You Need to feel the Love… Conclusions from an Ongoing Experiment!

With my latest projects virtually complete, it was time to go back to an earlier experiment.

This is the completed Water Buffalo drawing that I posted a few weeks back. The surface used was Drafting Film as it had been recommended as worthwhile.

Water Buffalo portrait on Drafting Film

At the time I was undecided as to whether this drawing surface would benefit me.

I started another drawing on drafting film. This time it is a highland cow:-

Highland Cow work in progress on Drafting Film

I am not feeling the love for drafting film!

The reason I was interested in exploring other surfaces is that the one I currently use is pastelmat by Clairefontaine. It is a good surface but it is designed mainly for pastels and grinds color pencils down very quickly. Therefore it becomes very expensive as color pencils are not cheap!

As I was skeptical about the drafting film, I went back to another paper which I had bought but hardly used… this was a watercolor paper by Arches. I used it for the Zebra which is now finished.

Portrait of Zebra
Portrait of Zebra on Arches watercolor paper

I am feeling the love for this paper!

I find the Arches paper acts in a similar way to the pastelmat but does not grind pencils down too quickly. With pastelmat I feel you are adding layers just to fill in the tooth of the paper which in my view is a waste of pigment.

As for the drafting film…you can build up layers… my conclusion is that it was interesting to try and will use up what I have but I am unlikely to buy anymore. Hard to explain but I am just not feeling it!

For me the Arches watercolor paper allows me to build up the layers in the way that I want to and it lets me blend colors in the way that I want to. I also preserve my pencils for a lot longer.

The conclusion is that most of my drawings will now be done on Arches Watercolor paper.

Three Butterflies, a Decision and an Experiment

I aim to complete a set of four butterflies and so far I have started three of them. These are a Peacock, an Orange Tip and a Ringlet.

As you can see from above the peacock is almost finished, the Orange Tip is now well underway and I have begun the initial sketching out of the Ringlet.

As for the fourth… well I am thinking of drawing a Painted Lady. It would be a shame not to draw one when there have been so many of them flying about.

I have taken many photographs of these butterflies but I have narrowed the selection down to these three images. There is a temptation to draw the first on the left.

Painted Lady images

This pose of looking straight at the eyes is a bit different from the rest which makes drawing the four butterflies as a set, more interesting! But… it does not show a lot of butterfly… so, I am not sure!

Had I not got involved in a debate on the use of drafting film as a surface on which to draw on, I would have made much more progress on the butterflies.

The reason I was interested in the drafting film was that I had seen some incredible art produced on this surface, to the point that I was inspired to go and purchase some. The intention was to give it a go after I had completed the butterflies.

However on Instagram, someone I followed posted comments explaining that she too had initially been impressed with drafting film as a surface on which to draw on… but, after trying it, decided it was not for her. Following her comments, my curiosity got the better of me and I took the decision that it was time to have a go.

Here is my progress so far… I have chosen a Water Buffalo as this was an image that I had identified as wanting to draw for sometime. It comes from a collection of images produced by Jason Morgan.

It has been interesting and I still have quite a bit of work to do, particularly on his horns and his ears as well as refining some of the detail around the face.

Water Buffalo Work in Progress

As far as using drafting film as a surface goes… to be honest I cannot make up my mind. There are plus points but there are also negative points!

Before coming to a final conclusion… I will finish drawing him and undertake a couple of other projects! But those projects will have to wait until after the butterflies have been completed!

Can black be too black?

After having been out enjoying the warm weather, I have now finally finished my Tawny Owl and very close to finishing the Barn Owl but I have another dilemma. As both owls are nocturnal, I decided to use pan pastel to create a night time background for the Tawny Owl. Despite the use of several layers of the black pastel the background has come out a bit too patchy for my liking. I am considering whether it is worth going over it again… but would a uniform black be authentic as the night air is not a constant black. Should I just leave it patchy?

Coming to a decision has implications for how I decide to finish the barn owl. I am now wondering if I should just leave the barn owl on the dark grey which is the colour of the paper!

Is a very black background too black and a dark grey more accurate?

What is worth pointing out is that looking at both images of the owls on my screen it would almost seem as though there was no difference…it may vary with different viewers screens… therefore perhaps I am worrying about nothing and the important outcome is that whatever I decide… I should be consistent!

The Right Background

Until recently I have not been big on backgrounds!

Also, very rarely have I used colored paper preferring to keep things simple!

That was until I was given some A4 black paper. The first sheet was used to draw a deer using just a white pencil and occasionally a black pencil to go over areas where I was perhaps a bit too enthusiastic with the white!

I enjoyed the simplicity of the process.

Portrait of a Deer using a white pencil on black paper
Portrait of a Deer using a white pencil on black paper

Then after that positive result I plucked up the courage to use some anthracite colored pastel mat for the Tawny Owl. The dark color as well as reflecting the nocturnal nature of the bird certainly creates impact that a white background fails to do.

Having been pleased with the results of using a dark color, I have now started on a Barn Owl using the same anthracite colored paper …although looking at the images below you would not think that!

The Tawny Owl is nearly finished but the Barn Owl has still got quite a bit of work to do before he is finished.

