Acrylics: Crimson Rosella (demonstration)

I’ve painted a few crimson Rosellas in watercolour over the years. It’s hard to resist the beautiful deep red of their feathers with those soft, almost fluorescent blue highlights. I thought it would be nice to paint one in acrylics for a change.

Chroma Atelier Free Flow Acrylics:
-Pyrrole Red
-French Ultramarine Blue
-Phthalo Green
-Yellow Ochre
-Carbon Black

Golden Fluid Acrylics:
-Titanium White
-Quinacridone Magenta
-Primary Cyan
-Burnt Sienna

Generally you can use whatever brushes you have and are comfortable with using, though I would suggest some sort of synthetic (eg. golden Taklon) bristles. This is what I used:
Ebony Splendor Rounds (sizes 0, 2 and 4)
-Ebony Splendor Flats (sizes 2, 6, 10 and 12)

A small (size 4 or 6) Filbert brush would also be useful if you have one. I do but it’s old and ratty with hairs sticking out at odd angles, so I didn’t end up using it.

Mont Marte Canvas Panel (5″ X 7″).

Step 1

Start with a heavily watered down puddle of French Ultramarine Blue (to be honest it doesn’t really matter what colour you use here, I just choose blue). Using a size 2 or 4 round brush, draw in the outline of the Rosella and the branch he’s sitting on. Once everything is outlined, use this same colour to block in the blue areas of the bird. Make a similarly watery puddle of Pyrrole Red and Quinacridone Magenta to wash in the red areas of the bird, then put in his eye with a thinned down Carbon Black. It doesn’t matter too much if the red and blue areas overlap a little as you will go over it with thicker, more opaque paint anyway; this is just to cover the white of the canvas and give you an idea of where the final colours will go. Block in the branch with a watery wash of Burnt Sienna.

For the background, pour out separate little blobs of Phthalo Green and Yellow Ochre on your palette, leaving an inch or two of space between them. Bring some of each colour into the middle and make a soupy wash out of it; this will give you a light, yellowish green. Make another puddle of a similar colour but with more Phthalo Green added, to give a darker, leafy green. Wash these colours into the background with a large flat brush, starting in the middle with the yellow-green and blending out into the darker green. Again, you’ll be covering this up with thicker paint, so it doesn’t matter if it isn’t exactly right as long as you have a nice, naturally gradated background.

Step 2
Pour out larger puddles of Yellow Ochre and Phthalo Green and make similar mixtures as you did for Step 1, but this time don’t dilute the paint with water. Once again starting in the middle, upper left and bottom right, brush in the yellow-green with soft, crisscrossing strokes to avoid making it look to uniform, blending out into a mix of Phthalo Green with only a hint of Yellow Ochre in the top right and bottom left corners. If it was a bigger painting you might want more detail in the background, but since it’s only small I didn’t want it to detract from the bird, so I went with an abstract representation of foliage. Mix Titanium White, Burnt Sienna and a small amount of Carbon Black to get a dull, pale brown, and use this to block in the branch the Rosella is perched on.

Step 3
At this point I decided the top right and bottom left corners needed to be darker still, so I brushed in some pure Phthalo Green, feathering the strokes so it blended into the dark olive green from Step 2. For the branch, mix up various shades of brown, using Burnt Sienna, Titanium White and a little French Ultramarine Blue for the darkest shades. Using the size 6 flat brush on its side, add strokes of the different browns along the branch, following its slight curves. Switch between the colours, overlapping them and making sure the greyish brown undercoat is completely covered. Use more of the darker browns along the shadowed underside of the branch, while saving the lighter browns for the top part. Using a mixture of white with only a tiny amount of brown, add a few strokes along the very top of the branch for the highlights. Add a few strokes of dark brown around where the smaller twig grows out of the main branch to show its rounded shape and help differentiate it from the rest of the branch. Finally, mix French Ultramarine Blue with Titanium White to start painting in the blue areas of the bird (add a little more white for the highlights under the beak, along the front of the wing and on the left side of the tail).

