A return to the watercolour pencils for this piece, and a little try at something new, as you will see. I was trawling through my picture files because I really could not decide on a new subject. I knew I did not want to do another flower study right away, and I did want to go back to the watercolours. I came across a picture of Mark’s that I’d popped in my file for future use, a Prairie Warbler, taken a couple of years ago in the autumn.

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Lots of nice feather detail on this bird, and I liked the positioning on that reddish-barked twig, but it is actually rather a dull-plumaged example. In the same file I had another picture of Mark’s, of a much brighter individual, taken at about the same time of the year (both in October).

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I decided that both birds could be combined in a single piece (with a little artistic licence!) and I could work on a larger piece (11 x 15 inch) than my more recent pictures. I thought I would do one bird a little smaller than the other, to give the impression that the top one was further back in the tree; not sure that that actually worked out in the end! The natural slight diagonal of the twig that the first bird is sitting on serves to draw the eye upwards and along through the picture, so that was the perch I chose to put them on.

It was fun going back to the watercolour pencils. I used the Caran d’Ache Supracolor and Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer exclusively for the birds and the foliage, shading small areas and then wetting with my tiny brush (watercolour liner 0000 size), so it isn’t a fast procedure. A couple of ‘work in progress’ pictures illustrate this.

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Out of interest I recorded the pencils I used to fill in the wing panel that is missing in the above picture; astonishingly it was 15 different pencils! Working with the coloured pencils has definitely affected the way that I now work with the watercolour pencils. I am much more likely to layer over different colours before wetting, similarly to coloured pencils before blending. I think it produces a deeper colouration, although it may lose the translucency that is meant to be the essence of watercolour? Ah well, its all a learning exercise, and I do like the final result, whether ‘watercolour-like’ or not.
Incidentally, colours used in that small panel were:
F-C Albrecht Durer: Cream, Light yellow Glaze, Cold Grey I, Cold Grey III, Warm Grey III, Green-Gold.
C d’A Supracolor: Slate Grey, Charcoal Grey, Cocoa, Olive Grey, Olive Brown, Light Olive, Green Ochre, Pale Lemon Yellow, Cream.
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Panel done!

The birds and foliage done, it was time to consider the background. Both photos have an attractive bokeh of autumnal tones, something I have struggled to reproduce in both watercolour and coloured pencils. I have noted a tendency amongst pencil artists to go to pan pastel as a medium for backgrounds, and this might be worth a look (although I don’t have any pan pastels, so it’s a moot point right now!). I have used watercolour pencil shading previously, graduating downwards to darker tones, and that was an option, although it can be difficult to wet the pencil lines sufficiently to lose the ‘linearity’ of the shading. One technique I had never tried was to shave off bits of pencil lead and wet it on a palette, to produce a wash that could be applied to the paper. I didn’t want to use my primary pencils for this experiment, so I dug out some of the Derwent Watercolours, that have been rather neglected lately.

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A sharp craft knife was used to shave bits of pencil lead into one of the wells of my watercolour palette. A flat watercolour brush added water to dissolve the shavings. I used four greens (Water Green, May Green, Grass Green and Mineral Green), an ochre (Burnt Yellow Ochre) and a dark red (Burnt Carmine) to try to mimic the background tones, but without being too picky.

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One thing to be careful of was getting wood shavings in the wells. I found that I did transfer splinters of wood to the paper and they were a pain to remove. Also, it took some time to dissolve, although the Derwents always were harder to wet than the other pencils, so a different make might be easier.

The dissolved colour was transferred to the paper using a flat brush (size 12) and a filbert, with the rounded edges (size 8) that I found very useful for getting in close to the main images. I tend to think of these as ‘large’ brushes, but I guess they really aren’t that big for conventional watercolour use. However, if you generally use a size 0000 liner brush, these are ‘biiiggg’!

The colours blended pretty well, avoiding too many ‘tidemarks’, although I had to learn not to be scared to put water on the paper. Amazingly, there was very little bleed from the already painted bits of the picture, something that I worried about before getting started. This is my experience using watercolour pencils, in general, the colour stays where it is put much more readily than conventional watercolours, something I like for my purposes, although I can imagine it would be a pain for ‘looser’ watercolourists, who want it to flow. I don’t think that the result is perfect, but I’m pretty pleased with it and I do think it a step up from previous bokeh attempts, especially with watercolour. Another technique to remember, going forwards, that I’m sure will come in handy.

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‘Prairie Warblers’, 11 x 15 inch, watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Derwent Watercolour) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).


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!

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…

Cape Island Camo

We are lucky to live by the sea, although we occasionally question that when in the middle of a wintry Nor-easter! Mostly, though, we love looking out over Barrington Bay from the front windows every morning and enjoying the great variety of land and sea birds, and the other animals that visit the shores of Cape Sable Island. Cape Sable Island is the southernmost point of Nova Scotia, hence its nickname of ‘the Banana Belt’ bestowed, tongue in cheek, by birders elsewhere in the province. Right at the end of the island, off shore from a small settlement called ‘The Hawk’ (named for a shipwreck), is a low rocky, sandy island which seems to go by many names, but most commonly ‘The Cape’. This is the location of the Cape Light lighthouse, a flock of wandering sheep, occasional humans staying in a couple of cottages and regular visiting birders. Mark loves visiting The Cape, and has been raring to get over there this year. He, and a couple of friends, made their first visit of the year across there, last weekend.

The spring arrival has only just started, so there was nothing too surprising, avian-wise, but they did come across this Harbour Seal, hauled out on a rocky beach.

