I thought I’d have a look back at a year of blogging, my first year doing this and, coincidentally, my first full year working with coloured art. I have drawn birds (and some animals, insects, etc.) for many years, usually in pen and ink. This goes back to the 1990’s, when Mark used to publish a lot of newsletters and reports for the park where he worked. The technology was limited then, mainly photocopying things stuck to paper, so pen and ink was really the only thing that would show up! I’ve always had some watercolours (pans and tubes) and I did a few ‘ink and wash’ pictures, that seemed to work ok but never really got into it. Partly, it was not having somewhere to leave everything out so that I could just go, sit down and do it. A studio space makes it much more likely that I will! I still like the discipline of the pen and ink medium and will have to do some more in the new year.
Moving on to 2016, I found myself stuck for weeks in Halifax, whilst undergoing repeated medical treatments, and so I found my way to an art shop (Deserre’s, the only ‘proper’ one in Nova Scotia), looking for distraction. I bought some coloured pencils (rather cheap ones), to try and get working in colour. I also bought a cheap set of watercolour pencils (Faber-Castell), and these were a revelation. I could get the look of watercolour, with the precision of a pencil for the details. I do like to draw birds, but the details have to be right (Mark tells me if otherwise!). The coloured pencils were relegated to a drawer, whilst the watercolour pencils got a good workout. This is where I was at the beginning of this year. My first post was of a number of pictures, of wharves and boats, and birds, including ‘Churn Road’, three different North American sparrow species. It is still a picture that I like, it makes a striking image, matted and framed in black.
At this point I was still using the cheap watercolour pencil set and 90lb cold press watercolour paper. I was hooked, however, and I started collecting pencils. I bought a set from Amazon in the UK, because the price looked good and I could get them sent on to me from my parents’ house. This was a set of 60 Faber-Castell Art-Grip pencils, nice pencils in the amateur range. I got 120 Marco Renoir pencils from Amazon.ca: very well priced pencils, described as ‘Artist’ quality (but probably not so). I also plumped for a set of 72 Derwent Watercolour pencils and 72 Derwent Inktense pencils, more upmarket sets that I still use. At this stage I was still using the 90 lb paper. My first picture using all of these was a landscape, the lighthouse at Cape Forchu, which was something of a departure for me.
I also bought a set of Derwent Graphitint, tinted graphite pencils. I have only used them once so far:
I liked them and should really get around to using them more. So many pencils, so little time!
It was around this time that I upgraded the watercolour paper. The Bienfang 90 lb paper was ok, it has a nice tooth that seems to work well with the watercolour pencils, but it is lightweight and there is some buckling of the paper after wetting, even though I always tape down all edges of the paper (just now I’m using Frogtape painter’s tape for delicate surfaces, which does pull off quite easily with a minimum of damage to the paper). I don’t get to Halifax that often any more (thankfully) and even less so downtown, where the art shop is, but I have made several visits to Michael’s ‘art’ section, where I was able to pick up a heavier grade watercolour paper, 140lb cold press Canson XL. It is described as ‘student’ grade, but it serves my purposes for now and has become my watercolour paper of choice. I have a range of sizes and, in April, I posted a picture in the larger format that I’m still rather proud of, ‘Talking Turkey’:
They might not be pretty, but they are full of personality!
Also in April, I took the advice of a friend of Mark’s, a working artist, who suggested that I should upgrade my pencils to a real Artist quality set. Although the Derwents are considered to be Artist quality, the other sets I had were hobby or student grade only. He felt that my art work would be helped by better tools. Always one to take advice when the result is more pencils, I bought a set of Caran d’Ache Supracolor II watercolour pencils, again from Amazon (who have really come through magnificently this year on art supplies!), Well, he was right, they soon became my ‘go to’ set, relegating all but the Derwents to the back of a drawer. It was a surprise just how much better these quality pencils are. On the minus side, they are a bit pricier; on the plus, they are much more lightfast, nicer to use, easier to wet and you can replace individual pencils by buying on open stock, rather than having to buy a set. Anyhow, more pencils, what’s not to like? The first picture using these pencils was a scene of Piping Plovers, a rare nesting bird that happens to find the beaches round here to their liking.
Now, my blog address is ‘sandradenniswildlifeart’ (chosen by Mark when he was trying to get me to blog), but I realised that all the pictures were either birds or wharfs and boats…a bit limited on the wildlife front. I determined to have a go at animals, albeit not actually wild ones to start off. My first animal picture was a friend’s dog, the second was of our two cats. I think this one worked especially well:
A new technique here was the use of a gel or pigment ink pen to draw in the white whiskers on the cats after the picture was completed. It was astonishingly difficult to find a white gel pen…they are definitely a specialist item…but Amazon came up trumps again. A package of three different styles of white pen were dispatched from the UK and arrived a week later, in perfect condition and just when needed. I am getting my art supplies from all over the world!
