This isn’t the best photo of an artwork, I’ll admit. I always have trouble photographing the black paper stuff. The original looks much better than this, I think.

This is Kyra, a Malamute who belongs to our nephew. During our recent visit to the UK we got to met Kyra for the first time and she is a beauty, and very good natured too. Mark took a photo with his cell phone, unusually, which is why it wasn’t of the best quality and had quite dreadful red-eye. Despite this, I thought the pose had charm and the very dark background shouted out for the black drawing paper.

Of course, the use of this black paper limited the number of layers of coloured pencil I could use, and I avoided the OMS blender, too. I’ve never been sure what wetting this paper would do to it, must try that out some day. I transferred my drawing to the paper using the white graphite transfer paper and got going. It went very fast, just a single day on my drawing board. The pencils seem to go down very quickly and, as I said, the paper doesn’t take to too many layers. Little flecks of black paper remain showing through the light areas, but that does seem to add to the fur effect. I blended using the Prismacolor colourless blender pencil-my wrist knows all about that! After blending, I went back in to lighten some areas using the Derwent Drawing Chinese White and added whiskers using Luminance pencils. I was rather surprised that these covered so well on a blended surface, but very pleased not to have to resort to the pigment ink pen. I did use this to reinforce the highlights in the eyes, though. Malamutes really do have the most beautiful blue eyes.

‘Kyra’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Faber-Castell Polychromos, Caran d’Ache Pablos and Luminance, Derwent Drawing Chinese White) with Prismacolor colourless blender pencil and Uni-ball Signo white pigment ink pen on Strathmore 400 series Artagain paper (60 lb).


Wild Goose

A bit of fun, with what might seem a rather monochrome subject. We have just been for a few days in the old country (i.e. Britain), staying with family and friends, and (of course) taking a little time to do some birding. After all of those wonderful Australian species, this might have been a bit of a come-down – after all, these used to be our everyday birds – but, instead, it was great fun. We have been away for long enough for us to start to appreciate common British species, like Blue Tits and Robins and, in this case, the Greylag Goose.

Wild Greylags are really uncommon over this side of the pond, so we were genuinely very pleased to find them, in this case in a mixed flock with Canada Geese (NOT a problem to find over here!). I took a photo of a roosting bird, with its bill tucked underneath its wing, and really liked the pattern of the overlapping wing feathers. It made me really want to have a go, despite the number of undrawn Australian species I have. The softness of the colouration and feathers seemed perfect for watercolour pencil, and I do have all those superb greys in the Albrecht Durer set!

Now, it might seem to be grey, grey and more grey, but actually there were a lot more colours in those feathers. Alongside the predominantly warm and cool greys of the Albrecht Durer set, I also used the bluer-toned greys of the Supracolors, especially Steel Grey and Grey. I also detected shades of brown, apricot, pink and even aubergine in the feathering of the wings and neck. Albrecht Durer Dark Indigo provided the deeper blues in the closer feathers. It was good fun to try and reproduce the warm and cool tones of the reference photo.

I tried the Brush and Pencil Titanium White with Touch-up Texture for the delicate feathers around the bill, and add a little more highlight in the eye. Despite using my 0000 size liner brush, I still found it difficult to make my strokes as fine as I would like; obviously I need more practice. Allowing the white to dry, I used an Ivory Black Pablo coloured pencil to add a little shape to the new white feather wisps, and to add a little more dark to the shadows between the wings. It gives a more ‘3D’ effect to the feathering if you add in shadows. Sometime I add a few more than the reference photo strictly shows, since it really makes the texture stand out.

For background, I strayed from strictly pencil. I wanted a very neutral, light wash background. The bird was actually stood on a concrete jetty in a country park in Nottinghamshire, but I wanted to have really no detail in there; the bird is the star. I decided to try a very light watercolour wash, using my venerable Winsor and Newton Cotman watercolours (these predate our arrival in Canada, nearly 16 years ago!) and a broad-ish brush. Rather than a single colour, I used a few light shades, and even reduced this by blotting the wet area, as I went, with kitchen towel. The result is ok; the colours sort of mimic those in the plumage and it surely was a faster background to do than anything in coloured pencil!

