On January 4, 1984, Susan Stamberg asked Bette Borgeson, the author of a book called “The Colored Pencil,” to teach her how to use the pencils — over the air. This is my favorite quote:

In the colored pencil when you’re mixing these colors, you see it as you begin to mix and it’s surprising. I’m always surprised. In fact, I lose hours sometimes just because of the concentration that comes on when you’re looking at one color leading to the next color, leading to the next color. It’s just amazing. 

Take a listen. I’d love to see if it inspires you to make a sketch of your own.

Complete Transcript Below

SUSAN STAMBERG: I am going to ask you to do something extremely difficult. I am sitting here in our Washington studio with a huge piece of wonderful white drawing paper in front of me and a box of colored pencils. And I’m going to ask you to instruct me over the air in how to use these pencils. Can you do it?

BETTE BORGESON: Ah, yes I can.

STAMBERG: Oh, my goodness!

BORGESON: I think so.

STAMBERG: All right.

BORGESON: I think it’s just a matter of applying the color as if you’re painting - this is dry of course - but just letting the lines merge together until you have almost a solid tone.

STAMBERG: This is a cold day, I’m thinking cold thoughts, so I’ll start sketching with a blue colored pencil under the instruction of Bette Borgeson, who has just written and illustrated a splendid book that’s called “The Colored Pencil.” She says most people don’t really understand what colored pencils are all about.

BORGESON: Very often the sets that children use in grade school deliver a very weak color and the leads are kind of hard and brittle and it’s sort of an unsatisfying experience until you find these good art-quality colored pencils.

STAMBERG: Well, that’s right. Just using these that we borrowed from an artist friend is a completely different experience. You’re right, they’re soft and they make beautiful lights and darks.

BORGESON: After you begin to apply the blue, you might pick another color to superimpose over that.

STAMBERG: Hmm, let’s say green, a dark, nice hunter green.

BORGESON: Colored pencils are a transparent medium. People don’t pick up on that right away, but it really opens up all kinds of possibilities when you have that insight.

STAMBERG: What do you do about making sure that they don’t fade, and also how to preserve them, because they will smudge?

BORGESON: They’ll smudge a little bit, but colored pencil, I think, should be sprayed with a spray fixative.


STAMBERG: Now, what if I’m not pleased with this overlap. And I’m not particularly pleased. I think the two colors are too dark to do anything for one another. There’s no way I can get that green off the top of my blue now, is there?

BORGESON: Well, unless you have a kneaded eraser. That would take off the top layer. And it would lighten significantly the lower layer.

STAMBERG: You know what I’ve just done? I spit on my finger and I’m rubbing now into that blue and I’ve gotten a gorgeous watery look to it, it’s just blended that color in beautifully and it’s changed the color of the blue, too.

BORGESON: Yes. Yes, it intensifies it.

STAMBERG: I just opened your book at random and find your drawings of red onions. Oh, these are so wonderful! And you can see all the layers. You can see some of the onion skin peeled away and there’s the onion, the shiny onion underneath. But what’s so nice about this is it makes the point that anything is drawable. Anything you have sitting around your house you can draw.

BORGESON: Yes. Oh, absolutely. The other nice thing is that because they’re transparent, you can actually see the colors mixing right before your eyes. You know, in painting sometimes it’s all sort of under the surface. It’s all sort of aqueous and viscous. But, in the colored pencil when you’re mixing these colors, you see it as you begin to mix and it’s surprising. I’m always surprised. In fact, I lose hours sometimes just because of the concentration that comes on when you’re looking at one color leading to the next color, leading to the next color. It’s just amazing.

STAMBERG: I’m doing - I’m just sitting here drawing as you talk, and now I’m trying to copy your red onions.

(LAUGHTER)

STAMBERG: And not very successfully either.

BORGESON: You have to press hard. That was a heavy pressure drawing.

STAMBERG: Yeah, ok. I’m pressing a little harder. But I also find that I’m listening to you in one ear and I’m having the most marvelous time with the rest of my concentration looking at this pencil move across the paper. It’s wonderful. It’s like terrific therapy, relaxation.

BORGESON: It is. I hear that over and over. People are so surprised at the experience that you get developing that color. I think it’s because it takes us by surprise. It’s such a - well, you never know where you’re going to go. It’s a very immediate kind of experience.

STAMBERG: Bette Borgeson. Her book is called “The Colored Pencil: Key Concepts for Handling the Medium.” Now, I’ve got to tell you, my sketch is not great, but I think I’m going to put a concealed letter S in it anyway. Maybe somebody will discover it someday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)