Gouache: Christmas Puppy (demonstration)

A friend who works in an art supply shop in Italy recently got a new German Shepherd puppy. As this this friend often sends me gifts of art supplies, I like to paint her a personalised Christmas card each year, and I thought the puppy would make the perfect subject for the 2022 card.

Art Spectrum Gouache:
-Titanium White
-Primary Yellow
-Primary Red

Holbein Gouache:
-Pure Red
-Ultramarine Deep
-Burnt Sienna
-Burnt Umber

M Graham Gouache:
-Payne’s Grey

Schmincke Horadam Gouache:
-Titanium Gold Ochre

Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache:
-Naples Yellow

Schmincke Horadam/Pearl Metallic Watercolours:
-Ice Blue

Winsor & Newton Artists’ Watercolours:
-Smalt (Dumont’s Blue)

-NEEF 970 Taklon Glaze (size 1/8)
-NEEF 970 Taklon Cat’s Tongue (size 2)
-Princeton Neptune Synthetic mop size 6
-Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 3/0

Fluid 100 Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Cold Press (255X200mm folded in half to make a card)

Step 1
Tape down your paper, and then draw the linework for the puppy and the presents. I find it helpful to outline significant changes of colour (such as when the puppy’s fur goes from black to cream) so you can reserve the lighter areas more easily; with gouache, most of the lines will end up being covered anyway by the time the painting is finished.

Step 2
Add a light wash of Pure Red to the top and bottom boxes and a light wash of Payne’s Grey to the ribbon on the middle box. Apply a light wash of Titanium Gold Ochre to the puppy’s front legs, hind leg and the golden areas on her chest and around her muzzle, as well as a few little spots near her ears and her eyebrows, using light feathery strokes at the edges of the chest and neck areas. Use a diluted Burnt Umber and the same feathery strokes to layer in the darker fur around the puppy’s chest and ears, as well as her upper hind leg, tail and shoulders. With a very light and weak wash Payne’s Grey, fill in the top of the puppy’s nosepad and the little highlight on top of her snout, then with an equally weak wash of Black, colour in the pup’s face, darkening this as you move to the top of her head and inside her ears. Add the dark shadowed fur under her chest with Black as well. Use a darker, stronger Black to fill in the front of the puppy’s nosepad and define her mouth.

Step 3
Apply a stronger layer of Pure Red to the right side of the top and bottom boxes. For the top, add a tiny bit of Titanium White to the Pure Red, and for the left side, add some Primary Red to the Pure Red to darken it. Colour in the ribbons on the red boxes with Primary Yellow with a tiny amount of Pure Red mixed in to warm it (adding the shadows in the bow by mixing a tiny amount of purple – I used a leftover mixture of Pure Red and Ultramarine Deep that was still on my palette from my last painting), and then colour the green box with Viridian (pure on the right side, lightened with a tiny amount of Titanium White on the top and darkened with a little Primary Red on the left).

Continue building up colours on the puppy by adding a stronger wash of Titanium Gold Ochre to the insides of her front paws and the underside of her hind leg, as well as her eyebrows (with a tiny bit of Burnt Sienna added to the thin line beside her eyes). Mix a tiny amount of Black into this colour to create the shadows under her toes and where her hind leg meets her body, as well as to the gold patch on the left side of her neck and chest, then add a little Burnt Umber to this and dilute it to create the lines between her toes. Add a lighter patch to the gold area on the right of her neck with a little Naples Yellow.

With a pure but diluted Black, continue building up the fur texture on the pup’s chest, neck and head, then darken her chin and some areas of her muzzle, leaving the highlight on top of her snout and on top of her nose and a slightly lighter patch just under each eye. Darken the inside of her ears with Black, and then apply another darker layer of Burnt Umber over the outsides of her ears.

Step 4
Build up another layer of dark fur on the chest, head and left side of the neck with Black; for the black areas on the right side of the pup’s body where the light hits her, let some of the brown underlayer show through. Add a little bit of fluff to the upper left of her left her with Black and then, with very light washes of Black, continue building up the shading on the puppy’s muzzle. Mix a dark brown using Burnt Umber and Black and use this to fill in the puppy’s eyes (be sure to leave a small light area around the edge for her eyelids), and once this is dry, use pure black for the pupils. Let this dry and add a tiny speck of pure Titanium White for the highlights.

Paint the floor with Ice Blue watercolour, and the background with Smalt Blue watercolour, blending some of the Smalt Blue down into the floor area. Mix some Burnt Sienna with the Smalt Blue to make a soft grey and lay in the shadows under the presents and around the puppy, making them darker as they get closer to the objects. Go over the silver ribbon on the green present with Silver watercolour, and the yellow ribbons on the red presents with Gold watercolour. Finally, use the grey shadow mixture to sign your name in the bottom left.

I hope you’ve enjoyed painting this puppy along with me. I realised while writing this post that I haven’t done proper reviews for a lot of the gouache I used yet, so I’m hoping to do that over Christmas once my academic workload has wrapped up for the year, though I only have one or two tubes for some brands (so maybe I’ll get myself a few more as an end-of-year treat).

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Acrylics: Water Lily Reflection (demonstration)

When a friend let me know the local libraries were running a mini art competition, I decided to sign up and have a go. I was given a square canvas which posed a challenge for me as I usually paint in rectangle formats, but I found a reference photo by Chuck Underwood in the Photos for Artists Facebook group that I figured I could adapt to the square composition.

Note that the background blues and greens are significantly darker in real life than they appear in some of these photos, but my iPad camera didn’t pick it up that well because of the bright sunlight coming into the room.

Winsor & Newton Artists Acrylics:
-Titanium White
-Azo Yellow Medium
-Cadmium Yellow Medium
-Quinacridone Magenta
-Phthalo Blue Green Shade
-Ultramarine Blue
-Phthalo Green Blue Shade
-Burnt Sienna
-Raw Umber
-Mars Black

Golden OPEN Acrylics:
-Quinacridone Magenta

As I used two paints from different ranges called Quinacridone Magenta (I realised late in the painting that the Winsor and Newton one was too purplish so I also added the Golden Open one), I will refer to them with their brand initials (eg. WN and GO) during the procedure description.

