Ocean’s Edge

After the fun of ‘Wave Action’, I wanted to put the exercise to good use by doing a picture that featured sea, but where it wasn’t the only subject. Trust me to light upon a really complex picture to reference! I took this photo quite a few years ago, at Baccaro, near the lighthouse. I liked this lone Great Cormorant, sitting unconcerned by the roiling sea behind him. It’s quite a low angle, so this shows the wave as it comes ashore, and the next wave behind, forming ready to crash down. Now that was going to be a challenge to depict, still, I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge!

Of course, I was going to use coloured pencil again, and I went for the Bristol vellum that had worked so well last time. Remembering the ‘paint by numbers’ effect of my last preliminary drawing, I purposely made this one simpler (albeit, probably still too detailed!). One issue was making the cormorant look right. It was such a small image on my 9 x 12 inch paper, that getting detail was really difficult. Even with the sharpest pencil I could not get the bill quite right. It’s not terrible, but not perfect. It isn’t supposed to be a feather-by-feather accurate portrait, though, so I decided to live with it. in fact, I applied my finest-nib black ink pen to the very end to give it a little additional shape. Not a favourite procedure, but it did help a little.

It went ok. Not sure if I quite got the wave forming behind the sea foam edge, although I think there is a definite feel of a busy sea. There was a lot of sea foam around the rocks in the foreground, so I decided to use the Touch-up Texture/Titanium White again, to give some structure to the mounds of foam, and highlight the wave crests in the sea. I think I’m getting the hang of this stuff now, and it certainly worked. By the way, I have discovered that you don’t need anything special to wash the brushes after using it-water and a mild dish soap works very well.

I added some highlights using white pencil, and also used it to burnish and lighten a little in some areas. I tried the Luminance White first but, for real coverage, I haven’t found anything better than Derwent Drawing’s Chinese White. Strangely, I never though to try the Lightfast White for this!

I’m ok with this one, although it isn’t a favourite (I really enjoyed ‘Wave Action’ much more). Maybe I should have tried a slightly simpler sea for my first ‘real’ seascape!

‘Ocean’s Edge’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Caran d’Ache Pablo and Lightfast, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Derwent Lightfast and Drawing Chinese White), with OMS (Gamsol) to blend, and Brush and Pencil Touch-up Texture/Titanium White for highlights, on Strathmore Series 300 Bristol Vellum.


Making Waves

Sea! I live close to it, and we are always taking pictures of it, but I’ve really not got to grips with drawing it. In fact, it’s something I’ve actively avoiding doing. Whenever I have had a go, I have been disappointed in the result. Well, it was about time I got over the fear, not least because I have a couple of photos in my portfolio that I’d really like to have a go at, and they both feature-yes-sea!

Considering my concerns, I decided that I’d take a look for any on-line tutorials (freebies, I’m a cheapskate!). Typing in ‘drawing sea in coloured pencil’ into Google actually brought up a few references, although mostly unhelpful. One, however, was very good. A YouTube video by Lachri Fine Arts, it featured the artist Lisa Lachri drawing a wave in coloured pencil- perfect. Now, I’ve watched her videos before and find her very knowledgeable, and her style seems to suit mine. The video is about 20-25 minutes long (she does a longer one, on her Patreon channel, but you have to pay for that) and she is purely painting a wave at sea. I thought a similar wave might make a good exercise, so I set about finding a suitable picture in our files.

We have a lot of pictures featuring sea, but strangely not much featuring waves. Normally, there is something else of interest we are focused on, generally it’s feathered! However, Mark, once, had a sudden urge to take landscape shots (he’s fine now, it didn’t last long!) and I had a few tucked away in my files. One, featuring waves breaking at Daniel’s Head, seemed like it might do the job. A little judicious cropping got me this image:

Waves at Daniel’s Head, Cape Sable Island

Now this is a little more sombre than the wave that Lisa paints, which is distinctly Caribbean in its colouration, but it is much more representative of the Atlantic, the ocean that laps up against our shores, so I thought it might make a good exercise. I took away a number of good pointers from Lisa’s video:
1. preserve the white areas by going over them with a white waxy pencil before starting the coloured areas
2. the area below the wave is a completely different, generally lighter, colour than the area behind it
3. use light layers, but plenty of them, to build up the colour, blending with OMS.
4. work in small areas (to avoid the ‘panic’ that the whole picture might cause), concentrating on the shapes of the waves, etc.
5. Brush and Pencil Touch-up texture with Titanium White powder can be a useful tool for restoring the really white areas of the sea foam.
6. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like much to start with, the secret is in the layers and it will improve.
7. Don’t worry if your picture varies a little from the reference, it’s all ‘artistic licence’, after all, and who will know?!

