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.

yellow flowers gamboa rs watermark

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!

Poro-poro rs watermark

‘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!

The Photography Of Art

No new piece to post just yet, but I thought I’d show how I currently photograph my art pieces for this blog. Now, I do have a flat bed scanner, and many artists seem to swear by these for producing the very best reproductions, but it has never seemed to work well for me, for some reason. Maybe I’m using the wrong settings? Anyhow, I started photographing the pieces and have continued to do so. its a bit of a ‘Heath Robinson’ set-up, though – British readers will understand that reference, for others, consider it as a ‘mash up’.

Firstly, I recently got a new camera so I have been able to dedicate my old camera to this use, a Canon SX40HS with a 35x zoom lens. I’m not claiming this to be the perfect tool for this, it’s just that the new camera has the tripod mount constantly occupied by the camera strap I use, so this one is more handy. I got (actually, Mark bought for me) a little table top Manfrotto tripod that holds the camera pretty steady (albeit I need to raise the whole thing a bit to keep it level with the piece-piles of books or, in this case, an unopened pack of printer paper usually suffices).

Secondly, the window next to my drawing table faces south, so it gets quite good daylight most of the day. I have to watch out when the sun is high in the sky, because then I can get the shadow of the sash bar across whatever I’m photographing, but earlier or later in the day is usually ok. To balance up the light, I use my drawing lamp, which is fitted with a daylight bulb, on the inside edge of the supporting board.

I’m currently using a bit of old, primed beadboard that I liberated from the workshop as a support for the artwork and I prop it up against my drawing board at right angles to the window, with the lamp at the other side. This isn’t great, and maybe I’ll try to make a smoother surfaced board that will stand by itself-just looking for a suitable bit of board. I always place a little white paper on the box at the bottom, to reflect up the light.

I set the camera on one of the custom settings and reduce the length of the lens to round about 85 mm, this avoids the distortion that the basic 24 mm wide angle setting would give. Usually my ISO is set to 100 or, at most 200, and I can adjust the aperture and shutter speed to give the best effect, monitoring this on the camera monitor screen which can be adjusted to quite an angle for the camera.. Finally, I always use a 2 second delay on the shutter release to prevent any distortion due to vibration. It works ok, most of the time. Post-photography clean up, sizing and addition of watermarks is all performed in Adobe Photoshop Elements before posting.

It seems to work for now!

Fish Plant Fence

On our island there are many fish plants, dealing with the catches of a substantial fishing fleet dotted around the coastline. There is one situated at the end of Daniel’s Head, an important bird area on the south side of the island and which tends to get migrant and vagrant birds, in season. This is the season for such lovelies and the fish plant fence and car park recently played host to a very nice bird, a Grey-cheeked Thrush. These are uncommon in Nova Scotia, so much so that this one was a ‘province-tick’ for me, and my 300th species in Nova Scotia, after just 3 years of residence. Why, then, did I not portray the thrush?

Well, I wanted something a little more colourful than that, it does live up to the ‘grey’ in the name, albeit very subtle and nicely marked. In addition, the thrush tended to be on the ground, in amongst tufts of grass (although Mark has some nice images and I’m not ruling it out!) and I wanted an unencumbered image. During one of his trips to see the thrush, he came across (and photographed) a Golden-crowned Kinglet, a tiny little bird only 4 inches long. We have these resident all year, but some do migrate and Mark rather thought this one had just arrived off the sea and was clinging to the first bit of shelter, the Fish Plant’s chain-link fence. I liked the composition and decided to give it a go. Note that this bird is not as bright as some, suggesting it has not yet reached full breeding plumage.

You can see some of the structures of the fish plant, blurred out beyond the fence, which would give the picture a 3D feel.

