Galah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lovely Plumage…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Goaty McGoatface

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black (and White!) on Black

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

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Cuban Tody

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

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

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

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

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A kind of abstract Chickadee work-in-progress!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Happy Holiday Memory

I’ve been casting around a bit for something new to draw. Although I have lots of pictures printed off, none of them seemed to hit the spot, somehow. I really fancied having another go at portraiture; I really enjoy the challenge of trying to make the faces come to life, but who to do? I’ve not taken many ‘people pictures’ recently, and Mark gets a bit fed up of being my ‘muse’ (although I think I’ve started to really get him something like right!)

A progression of Mark drawings!

Well, I was looking through some holiday pictures, mainly for use in my other blog (https://sanonthelam.wordpress.com, where I describe a day, usually on holiday, with some pictures.), and I came across a rather nice photo of my Mum and Dad. Back in 2014, whilst we still lived near Montreal, they had come across to see us, staying for a month. In the midst of that stay, we all went on holiday, taking a two-week trip to visit San Francisco, Monterey, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Reno, Tucson, Sedona and the Grand Canyon. A three state tour, with an internal flight (Reno to Phoenix), it was quite a trip. I had photographed Mum and Dad, with the Golden Gate bridge in the background, and it was a happy photo. People who know her, know that Mum is a cheerful person but that she hates having her picture taken, so you don’t often get a smile! That was the problem with my last attempt at a portrait of them, neither of the subjects were smiling, although it was only my second-ever portrait so there was a lot to improve!

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Anyhow, here is the reference photo, taken at the northern end of the Golden Gate bridge, in San Francisco, on a misty morning in June 2014.
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I liked the pose, I liked the smiles (much more natural), I didn’t much like the rather boring background (I know, it’s the Golden Gate, but it doesn’t look like much in this photo), so I determined to draw the subjects first, and decide after what sort of background to add. It might be just a colour wash or it might be a real place.
The next choice was of materials. Nearly all the portraits I have done have been in watercolour pencil, including the original parent portraits and all of the Mark portraits except the monochrome one. It does lend a nice softness to the features. However, I had also worked coloured pencil over watercolour pencil on a portrait of two friends, a technique which definitely added some definition:


(the right-hand picture is the ‘final’ with coloured pencil added)

And, of course, the ‘Monochrome Mark’ picture was entirely coloured pencil. I’d enjoyed that one, particularly, so I decided that this portrait would be coloured pencil, and I would use the Bristol vellum that is currently my favourite surface. Using Faber-Castell Polychromos and Caran d’Ache Pablos exclusively, I got the portraits completed in just a few days. Maybe Mum is a little pale in colour, but I had done a number of layers already and didn’t want to go over again in case I lost the more delicate shading, which I think worked quite well. Dad, a red-haired Englishman, always has quite a lot of colour, especially when he’s been out in the sun, so he’s quite true to life.

I debated a bit on the background. I was a bit concerned that too busy a background could overwhelm the subject matter. I thought about just a colour wash but really wanted to try something a bit different. Looking through the picture files from the holiday, I considered landscapes at Yosemite, the Grand Canyon (all those layers of rock!), Sedona, Fisherman’s Wharf at San Fran and at Monterey…none felt quite right. Then I found a picture of Big Nose Kate’s Saloon at Tombstone. We had visited Tombstone when stopping at Tucson; Dad really wanted to go there having been brought up on Saturday morning Westerns at the local fleapit and, of course, the story of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. We went to Boot Hill graveyard, the re-enactment of the gunfight (hokey, but surprisingly well done and enjoyable) and wandered down the boardwalks of the Western town. I thought this frontage could convey the location as being somewhere different, and provide an interesting backdrop, but it could not be denied that it was pretty busy!
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Well, ‘faint heart never won…’ and all that. I decided to go for it, and I’m glad that I did. It doesn’t seem to overwhelm the real subjects, whilst providing some interest and a lot of colour. I really enjoyed the process of incorporating the background into the picture. I know it may be the wrong way round, but it works for me-I would never have thought to use the saloon picture at the outset, although maybe Mum is a tad overdressed for Southern Arizona in mid-June. Anyhow, I’ve just got to get parental approval; they did say that they liked the previous attempt but I’m hoping that they will like this version a lot better!
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‘Downtown Tombstone, Arizona’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablo, Faber-Castell Polychromos), with OMS (Gamsol) to blend, on Strathmore 300 series Bristol vellum.

