Exhibition Fever

Another exhibition! When Cal Kimola Brown contacted me to ask if I wanted to be involved in another exhibition in Clark’s Harbour, I thought I’d give it a go. The time of year (June) might be a bit more conducive to footfall, after all-a virtual blizzard during the last one wouldn’t have helped. In addition, there was no specific theme so I could show a variety of works. I set to, to frame up some pieces, and have ended up with 12 (costs me a fortune in frames), 7 for sale and 5 just because I like them! Trouble is, as I’ve mentioned before, once these go into frames I tend to like them all over again, so it will be a wrench to sell some of them off :(. I’ll get over it, though. It will be fun to see the work of other local artists, too, there are at least 10 artists in total exhibiting. The poster (prepared by Cal, thanks Cal!) gives the details but, in brief, the show is on Friday 8th June (6-9 pm) and Saturday 9th June (10 am-4 pm), at Clark’s Harbour Legion Hall, Cape Sable Island, and costs $2 entry.

So what am I showing? A selection of more recent works and a few real old favourites will be on show. Here’s a taster:

First my most recent piece, ‘Red Squirrel, coloured pencil on pastel paper. I have framed this with a white mat in a gold frame, overall 11 x 14 inch, matted to approximately 8 x 10 inch (but hand-cut mat so actually not exact!). I’m selling this one, framed, for $50.

One of my personal favourites, especially when framed! ‘Porcelain Rose’ is coloured pencil on Bristol board and has been framed in a brown wood-effect frame with two layers of mat board of slightly different shades of white, which I think makes a pleasing effect! It is framed at 14 x 18 inch, matted to (approximately) 8 x 10 inch, and is for sale at $70 framed.

An older piece, but I hope appealing to people who like to see these birds in their yards. “Merry and bright’ is coloured pencil on Bristol paper and has been framed in a brown wood-effect frame with a light cream mat (11 x 14 inch matted to 8 x 10 inch approx.). For sale at $50 framed.

The picture from the poster, ‘Reflections’ is a watercolour pencil piece, on watercolour paper and is actually a scene from Eastern Passage, nr Dartmouth. A white mat and gold-coloured frame competes the look. 11 x 14 inch, matted to 8 x 10 inch, for sale at $50 framed.

This is another one that will be a wrench if it sells! I had great fun with ‘Painted Turtle’ and really like it framed up. This coloured pencil piece, on pastel paper, has be placed in an oversized brown wood-effect frame (14 x 18 inch) with two layers of mat in two shades, white and a pale yellow, which tones well with the colours of the piece  and I think really make it pop.  For sale at $70, framed.

A bit of a departure for me, ‘Old Annecy’ is a French ‘streetscape’, with lots of detail. Watercolour pencil on watercolour paper, this one has been matted in my favourite black mat and framed in a gold-coloured frame (11 x 14 inch, matted to 8x 10 inch approx.). For sale, $50 framed.

Another squirrel, this time a ‘foreigner’, ‘Nutkin’ is a Rock Squirrel, from the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and is coloured pencil on Bristol paper. A white mat and gold-coloured frame completes the look (11 x 14 inch, matted to 8 x 10 inch , very approximately-I must learn to draw in standard sizes instead of covering every inch of the paper!). For sale, $50 framed.

Now here are the ‘Not for Sale’ pieces. I chose these because I wanted to show pictures I was particularly pleased with, that showcase certain genres (eg. pet portraits, people portraits, in case of any commission interest) and because they amuse me…a good enough reason since I do primarily do this because I like it!

‘The Girls’, a portrait of our two pet cats, Bubbles and Joy (named for their outgoing personalities-not!). Watercolour pencil on watercolour paper, 11 x 14 inch.

‘Talking Turkey’, this one just always pleased me and is a very striking image when framed. 11 x 14 inch watercolour pencil on watercolour paper.

‘A Study in Concentration’, a portrait, in coloured pencil on Bristol paper, of my husband Mark (shown with his permission!) 8 x 10 inch.

‘Catnapping’, a portrait of my father and our old pet cat, Teddy, taking a few zzzz one sunny afternoon. Watercolour pencil on watercolour paper, 8 x 10 inch.

‘Cape Island Camo’, Harbour Seal on The Cape, CSI, watercolour pencil on watercolour paper, 8 x 10 inch.

