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…

Flower Conclusions

I like flowers particularly wild flowers. There is nothing better than to go for a walk in the summer months and spot all the different plants as they each take their turn to come into flower before disappearing for another year.

Collage showing nine different images of wild flowers
Collage showing nine different images of wildflowers

Drawing them forces you to focus in on the details such as whether they are hairy or not, how many petals they have and whether there leaves are arranged alternately up the stem or are opposite to each other. It is definitely a good way to get to know them better.
But the drawings I am currently producing… while useful for identification are at this point just sketches.

Collage showing sketches of flowers
Collage showing sketches of flowers

It will be sometime before I can represent them in a way that I am really happy with.

I still spend a lot of time photographing flowers. Most of them are just snaps as represented in the gallery above. These are OK for recording purposes but I really want to capture the subtlety of texture.

Photographing them out in the field is hopeless… particularly if like me you live in a windy part of the world!

The other option is to bring the flower inside and while it is useful in terms of having full control, the downside is that it wilt fast so you have to be quick to capture the moment. Also, you are in effect destroying the flower in the process of photographing it. Is that right?

I did for a while buy interesting flower shapes from florists but that was proving to be expensive! Although, I did produce some pleasing results as illustrated in the gallery below.

Cut- flower collage showing 4 different flowers
Cut- flower collage

They are of course not the wild flowers that I really wanted to capture.

Capturing that delicate subtlety of wild flowers will take a lot of photographing and a lot of playing about… but hopefully I will get there.

In the meantime I am starting a nocturnal theme.

Portrait of Tawny Owl work in progress
Portrait of Tawny Owl work in progress

Blends of Green

I am more used to drawing hairy and feathery textures but when I decided while out walking to start drawing some of the early flowers that are now appearing on local walks I had assumed that it would be fairly straightforward.

Drawing the initial shape was not the problem and the petals so far have not given me too much difficulty but what I had not anticipated was how tricky the leaves were going to be.

Each leaf has a subtle blend of different greens.

Take a close look at a leaf … it can be on a flower or a tree … it does not matter. You will notice immediately that there is a difference between the top and bottom surfaces of the leaf. The top surface is usually shiny while the lower surface is more of a mat green. Also the veins have a darker shade on one side and are slightly lighter on the other side.

A further complication is that no two leaves are exactly identical and as each leaf hangs off the plant they will also curve in different ways. Blending the different greens to replicate this requires a bit of thought.

Now it would be easy to ignore all of this and settle for a generalized impression of each leaf but that would not look natural and anyway where is the challenge in that!

A sensible approach would have been to take one leaf and play about with it until it was reasonably representative. I on the other hand just jumped straight in there and started with the entire plant.

Collage showing work in progress for Wood Anemone
Collage showing work in progress for Wood Anemone

Getting the leaves right on the Wood Anemone is going to take some time and while I put the practice in I can take time out as thankfully spring and summer have other subjects to be inspired by :-

Swallow in flight
Swallow in flight

New drawing subjects for summer!

The days are getting longer and when the sun is out you can feel the warmth making local walks more enjoyable.

In the local woods splashes of white, gold and pink are appearing as spring flowers make the most of the light before they are shaded out by the leaves in the trees.

Here is a gallery of three different flowers that I can spot locally:

From left to right are the white Wood Anemone,yellow Lesser Celandine and pink Cuckoo Flower
From left to right are Wood Anemone, Lesser Celandine and Cuckoo Flower

Photographing flowers is not always easy. Getting the right light and suitable equipment to get as close as possible to capturing the detail is only part of the problem. Just as you have everything set up along comes a breeze and you end up with a shaky image. But this year the challenge is to draw flowers from the photographs that I have taken and double check their details from diagrams within field identification books.

Another advantage of drawing the flowers is that I can isolate a particular specimen from the background and if I choose to do so, emphasize a particular characteristic.

This way you get to know the plant better. Everything from the intimate arrangement of petals and leaves to whether the plant is hairy or hairless. These finer characteristics can only be appreciated by observing a plant carefully.

Here is a start on the Wood Anemone, the first of my spring flowers. It is also known as the windflower and while it looks delicate it is in fact strong enough to withstand a stiff breeze. Another interesting observation is that the petal like structures are described as sepals. Usually in other flowering plants these are the structures that protect the petals but the Wood Anemone is described as having no petals!

I have chosen the Wood Anemone as it is a good indicator that spring has finally arrived.

Wood Anemone
Wood Anemone

The first point to note from this experience is that I have lots to learn about drawing leaves!

Photographing art- a time consuming business!

Photographing art to create digital images is necessary for the promotion of artwork but it is time consuming.

When you do not have the best of facilities!

There is nothing worse than producing dull grey images like the one above!

Thankfully many mobile phones are now capable of producing well lit images. All I need to do is make sure I photograph my work on a suitable bright day.

The images produced in this way are suitable for viewing on a computer, but I now want to create good quality prints. Unfortunately the majority of camera phones do not produce images of a suitable quality.

The ideal option for me would be to scan all my images as I do possess a scanner that has a high resolution option. This for a long time was my preferred way of recording all my artwork. But in recent times this method can no longer be used as the scanner can only do up to A4. Everything I do now is much bigger. I have tried to source an A3 scanner but there is no suitable model that is within my price range.

Another option would be to go to a local print shop but experience so far suggests that most print shops only offer low resolution scans for documents and marketing leaflets. Businesses that do offer these services are too far away for me to consider using in the short term.

Therefore the only remaining option for me is to photograph my own artwork. That is OK as I do have access to a Nikon camera that can create medium sized prints. Ideally I would like at some point to create larger sized prints but I guess that will have to wait.

