Festive Flowers

Just before Christmas, my family, back in the UK, sent us a lovely festive flower arrangement. It was quite a surprise, and I photographed it, in order to let them know just how it looked, and how pretty it was. Other friends suggested that it might make a nice artwork; I rather put it on the back burner but a few days ago I thought I’d give it a go-especially since I’ve only just had to throw away the original. It lasted over 3 weeks, pretty good going! Also, as per my ‘next season’s Christmas cards’ venture, this might also work out for one of those!

So, this was the original basket, very nice. Carnations, roses, alstroemeria, little white flowers and candy canes, with a big red bow. Rather than do the whole basket, I thought I’d focus in on just one section, the right-hand section as you look at this photo. A zoomed-in shot gives the basic idea.

Lots to go at, there, and a chance to use those red and pink pencils! I decided on coloured pencil, for the vibrancy, and the Strathmore Bristol vellum paper. I decided also to ,pull, the bow further into the picture, as I liked the way it balanced out the candy cane at the opposite diagonal, whilst the flowers, themselves, have a nice diagonal line upwards towards the rose. I left out the small white flowers above the rose, as I wanted this one to be the focal point of the art. I didn’t realise that there was a stray alstroemeria petal lying on the rose, until I came to draw it. I didn’t want to include that so I had to make up the rose structure where the petal was hiding it. I think it looks ok, though.

I was lucky that much of the foliage was made up of pine fronds, because these were relatively quick to do. Pencils were predominately Pablos (especially for the greens) and Polychromos (especially the reds). I recently obtained a ‘how to’ book (Botanical Portraits in Colored Pencil by Ann Swan), as I’m interested in getting better at these (although I’m really bad at doing exercises-I like to do new stuff!), and the author makes the same point about Polychromos, as to the greens being limited. She suggests using only 6, and includes none of the ones labelled with ‘plant-ey’ names, i.e. May Green, Earth Green Yellowish, Earth Green, Olive Green Yellowish, Chrome Green Opaque, Chrome Green Oxide. When I looked at my set, these are the ones I tend to use too. She does not appear to have heard of Pablos, so doesn’t recommend any of those (I like the wide range of olive tones in this set) but recommends some Prismacolors. Now, I tend to shy away from the Prismas, although I do have a set of 80, because they can be iffy in regard to lightfastness (they don’t publish their lightfastness ratings, which I think is quite poor), and I’m not that keen on the feel, they are very waxy. But maybe I should give them another go? She points out that Prismacolors are quite rich in darker purples, plums and reds, and these are admittedly lacking in both of my main sets (but the Prismas I have are also missing most of her suggested colours). Armed with this thought, when I was in Michael’s during a recent Halifax trip, I took a look at their open-stock Prismas. There was only one of her suggested reds, Black Grape, in stock so I bought that and thought it might do for deeper shadows on the flowers. It is a very nice deep purple, and proved very useful for shadowed areas on the roses, in particular.

In addition to the Black Grape, I picked out a couple of reds from my original set, Crimson Red and Crimson Lake, and used these, along with a couple of Polys, for the ribbon. I wanted this to almost come off the page, thereby giving some perspective to the picture, and these pencils really did make it do that. The very waxy Prismas gave the ribbon a satiny look, which is true to life since it was a satin ribbon.

Another pencil that proved very useful on this piece was the Luminance Grey-Violet. This is another pencil type I don’t use much, although I don’t have a full set of these. Instead I have purchased open stock and have about 15 shades. I used this extensively, especially on the small white flowers and some of the alstroemeria petals, where the shading had a pinky tinge. I think this is a really good colour to have in the pencil box.

All blending was done using Gamsol. I tried a colourless blender pencil on the ribbon, to try and keep the shiny surface, but it wasn’t doing it for me, so reverted to the OMS. Finally, I filled in the background with a gradated shading of Derwent Drawing pencils, beginning low down with Crag Green, then Pale Cedar part way up, moving onto Wheat and then finishing at the top with Pale Sienna. I’m pretty pleased with that effect, and overall, the picture works for me.