Well, we will see how it all goes this time, at least it will be fun to be involved in an exhibition again. I won’t be able to attend on the Friday evening (I have an appointment in Halifax that day) but hope to be able to get round on Saturday. Maybe see you there! Wish me luck…


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.



Roseate Tern

There has been a brief hiatus in my postings, and in my art, due to us hosting visitors from the UK. Indeed, we have three additional separate groups coming over the next few months, so I expect my time available to paint will be pretty limited, but every visitor is welcome and much wanted! Before our last visitors arrived I had started work on a picture of Roseate Tern and finally got to finish it last night.

Terns are one of my favourite bird groups. Although they are largely black, grey and white in colouration, there is something about their elegant flight, clean plumage and the way that they plunge headlong into the water when fishing that is a joy to watch. Locally we are lucky to see three species in the summer, the Common Tern, the Arctic Tern and this one, the Roseate tern, by far the rarest of the three. The bird gets its name from the subtle pink wash on the belly of the breeding bird, which can just be seen on this picture.

For many years, the Brother Islands near West Pubnico have been home to Canada’s largest breeding colony of Roseate Terns, husbanded diligently by a local resident, Ted d’Eon. Mark went out with Ted to the North Brother Island, earlier this year, to photograph the returning birds as they set up their nests, with the particular task of getting good photos of the rings (bands) on the birds’ legs so that origin and return status could be determined. Of all the excellent photos he took, this one, with the long, elegant tail streamers much in evidence and the interesting background, was my favourite. As you can see, two rings are present on the bird and I chose to include them in the picture in tribute to the work of Ted and the North Brother colony.

roseate tern rs watermark

There is a sad footnote to this story. Low numbers of terns returned to North Brother this spring, compared to last year. The island is getting smaller, due to sea erosion, and a particularly high tide in May damaged the managed nesting zone. Even those birds that had nested and laid eggs seem to have abandoned the nests; not just Roseates but also Common and Arctic Terns. Predation of the nests by American Crows has not helped.  It appears that there will be no terns breeding on North Brother this year, the first time for decades that this has happened. Some birds have been located on nearby islands, but not all, but it is hoped that new breeding colonies will be established. It is likely that North Brother’s days as the biggest breeding colony in Canada are now over.

The picture was something of a challenge, as I was unsure about the very busy background for some time. The bird itself was relatively straightforward, although the plumage was surprisingly blue-looking in the strong sunlight and that pink wash was finely judged to be visible but not overwhelming-it really is a subtle shade in the actual bird. The ‘log’ in the background, maybe an old fence post with some sort of a bolt going through it was fun to portray, I really do enjoy old wood! In the end I bit the bullet and decided to paint in all the leaves, not strictly true to life since these were largely blurred out in the reference photo (the depth of field was perfectly judged by the photographer to highlight the bird!) and I jiggled the colouration a little. Still, artistic licence, eh? I hope the final picture gives a feel for the site. Pencils used were mainly Supracolors, but I used a couple of favourites from the Derwents, Venetian red and blue-grey. I find the Derwent Venetian red less red and more browny than the equivalent colour in the Supracolors, so I do like it for the bark on branches. The blue-grey is more ‘rocky’ than the equivalent in the Supracolors, even though the grey in that set has distinct bluey tones.

Anyhow, this is my tribute to the tern colony at North Brother and the sterling work of Ted d’Eon. I really hope that the Terns find a new home and go from strength to strength.

Thanks to Mark Dennis and Alix d’Entremont for additional information on the status of the terns of North Brother Island.

roseate tern rs watermarked

‘Roseate Tern at North Brother’, 9 x 11 inch, watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Derwent Watercolour) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).



Hen and Chickens…


Ruffed Grouse are the common ‘game bird’ species in Nova Scotia but they can be surprisingly difficult to see; in fact I had not managed to come across one this year before last Sunday. An exploration of a gravelly track, going inland from Shelburne (and known to us as the Wentworth Lake Road) produced this little family. Male and female Ruffed Grouse are largely plumaged alike, and thus they are difficult to tell apart, except in this case. The male birds take no part in nesting or raising of chicks, so we can be confident that this one is a hen. She was carefully shepherding her brood of five chicks out onto the dusty track in order to take grit from the surface.

