Framed!

I’m in the middle of a coloured pencil piece, right now, but it’s going to be a lot longer before it’s finished. I thought the pebbles on the last picture were long-winded, but this one takes the cake. It is very intricate and I find I can’t work too long on it before I get tired and have to take a break. I’m pleased so far, but it will be a while before it is ready to post, so I thought I’d do an interim post on a different subject.

I have long been impressed with just how ‘professional’ a piece of artwork looks once it has been framed. I’m always concerned that the pencil works might look a bit amateurish, but that seems to disappear when a mat and frame is added. I’m not talking about professional framing, either, although I do know of a few of my pieces that have been subjected to that great honour. No, I use photo frames from the local dollar store! We have one in the village that seems to get a never ending supply of frames, in different finishes, and all below $20 max. I do know of artists who scour garage/yard sales (or car boot sales for those in the UK!) to pick up old framed pictures that can be re-used; I’ve not tried that yet but it sounds like a good idea.

Most photo frames can be bought with mats, but I don’t often use the ones that come with the frames. There are three reasons:
1.) often these mats are flimsy, there should be a reasonable thickness and a neat bevelled edge to provide the best look
2.) they are often a very bright white, which I don’t think is the most flattering colour to offset the artwork
3.) I’m really bad at keeping my artwork sizes to the standard mat sizes, such as 5 x 7 inch, 8 x 10 inch or 11 x 14 inch. It always expands to fit the paper, so I nearly always have to cut my own mat to accommodate that!

Why use a mat? Well, it’s imperative with watercolours and coloured pencil pieces to keep the surface of the artwork off the surface of the glass, as it can be damaged by contact. The depth of a standard mat is just enough to do that and provide a nice ‘3D’ setting for the piece.

I’ve been framing and matting pictures for years. Back in the UK, I purchased a hand-held mat cutter (it provides that bevelled mat edge) that I used successfully for many years, and which came with me when we moved.

As you can see, it’s pretty basic. The holder holds a razor blade at an angle and at a specific depth, Working on the back of the mat board, you draw the rectangle to be cut, hold the metal ruler along the outside edge of the line, push the blade holder up against the ruler, making sure that the blade sinks into the card, and then push the holder along the ruler to the other end of the line. It needs firm hands on the ruler and the cutter, or wobbly lines ensue; also it can be difficult to judge where to start and stop the lines. Additionally, you need a cutting board underneath if you are not to ruin your desk or table. It sufficed, but it wasn’t ideal, and nowadays I don’t seem to be able to keep the ruler straight enough (the perils of aging?). Anyhow, I decided that an upgrade would be nice and purchased this one off Amazon.

Still made by Logan, this is the Compact Classic Mat Cutter (model 301-1), although at 35.5 inch long and 8 inch wide, it doesn’t feel that compact! It seems to be a substantial block of melamine-like material, fitted with a metal rule the length of the block, a ‘scale’ that can be set to various distances from the ruler and it comes with a bevel cutter (looking a bit like the old one) and a straight cutter (for the outside edges of the mat). It actually takes the same size razorblades as the old cutter. The fixed ruler can be used to cut against (with the flat cutter) when cutting a mat to size, and then the bevel cutter actually slides along it, preventing the need to hold too many things steady at once. The bevel cutter also comes with a mark that you can use to line up the start and stop of the cut, so no more guesswork for that. It does a great job of making quite professional-looking mats, in whatever size I end up needing.

I get the mat boards from Michaels. They have a lot, running from cheap to expensive. The ones I tend to use run at about $10 per board, 24 x 36 inch, which is generally enough to cut several mats-I think these are their own make. I tend to stick to three basic colours, white, a yellow-cream and black. I have a real fondness for black mats, as they do tend to make the coloured pencil artwork ‘pop’.

So, how do the framed pieces look? I may be guilty of a bit of narcissism here, since I do seem to have a lot of my pieces hanging on our walls. Interspersed there are other artists works and prints, and photographs by Mark (mostly my own framing, though) so it’s not all me! I took these photos of the pictures on the walls, in various light conditions, so they aren’t great, but sufficient to give the idea.

