Seeing Colors

Today I want to talk a bit about seeing colors in your reference.  It doesn’t matter if you’re using a photo or working from real life, as an artist (especially working in realism) you want to “see” the colors of the subject. I recently began working on a commission of a male Northern Cardinal.  A gorgeous red bird.  Most people would look at a cardinal and think, “it’s red.”  While it is a red bird, is it just one red or many?  Is it only red? As soon as I accepted the commission I got online to order my Faber Castell Polychromos pencils I would need.  My lightfast red pencils in my Blick Studio Artists’ colored pencils were quite limited and I wanted to be certain I had what I needed in lightfast colors.  Any guesses how many reds I used?  Any guesses what other colors I may have purchased for the feathers besides red? Let’s take a look at my order:
Polychromos Pencils for a Northern Cardinal Commission
As you can see above, I ordered 9 different red polychromos pencils.  I used a total of 10 reds, I already had a Dark Red 225.  Naturally I didn’t use the greens for the cardinal, but for the leaves which were also in the picture.  Besides the reds I also ordered two different oranges, three different yellows, and an ivory which were for the feathers.  You see besides the gradient variations of red, there were also varying hues of red.  There were also highlights in the feathers that reflected in oranges and yellows.  There were also some highlights in the feathers that were ivory.  Here’s the actual list of Faber Castell Polychromos colors I used in the male Northern Cardinal’s feathers:


  • Alizarin Crimson 226
  • Dark Red 225
  • Deep Red 223
  • Deep Scarlet Red 219
  • Light Cadmium Red 117
  • Madder 142
  • Middle Cadmium Red 217
  • Pale Geranium Lake 121
  • Permanent Carmine 126
  • Pompeian Red 191
  • Scarlet Red 118


  • Cadmium Orange 111
  • Orange Glaze 113


  • Dark Cadmium Yellow 108
  • Dark Naples Ochre 184
  • Ivory 103
  • Light Cadmium Yellow 105
So there you have it!  Quite a list of reds to be sure!  Could I get by without all the reds?  Sure.  Layering and mixing can help when you’re limited with colors.  However, having all the lightfast reds I could get my hands on truly helped.  When working in color, it won’t take long and you’ll be noticing all the different hues and tones.  You also might start describing the colors of things by the names of the colors in your colored pencil set as well! 😀 LOL   While it’s still a work in progress (minor details needed to finish it up), here’s a digital photo of the cardinal.
Male Northern Cardinal in Progress
  While we’re talking colors, let’s talk about scanning your artwork. Normally I scan my small pieces here at home.  I use the scans to let clients see the progress.  I also use scans for making prints of my artwork.  I have never had an issue with our scanner.  It always scans the images perfectly and the colors match the artwork exactly.  I’ve always been pleased with my scans.  That is until I started drawing cardinals in color! When you scan your artwork you really need to watch the output of the scan closely.  Make sure your scan matches your artwork’s colors.  The last thing you want is to use a scan to make prints only to discover the colors of the prints are vastly different to your original work! I have no idea why, but I have found our scanner does not like scanning reds.  No matter what settings I change, the scan of my cardinal turns out neon red with little to no variation of the reds.  It’s been driving me crazy!  I finally had to opt to taking a digital photo of the cardinal under my OttLite to show the client because the scan was so horrible.  Want to see the difference? On the left is a cellphone picture on the right is the scan.  You can also compare against the digital photo above.  Quite the difference!
Cellphone Photo vs Scan
Looking at the scan it appears there are no variations of color particularly deep reds in the tail feathers.  The darks did not show properly at all! So when dealing with colors and scans, be sure to check and double check against your artwork. Until next time, Keep Creating!  
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