Own Your Encore

My Encore Excursions

Week 12 Color Pencil

A recent class in the use of color pencil got me thinking, how did they come about…?

An Early History of colored pencils is not too well documented. It is known that Ancient Greeks used wax-based crayons and Pliny the Elder recorded that Romans also used colored crayons based on wax. First colored pencils appeared in the 19th century and were used for “checking and marking”. Staedtler, German company owned by Johann Sebastian Staedtler invented colored oil pastel pencil in 1834. Production of colored pencils for art purposes started in early 20th century. First art color pencils were invented and produced in 1924 by Faber-Castell and Caran d’Ache.


The color names are the same as other media, and art color pencils come in professional grades much like the watercolors. Here is a recent work in color pencil.

Finished work and pencil box

Color Week Eleven

Carmine is the color obtained from the cochineal insect and continues to be used today in producing organic color. Carmine is a cool red (purple biased).

A little history…

Thousands of years ago, Mesoamericans discovered that pinching an insect found on prickly pear cacti yielded a blood-red stain on fingers and fabric. The tiny creature—a parasitic scale insect known as cochineal—was transformed into a precious commodity. Breeders in Mexico’s southern highlands began cultivating cochineal, selecting for both quality and color over many generations.
The results were spectacular. The carminic acid in female cochineals could be used to create a dazzling spectrum of reds, from soft rose to gleaming scarlet to deepest burgundy. Though it took as many as 70,000 dried insects to make a pound of dye, they surpassed all other alternatives in potency and versatility.

Cochineal found a spot in the artist’s paint box. If you were a 15th c European artist on a tight budget, you could procure your cochineal from shreds of dyed cloth, but fresh-ground insects yielded much better results. Artists usually combined their cochineal with a binder, creating a pigment known as a lake. It’s impossible to tell with the naked eye which painters used cochineal to make their reds. But recent advances in chemical analysis have confirmed its presence in numerous masterpieces.

Khan Academy

No masterpiece but a little carmine contributes to this pencil sketch.

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The Color of Sweet Peas

Sweet peas are, not surprisingly members of the pea family: their botanical name is Greek for “pea”. Sweet peas are Lathyrus odorous – or “fragrant peas”. But although they look alike, there is an important difference. Most peas are edible, including the wild, or “sea” peas , which in 1555, a year of famine, “miraculously” appeared on the beaches of the Suffolk coast [ England ] and saved the lives of the starving poor who gathered them by the sackful. But sweet peas are poisonous, and there is even a medical term lathyrism, to describe sweet pea poisoning which has serious consequences including convulsions, paralysis in the legs and unconsciousness. [ So as sweet as these peas appear please do not put these sweet pea blooms in your salad ]

The original blossoms though fragrant were small and purple. The sweet pea and its fragrance has gone in and out of fashion over the years. Sweet peas have become larger and frillier and fragrant with the fashion of the time. Indeed, Oliver Twist recovered his health in a garden of flowers that “perfumed the air with delicious odours”.

From the book ” 100 Flowers and how they got their names” by Diana Wells, published 1997

This weeks color is in the manner of the original sweet pea – Purple. My choice is Quinacridone Violet with ultramarine blue and Carmine red added for variety.

I have a packet of sweet peas received from a good friend, they will be a welcome addition to my spring garden. Traditionally, sweet peas are planted on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th and so it will be in my garden.

Color week 9

On a rainy day the large bright bill of the male Surf Scoter deserves attention. Is that Pyrrole Orange (top) or Transparent Orange?

Surf Scoter
Pyrrole orange (top) Transparent Orange (bottom)

Pyrrole Orange [Daniel Smith PO73] wins.

unforgettable semi-transparent/semi-opaque orange is a smooth, saturated and pure addition to the watercolorist’s palette. 

Daniel Smith

Pyrrole is an organic compound that defines the ingredients and characteristics of the color. The name Orange for the color was defined in the 16th century, prior to that it was known a yellow-red.

The color we know as orange was referred to in Old English as “geoluhread,” which means yellow-red. The word “orange” was adopted after the eponymous fruit was introduced to English via the Spanish word naranja, which came from the Sanskrit word nāraṅga. 

pigments thru the ages

And for fun here are surf scoters in action, diving for mussels and clams, Hood Canal Washington.