My initial drawing was far too complicated. This is a bit of panic on my part, worrying that I wouldn’t get it to look realistic if I didn’t include every bit of sea foam, every wavelet, etc. As a result it looked a bit like one of those ‘paint by numbers’ outlines that we used to get when we were children! Where are my poster paints?

WIP: initial drawing

See what I mean? Next time, I’ll just go for broad outlines for the major areas, ideas of the direction of the waves, and such like, because I ended up ignoring a lot of these markings anyway. To be honest, it was difficult to decide what a lot of them were supposed to be! Before starting, I removed a lot of the graphite with my kneadable eraser, and then covered half of the work with a glassine sheet. There were two reasons for this, to reduce smudging of the remaining graphite, and to concentrate on only a small area, as per the video suggestion.

WIP: ready to start

Incidentally, you may notice a lot of yellow tape on my ‘work in progress pictures. I always tape down my paper on all four sides, even though that isn’t strictly necessary with the coloured pencil (even when using OMS); it just feels better to me. I also use a sloped drawing surface, so there is no danger of the picture slipping off when I tape it down. I use a painter’s tape from the DIY store for this purpose-not, maybe, strictly speaking acid-free, but a lot cheaper than the artist’s tape from the art store. I really like this FrogTape delicate surfaces tape. It can generally be easily peeled off the paper, without damaging the surface, and I find I can reuse the same bits of tape for 2 or 3 pieces before having to discard it, so my roll has lasted well over a year, so far!

FrogTape Delicate Surface painter’s tape

So, to start. Mindful of Lisa’s suggestion in the video, I went over the major white areas in the picture (the wave crests, sea foam) with Luminance White. I chose this pencil because I’ve experienced before just how resistant it is to being covered with other pencils. In fact I’d normally recommend Luminance to be used on only the upper levels, but it would come into its own, here. I think Derwent Drawing Chinese White, or the Pablo White would probably do the same job.

The wave crests and sea foams are not pure white, anything but, so I added additional colours to mark in the shadows. I found Lightfast Light Aqua (one of the new 36 colours released recently) and Arctic very useful here. More grey areas were realised in Lightfast Moonstone (a really useful ‘hint of green’ grey shade) and Platinum; Pablo Silver Grey (hint of blue); Polychromos Cold Grey II; and, maybe surprisingly, Luminance Violet-Grey. I wasn’t too worried that I lost some of the white; enough remained to provide contrast and I was intending to try adding more highlights back in later.

Above the wave crest, the sea was dark. Now, I don’t usually trust pencils that have a ‘item’ name to actually resemble that item (many of the ‘plant-ey’ named green pencils, for example, are not really useful for foliage), but I’ll make an exception for Lightfast Ocean Blue (Dark) and Pablo Marine Blue. I found them both, but especially the former, really useful for the darker sea areas. I added in touches of Lightfast Dark Indigo; Pablo Grey, Steel Grey and Blueish Grey; and Polychromos Dark Indigo and Prussian Blue. Really dark shadows were provide by Lightfast Midnight Black, a really great black that has a strong blue tone.

The sea in front of the wave is a different tone altogether, much paler and greener. I found Polychromos Earth Green a really good base colour here, adding in a number of other colours: Polychromos Light Cobalt Turquoise and Cold Greys II, III and V; Pablo Malachite Green, Greenish Blue and Turquoise Green; Luminance Moss Green; and Lightfast Granite, Dark Turquoise and Seaweed. Dark shadows were added using Lightfast Forest (for the greener areas), and Ocean Blue (Dark) and Midnight Black for the bluer areas under the curl of the wave.

I ended up, after the first session, with this:

WIP: End of first day

It was not looking too bad, although it needed more layers. Tomorrow, I would take away the glassine sheet and start to work the other side. It had done a job, it was definitely easier to work on just the exposed section and not worry about the rest, but it had its downside, too, as I was to discover the next morning. I had a beautiful, almost straight, line down the page between the half that I’d worked and the half I hadn’t, and it soon became obvious that it would take some disguising. In fact, I can still see traces in the finished piece, although that’s mainly because I know it’s there! So, maybe that sort of cover isn’t the best idea in a piece where most of the lines are horizontal. In addition, my confusing initial drawing, now faint because I’d erased a lot of the graphite, was difficuly to follow around the wave crest on the right-hand side. In fact I got it wrong; in the reference picture the wave crests further down than where I placed it. Not to worry, as long as it looks natural, there’s only you and me that know!