‘Festive Flowers’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Faber-Castell Polychromos, Caran D’ache Pablos and Luminance, Prismacolor Premier, Derwent Drawing) with OMS to blend, on Strathmore 300 Series Bristol vellum.



I can now post this blogpost, about a surprise commission from the UK to round off 2018. Our very good friends, Liz and Steve, have many friends in the ‘Doodles’ world-no, not people who like to casually draw (although they might do!), rather people who own ‘Doodles’, dogs that are poodle mixes. They themselves have a Doodle, actually a ‘Newfiepoo’ (a Newfoundland/poodle cross) called Lottie. I’d actually drawn Lottie as a surprise gift for them when they came over to visit us in 2017, and the picture was a hit.


She was my first dog portrait and I was quite pleased with the result. Anyhow, this picture gave Liz the idea of commissioning a dog portrait for another couple in the ‘Yorkshire Doodlers’ group, who have a characterful pup called Chester.

Chester is a ‘Sproodle’ apparently, a Poodle/Springer Spaniel cross-that must be quite a handful! Liz sent me a photo that she liked as a reference, and a couple of other photos for additional information. She liked the effect of watercolour pencil, as in the Lottie picture, so I decided to go with that initially, reserving coloured pencil for follow-up detail, if necessary.

Chester, in his element!

Well, this was going to be fun! Liz describes Chester as having quite a stern personality, and that does rather come over in this photo. All those lovely wet curls would be quite a challenge, too. I could hardly wait to get going, but wanted to get my ‘Father Christmas’ picture out of the way, first. Luckily, that was a quick one to finish.

Well, the first challenge is always to get the first drawing onto my paper. I really hate freehand drawing on my final surface, I am always scared I will end up messing it up, erasing and damaging the tooth of the paper, so I almost never do the preliminary drawing on the final surface. Up to now, I’ve been transferring to the paper using a complicated series of tracing papers. It has, generally, left indentations in the surface that need to be worked around. I’ve been looking for alternatives; this Christmas I got a gift of a good one (thank you, Mark)-a light pad!

This works by projecting a bright light from below, meaning that you can see the reference even through thick watercolour paper. You can change the brightness of the light, depending on the need for illumination. It worked very well; I could clearly see the reference through the 140lb paper, and I was able to make my drawing without undue pressure to disrupt the paper surface. And it has the added advantage that you can use it to view any X-rays or photo film negatives you might have lying around! I think this will be a very useful tool for me, and it nicely fills one of my cabinet drawers (so less room for any new pencils, Mark is happy to hear).

Once the preliminary drawing was on the paper, I removed a lot of the graphite using my kneadable eraser, leaving just the faintest lines, and then got to work with the watercolour pencils. It was quite hard work; all those curls meant that I was concentrating a lot and I had to take quite frequent breaks from it.  I really tried to follow the authentic curls on the reference photo. However, there was progress enough to keep me enthused.

Early days-work in progress.

One thing I decided quite early was that I wasn’t going to be able to quite match the expression on the reference photo. There was a lot of reflected light in those eyes, masking the detail, and when I tried to duplicate this, I’m afraid he started to look a bit scary! I decided instead that I would do more conventional eyes and then add highlights later.

You might notice, in the WIP picture above, that there are a number of black whiskers already in place. I was a bit at a loss as to how to portray these initially, without losing the whisker when overpainting with watercolour. I didn’t want to use gel pen if I could help it, but the standard watercolour pencil would wash over, if I wasn’t extremely careful. Then I remembered the Derwent Inktense pencils; watercolour pencils that look like ink, when wetted, and that dry permanent and waterproof. I have the full set of these, but I’m very guilty of forgetting they exist. The Ink Black Inktense pencil really came into its own on this picture, both for whiskers and for the more intense blacks in the fur. Definitely something I’ll remember for future use-no, really!

