Not a Tulip!

I said the next picture wouldn’t be a tulip!

It’s been a while since my last post, and this isn’t actually the next picture I completed, but the ‘inbetweeny’ one is a surprise for someone, so I can’t post it here yet. Anyhow, it was good to go back to the birds for this picture, and one of the pictures from our Australian holiday last year. Mark took a really nice portrait of a male Red-backed Fairy-wren in Esk Forest, Queensland, and it has been on my picture list for a while.

We really liked the Fairy-wrens, they are very engaging little birds. The one we saw most commonly was the Superb Fairy-wren, and I had a little go at those a little while back:

Superb Fairy-wrens

Those males with their beautiful blue plumage are really sensational, and the females, more subdued, are equally cute!

The second most common of the fairy-wrens, at least for us, was the Red-backed Fairy-wren. We saw them in several places, but they were never as obliging as the Superb when it came to photos. So I was really pleased when Mark caught this lovely portrait of a male-the females have a similar plumage to the female Superb. You can see where they get the name; the bright red shoulders and back stand out against the mostly dark head and body plumage. This one was in fairly strong sunlight (it is Australia, after all) and therefore the feathering in places looked a lot lighter than it actually is, reflecting the sun. So I was going to have to try to get that reflection, without being false to the true colouration.

I went with the coloured pencils, again, and used the Canson XL Recycled Bristol, on the more textured side. I usually use the smoother side of this paper, so it was an interesting exercise. I did enjoy using this side of the paper-maybe it is closer to the Vellum surface I like in the Strathmore paper, so I will definitely be considering it again. The bird itself was relatively simple to do, and I was pleased with the reflective detail of the head and body, done by starting with quite pale greys and building up layers of darker greys, indigo and blacks as indicated in the reference. The blue tones I managed mainly by using the Pablo greys, whilst the Lightfast Midnight Black came in very useful for the more intense bluey-black tones on the breast and belly.

It was the background that concerned me. I did debate a bokeh background, trying to reflect the blurry stalks and leaves in the back of the picture, but I was concerned that this might detract too much from the subject. So, in the end, I just went with a solid colour background, utilizing mainly the Derwent Drawing earthy colours, with the help of Champagne from the Lightfast set. A final blend with OMS and I think it works. Nice to be back with the birds!


‘Red-backed Fairy-wren’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablo and Luminance, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Derwent Lightfast and Drawing) with OMS (Gamsol) to blend, on 96 lb Bristol board (Canson XL Recycled, textured side).

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Pink Tulips

There is a really different feel, for me,  to this tulip picture. I’d determined to try watercolour pencil for the next go at tulips, but the other Pixabay photo my sister had picked out didn’t feel like it would take to that treatment, so I chose one of the others. It’s probably far too ‘blousey’ for her taste, but I thought I might be able to make something out of the interesting colouration on the petals…

I also wanted to try some new paper. Many pencil artists seem to swear by Arches watercolour paper, so I thought I’d get hold of a pad to try. I’d picked one up (on special offer, because the price for 12 sheets is definitely scary), the last time we’d been in Michael’s in Halifax, but hadn’t had the chance to use it yet. The pad I got was 140 lb (300 g) cold pressed, in the 10 x 14 inch size.

Well, I think that I understand the appeal; it has a very textured surface, like pastel paper or pastelmat, so would probably go down well with those artists that like that sort of paper. I don’t like it, much-I find that it doesn’t take to the detail I like to do and it uses a lot of pencil. On the plus side, a lot of pigment does gets laid down quite quickly. We would see how it goes.

I got my preliminary drawing done, and lightened the marks using my kneadable eraser. I did find it quite difficult to take off the graphite sufficiently, though. It was pretty quick to draw in the petals, since the rougher surface ate up the pencils but laid down a lot of colour. I ended up sharpening them quite regularly-the new sharpener is still behaving itself very well, but still doesn’t work for all of the Albrecht Durers (just some of them, odd!) so I had to resort to one of my old hand sharpeners, which was a pain! It was difficult to keep detail sharp on this paper, however sharp my pencils were.

The application of water was another surprise. The other paper I use, Canson XL 140lb cold press (much cheaper!) is pretty good at not buckling much. I always do tape down my paper on all four sides, and I use only a little water, with a very small brush, to wet the pencil (in order to preserve the detail). This paper buckled, quite badly, so much so that it pulled away from the securing tapes! I suppose it should have been pre-stretched, but it hasn’t been necessary with the limited wetting I do, previously. Interesting.

