Watercolours: German Shepherd 3/4 Profile (demonstration)

For a long time, I’ve wanted to paint an animal portrait, but always put it off out of fear I’d mess it up. I still have that fear, but I decided I should at least try to do something about it by practicing a dog portrait. I thought I would have a go at painting my friend’s German Shepherd, Vedina (who works with her mama in an art supply shop in Italy).

Schmincke Watercolours
-Permanent Chinese White
-Indian Yellow
-Permanent Carmine
-Potter’s Pink
-Jaune Brilliant Dark
-Yellow Ochre
-Spinel Brown
-Venetian Red
-Burnt Umber
-Payne’s Grey

Daniel Smith Watercolours
-Iridescent Gold

Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky Sable Round size 4
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 1
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 3/0

Masking Tape

Canson Heritage Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Rough (150X210mm)

Step 1
After transferring the greylead line onto the watercolour paper, wash a light layer of Potters Pink over the dog’s tongue and the insides of her ears. Mix a very watery wash of Jaune Brilliant Dark and Yellow Ochre and wash this over the left side of the dog’s neck and head and the whole chest/torso area under her chin. Mix a little Venetian Red and Spinel Brown so you get a slightly reddish brown and apply this in thin strokes along the dog’s forehead and nose and down her back, as well as a few strokes anywhere the fur looks reddish. Now make up a weak to medium wash of Burnt Umber and run this along the edges of the dog’s ears (as well as in the fluffy areas), down her back and in a few places along her collar and head. At this stage the colours should be fairly loose and light as you will build up the colour in multiple layers.

Step 2
Make a medium wash of Payne’s Grey and put this over all the dark areas of the dog, especially her muzzle (make sure to leave some highlights for her lips and the top of her nose) and the blackish fur on her back and near her ears. Build up some darker strokes of Burnt Umber around the black patch on her back and under her collar, as well as to the left of her muzzle and around her ears. Build up some more strokes of your reddish brown made from Venetian Red and Spinel Brown, focusing on the fluffy areas around her ears. After this is dry, put another layer of Payne’s Grey over the darkest areas (her back, the left and underside of her muzzle and nose and her eyebrows and ear fluff).

Step 3
Continue building up the same colours you used in previous steps, gradually covering more of the pale tan areas leaving only a small amount under the dog’s collar and chin. Switch to a smaller brush to create the fur texture on the dog’s head, following the direction of her fur with your brushstrokes. Put another, stronger layer of Payne’s Grey over most of the dog’s muzzle and face except for the bridge and tip of her nose and just under her eye, then, when everything is dry, use almost pure Payne’s Grey to draw the outline and pupil of the dog’s eye.

Step 4
Add a little more Potters Pink to the inner part of the dog’s ears, then mix some Permanent Carmine with Potters Pink and paint the dog’s tongue, making it slightly darker at the top where it is in shadow from her mouth. Layer more Payne’s Grey over the darkest parts of the dog’s muzzle and let this dry. Mix a black from Payne’s Grey and Burnt Umber and use this (watered down slightly) to colour the darkest shadows under the dog’s chin and on the front of her nose, plus some of the darker markings on her head and cheek. Now use the same colour in its purest form to colour in the dog’s nostrils and redefine the outline of the dog’s eye and pupil. Some of the highlights beside her nostril and on her lips are still the white of the paper at this point, so now is a good time to put a very weak Payne’s Grey over it, just to tone down the pure white. Add a few little dots on her muzzle beside her nose to give the impression of whiskers. I also darkened the area under her eye slightly as it looked too light compared to her face.

Once this is dry, put a little bit of shadow in the top half of the eye with Payne’s Grey. Then, once that’s dry, put a light layer of Burnt Umber mixed with a tiny bit of Indian Yellow and Venetian Red (you want a rich, golden brown for this bright eyed dog’s gaze). Make sure you leave the white highlight in the top right corner of her eye. If you’ve accidentally painted some grey over her tooth (like I did), put this back in with a dot of Permanent Chinese White. For her tag, mix Yellow Ochre, Indian Yellow and Permanent Chinese White into a very pale gold. Any visible parts of the chain under her fur can be painted using Payne’s Grey mixed with a bit of Permanent Chinese White (don’t make it too dark or it will detract focus from her face). Once the tag is dry, you could either build up more of a gold colour by layering more Yellow Ochre and Indian Yellow, or if you want an excuse to use sparkly paints (and who doesn’t love sparkly paints?) you could just use a metallic gold watercolour over the top of it. Most metallic watercolours will do a good job, but I used Daniel Smith’s Iridescent Gold as that’s what I had handy. All that’s left to do now is sign your name, using any leftover light tan (Yellow Ochre and Jaune Brilliant Dark) mixture you have.

I hope you’ve enjoyed painting this German Shepherd. I was pleased with how it came out, and I look forward to trying my hand at more animal portraits.

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Watercolours: Sennelier Luxury Walnut Wood Box Half-Pan Set (review)

Before I get started, I should probably admit that this is as much of a show-and-tell/brag post as it is a review.