Rather than post them all separately, I made a collage of some of my framed  pictures. This does show the wide variety of dollar shop frames I have!
‘Churn Road’ is one of my earlier works, and maybe a bit naïve-looking, especially in the treatment of the background, but it actually makes a striking piece, framed and matted in black.


‘Talking Turkey’ remains one of my favourite pieces, and it has a quite commanding position, off our kitchen on the way to the dining room-maybe an odd choice for a picture of Turkey Vultures! I really like the simplicity of this double mat with the slightly larger dark frame.


‘The Girls’ pops from the black mat, with a narrow white mat edge innermost, and frame.

‘Catnapping’ looked much better with a white mat, and has pride of place on our study wall.

‘Song Sparrow’ was a coloured pencil piece on coloured pastel paper and it was difficult to decide on a mat colour. In the end, the yellowy-cream colour made the best contrast between the picture and the contemporary-looking goldy frame.

I used the same type of frame for our wedding picture-it made an appropriate frame for the subject, and a pale cream mat was also more appropriate for the subject matter than anything black (well, I think so, at least)!

For my most recent piece ‘Cape Island Camo’, I used a larger black frame that already had a white mat. The hole in the mat was slightly bigger than the artwork, so I cut a black mat to take up the gap. Due to the vagaries of my painting techniques, the sizing is about half an inch shorter on the long axis than the shorter one, giving a slightly lop-sided look to the double mat. I thought about recutting the white, but decided I actually like it like this. It really sets off the piece and draws the eye in.

Finally, ‘Halcyon Days’, a piece I did for my parents a year ago and posted home. I was much more careful to keep within the bounds of a standard photo frame with this as it was always going to be posted off, and I didn’t want to add to the size of the package by including a mat. They were able to buy a picture frame with mat (from Asda, which is Walmart for North American readers) and frame it themselves. I was astonished when I saw how nice it looks, in situ.

So, a mat and frame can make all the difference between ‘ok’ and ‘wow’ with some of these pictures, at least in my opinion. I’ve now got to the position of having to remove older pictures in order to frame any new ones, because I’ve definitely run out of room on the walls!

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Cape Island Camo

We are lucky to live by the sea, although we occasionally question that when in the middle of a wintry Nor-easter! Mostly, though, we love looking out over Barrington Bay from the front windows every morning and enjoying the great variety of land and sea birds, and the other animals that visit the shores of Cape Sable Island. Cape Sable Island is the southernmost point of Nova Scotia, hence its nickname of ‘the Banana Belt’ bestowed, tongue in cheek, by birders elsewhere in the province. Right at the end of the island, off shore from a small settlement called ‘The Hawk’ (named for a shipwreck), is a low rocky, sandy island which seems to go by many names, but most commonly ‘The Cape’. This is the location of the Cape Light lighthouse, a flock of wandering sheep, occasional humans staying in a couple of cottages and regular visiting birders. Mark loves visiting The Cape, and has been raring to get over there this year. He, and a couple of friends, made their first visit of the year across there, last weekend.

The spring arrival has only just started, so there was nothing too surprising, avian-wise, but they did come across this Harbour Seal, hauled out on a rocky beach.

The Harbour Seal, or Common Seal (Phoca vitulina) is a common sight around our shores but you don’t often come across them hauled out like this. They apparently dislike coming ashore in the presence of humans, so the normally deserted shores of The Cape suits them just fine. I thought at first that this was a pup, but it is too early for pups to be around at this latitude (even in the Banana Belt!), so it is probably an adult, or one of last year’s breeding. I loved Mark’s photo and thought it would be a challenge to draw, I’ve never tried a seal before, and as for that location…!

I decided that it would be primarily a watercolour piece, although I was considering whether to go over the watercolour with coloured pencil to add some texture, I know of some wildlife artists that do just that. I decided to start with the watercolour, and decide as I went along whether to add additional pencil. As usual, I started with the main subject although I had lightly drawn in where the rocks and pebbles were to go. The actual animal painting went relatively quickly, utilizing mainly the cool greys from the F-C Albrecht Durer set. Then I turned my attention to the pebbles.

A ‘Work In Progress photo. The seal was pretty much completed but I had just started on the pebbles and it seemed to be a long way to go!

