Thanks to The Humble Make-Up Sponge

As far as art equipment goes the humble make-up sponge is a must have!

A single make-up sponge
The make-up sponge… useful for blending and mark-making

For starters they are cheap and while they will not last forever… if you are careful then you can use them more than once.

You can also have specific sponges for specific colors. I use them while working with graphite, charcoal and pastel.

eight make up sponges used with different colors
Different makeup sponges for different uses

Although they are small, I find then quite versatile. There are three surfaces, two flat surfaces that are particularly good at blending, but also produce a broad enough mark that is useful for lightly marking in the direction of fur.

The third surface is the edge that joins the two sides and it creates a narrower mark. It is particularly useful for loading up with charcoal or graphite and creating smaller darker areas.

You just need to experiment!

For me the sponges have made the rendering of the fur on this cheetah much easier than it would otherwise have been!

Work in progress of a cheetah

Still a long way to go before this big cat is finished but good progress has been made!

Tinkering with a Lion

Deciding when a drawing is finished can be a difficult judgement call!

I am undecided if the drawing below should be considered finished!

Looking at both the drawing on the paper and then the photograph of the drawing I can identify areas where I could do a bit more work to… but if I did do that… would it add any value to the drawing?

One area I am thinking of is the forehead on the left hand side but another part of me says that if you add too much graphite then there is a danger of making the whole piece look too grey!

Another area is his white beard… I feel that it is too white but again my fear is if I add too much graphite… it will then be too grey!

This was very much a practice piece where the purpose was to identify how well the water soluble graphite in the form of graphitone and sketching pencils worked with other materials including the paper surface which was Arches hot pressed watercolor paper.

I do like using the pencils but there is no doubt that to get the best out of the pencils you do have to carefully control how much water you add.

While I decide if this is finished, I will get on with other projects such as continuing with butterflies. In the UK this was quite a year for butterflies particularly Painted Ladies.

Just Playing!

Having recently bought new Derwent sketching pencils… well I just had to play with them!

Within the set of four pictures, you can see a comparison between a drawing of a deer done in charcoal… top left along with one done using the sketching pencils which is bottom left.

As you can see the reference image was not the best but by using the charcoal I could sketch and erase until I produced a result that I was happy with.

A collage showing 4 images... one of a deer using pencil, one in charcoal, the equipment used and the reference shot.
A comparison between two drawings, the reference shot and the equipment used.

Using charcoal to create an initial sketch helps to generate a familiarity with the subject that can then be used to create a better drawing.

To create that “better” drawing I decided to use these Derwent sketching pencils. They do allow you to add water to create a “wash” which if the water is carefully controlled allows you to create a good foundation on which you can then add detail to.

To apply the water I decided not to use a paint brush but instead use a make-up sponge applicator. I think these tools are wonderful for blending and smudging particularly in small areas.

Up until now I have used them dry. But… in this project I decided to use them damp and by not making them too wet, I was able to control the flow of pigment. It worked well and is worthy of more experimentation!

After the initial wet layer was allowed to dry an additional layer was then applied using the same sketching pencils. For blending a dry make-up applicator was then used and for the finer detail, I continued to experiment… but this time with a dark onyx pencil and a black polychromous Faber Castell pencil.

Where I needed to both blend and lighten in a small area, I used a white Faber Castell pencil. In small areas that worked quite well.

To lighten larger areas a kneadable eraser (sometimes called a putty rubber) was used while a tombo eraser was used to completely erase lines in areas where I was over enthusiastic!

The reason I went down this path is that I do like drawing in grey scale. However, using graphite alone in my opinion does not always offer enough contrast. In other words the blacks are not black enough and there can be an unwanted shine. In some circumstances that shine can be beneficial but not always.

In conclusion both the charcoal and the drawing pencils are good for sketching.

There is no denying that charcoal is messy!

The sketching pencils do offer a cleaner alternative but I won’t give up using charcoal as I just like it’s properties and I see no reason why I could not use both in the same project!

Capturing the Spontaneous

I like to take a camera wherever I go but lugging around a large camera, long lenses and a tripod is for me, not ideal. My preference is to have a camera that I can fit into my pocket.

Although the camera in my phone is extremely good, I still prefer to have a separate mini compact camera that has some form of zoom lens.

I accept that it is not going to give me the results that a DSLR is going to give me but the weight and bulk of carrying a DSLR is at times not practical.

For me the ease of portability creates the opportunity to capture the moment.

Yes, I will get shots that are blurred, which will be viewed by many as poor reference material but it is then up to me to translate what I have captured onto paper.

