Collared Aracari

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog, mainly due to the nice spring weather and migration time for birds! Consequently we’ve been buzzing about locally and my painting has remained, neglected rather, on my drawing board. It has been difficult to find an hour or two to settle into the painting and, as a consequence, I think this one suffered from that a bit. I think that I rushed the end a little, I’m not over fond of the background or the branches, but backgrounds seem to be my bugbear.

To wind back a little, Mark had taken a photo of a Collared Aracari, a member of the Toucan family, in the garden of Rancho Naturalista in Costa Rica, in November 2010 and I’d recently dug it out. These are colourful birds, with some subtle plumage details, as well as the rather comical bill, and I thought it would make a nice challenge. I have also neglected the watercolour pencils rather, recently, and I wanted to give them a go. Therefore Collared Aracari, in watercolour pencil on watercolour paper it would be.

Now, you may recall that my super pencil sharpener had collapsed on me, much to my distress. Mark took a look and, with the help of a big pair of pliers, had tightened that silly little red nut sufficiently that it works again. I get a nice sharp point, most of the time, but the ‘autostop’ function seems to have stopped working altogether, so the sharp point is generally at the sacrifice of an awful lot of pencil! I see this as a stopgap only, and am still considering what I should get to replace it. In the meantime, I’m keeping the pliers handy and trying not to sharpen things to much, in case I end up with drawers full of stumps.

The bird went quite well, I think. These are pretty shaggy-looking birds and I felt that the feather detailing worked out pretty well, using the Supracolor and Albrecht Durer pencils. I was pretty pleased with the breast feathering, in particular, with it’s shades of yellow, orange, red and black. The bill colouration took to the watercolour treatment, since the addition of water smoothed out any abrupt colour changes. It’s also surprising just how many other shades (like blue, violet and malachite green) can be seen in an ostensibly black feather. In the end it was a looser depiction rather than an completely accurate representation-something I perhaps need to work on more since I am prone to the ‘technical illustration’ style, apparently. It’s still pretty true to life, though, as my resident critic would definitely let me know if it wasn’t!

I had more issues with the branches and the background. I decided to use some of the Derwent Watercolours for this, since I haven’t used them for some time. They worked well but I definitely noticed a difference in the feel of the pencils. These used to be my favourites, but they have definitely been superceded by the Supracolors and Albrecht Durers now. Backgrounds are still an issue; I tried yet again to get some sort of bokeh with the watercolours, but it didn’t really come off. I do think it’s a bit better than previous attempts, mainly because I gave up before I’d filled too much of the page.

I’m not sure why it ended up with quite such a look of surprise, but it is quite endearing!

‘Collared Aracari’, 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (C d’A Supracolor, F-C Albrecht Durer, Derwent Watercolour) on 140 lb watercolour paper (Canson XL).

Just a reminder that next weekend sees the art exhibition at Clark’s Harbour Legion Hall, and I will be exhibiting (and selling) some of my pieces. The exhibition is on Friday 08 June from 6-9 pm and on Saturday 09 June from 10 am to 4 pm, and costs only $2 to enter. Over 10 local artists will be exhibiting, and I’m looking forwards to seeing what they have been doing!



I don’t know if this ever happens to you, but sometimes I start out on a picture, full of enthusiasm, and then it wanes. That certainly happened on this piece, but I’ve only once given up totally, so I powered through it, although it took longer to complete because of that.

I had an urge to do something intricate and colourful, and I came across another of my rainforest plant pictures, this time of foliage. Now, I don’t actually know what plant this is, although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them in plant pots as house plants. These, however, were in the wild, in a rainforest in Panama in December 2009. Lots of strong colour and shape, so I thought it would make a striking picture.

What medium to use? Well, I decided on watercolour pencil, but this might have been the wrong choice, in the end. I had difficulty in getting the leaf shapes to stick out of the mass of foliage, so much so that I ended up outlining and shading in coloured pencil. Not my favourite method, I don’t really like a dark outline, but I felt this needed something. It veered from being ‘true to life’ to becoming a graphic representation, I think in the end more the latter than the former. That’s why I called this post ‘Abstraction’, because I think it ended up as an almost abstract image!

In the end it’s sort of ok, it might make a nice image for a greetings card or something similar, but I don’t think I’ll be framing it. I think I’ll go back to the birds for the next piece, though, or maybe a portrait…I need a new Facebook profile picture!

‘Rainforest Foliage’, 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (FC Albrecht Durer, C d’A Supracolor, Derwent Watercolour) and coloured pencil (C d’A Pablo, FC Polychromos, Derwent Drawing Chinese White with Prismacolor colourless blender pencil) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).

Say ‘Hi’…

After a brief foray into boats and wharfs, I got back to my favourite subject matter, birds, for the next picture. After again looking through my older holiday pictures, I found another pleasing image that I was keen to try. This is a Cuban Screech Owl, a species endemic to Cuba (I guess you could work that out from the name!), which we saw on a trip back in April 2012. This bird had made a nest in the broken-off bole of a palm tree and would pop up to take a look at you if you went near its territory, even during the day. I think in this case its appearance was helped by our local guide gently knocking and scraping on the tree itself. I’m sure this bird was used to it!