So, in the end, I was pretty happy with it. It might be a tad more colourful than the reference picture, though-maybe the difference between the Atlantic in November (when the picture was taken, I think) and July. Let’s consider it a summer wave, then. Now to try the Touch-up Texture/Titanium White mixture.

Brush and Pencil Touch-up Texture and Titanium White powder

I’d bought this stuff last year. It was something recommended by many coloured pencil artists for adding back highlights and drawing pale whiskers, instead of resorting to a gel pen or ink pen. I’d wanted it for whiskers, really, since I’d found the pigment ink pen I usually use to be a bit of a ‘blunt instrument’-it was difficult to get good tapers with the pen nib, so the whiskers looked too thick. I’d tried the mixture for this purpose and been underwhelmed. It seemed a pain to make up, for the tiny uses I made of it, and it was wishy-washy in application, so I wasn’t impressed. Since then it has languished on my shelf, except for one use of the Touch-up Texture alone on a coloured pencil piece. I’d lost the tooth of the paper before I’d got to the colour I wanted to achieve, so I dabbed on a little Touch-up Texture (the top holds a brush, like a nail polish bottle), allowed it to dry (it doesn’t take long) and I was able to add a couple more layers of pencil to finish off the piece. Useful to know, but not something I’d want to use routinely.

Anyhow, Lisa swears by the stuff, so I decided to give it another try. Maybe I just hadn’t made a thick enough mixture? There are no real instructions for this, you just add the Touch-up Texture to the Titanium White powder and mix with an old brush. Make sure that the Touch-up Texture is well-mixed; you have to get all of the ‘powdery’ bits off the bottom of the bottle and into suspension, and really shake the Titanium White powder before use. Mix well, but you won’t dissolve all of the powder, granular bits will remain. My mixture looked like Tipp-Ex, or Liquid Paper, in texture (but don’t be temped to use Tipp-Ex instead!). Don’t make loads, a little goes a long way and it dries quite quickly, too. Use a really old brush for mixing, and preferably don’t use your best watercolour brushes for application. This stuff is really difficult to remove-in fact I haven’t found the best remover yet. Gamsol doesn’t seem to do it, I may have to try paint remover from the DIY store, next.

I used an old filbert brush and a small round liner brush for application. The filbert is great for adding detail lines along the edges of the sea foam and wave crests, and I used the liner brush for dabbing on splashy spots along and under the crests. I wouldn’t want to do the whole of the white areas of the piece in this material, but it worked nicely for adding brighter spots and details of foam. I’ll certainly keep it in mind for the future, and may even try it again for whiskers. The real beauty of this, of course, is if you get it wrong, you can use your coloured pencils over it to correct-that’s what it’s made for.

‘Wave Action’, 7 x 11 inch, coloured pencil (Derwent Lightfast, Caran d’Ache Pablo and Luminance, Faber-Castell Polychromos) with OMS (Gamsol) to blend, and Brush and Pencil Touch-up Texture/Titanium White powder blend for highlights, on Strathmore Series 300 Bristol Vellum.

Maybe I’ve finally cracked how to do sea? We will have to see, when I try a real picture. I have to say, I did really enjoy this exercise!

p.s. For anyone wondering, I got the Brush and Pencil materials from Delta Art in Edmonton. It’s the only Canadian stockist of both materials that I found; you can get the titanium White powder elsewhere but I think the Touch-up texture is more difficult. I ordered on-line and it was shipped to me, but the shipping charges were more than the materials cost (Canadian companies have horrendous shipping charges, generally, whereas I can get many art materials shipped from the UK at a 5th of the cost!). I ended up doubling the order to make it worthwhile, so I probably have enough to see me through to the next century!