Step 4
Mix a bit of Quinacridone Magenta into some Pyrrole Red for a deep crimson (the red you should end up with should be a cool red, not a warm red). Use this for the rest of the bird’s body (don’t worry if you cover his eye a bit, you’ll paint it in more detail at the end). Don’t forget his leg, just visible under his wing. Using some Carbon Black mixed with either Phthalo Blue or Ultramarine (you want a dark colour but not straight black), paint in his little foot. Add a bit of white to this colour to add the highlights on the top of the foot.

Now it’s time to build up more variation in the bird’s blue feathers. Add a thin line of diluted Carbon Black for the shadow under the wing, blending it down to avoid having a harsh, solid line (most of this will be covered by blue paint but enough will show through to indicate the soft shadow). In Step 4, we mixed French Ultramarine Blue with Titanium White for the base blue colour, but it has a bit too much of a violet tint (it almost looks like a pale lilac rather than blue). For this stage, add some Primary Cyan into your French Ultramarine for a more intense blue, and then add varying amounts of Titanium White. Most of the tail should be quite dark (aside from the highlight along the left and a tiny bit on the top right), as well the tips of the wings. Use a mid blue mix for the majority of the wings and for most of the blue cheek spot. Mix in more Primary Cyan and a lot more Titanium White, so create a more vibrant blue for the lightest areas along the outer edge of the wing and just under the beak.

Step 5
It’s time to put in the dark markings on the Rosella’s wings. Mix some French Ultramarine Blue and Primary Cyan in one blob on your palette, and then pour out a blob of Carbon Black nearby. Pull some of each blob into the middle and mix so you have a dark blue-black, but don’t worry about mixing it too thoroughly; it’s good to have the marks vary from being dark blue to almost black. At this point you could use your Filbert brush if you have one, but mine was too badly damaged so I used a size 1 Flat instead. Starting at the Rosella’s neck, pick up the dark blues and blacks and make little crescent-shaped marks to represent the feathers. Vary the size of these slightly, but make sure they follow the contours of the bird’s body. As you get lower, make some of the marks longer and wider. For the edges of the wings, use longer, wider strokes to show the long wing feathers. Add the thick dark mark along the bird’s upper wing with some of your blue-black (make it lean more towards blue than black). Water down a little of this blue-black and, using the smallest Round or Flat brush you have, draw in a faint line along the tail to show the divide between the tail feathers (you may also want to darken the shadow under the wing, as I did). At this point, I also darkened the bottom edge of the bird’s blue cheek with a little more Primary Cyan.

Add some white to the blue-black mixture and add the highlight along the upper part of the tail feather divide, then water this down even further and add some highlights to the edges of the dark blue-black feathers. Mix a tiny amount of Carbon Black into some Titanium White to get a very pale grey and use this to define the beak. Make it slightly darker and draw the oval shape for the Rosella’s eyelids. Then, once this is dry, paint in the eye with solid Carbon Black. Add the highlight to the top right corner of the bird’s eye in an almost-white light grey. Take the Pyrrole Red and Quinacridone Magenta mix you used for the bird’s body and add a tiny amount of Primary Cyan to get a dark brownish purple, then use this to shade the red area around the bird’s beak. To add the subtle background lighting around the edge of the bird’s feathers, mix a watery puddle of Titanium White. Then, using a dry brush, softly feather this white around the outside of the bird along the top of its head, down its back and on its chest. Finally, add the shadows under the Rosella’s tail and foot with a watery grey mix of French Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna.

All that’s left to do now is to sign your name, which you can do with a dark green mix of Phthalo Green and Yellow Ochre in the lower right corner.

Now the painting is finished! I hope you’ve enjoyed painting this crimson Rosella. These lovely Australian birds are a wonderful subject for beginners as they are not too challenging to paint, but still look beautiful.