Atelier Interactive Clear Painting Medium

-NEEF 970 Taklon Round (sizes 1 and 4)
-NEEF 970 Taklon Glaze (sizes 1/8 and 3/16)
-NEEF 970 Taklon Cat’s Tongue (size 2)
-NEEF 970 Taklon Oval (size 3/16)

Canvas Panel (10cm X 10cm not sure what brand).

Step 1

I started this project by using an online photo editing program to overlay a grid on my reference photo and then painting a grid onto my canvas using diluted WN Quinacridone Magenta, which I used to draw the outline of the flower and lily pads and indicate where the darkest areas in the painting would be.

Step 2
For the first layer, block in the colours using paint diluted to an ink-like consistency. It doesn’t matter if the colours aren’t exactly right here as you’ll be building up layers of opaque paint over the top anyway. Use Phthalo Green Blue Shade and a bit of Azo Yellow Medium to block in the lily pads, adding a little Burnt Sienna to this colour for the stem on the lily flower. Create a blurred background using Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Green Blue Shade and a little Titanium White in some places, adding some Azo Yellow Medium for the yellowish foliage in the distance. The water below and to the right of the lily and its reflection should be added with mixtures of Titanium White, Azo Yellow Medium, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Phthalo Green Blue Shade in varying quantities, to get those soft gold and peach tones in the reflections. For the darkest areas, mix WN Quinacridone Magenta and Phthalo Green Blue Shade to get a deep neutral grey an fill in the lower left corner with this mixture, as well as the shadow under the lily pad that rests up against the stem and a few dark patches in the background in the upper left corner.

Step 3
Now we start building up the layers and adding a little more detail. Using similar mixes as you did in step 1, blend in some more blurred shapes in the background, using slightly thinned paint in some areas to let the underlying colour show through. Try to use smaller strokes in the background and slightly larger ones in the foreground to help create depth. For the darkest areas of the background I used Phthalo Green Blue Shade and Phthalo Blue Green Shade with only a small amount of Titanium White. The water below the flower has some pale olive tones as well as the pink and peach colours, so add a few areas of olive as well. Mix up some Phthalo Green Blue Shade, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and a little white to block in the reflected petal under the lily pad with a dark olive colour. This should be darker than the other olive areas in the water reflections.

At this stage I started using a little Clear Painting Medium to thin the paint without watering it down and also to help it stay workable on the canvas a little longer (probably should have used it in step 1 but the bottle was on the other side of the room and I couldn’t be bothered getting up to get it).

Note: If you haven’t used any sort of slow or clear painting medium before, keep in mind you only need a very small amount. Don’t do what I did the first time I used it and mix equal parts paint and medium, as it will take ages to dry (the paint I did this with was still not touch-dry on the canvas after almost 3 months). I find it easiest to have a bit of the medium in the lid of a jar next to your palette, and just before you apply some paint to the canvas, dip the very tip of the brush into the medium. You might need to play around with exactly how much slow medium works for you but it’s a lot easier to start with too little and gradually add more than to start with too much and potentially end up with a painting that doesn’t dry.

Using a dark mix of Phthalo Green Blue Shade and WN Quinacridone Magenta, go over the black part of the water in the lower corner again, as well as the shadow under the lily pad that rests against the stem and under the curled petal on the lower left of the flower. Colour in the reflection of the stem with the same colour, and then use it to add a thin shadow under the lily pads where they touch the water as well as the small leaf on the right, then add a shadow on the stem of the lily flower just in the darkest area (where it is in the flower’s shadow). Paint this leaf with a pale mixture of Burnt Sienna, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Titanium White (the leaf should be an off-white with a few patches of more pinkish-brown colour at the edges). With a warm brown made using Burnt Sienna and a little Azo Yellow Medium, add in the warm colours in the dark area to the left of the lily pads. Using Phthalo Green Blue Shade, Azo Yellow Medium and a tiny bit of Burnt Sienna, colour in the stem of the lily plant, using a little more yellow on the lower left where it has the most light.

Step 4
Build up the greens on the lily pads with Phthalo Green Blue Shade and Azo Yellow Medium in varying quantities (adding more Azo Yellow Medium to the lighter areas at the front of each lily pad). Do the same for the stem of the flower, making sure the lower left side is more yellow and the right side of the stem is darker. Add a small amount of Permanent Alizarin Crimson to this mixture to create the darkest shadows on the lily pad to the right of the flower, as well as the top part of the stem just under the flower. At this point I used the dark Phthalo Blue Green Shade and WN Quinacridone Magenta mixture to redefine the shadows under the lily pads, and I used a mixture of Burnt Sienna, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Titanium White to darken the floating leaf on the right. I also used some Cadmium Yellow Medium to dot in some brighter highlights in the patch of light green foliage just above the leaf. With Burnt Sienna and some flow medium, glaze a little patch of warm brown on the edges of some of the lily pads. I also glazed a little Titanium White onto the top centre of one of the lily pads where its smooth surface reflects light towards the viewer.

Make a pale mixture of GO Quinacridone Magenta and Titanium White and start blocking in the petals reflected in the water. Keep in mind the reflection will be noticeably darker than the actual flower, so don’t make the reflection too light. For the dark greenish underside of some petals, mix Phthalo Green Blue Shade and Azo Yellow Medium with a small amount of GO Quinacridone Magenta. I also used a bit of the same green mixture (in a much smaller quantity) to create the shadow on the reflection of the leaf that points almost straight down at the water. Add a tiny amount of Azo Yellow Medium to some flow medium and glaze a small amount of this on the bottom edges of some of the reflected petals, as well as in the centre. Start adding some of these dark olive greens and golds onto the underside of some of the petals on the actual flower itself, with a darker mix of Phthalo Green Blue Shade and GO Quinacridone Magenta on the dark curled-under tip of the lower left petal.

Step 5
Starting with the curled-under petal on the left, paint the upper area with a pink made from GO Quinacridone Magenta and Titanium White, and glaze a little of this over the greenish area of the petal to unify it. Do the same for the upright petal next to it. Working on petal at a time and going around the outside of the flower before moving towards the inner petals, continue using various pink mixes of the same colours to block in all the petals, ensuring they are lighter than the colours used in the reflected flower. Some of the most brightly lit areas will be pure white. Once all the pink and white is done, add a little orange made with Azo Yellow Medium and a small amount of GO Quinacridone Magenta in the centre of the lily where the stamens are (apply this as a glaze over the dark area from the underpainting). Mix some Titanium White and Azo Yellow Medium (should be mostly white with a hint of yellow) and using the thinnest, smallest brush you have, paint the stamens in the flower’s centre.