Back in 2016, I reviewed the Sennelier Landscape Watercolour set of 14 half pans, which I had bought in 2012. This was a clearance item that Dick Blick (a US retailer) was getting rid of because it contained the old formula of Sennelier Extra-Fine watercolours, which had been discontinued earlier that year. While I thought they were reasonable, I didn’t think there was anything special about them (I felt the pigment load wasn’t quite as high as in my other artist grade watercolours), and at the time I couldn’t justify spending the money on buying the reformulated ones to see if they were any better.

Side note: if you find Sennelier half pans out in the wild and can’t work out if they’re the new or old formula, look at the front of the packaging. The old formula wrappers are white in the bottom half and coloured to match the paint it contains in the top half, while the new ones have the whole wrapper in the corresponding paint colour. I never saw any of the older tubes so I can’t compare them to the new ones but I’d imagine a similar colour/labelling scheme applies to those.

Ever since I started painting seriously with watercolours (nearly 10 years ago), I always wanted one of those beautiful wooden box sets, but never felt that I was a good enough artist to justify spending the money on one. I’d often see them online while buying individual colours that I need to replace pans or tubes I’ve used up, but every time I was tempted to get one, I told myself to just keep using the little tin set or loose tubes I already had. Early this year I saw a wooden box set online with a RRP of $200, but the retailer’s price was $150. I made a bargain with myself that if I ever sold or traded $150 worth of watercolour paintings, then I could have one. Over the last few months, I finally sold or traded enough paintings to push me over that $150 bracket (also the box went on sale for an even lower price of $135). So I treated myself to this lovely Sennelier 24 half pan wood box set of watercolours. Of all the wooden box sets, I felt that this one had the best layout and was the best value for money in terms of what was included. Anyway, now that my precious new watercolour box has arrived, let’s spend some time admiring it…

The wood is walnut, and the box is very well made, with the brand name embossed in gold on the lid and matching hinges and clasp (my old man, who is a skilled woodworker himself, turned his nose up at the hinges, saying they were flimsy; they seem adequate for the box though).

When you open the box, there’s a sheet of printed watercolour card in the lid, where you can make colour swatches for all the colours in the box if you like.

In the bottom of the box, there are two rows of watercolour half pans. Some metal watercolour boxes I’ve seen that are designed to fit 24 half pans will actually fit 26 if you push all the pans down far enough, but this box just fits 24 snugly. Though if you remove the brushes from the third row, you could put another 12 half pans in there, bringing the total to 36 (I’d rather use it for brushes though as 24 colours is more than enough). The pans stay firmly in place when they’re wrapped, but once you open them, they are a bit loose, so if you tip the box upside down, they’ll move around. I solved this by putting a line of double-sided tape along the bottom of the box and then pressing the pans onto it.

The type of brushes you get apparently varies slightly between boxes. I’ve seen some pictures and videos other people have posted after they got the same box, and a few of them had Sennelier-branded brushes. The two brushes I got were Raphael; a size 2 squirrel mop, and a size 4 red sable round. I have never used any brushes from this brand before (correction: I already had a 3/0 sized Raphael squirrel mop, but hadn’t reviewed it yet), so I was eager to try them out. I was impressed with the quality and performance of both brushes. The size 2 mop (which is the same size as my Jackson’s size 8 squirrel mop) holds plenty of water but also maintains a point, and I notice that once it’s dry, it retains its point a little better than the Jackson’s, which kind of fluffs out a bit (this doesn’t affect its performance when loaded with paint, but it was still interesting to note). The red sable was also very nice, holding a point for the smallest lines (the sample painting I did in this post was done almost entirely with the two brushes included in the box; I only switched to the small Isabey sables for some of the final details). Unlike a lot of Kolinsky sable brushes (which tend to fluff out when they dry), the red sable also remained more or less in its original shape. Even if you don’t want to buy this paint box, it’s worth checking out the Raphael brushes.

There’s also a porcelain palette 19.5cm long and just under 8cm wide, with six slanted mixing wells. This is also not held securely within its compartment, so you’ll need to be careful if you move the box around a lot. You could glue it in but I’d rather not do this in case I need to take it out to give it a good clean.

Here’s the colour chart for the colours in my box set, plus an additional 12 colours I bought (some of which will be used to replace colours in the original 24 colour lineup).

As I mentioned above and in my 2016 review, I wasn’t overly impressed with the pigment load in the old formula Sennelier colours. When I made my colour chart for this wooden box set, I was pleased to see that the reformulated colours do appear to be stronger and more concentrated, while still retaining their transparency. I also found I didn’t need to spend as much time scrubbing at them to activate them when I first start using them, which basically means they’re now competitive with my other artist grade watercolours. Though the older formula contained honey, the new formula apparently contains even more honey, which is probably why they’re much easier to rewet now. I have not tried the tubes, but from what I am seeing on various art forums, there are some issues with the consistency across colours, with some being extremely runny, and others separating badly within the tube. This can happen across any brand, though, so I’d suggest if you prefer to buy tubes, just get one or two Sennelier tubes to try before committing to a full set.

The new range has also been expanded from 80 to 98 colours, and there are still a good number of single-pigment mixtures. There are some odd multi-pigment mixtures, though, including some that should (based on their name) be single-pigment mixes. For example, Viridian Green is made from viridian and phthalo green pigments, while French Ultramarine is made from ultramarine and a blue violet pigment. Alizarin Crimson is a mixture of three pigments (with the real Alizarin Crimson being named Alizarin Crimson Lake in their range). These colours really should include Hue in the name, if they’re not actually made from (or at least not solely made from) the pigment they supposedly represent.