I had neglected the coloured pencil in favour of the watercolours, but I had been quietly collecting pencils over the year. I had retired the cheap pencils and upgraded to a set of 24 Derwent Drawing pencils, in earthy colours that I thought would work well for wildlife, and 80 Prismacolor Premier pencils. This latter set is often used by more serious coloured pencil artists, although it suffers from issues with lightfastness and broken leads. In October I determined to try to use them more, accordingly I picked an interesting subject for my first real ‘go’.
Reading around the subject, I had found that many artists use an underpainting of watercolour or watercolour pencil, before adding the coloured pencil, since coloured pencil work seems to need a lot of layering, so I determined to try this. Well, it was hard work. I’d used the watercolour paper (the only paper I had in) and it was far too ‘toothy’. I also used a colourless pencil blender (Prismacolor blender) that seemed to take quite a lot of work. I was relatively happy with the final picture but realised I’d need to up my game and at least get some better paper. I formed a shopping list for my next Halifax visit.
We had a lot of visitors over the summer, including my parents who stopped with us for a month. Dad was quite interested in my art and suggested that I try portraiture. I hadn’t even thought about trying that, but started with a ‘selfie’ of me in watercolour pencil. I was pleased enough with that to try a double portrait next, of Mum and Dad. be careful what you wish for, Dad!
Portraiture has become a favourite since, a real surprise. I don’t think I’m up to life drawing, but I’m happy with a decent photo.
A Halifax trip in October increased my paper stocks with pads of Bristol board (Canson XL recycled Bristol and Strathmore 300 Bristol Vellum) to try with the coloured pencils. I also picked up a bottle of odourless mineral spirits (Gamsol), which had been recommended as an alternative for blending. It has the advantage of not damaging the surface of the paper, allowing further layers to be added after the first blend. Armed with these supplies I tried my first botanical painting:
I’d also added to my pencil store with a set of 36 Prismacolor Verithins, very hard coloured pencils that hold a point well and are good for adding detail. I thought they would work well with the Prismacolor Premiers and they were a good price on Amazon. Unfortunately, they seem to suffer from the Prisma curses of limited lightfastness and breaking leads, but they did come in useful for this painting. Blending was with Gamsol and worked well, except that my original graphite drawing also dissolved, leaving some ‘muddy’ colours at the edges. I learned to draw more lightly and erase a lot of what I had drawn with a kneadable eraser, before adding colour, to prevent this.
Well, the pencil collection hadn’t increased for a while but I had been eyeing up the Artist quality Faber-Castell Polychromos coloured pencils. Many coloured pencil artists swear by them so I decided to take the plunge. (Un)fortunately, Faber-Castell also do Artist quality watercolour pencils (Albrecht Durer), and since that is my favourite medium, they were crying out to me, too. Ah well, I can always survive on bread and lard, if necessary! The Albrect Durers were described as Japanese imports on Amazon, but they look and feel perfect, so not sure what difference that makes. The Polychromos were shipped from Germany, but took only a couple of weeks to get here (free shipping, too!) and arrived in perfect condition. Having both came in handy when I tried a portrait of two of our friends:
I started in watercolour pencil (mainly Albrecht Durer) but the result was a bit ‘blah’, probably too blue, as Mark remarked. Because the Polychromos set has the same colours as the Albrecht Durers, I was able to go over it with coloured pencil, which deepened the colours and ended up with a much better picture. Another lesson learned.
My pencil count is getting to be pretty high (836, not counting the really cheap sets) so my last major purchase was a cabinet for my studio.
Actually, I already filled it so I’m after a second one! It is so much nicer to just sit down at my drawing board, with all of my pencils laid out next to me for easy finding. I plan to put the second cabinet at the other side (the current cabinets there will move) and keep one for watercolour pencils and the other for coloured pencils-posh, eh? There will be room for expansion on the pencil front, but don’t tell Mark as he already thinks he’ll have to reinforce the floor under my desk to support the weight of pencils!
On the same Halifax visit, I picked up some tinted paper, Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper, since many coloured pencil artists seem to use this as an alternative to drawing in a background (from experience, this can take a long time!). I tried it out drawing a lovely photo of Mark’s, just before Christmas, and really liked it:
The paper is actually a nice goldy-yellow in tone, which the photo really doesn’t show, and the pencils used were Polychromos and Derwent Drawing.
Well, that was my art year. Lots of new pencils (yippee!), new papers, new techniques, hints and tips found and used, new subject matter. I don’t think I’ll have time to get bored! Already finished my first picture of 2018, but I’ll wait until a new post to talk about that one. Happy New Year and good painting!