It took me about 3 days to get all of the head and shoulders done in watercolour pencil, including a bright red collar. Lots of greys, both the warm and cold greys of the Albrecht Durer set and the greys and beiges of the Supracolors. I really found I was using the Supracolor lighter greys, which have a blue-ish tinge, quite widely as, to me, the pale areas of Chester’s fur do have that blue-grey look -Silver Grey was definitely a friend here. In another deviation from the reference, which was of a standing dog, I decided to make him sitting upright-therefore avoiding the need to draw a lot of curly back fur in the background of the picture. I made sure that there was a night’s drying time between this stage and the next.

Time now to add the highlights in the eye, darken the nose colour, add dark highlights to the fur and ‘pale up’ the lighter areas. This would mean moving to coloured pencil, mostly the Caran d’Ache Pablos and Faber-Castell Polychromos, but also using Luminance White and Derwent Drawing Chinese White. This really helped bring out a 3D quality to the piece. Coloured pencil additions were blended and burnished using the Prismacolor colourless blender. I also actually printed out a few copies of my photo (left above) to help decide where I wanted to put the highlights in the eyes.  The top right hand side of each pupil won, so I added these using the white pigment ink pen, the only pen used in the whole picture. This immediately defined the overall expression; it’s truly amazing what a difference ‘light in the eye’ makes.

I considered trying a bokeh background, similar to the reference photo (actually taken on a beach) but I must admit to being scared that it would distract from the portrait itself. in the end I left it blank. I took a photo and sent it to Liz for comment.

I thought I’d finished!

She liked the picture, but thought the eyes were too light-could I brown then up a bit? Well, I gave it a go. I’d originally done the irises with Ochre, Light Ochre, Green Ochre, Olive Brown and Burnt Siena watercolour pencil, and then gone over them with pretty much the same colours in coloured pencil, followed by burnishing. After this request, I went back in with Brown Ochre, Umber, Burnt Siena and an overall coat of Chestnut, with more burnishing. This was pretty much all I could add; the tooth of the paper was pretty much gone by this stage and I didn’t want to risk damage to the surface. Hopefully, this extra darkening will do the trick. Liz did seem pleased and said I’d captured the slight sternness of Chester-I just hope his owners like the attempt!

He was matted, wrapped in cellophane and placed in a cardboard envelope, ready for his trip across the Atlantic-fingers crossed!

‘Chester’, 9 x 11 inch, watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Derwent Inktense Ink Black) and coloured pencil (Faber-Castell Polychromos, Caran d’Ache Pablos and Luminance White, Derwent Drawing Chinese White), with Prismacolor colourless blender pencil and Uni-ball Signo white pigment ink pen, on 140lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).

I posted Chester to the UK, standard post ($10.30, if you are interested) on New Year’s Eve, and got notification from Liz that he’d arrived, safe and sound, on 09 January-pretty darned impressive, I think! Liz had a rather nice wooden frame waiting for him, and she very kindly sent me a snap of the framed picture-they always look so much more finished (and professional) when in a frame- well, at least I think so.

The Chester picture was given to his owners today, and was apparently a hit, so I’m able to post the blogpost. He was great fun to do, such a characterful lad, and I hope the picture proves as pleasurable to them as it was for me to do. Can’t beat a happy ending!

Deep in the Tangle

I decided to steal a march on next year’s Christmas cards! Every year I do two sets of cards, featuring two of my pieces, and one set using one of Mark’s favourite bird photographs. I get them printed via Vistaprint, and they do a really nice job. I can design them at my computer and send electronically; it’s a fun process that I enjoy. I also print a couple of calendars through the same process, including some of my own favourites of the year’s pieces. Well, normally I try and do a couple of pictures in late summer/autumn that I think will work, but last year (yes, it’s last year now!), what with going to Australia and everything, I failed to get anything done in time. I ended up designing the cards in a bit of a hurry as I wanted to get them printed and delivered to us before we headed out to the UK in November. A lot of our cards go back to the UK, so posting them there would save us a lot of postage money!

