A return to the watercolour pencils for this piece, and a little try at something new, as you will see. I was trawling through my picture files because I really could not decide on a new subject. I knew I did not want to do another flower study right away, and I did want to go back to the watercolours. I came across a picture of Mark’s that I’d popped in my file for future use, a Prairie Warbler, taken a couple of years ago in the autumn.

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Lots of nice feather detail on this bird, and I liked the positioning on that reddish-barked twig, but it is actually rather a dull-plumaged example. In the same file I had another picture of Mark’s, of a much brighter individual, taken at about the same time of the year (both in October).

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I decided that both birds could be combined in a single piece (with a little artistic licence!) and I could work on a larger piece (11 x 15 inch) than my more recent pictures. I thought I would do one bird a little smaller than the other, to give the impression that the top one was further back in the tree; not sure that that actually worked out in the end! The natural slight diagonal of the twig that the first bird is sitting on serves to draw the eye upwards and along through the picture, so that was the perch I chose to put them on.

It was fun going back to the watercolour pencils. I used the Caran d’Ache Supracolor and Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer exclusively for the birds and the foliage, shading small areas and then wetting with my tiny brush (watercolour liner 0000 size), so it isn’t a fast procedure. A couple of ‘work in progress’ pictures illustrate this.

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Out of interest I recorded the pencils I used to fill in the wing panel that is missing in the above picture; astonishingly it was 15 different pencils! Working with the coloured pencils has definitely affected the way that I now work with the watercolour pencils. I am much more likely to layer over different colours before wetting, similarly to coloured pencils before blending. I think it produces a deeper colouration, although it may lose the translucency that is meant to be the essence of watercolour? Ah well, its all a learning exercise, and I do like the final result, whether ‘watercolour-like’ or not.
Incidentally, colours used in that small panel were:
F-C Albrecht Durer: Cream, Light yellow Glaze, Cold Grey I, Cold Grey III, Warm Grey III, Green-Gold.
C d’A Supracolor: Slate Grey, Charcoal Grey, Cocoa, Olive Grey, Olive Brown, Light Olive, Green Ochre, Pale Lemon Yellow, Cream.
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Panel done!

The birds and foliage done, it was time to consider the background. Both photos have an attractive bokeh of autumnal tones, something I have struggled to reproduce in both watercolour and coloured pencils. I have noted a tendency amongst pencil artists to go to pan pastel as a medium for backgrounds, and this might be worth a look (although I don’t have any pan pastels, so it’s a moot point right now!). I have used watercolour pencil shading previously, graduating downwards to darker tones, and that was an option, although it can be difficult to wet the pencil lines sufficiently to lose the ‘linearity’ of the shading. One technique I had never tried was to shave off bits of pencil lead and wet it on a palette, to produce a wash that could be applied to the paper. I didn’t want to use my primary pencils for this experiment, so I dug out some of the Derwent Watercolours, that have been rather neglected lately.

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A sharp craft knife was used to shave bits of pencil lead into one of the wells of my watercolour palette. A flat watercolour brush added water to dissolve the shavings. I used four greens (Water Green, May Green, Grass Green and Mineral Green), an ochre (Burnt Yellow Ochre) and a dark red (Burnt Carmine) to try to mimic the background tones, but without being too picky.

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One thing to be careful of was getting wood shavings in the wells. I found that I did transfer splinters of wood to the paper and they were a pain to remove. Also, it took some time to dissolve, although the Derwents always were harder to wet than the other pencils, so a different make might be easier.

The dissolved colour was transferred to the paper using a flat brush (size 12) and a filbert, with the rounded edges (size 8) that I found very useful for getting in close to the main images. I tend to think of these as ‘large’ brushes, but I guess they really aren’t that big for conventional watercolour use. However, if you generally use a size 0000 liner brush, these are ‘biiiggg’!

The colours blended pretty well, avoiding too many ‘tidemarks’, although I had to learn not to be scared to put water on the paper. Amazingly, there was very little bleed from the already painted bits of the picture, something that I worried about before getting started. This is my experience using watercolour pencils, in general, the colour stays where it is put much more readily than conventional watercolours, something I like for my purposes, although I can imagine it would be a pain for ‘looser’ watercolourists, who want it to flow. I don’t think that the result is perfect, but I’m pretty pleased with it and I do think it a step up from previous bokeh attempts, especially with watercolour. Another technique to remember, going forwards, that I’m sure will come in handy.

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‘Prairie Warblers’, 11 x 15 inch, watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Derwent Watercolour) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).