Though most of the colours in the range appear to be lightfast, there are still a few fugitive colours, such as the Alizarin Crimson Lake I mentioned above, and the bright and beautiful Opera. Unfortunately a number of fugitive colours are included in the deluxe box, which is a pet peeve of mine; art supply manufacturers are aware of the fact that many artists prefer to use lightfast materials, yet they still include known fugitive colours in their sets, when they could just as easily include a similar but more permanent colour in their place. I also felt there were a few odd multi-pigment colours taking up slots that could have been better used by single-pigment colours (eg. Cinereous Blue, a mix of phthalo blue and white, could have just been a Cerulean Blue, while some of the convenience greens could have been replaced with a larger selection of earthy browns). Much of this is subjective, though, and I have simply replaced some of these colours with new half pans more to my liking.

Here’s a painting I did with my set of reformulated Sennelier watercolours based on a photo by Sei Nakatugawa (for a demonstration of this painting, click here).

As I said above, I’m not sure about the tubes, but I can definitely recommend the reformulated Sennelier watercolour pans and half pans. They are competitive with other artist grade brands in terms of quality and they’re often among the cheaper brands, depending on where you buy. I also think this deluxe wooden box set is quite good value for money, at least at the $150 price point it seems to be at Jackson’s in the UK most of the time. The quality of the Raphael brushes included makes this an especially good deal. If you want to treat yourself or a special watercolourist in your life to something nice, one of these Sennelier boxes would be an excellent choice.

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Watercolours: A Fiery Pair (demonstration)

Time for another art demo! Today we’re painting some fiery red, yellow and orange tulips in watercolour.

This painting is based on a photo by Sei Nakatugawa in the Facebook group, Photos for Artists. I’m pretty sure they’re tulips but I don’t know what variety (if any of my readers, can tell me, please leave a comment). As always, if you don’t have these exact colours or brands, use the closest thing you have in your existing supplies.

Sennelier Watercolours
-Lemon Yellow
-Sennelier Orange
-Alizarin Crimson (Hue)
-Dioxazine Purple
-Ultramarine Deep
-Cerulean Blue
-Turquoise Green
-Viridian Green
-Payne’s Grey
-Titanium White

Raphael Squirrel Mop size 2
Raphael Red Sable Round size 4
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 1
Isabey Kolinsky Sable Round size 3/0

Masking Tape

St Cuthbert’s Mill Saunders Waterford Watercolour Paper – 300gsm Rough (140X190mm)

Step 1
After masking off the edges of the paper and working out the composition, transfer the lines to your watercolour paper. Mix a dark wash of Dioxazine Purple and Payne’s Grey and fill in the background. You might need to do several layers in order to build it up so it’s a solid almost-black with a hint of purple. If you’re a beginner, I’d also recommend mixing up a lot more of this colour than you think you’ll need, or you’ll run out half way through and find yourself watering it down to make it last the whole background, resulting in uneven washes. Using a weaker wash of this mix, lay in the shadows down the right side of the tulip stems and under the flowers (and a weaker shadow across the middle of the stem of the right tulip), and blur the bottoms of the stems so they fade into the background.

Step 2
Paint a weak wash of Cerulean Blue over the stems, making it lighter where the light hits. Mix up some Turquoise Green and Viridian Green and go over the middle value areas of the stems, allowing some of the Cerulean Blue to show through. Let this dry, then add some Ultramarine Deep to the mix and add darker shadows over the grey-purple shadows you did in Step 1, blending these so they gradate smoothly around the stem.

Now it’s time to paint the tulips themselves. When painting flowers, I find it easiest to work one petal at a time. Start with Lemon Yellow and put in a weak layer of this over all parts of the tulip flowers except for the bright white highlights and the areas that are a deep, cool red, graduating to a stronger mix in the areas that will be orange. Wait for this to dry. Make a pale wash of Sennelier Orange and then put this over the lightest non-white areas of the tulips and some of the yellow parts, for a hint of rosy orange. Let this dry as well.

Step 3
Building up colours on the tulips will be a gradual process. Mix Lemon Yellow and Carmine for a light-medium orange and apply weak layers of this over orange parts of the tulips, overlapping the yellow and Sennelier Orange in some places. Add more Carmine to this mix for a reddish orange and start adding it to the darker areas of the petals. As you add these darker colours, be sure to leave highlights along the outer edges of the petals.

Step 4
For some of the medium dark areas, add Alizarin Crimson Hue to the Carmine and Lemon Yellow mix, then lay a mid-strength wash of this over the relevant parts of the flower. For the much darker areas, use pure Alizarin Crimson Hue. There are a few very dark shadow areas (under the left most petal of the left flower and in the centre of the right flower) so use Alizarin Crimson Hue with a touch of your Dioxazine Purple and Payne’s Grey mix from the background (adding some of the background colour to the subject helps unify a piece). Use a small brush here (a size 1 round or smaller) and make your strokes follow the contours of the petals, creating a stripy, feathery texture in some places.