Work in progress of a Barn Owl and a Tawny Owl
Work in progress of a Barn Owl and a Tawny Owl

One drawing that I did finish recently was this Badger… I wonder what impact a dark color would have had on him!

Portrait of a Badger
Portrait of a Badger

Too late unless I decide to draw him again… which I probably will at some point but in the meantime he will be my next study using mainly a white pencil on black paper!

Paper – Searching for a Back-up

Pastel mat by Clairefontaine has been my preference for color pencil work. It allows a lot of layers and you can work in a lot of detail but I don’t want to rely on just one type of paper from one particular supplier. What would I do if something happened to that supplier and that type of paper was no longer produced?

Therefore, I have been experimenting with other papers such as Hot Press watercolor paper by Arches, a Bristol board by Strathmore and a drawing paper by Canson. So far they have all produced mixed results. I still need to do more experimenting with the Bristol board and the watercolor paper.

Most of my experimentation  has been on the Canson paper with the production of a Gorilla that I was quite happy with which l repeated on pastelmat. Although both produced different results I had no preference as they were both equally appealing for different reasons. Although sketchy the Canson one had a hairy charm that was appealing while the other had a much more refined look.

One gorilla drawn on pastelmat and the other three drawings on Canson a grain
The gorilla on the top right drawn on pastelmat and the other three drawings on Canson a grain

After that experience I continued with the pastelmat for a while then I had another go at using the Canson… first with a fox which was completed earlier in the year and then more recently with a Badger.

The fox has worked well while the Badger is OK . Then I started on this Tawny Owl mixing pan pastel and colour pencil. It was then I remembered why I liked Pastelmat. The way you can blend colour pencil and pan pastel on Pastelmat is just perfect.

Collage showing the work in progress of a Tawny Owl drawing
Collage showing the work in progress of a Tawny Owl drawing

In my view the pastel does not work so well on the Canson as I did try it on the gorilla drawing. It is not really designed for that. The pastel mat is far better but of course that is what it is designed for.

Clearly the paper you choose depends on the type of drawing you want to produce and the materials that you want to use.

While I will still use Canson as I do like the texture… it will be for specific projects where I feel the structure of that particular paper will enhance the drawing.

With regard to my main body of work, I will continue using the Pastelmat as it is still my preferred choice for projects that involve the use of pan pastel.

That then brings me back to my initial quest… the search for a back-up paper with similar properties to Pastelmat.

The search continues…

Technique and Substance

Portrait of a Red Squirrel

I came across these terms in an article on contemporary art. There the observation was made that a lot of artists have great technique but very little substance .

It made me think!

Up until now, the focus for me had been on improving my technique but what is meant by substance? Does my art have substance and how is it measured?

My art does have a theme which is wildlife. It is what I am interested in and… it is what I enjoy drawing. But my assumption is that the writer of the article on contemporary art would regard that in itself as insufficient to give the art substance. So, should I be placing more emphasis on the substance of a drawing?

On reviewing the drawings that I have completed, most are head portraits where the challenge had been to improve my technique particularly in the rendering of the eyes. It is important to me that my subjects have well drawn eyes. In my view, this is what brings life to a subject. But what motivated me in the first place to choose a particular subject to draw?

Take this drawing of a red squirrel, it does radiate “cuteness” , but that was not the attraction. My interest was more to do with the way this particular animal seemed to have suddenly stopped on that branch with a direct look of inquisitiveness. I imagine the squirrel to be asking the question:

Portrait of a red squirrel
Portrait of a red squirrel

Is there an opportunity for food here?

If the squirrel was not inquisitive, it would struggle to find enough food.

On the other hand, this Hare that I have still to finish is not as cute as the squirrel.

Portrait of a Hare_Work in Progress

Surviving in open fields and on mountain tops constantly exposed to the elements and predators particularly those that may fly in from above, must result in the animal living constantly on its nerves. To me that wide eyed alert look suggests fear and I imagine it to be constantly asking the question:

Are you going to eat me?

Would giving more emphasis to such concepts improve the substance of my art? Who decides what substance is?

Another drawing worth considering is the cheetah.

Portrait of a Cheetah
Portrait of a Cheetah

It is an animal built for speed and to reflect that, there are a lot of what I would describe as loose strokes but in this context, hopefully, it conveys motion and therefore I am relaxed about that.

As for another piece that I am currently working on which is an Orangutan and her baby… this is a piece that I did consider in a bit more detail.

Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby
Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby_Work in Progress

It is on a dark surface. I did that deliberately as the fiery orange and reds of the animal against the black background in my view inject an element of fear into the piece. This is particularly relevant when you consider that the motivation behind the piece was to raise awareness of the indiscriminate destruction of their rain forest habitat. The fear experienced by these animals when the destruction begins can only be imagined!

However, I do accept that these interpretations of my art are mine and I guess they may not necessarily be shared by the viewer. Should that differing view be considered a problem?