So I thought I’d build up a few options for later in the year, and also I’m thinking that I might start a new series of paintings, based on Robins. Robins, in the UK at least, are the quintessential Christmas bird, and I did get a rather nice reference photo whilst over there in November. Here, in North America, the ‘Robin’ isn’t actually a robin, it’s a thrush, although it can be considered suitably festive. I took a nice photo of an American Robin last December, deep in a tangle of branches, and I thought it might make a nice image. We have seen quite a few robin species in Australia, too, so this is a long term theme to keep me busy.

I really liked the subtle white scalloping on the breast, and the soft greys of the back. This was clearly going to be a job for the Polychromos greys, although the Pablos, with their blue tinge, were also pulled into use. I also thought it would be fun to try and give an impression of depth with the twigs on the bush. I didn’t like the out-of-focus twig in the foreground so decided to leave that one out. Having to make up the lines of the wing and tail where the twig was wasn’t easy, but I think it looks right (and Mark hasn’t commented otherwise-and he would if it was wrong). I kept the one that crosses the body as I think it puts the bird in context, deep in the tangle.

As usual. I started with the eye and head of the bird. I can’t get on with doing backgrounds first-after all, if I mess up the bird, I’d have wasted a lot of time with doing the background! I then worked on the red breast and that scalloping. Mine is maybe a little more scalloped than the original, but it doesn’t look out of place and gives it an air of being ‘fluffed up’, quite likely in cold December temperatures.

After completing the bird, I worked on the twigs. Some of these, in the foreground, I wanted to be very defined, especially that main branch crossing the bird’s body, and the one he is actually sitting on. Others, further back, had lower levels of definition, and I included several layers, going lighter on each one, of twig-like shapes-the lightest ones being intended to be the ones furthest back in the tree. Finally, I added shading between the branches, trying to copy, roughly, the colouration of the reference photo, although not always successfully. It was important to not lose those lightest branches against the sky, after all, and I did want to add a little deeper colour in the lower corners to draw the eye in. It’s not a photograph. so artistic licence rules! Overall, I’m quite pleased with it, and I certainly enjoyed doing it. First piece of 2019 completed, and I actually remembered to put the right date in my signature-that’ll change in February, I guess, when I usually revert to last year’s.

‘Deep in the Tangle’ (American Robin), 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Faber-Castell Polychromos, Caran d’Ache Pablos and Luminance, Prismacolor Premier, Derwent Drawing) with OMS (Gamsol) to blend and Uniball Signo white pigment ink pen (for highlights), on Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Vellum.

Retrospective 2018

It’s that time of the year again. Last year I did a short recap of the year, reminding myself of what I’d done, what I’d learned, what I’d bought. It was fun, and quite informative (for me, anyway) so I thought I’d see the old year out on the blog by doing a retrospective for 2018.

It was quite a productive year; I had 37 blog posts (this one makes 38), despite quite a gap for the entirety of September and early October because of our extended trip to Australia. That trip will be keeping me supplied with reference pictures for quite a while. I’ve already made inroads, with pictures of Australian King-Parrot, Southern Cassowary, Galah and Superb Fairy-wren completed since my return.

Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. To go back to the beginning of the year, I was getting to grips with some new paper for coloured pencil, namely the black Artagain paper from Strathmore. My first attempt was a picture of Cuban Tody, not great but it certainly taught me a bit about how the pencil colours change on application to dark-coloured papers. Later in the year I was to try again with this paper, drawing a Black-capped Chickadee and, most recently, a portrait of our nephew’s dog. I liked it better each time, but have to be aware that you don’t get full coverage of the paper; some of the black always shows through. I don’t think it will be a regular choice, but it does provide an interesting alternative.