For the front petal that points down to the water, glaze a little Azo Yellow Medium where it joins the rest of the flower, and a little olive green from your previous mixes into the middle part of the shadow. Glaze a bit more Azo Yellow Medium on the lower left petal that points backwards.

Step 6
To finish the painting, we will refine the water. I realised in my painting that I had messed up the darkest area in the bottom right, so I added a few more layers to fix it up. Mix Burnt Sienna, Azo Yellow Medium and GO Quinacridone Magenta to make a brownish peach colour, then add a small amount of this to some Titanium White and glaze it over some of the warmer areas in the upper part of the dark section. Mix Phthalo Green Blue Shade with a bit of GO Quinacridone Magenta to make a greenish grey and add some of this to Titanium White, glazing this in a few small areas in the dark section as well. Add a little more GO Quinacridone Magenta to your brownish peach colour (along with a bit more Titanium White if needed) to get something similar to the peach-gold used in parts of the water. Adding some Clear Painting Medium, glaze some of this over the edge of the dark area in the bottom left corner, where it meets the lighter colours in the water (ideally you want the dark water and the lighter water to be distinct but there shouldn’t be a harsh/hard line between the two).

To create the ripples under the lily pads, mix two pools of paint; one a dark greenish grey that will make the shadows under the ripples for both the light and dark areas (I used Phthalo Green Blue Shade and GO Quinacridone Magenta), and one pale mix of the peachy colour used in the light areas of the water (Titanium White, with tiny amounts of Azo Yellow Medium, Permanent Alizarin Crimson and GO Quinacridone Magenta). Thin these with some Clear Painting Medium and use the smallest round point brush you have to paint the ripples under the lily pads, alternating between the dark and pale colours as you work your way outwards from the pads. Dot some of these colours elsewhere in the water where there are disturbances in the surface (from bubbles, bits of foliage etc).

Once this is done, sign your name in the lower left corner with Phthalo Green Blue Shade and a little Titanium White.

I hope you enjoyed this demo. If you’re nervous about working on a large painting because you don’t want to ‘waste’ a lot of paint or don’t have time to complete a work on a large canvas, try your hand at a mini artwork instead. It’s a great way to practice painting without fear or stress because if it doesn’t turn out well, you’ve only lost a little bit of time (and paint).

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Sketchbooks: Stillman and Birn Nova Trio Sketchbook (review)

For a long time, I’d been wanting to experiment with sketching and painting on toned backgrounds, but couldn’t decide which colour to try and was reluctant to buy a sketchbook with a particular paper colour in case I didn’t care for it. When the Stillman and Birn Nova Trio sketchbooks came out, I was eager to try one out, and finally managed to get one this week.

Stillman and Birn sell their toned Nova paper series in three colours: grey, black and beige. This Nova Trio sketchbook has 51 sheets and includes all three colours.

This sketchbook has a hardcover, but you can also buy the Nova Trio in softcover versions (though I think they’re different shapes and sizes). The paper is 150gsm, which is pretty standard for sketchbook paper, but in terms of texture, it seems a bit more on the smooth side compared to their Beta sketchbook paper. When I used coloured pencils, it could take quite a few layers, though when it came to the oil pastels I started having difficulty layering a lot more quickly. I could still manage in the end, but I had to let the pastel get cold and ‘set up’ a bit before continuing on.

Some of the marketing material mentions that it stands up to multiple washes of watercolour, but as much as I like this sketchbook for drawing, I’m not sure I’d turn to it for painting. For one thing, watercolours either won’t stand out at all (on the black) or will look muted and off-colour (on the beige and grey) unless you use opaque colours or gouache. You could just use the Alpha or Gamma paper from Stillman and Birn (same texture and properties, just in white or ivory, respectively), but having tried those papers as well, I wasn’t that impressed with their ability to withstand heavy washes or any of the more punishing watercolour techniques. The paper was alright when I was just doing normal washes (although it did buckle a lot, even with only moderate washes) but as soon as I started scrubbing and trying to lift, the paper began to pill. I also found that even colours that are usually non-staining were a bit difficult to lift.

Even when using coloured pencils, I had to be very careful erasing and only use a kneaded eraser as using a vinyl one altered the surface quite quickly, even when not much pressure was applied. I think that for sketches or drawings where you’re going to use gouache or maybe watersoluble pencils and then apply washes and leave them alone, the Nova Trio paper would probably be fine (and when I get more time I want to experiment with doing some gouache paintings in this book).

This is a sketch of some irises I did on the black paper using oil pastels.

Here’s a sketch of some peaches in watersoluble crayons on the grey paper (my desk light makes it look more yellowish than it is).

And this was a coloured pencil drawing of another friend’s dog, Maggie, on the beige paper.

The Stillman and Birn Nova Trio sketchbooks are nice if you want to experiment with sketching on different coloured backgrounds but don’t want to have to buy or carry around three different sketchbooks. The texture is smooth and lends itself to fine detail, but if you want to do heavy washes, I’d recommend the Beta sketchbooks instead.

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Oil Pastels: Purple Irises (demonstration)

While re-organising my art supply cabinet the other day, I found a box of Sakura Cray-Pas Specialist oil pastels that my parents had brought back from me on a trip to America many years ago and was still in its shrink wrap. I hadn’t done any oil pastel drawings for years, so I thought I’d give them another go. This drawing is based on a photo by Sei Nakatugawa in the Photos for Artists Facebook group.

Oil Pastels
Sakura Cray-Pas Specialist Oil Pastels
-Cadmium Lemon Hue
-Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue
-Yellow Orange
-Cadmium Orange Hue
-Permanent Yellow Green
-Middle Green
-Hooker’s Green Deep
-Viridian Hue
-Prussian Blue
-Dioxazine Violet
-Titanium White

Watersoluble Pencils
Caran d’Ache Supracolor

Stillman and Birn Nova Trio 150gsm sketchbook paper (black)

Step 1
Transfer the outline of the irises to a piece of black paper with an opaque white pencil (I used a Caran d’Ache Supracolor white pencil). Switching to oil pastels, go over the lightest parts of the stems with Permanent Yellow Green and the darkest shadowed areas with Viridian Hue, using Middle Green and Hooker’s Green Deep for the shades in between. Outline the flower petals with the Titanium White pastel, and colour in the lightest and whitest parts of the flower as well. Add in some of the light yellow parts of the flowers with Cadmium Lemon Hue.