For this, I will initially use charcoal and start off lightly to begin with and at this stage all I am aiming to do, is to capture the form of the subject. That involves teasing out what the blurry lines mean. It may take a lot of erasing before I am happy with the final form but that is OK.

Here is a drawing of a young fox that has been taken from a blurred photo.

It has come out well and I will now go on to review all my recent photos to select the ones that have enough detail from which to work from.

Where need be, I will use other reference materials to refine the details. Eg. the shape of the nose or maybe the mouth.

Once I am happy with the results I will go on to create versions in colour.

I am looking forward to seeing the young fox in colour.

A Wolf with the Blues

Most of the drawings I do would be described by many as being more towards illustration rather than arty.

I decided to get arty.

wolf with the blues3 (1)

Inspired by a tutorial on Patreon by Lisa Watkins and using a wolf image that I had found at Wildlife Reference Photos,  I had a play about with some Winsor and Newton Colored Inks.

For final details, I finished the piece off with some color pencils.

It was fun to do and an interesting learning experience. There are bits about the blue wolf that I like and there are bits that I am not sure about. I definitely like the vibrancy that the inks bring and I see the potential in the arty look.

One comment I did get was that he looked as though he was thinking!

I don’t know whether you agree!

What I did struggle with, was deciding on when it was the right time to stop adding color pencil… I did not want to lose that inky look!

I will get arty again at some point!

But before I do, bigger brushes will be required to get that mixing and bleeding effect that I wanted! The brushes I was using were too small for the size of the piece and the inks were drying quickly between applying the different colors.

The inky wolf in contrast to previous pieces is certainly different!

My first drawing of a wolf was a quick graphite sketch and the other was a charcoal drawing.


As all three pieces so far have been done relatively quickly, I am now going to take the time to do a more detailed drawing of a wolf. That drawing is now underway using color pencil on pastel mat. Some pan pastel will also be added to give the final piece a soft fluffy hairy look.


The Squirrel and the Mournful Gorilla

Grey squirrel sitting on a log
Grey squirrel sitting on a log photo ref: Jason Morgan

Squirrels are very common where I live. Now that the leaves are off the trees you can easily spot them running along branches and jumping from tree to tree. As well as squirrel watching, I spent a good part of last week finishing off the drawing of a grey squirrel.

I am really pleased with the way this piece has turned out and consider it to be one of my better drawings. The previous exercise in drawing charcoal squirrels was really useful in focusing on values and has brought more depth to the drawing.



Variations on a squirrel
Variations on a squirrel

As well as drawing a squirrel, I found a Gorilla image that I liked at  Wildlife Reference Photos that had a good tonal value. This I considered would be another good subject through which to explore contour through shading.

My initial sketch was done on recently bought  Canson C a grain paper, a paper that is relatively smooth and not too textured and Conte Noire pencils. These are materials that are new to me but unfortunately, I became preoccupied with exploring their properties. Therefore exploring contour did not quite go as intended but the final result although quite sketchy is nevertheless interesting for its texture.

Gorillaf (2)
Gorilla using Pierre Noire pencils on Canson C a grain

Now more familiar with the Gorilla, I drew him again on Clairefontaine Pastelmat paper using pan pastel to map out the variation in values in lights and darks.

Then using color pencils, I selected a variety of different whites, greys, and blacks to build up the detail.

Interesting how different pencil manufacturers can have different types of whites and blacks.

The second drawing of the Gorilla is not quite finished yet!

Looking at both drawings, it is interesting how the expressions are slightly different! Although the Gorilla below is more accurate to the reference,   I prefer the expression on the Pierre Noire pencil sketch.

It will be interesting to see if that is still my preference when the second drawing is completed.

Gorilla progress
Gorilla progress using pan pastel and colored pencils

The Moody Squirrel

Light and shadow gives definition to a subject and used well can create that three-dimensional illusion on a flat surface that I strive for in my artwork.

The concept of value is worthy of further exploration.

Using the book “Pastel Innovations” by Dawn Emerson as my inspiration I explored her innovative definition of the meaning of value:

Traditional: Degrees of lightness and darkness that are used to describe an image

Innovative: Value is the architect that builds the structure with light and shadow

squirrel-1 strip

Using the side of a piece of charcoal I sketched out a vague shape of a squirrel. Additional layers were added to the obvious places where the shadows were, as in where the tail meets the body and under and between the legs.

To make something dark you need to have something lighter in value next to it and vice versa. So, to create a gradation of value and give definition to the curve of the shoulders, I used the charcoal corner to add more value where needed and a paper stump and an eraser to remove pigment where there was too much.