Doing Derwent

I said, in the last post, that I was quite pleased with my recent purchase of a full set of Derwent Lightfast pencils, and that I wanted to give them a thorough workout on a picture. Well, this was that picture. I wanted to try and keep to using only the Lightfasts, and nearly did it! In the end, I did use three pencils from Luminance. As I mentioned, the palette of the Lightfast, at 36 pencils, is a bit more limited than I am used to. I expect that many coloured pencil artists are good at blending to get the colour they want; I don’t think I’m there yet but this exercise did make me think about blending more that I maybe have in the past. It certainly was good practice.

First, the reference photo, one of my own, taken last month at a wharf at Saulnierville on the French Shore of Nova Scotia, during a day out. Look, no snow! Anyhow, I was drawn to these three boats pulled up on the wharf, I liked the different angles they were set at and the slight air of abandonment (although I expect they aren’t really). Also I liked the gradation in sizes from big to little.

The largest boat was a little away from the rest, so I moved it in a little closer to the others-artistic licence, eh. It didn’t overtax many muscles!

I called this post ‘Doing Derwent’, and, in fact I have another Derwent product I was trialling on this piece. During the previous picture, my manual helical pencil sharpener finally gave up. I’d mentioned, previously, that it was playing up. I had to keep a pair of pliers handy to keep the ‘point sharpness knob'(a totally inadequate little red plastic piece) tightened up. Things kept getting jammed in it. The end came when it ate about half of one of my brand-new pencils-ouch!

I was back to a hand pencil sharpener, and I wasn’t happy! So, I took a look, on-line, at what other pencil artists were recommending. One that came up a couple of times was the Derwent SuperPoint manual sharpener. It is a fully metal construction, doesn’t have a silly little knob to go wrong, and is presumabaly good for Derwent pencils (the other one didn’t like these, or Luminance, very much). I bit the bullet, ordered it from Amazon.ca and it arrived Friday.

It’s quite a big beast, and feels very sturdy. The sharpening mechanism is much quieter and smoother than the old one. The point is very long and sharp on the Lightfasts and Luminance pencils. I went through my other sets and it did a great job on almost all of them. The exception? The Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils. For some reason, it doesn’t get along with these at all. I wonder if it is a combination of size and shape? They are a bulky pencil (although not noticeably bigger than the Derwents or Luminance), but they are also hexagonal. The sharpener worked well for hexagonal Supracolors and Pablos, but these are smaller diameter pencils. Oh well, you can’t have everything, and otherwise this does seem to be a good sharpener. I will have to make other plans for the Albrecht Durers.

Back to the piece. I managed the boats in Derwent Lightfast, maybe not quite getting the actual colours spot on, but close. I did decide to ignore the worn spots on the paintwork for this exercise. Sea and breakwater were also ok. I liked Seaweed, an earthy green/grey that toned down the Mid Aquamarine and Dark Turquoise, which were the only real options for blues. Arctic, a very light blue-white, and Mist, a light coolish grey, were also useful. These parts of the picture I blended using a nice sharp Prismacolor colourless blender pencil, and that worked nicely. The Lightfast blend very well with the blender pencil.

The clouds and sky were more of a problem. There was a hint of darkness and purple in the underside of those clouds, and, other than Cloud Grey, the Lightfasts are a bit lacking. I pulled out my favourite Violet-Grey Luminance to help here, although I also added some Nightshade from the Lightfasts, probably a bit too heavily, since it is probably too purple. The blue sky started with Mid-Aquamarine and Mist from the Lightfasts, with a layer of Luminance Grey-Blue. I decided to blend using OMS to start, so that I could perhaps lift a little colour by dabbing with kitchen towel or a cotton swab. This did help to tone down the purple a little. T then went over the darker cloud areas with the colourless blender pencil, to fade out the edges, and then a layer of the Lightfast White. It was looking better, but I don’t think I’ve really got the hang of clouds and sky yet!

So, my conclusion? I like the Lightfast pencils. They take a nice sharp point (especially with this new sharpener), and I think that they will add lots of options for my more usual subjects (this probably wasn’t the best picture to choose for a try out of this palette). The palette may be limiting for some subjects, but will porbably work well for wildlife and botanical themes. I don’t think I would choose to use them alone again, but as a supplement to the other sets, they will be very useful. And I do like the sharpener, with the exception of it not working with Albrecht Durer. I’m probably going to have to keep using a hand sharpener with them.

