Monday, October 12, 2015

Drawn-In, Art Party

I enjoy working on artwork with other artists.

I find it inspires me and challenges me to be the best I can. When alone, I have the tendency to slide, lose focus and get lost in my work.

Having others in to work with me, or just knowing I will need to show my artwork helps keep me focused.

So about once a month I invite some of my former students and other local artists to come over and sit in my sunroom and have a draw-in.

An  art making party.

My enclosed, back porch is the location. With windows on 3 sides it is a bright, airy room even on our frequent, cloudy days.

With a gas fireplace, even winter afternoons are comfortable.

Those that meet vary in age and experience. I have high school students and seniors, beginners and teachers. We all bring something to share (we need to keep our strength up!)

And we spend several hours either drawing or painting.

This month 4 of us met.

Barb's Calla Lily
Start of the day
Barb's Calla Lily
at the end of the day.
Barb, one of my former students, is my age, but lack confidence in herself. She is a gifted artist with a strong desire to draw, but wages a war with life to find even an afternoon to get out her pencils.

Paulette Tries Charcoal
Paulette's First Charcoal
Paulette is a friend who simply loves art. Until recently she never even tried to create art, believing that artistic ability to be some rare and elusive animal. This month we introduced Paulette to charcoal. I think we have a love affair starting.

Brenda will use this in her classes
Brenda is a art major. A local celebrity in the art world and an experienced watercolorist. She teaches classes each year, introducing others to the satisfaction of expression through watercolor.

And then there is me.

A retire semi-literate artist who simply loves to draw and paint.

Made some progress on my Pelican in Flight
Background takes a long time!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pelican in Flight

Starting, outline and beginning the background
Birds have always fascinated me. They are so different. Rendering feathers is totally different from hair and fur. And their body structures. To totally different depending on life styles, flight patterns, etc. So often when you really look at them you see such primitive body structures that have endured for thousands of years.

Having done a pelican roosting on a pier, the next one will be a pelican in flight. Here, you will be able to see the structure and breath of the flight feathers, wing span and attitude while it hovers in the wind.

While these are known as common brown pelicans, I find the range of colors and values on them fascinating. They are not a solid brown, but almost spotted and speckled going from almost a cream white to a brown so dark as to be almost black. the flight feathers are dark on the top, but a beautiful, silvery gray on the underside.

Starting to define Pelican
I had intended to draw it to matt to 11 x 14, a standard mat size, but I rather like the look of it coming out of the background, so will most likely have a custom matt cut, that allows it to come out of the "frame".

What do you think of a drawn border, bands of dark blue and gold?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Making a Portrait Look Like Her

Finally getting my Horse, Rider and Dog colored pencil painting actually look like the subjects. The horse was easy, the dog  a little  more, but the tick coloring is a challenge. But getting the rider to look like her was a little more trouble.

I had not realized just how much she looked like her mother until I tried to draw her. Also, you can plainly see her native American heritage in her bone structure. But finally it is looking like her. Finally both her youth and her heritage are showing in this piece.

I was interrupted in working on this by the necessity of going out of town on family business. Being interrupted made it hard to get back into the right mind-set for working on it.

Its funny, but sometimes you can draw for hours and sometimes nothing works. Its a strange gift.

Just a little more shading and it will be done.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Why Is Large Art Considered Better And More Professional?

The case for smaller art.


One of the things one critic mentioned when judging a show or exhibit to be “amateurish” is the size of the artwork. “Artists work large” was the idea. When he saw a show of relatively smaller sizes, and for this I am not talking about small or miniature art, I am talking about 8 x 10, 11 x 14, even 16 x 20. It seems that anything less than 18 x 24 is amateurish.  I know that many college level classes specify larger art but I am still mystified why this is thought to be better. Why is larger better? Why is only large "Serious Art?"


I have done one really large canvas in my life, 36 x 48. It took a lot of time and skill. But I can really say it took more skill, or vision or creativity than my smaller works. Certainly not as much as my miniatures.


And now I have this really large landscape on my hands. I have shown it at several show, and it is greatly admired. But who wants something that big? I have it on a side wall in my sun room, the only wall big enough for it. And I look at it and say. You know, I get it. It’s a great painting, but I also know why, while I have sold many other paintings and drawing, people walk past it. Its huge.


Ok for an attention getter, but not something people want.


So while I do like the painting. It is an accomplishment, I am painting smaller, more initiate works of art.  I do have to ask, "Why is larger more serious?"

Large Painting

Monday, June 29, 2015

Graying Out The Background

Still working on the mockingbird at the feeder


Once the blue back ground on my mocking bird drawing was dry I realized it was much too vivid. What you saw when looking at it, was the background, not the gray mockingbird.


The blue did not compliment, or complete the drawing, it competed or distracted from the subject. So it had to go.


But not completely. It needed to be grayed out. Rather than putting a wash of gray or black watercolor over it, or even a thin layer of orange (blue’s complement) I decided to use gray colored pencil, then blend it with the blue watercolor to mute but not eliminate the blue background.