This year I was much more likely to use coloured pencil rather than watercolour pencil in pictures. I like to keep it varied, but coloured pencil is becoming quite a favourite. I tried an almost monochrome look, in a portrait of Mark, and a much more colourful one with a portrait of my parents. An interesting effect, albeit unintended, was to start with watercolour pencil and then go over with coloured pencil. I did this with a portrait of our friends, Liz and Steve, when the original painting was a bit blah, and it worked really well. Going to have to keep that one in my arsenal.

Now, if only I can do a portrait that the subjects actually like!

Another new paper for coloured pencil that I tried this year was Clairefontaine Pastelmat. A very textured surface, actually designed for use with pastels, many coloured pencil artists seem to swear by it so I managed to get a ‘tester’ pack shipped to me from the UK, via Amazon.ca. It wasn’t cheap, but I had great hopes of it. The textured surface means that a lot of layers can be applied, making it possible to really deepen the colours. Well, I had a go on a picture of a Golden-crowned Kinglet on a chain-link fence. It was ok, but I found that it really didn’t lend itself to the sort of detail that I put in my pictures. The rough surface blunted the pencils very quickly and I seemed to use an awful lot of pencil lead. I was reasonably pleased with the final picture, but not enough that I rushed back to use it again. In fact, I haven’t picked it up since, preferring the Bristol Smooth and Bristol Vellum papers, but perhaps I’ll give it another go in the New Year.

Fish Plant Fence-a picture on Pastelmat

I’ll admit that I really like the fence links in this picture, but the bird? Nah, not so much.

New pencils were mainly limited this year to a full set of Caran d’Ache Pablos, bought from Jacksons in the UK. I have had the Supracolors in the watercolour pencils for quite a while and really liked the idea of matching that set with the coloured pencils-exactly the same colours, which is nice to have. I did also buy some replacement pencils for my main sets, again from Jacksons, and found their delivery to be impeccable. I can certainly recommend them, as long as you don’t need your pencils yesterday! In fact my shipments generally only took about a week to come; a very good service when you live in the back of beyond. At the same time, I bought a few more open-stock Luminance pencils. These are often cited as being the best pencils, and they certainly aren’t cheap, but I really haven’t taken to them much. I really only use the White pencil, one of the best opaque whites (the other being the Derwent Drawing Chinese White) and the Titanium Buff, an off-white colour that is useful on the black papers.

I also bought a small set of Derwent Coloursoft, a ‘portrait’ set, to try them out. These are quite soft pencils, with good coverage but they are not good at keeping a point. This set has lightfastness issues as well, so I’ve ended up hardly using them at all. Derwent’s new Lightfast range is supposed to have solved this issue, but I’m not ready to try them out yet, especially as they are also premium priced.

Speaking of Derwent, I have quite a few sets of theirs in my pencil cabinet but I’m guilty of not using them much. I definitely have favourites, the Faber-Castell Polychromos and Caran d’Ache Pablos in coloured pencil, with the companion sets of Albrecht Durer and Supracolor in the watercolour pencils. I therefore decided to make a special effort to use one of the Derwent sets in a piece, namely the Inktense watercolours. These pencils, very deeply pigmented, go on like pencil but look like ink when wetted and, once dry, are permanent. I do find them of limited use in the wildlife pictures, because they are so intense, so I decided to try an urban scene. A view of old buildings in Capri proved a suitable reference. I enjoyed the exercise and liked the final picture, quite a departure for me.

Via Listrieri, Capri

Maybe I’ll look out a few more street scenes from my photo albums.

I enjoyed a few botanical subjects as well this year. Somehow, I still struggle to get the right level of colour intensity on my flower pictures. I’m hoping to work on this more in the coming year and have even bought a book on the subject. I’m not that good at reference books for  art, but this one had good reviews. It’s on its way, we will see.