Inktense Exercise

I’ve got myself into a little bit of a rut…not in a bad way, you understand, but I have been tending to reach for the same sets of pencils for every picture, i.e. the Pablos and Polychromos in coloured pencil, and the Supracolors and Albrecht Durers in watercolour pencils. Now these are all excellent pencils, so it’s not too surprising, but I do have some other pencils stowed away in my pencil cabinets. Some are quite specialist and have been rather neglected; none more so than my set of Derwent Inktense.

These are rather unique in the pencil world. They look like pencils, draw like pencils but, when wetted, look like ink wash. The colours are vivid and beautiful, but perhaps a bit too bright for my usual subject matter. Because they are ink-like, they don’t have many pastel or pale colours. I’ve therefore tended to use them infrequently, mostly in my wharf and boat pictures, when I’ve wanted to add some intense colours to buoys, hulls, life rings, and the like, but completed the rest of the piece using the standard watercolour pencil. I really wanted to see if I could do a whole picture using only the Inktense pencils, a bit of an exercise in making do with what you have (although it really can’t be considered a hardship!).

So, for subject matter. I didn’t think that I could do much in the wildlife area, because the Inktense set lacks the browns, beiges, greys and greiges that I use so much. Instead I thought I’d try a street scene. I’d recently been looking through some pictures taken in Italy, back in April 2000. These were originally film prints, but I had scanned them into my computer so I was able to scale up a picture from the standard 5 x 7 inch print size. We were on Capri (somewhere we actually didn’t take too, that much), and I’d taken a picture of one of the little windy alleys that count as streets there.

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I thought it might work so set about making a very detailed graphite pencil drawing on watercolour paper. I don’t usually draw quite so detailed a picture, especially when using coloured pencil, because the graphite tends to smear and make the colours muddy. In this case, however, I thought it important to get the proportions right from the start. The 72 set of Inktense includes an outliner, an non-soluble graphite-like pencil, that you can use to draw your outline. I was going to use this, but it is very soft, softer than the coloured Inktense, and I couldn’t get it to take a point-it kept clogging up my sharpener. Maybe the hot summer weather was the problem here?

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Now I knew I wouldn’t be copying this photo exactly, because the set just doesn’t have the lighter colours, so I decided to use the lightest yellow possible to do most of the walls and build up from there.

colour chart derwent inktense

Sicillian Yellow turned out to be a good choice for the base colour, with Saddle Brown, Tan, Willow, Oak, Amber and Mustard all helping to develop the colour of the plaster. Although it was April when the picture was taken, I decided to do a little artistic licence and add some additional flowers and greenery to the balconies, and brighten the clothing of the people. Skin tones are a real problem with Inktense, I ended up with a mixture of Crimson and Tan, blotted off with a paper towel before it could get too dark. I would not want to try a portrait with these pencils!

Inktense pencils will sharpen to a point, but they are very soft and it is easy to break the point on the drawing. When you apply the colour it can look really dull and not at all the colour you were expecting. The same goes for the leads of the pencils, many look green when they are really grey, brown or even tan. Add water and the true colour is revealed. this makes blending a bit of a trial; it is important to make a colour chart and not rely on lead colour or even the pencil ends colours, they are not true. The colour dissolves really well and easily but, once dried, it isn’t re-wettable. That can be good if you want to add more colour afterwards, or are working details next to an already painted area, but not good if it dries before you have time to get a whole area ‘washed’ and so end up with a tide line. I found it best to concentrate on completing a smallish area before moving on.

It was a quick picture to complete, however, much quicker than the watercolour pencils or, especially, the coloured pencils. I think it took about 12 hours, including the detailed drawing, which is much less than ‘Good Companions’. I enjoyed the exercise, am pretty happy with the completed picture and it has even got the ultimate accolade-Mark likes it! Not a given for my ‘non-wildlife’ pieces.

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‘Via Listrieri, Capri’, 5 x 11 inch, Derwent Inktense pencil on 140lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).