Now I actually like drawing rocks, although this was a pretty daunting background. I decided to tackle it a section at a time. There are a lot of subtle colours in the stones, and I decided to exaggerate these a little, to add a bit of colour into what could be otherwise a rather monochrome piece, and to make the seal stand out a little from the background. I have always found the C d’A Supracolor greys to be invaluable when drawing rocks and stones, they have a blue-ish tinge that is just not present in the greys in the Albrecht Durer set, and I made liberal use of them, especially Grey, Mouse Grey, Steel Grey, Dark Grey and Greyish Black. However, I also used pretty much all of the warm and some of the cool greys in the Albrecht Durers, as well as beiges, blacks, creams, Charcoal Grey, Payne’s Grey and Dark Indigo from both sets. More surprisingly, perhaps, was the use of Granite Pink, Light Flesh, Aubergine, Brown Ochre, Ochre, Light Ochre, Green Ochre, Olive Brown, Caput Mortuum and Caput Mortuum Violet. All those colours certainly kept the interest going and prevented boredom during the 3-4 days it took to complete the background.

You can see the number of pencils in use by looking at my ‘Work In Progress’ tray, where I keep my working pencils during work. I tidy them back into my storage drawers when finished. You will also see a few coloured pencils, in the right hand side of the tray near my water pot. I did go over the seal’s fur with a little coloured pencil in limited colours (one of the cool greys and Payne’s Grey from the Polychromos set, Ivory Black from the Pablos) and I brightened the light areas slightly with the Luminance White pencil. I defined the darks on the face a little better and added a little texture, but I didn’t do much. I found that the pencil did not go well over the watercolour, generally-I suspect that this isn’t the sort of paper that would work well with that technique.

Finally, there was only the whiskers to do. Now whiskers are always a problem. Trying to keep a tiny area white in such a complicated picture does not seem sensible and I have previously used a pigment ink or gel pen for this purpose, but it has never really felt like a good option. I had read that some artists use gouache, a sort of opaque watercolour, for this purpose, but I was loathe to spend rather a lot of money to buy a tube of gouache just to give this a try. Then I came across a set of 12 tubes of Daler-Rowney gouache in Walmart, of all places.

Now, I know you get what you pay for in the art world, so these were not likely to set the world on fire, but I thought that less than $20 was worth expending to give it a try. Real gouache is supposed to cover normal watercolour, with an opaque finish. I tried mixing a little of the black with a lot of white to give a grey, and applied this with my smallest watercolour brush (a 0000 size liner brush, one of my favourites for wetting tiny details in my watercolour pencil pictures). It didn’t work. Although it was just noticeable, it really wasn’t fine enough to define whiskers. I went back to the Signo pigment ink pen in white, and added a little extra definition with a Staples mini gel pen in black. I don’t have a grey or brown gel pen, white is too stark and black too dark! It suffices, but I’d rather find a better solution, since getting nice tapers on the whiskers can be a real issue. I’m not encouraged to shell out for better gouache, though.

The name of this piece? ‘Cape Island Camo’ was Mark’s description of the seal’s fur and the way it blends in on the beach, and I thought it very appropriate!

‘Cape Island Camo’ (Harbour Seal on The Cape), 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Caran d’Ache Supracolor), with selected coloured pencils (C d’A Pablo and Luminance, F-C Polychromos), with Uniball Signo pigment ink pen in white and Staples mini gel pen in black, on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).

Woodnymph

Hummingbirds, found only in North and South America, have always been exciting to see for us, coming as we did from the UK. In Eastern Canada, the only common species is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and we are always delighted to see them return in the spring. Our first hummer feeder is already out, in case of early arrivals. That little bit of sugar-water could be a life-saver for these tiny birds after a long, long migration up from Mexico.

Anyhow, one of the highlights of every trip we have done to tropical Central and South America has been the sheer number of species of these birds that we have seen. Mostly extremely colourful, with iridescent plumage, I fancied having another go at one of them. I thought that coloured pencils, combined with the burnishing pencil recently obtained from Derwent, might just help to give a shine to the plumage. I had a photo that I took back in November 2010 at Rancho Naturalista, Costa Rica, of a Violet-crowned Woodnymph. Incidentally, these birds often have the most delightful names, ‘woodnymph’, ‘woodstar’, ‘fairy’ and ‘sylph’ all suggesting tiny, flitting, ethereal creatures, which is pretty close to the truth, although some of them can be extremely aggressive, considering their size!