I finally found a Canadian supplier of the Brush and Pencil Coloured Pencil Touch-up Texture and Titanium White powder, recommended by many coloured pencil artists as good for adding details such as whiskers to animal portraits. It took some time to arrive (it was on back-order), but got here eventually. I tried it out, it worked ok but I suspect needs some practice to get a really good result. I’m still inclined to go for my white pigment ink pen when needing small highlights. The Touch-up Texture did come in useful when I needed to restore tooth on my paper to add another few layers to a picture; something to remember.

Finally, I have a few pieces that I really liked. A memorial piece of our two old pet cats, from extremely poor reference photos, was one of my favourites, as was a very detailed picture of a harbour seal lying on a pebbled beach-great fun. A very odd picture of a pygmy goat was another quirky one, whilst a Painted Turtle was a challenge to do and I was pretty happy with the result. A commenter, on a Facebook group that I post my pictures to, said that ‘they liked my style’. I’d never thought that I’d got a style of my own, so it was nice to hear that I did. Perhaps developing my style was my main achievement of 2018; I will have to work on reinforcing it in 2019.

Christmas Spirit

A quick picture this one, because I wanted to have something as my ‘internet’ Christmas Card, but I’d neglected to get anything started before last Friday! The fairy-wren picture really did take some finishing. Anyhow, I has an idea to do a Father Christmas figure-it gives me a chance to use some bright colours and the reds that don’t come out that often. I had a photo of my father that I’d used before, with some success, that I thought would work well as a reference. Of course he doesn’t have a white bushy beard or wear a big red suit, but that was incidental. As he was asleep in this picture, I thought I’d call it ‘The Morning After the Night Before’, and imagined this was Father Christmas on Christmas Day, after finishing his epic delivery round!

The reference photo for the figure and the sofa!

This was my original picture, called ‘Catnapping’, because it includes our old cat, Ted, also fast asleep.

Watercolour pencil was the chosen medium-it’s a lot quicker than the coloured pencils, and I also wanted a bit of an illustration look to the piece, as if it was from an old Christmas card or book. I think that worked.

I decided that the standard Santa outfit of tunic, bobble hat and trousers would be easier to incorporate than the traditional Father Christmas long red robe with a hood. Adding a beard was quite simple, at least Dad already has a moustache and his eyebrows are pretty bushy. I made his hair fall forward a bit under the hat, and kept it all pale grey, rather than the red of the original. I thought it was looking pretty good as I shaded the face and hands first, although I have to admit it was veering a little towards the ‘Ayatollah Khomeini’ look, rather than Santa Claus, until I got some of the red outfit coloured in.

One problem I had was the original photo didn’t include the lower legs and feet, and I did want to elongate the picture. Dad is thousands of miles away, so it wasn’t feasible to get another reference from him. instead I got Mark to take off his slippers and took a photo-he said he’s never been a ‘foot model’ before. There’s a first time for everything! I also wanted to include Santa’s boots, kicked off as he collapsed into his sofa, so a trip down to our basement, and a spare pair of wellies, obliged for this-although I also decided that they fitted the composition better if their positions were reversed, once I got the picture into the studio. Nothing like complicating things!

I didn’t want to include the cat (not that I don’t think Father Christmas would have a cat, of course he would!), so I improvised a present for Santa-well, it is his Christmas too. I also updated the sofa upholstery. I thought that holly leaves would be a suitably ‘Father Christmassy’ pattern. It was all looking ok, except for the top left-hand corner. What to put here? I thought about a fireplace or a Christmas tree, but they all seemed unnecessarily over-complicated. I definitely suffer from blank space syndrome, I can’t ever seem to leave well alone and so have to fill up the area. In the end, I decided that Father Christmas would definitely have a portrait of a good friend on his wall, and who better for that than Rudolf, the Red-nosed Reindeer!