I thought this one would be a candidate for the watercolour pencils. I worked mainly in Albrecht Durer and Supracolor for this picture, using only one Derwent pencil, the Venetian Red for the trunk of the tree behind the owl. The left eye (as you look at the bird) was problematic. The photo really didn’t have much detail for this eye as it was in shadow. I initially did most of that eye dark, but it looked very lopsided, and I was loathe to darken off the other eye too much since I seemed to have got the expression mostly right in that one. I wasn’t sure what I would do, but decided to press on and see how it looked with more of the picture completed…it was touch and go whether I would give up and start afresh but, as I have mentioned before, I’m too stubborn for that!

After the rest of the bird was completed, it did look a little better and not quite so scary, so I decided to try a little coloured pencil to further define the pupil and to put in some highlights. The Derwent Drawing Chinese White was the star for the highlights, although I also tried the Luminance white…not as good in my opinion. The Luminance black pencil was used to add a little more depth to the pupils of both eyes. Now they looked ok, not my best perhaps but in keeping with the picture.

The final conundrum was the top right-hand corner. In the photo this is a washed out, de-focused area of leaves and sky, with hints of green and intense blue. This would probably have worked well as a bokeh effect if using coloured pencils, but I have not (so far) had much luck trying bokeh with watercolours. I decided to fill in with some leaf shapes in three shades of green. These were purposely left as mere outlines, with little structure. I used two shades of blue to paint between the leaves. In the end, the blue was too patchy, so once it had dried I went over this again with coloured pencil, again in two shades of blue, followed by the colourless blending pencil. I think this helped bring out the intensity of the Cuban sky. I’m in two minds whether I like this simplistic treatment of the foliage, but I’m calling this done, at least for now.

‘Cuban Screech Owl’, 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Caran d’Ache Supracolor, 1 Derwent Watercolour), with minor details in coloured pencil (Derwent Drawing Chinese White, Caran d’Ache Luminance, Faber-Castell Polychromos, Prismacolor colourless blender) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).


I wanted a little change from the recent series of exotic bird pictures (although I am certainly not tired of doing them!) so I thought I’d vary things with a wharf image. A change is as good as a rest, so they say. Anyhow, I had taken a photo during the last January that I thought might be a good picture to copy. We had spent a long (lonnnggg!) time in the car park at MacCormack’s Beach Provincial Park at Eastern Passage nr Halifax, over the course of four visits (six for Mark!), trying to see a ‘first for Nova Scotia’ Kelp Gull (and failing). It was cold, and on occasions, nasty weather, but on (I think) the second visit the weather was sunny and I relieved the monotony slightly by taking a walk around the adjacent Fisherman’s Cove. This is an attractive wharf area of prettily painted wooden huts, mostly containing art, crafts and an unfeasibly large number of fudge shops (or so it seemed to we who are on strict diets and don’t indulge!). It’s also a working wharf, with some lobster boats and a fish plant at the end. I liked the photo and thought that the slanted shadows and reflections in the water could make for a nice challenge.

This, I thought, was a job for the watercolour pencils, and in particular the Derwent Inktense. I always like the real pop of colour that these pencils give, once they are wetted, and it is a real bonus that the ‘ink’, once dried, is permanent and thus won’t be bothered by anything going over them. This was particularly useful for that long tether snaking out of the front of the picture since, typically, the water was the last but one area that I painted. The overall last was the sky, I really hate doing sky. On this occasion, this might have been better done first. I certainly didn’t get it blue enough but I was worried about spoiling the rest of the picture if I went back in.

The Inktense pencils are great, but not to be used (in my opinion) for everything, so I also used a fair number of my Supracolor and Albrecht Durer pencils. I was pretty happy with the reflections in the water, especially the front boat (Fiddlers Green IV) and the rocks to the right. Still no gull, though, although I was tempted to draw one in, perching on the railings, just to wind up Mark!

‘Fisherman’s Cove, Eastern Passage, NS’9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (Derwent Inktense, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Caran d’Ache Supracolor), with minor details in Staples gel pen and Uniball Signo white pigment ink pen, on 140 lb 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 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 :).

Something Old, Something New…

An appropriate title, I think, for the last day of 2017. Even more so when considering the subject matter of this post. Its an image of a wedding, not just any old wedding but our own, way back in 1993! You may wonder why I chose to have a go at this…well, I’m definitely feeling nostalgic since next April will mark our 25th Wedding Anniversary. It was a bit of a DIY wedding, we had just bought our first house together and so didn’t have much money to splash about. I tried to get a wedding dress, but after several visits to shops where I was shown a variety of lace-covered tents by sneering saleswomen (apparently no one bigger than a size 12 ever decides to get married!), I made my own outfit (I did get real wedding shoes, however…they looked awful at the end of the day and I never wore them again!). We had a reception in a marquee at the local yacht club (a lot less posh than it sounds!), unfortunately it rained so the tent smelled a little like cat pee when we first arrived (we got used to it!). It was such fun!

