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!

Foxes in Colour – Work in Progress

From my recently completed charcoal drawings I have chosen to create coloured versions of the cub and the vixen. Here are images comparing the progress of the colour drawings with the charcoal versions.

Collage of four images that show a fox cub in colour and charcoal plus a vixen in colour and charcoal
mother and cub_ work in progress. Comparing the colour versions with the charcoal versions.

For the vixen I decided to concentrate on the head and shoulders as I really wanted to focus in on her expression. I just wonder what she is thinking!

Whatever it is, I still have a long way to go before the coloured drawings are finished.

Foxy Inspiration

There was a time when it was rare and therefore exciting to encounter a wild fox!

This was a drawing of a red fox that I did earlier in the year:-

Now they are so common and therefore easy to watch. I can see them when going out for a walk in the evening or even during the day.

A neighbour has been feeding them making it easier to photograph them. Numbers vary from a patient solitary fox to about seven depending on the number of cubs that are born.

Here is a gallery of the best fox images that I have managed to capture on camera.

Collage of nine images showing local foxes
Local foxes

These images are being used as the inspiration for charcoal sketches.

Here are the sketches I have completed so far!

Collage of four images showing different members of a fox family.
Different members of a fox family.

I will continue the foxy theme for a bit longer as capturing different aspects of Fox behaviour is a challenge that I cannot resist. But, I will also try drawing a couple in colour.

Interpreting Through Charcoal

I am really enjoying using charcoal!

It is great to go in light and smudge away or go in heavy and create that depth of shadow.

Having completed my drawing of a fox cub in charcoal, I have now added a drawing of the vixen plus a horse called Chester and a Red Deer. The Red Deer was very “obliging” by looking back and pausing long enough for me to photograph him.

None of the reference shots are ideal but good enough to sketch from.

Here are my sketches in charcoal and down below are the reference shots that I used.

Charcoal sketches of a fox cub, vixen, Horse and Deer
Charcoal sketches
Collage of 4 images showing a fox cub, vixen, horse and deer
You can see the four images are not the best reference material to draw from! Nevertheless the process was a useful exercise!

My favourite two drawings are of the foxes!

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 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.

When time is limited!

There are occasions when drawing time is compromised by other commitments. Like the need to top up your income with additional work.  Then it can be difficult to find quality time for drawing, particularly when you arrive home too tired to think about anything in detail.

I do not like to abandon drawing completely.

There are always lunch breaks where I can steal a bit of time and at night I find simple sketches can help me unwind.  For these occasions, I plan ahead and sketch outlines of familiar animals onto sheets of A5 white bristol board. As the subjects are familiar, I don’t need a detailed reference image but if for some reason details need to be checked, then there are copies of the reference images stored on my phone.

Although the Bristol board is smooth and lacks the tooth to hold the charcoal allowing it to smudge easily, it nevertheless allows you to practice drawing the animal shape and redrawing it if necessary. A paper stump can also be used to smooth out the harsh lines.

These are drawings I have done in the past when there was only a limited amount of time.


In addition to the line drawings the only other equipment I require to have are charcoal pencils, preferably two black and two white (taking two of each allows you to leave your sharpener at home),  a kneadable eraser (to lighten areas where required), a Tombo eraser (creates white lines if required), paper stumps for blending and a soft brush to remove any debris.

The line drawings I prepared at the weekend were a squirrel, a hare and a fox.  All the equipment is carried about in a reusable plastic bag.  Since the weekend I have managed to finish the fox and the hare. I will start the squirrel tomorrow. That should be completed by the weekend where I will have three days to plan what I can achieve in the following week.

A New Begining

Time for a new direction as the job I had, was no longer fulfilling. With depression plunging me mentally to new depths, it was my partner who after watching me dabble in line drawings of leaves and flowers, drew my attention to the many “YouTube” demonstrations that were available.

I was a bit sceptical, but nevertheless started watching them and well… got sucked right in! At that stage, I was happy to stick with graphite pencils and build up my skill using shading techniques to create the illusion of depth.

After attempting a baby’s face, I was inspired to go further and tried some animal faces. I was particularly pleased with my attempt at an otter.

baby_otter_rose 1

Around the same time, I invested in some charcoal and began experimenting with texture. I had some successes but more notably a number of failures. The drawings of roses were particularly disappointing. (Please note the image looks better than the drawing). It was then back to “YouTube” for more instruction. I needed a greater understanding in order to rectify the problems.

badger_wolf_lion 1

After a go at a Badger in charcoal, which I was pleased with, I then had a go at a wolf,  then a prowling lioness, a little owl, a snoozing fox and a hedgehog.  Each had a different texture to try. The long hair on the wolf, the velvety short hair on the lioness, the feathers on the owl, the dead log that the fox was snoozing in and the spines on the hedgehog, were all suitably challenging.

owl_fox_hedgehog 1

In the lioness and fox drawings, I started to use pan pastels for the first time and loved their smooth texture.

Through the use of a small makeup sponge, I could quickly and lightly map out areas of shade, as well as the direction of the fur.

By now, I had the desire to incorporate colour. But, which route to take?

Do I take the pastel route or do I take the colour pencil route?

I started with pastel pencils and found it difficult to get the effect that I wanted. Then in my frustration, picked up a pack of colour pencils and began to experiment. Still following “YouTube” videos, I then managed to turn out a half-decent blue tit. By this time, I had now treated myself to a tin of Faber-Castell’s polychromos pencils. There is no way I would now part with them.


As for the pastels, I have not abandoned them. Through perseverance and experimenting with different papers, I am now beginning to understand them a bit better, incorporating them more and more into my work.  There is no doubt that a lot of the earlier issues I had, were to do with not fully understanding the layering process and what can be achieved on particular papers.

What I have also found important, is to persevere through the “ugly stage” of a drawing.  Don’t give up, see it through to the end, even if you do think you have overdone your giraffe’s nose. Finish the drawing and learn from the mistake.

So from here, the journey continues…