In the end I was pretty pleased with it, despite the rush, and it made me smile as I was doing it. Can’t ask for better than that.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

‘The Morning After The Night Before’ (Father Christmas on Christmas Day), 9 x 12 inch, watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer) on Canson XL cold press watercolour paper (140 lb).

Fairies-at the bottom of the garden!

It seems to have been quite a while since my last post; this picture, though not particularly large, seemed to take a lot of finishing. It ended up being one of those pictures that you are not quite sure you like, all the way through the drawing. I almost stopped, quite a few times, but eventually I decided to finish it. In the end I quite like it.

To go back a little, I’m still working through a treasury of photos of Australian birds. Almost the first species we saw when we got to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in Southern Queensland was the cheeky and charming Superb Fairy-wren. These tiny birds were remarkably friendly, foraging around the buildings of the lodge, and I was able to take a few reasonable shots. Amongst them was a full adult male, a young male, just starting to come into plumage, and an adult female, much less colourful than the others yet with a subtle charm. I thought these could be grouped in a single picture to maybe convey a little of the fun of being surrounded by a flock of these cheeky chappies. We were to see Superb Fairy-wren many times on our travels, and it was always the showiest species; none of the other four species of Fairy-wren that we came across (Purple-backed, Variegated, White-winged or Red-backed) ever posed so willingly!

The adult male Superb Fairy-wren, giving the clue to the species name!

A young male, just starting to show the ‘Superb’ plumage

A female, not so showy but still charming!

I decided to base the birds amongst the rocks, where I’d seen the two males. The female had actually been on a picnic bench nearby. As is usual for me, I drew in the outlines of the birds, first and coloured them, starting with the bottom male, and with the eye and bill. I thought that the vibrant colours merited the coloured pencils and decided to use the Strathmore Bristol Vellum paper.

One of the issues is that, maybe, the really bright colours of the male tend to make it look a bit ‘unreal’. maybe I should have started on one of the others? Anyhow, I used a lot of layers (for me) on this bird and I still couldn’t seem to get the turquoisy-blue parts to look right. Before long, I had lost the tooth of the paper, and could not get any more pencil to go down on these sections (even though I was using OMS to blend rather than burnishing). However, I do have a new thing in the studio arsenal for just this purpose, although I hadn’t actually bought it for that!

You might recall the Touch-up Texture and Titanium White powder that I bought for whiskers and highlights? Well, the Touch-up Texture itself is actually designed to restore the tooth of paper, allowing a couple of extra layers to be applied. I wouldn’t want to use it wholesale, but for a small area like this, it seemed worth a go. The Touch-up Texture comes in a small bottle, like a nail polish bottle, with a small brush in the cap. I gave the bottle a very good shake before applying small amount to the light blue areas. The bottle brush is a bit of a clumsy tool for this, but it suffices. The Touch-up Texture itself goes on clear, the pencil below is not obscured in any way, and dries fairly quickly to a matte finish. I was indeed able to add a couple of more layers of lighter pencil to my picture, and even to blend with OMS. I think the final colour was much closer to the reference picture, so Touch-up Texture to the rescue!

I completed the birds, but they looked lost in a sea of white, so the next thing was to insert some rocks-a mixture of those in the reference photos and some I made up- and foliage, loosely based on scraps of foliage seen in a couple of the reference photos, including others taken at the time but not included here. It began to look better. Finally, between the rocks and the leaves, the ground was covered in dry, brown leaf litter. I really didn’t want to try and reconstruct that-I’d had about enough of this picture by now-but I thought that some colours in the same spectrum (browns, reds), to convey the dark under the bushes, might work. I’m actually quite pleased with the effect of the background, as it finally makes the main subject matter finally stand out.

These are definitely the sort of fairies that would be welcome at the bottom of my garden!

‘Fairies’(Superb Fairy-wren), 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablo, Faber-Castell Polychromos), with OMS (Gamsol) to blend, on Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Vellum


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).