This is a male Violet-crowned Woodnymph, and you can just see a hint of the violet cap that gives it it’s name. Iridescent plumage is a bit of a problem, since the colour seen is entirely dependent on how the light strikes the feathers; some of the birds can look very dull and dark if in shade. In this case, the blue head and greenish back were nicely illuminated. I’m sure it can’t be fully replicated but it was fun to try.

I decided to try again with some paper that I’d previously used and not liked much. This was the Canson XL Recycled Bristol, which has two surfaces, one smooth and one more textured. I tried the smooth side and not enjoyed it, it did not take to layering well. After recently working with the pastel papers, which do have some tooth, I decided that maybe the textured side was worth a go. Well, it was a big improvement, at least in my opinion, and I’m pleased to add this pack back into my repertoire.

After drawing out the design (the reference picture has a lot of branches and leaves, crossing the field, which I liked as a composition), I started as usual with the bird’s eye, followed by the rest of the bird. Things went well. I used a mixture of Polychromos and, especially, Pablos here. Blending was done using a Prismacolor colourless blending pencil (I think I prefer this one to the Derwent) and, after finishing the blending, I went over some sections of the plumage, those I wanted to shine, with the Derwent burnishing pencil. It did impart a subtle shine to the areas chosen, which really doesn’t come over in the photograph, unfortunately.

I departed from my usual order of composition by deciding to put in the background next, leaving the leaves and branches till last. The photo has a blurry ‘bokeh’ background; something I have tried, and not yet managed, to do. I wondered about leaving this more plain, but I really wanted to have another go. I thought the bird might seem more ‘in context’ if I could pull it off. In another departure, I decided to use the Prismacolor Premier pencils here. I’ve had a set of these, 72 I think, for quite a while but don’t really like them, especially in comparison to Pablos and Polychromos, but thought I’ve give them another go. Also, they are considerably cheaper than the other makes and I thought that backgrounds, that use up a lot of pencil, might be a good use for them. I set to work, trying to reproduce the mix of colours that I could see on the photograph, but pretty soon began to second-guess my choices. I really was not sure if I liked it or not! There was no point in changing horses midstream, however, and I don’t often give up totally on a picture, so I powered on through, staying up late one night in order to finish this layer and blend. This time I used OMS as I didn’t want the shiny finish that I get from using the blender/burnisher pencils. Overnight drying made it look better, but I though it was still a bit bright and ‘in your face’.

This ‘work in progress’ picture shows the completed bird and the background, after blending with OMS. It seemed a bit bright. I decided to go over the entire background with a darker shade, the problem was that the waxy finish the Prismas left made this quite difficult. Luminance came to the rescue, I was able to add a layer of Moss Green over the entire background surface. It wasn’t great coverage but I though it was enough and, after another blend with OMS, I think the background was darkened enough to make me want to carry on. Another ‘work in progress’ picture I think gives an idea of the subtle change this made.

The last job was to draw in the leaves and branches. There is a lot of reflection on these leaves, so I made sure to leave pale areas to indicate that, whilst suggesting the veining with different colours of green- unlike the last picture, there wasn’t much detail on the foliage to get my teeth into. For these I went back to the Pablos and Polychromos, along with a couple of Luminance pencils, finishing with OMS blending (again, I didn’t want the leaves to be shiny, so as not to detract from the bird’s plumage). Funnily enough, once the leaves went in, the background stopped being quite so ‘in your face’ and receded on the page, so a lesson learned there, I think. Try not to pre-judge a piece before it’s finished!

‘Woodnymph’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (C d’A Pablos and Luminance, F-C Polychromos and Prismacolor Premier) with Primacolor colourless blender, Derwent Burnisher and OMS (Gamsol), on Canson XL Recycled Bristol (textured side).

