We recently looked after a cat whilst our friends were on vacation. She’s a lovely old lady who was a pleasure to look after…she could teach our two a thing or two about being friendly! Anyhow, I wanted to have a go at a painting of her, because she has very cryptic markings. Not really stripes or spots, more quite irregular blotches of colour that tend to disguise her features a little, so I thought it would be a challenge to try to get her right.
The first challenge was a photo. She’s quite playful and doesn’t like sitting still for any length of time. I think I took my camera over 4 different days before I managed a half-way decent image!

I started with watercolour pencil, but added some detail in coloured pencil. I did a background in watercolour, which was a bit wishy-washy, and then went over it with coloured pencils in two shades of blue, blended with OMS. I was a bit concerned regarding the OMS with watercolour being underneath, but it actually worked very nicely. I tried to add whiskers using the Luminance white pencil or the Derwent Drawing Chinese white, but they really are not opaque enough, so ended up using the pigment ink pen, with a black gel pen for dark whiskers. I was quite pleased with the final image, I do think it resembles her. I hope her owners agree!

‘Ivy’ 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Faber Castell Albrecht Durer, Derwent watercolour) and coloured pencil (Faber Castell Polychromos, Caran d’Ache Luminance, Derwent Drawing), OMS (Gamsol), Prismacolor colourless blender pencil, Uniball Signo white pigment ink pen, Staples black mini gel pen on 140 lb coldpress watercolour paper (Canson XL). Looks like I used just about everything in my studio on this one!



A bit of fun, and another set of new pencils (I told you I was addicted!). This time more watercolour pencils, the companion set to the Polychromos, the Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer. These are the same colours as in the Polychromos and I thought that they would provide a few different shades to my Supracolors and Derwent Watercolours. I thought I’d do a picture just using the Albrecht Durer pencils, to really test them out.

Just after we moved to Canada, and settled into our house in a village on the outskirts of Montreal, my parents came for a visit. I think they wanted to check we weren’t living in a log cabin in the woods (they had to wait until we moved to Nova Scotia for that to come true!) or were surrounded by igloos and bears. It was an indian summer and they arrived off the plane, in October, bundled up in fleeces to be greeted with temperatures in the thirties for the entire stay. Needless to say, warm temperatures and jet-lag led to a few necessary naps, and in this Dad was ably assisted by our cat, Teddy.

Teddy was imported (at a cost of thousands of dollars) from the UK and he was worth every penny. He was originally a rescue cat, as all our feline friends have been. We went for one cat and came home with two (again, as usual), because we couldn’t leave behind his tiny companion, a little black female. They were promptly named ‘Teddy Sheringham’ and ‘Des Walker’ by Mark, after two of his then favourite soccer stars (you probably have to be a long-time Nottingham Forest fan to recognise why). Of course, it didn’t seem to matter that ‘Des Walker’ was actually female and she just became ‘Dessie’. Unfortunately, we lost her to kidney failure a few months before we emigrated, so Ted was the only one who came with us. He was about 12 years old when he emigrated with us and lived to a fine age, 16, in his new home. He was a great personality and was ready to take a nap with anyone!

I took this photo of Dad and Ted, and we have always liked it. Mark suggested that I should try drawing it and I thought, why not? It was such fun to do, it just seemed to flow. A rather detailed preliminary drawing helped, I kept the graphite as faint as possible but it isn’t as much of a problem with watercolour pencils as it can be with the standard coloured pencils.

After that I coloured the background walls and sofa (note that I decided to simplify the background a lot), then on the details of Dad, followed by Ted, finishing off with the throw on the sofa and the cushions. I also decided to add a bit of colour to the throw because I wanted Ted’s fur to stand out from the background. I was very pleased with the finished piece and it is destined for a place on our wall.

‘Cat-napping’, 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).
So, what about the new pencils? Well, they definitely felt different when applied to the paper, and maybe even a little waxy when putting one colour over another to blend. It definitely took some getting used to. I missed some colours that I like using, such as the Supracolor grey, which has a distinct bluish tinge. The Albrecht Durer set has a lot of greys, though; six shades of cold grey and 6 of warm, along with Payne’s Grey and a dark sepia which has grey tones, but none of these have the bluish tinge that I find so useful for rocks (but no rocks in this picture, so that was ok). Having said that, the variety of greys was very useful in this picture, especially for Dad’s trousers and Ted’s fur.

Another couple of colours that are new to me are Caput Mortuum and Caput Mortuum Violet. You would want to use them, just for the names alone! Incidentally, I do love having the names of the colours, those sets just with a pigment number are no fun in my opinion. Anyhow, Caput Mortuum translates to ‘Dead Head’ in Latin, although it was also a term used in Alchemy that meant ‘worthless remains’ and described the inert residue left over from a chemical reaction. For some reason, this was often a rusty violet in colour, so the name was also used for a purplish red-brown synthetic iron oxide pigment. It actually makes a good colour for the darker areas of the skin, so I used it on Dad’s skin. I don’t fancy telling him that he has ‘dead head’ skin, though!.

By the end of the piece I was enjoying using these pencils and I’m pleased with the acquisition, I think they will complement the other watercolours very nicely. I particularly liked the flesh colours, I think I made a nicer job of the skin in this picture than in my previous attempts at portraiture.