Forest Floor

Pink Ladys-slipper (Cipripedum acaule) is an orchid, but not one of the showy ones that you buy in pots at the florist. This one grows wild in the woods of most of Canada, but it is still quite a thrill to see one. They like acid soils and semi-shaded locations, so the floors of pine or deciduous forests are a favourite habitat. The flower is named for the large, pink, pouch-like petal hanging down from the single stalk, which was thought to look shoe-like by the original describer. Its other common name is Moccasin flower, so the same thought obviously applies! Orchids are always special so I was very pleased to find a small group growing in a mixed wood, here in Nova Scotia, a few weeks ago. Of course, I took a photo, and thought it might make a subject for a painting.

As mentioned above, the pink pouch is only one petal, the other petals are the rusty-brown, thin appendages at the top of the plant.

I determined on a coloured pencil piece and chose Bristol Vellum paper. It was a chance to use some pretty pinks, from both the Polychromos and Pablo sets. The Pablo ‘Granite Pink’ has always been a favourite tint for ‘just a hint of’, that I’ve used a lot in the watercolour pencil set and that isn’t really replicated in Polychromos, although that set is sometimes superior for its red and pink shades. Caput Mortuum and Caput Mortuum Violet in Polychromos have become my ‘go to’ shades for rusty browns, whilst the Pablos are unsurpassed in olivey-greens that give a more natural tint to foliage. I was very happy mixing and matching these sets when drawing the flowers.

I had envisaged this as a botanical-type drawing, with the flowers standing alone, similar to my last piece (of the Poro-Poro flowers of Panama), but it looked a bit lacking when I’d finished it. I started to fill in some of the dead twigs and branches lying on the forest floor and it looked a bit better, but it really seemed to need a background. I was scared of overwhelming the delicate flowers but a plain shaded background seemed inappropriate, so I decided to do an approximation of the forest floor-not accurately (that way lies madness!) but to give some idea of the colours and shapes of the dried leaves and dark voids of the floor. I was to wonder if I’d bitten off more than I could chew, very quickly after starting this!

A ‘Work-in-progress’ shot of the background going in. I was making it up as I went along, but I had noticed that different areas of the floor had different predominating colours. The top left was rather dark, behind the flower heads was lighter and beige-y, whereas more central regions were more russetty, where there were more dead deciduous leaves, so I tried to concentrate colours a little to reflect that. I think I got a bit fed-up when I got to the top-right, because that area looks too uniform in size and shape, but it improved as I moved back down the page. Incidentally, I used the Derwent Drawing pencils exclusively for the background; this set has lovely earthy colours that work really well for this sort of effect. The result? Well, certainly not photo-perfect, but quite painterly and I hope it sets off the flowers without overwhelming them with detail.

‘Pink Ladys-slipper’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablo, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Derwent Drawing) with OMS (Gamsol) to blend, on Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Vellum.

I think a different subject for the next one, it’s no good getting into a rut!


I like to have something on my drawing board to be working on, when I get a moment or two free. Time has been in rather short supply over the last week or so, various long distance appointments, the art show and the start of renovation season has severely limited my available time. I therefore decided to do a relatively simple picture, that I could pick up and put down as necessary.

I also wanted a very ‘clean’ subject, after the complications of ‘Collared Aracari’ and its complex colourations. I thought a flower picture in coloured pencil would fit the bill, and looked out a photo I had taken in Panama a few years ago.

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These flowers are on a tree, about 15 ft off the ground, so it was difficult to get full flower views, but the tree is quite spectacular. It flowers in December and January, and often when there are few leaves on the tree, so the flowers are seen in their full glory. Typically, I did not know what it was called, and so this was ‘Yellow Flower’ in my photo files. However, thanks to the magic of Google, I have since found that this is the Poro-Poro (Cochlospermum vitifolium), a native tree that is also often planted in gardens and that is considered to be resistant to fire.

I decided to draw this spray of flowers and buds, and wasn’t sure if I would include a background. I resolved to do the main image and decide after. Well, I really rather enjoyed this picture; it isn’t a large image, being at full zoom, so I kept it small at 8 x 6 inches. I was able to tackle a flower, or a section of stem, as and when time permitted, and finally finished it today. Once completed, I decided I liked the simplicity of the flowers on the white background (I think a darker mat will set it off nicely) and perhaps it looks a little like a botanical specimen drawing?

Anyhow, it certainly kept my drawing muscles working. Now to find another subject in the same vein-those decks don’t stain themselves!

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‘Poro-Poro’, 6 x 8 inch coloured pencil (C d’A Pablo, F-C Polychromos) with OMS on Canson XL recycled Bristol (smooth side).