A ‘work in progress picture. I have wet the pencil on the upper two flowers, whilst the lowest one is awaiting the treatment. To be fair, applying the pencil was fast, and I did enjoy it. It was just different, I suppose.

For the background, I thought I might resort to real watercolour, for the wash. I wanted it to have just a glaze of colour, so I dug out an old half-pan set of Winsor and Newton and applied a couple of washes. To darken the shadows under the flowers, I went over them with layers of Charcoal Grey, Aubergine, Dark Indigo and Ivory Black watercolour pencils, and then wet them. I’m in two minds about this picture; part of me likes the composition and the watercolour effect, part of me feels it’s a bit ‘over the top’. Not my usual type of image, that’s for sure!

‘Pink Tulips’, 9 x 11 inch watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Derwent Watercolour), with Winsor and Newton watercolour for background, on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Arches).

So, the Arches paper certainly led to a very vibrant image, maybe more vibrant than I’d been aiming for, so perhaps this is why I’m in two minds about this piece? Anyhow, I don’t think I’ll be rushing to use it again, but it’s all a learning experience!

Light Tulips

In my last post (Dark Tulips), I’d drawn a trio of tulips on black paper, as an exercise in ‘can I do it?’. It was fun, quite fast to do as the paper takes colour quickly, and a little frustrating, as the black does cause the colours to read differently. However I was sufficiently pleased with the resulting picture to think that it would be a nice exercise to do the same picture on white paper.

This was the original photo, from Pixabay:

To make things a little easier, and to envisage what it might look like, I manipulated the image in Photoshop, to remove the black background.


Maybe a little stark- I decided I would finish the subject, and then decide whether to put in a background.

My paper of choice for this was the Strathmore Bristol Vellum and my main sets of coloured pencils, i.e. Pablos, Polychromos, Lightfast and Luminance. I’ve really been enjoying mixing and matching these sets, and I’ve found myself using the Luminance a little more than I have done previously (although it is mainly the Grey Violet and Buff Titanium pencils that get the work-out). For this picture, I did the colouring of each petal, as I wanted it to look, and then blended with OMS. When that dried, I actually went over everything again with the same pencils, to intensify the colours, and this time finished off with the Derwent Burnisher pencil, leaving the surface with a light sheen.

I still thought that the background, being white, was a bit stark. Many people seem to use pastels, especially pan pastels, as a means of getting a quick, smooth background colour. Now, I don’t have any pan pastels (although they are under consideration!) but I do have, tucked away in an old box, some soft pastels. I have had these for ages-they came with me when we moved to Canada, but I have never really got into them. I think it is the sheer messiness of working with pastel sticks. However, I thought it might work for a background, and would maybe help me to decide if it is worth going for some of the pan pastels (which don’t seem quite so messy to use, somehow). I chose a salmon-y pink soft pastel stick (no idea who made it!) and started to apply it to the background.

It went on quite well. I used a couple of cotton buds to work the pastel into the edges around the subject, and to smooth it out. The vellum-surface paper does have some texture, and it didn’t fully fill that in, so it didn’t look finished. Rather than try to apply another coat (I was worried that it might come off on my hands too easily, and I don’t have any fixative handy), I decided to work over the top of the pastel with coloured pencil, and chose the Derwent Drawing pencils for this purpose; Mars Violet for the base, Light Sienna for the mid-range and Wheat for the top. After applying that, I glazed the whole background with Chinese White, applying quite a lot of pressure, before finishing off with the burnisher pencil. It certainly helped, although the surface texture still remains. It was an interesting exercise, however, and makes me think that a limited range of pan pastels might be a worthwhile investment.


‘Light Tulips’, 11 x 14 inch coloured pencil (Faber-Castell Polychromos, Caran d’Ache Pablos and Luminance, Derwent Lightfast), with OMS (Gamsol) and Derwent Colourless Burnisher for blending, and soft pastel and Derwent Drawing pencils for background, on Strathmore Series 300 Bristol vellum (100 lb).