‘Abandoned’, 9 x 12 inch coloured pencil (Derwent Lightfast, Caran d’Ache Luminance), with Prismacolor colourless blender pencil and OMS, on 100lb Strathmore 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.

capri 6 rs watermark

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?

via listrieri capri wip rs

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.

via listrieri capri rs watermark

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



Down to the Jetty

I really struggle with landscapes. I don’t think that they work well with my detail obsession and my preference for watercolour pencil work. I suppose the type of landscape I’ve always enjoyed seeing are those with wafts of colour that give the impression of the landscape structures, and I’m just not good at that (and pencil isn’t the medium for it, I think). Anyhow, you work with what you have, so it really is up to me to get better at what I know.

My sister lives back in the UK, and she expressed a wish for a painting- well, a couple of paintings all told, of the same size and orientation. She chose one of my completed pieces, ‘Chegoggin Wharf’, and wanted a companion piece, the only stipulation being for something ‘rural’. She’s not into the birds, so it would have to be a landscape, but I didn’t want to do another wharf. Looking through my photo files, I came across an image I’d taken last summer.

This is a view down to the jetty of the Old Acadian Village at Pubnico, NS. It’s an open-air museum, where a number of old houses, workshops and barns have been moved to the site and set up with furnishings, etc., so that it looks pretty much as it would have done in the 19th Century. It’s an interesting place and my parents and I spent a very enjoyable afternoon exploring it last August. It was actually during the same time period that I took the reference photo for ‘Chegoggin Wharf’, so that was also appropriate. The picture had trees, water, a couple of rural-looking buildings, a dory in the sound and lots of foliage, so I hoped it would fit the bill.

One thing that I wanted to do was match the foreground flowers of ‘Chegoggin Wharf’. There were none, really, in my new reference photo but I thought that a little artistic licence could be used to add in Queen Anne’s Lace and a couple of other species into the right-hand foreground of the new piece.

This is ‘Chegoggin Wharf’, you can see that Queen Anne’s Lace is pretty big in this composition.

The other thing I wanted to do was to frame the grass ‘pathway’ down to the wharf with something on the left-hand side. Just down the hill, and hidden by the foliage, was a pile of old-fashioned wooden lobster traps, so I ‘moved’ a couple of them up the hill a bit! I hope that this helps draw the eye into the picture, and that the buoys add a little colour to the foreground.

I haven’t used them much, recently, but this time I determined to use the Derwent Inktense pencils a bit more. One thing that helped was the purchase of a second pencil cabinet. I had filled the first one immediately on buying it, and my Inktense pencils were one of the sets that I wasn’t able to lay out, consequently I tended not to use them. My new cabinet now holds the coloured pencil collection, leaving more room in the original one for the watercolours. Using the Inktense on this foliage and flower-filled picture made a lot of sense, since once dried, the colour is permanent so additional watercolour pencil over the top did not make the first layer bleed. In addition, it is a very intense colour and pops against the more subdued watercolours. It worked well for some of the green and yellow foliage, the pink/red flowers and the buoys. Finally, a black gel pen was utilized to add the detail of the nets within the lobster traps. I really don’t think that I’d have got a pleasing effect, trying to do that in watercolour!

‘Down to the Jetty’, 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Derwent Watercolour and Derwent Inktense), with black gel pen (Staples) on 140lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).

It remains to be seen if this one suits my sister-fingers crossed!

I recently decided to replenish some of my pencil sets. There were a couple of pencils that were getting very short, mainly in the older sets. Although I am still able to use these with pencil extenders, it’s obvious that their days are numbered.

These were the shortest, but there were quite a few others getting that way, even in the new sets. For some reason, I have used the Albrecht Durer Payne’s Grey quite widely, and my Cinnamon Polychromos pencil, unusually, suffered from repeated breakages. I looked at Amazon.ca at their open stock, and was surprised to find that some pencils were listed at $3.95 each (with $4.95 shipping), and others (the same pencils, the same colours) at $65 each-that’s for one pencil! It definitely pays to be careful what you click on.

The cheaper-priced pencils all seemed to be coming from one supplier, Jackson’s Art Supplies, in the UK. Well, I decided to try them out directly, instead of going via Amazon. They do ship internationally and hold stocks of all the major pencils. I was able to get replacements for Supracolor, Derwent Watercolour, Derwent Drawing, Albrecht Durer and Polychromos with no problem. Prices are in UK pounds, of course, but seemed very similar to Amazon’s prices (the cheap ones of course!) and they don’t charge VAT (the UK’s sales tax) on orders from abroad. I bought 19 pencils for 27 GBP, they charged only 1.48 GBP for postage and packing, and shipped them the day after I placed the order (30 December). The package arrived here on 12 January, which I think is very good service, considering the New Year’s holiday and the recent bad weather. I wasn’t desperate for them, so the delay was no issue. They were securely wrapped in a paper envelope, covered by a full-length strip of corrugated cardboard wrapped tightly round and then a padded envelope, so they were all fine when I unwrapped them. I wasn’t even charged duty at this end. That’s what I call a good deal!