Collared Aracari

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog, mainly due to the nice spring weather and migration time for birds! Consequently we’ve been buzzing about locally and my painting has remained, neglected rather, on my drawing board. It has been difficult to find an hour or two to settle into the painting and, as a consequence, I think this one suffered from that a bit. I think that I rushed the end a little, I’m not over fond of the background or the branches, but backgrounds seem to be my bugbear.

To wind back a little, Mark had taken a photo of a Collared Aracari, a member of the Toucan family, in the garden of Rancho Naturalista in Costa Rica, in November 2010 and I’d recently dug it out. These are colourful birds, with some subtle plumage details, as well as the rather comical bill, and I thought it would make a nice challenge. I have also neglected the watercolour pencils rather, recently, and I wanted to give them a go. Therefore Collared Aracari, in watercolour pencil on watercolour paper it would be.

Now, you may recall that my super pencil sharpener had collapsed on me, much to my distress. Mark took a look and, with the help of a big pair of pliers, had tightened that silly little red nut sufficiently that it works again. I get a nice sharp point, most of the time, but the ‘autostop’ function seems to have stopped working altogether, so the sharp point is generally at the sacrifice of an awful lot of pencil! I see this as a stopgap only, and am still considering what I should get to replace it. In the meantime, I’m keeping the pliers handy and trying not to sharpen things to much, in case I end up with drawers full of stumps.

The bird went quite well, I think. These are pretty shaggy-looking birds and I felt that the feather detailing worked out pretty well, using the Supracolor and Albrecht Durer pencils. I was pretty pleased with the breast feathering, in particular, with it’s shades of yellow, orange, red and black. The bill colouration took to the watercolour treatment, since the addition of water smoothed out any abrupt colour changes. It’s also surprising just how many other shades (like blue, violet and malachite green) can be seen in an ostensibly black feather. In the end it was a looser depiction rather than an completely accurate representation-something I perhaps need to work on more since I am prone to the ‘technical illustration’ style, apparently. It’s still pretty true to life, though, as my resident critic would definitely let me know if it wasn’t!

I had more issues with the branches and the background. I decided to use some of the Derwent Watercolours for this, since I haven’t used them for some time. They worked well but I definitely noticed a difference in the feel of the pencils. These used to be my favourites, but they have definitely been superceded by the Supracolors and Albrecht Durers now. Backgrounds are still an issue; I tried yet again to get some sort of bokeh with the watercolours, but it didn’t really come off. I do think it’s a bit better than previous attempts, mainly because I gave up before I’d filled too much of the page.

I’m not sure why it ended up with quite such a look of surprise, but it is quite endearing!

‘Collared Aracari’, 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (C d’A Supracolor, F-C Albrecht Durer, Derwent Watercolour) on 140 lb watercolour paper (Canson XL).

Just a reminder that next weekend sees the art exhibition at Clark’s Harbour Legion Hall, and I will be exhibiting (and selling) some of my pieces. The exhibition is on Friday 08 June from 6-9 pm and on Saturday 09 June from 10 am to 4 pm, and costs only $2 to enter. Over 10 local artists will be exhibiting, and I’m looking forwards to seeing what they have been doing!

Exhibition Fever

Another exhibition! When Cal Kimola Brown contacted me to ask if I wanted to be involved in another exhibition in Clark’s Harbour, I thought I’d give it a go. The time of year (June) might be a bit more conducive to footfall, after all-a virtual blizzard during the last one wouldn’t have helped. In addition, there was no specific theme so I could show a variety of works. I set to, to frame up some pieces, and have ended up with 12 (costs me a fortune in frames), 7 for sale and 5 just because I like them! Trouble is, as I’ve mentioned before, once these go into frames I tend to like them all over again, so it will be a wrench to sell some of them off :(. I’ll get over it, though. It will be fun to see the work of other local artists, too, there are at least 10 artists in total exhibiting. The poster (prepared by Cal, thanks Cal!) gives the details but, in brief, the show is on Friday 8th June (6-9 pm) and Saturday 9th June (10 am-4 pm), at Clark’s Harbour Legion Hall, Cape Sable Island, and costs $2 entry.

So what am I showing? A selection of more recent works and a few real old favourites will be on show. Here’s a taster:

First my most recent piece, ‘Red Squirrel, coloured pencil on pastel paper. I have framed this with a white mat in a gold frame, overall 11 x 14 inch, matted to approximately 8 x 10 inch (but hand-cut mat so actually not exact!). I’m selling this one, framed, for $50.

One of my personal favourites, especially when framed! ‘Porcelain Rose’ is coloured pencil on Bristol board and has been framed in a brown wood-effect frame with two layers of mat board of slightly different shades of white, which I think makes a pleasing effect! It is framed at 14 x 18 inch, matted to (approximately) 8 x 10 inch, and is for sale at $70 framed.