Ornate

Back to the birds, and one of Mark’s photos that I’ve always liked very much. He recently dug it out to feature on the ‘around the world’ facebook page that I’ve previously mentioned, and I asked him to forward a copy to me. This little beauty is an Ornate Flycatcher, such an appropriate name for a little jewel of the rainforest! The bird is only 12 cm/4.7 inches long and is an inhabitant of subtropical and tropical montane forests in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru, where it hangs out in the understory and, true to its name, catches flies and insects. Those big dark eyes are a giveaway to it being a flycatcher. We were on the Eastern slopes of the Andes in Ecuador, back in 2007, when Mark captured an image with the bird sitting on a big leaf, with sunlight streaming through, and with a mottled green backdrop. Really, this is not improvable, but I thought I’d give it a shot at getting somewhere close.

I decided to stick with the coloured pencil for this, because I seem to be able to get better feather detail with this medium than with the watercolour pencils, especially since getting hold of the Pablos-they seem to have upped my game a bit, probably because they keep such a sharp point (and the new sharpener has been a game changer on the sharpness I can get). I wanted to start from a background colour, so pastel paper was the next choice, but my pack of Mi-Teintes lacks a nice green (I think I got a strange selection). In the bottom of my paper drawer, I came across a pad of Daler-Rowney Ingres pastel paper. Now this is very old, I actually bought it in the UK, several years before we moved to Canada, so it probably dates from the last century (or even Millennium!)-luckily, paper does not seem to ‘go off’, especially if it’s been stored somewhere dry. Thirty sheets cost 7.99 GBP, which tells you something about its age, I guess. I’ve been mucking about in the arty stuff for a long time, but never got into pastels (or coloured pencils before the last year), so the pad languished in a drawer, was shipped out to Canada, subsequently moved across provinces and finally got dug out for this. There was a dusky green shade that looked like it would work. I turned the sheet over, for the less textured surface and set to work.

Now I liked the paper a lot. It seemed to have just about the right amount of tooth, to allow for layering, without showing through too many holes. I also decided to have a go with OMS for blending. With the Mi-Teintes, I had tried this once and shied away afterwards, but I thought it worth another go-lots of coloured pencil artists use OMS blending on this type of paper. Well, it looked horrific; in the light areas the original paper colour seemed to show through and all the other colours looked muddy and dark. I was nearly in despair, I thought I’d have to start again, but I decided to let it dry off first. The OMS had soaked into the paper far more than I was used to seeing with the Bristol board. So, I went away and did something else for a while, then came back, more in hope than expectation, to find that the OMS had dried, the colours were back, the lights were light and the base paper colour was not showing through. It looked ok! I determined to carry on with OMS, but every application was a leap of faith, since it looked awful, every time.

I determined not to do more than one application of OMS to any particular area, as I did notice a slight buckle appearing where the paper had been wetted- nothing dreadful but enough. After the OMS dried, I went over details and extra layers with a blender pencil. I have used the Prismacolor colourless blender pencils extensively on other pictures, but I have recently also invested in a set of Derwent blender and burnisher pencils, obtained from Amazon. These came in a blister pack with two blenders and two burnisher pencils, a pencil sharpener and an eraser. What’s the difference between blenders and burnishers? Well, one is meant to mix a colourless wax with the coloured pencil marks to blend the colours together, soften lines, etc., much as the OMS does. Due to the pressure needed to do this, a pencil blender can damage the tooth of the paper and prevent addition of further layers of pencil, so it’s recommended to only do this at the end of a piece. I’ve used this technique quite a lot and like it, but large areas can give you considerable wrist ache! A burnisher is supposed to do less blending (it’s harder) and more polishing, to give a slightly shiny surface to the finished piece. of course, it will still blend to some extent. I used both the Derwent blender and burnisher on this piece, in particular on the leaf, where I wanted to impart a slight shine to the surface. I found the Derwent blender a little harder than the Prismacolor one, so the jury is still out on which of those two I prefer. I liked the burnisher, and I think it will come in handy for some plumage details-hummingbird iridescence, for example. I’ve got a few photos of those, ‘burning a hole’ in my photo file!

So to the final image. I really enjoyed this one, even the leaf texture, which I was rather scared of after the experience with the last ‘leafy picture’. Mark commented that my leaves this time were much better (thanks, love!) and he likes the bird. The final picture is actually larger than the bird in life, showing what a little gem it really is. So many exotic birds to go at, so little time!