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Book of Dragons: Page 1 – Lord of Storms

When my friend in Italy posted me a Sennelier Watercolour USKbook as a gift, the panorama format of the sketchbook gave me the idea of using it like a medieval scroll and doing ink and wash illustrations rather than more realistic paintings. Though I usually do ‘one-off’ paintings and drawings, I realised I had ideas for enough different dragons to fill the whole sketchbook (and then some). To give it more of an illustrative look, I’ve decided I’ll add various Celtic-inspired borders. I’m also aiming to give the dragons proper backgrounds and environments, since a lot of my old dragon pictures just had the poor dragons floating in the middle of a white page, looking vaguely bewildered by the lack of a good lair to snuggle up in.

It’s been quite a while since I did any fantasy illustrations – I’ve mostly doing still lifes and landscapes over the last few years – so it will make a nice change, especially since I haven’t had time to work on my fantasy novel lately. I am excited at the prospect of making my Book of Dragons into an ongoing project.

Lord of Storms
The Lord of Storms soars through the clouds on a twenty-metre wingspan, stopping to rest atop high mountains once or twice a year. Lighting draws him to it so he can feed on its energy, while his movements through the clouds generate more lightning strikes; the dragon has a symbiotic relationship with storms. By beating his wings in various rapid tempos, he can generate static electricity and thunder as a defense mechanism. The Lord of Storms is not usually aggressive, but he will wield lightning in attacks if he feels threatened by other ‘creatures’ invading his territory; it is thought that the blue and white dragon is probably responsible for many unexplained plane crashes.

“Lord of Storms”. Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton watercolours.

That’s the first entry in my Book of Dragons. Keep an eye on my blog for more, as I’ll be posting each dragon as I add it to the book.

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Sketchbooks: Sennelier Watercolour USKbook Urban Sketch Book (review)

I’m always on the lookout for sketchbooks with good quality paper. It’s hard to find many locally, and those that are available are often not cheap. When my friend who works in an art supply shop in Italy posted a picture of a new sketchbook she’d bought for herself and her daughter, I asked her what she thought of it because I’d never seen them in stores here, and she kindly posted one to me as a gift.

It’s the Sennelier USKbook. There is a Multimedia one available with slightly thicker paper and a black cover. The Multimedia one is also more pocket-sized at 10X15cm. The one I have is the Watercolour version, which has a green cover and 300gsm rough-textured watercolour paper. It’s 16X24cm, so it’s probably not ideal for small, portable sketching-on-the-go setups, but it’s a nice size for if you want to make a special trip out somewhere just to sketch, or for use in the studio. It’s also lighter than a lot of sketchbooks of the same size. When the paper sleeve is removed, there’s also a nice little embossed Sennelier logo on the front of the cloth cover, though this seems to have been heat-set somehow; be careful you don’t spill water on the logo (as I did) or it will flatten out and disappear.

One of the main things that drew me to the Sennelier USKbook was the format. As you can see from the photo above, it’s not like a normal sketchbook. Instead of having many individual pages, this one opens out like an accordion, allowing you to draw one great big panoramic scene if you want to; alternatively, you can just use it as if they are individual pages based on the fold lines.

I can’t really give much information about the prices of these sketchbooks since no one locally seems to sell them, and there aren’t a lot of online sellers either. I have seen a few of the black-covered Multimedia USKbooks at prices ranging from about $17-25AUD, but these were either on eBay or from the US art supply retailers. Aside from one UK retailer, Cass Art, I am yet to see any of these green-covered Watercolour USKbooks for sale anywhere aside from my friend’s art supply shop in Italy, and they don’t have any real web-presence aside from a Facebook page, so ordering online from them is not an option. Cass Art has them for about £13, which is probably about $20-22AUD, but then you have to factor in postage as well.

I’m not sure how many ‘pages’ the black Multimedia book has, but the Watercolour one has 8 if you open it from the front and 6 if you open it from the back. I have seen a couple of reviews for the Multimedia book saying that its 340gsm surface is very smooth and starts to fall apart after two or three layers of wash. While I didn’t exactly punish my Watercolour USKbook, I did put down a pretty heavy layer of clear water before doing my initial background washes, and I probably had three or four layers of watercolour in some sections. I also used masking fluid on a large section, and lifted out other areas with a tissue, but after all of this, the paper was unscathed. I also did my painting on the page that was glued to the inside of the front cover, and though it buckled slightly at some edges, it has not pulled away or come unstuck. Depending on how staining the colours are that you’ve used, you should be able to lift most of it out if you get colour where you don’t want it, but there will be a bit of a tinge remaining. I doubt I’d get a Multimedia USKbook since I prefer to have some texture in the surface when I’m sketching and painting; I only really like smooth surfaces when I’m doing coloured pencil work.