Dark Tulips

I have another commission-and it isn’t a dog! Instead, my sister has asked me to do her a flower picture for her bedroom wall. Her favourite flower is the tulip, so I decided to take a look for some references. Now, I don’t have many photos of tulips in my picture files (and Mark has even fewer), so this was going to be a job for Pixabay. This free, royalty-free website of photos and other images is a great resource for subjects that I might not have pictures of, although I’ve only used it once before (for Puffins on land). Typing ‘tulips’ into the search box brought up pages of images, of which I downloaded a selection of different ones and sent them to my sister to get an idea of the sort of thing she wanted.

She picked out two in particular, but none were perfect. One was on a black background, which she didn’t really want for a bedroom, although she liked the arrangement and colours of the flowers. I’d already decided that I was going to have a go at this particular photo, on black paper, just to see if it would work. The other is a more pastel piece that combines pink tulips with forget-me-nots, although she thought there were too many forget-me-nots. That’s easily sorted. I think I’ll have a go at both subjects and see which one she prefers. Anyhow, I started the tulips on the black paper yesterday and completed it this morning.

I think I’ve mentioned before just how quick I find the black paper. It seems to really pick up the pencil well, although the colours are altered rather by the background colour. It doesn’t take many layers either, and it really doesn’t seem to like blending with OMS, so I used a Derwent burnisher pencil for most of the blending (which further decreases the tooth of course). It was fun to do and I was pretty happy with the resulting piece, which is more ‘sketch-like’ than the real pieces will be. It will be a fun process to repeat this image on white paper, to see what the differences are, too. Time to get on with the real thing, then.

‘Dark Tulips’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablos and Luminance, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Derwent Lightfast), with Derwent burnisher pencil to blend, on 60 lb Strathmore Series 400 Artagain coal black drawing paper.

Pesky Critters

After all the recent coloured pencil works I had an itch to have another go with watercolour pencil. But what to draw? Of all the references I had printed, nothing quite hit the spot, except for a rather old picture of a couple of Raccoons. This picture was actually taken by my father, back in 2004, when we visited a sort of wildlife safari park for native Canadian wildlife (Parc Omega at Montebello, Quebec, if you are interested). It was always a good day out, and we took most of our visitors over the years when we were still living near Montreal. Now were are in Nova Scotia, we have Raccoons raiding our bird feeders in the yard pretty much every night.

Now, not everyone likes Raccoons, they are so good at raiding food sources, bins, etc, around homes that many do call them the ‘pesky critters’ of the title. However, for we who came from the UK, they are totally enchanting. Even when they manage to undo all of the special wires that Mark puts on the feeders to try and keep them out, and then carry off a whole peanut feeder into the woods, we still love them (Mark can generally retrieve the feeder in the spring!).

One problem was that I didn’t seem to have the original photo; instead I had only a smaller image, reduced for the web. Perhaps that should have put me off, but I decided that it would be ok, as long as I kept the piece small. It would be a chance to try something a little looser and quicker than the more recent pictures.

Well, it is certainly looser. I did quite enjoy it, although maybe the final piece doesn’t quite look like the picture I had in my head. The pencils really are not the medium for loose watercolour! I did think about going over with coloured pencil, but decided not to do so on this piece. I think I have got it out of my system, though-back to something a bit more detailed next time.

‘Pesky Critters’ (Northern Raccoons). 7 x 10 inch watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Derwent Inktense), with Sakura Souffle white gel pen (for highlights and whiskers), on 140lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).

Doodling Again

This is the last of my current commissions, and more Doodles. This time actually Labradoodles, maybe the ones people most often think about when considering this sort of dog, i.e. a cross between Labrador and Poodle. Trev and Brodie are brothers, but from different litters, and were to prove quite a challenge-curls and white fur!
The original photo sent by the client just didn’t do it for me:

A cute-enough photo but I wasn’t able to make out detail in the faces at all. Trying to capture the personality of the animals would be very difficult-it’s all in the eyes, generally-so I regretfully had to say ‘no’ to this commission. I then received a couple of further photos, head and shoulders only:

These were more like it although, as they were photos off the web, the quality and sharpness was a bit lacking when I blew up the photos for printing. I didn’t like the position of Trev’s left eye (when looking at his head), it was lost in the fur-the same was true of Brodie’s right eye. Oh well, I would have to do a little ‘artistic licence’ again, i.e. make it up!