‘Ornate Flycatcher’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablos and Luminance White, Faber-Castell Polychromos and Derwent Drawing Chinese White) with OMS (Gamsol), Derwent blender and burnisher pencils, on Daler-Rowney 160g/sqm Ingres pastel paper.

Nutkin

At the moment I’m really getting into the coloured pencils, maybe getting the Pablos was the trigger? In any case, I’ve really enjoyed the last two pieces, the Keel-billed Toucan from a few days ago and this one, which has been called ‘Nutkin’ in our house since he arrived on my drawing board. The original reference was a photo that I took back in 2014. We were on a family holiday in the US (Mark, my parents and I) and were visiting the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It never fails to astonish me how very close you can get to the edge in many places, with absolutely no barrier between you and a terrifying drop! Brilliant views, though. The only place where there are extensive barriers is the Grand Canyon village, where there is a visitor centre, restaurants, shops and hotels (and hence lots of people). However, this doesn’t seem to put these little fellows off, the Rock Squirrels that live all over the site.

This cheeky character kept popping up between the bottom of the fence and the edge of the walkway to take a look at us. It was an irresistible photo opportunity, and I thought he would make a nice picture. I realised I have never tried to do animals in coloured pencil, its always been watercolours, so a bit of a challenge there. Also, there was that rusty-looking metal bar that was the bottom of the fence and the busy but blurred-out background foliage. Hmm, I don’t set myself easy tasks for a first go!

It was such fun! I debated doing a watercolour pencil first, to go over after with coloured pencil. I do know some very good animal artists do this regularly. It limits the number of layers that you have to add in coloured pencil, because the depth of colour is already in there with the watercolours. Two things put me off…one was the paper, I did this on the Strathmore 300 Bristol Vellum, and I wasn’t sure how that would take to wetting with water. The other was the need to wait, possibly overnight, until the watercolour dried. I was far too impatient to do that! In the end I did a number of layers with coloured pencil, blended with OMS and them went over again with coloured pencil layers, then a final blend, ending up with details and highlights picked out in the coloured pencil. I was pretty pleased with the final result. You will notice that I used a little artistic licence not to include the damage on his snout in my version!

Because I didn’t want the background to be too ‘in your face’, I did only one set of layers on that, blended out with OMS and then went over the entire foliage area with the Luminance Titanium Buff pencil, which toned down the colours and blurred out the edges enough to give the ‘bokeh’-like impression I was after.

‘Nutkin’ Rock Squirrel at the Grand Canyon, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (FC Polychromos, C d’A Pablos and Luminance, and Derwent Drawing Chinese White) with OMS (Gamsol) and Prismacolor colourless blender pencil on Strathmore 300 series Bristol Vellum.

In the Studio, I’ve been looking for some time to upgrade my pencil sharpeners. I’ve been making do with a number of hand sharpeners with reservoirs, from Faber-Castell and Staedler.


Strangely, the Faber-Castell sharpener never seemed to fit any of my Faber-Castell pencils very well. I did find it difficult to get a very sharp point with any of these, and I do like a nice sharp pencil for that detail. I tried a desk-top sharpener from Xacto, purchased at Staples, and that was supposed to fit many different sizes of pencil. Well, it was awful, I lost about half a pencil, trying to sharpen it whilst it just snapped in the mechanism. I’m not sure what pencils it is supposed to fit, but doesn’t seem to be any of mine!

If you are in the market, I definitely wouldn’t bother with this one.

Looking on Amazon.ca (I have some birthday vouchers burning a hole at the moment), I found this sharpener, the Dahle model 155, manual desktop sharpener.


It takes any size of pencil and holds them securely, and you can adjust the point you want by twiddling the little red knob on the handle. The mechanism can be taken out to remove any wax build up on the cutters, if needed.

It takes all of my pencils, sharpens them to a great point without breaking and won’t oversharpen and cause damage. The only down-side is a little mark on the pencil barrels where the grips take hold, not something that bothers me. I’m very happy so far with this sharpener; I know, it’s a little bit sad how very happy I can be made by being able to get a sharp point on my pencils!