Add some Ultramarine to the bluish areas of the flowers, using a firm pressure for the dark areas and gradually blending it into some of the white. For the flowers with a more purple hue, do the same with the Dioxazine Violet, switching to Mauve for the few flowers with a more red-purple colour. For a couple of the flowers, use both Dioxazine Violet and Ultramarine.

Step 2
Continue building up the dark areas of the petals with Ultramarine, Dioxazine Violet and Mauve. For the darkest areas in the centre of the blue flowers, add some Prussian Blue and blend this out gradually into the lighter colours (if needed, add some Prussian Blue to the dark areas of the purple flowers, but do this sparingly). Apply a light to medium pressure layer of Titanium White over some of the dark blues and purples, making sure to keep the centre of the flowers as dark as possible. Using your finger or a blending tool, lightly start blending some of the colours of the stems together and some areas of the flower (use different blending tools or fingers to avoid contaminating the blues and purples with green etc). Re-define the yellow parts in the centre of the flowers with Cadmium Lemon Hue.

Step 3
Using Ultramarine for the blue flowers and Mauve and Dioxazine Violet for the purple flowers, add a heavy final layer for the darkest areas, adding more Prussian Blue to the dark centres of the blue flowers. Put a heavy layer of Titanium White over the white areas of the flowers, and a lighter layer over some of the purple and blue areas, again blending these smoothly.

Add a little Prussian Blue along the darkest shadowed areas of the stems and leaves, then go over this with a little Viridian Hue to blend it in, leaving some of the Prussian Blue showing. On the upper left sides of some of the stems, add a highlight with Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue. On the flowers, go over some of the yellow areas with Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue and add some touches of Cadmium Orange Hue for some flowers.

Finally, using Middle Green, sign the drawing.

I hope you enjoyed this little demo. It was a fairly simple one since as I said, it’s been a while since I used oil pastels, but even though it’s a little more impressionist than I was aiming for, I think in the end it turned out alright.

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Watercolours: Scarlet Silk Rose (demonstration)

It’s been a long time since the last time I attempted to paint a rose (and that one was a disaster), so when one of my Facebook friends posted a photo of a scarlet silk rose, I decided to give it another go. This painting is based on a photo by Michelle Cassandra Vincent.

I should disclose up front that I ran into a lot of issues during the painting process, mainly because of some unpleasant texturing effects I was getting in unwanted places (particularly noticeable in some dark areas of the rose). I knew I hadn’t used any granulating colours in these areas (I used Ultra Blue in some parts of the leaves and stem but that was it), so at first I wasn’t sure whether I overworked it, or whether there was an issue with the sizing in the paper, or maybe a combination of both. However, in the late stages, when I did the background, I applied a wash of clear water over the entire background, so that I could drop some other colours in and have them flow and blend. Usually when I do this on other papers, the paper will stay wet for a few minutes. When I did it on this paper, it immediately absorbed the water I’d put down (and I had put down a LOT of water) and was basically touch dry in seconds. I have done a painting on another sheet in the same block previously, but that was more than a year ago and because it had a lot of small details, there were no large, dense washes. I’m not sure if the whole block is faulty or if sizing can degrade over time (though the block is only a couple of years old so that really shouldn’t be the case).

I decided to go ahead and finish the painting and post the progress shots and demo anyway, since I think it may still be useful for some people (I’ll also point out the places where I think I made mistakes so you can hopefully avoid them). It was also good practice for me to do a bit more painting, since I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to paint this year.

Also, apologies for the inconsistency of the hue of the rose. My desk lamp tends to wash colours out and/or make them look a bit yellowish sometimes, so the rose looks like more of an orangey-red in some pictures, but the final image (which was scanned) is true to the original.


Derivan Watercolours:
-Lemon Yellow
-Yellow Deep
-Scarlet Red Light
-Phthalo Blue
-Ultra Blue
-Yellow Oxide
-Burnt Sienna

Princeton Neptune Synthetic mop size 6
Jackson’s Raven synthetic mop size 10/0
Escoda Grafilo Kolinsky Tamyr size 4
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 3/0

St Cuthberts Mill Saunders Waterford Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Hi-White Rough press (180X250mm)

Step 1
Mix a very pale wash of Scarlet Red Light and put this over the whole rose, adding in a touch of Magenta for some of the darker areas on the underside of the rose and on the tips of some petals. For the leaves, mix some Yellow Deep and a little Phthalo Blue and paint all of the leaves this green (for some variation, use Ultra Blue instead of Phthalo Blue for a more dull olive green). Paint the stalk this colour as well, adding in a tiny bit of Yellow Oxide and Burnt Sienna near the bottom.

Step 2
Lay in an initial wash for the background. The background should be blurry and abstract with no real detail, but it’s still important to have some variation so it looks like there could be some other plants or foliage in the distance. Make a green mix of Lemon Yellow and Phthalo Blue, then add some Magenta to create a soft dove grey. For this stage I had the grey mixture in a large porcelain dish, partially so I’d have enough to do the background in one hit and partially so I could drop more green mix in here or more Magenta in there to vary the grey. Once the wash is in, carefully drop some weak mixes of green and Magenta into the grey on the paper to create variation in the background, then let this dry.

Note: I originally intended the background to be quite light, but after the initial wash, I didn’t really like how the colours granulated and how the brushstrokes showed from where I wasn’t quick enough to blend, so I decided to keep going over it in subsequent steps and make it a darker – but still blurred – background.

Using Magenta and Scarlet Red Light again, continue to build up the rose petals. Start with the brightest red parts of the petals, using a weak wash of pure Scarlet Red Light. I leave around a 3-5mm gap around the edges of the petals, so I can rinse my brush and gently go along the edges with some plain water and let the colour blend gradually to leave a soft highlight. Let each petal dry before starting the next so the paint doesn’t run (you’ll see I ended up with runs in a few places because I was too impatient). The tightly coiled petals in the middle are painted with a weak mix of Scarlet Red Light and Magenta (leaning more towards red). Make another pass over the deeper red areas of the petals with a stronger mix of Scarlet Red Light and Magenta, this time with more Magenta. The shadowed areas of the rose (especially down the right side and in the folds where petals wrap around the rose) are a darker mix of Scarlet Red Light and Magenta with a little of my earlier green mix dropped in.