I decided, given the poses, to overlay Trev just slightly over Brodie, with the latter being a little taller on the picture; this makes a nice diagonal, from lower left to upper right. I considered a coloured paper, also, but I don’t have anything larger than 9 x 12 inch, and the picture would have been right to the edge of the available paper. I decided instead to go with Strathmore Bristol again, but this time the smooth surface, in an 11 x 14 inch size. Hopefully, this would mean that the image wouldn’t crowd the paper too much, and would still allow me to mat it to 11 x 14 inch following completion (albeit, with a rather narrow mat). Alternatively, I could leave it unmatted, for the client to choose a 14 x 18 inch frame with a mat. I can’t currently ship anything larger than 11 x 14 inch in my secure shipping envelopes.

I decided on coloured pencil only, again. It do find it to be easier to handle, somehow, when the reference picture is poor.  I also avoided the graphite paper with this picture, losing those dark lines would be much harder with the light-coloured fur! The pencils would, of course, include the Caran d’Ache Pablos and Faber-Castell Polychromos, but would also take advantage of quite a number of pencils from the new Lightfast set, which seems to have a number of pale colours that I don’t really have elsewhere. As these were nominally white dogs, I found the Lightfast pale colours of Champagne, Wheat, Oyster (an extremely pale pink), Arctic (a similarly pale blue), Flesh Pink and Salmon very useful, alongside Silver Grey, Steel Grey, Ash Grey, Granite Pink, Apricot, Cream and Light Beige from Pablo and Ivory, Cream, Light Flesh and the lighter greys from both the warm and cold ranges of the Polychromos. Buff Titanium and Violet Grey Luminance also came in useful. All the blending on this picture was done with Gamsol.

I can’t say I found it an easy piece-I was constantly fighting the lack of detail in the references, so maybe there was rather more ‘made up’ than I would normally like to do. I also found it very difficult to place highlights in the eyes at the completion of the drawing. I think that I got it right, but that direct stare from Brodie was very difficult to soften with highlights. A front-on reference is perhaps not the best one for producing a sympathetic portrait! Maybe I’ll have to be yet more ‘picky’ in the reference photos in the case of any more commissions.


‘Trev and Brodie’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Derwent Lightfast, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Caran d’Ache Pablos and Luminance) with OMS to blend and Signo Uniball white pigment ink pen for eye highlights, on Strathmore 300 series Bristol smooth.

I sent off a photo, and heard back from the client, via Liz. They are delighted with it, and think that I really captured the dogs’ personalities, and that I got the eyes spot on! Well, that was lovely feedback to get, definitely worth the worry during the drawing. They decided against adding any background colour, so now it was time to mat the picture and get it ready for posting. I’d already decided that I’d like to do a double matte in shades of cream for this, to compliment the colours of the dogs and also not to be too ‘in your face’, especially since the size of the piece would mean that the matte would have to be narrow (only 1.25 inch on each side). As I don’t actually have much of this colour in my store, I resorted to the ready-cut mattes in my local dollar store. I found a couple, 11 x 14 inch, with subtly different shades of cream, a slightly darker one to make the inner frame and a lighter one, with a pleasing texture finish, for the outer. Of course, the inner windows had to be re-cut for this piece, so I went ahead and did this, using my mat cutter. It can be a bit fiddly, when the ‘inner bit’ isn’t there-you have to support the cutter when going across the void or the bevel will be cut at a strange angle. But I’ve done this before and, with the help of a new sharp blade, managed to get a good cut on both mattes to produce this:

The narrow space meant that the gap between the inner and outer mattes was only 1/8 inch this time, instead of the 1/4 inch I used previously, but it suffices.  1 inch is really at the limit of what the mat cutter will do! I  do like this subdued-coloured matte with this subject, and it should suit a lot of frame options, when it gets to its new home in the UK.

To finish, a little follow up on Daisy. The picture finally got to the client last weekend, and they placed it in a very nice oak frame, which suited the piece very well. It was to be a gift to the client’s parents, and was gifted a couple of days later. The client was kind enough to send me a message (via my indefatigable ‘cheerleader agent’, Liz) saying that they had loved the picture and had even cried with happiness when they received it. It was a lovely message to receive; it makes everything worthwhile (not that I want people to cry, though!).