This was continued until the volume and structure of the shape resembled a more 3-dimensional looking squirrel. Not my best squirrel, but it illustrates a point!

Dawn suggests; “Focusing on values makes you work from the inside of your subject to the outside.

I would agree with that. The exercise did get me considering value a bit more with regard to developing the form in my drawing.  It is too easy to start with a thin line and then to color in the value!


Another experiment was to see how color affected my squirrel. A second squirrel was drawn with a similar approach using charcoal on a blue background. This gave it an obvious cold look particularly as the blue appeared through the image of the squirrel.

A red color was added to the background of my original squirrel giving a warmer look. Another improvement but it just stands out a little bit too much from the background. The whites were too white. To remedy this more color was used to tone it down. In my view a further improvement!

The experiments are definitely food for thought!

Now time to draw a proper squirrel but this time using pan pastel to create the value.

Work in progress a Watercolour Donkey and an Orange Lion

Now being in a position with no commitments, it is time to press on with two projects that use different underpainting techniques.

First up was the watercolour donkey. Having started it by using the watercolour pencils dry I then plucked up the courage to apply the water and was pleased with the results. A bit splodgy in places but it did sink the pigment into the tooth of the paper.  In some places, I was a bit timid but in other places a bit too bold. I definitely splodged a bit too much between the Donkey’s nostrils!

I then swithered whether to continue using the watercolour pencils dry to add the detail on top or to use the oil-based Polychromous pencils. In the end, I chose Polychromous pencils.

As I progressed, I was pleased with the depth of colour in the Donkey’s fur. My conclusion is that there is definite potential in using watercolour pencils for this type of artwork. I will definitely be using this technique again.

Donkey Progress

Reference image for Donkey and guidance on technique came from Lisa Ann Watkins Art by Law Patreon channel.

The Lion underpainting was done using pan pastels but drawing him on a sienna coloured surface reminded me of the colouration of a tiger. Unfortunately, the Sienna coloured paper was what I had.

Initially, I had to contend with comments that I was drawing a “liger”. Through the perseverance with colour pencils, he is thankfully evolving into more of a lion than a tiger.

At this stage, for the underpainting, my preference is to use the watercolour pencils and reserve the pan pastels for backgrounds and other textures such as the wooden fence rail in the Donkey piece.

Lion Progress

The lion image came from a collection of images from Jason Morgan.

Both pieces still require a bit of work before they could be regarded as finished. The Donkey is a nose short of completion and the Lion still requires a lot of layers!

Therefore lots to do!

Play Time

When you come in from work too tired to concentrate on anything too seriously then it’s time to play.

I thought I would play with watercolour pencils.

What attracted me to Watercolour pencils was how they could be used both wet and dry.  Use them dry first then add water to dissolve the pigment, forcing it to sink into the tooth of the paper. Then once this undercoat is dry, the finer details can be drawn in dry over the top.

To try this technique, I came across a tutorial of a Donkey by Lisa Ann Watkins on her Patreon Channel. She does advise having a practice with the pencils before you start. But of course, I started drawing the Donkey before playing about with the pencils!

I guess before I go any further I should get to know them.

The pencils I am using are the  Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils by Faber Castell.

She also recommends aqua brushes and as they have refillable water chambers, a jar of water is not necessary. Liking the idea I bought a pack of 3 Pentel Aqua Brushes. Each brush tip is a different size… fine, medium and broad. This makes them convenient for drawing and sketching outside.

But the skill will be in controlling the amount of water that comes out of the tip. A squeeze too hard could end in disaster. A recommendation is that you squeeze gently and wipe off excess moisture with a  paper towel before going near any drawing.

So here goes… its time to play…



There are different ways to use them. You can use them dry and add water as you will see in the red and blue squares. The red and blue squares on the left are just pencil and then the water was added to the second squares on the right and you can see the pigment does sink into the tooth.

An interesting feature is that pigment can be picked up in the brush which I then used to draw lines at the side.  The effectiveness of this will depend on the amount of pigment that is initially laid down. I guess a palette of colours could be created from which you could pick up the different colours to create a painting.

When I applied the water I took great care to dry the excess water off the brushes to prevent the colours from mixing.  The strips of red, blue, yellow and green show no signs of mixing. The key to this is definitely a damp brush, not a wet brush. Another possibility is to dampen the paper and add the pencils dry on top and watch the pigment dissolve as demonstrated by the red, blue, green and yellow in the last square. Watching YouTube videos illustrated other possibilities on how to use watercolour pencils.

More playing is definitely required.

In the meantime, my current contract finishes on Saturday and on Sunday I will then be free to continue with the Donkey.