‘Dozy Greylag’ (Greylag Goose), 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer), with highlights in Faber-Castell Pablo Ivory Black, and Brush and Pencil Titanium White/Touch-up Texture, on Canson XL 140lb cold-press watercolour paper.


I’m still on those Australian birds, this time a very special and rare one. We had gone to stay at Cassowary House, near Kuranda on the Atherton Tablelands, specifically to maximise our chance of seeing a Southern Cassowary. These large, flightless birds are endemic to Far North Queensland and are increasingly rare and difficult to see. A pair that have included the grounds of Cassowary House as part of their territory for many years  are generally regarded as the best chance to see one. These are wild birds and are not guaranteed sightings. When we arrived, the proprietor said that the female, Gertie, had been quite regular at the house recently, appearing about mid-morning, but had just changed her routine that morning to appear at breakfast time. The male, Dad, wasn’t being seen since he had small chicks to look after (it is the males of this species that do the childcare!). Well, we were staying overnight, and had potentially two nights there to maximise our chances.

Gertie turned up around 8.30 am the next day, just as breakfast had finished, and we were delighted with the views. These are big birds and they can do a lot of damage if they go for you, but Gertie is quite placid, as long as you don’t scare her. We were able to walk quietly up relatively close to her, whilst she foraged on the step outside our cabin. What a fabulous sight! I took a lot of photos and one, a slightly strange angle maybe, really appealed. Just look at those wonderful eyes.

Here is a slightly more normal view, for a better idea of what this bird looks like. The huge casque on the head is used to beat a way through its rainforest home.

I thought this one, with the fantastic colours of the skin of the head and neck, cried out for a coloured pencil treatment. I decided on the recycled Bristol board, smooth side, as the paper. The bird was worked in my usual favourites, Caran d’Ache Pablos and Faber-Castell Polychromos, with a little Luminance Black and White for contrasting areas. Most of the blending was with OMS (Gamsol) but I do find that Luminance doesn’t really take to OMS (maybe this is just me?). Luminance isn’t good as a lower layer, either, so if I use these pencils in a picture I leave them for the top layer, and apply after any OMS blending has been done. A light blending using the Prismacolor colourless blender pencil stopped any powdery feel to the Luminance.

For the background, I decided to try a sort of mottled rainforest look using Prismacolor Premier pencils, a set I have rather neglected. Well, now I know why I’ve not used them much since I got my Polys and Pablos as I really didn’t enjoy using them at all. Maybe it is this particular paper surface, but they felt rather ‘crayony’, to me, and much less pigmented than the other sets, leaving lots of white holes in the coverage, despite multiple layers. Blending with OMS did help, but I don’t think the Prismas will figure much in future drawings of mine.

One thing I was keen to try was a new way of adding white highlights/whiskers. I’ve never been that pleased with the gel pen or pigment ink pen method, feeling that it was difficult to make the hairs taper, as they would in a real whisker. Exploring on line, I saw that a number of pencil artists used a mixture of Touch-up Texture and Titanium White powder from a company called ‘Brush and Pencil’, predictably situated in the US. Mixed together, this produces an opaque white that can be applied with a liner brush, which is also archival and, if mistakes are made, can be covered by more pencil once dried. This seemed something worth trying but it was quite difficult to find. I could get the titanium white powder but the Touch-up Texture was more problematic. I didn’t want to order from abroad, not being sure if there would be problems getting a solvent across international borders. Eventually, I found it listed by Delta Art, a firm in Edmonton, although even then it was on back-order and the postage was almost as much as the cost of the materials! To save on repeat ordering, I decided to buy two of each, and the parcel finally arrived whilst we were in Australia.

I thought I could try this out on this picture, wanting to add a little more highlight in the eyes and in the texture of the feathers on the back. It’s important to shake both the powder and the liquid touch-up texture really well, especially the latter as I found quite a solid mass at the bottom of the bottle. It does have ball-bearings in there to help with mixing. I put a little shake of the powder onto a piece of foil, and then added a drop of Touch-up Texture, mixing with an old watercolour brush. Its important not to make up too much as it does dry very quickly. Also, I didn’t need much-this will last a very long time. I think I made mine a little thin, but it did work, applied with a tiny liner brush. I think this will be a useful addition to my studio, especially on the pet and animal works.