Build up the layers and shading on the leaves and stem using the same colours from Step 1: Lemon Yellow and Phthalo Blue for the cooler greens, with some Yellow Deep for the warmer bits. The dark shadows directly under the leaves and flower can be put in with a bit of extra Phthalo Blue added to the mix, and the golden brown areas of the stem are Yellow Oxide blending down into Burnt Sienna.

Step 3
This step basically repeats the previous step to build up the various tones of red in the rose, this time using less diluted washes. One of the mistakes I made here, I think, was using too many layers. It is possible to overwork a painting, though I think rough press papers can generally stand up to it a little better. Unfortunately the paper I used was a cold press but with a very smooth texture, so the surface did not really cope as well as I would have liked with my repeated scrubbing. You can see this especially in the dark section at the front of the rose and the largest petal behind the rose, where there is an unpleasant granulated texture (note that I did not use granulating colours here, so this shouldn’t have happened).

Here is a progress shot from when I was part way through Step 3.

Step 4
At this point I realised that if I finished the rose before doing the background, I might end up with a lack of contrast or mismatched lighting, so I decided to leave the rose for now and continue with the background. I kept building up layers of grey mixed from Magenta and a Lemon Yellow/Phthalo Blue green mixture so that the bright reds of the rose could contrast with an abstract grey. On top of the existing bluish grey background, I added another layer of the same sort of flat grey, but for the next layer I put down a wash of clear water and then dropped in some patches of Magenta and green, using these to create a mottled effect all through the background and give it some depth even once further darker layers of grey were added.

Step 5
I applied another deep wash of grey mixed from Lemon Yellow, Phthalo Blue and Magenta to the background, creating a much darker, more uniform grey. Now that the rose had a dark background, I could see some aspects of it that would need reworking (some areas would need to be made darker, while a couple of edges where I’d lost the highlights would need a small amount of white gouache applied to bring those highlights back). I decided to wait for the background to dry and apply a final dark layer of grey diluted with very little water, again with a few blotches of Magenta and green mix dropped in to create depth.

With the background established, it’s time to return to working on the rose. Using the grey background mix, I put in some of the deepest shadows on the rose, including in the folds between the petals and on the underside of the outer petals. I also darken the back leaf and the bottom of the stem, as well as the stem where it meets the rose. Using various combinations of Scarlet Red Light and Magenta, I strengthen the colours of the rose to create the bold reds of the brightest areas. For the greyish-purple reds of the shadowed areas, I add a little Phthalo Blue to these red mixes. For the lightest areas on the central petals, I use a mix of more Magenta than Scarlet Red Light and make this more diluted than the rest of the areas.

This photo is from when I’m part way through Step 5, in the process of deepening the rose petals (the background actually looked darker than this but my desk light washed it out).

Step 6
Finish deepening the reds on the rose. I applied a glaze of the Scarlet Red Light and Magenta mix to the remaining two large petals at the back, and a lighter glaze over the tightly coiled petals in the centre, as well as adding a bit of Phthalo Blue to the mix in the very centre of the bud where it’s darkest.

At this point the leaves and stem look far too light compared to the rest of the rose, so I go over the back leaf with a dark green mix of Phthalo Blue and Yellow Deep. Gradually adding more Yellow Deep to the mix, I go over the other leaves as well, trying to keep the one at the front lighter than the others. I also apply the dark Phthalo Blue and Yellow Deep to the stem just under the leaves, and blend this down into a more Yellow Deep mix and then a little Burnt Sienna as the stem fades into shadow. I also add a little of the red mix with some Pthalo Blue where the bottom of the rose meets the leaves. Conscious of potentially overworking the painting more than I already have, I wanted to finish it here, but the background still looked too light to me, so I mixed up another dense wash of Magenta, Phthalo Blue and Lemon Yellow to make a grey and laid in a final dark wash over the background, again dropping in a few blotches of Phthalo Blue and Lemon Yellow green mix and Magenta here and there. I add a bit of white gouache to this colour and use it to sign the painting.

In the end I think I managed to salvage the painting and make it look reasonable, but there are still a few areas of texture I’m not really happy with, and couldn’t go over them anymore or I’d end up with a muddy mess. That being said, I hope this demo was useful and that folks can learn from some of my mistakes 🙂

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Watercolours: Derivan Watercolours (review)

Disclaimer: I was not paid to do this review, however the watercolours were provided to me for free by Derivan for the purpose of review.

A few months ago, I was contacted by a representative of Derivan through my artdragon86 Facebook page, who asked if I would like to review their range of watercolours. I have used their acrylics in the past and quite liked them but was unaware they also made watercolours, so I was looking forward to trying them out, especially because a) I’m always on the lookout for reasonably priced Australian art supply brands and b) we were in lockdown again here in Melbourne at the time and I was bored to tears (I started the painting for this review back in June when I received the paints, but due to illness and uni workload didn’t get around to finishing it until August, when we’re in yet another lockdown). The representative was kind enough to send all the colours I use in my standard palette.

The Derivan watercolour range consists of 24 colours. I believe the range is relatively new, as the earliest references I can find to their materials online are from early 2019. This probably explains the relatively small colour range compared to other established watercolour brands, as it makes sense to start with a small range and then gradually expand once artists are buying the product. Here’s a chart for the colours I got.

One of the first things I noticed when I opened the box and saw the tubes was that the paint in the tube is swatched on the packaging, so you can see exactly what the colour looks like instead of having to rely on printed or online colour charts, which don’t always reflect the actual colour. Just be careful you don’t get the tube wet, though; the smear of paint is in watercolour (not in the matching colour from their acrylic line as I first thought) so it will come off if you get water on it. It also has the pigment information, lightfastness rating and opacity clearly indicated on the front of the tube. This is something I find important as I like to know exactly what pigments I’m using, and it’s annoying to have to either look up colours online before going to the shop or squint at tiny text on the back of the tube. 18 of the 24 colours are single pigment, and all the colours in the range are rated I or II (the highest two grades) on the ASTM scale. Though I haven’t had a chance to conduct my own lightfastness tests yet, this gives me confidence that the colours will be stable and won’t fade in a short time.