Though I liked the feel of the paper, it didn’t really feel like a rough texture to me. More like a cold press texture. When I inked the lines of my illustration with a Sakura Pigma Micron, my lines went down easily enough without being disrupted too much by the paper surface. That being said, there is still enough texture there to get nice drybrush effects, or granulating washes if you use the appropriate colours. The paper has a soft cream tint rather than being white, which some people may not like, but I didn’t mind it. It is a good quality watercolour paper.

If you are doing a painting in panorama format that takes up multiple ‘pages’ or a whole spread of the book, there is a potential issue you need to be aware of. Those who are using dry media probably won’t experience this issue to the same extent (if at all), but the folds between the pages effectively form a little gutter. This means that any washes that extend over multiple pages will have a noticeably darker line down them where the gutter is, as the paint will gather here (I suppose any ‘sizing’ in the paper might be damaged by the folding/unfolding as well, meaning this little crease will absorb more pigment and make it look darker). Depending on how much water you’re sloshing down, you could also find it bleeding through these creases to the other side, meaning it could potentially affect any work you’ve done on the back of the pages or even make the paper ‘tear’ at this crease. A lot will depend on your painting style, but if this is a concern, you may be better off to only use one side of the paper, which could make it a relatively expensive sketchbook considering the usable portion for the price. Still, it is fun to have the option to create a panorama-format painting and then fold it up so it’s nice and compact, and the accordion design also lends itself well to illustrative work like medieval scrolls.

Here is a dragon I painted on the first page of my Sennelier Watercolour USKbook. I am planning to fill this book with different sorts of dragons, so keep an eye on my blog.

The Sennelier Watercolour USKbook is really nice to draw and paint in, so if you can find one, I’d recommend buying one. Unfortunately this may be easier said than done since, as I mentioned earlier, it seems that very few places are selling them. You may find you can only use one side and you may need to be careful of laying washes over the creases between pages, but it’s a fun format to work with and it might inspire you to try something a bit different. I love this book and will definitely try to get another one after I’ve filled this one up.

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Art Roundup: September 2017

September was a slow month for me, art-wise. I got sick at the end of August and though at one stage I thought I’d recovered, the bug came back with a vengeance a few weeks later. On top of more assignment marking and trying to organise stuff for my thesis, I rarely had the time or energy to draw or paint anything. I did manage one more addition to my sketchbook, however…

Marbles and Pixel – Schmincke Watercolours
Two of my Twitter friends often post pictures of their cats, and I thought they’d make a good sketch subject. This was done in my Moleskine Pocket Watercolour Journal, using Schmincke watercolours.

So yeah, this month’s Round Up only actually has one new drawing. I did finish a nice dragon illustration in my Sennelier USKbook, but since I haven’t reviewed that sketchbook yet, I’ll save the dragon to use as the sample picture for that review.

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Sketchbooks: Moleskine Pocket Watercolour Notebook (review)

If you go onto pretty much any sketching forum, you’ll notice that a lot of sketchers use Moleskine sketching journals. I wanted to see what the fuss was about so I bought myself a Moleskine Pocket Watercolour Notebook from The Book Depository (I was also later given a Large Watercolour Notebook as a gift but I haven’t used it yet).

Though I got the notebook many years ago, I only ever did a few small paintings in it (all of which were terrible) before shoving it into my cupboard. A couple of months ago I decided I wanted to get into the habit of sketching, drawing or painting weekly – even if it was just something small – and I figured I might as well put the unloved Moleskine to use.