Around the bases of the tulips (where they join the stems), mix some of your Viridian Green/Turquoise Green stem colour with a bit of the Carmine and Lemon Yellow Orange mix, and add in some shadows to help join the flowers to the stems. Take some of your leftover green and add some Lemon Yellow to it and add this to some parts of the underside of your tulips. If, like me, you’re not happy with the highlights you left on the edges of the tulip petals, use Titanium White and a small round brush to go over the edges again, making them lighter.

All that’s left to do now is sign your name. I used Titanium White mixed with the Dioxazine Violet/Payne’s Grey background mix.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this watercolour demo. Keep an eye on my blog for more art demonstrations, as I’m hoping to do a few more watercolour demos over the next couple of months.

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Mediums: Brush and Pencil by Alyona Nickelsen (review)

I first heard about Alyona Nickelsen’s Brush and Pencil products on a coloured pencil demonstration by Lachri Fine Art on YouTube. At the time I wasn’t doing a lot of coloured pencil drawings because I was busy with uni and didn’t have the energy or patience for it, but being a fan of Nickelsen’s Colored Pencil Painting Bible book, I was intrigued, and eventually I managed to track down some of the products in the range.

I got the Touch-Up Texture and the Titanium White, but you can also get a clear powder called Powder Blender, plus two fixative sprays: Textured Fixative and Final Fixative. At the time of writing I couldn’t afford and/or source all the products in the range, but if I do get more to try, I’ll update this review. I have heard that the Powder Blender is a bit finicky to use, in that you have to put some of it down, then put pencil over it, and then put more blender down and work it in with an applicator tool, so if you decide to get it, it’s a good idea to watch a video tutorial or something showing how you use it (the blender is one I likely won’t bother getting as I don’t think I have the patience to use it).

The Touch-Up Texture comes in what looks like a nail polish bottle, with a similar brush to nail polish and a ball bearing inside, as you need to shake the bottle before each use so all the gritty sediment stuff mixes in and gives you an even coat. It’s a clear substance, so you can use it over white or pale colours without it discolouring or going yellow, but I did notice a slight solvent effect, as when I brushed it over layers of darker colour, the strokes smoothed and blended a bit (not as much as when I use proper solvent, but it was definitely noticeable). The stuff dries within ten minutes or so, and if you touch it with your finger, there’s a slight gritty texture (if you don’t get this texture it means you didn’t shake it well enough), though it’s nowhere near as pronounced as touching a proper sanded paper or ground.

If you have an area of paper where you’ve put down so many layers the paper won’t take anymore pencil, putting some Touch-Up Texture over it will allow you to add another few layers. The extra layers of pencil will also look slightly darker than pencil that goes down over a non-textured area, so if you want to make sure you don’t get inconsistencies, you’ll need to make sure you apply the Touch-Up Texture to the whole area you want to add more layers to.

Using the Touch-Up Texture on its own is helpful for when you want to darken or add more colours to an area, but you can also restore highlights by mixing in some of the Titanium White. This is basically a powder that comes in a little jar similar to some makeup foundation jars, which you need to tap to dispense the powder into the top section of the container. Depending on how much you mix in, you can get a solid white fluid or a semi-opaque white that will show some of the colour underneath. Either way, you can then add a few extra layers of colour, but it’s good for getting back areas of white you covered by accident and then adding light colours to make the highlight less glaring.

It may sound like a ‘magic fix’, but there are a few caveats you need to be aware of when using the Touch-Up Texture. First, it seems to be quite fussy with the paper it’s used on; the heavier and more textured the paper was to start with, the better this product will adhere to the surface. Mixing it with some Titanium White seems to make it even more fragile, as using anything more than a medium pressure will make the dried White/Texture mix just flake off in places. Funnily enough I had no problems with it on the actual drawing I used, but the results I got while testing it on some spare Strathmore Bristol ATCs varied. Secondly, while applying some of this product will let you add a few more layers, it really is only a few more layers; depending on how much pressure you use, you might get up to three or four, but with a medium or heavy pressure it’s only going to be one or two (and as I said, using a medium or heavier pressure increases the chance the product will flake off your drawing). I found I had a bit more success using softer lead pencils (like Caran d’Ache Luminance or Prismacolor Premier), but it wasn’t really a huge difference.

Unfortunately the spray fixatives (and the Touch-Up Texture in some stores) are listed as hazardous materials, meaning you can’t get them shipped overseas or by airmail. This could make it difficult to obtain, depending on where you are. I think more Australian shops sell it now, but when I got it, The Art Shop in Bayswater was the only retailer that listed it, and they had some pretty big delays with stock of the Touch-Up Texture coming in. It’s also not cheap, at a bit over $20 AUD for the powders and Touch-Up Texture and nearly $40 for the spray fixatives.

For a sample of artwork I used the Brush and Pencil Touch-Up Texture and Titanium White on, check out my Scarlet Macaw drawing demonstration. I used a little of the Touch-Up Texture on its own on parts of the branch I wanted to add more layers to, and I used a mixture of both products to restore some highlights to the bird’s back and wings, as well as to the top of the branch and the ends (the latter of which I added another light layer of yellows and browns).