For media, I had something new to try. Many coloured pencil artists whose work I admire seem to use something called Clairefontaine Pastelmat as paper. I was intrigued to try this, although it is quite difficult to get in North America. As usual, came up trumps, although even then it was shipped from the UK and took a few weeks to arrive. I had some gift vouchers from my birthday burning a hole, so I decided to order a ‘starter pack’ of 12 sheets, 9.5 x 12 inch, in 4 different colours, coming in at $37.43 (but with free shipping). I hoped this would be a step up in my drawing techniques, especially at that price!.

There was some minor damage to the pad in the top left hand corner, which was annoying. As there was no visible damage to the outer packaging, this was a surprise and rather suggests that the pad was damaged before shipping. Not impressive, since I was hardly going to send it all the way back again! I will keep this in mind if dealing with this supplier (The SAA) again, since it does stand in contrast to my experience with Jackson’s Art, also in the UK, whose shipments have been impeccable and much more speedy. The only plus to going through Amazon is that Canadian tax and duty is paid, so no worries about that (although I have yet to be charged either on any of my Jackson’s orders).

This paper is described as a cardboard sheet (170 lb, 360 g/sq m) to which thin fibres of cellulose are fixed, giving it ‘tooth’, which is of course needed for pastel work. It is very robust and takes rubbing, wetting and many layers of pencil or pastel. As mentioned, four colours are in the pad, buttercup (the colour shown above), maize (a warmer yellow), dark grey and light grey. Each sheet is separated by a layer of crystal paper, and this proved to be very useful as will be seen. I chose a sheet of the light grey, and set to work on the initial graphite drawing. It took graphite quite well and I was able to make a very light drawing of the bird and the fence. I did not worry about the background structures at this time since, as usual, the subject (and in particular the eye of the subject) was first.

I chose to work primarily with the Pablos, adding in a few Polychromos and Luminance pencils, because I do like the range of beiges and olive greens in the Pablo set. This toothy paper certainly took colour, and the tooth remained irrespective of the number of layers I added. However, it was very difficult to render detail, even with a very sharp pencil, and the pencils soon lost the point as they were worn down very quickly by this paper. It was a little like working on fine sandpaper of sanded pastel paper, which I know is also often used by pastel artists. Indeed, I had wondered about sanded pastel paper, but I think I will give that a miss, for now. in short, this paper definitely doesn’t suit a style heavy on detail. The other thing that happened was that my hand started to smudge the pencil that I’d already applied. I’m just not used to this happening when using the smoother papers, so it was a surprise. I utilized a sheet of the crystal paper that came with the Pastelmat pad to protect the right-hand side of the work area from my hand resting on it, and this worked well. I also made sure to blend more frequently, using OMS, which did apply nicely and did not affect the surface. It was true that I was able to go back in with highlights of Luminance white after the OMS had dried, and on these occasions, I decided to blend the white, to ‘fix’ it, using the Prismacolor colourless blender pencil.

On the positive side, it was quick to draw and colour. I found that lots of pigment was transferred to the paper, meaning that my layers were more saturated with colour, although the pencil points disappeared at a quite alarming rate! I really found it difficult to make and retain detail; my poor little bird’s feet and legs look a bit deformed to my eyes. I think that this paper is better suited to a different style of art, or I’m doing something wrong (could be!). The fence wires went in quite easily, but my earlier smudging came back to bite me when it came to the background structures. I had chosen the light grey pastelmat as I thought it would provide the colour for the pale structures, and all I would need to do would be to define the dark areas. in the end, I had to colour both the light and dark areas to take out the smudges. This was quite successful, but used a lot of pencil! Some people use pastel or pan pastels for backgrounds, and I can see why!

I think I’ll be putting my Pastelmat aside for a while, there’s obviously more work to do on my techniques before I can use this one successfully! I do like the picture, but it definitely didn’t turn out exactly how i’d planned.

‘Fish Plant Fence’ (Golden-crowned Kinglet), 9.5 x 12 inch, coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablos and Luminance, Faber-Castell Polychromos) with OMS and Prismacolor colourless blender pencil, on Clairefontaine Pastelmat.