For the size of the range, there is a pretty good selection of colours that will allow most artists to put together a complete palette that suits them. The only noticeable absence that jumped out at me was Paynes Grey, as this is a colour that most watercolour lines include and is a staple in many palettes, although it is easy enough to mix up with a blue and brown pigment. There are also no genuine cobalts or cadmiums – the cadmium yellow, cobalt blue and cerulean blue in this range are hues – but as the real thing would push the price up considerably, it makes sense to omit them until Derivan’s watercolour line is more established. Artists who dislike opaque watercolours and only use transparent ones won’t miss these colours anyway.

The tubes are sealed with foil when you take the cap off, so I found it a bit odd that the plastic cap doesn’t have a spike for piercing it, though it was easy enough to puncture it with the tip of a greylead instead. Though most of my tubes had the standard screw-on lids, one tube had a lid similar to those used for acrylics, where you can just flip the lid up without detaching it. I’m hoping these flip lids will become more common for watercolours as I always manage to lose the little screw-on lids, dropping them under my desk where they hide until they’re presumably hoovered up by either the vacuum cleaner or the dog.

Happily the paint across most of the tubes was consistent in texture and I was able to squeeze some into a palette where it would dry reasonably quickly or, if it took a day or two, would still retain its shape without running and leaking everywhere if the palette was turned on its side (as might happen if you put it in your back to go out field sketching). The only exception was the Yellow Oxide, which appeared to have separated in the tube, as it was almost liquid when I squeezed it out and, three days after I put it in the well of my palette, still isn’t completely dry. Still, this happens from time to time with paints from all lines, so it wasn’t a huge issue. Once dried, the paint rewets easily and still allows for a concentrated application of the colour without being gritty, so in that regard it behaves as I would expect an artist grade watercolour to behave.

As far as pigment concentration goes, the Derivan watercolours are equal to most other artist grade brands on the market, making it easy to produce intense washes of colour. The colours seem fairly active when used wet in wet, allowing for some pleasing mottled effects and graduated washes. I generally found it easy to lift up most of the pigments while they were wet, although the pigments in many of the colours I had chosen (such as Phthalo Blue and Magenta) are usually staining, and therefore were a challenge to lift off the paper if they’d started to dry, even with a bit of scrubbing.

In terms of price, the Derivan watercolours are definitely among the cheapest available at $6.50-$7 per 12ml tube from art supply stores, which makes them even cheaper than Art Spectrum’s watercolour tubes (those range from about $8.50 to $18 per 10ml tube, depending on the pigment). I’m not sure what the price is like overseas or if you can even get them outside Australia, but for those of us down under, the price is extremely competitive, especially if you’re a beginner or intermediate painter looking to move up from student grade paints but are balking at the cost of Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith and the like. They seem to be easily available in-store and online at the Melbourne-based art supply stores I usually shop at, which is another aspect I value in art supply brands; if I run out of something half way through a project, I like to be able to go out and just buy another one instead of having to wait a week or two for an online order to arrive.

Here’s a painting I did using the Derivan watercolours, based on a photo by Michelle Cassandra Vincent (you can follow along with a demo here). I do have an idea for another painting I want to use these paints for, so when I do that, I’ll add write a demo post for it as well and add the link to this post.

Derivan watercolours might be a relative newcomer to the market, but they deserve their place among other artist grade watercolours. While availability overseas may be an issue, they are easily available and very affordable for Australian artists, without compromising the overall quality or performance of the paint.

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Pencils: Derwent Drawing Pencils (review)

Derwent Drawing pencils have been around for a while, but were originally only available in six colours; black, white and some reddish earths and browns. I actually had a few of them in my old pencil jar, but most of them had been used so much they were little more than stubs. About ten years ago (or maybe more) Derwent increased the range to 24 colours.


As you can see, those beautiful earths are still there, but now the set includes muted blues, greens and greys as well. Here is my colour chart for the set.

The understated colour selection in the Drawing range won’t appeal to floral artists or anyone who makes bold, bright art, but they are perfect for landscapes, portraits and animal studies. The colour range focuses heavily on earthy tones in red, brown and yellow, plus a few greys; while there are a handful of blues and greens, they are not highly saturated varieties, so if you’re doing bright spring foliage or vivid summer skies, you might need to borrow from another pencil range. I also had a bit of trouble getting or making a good pink for an animal tongue from this set, so I had to borrow from my Caran d’Ache Luminance range for a few pinks and reds.

A few of the colours are ostensibly the same as those in the Artists range (at least, they share the same name), but some versions of the same colour vary drastically across the two ranges; for example, Terracotta is a pale, pinkish brown in the Artists range but a deeper, reddish brown in the Drawing range. The Drawing Ivory Black is a really deep black, and the Chinese White is a reasonably opaque white, though I think the Coloursoft White is a little more opaque. The opacity of the Drawing pencils means they are good for drawing on coloured paper.

When I first got the tin, I did have an issue with one pencil (the Crag Green) having a core that didn’t seem to have been mixed or blended properly, as there was a vein of crumbly bright yellow running through the muted green. However when I contacted Derwent they sent me a new one straight away. My Smoke Blue also seems to have suffered internal damage at some point (not from me) as it breaks almost every time I (carefully) sharpen it.

Other than that, the Drawing pencils do seem a bit stronger in general. I suspect this is due to their texture, which is much softer than the Derwent Artists pencils. Their soft, creamy texture is almost on the same level as Prismacolor pencils, which are known for their buttery softness.  Prismacolors are also known for their constantly-breaking leads no matter how carefully you sharpen them, which luckily isn’t as much of an issue with the Drawing pencils. That being said, the soft leads do mean you do need to take some care when sharpening these pencils, as if you just jam it into a sharpener and start twisting (the way I usually do with cheap greylead pencils), you will get a lot more breakage. Drawing pencils have the same thick barrel and wide core as Artists pencils but lay down much more smoothly, making them wonderful for layering and blending. When I originally started writing this review, I would have said Derwent’s closest range in terms of softness is their Coloursoft line – which comes in 72 colours and includes more brights – but those have a sort of dry, almost chalky texture, which I’m not as fond of. However their more recently released Lightfast range is quite soft (though not as soft as Drawing) and blends smoothly, and is probably closer in texture to the Drawing pencils. The Drawing pencils also have a reasonable amount of opacity, meaning they show up quite well on darker coloured paper.