Ideally you should try to preserve any areas you want to keep white or light, and use a paper or surface that can take a lot of layers of pencil, but failing that, the Brush and Pencil mediums may just come in handy. I wouldn’t recommend relying on them all the time as the results can be hit and miss, but in a pinch, they can make the difference between getting those last couple of layers down and not being able to finish your drawing.

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Pencils: Derwent Procolour Pencils (review)

Every few years it seems Derwent come out with a new line of coloured pencils or drawing blocks of some sort, and one range that came out within the last couple of years was their Procolour line. Being the coloured pencil addict I am, naturally I had to try some.

Up until now, I’ve usually bought the full range of coloured pencils in any given line, since I like to have ALL THE COLOURS. This time I didn’t want to commit to the full range straight away (for reasons I’ll talk about later in the review), so I just got a small tin. I had to buy a separate Chinese White because it didn’t come with the 12-colour set I bought, but all the larger sets come with a white.

Derwent marketed these pencils as a cross between their Artists pencils and their Coloursoft pencils. A lot of coloured pencil artists complain about the Artists pencils being too hard and waxy (though I don’t mind the harder texture, as I said in my linked review), while the Coloursoft pencils often get criticised for being too dry and chalky (which I’d agree with at least to some extent, though I still like using them). Procolour pencils are meant to be midway in firmness between the two, not as hard as the Artists, but not as crumbly as the Coloursofts.

I think the Procolour pencils bridge this middle ground nicely. They layer more easily than the Artists pencils, so you can build up more layers than you can with Derwent’s original hard pencil line. They also don’t seem to leave as much ‘dust’ as the Coloursofts, which is good for me (as I find I often smudge things by accident), but for those who like to use smudging as a technique, might be considered a downside. Procolours are also not particularly opaque; they’re not as transparent as the Artists pencils but they’re also nowhere near as opaque as Prismacolor Premier pencils or even Derwent’s Coloursofts. I did also have problems with internal breakage with a lot of them, especially the Ivory Black and the Grass Green. I have been careful with them since I bought them so it’s possible the tin was dropped while it was still in the art supply store.

At about $2.60 per pencil in open stock, they’re a little more expensive than the Artists pencils but about middle of the range for pencil prices in general. But once the next Derwent range comes out, they’ll probably decrease in price to be more in line with their existing ranges, as seems to be the case usually with Derwent lines.

I remember when the Procolour pencils were first announced, many artists on the art forum I visit were excited and hopeful. Hopeful that Derwent might finally, at long last, be listening to their pleas for a proper lightfast range of pencils. Unfortunately those hopes were in vain, as a lot of the problem colours in the Artists and Coloursoft ranges – particularly blues, reds and violets – are also problem colours in the Procolour line. Depending on your preferred subjects this may not bother you, but floral artists in particular will struggle to find colours they can use in their work that are above 5 on the lightfast scale.

(on a side note, not long after the Procolour pencils released, Derwent announced their Lightfast line, at long last giving artists the lightfast coloured pencils we’ve been asking for. These have only just launched recently but I haven’t been able to afford any yet. This announcement was also why I only bought a small selection of Procolour pencils, as I want to save my money for a bigger set of the Lightfast line)

Here’s a parrot I drew with the Derwent Procolours, based on a photo by Wendy Sinclair.

If you want a reasonably priced pencil that’s not too hard and waxy but also isn’t too soft, Procolour pencils are worth trying. However make sure you check the lightfastness ratings for each colour you want to buy or use, as there are a lot of colours that will fade if they’re used in a drawing that’s going to be displayed.

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Coloured Pencils: Scarlet Macaw Parrot (demonstration)

Last time I went to the art supply shop near my Dad’s work, I decided I’d get some Derwent Procolour pencils to try. I didn’t want to commit to a full set in case I didn’t like them, but unfortunately the 24 colour set I wanted was out of stock, so my only option was the 12-colour tin (which didn’t include White; I had to buy that separately). Most of my coloured pencil drawings are done with a full range of pencils open in front of me, and though I don’t necessarily use them all, it’s easy to get the colour I want when I can always find something pretty close. Having a small range seemed like it would be challenging to work with, so I was eager to see what I could do with just 13 colours. As always, if you don’t have these specific pencils, just use the closest colours you have in whatever set you already own.

Apologies again for the poor lighting in some shots; I mostly have to work at my desk at night as I am busy with academic work during the day, and my desk light isn’t great (I really need to look into getting a natural light bulb, so if anyone can recommend one, let me know in the comments). This drawing is based on a photo of a scarlet macaw by Wendy Sinclair in her now-closed Facebook group that provides reference photos for artists, but I believe she now has a Patreon for people who want to use her pictures. I love colourful parrots and I’ve been wanting to draw one in pencils for a while (most of my Rosella and Lorikeet art has been watercolour or acrylics).

Derwent Procolour Pencils:
-03 Buttercup Yellow
-09 Deep Chromium
-12 Primary Red
-20 Cerise Pink
-26 Imperial Purple
-32 Prussian Blue
-34 Spectrum Blue
-46 Sap Green
-49 Grass Green
-55 Burnt Umber
-59 Brown Ochre
-71 Ivory Black
-72 Chinese White

Derwent Blender Pencil

Brush and Pencil by Alyona Nickelsen
-Colored Pencil Touch-Up Texture
-Colored Pencil Titanium White

I used Stonehenge 250gsm paper, which had a decent amount of tooth, but I did find myself struggling to get more layers on in the later stages. If you have something with a bit more texture or even with a sandy surface, try using that.