Ruffed Grouse are pretty omnivorous, eating seeds, nuts, other plant materials, insects and even small reptiles, where they can get them. The chicks are able to feed themselves from birth, but still need careful guidance from the mother bird while the flight feathers grow (you can see that this process has started in the wing feathers on the chicks). The grit is taken into the birds’ gizzards and, along with the strong muscular action of that organ,  helps to grind the harder food items down to a state where they can be absorbed. The grit is continually passed, so the birds need to replenish it, typically twice a day. This can provide great viewing opportunities for this usually shy species.

This family appeared on the track in front of the car and we were able to stop, a safe distance away and watch Mum, and her little bundles of fluff, as they wandered across the road. Mark, of course, took photos and I was able to combine images from a number of them to produce my picture, a process I really enjoy since it allows a little extra creativity in the process!. Incidentally, the birds were pretty safe on the track-on a 5 hour trip we came across only one other vehicle (an ATV) on the entire 20 km stretch.

Example pictures of Mark’s are above.

An ostensibly brown-looking bird, the mother’s plumage is actually gloriously colourful when examined closely and was great fun to paint. Even the chicks had a surprising number of colours in the plumage. This adult bird is clearly on the browner end of the colour scale, which ranges from grey morph to brown morph, with many intergrades.

ruffed grouse rs watermark

‘Hen and Chickens’, Ruffed Grouse family, 11 x 14 inch watercolour pencil (Derwent Watercolour, Caran d’Ache Supracolor) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).

Beachy Nuthatch

Mark has been taking a few trips to The Cape recently. For those who don’t know, ‘The Cape’ is a sandy island off the end of The Hawk, Cape Sable Island, inhabited by sheep, birds, the automated Cape Light lighthouse and occasional mad birdwatchers. It is reached by a small boat, navigated by an indomitable 89-year-old, and can attract interesting birds on migration, as well as Canada’s only breeding American Oystercatchers, hence Mark’s interest.

On a recent visit, with Ronnie d’Entremont, the birding was quite slow but they did come across a Red-breasted Nuthatch, perched on a bleached log on the rocky beach. Nuthatches are a permanent resident of the coniferous forests of Nova Scotia, so not rare, but the perch on the log was very photogenic, and rather unusual. It suggests that this bird was a migrant, rather than a resident, especially since the only trees on The Cape (the famous ‘Forest’) are a small clump of wind-blasted shrubs (the name is a bit sarcastic!). The brownish tinge to the wings and tail of this bird indicate that it has not yet completed the moult to full breeding plumage. Mark took a shot of the bird and though it might inspire a painting.

red breasted nuthatch rs watermarked

It definitely got me interested. The bird itself was relatively simple to draw, it was the rocks and, in particular, the wood that took the time. My version left out the flotsam ropes and other articles, and ended up a little more colourful than the original (hey, artistic interpretation is allowed!). It was fun to try and produce ‘rocky’ textures on the sea-washed rocks, through the medium of watercolour pencil.

redbreasted nuthatch rs watermark

‘Beachy Nuthatch’, Red-breasted Nuthatch, 10 x 14 inch, watercolour pencil (Derwent Watercolour, Caran d’Ache Supracolor) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).

This species is an extremely rare vagrant to Europe, with only two having been found in the Western Palearctic region. One of these was an overwintering individual in Norfolk, UK – Holkham Meals to be precise – in 1989-1990. It is a pine forest, so perfectly suitable habitat for Nuthatches, but this bird’s ‘tin trumpet’ call gave the game away. And, yes, Mark did see the Norfolk bird! See his excellent e-book ‘Twitching Times’ for details.


A lighthearted romp through the birding scene in the UK, following twitching* trips to rare birds, the length and breadth of the country. Cover art and internal pen and ink illustrations are mine. Available from iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble for a very  small amount!

*twitching-to actively chase rare birds. A UK term that is slowly making its way across the pond.


Daniel’s Head

Daniel’s Head is a point of land on the south side of Cape Sable Island and is well known to birders as an ‘important bird area’. Indeed, the somewhat bleak-looking landscape encompasses a beach (breeding Piping Plovers!) and saltmarsh, divided by a road and sea ‘wall’ (a pile of boulders that does get breached, from time to time). At the end of the road is a fish plant and a small wharf with lobster boats.

I have been working at a series of pictures depicting the wharves of Cape Sable Island. so it was necessary to have a go at the one on Daniel’s Head. Unfortunately, its a rather industrial looking place, the buildings and wharf itself don’t lend themselves to whimsy! I could not seem to get a photo reference that inspired me. In the end, Mark came to the rescue with a view across from the wharf, looking towards the road and the sea wall. The fish plant would be on the far right of the picture. In the background is a metal structure, made of girders and given the name of ‘the metal forest’ by local birders, due to the number of interesting birds found sitting on it, over the years. I have to admit I am not at all sure what its true purpose might be. You can see the boulder-strewn sea wall in the distance.