‘Gertie’ (Southern Cassowary), 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Faber-Castell Polychromos, Caran d’Ache Pablos and Luminance, with Prismacolor Premier on background), blended with OMS and Prismacolor blender pencil, and with Brush and Pencil Titanium White/Touch-up Texture for highlights, on Canson XL Recycled Bristol, smooth side.


There were loads of fabulous birds, and other wildlife, on our Australia trip, and it was really difficult to decide on favourites. The real specialities, like the Bowerbirds, Birds of Paradise and Southern Cassowary were definitely up there. Little birds, like the fairy-wrens and robins were very appealing. Odd-lookers, like Bush and Beach Stone-curlews, had their own subtle beauty. In the end, amongst all the fabulous choices, both Mark and I had a special place in our hearts for one bird, the Galah. Not particularly rare, in fact present in flocks on the sides of the roads when we visited Deniliquin, we both loved their beautiful shades of pink and grey. I wanted to see if I could capture those soft hues in a picture, so I looked through my photo files for inspiration.

I found a couple of photos that I thought would work, One, the single bird, was taken on our very first day in Australia on our way west of Brisbane to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat-it was our very first sighting of Galah.
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The other was of a pair, found snuggled together in a tree at Beaudesert, near Brisbane, several days later.
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I thought I could group these appealingly. I liked the diagonal direction of the second picture, whilst the detail in the first bird attracted me. I decided that the tree would be the most appropriate setting, and that I could quite convincingly place the first bird on a more horizontal branch and in the foreground, with the pair a little smaller and, thus, apparently further back. I placed those birds a little closer together than in the original picture, to provide a bit more space to fit everything in. My preliminary drawing was quite complex, even without adding in the leaves, which I decided to do after the birds were completed.

What about medium? Well, the very soft nature of the plumage seemed to cry out for watercolour, so watercolour pencils it would be, on Canson XL cold press watercolour paper. I had a large pad, 12 x 18 inches, that seemed to fit the subject matter well. I haven’t used it much (framing will be a nightmare, I think) and it is far too large to fit on my drawing board in portrait mode, so I had to do most of this in landscape mode, working the image sideways-a really odd feeling, looking at the references sideways on. I thought it might affect how the birds looked; might actually make them look unnatural, but it worked ok. Perhaps because I concentrated on doing small sections rather than the overall picture. I also turned the paper so that I wasn’t leaning over too far to do sections, something that isn’t normal for me. usually, I stick down my paper along all four edges (I use Frogtape painters tape for delicate surfaces for that) and leave it like that until I finish, so this was a new departure. At least the watercolour pencils don’t need much water, so the paper didn’t buckle, even when not so securely fastened.

As usual I worked the birds first, starting with eyes and bills on each individual bird; first finishing the uppermost bird, before moving down to the centre one and then the one at the bottom. After that, I lightly drew in some leaves and the branches from the photo. I noticed that the photo had some well-defined leaves and then, further back, some greenish leaf-shapes, not defined. I did the defined leaves first, some as in the photo and adding in a few extra of my own where I thought they were needed. Lots of shades of green, from both of the main pencil sets, with touches of Green-gold, Brown Ochre, Light Ochre and Burnt Siena, made up the leaves, whilst the branches were brownish green (where the pair were sitting) or tones of warm and cool greys (framing the scene). Finally, in an attempt to put in the less-defined foliage, I added vaguely leaf-like shapes in Olive and Olive Brown, behind the previously-drawn leaves. I was quite pleased with that effect.

The original picture had a fairly pale, almost white sky behind the tree, but I wanted to give it a slightly sunnier aspect, so decided on a light sky blue. I decided to shave pencil into my watercolour palette and wet it for this. This seems to be quite successful at avoiding a ‘tide mark’ effect when wetting pencil over a large area. I chose to use the Derwent Watercolours for this, although the Sky Blue in that set is unfortunately not colourfast. Instead I used a mixture of Light Blue and Silver Grey, which maybe was a little bluer that I was aiming for. A light blotting with paper towel, on the wet areas, lightened the effect to a cloudy blue. I was pretty happy with the final effect.
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‘Galahs!’, 12 x 18 inch watercolour pencil (Caran D’ache Supracolor, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, with a couple of Derwent Watercolour on background) on Canson XL 140 lb (300 g) cold press watercolour paper.