While it will take hours to complete, it will be well worth the effort. The temptation to press down, to cover this large area quickly is great, but you have to resist it. A soft touch is also necessary. You will want to press down, using pressure to get the most complete coverage in one pass. This is not the best way. Slow and steady. Soft, even strokes will give the best coverage, most workable coverage.


For this background I did switch to Derwent’s color soft pencils, the Dove Gray. This is a medium toned warm gray. I like the color softs by Derwent because they are English pencils, a little thicker than my American or German made pencils. As such the cores are also a little thicker and not as subject to breaking as the thinner American and German pencils.


The background of gray went on fairly well. Watercolor does make a nice, medium toothed surface that takes the colored pencil much better than blank watercolor paper.
I am much happier with the overall effect, even though I have not yet finished blending in the background. You see the bird first here, which is what is important.

I am going to use a liquid medium to blend the gray over the blue for a smoother, more uniform look.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Colored Pencil Blending Media

Blending Color Pencil:  Spirits And Beyond


There are many things I have tried and heard of when using colored pencil.

sample squares

Previously, I used the wax blending pencil that is commonly sold to blend colored pencil, showing how well it works. There are drawbacks to this. One, it is hard work. You can only blend a small area at once, and it does add wax to the artwork, which contributes to wax bloom. None of this is insurmountable, and at times is an advantage. The wax bloom is easily removed with a soft cloth or the burnishing pencil. You can seal a finished work with reworkable drawing fixative, which is reduce future wax bloom. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing wax bloom on a work that you mounted and framed a month ago.


But Back To Blending.


Alcohol, in many forms can be used. Recently, while out of town, I wanted a blending medium that I could safely use outside the home. I have used Rubbing Alcohol at home, so I tried using alcohol wipes. The kind you get in the little foil wrappers. This does work, but you can to be careful not to rub too hard. The alcohol will remove the colored pencil. Something to remember if you do have to lift any pencil. But blotting with the wipe, then using a soft brush or cotton swab does blend pretty well. It might be a good option when traveling. Motoring down the highway with open cans of mineral spirits might not be a good idea.


blending pen or marker
Another option is using the blending pen or marker now sold by prismacolor. It comes in a double pointed pen, just like their fine art markers, and does work with wet marker to blend. This is portable, dries quickly and works pretty well. So it is a good option when traveling. It can have a bit of an odor, a problem for anyone sensitive to the smell of markers, but it did not both me at all. I like the results and can be used over the entire drawing without leaving any rings or residue. Work from light to dark, and wipe off the marker between colors on a soft cloth or paper towel. 


If The Spirit Is Willing


To see just what works and how well some of the other things I have heard of to blend color pencil works, I am going to do an experiment. There are many different substances recommended for this and talked about in books and on the internet, but you have to wonder just which are best.


Taking a sheet of Strathmore Mixed media paper, 140 lb, vellum, I drew a loose grid. There were 4 squares across the top, and 5 rows down for 5 different blending media.


The media tested were:
Media used

  1. Blending marker
  2. Sansodor painting media
  3. Denatured alcohol
  4. Vodka
  5. Baby oil


I used two types of colored pencils, studio and professional grade. The studio pencils were from Derwent the professional pencils from prismacolor. No real reason to choose these, other than I already had them.


I colored in the blocks with 2 layers of the studio grade pencils and a single layer of the professional pencils. All squares are equal.


To be consistent, I used the same method to blend the pencil, a dry brush with a soft sable watercolor brush.


Blending Pen
sample with blending pen


For this, I was not able to use the dry-brush method. The pen comes with duo tips, one large flat and one small pointed, just like a fine art marker. Actually it worked quite good. Does a good job, with no staining. I have used it also to blend multiple layers of different pencils together and it did work well. You do need to go over every speck of the drawing. This can be good or bad, depending on how you work, but the pen blends quickly and dries quickly. It is very clean and easy to use, blends many brands equally well. It is not the cheapest to use, and I have not had it long enough to tell how quickly it dries out, but if you work in colored pencil a lot, it may or may not be an issue.


After the blending pen, the next mediums were all liquid and applied with a brush.




Sansodor pro samples
Sansodor studio pencils
This is a painting medium designed for oil painting and for that it works wonderfully. Which is why I have several bottles of this. I did find it a bit “oily” with colored pencil. It took a bit more work to get it to blend smoothly, but it did a good job. Any drawbacks were much more noticeable with the harder, studio grade pencils than the professional ones. With the studio, there was a little staining that did dry out the next day. But remember, this medium was not designed for colored pencil. It did dissolve the wax to allow you to work the pigment,  and it is very low odor.


Denatured Alcohol


This is a very pure liquid, which makes it good for many fine art applications. It does a really good job blending. It dries really fast, so you have to work quickly if you are blending many layers and colors together. The denatured alcohol is stronger, more filtered than regular rubbing alcohol. This make it better to use with graphite, charcoal and colored pencil. It also works well with the polychromes.
top row Denatured alcohol
middle row vodka 




Actually you can also use gin, which I imagine would work similarly, but since I did not have any gin and did have vodka, I used that.