Through discussion with my partner, we both agreed that every picture does have a story. But, how that story is interpreted will be up to the viewer. I may draw a squirrel with the intention of interpreting the inquisitive nature of a squirrel so vital for it’s survival but for others, they may be happy to admire it for its cuteness. The fact that I used loose strokes to convey the speed that a cheetah can achieve may be criticized by some but for others the choice of stroke is irrelevant. What matters to them is the entirety of the piece and whether they like it or not. Does that difference in opinion of the technique matter?

For me what matters the most is that I am happy with the piece and that it has meaning to at least someone! Now, I do acknowledge that my art may not be regarded by many as deep and meaningful. But then, I don’t think it matters how academic or how simple that meaning is as long as it is accessible. Differences in the opinion of the interpretation of a drawing and the technique and style of a piece creates the opportunity for discussion. That is what makes art interesting and I would suggest is what gives it substance. As for the measurement of that substance surely that can be measured by how much discussion a particular piece of art generates!

In conclusion :
I will keep drawing what I draw, strive to improve my technique and will think a bit more about the story my art is trying to convey. What I will not do is get too hung up about substance!

An Orange Phase

I recently watched an artist painting a landscape with shades of purple to give emphasis to a dramatic sky. He suggested that this was his purple phase!

It made me think about the tiger I had recently finished with its strong vibrant shades of orange and how I had enjoyed using these colours to build up the fur texture.

I have decided to go through an orange phase!

Anyone who knows me would not associate me with the colour orange!

They would associate me with blues, greys, and blacks which are cool colours.

Orange, on the other hand, is regarded as an energetic colour. It is associated with sunshine, heat, warmth, joy, enthusiasm and stimulation. Therefore I have decided to embrace the colour Orange, well… for a while at least.

Here are some of my current works in progress that use shades of Orange.

The Red Fox Work in progress

Portrait of a Red Fox
Portrait of a Red Fox

The Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly Work in progress

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

The Orangutan and her baby Work in progress

Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby
Family Portrait of an Orangutan and Baby

Please note the dark background for the above portrait was chosen and the work started before I had fully embraced this Orange phase. The inspiration behind the decision to draw the Orangutan and her baby came from the campaign to raise awareness of the devastating impact that growing  Palm oil has on the habitats of the beautiful animals.

More than just Lions

It was interesting drawing this male lion with the scars across his nose and the droopy eye suggesting that he had experienced an eventful life.

Lion Progress

Did he get the scars fighting off rivals as he defended his position as leader of the pride?

Was he successful?

Or was he defeated by a younger, stronger lion that took his place?

I had quite a task in drawing him!

It was a time-consuming project filling the entire sheet of pastel mat!

But I enjoyed it!

Looking back at my drawings it seems that all I have done is draw lions.


I do like lions. Unlike a lot of cats, they are sociable living in groups and are fascinating for it. But  I like other big cats too! They too have their own distinguishing features.

It’s just that I have not drawn them yet. Quite why that is, I am not sure!

Anyway, it is time to rectify that.

After searching for suitable source material, I have come up with some sketches of potential subjects.

charcoal sketches of a tiger, lioness, cheetah and leopard
charcoal sketches of a tiger, lioness, cheetah, and leopard

As I already have a good reference image for a lioness, it seems a shame not to draw her in color. And, I also fancy the challenge.

After that, I will draw the cheetah as the reference image is a good one showing good clear detail. Her expression is brilliant as she is clearly on a mission!

As for the Leopard and the tiger, the reference images were not the best. I will keep looking for the right source images and once identified and the necessary permissions obtained I will attempt to draw them too.

In the meantime here is the first work in progress for the lioness.

lioness work in progress
lioness work in progress

Color and Depth

As I come to the end of my Donkey and Lion projects, there is now an opportunity to reflect on what I have achieved over the past year. Last year, I started out as mainly a graphite artist with a bit of charcoal thrown in. Now I do more works in color.

I have enjoyed exploring what can be achieved with color pencils but as illustrated below, they do wear down quickly making them expensive.

This is not helped by the surface that I use to draw on which is pastel mat. This just eats pencils. But, I love this surface and compared to other surfaces it does allow plenty of layers to be added giving a greater depth of color.

Thankfully through the incorporation of watercolor pencils and pan pastels into my art, the burden on my pencils is greatly reduced. Both these approaches in my view enhance the depth of color in the underpainting making all the experimentation worthwhile.

The Donkey which incorporated watercolor pencils is now complete and has lovely maroons and purples, while the Lion using pan pastels has a lot of yellows, oranges, and russets within it.

I had another go at using pan pastels with this drawing of a Robin. I chose the Robin as there were three distinct areas in the Robin that I wanted to see how well I could add depth to. These were the different reds and oranges within its breast, the browns on its back and the fluffy greys and whites on its underside.

Which do I prefer … pan pastels or watercolor pencils for the underpainting?

I have no preference. The choice of which to use will be determined by how I feel about the subject.

November strip

So what is next…

I am going to continue experimenting with color and contrast and in particular look at the concept of value.  This is the relative lightness and darkness of a color that helps define form and contributes to that sense of spatial illusion that I strive to achieve in the drawings that I do.

Image Sources: 
Donkey: Lisa Ann Watkins at Art by Law, 
Lion: From Jason Morgan
Robin: My own image