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:
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!
‘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).