Big Brown Job

When we lived back in the UK, birders tended to describe little, rather nondescript sparrows, warblers, etc., as ‘little brown jobs’, or LBJs for short. I suppose it is a bit of disparaging term for these birds, many of which had caused major twitches when discovered, hopping about in shrubbery and confirmed to be something incredibly rare, albeit still little, and rather brown. Many European warblers tend to the brown or olive colourations, in comparison to the vivid colours of North American Warblers in Spring. Be that as it may, when I first selected this photograph of Mark’s, as a subject for a picture, I was rather drawn to it being called the ‘Big Brown Job’, or BBJ.

This is a Broad-winged Hawk, a relatively common North American hawk, we even get them here in Nova Scotia. However, this bird was photographed in Costa Rica in December of 2010, during one of our birding holidays. Therefore it counts as a Nova Scotia species, a Canadian species and an exotic bird! I really liked the pose, looking back at the camera over its shoulder, a bit like a ’20’s coquette although with a far more forbidding gaze. The feathers were finely detailed and brown, at first glance. However, there were a surprising number of shades in that plumage, and I was looking forward to tackling it. I considered using the watercolour pencils for this, but plumped in the end for coloured pencil, and for a particular reason.

I have previously mentioned that I have the Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils and the Polychromos coloured pencil set. These sets have
the same colours and I have enjoyed being able to match the shades across the media. However, there have been shades that I have used extensively from the Caran d’Ache Supracolor watercolour pencils which I just could not match in coloured pencil. In particular, the Supracolors have a good range of olives, greens, beiges and bluey-greys that were entirely missing from any of my coloured pencil sets. Caran d’Ache actually do a range of coloured pencils, the Pablos, that match the Supracolor shades and I have been considering getting a set for quite a while. I even left a drawer free in my coloured pencil chest for them.

Well, it is my birthday this month, so Mark told me to go ahead and order them (Thanks, Mark-he knows how to keep me happy!). One issue is getting hold of Caran d’Ache products in Canada; I could find no Canadian stockist except for Amazon, and they did not seem to carry the full set (and it would be imported, anyway). I looked at Dick Blick in the US, and at my preferred UK store, Jacksons. Both carried them, but they would of course be subject to tax and duty. In the end I decided to use Jacksons, as I have already had two good experiences with them. I ordered the 120 set on 22 February, along with a few additional replacement pencils for my current sets. They were dispatched the next day (they always seem to deal with orders very quickly) and arrived here, in rural Nova Scotia, on 1st March, using standard post! Everything was well wrapped and, again, I actually paid no duty or tax (I wasn’t asked for any) so it really was a bargain. I’m not sure why no tax or duty, maybe that won’t continue, but I’m not complaining. I’d happily buy in Canada, if it were possible to get what I need here.


Here are my usual photos of the pencils, the tin and the colour chart. The shades highlighted in yellow on the colour chart are the ones considered not particularly lightfast. I like to avoid using these, unless absolutely necessary. The Caran d’Ache sets are actually slightly worse than the Faber-Castells for lightfastness, only 2 of the 120 set of Polychromos are rated 1-star whereas it is 7 of the 120 set of Pablos. However, the real problem sets tend to be the Derwents, with 34 out of 72 Derwent Watercolours being considered to be non-lightfast, 9 of the 72 Inktense and 5 out of 24 Graphitint colours. Of the 6 Coloursofts I have, 1 is not lightfast. All of the Derwent Drawing set are lightfast, though.

My empty drawer, now full of pencils. I think I will have to call it a day, now, on pencil purchases, except for replacements – but, of course, I have said that before ;).

Obviously I wanted to use the new pencils as soon as they arrived, and it seemed to me that the BBJ would be a perfect subject for trying out the browns, greys and beiges that I have so enjoyed using in the watercolour set. Coloured pencils tend to be a bit more vibrant on the page, too. I decided to draw the bird using only the Pablos, although in the end I also used the Luminance White and Derwent Drawing Chinese White for highlighting (the latter is still my go-to white pencil). I used a large number of browns and beiges in this plumage, which has shades of grey, red and pink as well. These are the colours used:
Black, Ivory Black, Cocoa, Bistre, Charcoal Grey, Sepia, Slate Grey, Grey, Steel Grey, Light Grey, Silver Grey, Cream, Ochre, Brown Ochre, Cinnamon, Hazel, Venetian Red, Burnt Siena, Light Beige, Ash Grey, Beige, Brownish Beige, Vandyke Brown, Umber, Olive Brown, Granite Pink, Aubergine. Lots of greys, browns, beiges and greiges. Blending was done using the Prismacolor colourless blender pencil and OMS, and the pencils took to both very well.

I find that the Caran d’Ache greys carry a blueish tint missing from the Faber-Castell sets (which are richer in brown-tinted greys) and that I had missed using (maybe because the Supracolors were the set of watercolours I obtained first, so I was used to those shades). I was also a bit concerned that some reviewers of the Pablos had mentioned that the pencils were hard (even too hard). I found that they held a good sharp point for detail but laid down colour very well. I do detailed drawings, so a point on the pencil is definitely a bonus, and I certainly didn’t find them too hard. I don’t think I’d choose them for colouring-in a large area, but I do have softer pencils to do that-I have tended to default to the Derwent Drawing for large areas of background, for example in this picture I decided not to do a detailed or bokeh background, not wishing to detract from the bird and its perch. Graded layers of Derwent Drawing pencils, blended with OMS, were used instead. I think that the Caran d’Ache Pablo coloured pencils will be a useful addition to my collection and I think they will get a lot of use. In fact, I rather prefer them to the small number of Luminance pencils I have (an opinion that seems to be coloured pencil sacrilege, I know!), and I’m pleased that I didn’t spring for a full set of those instead.

‘Broad-winged Hawk’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablos, Derwent Drawing, C d’A Luminance White) with Prismacolor colourless blender and OMS (Gamsol) on Canson XL Recycled Bristol (slightly textured side).

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