The Harbour Seal, or Common Seal (Phoca vitulina) is a common sight around our shores but you don’t often come across them hauled out like this. They apparently dislike coming ashore in the presence of humans, so the normally deserted shores of The Cape suits them just fine. I thought at first that this was a pup, but it is too early for pups to be around at this latitude (even in the Banana Belt!), so it is probably an adult, or one of last year’s breeding. I loved Mark’s photo and thought it would be a challenge to draw, I’ve never tried a seal before, and as for that location…!

I decided that it would be primarily a watercolour piece, although I was considering whether to go over the watercolour with coloured pencil to add some texture, I know of some wildlife artists that do just that. I decided to start with the watercolour, and decide as I went along whether to add additional pencil. As usual, I started with the main subject although I had lightly drawn in where the rocks and pebbles were to go. The actual animal painting went relatively quickly, utilizing mainly the cool greys from the F-C Albrecht Durer set. Then I turned my attention to the pebbles.

A ‘Work In Progress photo. The seal was pretty much completed but I had just started on the pebbles and it seemed to be a long way to go!

Now I actually like drawing rocks, although this was a pretty daunting background. I decided to tackle it a section at a time. There are a lot of subtle colours in the stones, and I decided to exaggerate these a little, to add a bit of colour into what could be otherwise a rather monochrome piece, and to make the seal stand out a little from the background. I have always found the C d’A Supracolor greys to be invaluable when drawing rocks and stones, they have a blue-ish tinge that is just not present in the greys in the Albrecht Durer set, and I made liberal use of them, especially Grey, Mouse Grey, Steel Grey, Dark Grey and Greyish Black. However, I also used pretty much all of the warm and some of the cool greys in the Albrecht Durers, as well as beiges, blacks, creams, Charcoal Grey, Payne’s Grey and Dark Indigo from both sets. More surprisingly, perhaps, was the use of Granite Pink, Light Flesh, Aubergine, Brown Ochre, Ochre, Light Ochre, Green Ochre, Olive Brown, Caput Mortuum and Caput Mortuum Violet. All those colours certainly kept the interest going and prevented boredom during the 3-4 days it took to complete the background.

You can see the number of pencils in use by looking at my ‘Work In Progress’ tray, where I keep my working pencils during work. I tidy them back into my storage drawers when finished. You will also see a few coloured pencils, in the right hand side of the tray near my water pot. I did go over the seal’s fur with a little coloured pencil in limited colours (one of the cool greys and Payne’s Grey from the Polychromos set, Ivory Black from the Pablos) and I brightened the light areas slightly with the Luminance White pencil. I defined the darks on the face a little better and added a little texture, but I didn’t do much. I found that the pencil did not go well over the watercolour, generally-I suspect that this isn’t the sort of paper that would work well with that technique.

Finally, there was only the whiskers to do. Now whiskers are always a problem. Trying to keep a tiny area white in such a complicated picture does not seem sensible and I have previously used a pigment ink or gel pen for this purpose, but it has never really felt like a good option. I had read that some artists use gouache, a sort of opaque watercolour, for this purpose, but I was loathe to spend rather a lot of money to buy a tube of gouache just to give this a try. Then I came across a set of 12 tubes of Daler-Rowney gouache in Walmart, of all places.

Now, I know you get what you pay for in the art world, so these were not likely to set the world on fire, but I thought that less than $20 was worth expending to give it a try. Real gouache is supposed to cover normal watercolour, with an opaque finish. I tried mixing a little of the black with a lot of white to give a grey, and applied this with my smallest watercolour brush (a 0000 size liner brush, one of my favourites for wetting tiny details in my watercolour pencil pictures). It didn’t work. Although it was just noticeable, it really wasn’t fine enough to define whiskers. I went back to the Signo pigment ink pen in white, and added a little extra definition with a Staples mini gel pen in black. I don’t have a grey or brown gel pen, white is too stark and black too dark! It suffices, but I’d rather find a better solution, since getting nice tapers on the whiskers can be a real issue. I’m not encouraged to shell out for better gouache, though.

The name of this piece? ‘Cape Island Camo’ was Mark’s description of the seal’s fur and the way it blends in on the beach, and I thought it very appropriate!

‘Cape Island Camo’ (Harbour Seal on The Cape), 9 x 12 inch watercolour pencil (Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer, Caran d’Ache Supracolor), with selected coloured pencils (C d’A Pablo and Luminance, F-C Polychromos), with Uniball Signo pigment ink pen in white and Staples mini gel pen in black, on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).


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).


January is almost upon us and it can be a bit chilly here in Canada. Despite the fact that we don’t get as much snow as we used to in Montreal, Southern Nova Scotia can have its own chill factor when the wind whips in off the sea. Sometimes it can feel colder than it ever did in Quebec, even though the temperatures are actually much higher-it must be the dampness. Anyhow, we don’t miss the constant snow cover and are happy to make do with a bit of sea chill.

After completing the Song Sparrow picture, I was casting about a bit for a new subject. I looked through photographs that I had on the computer and came across this photo that I took of Mark, last January. We were at Cape Forchu, near the lighthouse. As I mentioned previously, it is hard to get a picture of Mark that does not have his face obscured, usually by some sort of optical equipment. This time it was just the collar of his down-filled coat (a venerable object that we bought when we first arrived in Canada, 14 years ago, and it is still going strong!) but I thought it would be fun to try to capture that look of chilly indignation! He really doesn’t like being photographed, so a glower is the usual expression I get.

Once I got started, the picture went very well, which is why I’m actually posting again, before Christmas, when I already said I wouldn’t. I’m really enjoying having a go at portraits, and even Mark likes this one, although he wanted to know why his nose was so red. it’s January- enough said. My title for this? ‘Brass Monkey’…you know why!

‘Brass Monkey’, 7 x 10 inch watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor, Derwent Watercolour, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).