Free Spirit

I finally have another drawing to share with you! I am very pleased with how this one turned out. It was a very challenging piece for me as I really didn’t know for sure what the end product was going to be when I started drawing. I usually have a very definite plan, including detailed reference photos, before I start a drawing. This time I was “winging” it, so I spent a good deal of time just staring at it and planning what I wanted it to look like and how to achieve what I was imagining.

I found inspiration through a photograph I came across on the internet. The photo was of a young native American girl dancing at a pow-wow. The background of the photo was very busy and it appears the dance was at night as the the background is quite dark. I changed the features of the girl to make her a young woman rather than a child. I also changed her hair, hair piece, color scheme of her costume and placed her outside on the open plain on a sunny day with mountains in the background. The crazy ribbons flying around are also loosely based on the photo since I changed not only the colors, but also the position of some of the ribbons to place them where I wanted them.

I started with a small sketch then enlarged and changed a little bit of it to the size I wanted to use for the final artwork.

initial graphite sketch

Next I used Prismacolor Art Stix to color in the basic colors of each ribbon. The ribbons are so tangled and twisted, I needed to make sure that each one had a start and a finish and that it all made sense. I added extra ribbons to fill in empty space and removed others that just cluttered the image. Coloring in each ribbon helped me to plot out the balance of color and to determine what colors I wanted to use. I originallly thought I would have a few green ribbons throughout but didn’t like the overall color palette with the green so I changed them to black.

Once I determined the color layout, I taped the sketch face down to my giant “light board” otherwise known as a sliding glass door. I traced the lines of the sketch with a white charcoal pencil.


Tracing in white charcoal allows me to then place the sketch on the black Canson Mi Tientes Touch paper that I like to use and then trace the lines again transferring the white charcoal to the final art paper. I use the white charcoal pencil by General because it transfers very well and is easily erased from the black paper as needed. I want this sketch to be just a layout plan not actually part of the finished art.


As you can see above, the sketch can be visually chaotic and I obviously missed a few lines in my tracing and needed to fill those in. I taped the initial color sketch to the wall of my studio and used it as a reference for color placement.


I didn’t plan well when I started the sketch. As you can see I ended up taping together a few sheets of paper to get the size I needed. I was adding paper as I went along.

I decided give her a background of wide open plains and distant mountains. Once I determined the horizon line, I decided I didn’t like the balance of the piece; it was far too symmetrical for my liking, so I taped a strip of paper over the top three inches  of the paper. This changed the overall shape of the piece to a more elongated rectangle and raised the horizon line on the page. That felt much better to me.

I started the drawing by laying down an initial layer of white on the sky to help me get a better sense of color balance. Then started a similar process with the ribbons.


I made a real effort on this drawing to keep a running list of the pencils used for each area of the drawing. I may have missed a one or two, but I think I did a pretty good job of adding each pencil to the list as I progressed through the piece.


Most of the pencils listed are Prismacolors. I know. In a much earlier post I swore off Prismacolors because they break so easily, but I just love the way they perform on the paper. I cannot give them up. Haha. Whenever I used a Faber-Castell Polychromos pencil I have noted FCP after that pencil name.



Red Ribbons: Cream, Scarlet Red, Scarlet Lake, Dark Green

Blue Ribbons: White, Light Blue, Helioblue (FCP), Poppy Red

Yellow Ribbon: White, Cream, Cadmium Yellow (FCP), Violet

Black Ribbons: bare black paper with highlights of all of the above colors

White Ribbons: White with highlights of all of the above colors


The above photo shows my first attempt with her ear. It’s really bad. I did her ear three times before I came up with one I could live with. Mostly I had to stop because the paper just couldn’t take anymore revisions without it being too distracting. It was the first time I’ve had that much difficulty with an ear. Quite frustrating.

Shirt: Indianthrone Blue (FCP), Intense Blue (Walnut Hollow Farm), Indigo Blue, Mahogany Red

Mountains: Powder Blue, Slate Grey, Ultramarine, maybe some Indigo Blue

Field: Peach Beige, Olive Green, Artichoke, Limepeel, Cream, Dark Brown

Skin Tones: Cream, Flesh, Light Flesh, Blush, Pumpkin Orange

Sky: White, Powder Blue, Caribbean Sea, True Blue, Sky Blue (FCP), Light Ultramarine

You will notice in the photo below how short my Caribbean Sea pencil is. I wore five different pencils down so low I could no longer sharpen them.


I spent a lot of time just looking at the background area and trying to decide what to do with it. How detailed should it be? Should it be more complex? Should there be trees? Should there be a fence? SO many options. In the end I decided to go simple and include some sun glare (lens flare) details to make that space more interesting.

Basically the drawing was pretty much done at this point. I took quite a few photos of it just in case I ruined the entire thing with the sun glare.


I almost stopped here. Then I went for it and added in the sun glare using Pan Pastels. I experimented on some scrap paper first and researched many photos of sun glare online before I attempted this on the final artwork. I think the Pan Pastels were definitely the way to go rather using pencils. They have the perfect amount of transparency to achieve the look I wanted. I’m glad I did the sun glare. I like the unusual detail it adds to the piece. I’ve received mixed reviews on it. One person thought it ruined the piece, one thought they were bubbles, but most have understood the sun glare/lens flare concept and thought it added to the work. What do you think?

Free Spirit, image size: 17″ x 28″; Canson Mi Tientes Touch black paper, Prismacolor, Polychromos, Pan Pastel






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s