An older piece, but I hope appealing to people who like to see these birds in their yards. “Merry and bright’ is coloured pencil on Bristol paper and has been framed in a brown wood-effect frame with a light cream mat (11 x 14 inch matted to 8 x 10 inch approx.). For sale at $50 framed.

The picture from the poster, ‘Reflections’ is a watercolour pencil piece, on watercolour paper and is actually a scene from Eastern Passage, nr Dartmouth. A white mat and gold-coloured frame competes the look. 11 x 14 inch, matted to 8 x 10 inch, for sale at $50 framed.

This is another one that will be a wrench if it sells! I had great fun with ‘Painted Turtle’ and really like it framed up. This coloured pencil piece, on pastel paper, has be placed in an oversized brown wood-effect frame (14 x 18 inch) with two layers of mat in two shades, white and a pale yellow, which tones well with the colours of the piece  and I think really make it pop.  For sale at $70, framed.

A bit of a departure for me, ‘Old Annecy’ is a French ‘streetscape’, with lots of detail. Watercolour pencil on watercolour paper, this one has been matted in my favourite black mat and framed in a gold-coloured frame (11 x 14 inch, matted to 8x 10 inch approx.). For sale, $50 framed.

Another squirrel, this time a ‘foreigner’, ‘Nutkin’ is a Rock Squirrel, from the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and is coloured pencil on Bristol paper. A white mat and gold-coloured frame completes the look (11 x 14 inch, matted to 8 x 10 inch , very approximately-I must learn to draw in standard sizes instead of covering every inch of the paper!). For sale, $50 framed.

Now here are the ‘Not for Sale’ pieces. I chose these because I wanted to show pictures I was particularly pleased with, that showcase certain genres (eg. pet portraits, people portraits, in case of any commission interest) and because they amuse me…a good enough reason since I do primarily do this because I like it!

‘The Girls’, a portrait of our two pet cats, Bubbles and Joy (named for their outgoing personalities-not!). Watercolour pencil on watercolour paper, 11 x 14 inch.

‘Talking Turkey’, this one just always pleased me and is a very striking image when framed. 11 x 14 inch watercolour pencil on watercolour paper.

‘A Study in Concentration’, a portrait, in coloured pencil on Bristol paper, of my husband Mark (shown with his permission!) 8 x 10 inch.

‘Catnapping’, a portrait of my father and our old pet cat, Teddy, taking a few zzzz one sunny afternoon. Watercolour pencil on watercolour paper, 8 x 10 inch.

‘Cape Island Camo’, Harbour Seal on The Cape, CSI, watercolour pencil on watercolour paper, 8 x 10 inch.

Well, we will see how it all goes this time, at least it will be fun to be involved in an exhibition again. I won’t be able to attend on the Friday evening (I have an appointment in Halifax that day) but hope to be able to get round on Saturday. Maybe see you there! Wish me luck…

Fluffty Tufty

Some time ago I drew a picture of a squirrel, but not a local one. That one was a Rock Squirrel from Arizona, and the picture had been taken at the Grand Canyon. Well, one of my friends remarked that I’d have to have a go at a Canadian squirrel, and he was quite right. So I decided to try and take some photos as reference, although not at anywhere as impressive as the Grand Canyon. No, these were in our own back garden, where we have a thriving group of American Red Squirrels, stealing seed from the winter bird feeders. I call them ‘American’ here, although they are generally just called ‘Red Squirrels’ but they at a different species to the European Red Squirrels that we saw in the UK (if we were lucky!). Unlike the European species, the American Red Squirrel holds its own against the much bigger Grey Squirrels, although that isn’t a problem here in Nova Scotia, where we never see Greys. When we lived in Quebec, both species were common in our garden, and the Red Squirrels would chase and bully the much bigger Grey Squirrels, which was a treat to watch.

So I took a few shots, the squirrels generally chattering and scolding me although I was quite distant and at maximum zoom. From the shots I took, I liked the following one, which I always think of as the ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ pose, as he looks like he is about to declaim, although I think I will decline to lend him my ears, as I suspect he’d try to snack on them!

As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to do something a little more colourful, after all that grey on grey, and the background of this picture was a bit dull, so I decided to ‘borrow’ a background from another picture, taken a couple of years ago at a local beach (and rather earlier in the year).

All those berries are definitely more colourful than the bare twigs in the original reference.