 

 

Memento Catti

Cats!
They have played a pretty major part in our lives, almost from the time Mark and I got together. We currently have two rescue cats, which we went to pick up in a blizzard (as you do) since Mark struggles to be ‘cat-less’ for too long. You might remember that I had a go at those cats last year (the picture was named as ‘The Girls’), drawn in watercolour pencil on watercolour paper.
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Well before we got our current treasures, in fact back in 1991, we had another pair of cats. Mark and I had not been together very long before he announced that what our home needed was cats. He had always had pets growing up; cats, dogs and, thanks to an animal-mad sister, a variety of smaller furry friends. I, on the other hand, had never had a pet as a child (bar a variety of goldfish from the fair and a tortoise that turned up one day in the garden, and later disappeared just as mystifyingly). To be fair, my mother, who worked full-time, knew who would end up having to look after any animal, so I don’t blame her. I had had part-shares in a rat when a student. Technically, he belonged to a previous boyfriend but he spent most of his life at my place. Rats make surprisingly good and friendly pets, as long as they are handled when young enough, but they don’t last long-2 to 3 years is as good as it gets.

We have always believed in giving homes to rescue animals, rather than hunting for kittens, so we headed to the Cats Protection League local office to look for a suitable animal. We were immediately drawn to a beautiful tabby, who was extremely friendly towards us. We had found our cat! But, in the same enclosure, there was a tiny little black cat, very timid, and we learned that both had come from the same home. We couldn’t leave her behind, so we ended up with two, the male tabby and the little black female. They were renamed ‘Teddy Sheringham’ and ‘Des Walker’; anyone who was a fan of Nottingham Forest Football Club back in the early nineties will recognise the names. It didn’t matter that the new ‘Des Walker’ was female (she was black, so one out of two!), she became ‘Des’, ‘Dessie’, or often ‘Desperate’ or ‘Desperado’ for evermore. She had an endearing habit of sitting on my chest (well, there is a bit of a shelf!) but remained skittish with strangers.
des on chest

She was like a black hole for the camera, sucking in the light!
Des unfortunately died sometime in 2001 or 2002, before we moved to Canada. Ted came with us and lived here for three years. Des, therefore, was before the age of digital photography, at least in our house, and so we have no good pictures of her, except for a couple of iffy prints. For Ted there are a couple of digital images, although no good ones. It seems like we forgot to photograph the cats, until they suddenly weren’t with us any more! Anyhow, I thought I’d like to have a picture to remember them by, even if I’d only have dodgy reference photos to follow. In the end I used these:

Neither are great, but I hoped I could make something of them. It helps that I knew the cats, I think, although it was a good exercise in using less than stellar references! I had previously had a go at Ted, as one of the two subjects of ‘Catnapping’:
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Although this wasn’t his best side, albeit, it was a very familiar pose. that cat would sleep with (or on) anyone!

Both of the previous cat images were in watercolour pencil, although I’d tried coloured pencil for our friends’ cat, ‘Ivy’, and it had gone pretty well.
ivy rs watermark
I decided to stick with coloured pencil for this new picture, and to use the Bristol vellum, which seems to be my current surface of choice for coloured pencil work. The two cats were to be in the same image (as per usual, we had no picture of the two of them together, although Ted and Des were far more likely to cuddle up together than Bubble and Joy are).

Teddy is a joy to paint. He was so beautifully marked that, even with the poor reference shot, it was easy to make him look quite real. Des was much harder. The reference picture was lacking detail, since it is a very old print, and she was all black (actually, there was one tiny white tuft), although there were subtle shadings that I could use. She ended up looking a bit scary, I think, even if in reality she was the sweetest cat. Mark says she looks like a miniature Puma, but of course, that is exactly what she was!

I’m actually very pleased with how this turned out, given the iffy references. They are recognisable as our dear old duo, and should make a nice memento to match ‘The Girls’. I’ve called it ‘Good Companions’, because they were.
ted and des rs watermark
‘Good Companions’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablo, Faber-Castell Polychromos) with OMS to blend, and Uni-ball Signo white pigment ink pen and Staples black mini-gel pen fro whiskers, on Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Vellum.