Step 1
Draw or trace the outline of the scarlet macaw onto your paper, using the faintest lines you can (especially if you’re using a greylead). For this step, you’re basically just blocking in the colours using a light pressure, so you can see where all the colours will go. Use Buttercup Yellow on the yellow parts of the bird’s feathers, and Spectrum Blue for the blue bits (you may need to use more pressure on the outer feathers to differentiate them from the paler inner ones, and for the lines down the middle of feathers). I also used a tiny bit of Prussian Blue to indicate the particularly dark shadow under his wing on the lower left. Add a tiny bit of Spectrum Blue to the tips of some of the yellow feathers to give them their green points.

For the red areas, lay in a light-to-medium layer of Imperial Purple just above the macaw’s beak, under his beak and down the front of his neck, bringing it around towards his back a little. Do the same for the red feathers that are in shadow on his tail. Along the upper right side of his neck and back, add some Deep Chrome in small semi-circular strokes, following the pattern of feathers. Bring some of these down into the areas where the red feathers merge into yellow ones. For the main tail feather, colour most of the left side with a pale layer of orange, leaving some white. Now add Primary Red over all the red areas of the bird, making sure to allow some of the orange to show through along his neck and on the tail. Going over the Imperial Purple with Primary Red will give you a nice dark red. Be sure to leave a few highlights as well, especially on the top of his left wing and a little along his neck and back on the right. There are also some areas of his tail that are almost white, so take care to keep those protected. Add a little Spectrum Blue to the very end of his tail.

Colour his foot in lightly using Ivory Black, then use the same colour with a bit more varied pressure to colour the black areas of the bird’s beak (making it dark at the base and lightening it towards the tip) and his pupil in his eye. For the pale part of his beak, add a very light layer of Cerise Pink, making it slightly darker as it gets closer to his face. For the branch, build up layers of strokes that follow the line of the branch using Brown Ochre, Burnt Umber and Ivory Black, keeping the Ivory Black mostly on the shadowed underside of the branch and focusing more of the Brown Ochre along the top. Add a few strokes of Deep Chrome as well. Add a slightly darker layer of Ivory Black followed by Burnt Umber for the shadow of the bird on the branch. Also note that in later steps I refined the shape of the branch to give it a small offshoot and make it end as if it was broken off rather than continuing out of the picture, so if you want to save yourself the hassle of having to erase parts of the branch like I did, plan ahead 🙂

Step 2
Now we start building up more layers of the same colours, to make our bird more vivid. Add more Spectrum Blue to the medium and dark blue feathers (using outward diagonal strokes on the tail feathers to create texture), with a little green in the ones that touch the yellow feathers. You may also want to add a bit more Prussian Blue in the shadowed part of the wing on the bottom left, and on the inner part of the blue right tail feather. For the yellow feathers, add a few light strokes of Spectrum Blue that… feather outwards (yeah, I know) to give them a little more shape and definition, then put another layer of Buttercup Yellow over them with a medium pressure. Add a little more Deep Chrome along the back of the macaw’s neck and in some parts of his back, and another layer of Imperial Purple above and under his beak/around his neck.

Add a bit more Imperial Purple in the darkest shadowed areas of the bird’s head and neck, and a bit more Deep Chrome to the back of his neck. Start layering Primary Red over this with a heavier pressure (say medium, to medium-heavy) to get that rich blood red colour.

At this point I used a kneadable eraser to get rid of some of the right side of the branch, so I could reshape it into a broken-off end (kneadable erasers are better here as a vinyl one will damage the paper with the rubbing action). I also added another light layer of Burnt Umber, Brown Ochre and a little Deep Chrome to the branch, building up the strokes to show the bark texture.

Step 3
Here we continue down the body of the bird, strengthening the red colours. You may want to add another light layer of Imperial Purple to the darkest shadows above and under his beak, and also to the one red tail feather that’s in shadow. Add more Deep Chrome to the back, and the upper parts of the main tail feather and along the outsides (the middle of the tail feather should mostly be a very pale orange, with a white bit just before the blue tip), then go over all this with Primary Red, varying pressure a little along the head, neck and back to allow some of the orange to show through.

For the pale blue feathers in the middle of the macaw’s back, burnish over the light layer of Spectrum Blue you have with the Chinese White pencil, using a medium-heavy pressure. If you have a softer white pencil (like a Prismacolor Premier or Caran d’Ache Luminance) you may want to use that here (I just used Chinese White for the sake of my review of the Procolours, as where possible I like to do pieces for review using only the product I’m reviewing if possible). This won’t lighten the feathers that much, especially if you’re using a harder white pencil, but it would smooth out the pencil strokes a bit. Using a light-medium pressure, burnish the Chinese White over the outer blue tail feathers as well, then go over them again with another layer of Spectrum Blue, still using the downward diagonal strokes to follow the feather patterns. I added a darker layer of Imperial Purple to the shadowed red tail feather, then another layer of Primary Red, before bringing more of the Primary Red down parts of the main tail feather. I also used very light (as in barely touching the paper) Cerise Pink and Burnt Umber to dot in some texture in the white area around the bird’s eye (and then smoothed it out a little with Chinese White), but I don’t think you can really see it in the photo.