I said I’d be doing a lot of Australian birds, and I’m not done yet. Thinking of those Fairy-wrens, or a Cassowary, next!

Lovely Plumage…

It seems ages since I last posted here, but there was a very good reason…a month’s birdwatching holiday in Australia! Basically, the entire month of September was spent in Queensland and Victoria, looking for birds. Since getting home, I had over 4000 photos to review and edit, so art took a back seat for a while.

Not that I wasn’t itching to get going again, but equally a bit worried to start. What if I’d forgotten how to do it? It would be a bit depressing, given all the pencils I have in my smart drawer system. What if I actually didn’t enjoy it anymore? That would be even more depressing! What should I draw? I wanted something that would really whet my appetite for the first one, so I thought I’d try a portrait, a joint one of Mark and I, since I’d so enjoyed doing the one of Mum and Dad (even if they didn’t like it much). Well, that was a mistake. Maybe it was the reference photos but it really didn’t flow. I didn’t even finish it, which is almost unheard of for me. Crisis in the studio!?

So I decided to go back to first principles and my first drawing love, birds. The great thing about a birding holiday in Australia (well, one of the many great things about a great trip) was that, between us, we got lots of great reference photos of Australian birds, so I’m sorted for subject matter for quite a while. There were lots of brightly coloured birds, including parrots, that I thought would give me a fun challenge, and provide a work out for some of the brighter colours in my pencil sets. Looking through my pictures, I found this one:

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This splendid individual is an Australian King-parrot, a young male according to the lighter patches on the wings. Isn’t the plumage lovely? So many shades of red, green and blue to go at. I also really liked the pose, looking over his shoulder in that rather cheeky way. I really thought I might be able to make something out of this.

First question: what media? Well, the very vibrant colours cried out for coloured pencil, in my opinion. I also thought I’d use a paper that has been a bit neglected recently, since I usually head straight for the Strathmore Bristol vellum nowadays, so I deliberately decided to use the Canson XL Recycled Bristol, choosing the smooth side. Pencils used on the bird itself were a mixture of Caran d’Ache Pablos and Faber-Castell Polychromos, blended with Gamsol. I used a lot of different pencils, on the three distinct sections, starting (as usual) with the eye and beak, then moving on to the head, then the green wings, and finally the blue back and rump. Just to give you an idea, I made a note of the pencils used on the blue section, and how I developed the shading on the feathers.

Firstly, I outlined each feather, lightly, in a grey pencil, just so I could locate each individual feather. I find it pays to work on one feather at a time, treating each as an individual item, even if all of the adjacent feathers are getting the same treatment. Most of the feathers, except the ones at the top that appear very blue, have a grey/mauve tint where the light hits them, and I wanted to preserve that as it gives texture to the whole. For these feathers, I started with an overall light layer of Pablo Blue Jeans, then followed up in the blue-er areas with Polychromos Ultramarine and Pablo Ultramarine (this is the darker of the two ultramarines, by the way). If needed, I added a touch of Polychromos Light Ultramarine or Pablo Night Blue. Very dark areas were picked out in Pablo Indigo Blue or Polychromos Dark Indigo. After that the whole feather was greyed by adding a layer of Pablo Light Beige, and then the violet tint was added by a layer of Polychromos Purple-Violet or Pablo Violet (again the latter is the darker of the two). Deep shade, caused by the overlap of the feathers, and fringing, was picked out using Pablo Cocoa, Polychromos Payne’s Grey and Pablo Ivory Black. The whole lot was blended using Gamsol odourless mineral spirit, applied with a small brush. I was quite pleased with the almost 3-D effect produced.

The photo has an almost ‘bokeh’ background. The bird was in a sunlit  tree, and there is actually another bird above it-you can see the tail feathers hanging down in the reference photo above. I wanted to do a very light, not busy background so that the subject would stand out but also that he wasn’t sitting in a void. I decided that the earthy light colours of the Derwent Drawing pencil set might work for this. I followed, roughly, the overall shading of the background, and used only one or two layers to create an ‘idea’ of foliage without being too literal. This again was blended with Gamsol. I think it works ok.