On another positive note, if you use up a colour from the set and need to replace it, the Derwent Drawing pencils appear to be readily available in most local art supply shops, both in sets and open stock individual pencils. They seem to be priced at a bit over $3 on average, making them among the cheaper ranges in Derwent’s line up.

Here’s a sketch I did with the Derwent Drawing pencils. For a demonstration of how I did it, click here.

Those who do a lot of landscapes or portraits of people or animals will want to pick up some Derwent Drawing pencils. Even if you don’t get the full 24 tin, at least get a white, black and some of the earthy reds and browns, as they would be a great sketching medium on their own, and they are especially suited for use on toned or coloured paper.

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Paper: Hahnemühle Agave Watercolour Paper (review)

Recently my friend who works in a little art shop in Italy sent me a parcel with some new art supplies as a gift, including a pocket-sized pad of Hahnemühle Agave watercolour paper. I was excited to try this as, although I like Hahnemühle’s regular watercolour paper, I had not heard of the Agave range.

It’s a 290gsm paper, and 70% of it is made up of Agave fibre (with the remaining 30% being cotton rag). As far as practicality goes, I can’t see any advantage to using it over a standard watercolour paper, but for those who try to do their bit for the environment, it’s a more ethical choice, as the material used for it is fast-growing and sustainable. It’s a natural white, leaning slightly towards blue more than yellow. Compared to other cold press papers I’ve used, the Hahnemühle Agave paper has a slightly smoother texture, making it particularly suitable for fine details.

In terms of performance, the paper is up there with other artist grade papers I’ve used. As mentioned, it is quite a smooth surface for a cold press paper, which some artists might not like unless they are painting realistic or finely detailed paintings (I like a fine paper for detailed work but for landscapes and most still lifes I prefer a more textured cold press or even a rough press paper). The paper stands up reasonably well to thick washes; when painting my sample painting, it didn’t curl until near the end when I applied a really heavy wash for the background. I found that I was able to lift most colours from the paper without too much difficulty, however there was a little pilling in some places where I applied multiple layers. I generally find this happens more often with hot press or very smooth cold press papers rather than rough press, so it wasn’t a big deal or particularly surprising, but it’s something to be wary of.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be widely available yet, so it may not be financially viable to purchase in Australia yet (some online UK sites are selling it but postage costs would be prohibitive unless you’re ordering a lot of other items from them anyway).

Here’s a small painting I did on the Hahnemühle Agave watercolour paper.

If you’re environmentally conscious and want to try to use sustainable art materials, the Hahnemühle Agave watercolour paper is worth checking out. Sadly it seems like it’s going to be difficult to find outside Europe for a while, but eventually it will end up on our shelves, so it will be nice to have another sustainable but good quality paper to choose from.

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Coloured Pencils: Collie Dog (demonstration)

My friend’s dog, Maggie, recently celebrated her first birthday. One of the photos her human took was a nice shot of her sitting up and looking at the camera, and I thought it would make a nice portrait sketch, and give me an excuse to play with my new toned paper sketchbook. Apologies in advance for the uneven lighting, my desk light doesn’t seem to play well with the beige paper I chose.

Derwent Drawing Pencils:
-Light Sienna
-Solway Blue
-Brown Ochre
-Yellow Ochre
-Sepia (red)
-Mars Orange
-Mars Violet
-Ivory Black
-Cool Grey
-Chinese White

Caran d’Ache Luminance Pencils:
-Permanent Red
-Ultramarine Pink
-Manganese Violet

Stillman and Birn Nova Trio 150gsm sketchbook paper (beige)

Step 1
Because this dog has a lot of white in her fur, I decided to choose a colour other than white for the paper. My sketchbook had grey, black and beige paper, and I chose beige because I thought it most suited the warm colours of the dog and her happy personality. Draw the outline in greylead pencils, or transfer a traced outline. Try to keep the lines faint so it’s easy to erase later, otherwise it will muddy the colours laid over the top of it.

Step 2
For most of the early stages of colouring, I gently lift the greylead lines off the paper using a kneaded eraser just before I go over them with colour to make sure the colours stay bright and pure. Starting with the tips of the ears, lay in Chocolate in a relatively solid layer, changing to Sepia and then Warm Earth and lighter, more feathery strokes to show the longer fur at the base of her ears. Draw the fur on the top and side of her head with a mixture of Yellow Ochre, Brown Ochre, Mars Orange and Light Sienna, changing to Sepia and Chocolate for the dark tips of the long bits of hair on the sides of her face.

Use Ivory Black to outline the eyes and colour the pupils (graduating from a heavy/solid black at the top to using a softer pressure near the bottom of the pupils), as well as to outline the nose and dark parts of the mouth. Make the top of the nose slightly softer rather than a hard outline, as this will blend into her white fur. Colour the irises with Solway Blue and then go over it with Chinese White. Lightly add a few dark whiskers under the nose; these will be covered by white fur later. For the dog’s lip, use Chocolate for the outer part on the left, merging this into Ivory Black where the lip meets the white fur. Go over the top part just under the tongue with Cool Grey and/or Chinese White to create a highlight, and add the shadowing in the mouth/the back of the tongue with Ivory Black.

Colour in the teeth with Chinese White, and then using the same colour, start outlining the white areas on the dog’s face and head. Begin feathering a little white fur from the upper lip over the dark lower lip, and make the chin a solid white. Using soft strokes and following the contour of the dog’s fur down her body, draw in the fur on her chest and neck with Chinese White, adding some Cool Grey for some of the darker areas. I also laid in a layer of Cool Grey on the lower chest before going over with some Chinese White. On the left side of her neck I also added some Yellow Ochre fur.

Step 3
Colour the dog’s tongue with a light layer of Permanent Red, taking this up over the shadowed area and leaving a highlight along the lower right. Go over this with Ultramarine Pink, then, with Manganese Violet, add a darker section to the middle of the tongue as it recedes into the mouth. Emphasise the highlight on the tongue with Chinese White.