This was the point where I decided the branch needed more work, but as I said earlier, if you plan ahead, you won’t have this problem. I drew a slightly jagged edge on the right end of the branch, to make it look like it had rotted or broken off, and then I added a small offshoot from the branch down on the lower left. To make this look more like it was part of the original branch, I added a little shadow around where it joins the branch and underneath with Ivory Black and then Burnt Umber, before using these colours as well as Deep Chrome and Brown Ochre to build up more layers on the branch. I also burnished a few random patches with Chinese White to create a vague sheen of moss or lichen, though again it doesn’t show up well in the photo.

At this point the parrot and the branch are close to being finished, but will still need a little more detail and some more layers built up. However now the parrot needs a background.

Step 4
The background will take some time and it may seem tedious, and the temptation to just do it all one flat colour will be strong, but if you are patient enough to build up the layers slowly, it’ll pay off at the end. Using the Ivory Black pencil and a light touch, lay in some vague, abstract patterns in the background, making some parts of the upper right and lower left corner darker than the others. You’re aiming to create the suggestion of a leafy background with light shining through in some parts, so make sure you leave some gaps either white or with only very pale black. Go over parts of this with Imperial Purple to build up different types and levels of darkness, covering some of the white patches you left in the black. You’ll probably also find as you go through this process that you’re not happy with the abstract pattern, but you can just cover up any light patches you think look distracting or out of place (you’ll notice I did that with some of the light patches at various stages). One thing I will suggest is to try to make the tone of the background contrast with the parts of the bird it touches, eg. keep it light against the dark reds and blues, but dark against the pale yellow feathers and white beak.

Step 5
Again using light to medium pressure, continue building up colours in your background. I added some Burnt Umber in the darkest parts of the corners, then added some Buttercup Yellow and Brown Ochre to some of the light areas, countering these with some Spectrum Blue in some of the dark and medium areas. Then I went over almost all of the background with green pencils; Grass Green for the lighter areas, and Sap Green for the darker areas, though I did leave some of the blues and yellows showing through in some places.

Step 6
Add more Ivory Black and Imperial Purple, expanding the dark areas further towards the centre and opposite corners of the drawing and weaving in some dark areas through the centre as well (here I also covered up some of the light patches I decided I didn’t want anymore). Add some Buttercup Yellow, Brown Ochre and Deep Chrome in a few small areas with a medium pressure, just to give some variation on the greens, then add in some more Spectrum Blue in some areas. I also added some Prussian Blue in some of the darkest sections before once again going over everything with Sap Green (for the darker parts and some light parts) and Grass Green (mostly just for the light parts).

At this point, the scarlet macaw is very close to being finished, but both the background and the parrot still need a few more layers to smooth them out and some more defined details.

Step 7
I added another layer of dark colours to the background, and a bit more Imperial Purple and Primary Red to the darkest areas of the parrot, as well as some Primary Red to the main tail feather. Then I got out my Brush and Pencil Touch-Up Texture and Colored Pencil Titanium White and prepared a thin white mixture of the two. Using a small brush, I painted in the highlights along the bird’s left wing and down the right side of his neck and upper back, as well as along the top of the branch and the end of the branch and offshooting twig. When this dried, I went over the white areas on the branch with a light layer of Brown Ochre pencil. Finally, I used the white liquid to sign my name in the lower right corner, and when this dried, I went over it lightly with Grass Green and Buttercup Yellow.

That concludes today’s drawing demo. I hope you enjoyed it and found it helpful. Keep an eye on my blog for my reviews of the Derwent Procolour pencils and the Alyona Nickelsen Brush and Pencil products.

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The Controversy of Convenience Colours

I am a member of a number of art groups on Facebook, but every now and then I join new groups or leave existing ones. My reasons for leaving are varied; sometimes the group just ‘dies’, and with no one really posting in there I see no reason to stay a member. Other times the moderator or admin are too pedantic about various posting policies which not only stifles discussion, it just makes it an unpleasant place to hang out.

And sometimes, as happened today, I leave because a seemingly large number of the members hold toxic views and will absolutely not listen to any logic or reason that might convince them to reconsider, instead choosing to abuse and harass anyone who has the audacity to make a comment they disagree with. I’m not going to name the group as I don’t think they deserve the extra traffic or air time, but the topic under discussion was ‘convenience’ colours, or specifically this group’s militant attitude against them. It’s not the first time I’ve come across such a hatred towards these colours, but it probably won’t be the last either, so I thought it was worth writing an article about it.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a convenience colour or mixture is a paint made up of two or more pigments. Many paint manufacturers (whether it’s oil paints, acrylics or watercolours) will proudly state how many of the colours in their line are single pigment mixtures, and for the most part, colours made with only one pigment are a good thing. If you know exactly what’s in the tube of paint you’ve bought, it’s easier to tell how it’s going to react or mix with other colours (the more pigments you mix together, the higher the chance you’ll end up with a muddy or at least less vibrant mixture than you were aiming for). You’re also less likely to run into problems with your colour changing over time if one of the pigments is less lightfast than the others and fades (see my watercolour lightfastness tests for examples of some Lukas multi-pigment colours changing because the red pigment used was fugitive).