I’m pleased to have broken my ‘duck’ and got something off the drawing board. The next few pictures will probably have a rather Australian flavour, though!

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‘The Prince’ (Australian King-parrot), 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablos, Faber-Castell Polychromos, with Derwent Drawing on background), with Gamsol blending, on Canson XL Recycled Bristol (smooth side).


Goaty McGoatface

I like goats. They have personality and charm; they give you the impression that they are their own goat (a bit like cats, really) and are nobody’s fools. So, when I came across an old photo I’d taken a few years back, it seemed like a good match for a coloured pencil piece. Also, it provided me a challenge for hair, horns and weathered timber-what’s not to like?!

As for the photo? Well, when we lived in Montreal we used to regularly visit a place called Parc Omega at Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours near Montebello, a safari park that is stocked with North American species only. You drive a loop through herds of deer, Wapiti, Wild Boar and Bison (you are encouraged to feed the deer and pigs with carrots), and can see foxes, wolves, Coyotes and Black Bears in trackside enclosures. It was always a fun day. About half way along the route is a spot where it is safe to leave the car and take a picnic or a stroll along some nice trails which lead to a spot called ‘The Old Farm’. When we visited on this occasion, there was a group (herd?) of Pygmy Goats. They were into everything, chasing each other around and being very playful (and extremely cute)! The barn they lived in had a number of small windows that had been surrounded on the outside by decorative frames. Inside, there were steps and platforms so, of course, the goats would regularly head up to the windows and stick their heads out. Totally artificial, I guess, but very endearing. I just had to wait a moment to get a picture of a goat with his head stuck out of the window.

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So, I thought I’d use coloured pencil and, after the sortie last time into black paper, I went back to the trusty Bristol vellum. You know, sometimes, a picture feels right, right from the start. This was one of those pictures. I never hated it (which is definitely not the case with some of the others), it was always fun to do and everything I tried out seemed to work well, at least this time. I almost didn’t want it to finish!

My version is probably a little darker than the original animal. I used virtually all of the greys in the Polychromos set in that hair, and some of the ones in the Pablos, and a tiny touch of Dark Indigo, Aubergine and Violet in places-it’s always surprising the odd colours you can make out in what is ostensibly a white, grey and black animal! I went back over, after blending (with OMS), with the Luminance and Derwent Drawing whites, to lighten it a bit, but it just added a little more paleness, not the bright whites of some of the hair on the original. I didn’t want to use a gel pen, I don’t find them all that natural looking, so, in the absence of any alternative, a slightly darker goat will do. Artistic licence is a wonderful hider of a multitude of sins!

Incidentally, I have finally found a Canadian supplier for the Brush and Pencil Titanium White and Touch-up Texture that so many coloured pencil artists seem to swear by for white whiskers, etc., Delta Art in Edmonton, but it’s on back order so I have no idea when it will turn up (and the postage costs as much as the order, but that’s a different story)! I’ll let you know if I ever receive my order.

As I was working, I was reflecting on some colours that I reach for all the time (in both the standard coloured pencil and the watercolour pencil sets). For example, the olives in the Pablos/Supracolors are favourites for greenery, with the Olive Brown being particularly useful for the patina that you get on weathered timber such as this barn siding. In the Polychromos/Albrecht Durers, I like the cool dark grey, Payne’s Grey, very much, whereas Cocoa and Charcoal Grey in the Pablos/Supracolors are probably my favourite dark warm greys/grey-browns. I generally reach for the ochres in the Pablos/Supracolor sets, in preference to the Faber-Castell ones, but that’s probably because I’m more used to them, having had Supracolor for a lot longer than the other sets. I’ve been very taken by the reds in the Polychromos/Albrecht Durer sets, and am most likely to gravitate to those sets first; Pompeian Red and Venetian Red came in very handy for the window framing this time. In addition, Polychromos/Albrecht Durer has much better options for portraiture, with excellent tones of Light and Medium Flesh (I find Dark Flesh too dark for my pasty subjects!) and Caput Mortuum (a rusty dark reddish-brown). I still prefer the blue-toned greys (Dark Grey, Grey, Mouse Grey and Steel Grey) and the Granite Pink of the Pablos/Supracolors when working pebbles and rocks. All-in-all, the two sets are very complementary and I enjoy working with all of them.

