colour’? I suggest some ideas…
Are you scared of ‘ruining the drawing’?
One reason why adding colour might be feared is if you have spent time on a detailed drawing and you aren’t sure if adding colour is a good idea. One way to get around this is to ‘draw in colour’ more regularly or try some colour work that doesn’t involve much of a drawing and ‘draw with the colour pastel or paint’.
You don’t have to get the colour right
Another concern seems to be getting the ‘exact colour match, this isn’t necessary as long as the tone is correct (darks and lights). Sometimes using different colours to the real ones is more exciting, as an exercise in ‘colour confidence’ I often get learners to paint in colours that aren’t of their choosing. Pastels can be limited in the colour range but you don’t have to have the exact colours, if you learn to layer and blend colours you will be surprised by just how many you can make from only a few.
Try just using one colour
You could try introducing colour slowly, by perhaps working with pencil and one pastel like burnt amber or another muted tone. This could get you used to the idea of something that isn’t greyscale.
Photocopy the image in black and white as well as colour
If you are working from an image and you are coping the colours, perhaps finding it hard to see the darks and lights in colour then try photocopying the image in black and white. We see darks and lights more accurately in greyscale and it might be that this could help you see the differences in tone and colour.
If I’ve worked on a drawing and I’m not sure if it needs colour sometimes I scan the drawing into my computer and try it out with different colours behind it. This is a great way of testing before committing to colour and can take the feel of ‘ruining’ a painting by adding colour.