It must be said that these are very nice looking sketchbooks. The rounded corners and black faux-leather cover lends them an air of class, and the little elastic band helps to keep it closed so the book doesn’t open in your bag, preventing the pages from getting bent or damaged. They’re not quite small enough to fit into a lot of shirt or pants pockets but they’d easily fit into a larger coat pocket or even a small handbag (or manbag, for any blokes out there). There are 30 sheets, which means 60 pages if you use both sides of the paper.

When I first started using the Moleskine journal seriously, I wasn’t overly fond of the paper to begin with. Much of this was probably because I’d been spoiled by the 300gsm paper I’d been doing larger paintings on at the time, but the paper felt a little flimsy. Also, at some time in the past I’d had a play with some of the Stillman & Birn journals, and while those are more expensive, they also felt like superior quality in terms of the thickness and texture of the paper. However, sometimes I come to realise that I’m being harsh towards something not because it is inherently bad, but simply because I wanted it to be something it isn’t, and this was one of those times. You can’t do a heavy wash of watercolour on this Moleskine paper; if you do, the page will curl up like a pretzel unless you’ve secured it with bulldog clips or something (as I discovered when I did the sketch of my friends’ cats, below). But for small watercolour sketches or for pen and ink work, the paper works well enough. It does have a slight texture; not as much as proper cold press watercolour paper, but definitely noticeable, which means you can get nice granulating effects depending on what watercolours you use. This does mean it might not be great for coloured pencil usage, unless you’re aiming for broken colour rather than smooth, solid areas of colour.

Here are a couple of things I’ve drawn or painted in my Moleskine Pocket Watercolour Notebook.

Moleskine watercolour notebooks are a good choice for those who like to keep a sketch journal. If you like to do a lot of heavy washes and really punish your paper, checking out some of the Stillman & Birn journals or making your own journals from your watercolour paper of choice might be a better option. However if you just like to jot down the world around you and splash some colour into your linework, it’s worth having a Moleskine journal. I’d recommend buying them from Book Depository though as everywhere else I saw them was charging almost double the price (you might as well spend that extra money on a couple of new tubes of paint).

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Art Roundup: August 2017

I haven’t painted as much as I’d like this month. Uni started back at the end of July and I’m teaching again, as well as nearing the point where I’ll be starting to collect data for my research. Still, I did manage to sneak in a few paintings. I’ve mostly been painting in small format lately – business card or postcard size – as I find I can finish paintings this size within a few hours, and knowing I’ll have a polished piece to show at the end of it is a good motivator to paint.

Moo – Schmincke Watercolours
This was a small painting I did on a Strathmore watercolour ATC. I haven’t done a lot of animal drawings or paintings (mostly just birds), so it was a bit of a challenge, but it came out alright.

And One On Top – Hydrocryl Acrylics
I actually started this one some time in March or April but for some reason I abandoned it halfway through. I don’t know if it was because I got busy with other things and never got around to it or I just lost interest in it but it sat on top of my cupboard until I came home after uni one day and decided I was either going to finish it that night or throw it out. I got out my Hydrocryl acrylics (which are probably the least favourite acrylics I own; I just wanted to use them up) and did most of the background with a palette knife before slathering paint onto the cupcake and the cherries with a brush. I’m not really happy with it (I could have put more effort into the shadows and I should have made the surface the items are sitting on much lighter; as it stands it’s tonally the same as the background), but at least it’s done.

A Secret Bridge – Rembrandt Watercolours
Recently I dug out a Moleskine journal I bought many years ago but had never really used aside from a few crappy attempts at drawings on the first couple of pages. I bought it specifically for doing sketches, but somehow I got it into my head that if I was going to make art, it had to be ‘real’ art, not just a sketch, so the journal sat unloved in my cupboard for many years (I also felt the paper didn’t stand up well to heavy watercolour washes, which also affected its appeal). I am trying to cure myself of this mindset by doing more impressionist and loose artwork, as well as some ink and wash sketches, starting with this little Moleskine sketch of a secluded area at my university. For this one I used my Rembrandt watercolours and Sakura Pigma Micron pens.

