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.

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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.

Filling the tooth

My favourite subjects to draw are birds and animals. I use mainly colour pencils but occasionally dabble in pastels, graphite and charcoal. Layering the colour is important to build the texture whether it be the fur in an animal, the feathers of a bird or the skin of a rhino. To achieve this a paper with some texture is required.

Cartridge paper was the surface I started with. It has a bit of texture or tooth as it is sometimes described. I found that the depth of colour in a bird’s plumage could be rendered reasonably well as in this Coal Tit.

Coal tit
Coal tit

Drawing animals with thick fur did, however, require something with more tooth. Pastelmat was the paper I started using with pastels but I have found it works equally well with colour pencils. That is so long as you are happy to use a lot of pencils.  This black German Shepherd dog is drawn on an A3 sheet and there is a lot of red, blue and even purple in the fur.  It took a lot of time to get to this stage but having looked at it again, I think it could do with some more layers of colour to the fur around the neck. So far it has been worth it and hopefully, with the addition of some more layers, it will look even better.

Black German Shepherd Dog, Original image supplied by Art by Law
Black German Shepherd Dog, Original image supplied by Art by Law

In contrast,  I will not fill all the tooth of the paper completely for this drawing of a rhino as the roughness coming through in my opinion contributes to the texture of the animal’s skin.

Rhino to be completed
Rhino, a work in progress

A few weeks back I did try a velour style of paper using pastels. It was a drawing of an otter that I never finished as it just seemed odd drawing on what felt like a carpet tile.  Now with a bit more experience of filling the tooth of a paper, I will go back to it. On reflection, the drawing does not look as bad as it did a couple of months back.

Otter drawn on velour - a work in progress
Otter on velour – a work in progress

The main challenge will be to complete it in such a way that the fur looks wet as if the otter has emerged from the water. At the moment, it looks like a dragon with scales.  That will be the next challenge.

Refining the blending of colours

Following on from the Crested Tit that I completed last week, I have now finished a Chaffinch and with a few final touches, the Greenfinch will also be done. See the bottom of the page for images.

It is good to review your work and I am happy that my technique is improving.

The first bird that I completed was the Blue Tit, which if you look closely, quite a few lines can be seen and the blending is not too good. Then came the Wren and then a Robin.

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Blue Tit, Wren, and Robin


I liked the colours in the Wren but the Robin, I can’t make up my mind about. Maybe it is the pose! At some point, I will do the Robin and the Blue Tit again.

Next was the Bullfinch which looks a bit garish. But Bullfinches are brightly coloured and some people commented that they liked the bright colours. A matter of personal preference. Still, I may have another go!

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Bullfinch, Goldfinch and Goldcrest

The Goldfinch,  I enjoyed doing along with the Goldcrest.  Goldcrests being one of the smallest birds can be difficult to spot particularly as they spend a lot of time flying about the treetops. Both are nicely coloured little birds that are a joy to see when you are out and about.

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House Sparrow, Long-tailed Tit and Crested Tit

Next came the House Sparrow which I was particularly pleased with. A fat little fluffy bird that I drew as if it was on the ground. I recall from childhood how they seemed to prefer pecking at the seed on the ground. A couple of people have commented on how the drawing reminded them of that same characteristic. Pity that they are now not so common!

There was in my opinion, a slight set back with the Long-tailed Tit, as it looks a bit scrappy. It was quite a challenge to render on a white page that white stripe on the top of its head in such a way that it stood out! I might try that again but on the other hand, I might be able to rework it and improve the overall appearance. Will have to think about that.

Long-tailed Tits will now be gathering in flocks. I love it when they make their way along the woodland edge at the bottom of the garden. With their flashes of pink and white, they brighten up a dreary day.

The Crested Tit was another drawing where I felt I was becoming more confident in blending colours together. These birds can be found in Scottish pine woodlands and I think it is important to highlight the not so common birds.

As for the Chaffinch that I have just completed, I am extremely happy with it. The little bird that has been known to gatecrash picnics in the hope you will drop it some crumbs.

As far as the bird feeder specialist the greenfinch goes, he looks not so bad scanned but I may have over blended the colours in places. On the positive, I like the way the yellow and green do combine where I have not overdone it.

I will keep doing these little birds between larger projects as getting their colours right is a good way of practising blending techniques. Next goal is to finish a coal tit.

chaffinch_greenfinch_coal tit
Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Coal Tit