As you can see, my shorter pencils are mostly the dull colours. All those pinks, blues and purples are hardly touched (in fact, some of them haven’t been, except for making the colour charts!). I will definitely have to start doing tropical bird portraits. I won’t hesitate to use Jackson’s again, indeed I note the recommendation for the Caran d’Ache Luminance White coloured pencil amongst the pencil artist community so might spring for a few of their open stock Luminance pencils to give them a go (I would probably have to sell a kidney to buy the full set!). The Pablo pencils, though…they might be on my birthday list :).

That was a year…

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!


Some times it is nice to do a simple subject, sometimes it is good to try something a bit more complex. This time I really wanted to challenge myself so I chose a subject that included three things I have always found a bit tricky; sky, sea and snow. I know, I know, I live on the coast of Nova Scotia so I should be getting a bit better, at least at sky and sea (snow is, thankfully, less common!). I’ve had several goes at both, with differing levels of success. To compound matters, I decided to use the coloured pencils, my less familiar medium, and actually broach the new set that I have mentioned in recent posts. So lots of challenges to overcome.

Mark, my husband, very rarely points his camera at anything but wildlife subjects; birds, insects, animals are his favourite things, so when he actually took a couple of seascapes last winter, I squirrelled them away for future use. He took a very moody picture at Daniel’s Head, Cape Sable Island (the island where we live), just after we had had one of our quite rare snow falls, so probably last February. It had a nice lot of snow-covered rocks in the foreground, a few of which had a colourful lichen that relieved the quite monochrome look. Now, I like drawing rocks so maybe this would work after all.

I wanted to do it justice, but it’s a difficult palette. I think my version ended up rather more colourful but I do, sort of, like it. I can always claim it is artistic licence, after all! I was quite pleased with the sea, happy with the rocks and perhaps least pleased with the sky. Still it was a good exercise using my less favourite medium.

‘Winter, Daniel’s Head’ 8 x 10 inch coloured pencil (Derwent Drawing, Faber-Castell Polychromos) on Strathmore 300 Bristol Vellum.

What about those new pencils? Trying to get more serious about coloured pencil, I splashed out on the full 120 set of Faber-Castell’s Polychromos pencils. These do seem to be favourite pencils with a good many coloured pencil artists; very lightfast (mostly) and they don’t suffer from the sharpening issues of the Prismacolors. I had been weighing up whether to plump for them for a while, but when I saw them on Amazon.ca for $35 less than at DesSerres, and with free shipping, I went for it. The downside? An apparently 6 week shipping date whilst they came from Germany. However, I wasn’t desperate for them and could afford the time; after all, I’m not likely to be in Halifax any time soon and sometimes shipping to our rural location can take a while, even from within Canada. The reality? The pencils arrived within 2 weeks of the order, in perfect condition. Can’t go wrong with that!

Here’s my usual picture of box, pencils inside and home-made colour chart. The pencils are nicely packed and the plastic insert trays have some snazzy elastic loops to lift them out. Not quite the metal insert trays of the Caran d’Ache Supracolors but pretty nicely done. For some reason, the tin lid doesn’t quite close properly, once it has been opened (I have the same issue with another Faber-Castell tin, so it seems to be generic to them), but I don’t carry them about so it isn’t an issue for me. These are oil-based pencils, rather than wax-based ones like the Prismacolors and the Derwent Drawing, so I found that they kept a nice point for longer and did not crumble on the page (something that the Prismas seem to be prone to, or maybe I’m just too heavy-handed?). They went on nicely and covered well, combined well with the Derwent Drawing pencils and blended out with the odourless mineral spirit solvent (Gamsol). I have seen some artists claim that they prefer to blend Polychromos with a white pencil or a colourless blender, rather than use spirit, so maybe I’ll have to give that another go. I enjoyed using them and think that they will definitely make a nice addition to my art materials collection. Really, pencils are an addiction, there is no known cure!