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‘Just Kidding Around’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablo, and Luminance White, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Derwent Drawing Chinese White) with OMS (Gamsol) to blend, on Strathmore 300 series Bristol vellum.

Black (and White!) on Black

A bit of a change for me. I’ve only once before tried a picture on this black paper (Strathmore Series 400 Artagain), and it went ok.  Not the most fabulous of art, but it looks like the bird.

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Cuban Tody

I enjoyed the procedure, but it certainly had a different feel to the Bristol vellum I’ve been using recently. It has got quite a smooth surface (although described as ‘medium’) and so soon loses its tooth, so no opportunity for many layers. Luckily, it does seem to soak up the colour, a bit like the Pastelmat in feel, so lots of layers probably aren’t needed. It doesn’t seem to take too kindly to very sharp pencils, so detail is a bit lacking for my usual style, but it is quite quick to work with. I haven’t felt brave enough to try the OMS on this surface, all the blending was done with a colourless blender pencil.

I took this photo a couple of days ago, of a Black-capped Chickadee peeking out of the foliage. I liked the pose, and the dark background. Although the photo background is a dark green, I thought it would be amenable to a black background. Mark, I must say, was a bit doubtful when he saw my choice of subject!

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Black-capped Chickadee, Quinn’s Falls, Nova Scotia, August 2018

The first problem working on dark surfaces is actually getting the drawing onto the paper, and for this I utilized white graphite transfer paper. I actually rather liked the effect when I’d finished the transfer, I almost left it at that.

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A kind of abstract Chickadee work-in-progress!

The next issue was making sure that the ‘black cap’ of the Chickadee would show up against the black of the paper. Well, for this I utilized a lot of the warm and cool greys in the Polychromos set, shying away from using the blacks. With the light shining on the head, the ‘black’ of the cap is anything but-there are lots of shades of grey, with warmer and cooler tones in there. It seemed to work quite well, but I soon realised that I needed to work on the leaves to define the areas where the plumage showed through, so I moved to greens, browns and reds.

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WIP 2-I needed to work on the greens now, or I’d be in danger of losing the bird outline!

I didn’t much enjoy the leaves, I don’t think I really got them looking very real. The black paper does affect the colour of the pencil- well, I suppose that’s not that surprising. The leaves turned out rather darker than I’d been hoping for, but I have to live with it-the tooth has completely gone on this paper, especially after blending with a Prismacolor colourless blender pencil. Blending was very necessary because the ‘holes’ in the paper surface, leaving black flecks, are really obvious in things like leaves and stems. They can be useful in the feathers, however, because they give some texture.

The last part was to complete the bird. Now, I find that the Luminance pencils came in very useful on this paper. They are much softer than the Polychromos or Pablos, and the white is pretty opaque. I also used some of the Buff Titanium and Naples Yellow Luminance in the white plumage. On top, on the particularly white areas, I used Derwent Drawing Chinese White, which I think is probably the most opaque of all the white pencils. I’d recommend having an open stock Derwent Drawing Chinese White even if you don’t have any other Derwent Drawing pencils as it often covers where even Luminance won’t (and it’s considerably cheaper!). I don’t use the Luminance or Derwent Drawing pencils all that much normally, I think because they are so very soft as compared to my primary sets and thus don’t lend themselves to detail.  It was nice to give them an airing on this piece.

So, the final picture. Mark likes it, I’m ok with it, especially the eye, bill and head, but I have to say this is not my favourite paper. However it does have quite a nice ‘casual’ air, that I don’t often manage. It definitely couldn’t be described as a ‘technical illustration’!

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‘Peek-a-boo Chickadee’ (Black-capped Chickadee), 9 x 12 inch, coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablo and Luminance, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Derwent Drawing Chinese White) with Prismacolor Premier colourless blender pencil on Strathmore Series 400, Artagain (60 lb).