So everything was going well, and I thought I’d choose a coloured paper to provide a neutral background, and so that I wouldn’t need to worry about adding any sort of bokeh on this picture. This was probably a bad decision. I chose a brownish piece of Mi-Teintes pastel paper and used the smoother side. From the start I did not like this colour-it seemed to suck the vitality out of the piece. As you know, I don’t easily give up so I kept on going, and in the end I was reasonably pleased with it, but it was an effort and this piece took considerably longer to finish than the last one. That’s a testament to how much I didn’t enjoy it. It is a lesson learned, I’d rather do a background than have that experience again, so maybe the Mi-Teintes will stay in the drawer for a while. White paper for the next one, I think.

One interesting thing was the use of the Luminance pencils with OMS blender. They didn’t really blend at all. I’ve been using the lighter Luminance (white, titanium buff, primrose, etc.) for the lighter areas in the fur, and then went in with OMS to blend-the other pencils blended out but the Luminance definitely resisted it. I think that will be useful for keeping features that I don’t want to lose in the blend, but it is something to keep in mind. I know other artists have stated that they don’t use luminance until the end of the picture (if mixing pencils, that is) and I can understand why. Incidentally, Luminance does blend well using the blender pencils, or a white coloured pencil, so all is not lost.

I’m sad to report the demise (already!) of my super pencil sharpener! I was really enjoying getting the very sharp points on my pencils, and I did have the point selector (a tiny, rather inadequate-looking red knob) tightened up to maximum. It seems that this was too much, and now it won’t tighten at all. It is rather poor plastic, so maybe I can take it apart and try to replace it with something else that will tighten up? I shall have a go-I have nothing to lose, after all!

This is the mechanism, and you can see the tiny red knob that has failed on the handle. I am looking for a replacement (one pencil piece using hand-held sharpeners is enough!), but most seem to suffer from a similar silly little knob. I was looking also at electric sharpeners (reluctantly), but I’m really not sure that they will fit all of the pencils I have, which vary in size a lot. The slimmer ones are the Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils, and then there is a range of pencil diameters, right up to Luminance, which are pretty chunky. Unfortunately, many artists here use mainly Prismacolor pencils, which are on the smaller side, and the reviews over this side of the pond tend to favour them heavily. I will keep on looking into that, but its getting urgent- I really miss my sharp points!

‘Red Squirrel’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Faber-Castell Polychromos, Caran d’Ache Pablos and Luminance) with OMS to blend, on Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel paper.

Fifty Shades…

…of grey? Well, almost, it certainly felt like it at times. I really wanted to have a go at something a bit different and I had a photo that had been hanging about my file for a while. It was a black and white image of Mark that I took when I first got my new camera. It has a ‘monochrome’ setting, which of course I had to try out (at least once) and, because I was sitting in our shared study, next to Mark, he got to be the subject. It turned out rather well, because he was sitting in front of a west-facing window, in late winter sun, and I don’t think he knew I was taking it. I called it ‘Moody, Monochrome Mark’.

I suppose I could have had a go at this in graphite, but I rather fancied using coloured pencils and thought I’d use any with ‘grey’ in the name, plus blacks and whites. My good sets have lots of nice greys, and I thought I’d use the Polychromos warm greys for the skin areas and the cool greys, supplemented with some of the Pablos greys for the clothing and hard surfaces. I didn’t use as many Pablos as normal, because the many of the greys in that set do have a blue tinge that I wanted to avoid. I decided to use the more textured side of the Canson XL recycled Bristol, after debating a coloured paper. It was nice to be able to keep points on the pencils and work in (and keep) the detail, after using the Pastelmat on the last picture. I really enjoyed doing this one, even though it might be thought a bit monotonous, because it was something of a challenge to render the light and dark areas accurately. I did decide to concentrate on the figure, the desk, computer and a few important accoutrements (binoculars are never far away!) and remove some of the other detail that I thought would only complicate matters.

What does Mark think? He says he’s younger than that (dream on, love!) but that it actually does look like him. I guess it might not be the most flattering of portraits, that sort of light is never kind, but it is much more interesting for an artist to do!

‘A Study in Concentration’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablos and Luminance, Faber-Castell Polychromos) with OMS (Gamsol) and Prismacolor colourless blender pencil, on Canson XL recycled Bristol, textured side.

So how many shades were actually used? I counted the pencils in the working tray at the end of the work and came up with 27!
Pablos: Black, Ivory Black, Slate Grey, Greyish Black, Dark Grey, Grey, Steel Grey, Silver Grey and Ash Grey.
Polychromos: Warm Grey I to VI, Cold Grey I to VI, Payne’s Grey, Black
Luminance: White, Black, Violet-Grey

Definitely going to do something in colour for the next one!