A lot of artists seem to enjoy heaping scorn on those who use convenience mixtures, calling them lazy or otherwise questioning their skill or the quality of their art, but are these multi-pigment mixes really as bad as they’re made out to be?

Mixing colours takes time. Maybe not much time in the grand scheme of things, but it all adds up, especially if you’re new to painting and aren’t sure how much of each colour you need to mix to get the one you want. This means you not only take longer to mix colours, you also use up more paint (and for beginners who are often already anxious about ‘wasting’ their art supplies, this is not a good thing). Lots of people who are new to painting don’t know where to start when it comes to selecting colours, so they will often buy a set of colours put together by the manufacturer, and these sets often include convenience colours like Sap Green or Payne’s Grey. While I do take exception to the fact these sets often include fugitive colours as it would be better for beginners to learn with lightfast colours instead of learning with fugitive colours and then having to ‘relearn’ colour mixing later on when they decide they want to sell or display their art (dear paint manufacturers: STOP PUTTING ALIZARIN CRIMSON IN YOUR SETS! FFS) and I believe that sets should include as many single pigment colours as possible, some of the convenience colours can be really helpful for a beginner. Most sets I’ve seen that include a green will include either a Phthalo Green or a Sap Green, and nearly all sets seem to include a Phthalo Blue. Phthalo colours are very dominating and it can be difficult to mix colours with them, as you have to use more of the other colour than you think you would need. Pre-mixed colours are often less intense and can be easier to handle for new artists until they get used to mixing.

For some people, multi-pigment mixtures aren’t just a matter of convenience, but necessity. Various disabilities can mean that people have less energy or mobility issues that make mixing colours challenging, exhausting or even painful. I come across a lot of artists on YouTube and various blogs and forums and while their content focuses – for the most part – on their art and the supplies they use, some of the artists occasionally discuss their chronic illnesses or disabilities that impact how often they can make art and even how they have to set up their studio to make things easier for themselves. For most able-bodied people (like myself), painting is just a matter of going into your studio or setting up your watercolours or acrylics or whatever and starting to paint, and being able to do so is something we pretty much take for granted. But for people who have significant limits on their ability to do daily tasks, they need to be as efficient with their energy as possible; if they don’t spend so many spoons on mixing paint, they might be able to get more done in other aspects of their lives that day.

I can also provide a personal example of this. My artist grandmother doesn’t really do much painting anymore because the tremor in her hand has progressed to the point where she can only hold a brush for 10 or 20 minutes or so (on a good day) or not at all (on a bad day). However, in her younger years, she was often time poor, so time she saved from having to mix colours by being able to use a tube colour was extra time she could spend actually painting. Once her hand started to deteriorate, convenience colours allowed her to paint for longer before she had to stop for the day because her hand was too tired and shaky. Instead of having to mix a blue and a yellow or a phthalo green and a yellow, and then mix other colours into that mixture, she could just start with a tube green and then adjust it as necessary. While she has effectively given up painting now (preferring to sit with me when I paint and squeeze out colours when I need them), she has said that without convenience mixtures, she would have had to stop painting earlier than she actually did.

Some of my own convenience colours in various mediums.

Obviously if you use convenience colours and intend to sell or display your work, you should conduct your own lightfastness tests to see if they will change, but if you’re just doing sketches in journals or mucking around for fun, it doesn’t really matter. You may also find you have problems with some convenience colours – particularly greens – looking artificial or unnatural if you use them straight out of the tube, but most artists still add small amounts of other colours to convenience mixtures to get the colour they want. On a side note, it’s important to remember that different manufacturer’s versions of a particular convenience colour may vary wildly, so if you can, look at a colour chart online before buying a specific convenience colour in a different brand (for example, in the lightfastness tests I linked to above, there are three examples of Sap Green and all are completely different).

Also, even if you don’t really need to use convenience colours, sometimes they make things so much easier. I use a lot of dark grey, and rather than having to mix it all the time with Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna (both colours I use frequently on their own or in other mixes), I find it so much easier to just use Payne’s Grey. I tend not to use convenience greens as I prefer to use a phthalo green and add yellows, reds or blues to make them look more natural, but I am fond of some convenience colours like Naples Yellow (which is sometimes made of a single pigment but is often made up of two or three colours) or various pale flesh tones. Even though I’ve been painting for a long time, I always find it tedious and difficult to mix a pale flesh tone I’m happy with in a timely manner and with a minimum of paint wastage, so why would I keep fart-arsing around trying to do so when I can just get a pre-mixed skin tone and add pinks, yellows or browns to it to get the exact colour I need?

I think if you can get single pigment mixtures and mix your own colours, you should try to do so where possible (not only for pure colours but also to gain a more thorough understanding of colour theory), and if you don’t wish to use paints with more than one pigment, that’s perfectly reasonable. However people shouldn’t be made to feel guilty or ashamed if they do use convenience mixtures. I mean, it’s right there in the name: ‘convenient’. For a lot of people, convenience is the difference between being able to paint and not having enough time or energy to paint, and I think that anything that helps more people make art should be considered a good thing.

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