Doing Derwent

I said, in the last post, that I was quite pleased with my recent purchase of a full set of Derwent Lightfast pencils, and that I wanted to give them a thorough workout on a picture. Well, this was that picture. I wanted to try and keep to using only the Lightfasts, and nearly did it! In the end, I did use three pencils from Luminance. As I mentioned, the palette of the Lightfast, at 36 pencils, is a bit more limited than I am used to. I expect that many coloured pencil artists are good at blending to get the colour they want; I don’t think I’m there yet but this exercise did make me think about blending more that I maybe have in the past. It certainly was good practice.

First, the reference photo, one of my own, taken last month at a wharf at Saulnierville on the French Shore of Nova Scotia, during a day out. Look, no snow! Anyhow, I was drawn to these three boats pulled up on the wharf, I liked the different angles they were set at and the slight air of abandonment (although I expect they aren’t really). Also I liked the gradation in sizes from big to little.

The largest boat was a little away from the rest, so I moved it in a little closer to the others-artistic licence, eh. It didn’t overtax many muscles!

I called this post ‘Doing Derwent’, and, in fact I have another Derwent product I was trialling on this piece. During the previous picture, my manual helical pencil sharpener finally gave up. I’d mentioned, previously, that it was playing up. I had to keep a pair of pliers handy to keep the ‘point sharpness knob'(a totally inadequate little red plastic piece) tightened up. Things kept getting jammed in it. The end came when it ate about half of one of my brand-new pencils-ouch!

I was back to a hand pencil sharpener, and I wasn’t happy! So, I took a look, on-line, at what other pencil artists were recommending. One that came up a couple of times was the Derwent SuperPoint manual sharpener. It is a fully metal construction, doesn’t have a silly little knob to go wrong, and is presumabaly good for Derwent pencils (the other one didn’t like these, or Luminance, very much). I bit the bullet, ordered it from Amazon.ca and it arrived Friday.

It’s quite a big beast, and feels very sturdy. The sharpening mechanism is much quieter and smoother than the old one. The point is very long and sharp on the Lightfasts and Luminance pencils. I went through my other sets and it did a great job on almost all of them. The exception? The Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils. For some reason, it doesn’t get along with these at all. I wonder if it is a combination of size and shape? They are a bulky pencil (although not noticeably bigger than the Derwents or Luminance), but they are also hexagonal. The sharpener worked well for hexagonal Supracolors and Pablos, but these are smaller diameter pencils. Oh well, you can’t have everything, and otherwise this does seem to be a good sharpener. I will have to make other plans for the Albrecht Durers.

Back to the piece. I managed the boats in Derwent Lightfast, maybe not quite getting the actual colours spot on, but close. I did decide to ignore the worn spots on the paintwork for this exercise. Sea and breakwater were also ok. I liked Seaweed, an earthy green/grey that toned down the Mid Aquamarine and Dark Turquoise, which were the only real options for blues. Arctic, a very light blue-white, and Mist, a light coolish grey, were also useful. These parts of the picture I blended using a nice sharp Prismacolor colourless blender pencil, and that worked nicely. The Lightfast blend very well with the blender pencil.

The clouds and sky were more of a problem. There was a hint of darkness and purple in the underside of those clouds, and, other than Cloud Grey, the Lightfasts are a bit lacking. I pulled out my favourite Violet-Grey Luminance to help here, although I also added some Nightshade from the Lightfasts, probably a bit too heavily, since it is probably too purple. The blue sky started with Mid-Aquamarine and Mist from the Lightfasts, with a layer of Luminance Grey-Blue. I decided to blend using OMS to start, so that I could perhaps lift a little colour by dabbing with kitchen towel or a cotton swab. This did help to tone down the purple a little. T then went over the darker cloud areas with the colourless blender pencil, to fade out the edges, and then a layer of the Lightfast White. It was looking better, but I don’t think I’ve really got the hang of clouds and sky yet!

So, my conclusion? I like the Lightfast pencils. They take a nice sharp point (especially with this new sharpener), and I think that they will add lots of options for my more usual subjects (this probably wasn’t the best picture to choose for a try out of this palette). The palette may be limiting for some subjects, but will porbably work well for wildlife and botanical themes. I don’t think I would choose to use them alone again, but as a supplement to the other sets, they will be very useful. And I do like the sharpener, with the exception of it not working with Albrecht Durer. I’m probably going to have to keep using a hand sharpener with them.


‘Abandoned’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Derwent Lightfast, Caran d’Ache Luminance), with Prismacolor colourless blender pencil and OMS, on 100lb Strathmore Bristol Vellum.