View Full Version : Help with three-colour conte?

06-16-2005, 10:15 AM
Hi Folks,

A friend in the figure forum suggested I might find help with this problem from you pastel experts! I have looked in the Pastel Library but I couldn't find anything (but i may have missed it!). There is a classic technique for portraits and figures using sanguine (i.e. red), black and white conte on a darkish grey paper. I have started to try to try to this technique and am looking for tips? Is there a standard recommended colour for the paper, or will it depend on the skin colour of the subject? How are the figure values related to the use of the colours? Do you start with one colour and complete the layer of that before moving to the next colour, or do you work them all? Basically I am a bit lost: I keep feeling there is something I am missing. Any suggestions will be most gratefully received (even if it's to go post in another forum!)


Marg :confused:

06-16-2005, 11:03 AM
Hi, Marg, welcome to the pastel forum. What you need is somebody with a good background in classical figure drawing, which sadly isn't me, but it's possible I have some information of that sort around, either in a book or a website reference. I'll do a search and get back to you.

06-16-2005, 12:39 PM
I'm so looking forward to answers to these question. I'm doing a self portrait right now using Conte pencils, using a Pierre Noire, White, Sanguine, & Sepia, on Red Strathmore paper.

I'm not experienced nor do I know what classical technique your referring too, Marg...but here is my take.

As for paper....I think that's a matter of preference....of course you can use the colour of the paper as a forth value in your portrait, if you like. I have done this in the portrait I'm working on, leaving the lips and strands of hair in the red. So that's something to consider. But remember coloured papers are apt to fade over time...

As for working the values, I started with the Sanguine, blocking in larger shapes, then in with the Sepia and Noir for the darker values, and last white for highlights. Now this order works for me, it may not for you. I also work in sections, I can't do ALL one colour throughout the whole painting, then move on to laying down the next......my brain don't work that way. :D ...example : this portrait I worked the face first, then moved onto the hair (WHICH is taking me FOREVER), and I'm working my way down to the neck and shoulders. Then the final tweaking over the whole painting.

well I don't know how much help I am, but I wish you luck in your search for info, and I would love to hear what you find :)

06-17-2005, 11:36 PM
Agnes, thanks for responding - at least it confirms my belief that there should be some information out there to be found which is great. Having had zero drawing training except what i am now picking up on WC is somewhat of a disadvantage.

Dania, I would not have thought of using red paper - what a wow of an idea. You must be planning on covering almost all of the paper then except for the reserved parts for mouth and hair? Will you have a rosy glow through it? I hope you will post the finished product for us to see.


Marg :)

06-18-2005, 03:24 AM
Hi, Marg, I'm sorry to take so long to get this information to you. As it is, it's kind of skimpy.

I found what I was looking for, but it's not quite what you're asking about. The website of Rebecca Alzofon has a truly wonderful set of lessons on academic figure drawing in the style of Prudon. However, she doesn't deal with three colours, only black and white chalk on blue paper. It's still well worth a look, though. Just google her name and when you get to the site, select "Academy" and the Prudon lessons. You won't be sorry. I apologize for not giving you the link. I'm not very technical, and I haven't learned how to do that yet.

On using the 3 colours, it's hard to find specific instructions. It was a popular practice in 18th century France, much used by Greuze, Fragonard, Watteau, etc., so it's probably worth studying their works. Leonardo da Vinci also used it a lot.

It seems they mostly just used the red chalk for the middle tone, sometimes mixing it with the black. The paper would also count as a light or middle tone, depending on what you use. I saw one reference that said they would outline in black, and use the red very lightly for a sort of allover skin tone. But I think you'll get more from studying the actual drawings. And I strongly recommend Rebecca Alzofon's site, because it explains a lot of the mysteries of figure drawing in general, and how to build up the layers of chalk.

Sorry I can't be more helpful. Lots of luck, and let us know how you get on with this.

06-21-2005, 02:53 AM
Agnes - thanks for the reference. I had a quick look at this web site and I shall have to spend some time there, Alzofon's material is fascinating. I agree about studying the masters' drawings, too: I have a fascinating print of a Holbein portrait in this style.

Deborah Secor
06-21-2005, 01:03 PM
I like to work on gray drawing paper, so that the three values are all I'm concerned with. (Great use for Canson paper, though I use the smooth back side of it.) Try different grays and see what you get. I usually sketch in the whole thing with sanguine, then add the darks and lights. Over the progress of the drawing the values begin to layer and visually blend into other shades, so that you use pinks and warm grays, too.

If you haven't done this before and aren't comfy with the figure, use the classical approach and start with something really simple like an apple or an egg. Fun to see that come out...


06-25-2005, 07:40 AM
Hi Deborah,

Thanks for your input. This sounds rather like what I am doing (i.e. sketching in sanguine first and then moving to the highlights and dark tones). I have about three different Canson greys at the present that I am playing with: I rather like the coarser texture of the top side but I tend to move from one to the other. One thing I am finding really tricky - this is a general issue but it seems to be emphasised by the warmth of the sanguine chalk - is that being in warm or cool light makes a great difference to the apparent colour of the paper. I have one that seems quite greenish in daylight, but at night in the figure studio it seems quite a pleasant grey. I do figures mostly so that's what I am most comfortable with - but perhaps I should step back and do some classic five-finger exercise type drawings of apples and eggs!

07-06-2005, 02:21 PM
Hi Margaret,
Do you have an image of the drawing/s you are discussing? I'd like to see what the problem is, and maybe I can help. I know a little about this method.
Best regards,
Rebecca Alzofon

07-15-2005, 03:03 PM
Yikes, I was reading this thread with great interest since I too would like to know how to effectively use my contes in figure work. Saw the reference to Rebecca's site then Lordy there she is, the expert herself, replying but the thread stops there! How anticlimatic and cliff hanging. I want the followup please.:)

07-15-2005, 03:43 PM
You might find this thread in our Classical forum to be of interest:



07-16-2005, 01:59 AM
I recommend getting The Artist's Complete Guide to Drawing the Head by William L. Maughan. Mainly because it is an entire how-to book devoted to teaching a technique similar to what's discussed in this thread. While the author focuses on the head the techiques can be used for any subject.

Take a look at the cover (http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0823003590/ref=sib_dp_pt/002-0697622-2589612#readerpage)