What makes it work is of course the alcohol in it. It is the alcohol that dissolves the wax. Surprisingly, I found the vodka did the best job of blending on the studio grade pencils. It also work on my stash of the cheaper brands as well as the prismacolor Very thins. Just a side note.


The fact that it works well might come in handy traveling when you can get a shot of vodka easily, but not other substances. It did not leave any residue or odor.  Who knew?

Baby Oil


Finally, I tried baby oil. Now this would never have occurred to me. Baby oil does not dissolve wax so using it to blend is not something I would have come up with. But I have had conversations with people on the internet about using baby oil to blend colored pencil and I wanted to see if it does work.

Baby oil studio pencils

It does blend it. Why it works I am not totally sure, but it does. Works ok with the studio grade, and very well with the professional ones. It is oily, of course, and leaves a bit of a residue at first. When I first tried it, I though, this is not good. But the next day the staining and residue were gone. This might be a good solution to anyone bothered by the smell of any other method. It does smell good. My concerns are more about long-term effects on the artwork.


Will It Take More Pigment?
pigment added to the alcohol pro pencils


One concern, especially with the baby oil, is would the artwork take additional layers? I have used both the wax pencils and mineral spirits for years with no adverse effects. Using the liquid medium for blending actually helps the artwork take additional layers. But I had not used any of these other mediums enough to see if they would take more layers, and I have heard that the baby oil would not. Once you use it, you are done.
Baby oil after more studio pencil added


Rather than rely on other people’s talk, I decided to see for myself.


The next day, after all samples had had time to dry out. I tried adding more colored pencil.


All samples, including the baby oil readily took additional pencil. I do think you have to let the baby oil set up over night to take more pencil. I also find that the sansodor needs more time to set up than the alcohol methods, but all samples worked just fine.


You can work wet on wet with mineral spirits, but it will effect your pencils. And I would be seriously concerned about my pencils working on the baby oil while still “wet” 



Monday, June 15, 2015

Blending Colored Pencil with Mineral Spirits

 While there are many methods handy to blend colored pencils, most of us have our favorites.
Just some of the brushes I use with CP
I do use stumps, and blending pencils, and even burnishing pencils. I have several stiff brushes I keep just for blending. And soft cloths and chamois leathers. But I have to admit I use mineral spirits the most when working with colored pencil. I like the way I can work multiple layers into smooth, graduated color. Since I like to work on thicker papers or even boards, the liquid mineral spirits are not a problem.

First off some basic information:
  • Use artist quality mineral spirits, not hardware stuff. You want something pure that will not leave a line or residue on your artwork. I have made the mistake of using hardware store mineral spirits and lived to regret it.

  • You do need to be careful you do not over saturate the paper when using mineral spirits. this is not a real problem on boards, but on thinner paper, it can wrinkle.

There are several techniques to using mineral spirits, and a number of different ways to apply it. I have used a lint-free cloth, a cotton swap and various brushes from very soft watercolor to rather stiff rounds. Each gives a different effect. Which method or technique you use will depend on the results you wish. Experiment.


I favor the dry brush method. For me, this gives the greatest control. It also allows me to blend the various layers as I would an old painting. You can also blend adjacent colors smoothly.
Some soft brushes I use with Mineral Spirits
Just what is dry brush with a liquid? It is when you dip your brush into the liquid, then wipe off the excess. so the brush is just damp, not wet. This gives you the most control. You want to make sure you only blend what you want, not the entire picture.
For this method I use a range of fine watercolor brushes. I favor natural brushes, but what you are looking for is a smooth, fine brush that gives you both the coverage you need as well as fine control. Something with a little spring in it.
  • I do use a range of brushes with colored pencils, for a number of different tasks. These do include blending.
  • Usually you will let the paper dry before you resume using colored pencil. But not always. Sometimes when the paper does not seem to be accepting any more colored pencil, a light wipe with mineral spirits, and it will take more. This is very true when you do not seem to be able to get the bright highlights you want.
So, now for the examples. I will show you just how using mineral spirits on my Horse, Dog and Rider drawing.

Here, you can see the flank of the horse, with the various colors of the coat in, but rather messy. I have not blended them at all. I want all those colors. You can see the grainy ness of the pencil, the unevenness of it.

The same area of the drawing after the application of dry-brushed mineral spirits. Here, the use of the soft, flat watercolor brush plays a large role in how much this now looks like an oil painting.

You can also see how using the mineral spirit has changed the entire painting.

Horse, Dog and Rider before blending
Horse, Dog and Rider after blending

Neither of these photos is retouched or color/exposure corrected.  You can see just how much more vivid the colored pencil is after the use of mineral spirits to blend.

What can happen over time with colored pencil is a wax "bloom" which dulls the drawing. The mineral spirits do help to eliminate this

For the leather I layered browns and French grays, then used mineral spirits to "blend" them into the rough, worn look of leather.

I also used several different reds on the sweater, then used a soft round to blend the edges of the colors to look more like fabric.

Brushing the neck of the horse, I was able to add back the whites that create a difference between the neck and the mane. I brushed mineral spirits onto the drawing, and then while it was still damp, used both white and cream to develop the mane.