I used the Derwent Inktense pencils again for the hulls of the boats and other intensely-coloured places in this picture, but then swapped to conventional watercolour pencils for the rest. I have been using the Supracolors pretty constantly recently, to the neglect of the other sets, so I decided to purposely use the Marco Renoir pencils on this picture. That way I could double-check that the Supracolor pencils were worth the money!

The difference was very noticeable. The Supracolors go on much more smoothly and almost ‘creamy’ as compared to the Renoirs, which felt scratchy. They also don’t wet as readily as the Supracolors, and release less pigment. It felt like harder work to get the colour on the paper, so I do think that the Supracolors were worth the money – it is true that ‘you get what you pay for’. However, the Renoirs did do a good job and, at less than $80 CAD for 72 pencils (on Amazon.ca), they probably can’t be beaten for value for money.

Daniels Head Wharf rs watermark

‘The Wharf at Daniel’s Head’, 8 x 10 inch, watercolour pencil (Derwent Inktense, Marco Renoir) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).

An Improbability of Puffins

When is black not black? When looking at the plumage of ostensibly black and white birds, that’s when. You would think that painting Atlantic Puffins would be simple, lots of black and white and some big, silly coloured bills, but no…that plumage has a lot of subtle colouration, greys, browns, blues as well as ‘black’! Actually, I loved painting these, they have such personality in those faces, and who doesn’t like Puffins? But the plumage did take some getting right, especially giving the impression of individual feathers on the backs of the birds, where the oiled plumage is relatively smooth. That’s why I love painting raptors, lots of feather detail!

I mentioned that I had it in mind to paint a ‘portmanteau’ piece for Puffins, using several of Mark’s images. Well, this is not that piece. Mark has some lovely photos, but all on the sea or flying over it. Sea and I don’t have the best painting relationship right now, I’m getting better at depicting it but I’m not there yet, so I wanted to do a ‘land-based’ piece. Getting those sorts of photos is not easy here, Puffins tend to be on off-shore islands (more off-shore than we are, anyway!), hence the number of images Mark has of birds on the sea, which is the best we can do without taking to boats. So I decided to try on line and use one of the photo sites that allow use of photos for art purposes. It pays to be careful, and to check that the website, or the individual picture, carries either the Creative Commons Zero Licence (CC0) or an Attribution Licence.  Either of these allow you to make any kind of artwork from the photos, without asking permission, and to then sell the artwork, prints or use it elsewhere. The difference is that the first type of licence does not even require you to credit the original photographer whereas the second requires a credit on each use. To be safe I took a look at a site that has only CC0 licenced images, Pixabay. It had an easy search tool, typing in ‘puffins’ soon brought up a number of nice images, all stood on rocks. I chose two photos, both of groups of birds, and downloaded them to my computer. I then chose individual birds from the two photos and mixed and matched to get a grouping I liked, before drawing my picture. The background was added after finishing painting the birds, and was mainly my imagination, directed a bit by the backgrounds on the two photos. I do prefer using Mark’s photos, but this did make a good option for those occasions when looking for something specific that might not be in his photo library (but I have a huge backlog of photos that I want to paint, so it’s probably not going to be a common occurrence!).

There are a number of other photo sharing websites, others with the CC0 licence (so you can browse with confidence) include Unsplash  Public Domain Archive and Pexels, whilst MorgueFile uses a similar licence that just needs you to change the image in some way (so making a piece of art works!). I haven’t looked at these sites yet, though, as I found just what I was wanting on Pixabay.

improbability rs watermarked

‘An Improbability of Puffins’, Atlantic Puffin, 8 x 10 inch, watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor) on 140 lb cold press Canson XL watercolour paper.

What to call this one? I looked into the collective nouns for Puffins and there are a number, including a ‘burrow’ (maybe best for nesting birds?), a ‘parliament’, a ‘raft’ (probably best for those on the sea), a ‘puffinry’ (a bit obvious, perhaps?), a ‘circus’ (getting warm), a ‘loomery’ (nicer still) and an ‘improbability”. I went for the ‘improbability’, as it does seem to sum up the look of these charming, comical little birds.