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 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 :).



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 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!

Summer at Baccaro


I like drawing birds, and have done for years. I also enjoy the colour of the wharf scenes, but I really haven’t got a feel for landscapes, so I have to rather force myself to have a go. There is always a bird that I could be drawing!

A couple of weeks ago we took a trip down the next peninsula along from us, namely Baccaro, with our friends from the UK. It was a glorious late June day, the sky was blue and the sea even bluer (not always the case with the Atlantic Ocean, even in summer!). At the end of the peninsula stands one of the lighthouses that give the name to the road along the south shore of Nova Scotia, the “Lighthouse Route”. It was surrounded by wild flowers, including a clump of blue iris, and I duly took photos, thinking that this might make a scene worth painting…

In my imagination I decided on a close up of the irises, with the lighthouse in the background. I also decided to lose the foghorn, which is mounted on a concrete platform to the left of the lighthouse in the above photo. I don’t think that the authorities are really thinking about the aesthetics when they put these things up!. There is a small monument, I think to those lost at sea, to the right of the lighthouse, which I decided to keep in place.

I used a lot of pencils on this picture. For fun I kept a list of all the pencils used, and I took from both the Caran d’Ache Supracolors and the Derwent Watercolours for this picture, along with a single Staedler Karat-the black, which remains my favourite pencil for outlining since it keeps a nice sharp point. I am down to the stub with this one, using a pencil holder to keep it going! Pencils used were:

Caran d’Ache: Beige, Light Beige, Ash Grey, Brownish Beige, Cocoa, Cream, Aubergine, Purple Violet, Violet, Mauve, Granite Rose, Salmon Pink, Flame Red, Vermillion, Raspberry Pink, Carmine, Blue Jeans, Bluish Pale, Royal Blue, Periwinkle Blue,  Sky Blue, Naples Yellow, Pale Yellow, Yellow, Canary Yellow, Steel Grey, Slate Grey, Grey, Dark Grey, Mouse Grey, Light Grey, Charcoal Grey, Moss Green, Grass Green, Spring Green, Olive Brown, Olive Black, Brown Ochre, Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Bronze, Silver, Gold.

Derwent Watercolour: Turquoise Blue, Prussian Blue, Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Sky Blue, Indigo, Delft Blue, Blue Violet Lake, Light Violet, Bronze, Cedar Green, Grass Green, Sap Green, May Green, Water Green, Olive Green, Jade Green, Brown Ochre, Raw Sienna, Sepia, French Grey, Silver Grey, Geranium Lake, Deep Vermillion.

a total of 68 pencils! It was nice to use some of the brighter colours that don’t typically turn up in the plumage pictures.  I did enjoy working on the flowers, they lend themselves to detail drawing, but I’m still not feeling the love for landscapes in general. Still, it’s always nice to try something new.

baccaro light rs watermark

‘Summer View at Baccaro’, 8 x 10 inch (approx.), watercolour pencil on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper.



Low Tide Too

Another image of the flats between The Hawk and Cape Island, this time in a slightly different direction. I took this picture late last spring and always liked the desolate feel of the flats at low tide, along with the single little boat left stranded on the sands. There was a profusion of rocks and some old, mouldy, wooden posts; all things I rather like trying to paint, and that lend themselves to my structured approach. Maybe the pencils are not the best medium for landscapes, except (perhaps) these very detailed ones.

the hawk 2 rs watermark

My original photo-if you look closely at the horizon you can see the outline of a beached lobster boat; rumour has it that the skipper had had a few on his way back to port, and missed. I left that out of the painting, though.

I have seemingly settled on using a mixture of pencils from the two ‘top’ sets, Caran d’Ache Supracolor and Derwent Watercolour. Each set offers something different, and even colours with the same name can be subtly different in shade, allowing an extra depth. I kept a list of the colours used from each set, again for a bit of fun, and was astonished to find that a seemingly limited colour painting used 48 separate pencils!

Derwent: blue grey, gunmetal, French grey, silver grey, Vandyke brown, bronze, sepia, raw sienna, burnt umber, cedar green, olive green, sky blue, spectrum blue, blue violet, sky blue, grass green, raw umber, burnt carmine.

Caran d’Ache: cocoa, olive brown, beige, olive black, brownish beige, ivory black, bluish pale, sepia, silver grey, black, greyish black, light beige, grass green, olive grey, charcoal grey, moss green, grey, umber, light grey, green ochre, mouse grey, olive, reddish orange, gentian blue, bistre, cream, bluish grey, sky blue, indigo blue, Vandyke brown.

I’m sure that watercolour artists can get by using many fewer colours and blending the shades that they want, but I never really enjoyed that (getting a lot of mud shades myself). I really like that someone else has done much of the blending with all of these pencils.

low tide 2 rs watermark

‘Low Tide II’, 8 x 10 inch, watercolour pencil on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper.