And that’s all for August. I had hope to crank out a few more drawings or sketches at the end of August but unfortunately I got hit by a nasty bug that put me out of commission for several days, and by the time I recovered I had a lot of assignment marking to catch up on. Still, three new paintings are better than none.

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Pencils: Bruynzeel Design Colour Pencils (review)

I normally buy my art supplies from the place near my Dad’s work (which is nearly an hour away) or online from Jackson’s in the UK, with occasional forays into the city to buy from the art supply stores there. However recently I discovered that there’s a pretty decent art supply shop on the outskirts of my own town, so naturally I had to go down there to see what they had and what their prices were like. Mostly their prices were about the same, but they did have a few brands I hadn’t tried before, like the Bruynzeel Design pencil ranges. Aside from regular coloured pencils, they also have watercolour (Aquarel) pencils and pastel pencils, but I just got some of the normal ones, the Colour range.

Here’s the colour chart for the handful of pencils I bought.

Bruynzeel Design Colour pencils are at the cheaper end of the price spectrum; I paid $2.10 for each of the ones I bought but the art supply shop in Bayswater has them for $1.55, even cheaper than their Prismacolor pencils (and much cheaper than the Derwent and Faber-Castell ranges). There are 48 colours in the range, so a full set won’t hurt the wallet as much as a full range from one of the other coloured pencil brands. As for lightfastness, I’m assuming that a number of colours will be fugitive, since this is an issue in pretty much every pencil range I’ve tried aside from the Caran d’Ache Luminance and the Derwent Drawing pencils. I’ll put my chart in the window for six months with half of each swatch covered and see how they fare.

It’s worth noting is that it seems the Bruynzeel name has changed hands at some point. If you look closely at my pencils (which I purchased individually from open stock), some of them have Sakura (who make the Koi watercolour box) on the barrel while others don’t. Googling “Bruynzeel Design” brings up the Royal Talens website (the same company who makes the Rembrandt watercolours and soft pastels I love). I believe the ones with Sakura on them may be older as I think that company was recently bought by Royal Talens, and the pictures of the pencils on their website don’t have Sakura on them, but I struggled to find much information on the business side of things. However, there seems to be no difference (that I can see) in the texture and quality between the pencils (changeovers can be very painful to artists, with the Prismacolor Premier pencil manufacturing moving from the USA to Mexico being a prime example).

That being said, once I started using these pencils, I understood why they are so inexpensive. At the start of this year, I reviewed the Rembrandt Polycolor pencils. and though they were certainly not terrible, they also didn’t stand up to the existing pencils I have in my arsenal. The Bruynzeel Design Colour pencils have almost the same texture as the Rembrandt Polycolors (not surprising since as I said above, they’re now apparently made by the same parent company) and suffer from many of the same issues.

They are quite firm, which isn’t an issue in and of itself, but unfortunately they do have a slight scratchiness to them (not as bad as the Polycolors, though), and they are relatively transparent, unlike Prismacolor Premiers, Derwent Coloursofts or Drawing or Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils, which all provide a slightly more opaque coverage. You will need to buy a white pencil from one of these other brands (my recommendation would be a Derwent Drawing or a Prismacolor Premier white, but if you go for the latter, check the pencil in person before buying it to avoid the quality issues I mentioned above) if you want to be able to add highlights or lighten colour you’ve already laid down, as the Bruynzeel Design white does little more than blend the colours together to make the strokes less visible; it doesn’t actually lighten it at all.

Here’s a small beachscape I drew on Stonehenge paper with the Bruynzeel Design Colour pencils, based on photos uploaded to the WetCanvas Reference Image Library by Irv and oldrockchick.

Bruynzeel Design Colour pencils are alright for sketching and they get the job done, but I think it’s worth paying a bit more for the Faber-Castell Polychromos or the Derwent Artists or Coloursoft pencils (depending on how firm you like your pencils). Their price will make them attractive to students or artists on a budget, but given I like the handling of all my other existing coloured pencils better, I probably won’t use these again, and will likely put them up for sale on eBay so I can spend the money on more Caran d’Ache pencils.

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