Going to a professional photographer would be an alternative option but the cost prohibits that for the time being.

In the meantime it is up to me to make sure each image is well lit and is as sharp as possible.

I can make use of my own kitchen as it is big enough and in the morning it has an even light. This can also be enhanced if need be with daylight lamps and reflectors.

Good sharp images are also possible as I do own a good tripod and I can eliminate the potential for camera shake further by makeing good use of the camera’s timer option.

Despite this, images can still look a bit grey. The grid below illustrates the problems.

The first image represents the grey dull image that a camera can produce. The second image shows what can happen if you over use the brightness and contrast controls and the third is better but not perfect!

To remedy this I do need to make better use of the light metering possibilities on the camera. This is a skill that I have yet to fully master but I will persevere!

Thankfully I can experiment by takeing lots of images and then just delete what is not required.

Once the best image is selected then only minor adjustments should be required on a computer.

I suppose you could compare tweaking the brightness and contrast on a computer with displaying a picture in a gallery. If the lighting is poor the artwork will not look at it’s best. However a few minor adjustments to the lighting can make the artwork really stand out!

Is this a good comparison.

I am not sure but in the short time I have a lot of experimenting to do.

Spring Gallery

A wolf collage consisting of a head portrait and a snoozing wolf.

Now into the fourth month of a new year it is time to take stock of what I have completed this year.

There were a couple of wolf studies. The head portrait I would describe as my favorite.

A wolf collage consisting of a head portrait and a snoozing wolf.
A wolf collage consisting of a head portrait and a snoozing wolf.

A large amount of time was also spent on the big cats study that started with charcoal drawings and then progressed on to color drawings. I have no favorite as they are all different.

A Collage of four big cats rendered in charcoal and in colour pencil.
A Collage of four big cats rendered in charcoal and in colour pencil.

Lately I have concentrated on wildlife local to me. The latest piece to be finished is the roe deer. Again I find it hard to choose a favorite.

A collage consisting of a roe deer, red squirrel, red fox, and a hare
A collage consisting of a roe deer, red squirrel, red fox, and a hare

Still got drawings to finish such as the Pine Marten and the Orangutan. I will not rush them but I may need to revisit the Pine Marten. He is not turning out the way I would like!

Nearly Finished

It has been a busy week full of distractions but nearly finished my latest drawings of a Pine Marten and a Roe Deer.

Work in progress of a Pine Marten
Work in progress of a Pine Marten

The pine marten still has a lot of work required around the head and on the log.

Work in progress of a Roe Deer
Work in progress of a Roe Deer

The Roe Deer still requires a lot of work around the ear and the head.

I will keep rotating between the two until they are finished

Concentrating on the Native

Time to start planning new projects. I am concentrating on the native for a bit!

While projects with an international wildlife theme are extremely good to do, it is important not to neglect what is local. Unfortunately people can sometimes be more familiar with the issues facing lions, tigers, giraffes, wolves and rhinos and be totally unaware of the issues that affect their local wildlife.

An example of such an issue relates to squirrels. Locally there is a very healthy population of American Grey Squirrels but unfortunately where I live in Scotland, they are not native. The native squirrel is the red squirrel. This is smaller and has been under immense pressure ever since the introduction of the bigger grey squirrel. Currently red squirrels are now only confined to a handful of areas.

The grey squirrel and the red squirrel
The grey squirrel and the red squirrel

While grey squirrels can be fun to watch out in the local woods, I have to confess I would rather see our native red squirrels. Therefore it is vitally important to raise awareness of how the introduction of the grey  has had such a negative impact on our native red populations.

Another issue that I think is quite sad is how remarkably unobservant many people are.  I remember while out walking the dog,  watching people make their way along a path to get to work…  just a short distance up the hill stood three roe deer quietly munching away.

Portrait of Roe Deer- work in progress
Portrait of Roe Deer- work in progress

The deer just seemed to know that the chances of people seeing them was very low.

I always wondered what the reaction of those people would have been if they had just turned their head to the left and saw how close the deer were!

Maybe you would argue that it is a good thing that most people are oblivious! After all, it  could lead to the deer facing greater disturbance.

While that is certainly a risk… I think it is one that is worth taking.  Being the optimistic person that I am, my view is that the more people who are aware of the presence of the deer the more likely they are to value  and care for that area.

Going back to the point I made earlier about people not recognizing  the animals that live in their own country… here is one example… this is the Pine Marten. Well Pine Marten under construction!

Portrait of a Pine Marten- Work in progress
Portrait of a Pine Marten- Work in progress

I wonder if people would recognize this animal as being native to Scotland.

It is a forest dweller that is unfortunately confined to the North of the Country. This gorgeous member of the weasel family has been in decline but thankfully numbers are now rising.

These new drawings of a Pine Marten and a Roe Deer once finished will be added to my gallery of local wildlife. My intention will be to make prints from the originals and use the illustrations as a means of provoking discussion about wildlife issues.

This concentration on local  wildlife will not be to the neglect of international issues.

It is my view that by by raising  awareness of what is happening locally  on the doorstep, it can not only foster an interest… but also provoke a call to action . As people become more involved with the local…  hopefully they will start to identify the connections with the global.

Migrating birds demonstrate this perfectly. People tend to like birds and welcome the return of swallows and swifts. But, for these birds to survive they need to have good habitat not only at both ends of the journey but also on the stop over areas in between. Migrating birds would be a good subject to draw in the future.

All too often people are sympathetic to international causes but their distance creates a remoteness and a feeling of powerlessness. By valuing the local hopefully they will make the connection and support the global too!