Toucan Play…

What a difference a subject makes…not to mention the correct choice of medium! After the last monumental effort (for not a very good result), I was determined to choose a subject that I would really enjoy doing, and that usually means something avian. A photo that Mark took in Costa Rica, back in December of 2010 seemed to fit the bill (and I use the word ‘bill’ advisedly!).

This is a Keel-billed Toucan from Rancho Naturalista. One of the iconic birds of rainforested Central America, its repetitive call echoed out across the valley below the lodge when it sat on this perch, most mornings and evenings. Equally iconic, the tree is the Cecropia, another feature of the rainforest. We know we are in the tropics when these two species get together!

The bird was some distance away, and largely backlit, so Mark did a great job getting this photo and the amount of detail visible. Black plumage can be a challenge, anyway, but I thought there was enough feather detailing for me to make a go of it. I determined to use the coloured pencils and a sheet of the Mi-Teintes pastel paper for this one, saving me the job of a background – which was pretty plain in the photo, anyway, because the bird is sat above a valley and so framed against the sky. The block of Mi-Teintes paper I have includes a blue shade, which I considered using, but it seemed too blue, and a bit artificial, so I went with a grey/tan shade in the end. I’m always surprised when using this paper, how well the pencil colours show up; they do not seem to be muted by the coloured background. I used the smoother ‘soft pencil’ side of the paper and my white graphite transfer paper to get my initial drawing transferred to the paper. Minor changes to the image included leaving out one bough of the tree perch, because it did not seem to add to the image I wanted to portray. The bird remained nicely framed by the perch and the surrounding leaves.

This was a coloured pencil piece and I mixed the new Caran d’Ache Pablos with the Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils. I have to say that I used more of the Pablos on this piece, they have a really nice selection of greens for the leaves (better than the Polychromos greens, that set seems to excel in the red tones). Blending was done using a Prismacolor colourless blender pencil rather than OMS. I did not even try the latter this time, since I didn’t like the effect when I previously used Mi-Teintes paper…maybe I will have to revisit that since I have seen others use this with no issues. As a result, there are tiny flecks of the paper showing through in the darker areas of the picture (such as the plumage), but I don’t mind that too much as I think it helps give a ‘feathered’ effect. Highlights on feathers, leaves and trunk were largely added after blending using the Luminance white pencil, which performed very well. The whole picture took only a couple of days to do; I could not stay away from it, which shows how much fun it was for me. Such a difference to the last one! I’m really beginning to enjoy the coloured pencils.

‘Keel-billed Toucan’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Faber-Castell Polychromos, Caran d’Ache Pablo and Luminance White, with Prismacolor colourless blender) on Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper.

Abstraction

I don’t know if this ever happens to you, but sometimes I start out on a picture, full of enthusiasm, and then it wanes. That certainly happened on this piece, but I’ve only once given up totally, so I powered through it, although it took longer to complete because of that.

I had an urge to do something intricate and colourful, and I came across another of my rainforest plant pictures, this time of foliage. Now, I don’t actually know what plant this is, although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them in plant pots as house plants. These, however, were in the wild, in a rainforest in Panama in December 2009. Lots of strong colour and shape, so I thought it would make a striking picture.

What medium to use? Well, I decided on watercolour pencil, but this might have been the wrong choice, in the end. I had difficulty in getting the leaf shapes to stick out of the mass of foliage, so much so that I ended up outlining and shading in coloured pencil. Not my favourite method, I don’t really like a dark outline, but I felt this needed something. It veered from being ‘true to life’ to becoming a graphic representation, I think in the end more the latter than the former. That’s why I called this post ‘Abstraction’, because I think it ended up as an almost abstract image!

In the end it’s sort of ok, it might make a nice image for a greetings card or something similar, but I don’t think I’ll be framing it. I think I’ll go back to the birds for the next piece, though, or maybe a portrait…I need a new Facebook profile picture!

‘Rainforest Foliage’, 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (FC Albrecht Durer, C d’A Supracolor, Derwent Watercolour) and coloured pencil (C d’A Pablo, FC Polychromos, Derwent Drawing Chinese White with Prismacolor colourless blender pencil) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).