Low Tide

I’ve been a bit nervous of landscapes; I’ve been unsure that I could make a good go of it since they don’t generally lend themselves to the detail that I like. I decided that I really have to get more practice in, so I’ve determined to alternate the bird pictures with landscapes or wharves. A few days ago we took an evening tour around Cape Sable Island and ended up at the car park at the end of Fish Plant Road, at The Hawk, looking out across the flats at the Cape Light. The tide was low so there were rocks and sandbanks visible, so I took a few photos using my 35x optical zoom bridge camera (that lighthouse is quite a way away!). One in particular, attracted me to try and make a picture.

cape light 2 rs watermark

I liked the lines of colour crossing the view, where the water had retreated, and the yellowy grass around the lighthouse.  Part-way through I had a bit of a panic that the foreground was a bit empty so decided to add some birds, Brant geese in fact, to give the eye a focal point. I had taken a few Brant pictures on the same tour and was able to choose a nice grouping.

brant at daniels head 3 watermark

Not the best photo, (the birds were a long way away, too),  but there was sufficient detail to provide a reference for these small images. The Hawk is an important migration stop-off for Brant, and there are thousands around in the Spring, though maybe not quite where I put this grouping (artistic licence, eh?). I was reasonably happy with the final picture, and I feel that I have learned a few new ways to work with the pencils.

low tide the hawk rs watermark

‘Low Tide’, Brant geese at The Hawk, 8 x 10 inch Caran d’Ache Supracolor watercolour pencils on Canson XL 140 lb cold press watercolour paper.

Tinted graphite

I admit I’m addicted to pencils, so when I came across a set of Derwent Graphitint pencils, I had to give them a try. The set of 24 pencils includes muted and earthy browns, greens, pinks, greys and blues. They are tinted graphite and can be used dry to provide subtle shading or, after wetting, more vivid colours. I thought they would add options for the wildlife paintings and, probably, for landscape work.

I had taken this photo of an old fishing hut on the bar between Inner and Outer False Harbours, at Cape Forchu. last December, with the intention of giving it a go as a painting.


It had a couple of dorys (one named ‘Lady Comeau’) beached behind it. I liked the texture of the hut walls and the muted colour palette. The Graphitint set (24 pencils) lacks yellows and lighter blues, so I supplemented with standard watercolour pencils. I went back to my favourite lighterweight watercolour paper and was overall quite pleased with the resulting picture. A few artistic liberties were taken with the electrical supply box and the number of dorys visible in the picture!


‘Fishing Hut, Cape Forchu’, 7.5 x 9.5 inch, watercolour pencil and tinted graphite pencil on lightweight watercolour paper.




Landscape Fun…

I had never really tried to do a landscape, although it was always in the plan. I get easily distracted by another good bird to draw! However, I was determined to have a go. A watercolour landscape might not be best suited to my very detailed style, though, so I decided to have a go at something with a lot of detail. The answer was this picture I took earlier this month, of the lighthouse at Cape Forchu, near Yarmouth, with its very dramatic and detailed rocks.



I thought it would be fun to document the process. I do like a detailed drawing to work on. This probably stems from my original pen and ink drawing, so my first step was to get the drawing, in 2B graphite pencil, onto my lightweight watercolour paper.


It was quite a job!. After that I switched to the watercolour pencils to start to work in the sky. I do like watercolour pencils and find them fun to work with. The colour stays where it is put, but it is easy to blend into other colours using a minimum of water on the brush. The paper doesn’t ever get too wet and excess colour or water can be blotted off using paper towel. I have quite a collection, but they all have their own characteristics. It is relatively easy to find the right colour, with such a choice!

pencils-2 pencils-1 at-work at-work-2 brushes-rs

The Faber-Castell sets in the first picture are unusual in that they can only be used by drawing on the paper and then wetting it. The Derwent Inktense and Marco Renoir pencils in the second and third picture can be used in the same manner, but also a wet brush can be applied to the tip of the pencil to lift colour, or the pencil end can be dipped in water, allowing additional effects. The Faber-Castell pencils allow a finer tip for detail work. The Derwents are very intense colour, that looks like ink when dried. I generally use a mixture of these pencils, depending on the subject matter, but the Derwents don’t get used much in the bird studies. the last picture shows my main brushes…a no.4 watercolour brush for large areas, like sky. a wider bristle brush for water areas and a very tiny, 10/0 watercolour brush for the details…I generally use this one the most, which is probably why these pictures take several days to complete.


The sky and lighthouse are filled in.


Then I worked on the rockpool and the areas of grass, all yellowed due to having been under snow.


Starting work on the rocks. I decided to try for the feel of the picture, without trying to get the colours exactly right (it isn’t a bird, so I can get away with that!). using the Derwents meant that the colours are bright and pop off the page.


More rocks, working round to the front of the picture. There were more greens and blues in the rocks at the front.


The final picture. I enjoyed the challenge and it has inspired me to try more landscapes. If only there were more hours in the day!