Layer Wheat and Brown Ochre over the dog’s cheeks to create the soft fur, adding in very soft sections of Brown Ochre. Continue filling out the fluffy parts around the ears with more Brown Ochre, a little Sepia and Chocolate and a few highlight areas of Cool Grey and Chinese White. Add more light Brown Ochre under the dog’s eyes, leaving a highlighted area of Wheat and/or Yellow Ochre directly under the eyes. Add some strokes of Chinese White over the light brown areas of the dog’s cheeks and head

Emphasise the fine long hairs of the dog’s eyebrows with Mars Violet, then fill in the rest of the light brown areas of the dog’s head with feathery strokes of Brown Ochre. Make sure you also leave a pale area above the eyes to show the top of the eyelids. Add a few strokes of Chocolate to the eyebrows. Add the shadows around the edges of the eyes with Brown Ochre and a hint of Mars Violet.

Add some Cool Grey to the shadowed area on the left side of the muzzle (light to medium pressure). Fill in the rest of the white areas of the face using Chinese White, starting at the top of the head and coming down the muzzle, blending it gently into the light brown areas either side but keeping some harder edges.

Step 4
Build up more fur where necessary, again using Chinese White and Brown Ochre for the neck and chest, and Brown Ochre and a little Yellow Ochre on the top of the head. I also used a combination of Solway Blue and Cool Grey to deepen the shadows below and to the left of the dog’s chin.

Use Solway Blue to colour the highlighted areas under the dog’s nostrils, and then put a softer layer of the same colour along the top right of her nose, blending into a small area of Brown Ochre on the left. With Ivory Black, draw a soft line showing the groove down the lower middle of her nose, then colour the nostrils using a heavy pressure, and do the same for the very bottom of her nose (where it meets her lip).

Gradually blend the Ivory Black out to a lighter application to cover the rest of the nose, leaving some of the Solway Blue and Brown Ochre showing through. Use a little Solway Blue to redefine the higlighted areas, and a little Chinese White for the palest parts. With a firmer pressure and Solway Blue, go over the lower parts of the dog’s pupils, blending into the black to create a smooth finish. Add another layer of Ivory Black in the top half to make it as black as you can. Using Sepia and Chocolate, define the little ‘eyeliner’ lines that go from the outside of the dog’s eyes down towards her cheek. Finally, sign your name on the lower left of the picture.

Thanks for following along in this portrait sketch of Maggie. I’ll have a review of the Derwent Drawing pencils I used for this demonstration up on my blog in the next few days, but in the meantime, happy drawing!

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Watercolours: Purple Petunias (demonstration)

When I received some purple Schmincke watercolour half pans as a gift from a friend in Italy, I decided it would be fun to use them in a floral painting where I’d have an excuse to use lots of different violets. This petunia painting is based on a photo by Sei Nakatugawa in the Photos for Artists Facebook group.

Schmincke Watercolours:
-Permanent Chinese White
-Lemon Yellow
-Purple Magenta
-Quinacridone Magenta
-Quinacridone Purple
-Cobalt Blue Hue
-Phthalo Green
-Payne’s Grey
-Mars Black

Jackson’s Raven synthetic mop size 10/0
Escoda Grafilo Kolinsky Tamyr size 4
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 3/0
Princeton Neptune Liner size 1

Hahnemühle Agave Watercolour Paper – 290gsm Cold Press (80 X 105mm)

Step 1

For the sake of clarity, I will refer to the flowers in the drawing as Flower 1, Flower 2 etc (starting from the top) down to Flower 5 (the bottom). After drawing the outline, mix a very weak wash of Cobalt Violet Hue and colour some of the slightly shadowy areas on all the flowers, leaving a few of the highlighted areas pure white (especially on Flower 4). For the darker sections of Flowers 1, 3 and 5, use a darker wash of the same colour, and then go over it again with Mauve. Using Mauve again and a smaller brush, indicate the dark centres of the flowers where visible, as well as some of the most prominent veins.

Step 2
For sections of the underside of Flower 1 and the tips of the outer petals on Flower 3, put in a light wash of Quinacridone Magenta, blending this into another wash of Cobalt Violet Hue. Let it dry, and then do the same thing again, darkening and strengthening the colours where necessary (make sure to leave some areas pale). Mix some Lemon Yellow with a small amount of Phthalo Green and colour in the leaves and foliage behind the petunias. With a strong mix of Mauve (very little water), darken the very centre of the petunias. Wait for the flowers and foliage to dry completely, and then lay in a wash of Paynes Grey over the background.

Step 3
Using Quinacridone Magenta, Mauve and Cobalt Violet Hue and a very fine brush, paint the lines in for the base of Flowers 1 and 2, keeping the mixes light (if you make them too dark, you can use Permanent Chinese White to go over them and lighten them a bit). With varying mixes of the four purples/violets, add in more layers on the flowers, making sure to vary the colouring of each flower (ie. keep Flower 4 the lightest, while Flowers 1 and 3 should be the darkest). Also make sure that the centre of each flower remains the darkest point. Vary the foliage as well, adding another layer to the greens using Burnt Umber in some of the darker sections and more yellows and greens in the lighter sections. Go over the background with another layer of Payne’s Grey with some Mars Black added in, blending the leaves on the right so they fade into the darkness.

Step 4
With strong mixtures of the purples/violets and a fine brush (a small size liner if you have one), paint in the ‘veins’ in the flowers. Take your time with this, making the central vein for each petal the thickest and darkest with the others being thinner and gradually feathering outwards. You may need to blend these into the outside of the flower centres, adding some Payne’s Grey to the flower centres if necessary to darken them further. Mix some Mars Black with Phthalo Green and Purple Magenta to create a rich neutral dark and wash this over the background. You may need to let it dry and then go over it with another layer if the first wash isn’t dark enough. At this point I also used a light glaze of Permanent Chinese White on the darkest flower (Flower 3) just to bring back some of the highlighted areas I’d lost. Finally, I mix Permanent Chinese White with some of the leftover purple mixture and sign my name in the bottom right.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little painting project, as much as I’ve enjoyed painting it; it’s been a while since I’ve done any art. As always, if you don’t have the exact colours I’ve listed here, you can use the most similar colours you already have in your own palette.

Happy painting!

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