After the registry office, we proceeded to Colwick Park for photographs. This was appropriate because this was where we met…Mark was the Senior Warden on the park and I’d gone there to birdwatch. In the grounds of the park was an old, ruined church, St, John’s dating back to the Domesday Book, and we though it would be nice to take photos in the grounds (technically, we were supposed to pay the council for that privilege, but there has to be some perks to marrying the warden!). The photos were another amateur affair, taken by my then brother-in-law or any other family member that happened to be standing around, so there are no really great images. I thought it would be nice to finally have a nice wedding picture, so set to, to try and improve on the photos.

There was one full length image that wasn’t too bad, although Mark has a slightly odd expression and I have my eyes closed. This is the photo that has been in a frame since 1993, so the colours are now a bit off. I wanted to improve the faces so I picked out another photo, head and shoulders this time, with what seemed to be better facial expressions.

Another thing to note is that we are posed, both times, in front of an iron gate. The ruins are dangerous so you are not allowed to enter the church, hence the barrier. I though that iron bars didn’t quite give the impression I wanted for a joyous, happy day so decided to leave them off the painting (Mark agreed!). I told you that the photographers were strictly amateur!. The pictures actually scanned very well, considering the age of the prints, although the picture colours are off. Mark’s suit was grey, not blue, so I was able to correct the colouration in my picture.

‘3rd April 1993’, 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Derwent Watercolour, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).
The old rhyme says to wear ‘something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue’ for luck and I did follow that for my wedding day. I wore a silver ring of my mother’s, she had had it since being a teenager (I still have it). My outfit was completely new. I borrowed a lace garter from my cousin, and it had a blue ribbon incorporated, so I was covered there. It seems to have worked, so far!


It is getting wintry around here, so a ‘year tick’ (in birding terms, a species of bird that you have not seen this year) is very welcome. Marsh Wren is considered to be mostly a transient or vagrant bird in Nova Scotia, with only a few actually nesting here. Added to that, they live deep in reedy marshes and can be reluctant to show themselves well, so I hadn’t actually caught up with one in Nova Scotia at all and Mark was missing one for the year. Therefore a bird found in Broad Brook Park in Yarmouth a couple of weeks ago was a tempting target as part of a shopping trip to the big metropolis (well, they do have Canadian Tire and Walmart there- invaluable for stocking up on bird seed, cat food and toilet paper!).

The bird was readily heard but difficult to see, especially as there was a keen, blustery wind blowing and the reedstalks were in constant motion. Fleeting glimpses were obtained, although no good photos, and we were satisfied with the ‘tick’ obtained. Not satisfied enough, however, since other visitors were obtaining much better views, so we headed back to the park a few days later for another look. This time, we had better luck and Mark took a number of very nice photos. One was of the bird in a pretty standard pose for Marsh Wrens, but that seemed more unusual for a painting, so I was immediately drawn to it.

Lots of fun to be had with this!
I determined to stay with the watercolour pencils for this picture, and firstly drew out the picture with 2B graphite. As per the tip I picked up from a YouTube video, I then went over the picture with a kneadable eraser to lighten the marks and prevent them showing through the final painting. I started, as usual, with the eye since I find that I can relate to the picture as soon as the eye is in place-it’s all about the ‘personality’ of the bird. if I don’t get that right, there’s no point carrying on. I did take a couple of ‘WIP’ pictures of this one…

Part way through painting the bird.

Just started the reeds.
and this is the final piece:

‘Legs Akimbo’, Marsh Wren, 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Derwent Watercolour) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).

The new set of watercolour pencils, the Albrecht Durers, have integrated nicely with the older two main sets and I am really enjoying working with them. However, it has caused a bit of an issue in my studio (a posh name for a corner of our shared office!) because I was continually hauling out and laying out the contents of three tins of pencils all over the adjoining desk. It was blocking access to a sunny window for our two cats and, because I tend to leave the pencils out during a piece, I actually lost some pencils into the wastebin when one of the cats tried to pick their way over the desk (I found them before any waste got discarded!). Clearly, I needed some sort of better system.

Well, I think I have found it. I came across this nice little cabinet in IKEA (we have one in NS now!), with a series of shallow drawers that seemed just made to lay out pencils in. It meant a trip to Halifax, but it was raining so why not?

It’s called ‘Alex’ and has three shallow drawers and three slightly deeper ones. I arranged it so that my most used pencil sets were laid out inside each drawer for easy access, starting with the watercolours, of course.

There is even room in the bottom drawer for my paper store. It’s keeping my workspace much clearer.

It is not quite big enough to lay out all of my pencils, but the most used sets are all there.
Of course, I don’t want to keep the drawers open all the time, so I devised a ‘work in progress’ tray to keep the pencils, etc., that I’m working with at the time all corralled and safe.

It worked very nicely on this piece, and keeps me much cleaner and tidier! No more lost pencils and brushes in the wastebin. Now, if only I can stop the ex-pickle jar water pot from releasing a powerful whiff of vinegar, every time I take the lid off-but at least it stops the cat from trying to drink it!