Thanks to Wikipedia for the information on ‘Caput Mortuum’. With a name like that, I just had to check it out!.

Wild Cats

Wild cats! Well, not really wild, although they are probably pretty miffed. Quite a few years ago, when we still lived on the outskirts of Montreal, we visited the Biodome at the old Montreal Olympic site. It’s a pretty good use of the old Olympic velodome; basically a zoo but with different areas devoted to different types of habitat. There is a tropical region that you can wander through, with birds and animals free-living amongst the trees. There is also a typical Laurentian region (i.e. the habitat around Montreal), with the sort of shorebirds, fish and animals seen there (no Black Bears, though), and an Antarctic region with a lot of penguins (behind glass in this case, or it would be pretty chilly). Somewhere in amongst all of that was an exhibit made to look like a high rocky cliff, with some logs and vegetation. I remember there was a sort of mesh curtain between us and the cliff (which was set pretty far back from the viewing area) that I believe was there to stop the occupants being bothered by the sight of the visitors. Way back, and high up in the cliff face, was a cleft, and in that were two Canadian Lynx. I tried a couple of photos, not expecting much, using my bridge camera on maximum optical zoom (around then, that was probably only 12x, or possibly 16x) and, to my surprise, managed a half-way decent shot! I’ve always liked the composition and decided to try to do it justice in a painting.

Maybe not the sharpest of images, but quite remarkable given the distance and that it was taken through a mesh curtain! These really are the most wonderful-looking animals, a bit like Bobcats but slightly larger, less spotted and with much bigger tufts on the ears. They are usually solitary, except for a brief period in the breeding season, so this is probably not a totally natural pose, but I do like the way they are snuggled together. I don’t know the sexes of the animals (there is no way to tell), but in my head I felt the one sitting more upright was a male and the other a female (I’m probably completely wrong on that!).

I contemplated using coloured pencil (especially the new set, still to come out of the tin in anger) but decided to go with my trusty watercolour pencils and was pleased that I did. I started with a pretty detailed drawing in graphite, to make sure that the features were all placed correctly (I was enlarging from the photo a little, too) and then followed my usual procedure to paint in the eyes and noses (beaks when doing birds). I always feel if I get those looking right, then the rest will just flow, because the personality is all in the eyes. In this case, the direction of the gaze of the animals, especially the upper one, was changed to have him looking directly at the viewer rather than off to the side slightly; I do think this stare captures the attention. For once I had the camera nearby and snapped a ‘work in progress’ shot when I had just about finished the first cat. I think that it captures something of my method with this piece.

I actually completed both cats before starting on the surrounding rocks and wood. It was a surprisingly colourful cliff! The final touch was the whiskers, completed using the same white pigment ink pen that I used for the same purpose when I painted our own pet cats (‘The Girls’). I did enjoy working on this picture, the watercolour pencils do remain my favourite medium right now.

‘Canadian Lynx’, 11 x 15 inch watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Derwent Watercolour, Staedler Karat) and pigment ink pen (Uniball Signo) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL),

The Girls…

I have shied away a little from animal pictures but, really, as a ‘wildlife’ artist, I think that animals must be a part of the portfolio, so I decided to have a go and chose a handy subject, our own pet cats, for the first go. I know they are hardly wild, although they can get pretty riled up, sometimes! Finding photos was a bit of a problem as they are notorious for hiding whenever a camera is waved in their direction, but I did find a couple of pictures in the archives (not sat together, of course) for the composition. These cats are hardly ever seen sitting together, even though (or perhaps because) they are supposed to be sisters. We don’t really know if this is the case as they were rescue cats, allegedly found in a box on a pet shop doorstep when they were kittens. Anyhow, Mark  had taken a couple of shots of them, over the years, sitting on various pieces of furniture, and I combined these images for my composition.bub1watermark

This is Bubble…

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and this one is Joy, both named for their friendly, outgoing personalities when we first got them. Joy went missing, hiding in the basement, for a full three weeks after we picked them up from the rescue foster home whilst we tore the house apart trying to find her. They have got friendlier (sort of) since then!

The main media used were Caran d’Ache Supracolor aquarelles and Derwent Watercolour pencils, as usual, but I had some issues trying to keep the area of the whiskers clear of paint…it proved an impossible task. However, internet help, especially from ‘Pencil Artist Friends’ (a group I am a member of), suggested that most artists actually added whiskers in afterwards using gouache, artist’s ink or gel pen. I struggled to get any of these here in darkest southwest Nova Scotia (white gel pens are definitely a specialist item), but Amazon came to the rescue with a three pack of different white pens. The postage came to more than the cost of the pens, as they were shipped from the UK, but they arrived, safe and sound, within a week of the order. A white Uni-ball Signo pigment ink pen proved just the thing to add in whiskers and other minor highlights to finish off the portraits. I did enjoy trying to capture the intricacies of the fur of our two elegant ladies and this portrait will definitely be going up on our wall soon.

cats rs watermark

‘The Girls’, 11 x 14 inch, watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Derwent Watercolour) with Uni-ball Signo gel pen on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).