Monthly Archives: March 2021

Subtle dfferences

In last weeks post I said I was not entirely happy with the drawing of the Doge’s Palace, specifically that I felt it needed more contrast to accentuate the Palace.

A close critical look was taken to see what I could do. The first action I took was to erase the shading on the facade of the palace. This wasn’t easy, in fact I made it worse in parts through smudging and had to redraw some windows as a result. An advantage of pencil drawing is that it is fairly easy to make corrections. Anyway, this action helped to boost the contrast and highlight the subject better. Job done, almost.

The side by side photos are not a great indicator as they were taken at different times. Obviously I cant retake the initial version.

I then added more shade to the right hand side of all buildings. There was a temptation to do more but I decided it was best to be guided by the level of contrast at the corner of the Doge’s Palace.

The building between the palace and the Danieli hotel, on the right, is partially in the shade of the palace so I added shadow to fix this.

The end result is, for me, better.

Pencil drawing is something I love to do. I haven’t done much of it in recent years and that is something I need to fix. When I schedule my projects for the month I shall ensure that there is at least one large (A3) drawing among those subjects, and I suspect that for the remainder of this year I shall draw Venetian scenes.

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Attempting botanical illustration


Botanical illustration is, for me, an aspiration. While I have painted quite a few flowers in the past I have treated them as floral paintings rather than botanical. The reasons for the difference in terminology were covered in a couple of posts, the last at the end of last year. I decided to attempt a botanical painting to see what I could learn from the process.

The initial drawing took me over an hour to complete, closer to two hours, but perhaps should have taken a bit longer to ensure all details were recorded before painting. I didn’t time myself though this would be an interesting part of the process for future paintings. Getting the drawing right before painting avoids heartache later in the process.

The initial wash, a very pale pink using Rose Lake and Lemon Yellow, gave me the base colours. I left some areas unpainted where I expected to have some highlights.

This process took about a hour.

I left the painting to dry overnight and, next day, started first on one of the darker buds and then on an outer bud. This gave me an indication of the tonal range. I then worked randomly on various parts of the flower, allowing areas on which I had worked to dry. I think I spent about 3 hours painting before closing down for the day.

Next day, yesterday, I spent the whole day working on the painting. Working on the yellow parts first, then the reds and deep reds, leaving the negative space in parts to finalise the painting with the stamens.

This is a situation in which a wider palette would assist. I launched into the painting having quickly assessed that the paints I would use would be: rose lake, violet, cadmium red, raw umber and a couple of yellows. I also used a touch of paynes gray that I had mixed myself. In botanical painting I would need to assess exactly which colours and colour combinations to use.

One needs a very steady hand to get into the detail and edges of the flower. I suspect this is where I need to focus attention – my hands not being as steady as they once were – and will account for quite a bit of the time expended on a painting of this type. This took me well over 12 hours to complete so, if I were to do another, I reckon ten times that length of time will not be out of the question if I want to regard the end product as botanical rather than floral.

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Pencil, for a change

My list of things to do, that I wanted to do once I had a fresh stock of paper, included doing a large pencil drawing. I hadn’t done much pencil work since I left school many, many years ago but it was, and remains, a medium that I love.

Having done some quick pencil sketches in my journal I decided to stay with what is a favourite subject of mine, painting and photography, and do a Venetian landscape. It took about 8 hours over three days (lots of interruptions!) and provided me with a few things to remember for future drawing, principally:

– use hot-pressed paper if I want good detail

– start at the top left and work down to the right (I am right-handed)

This is the “finished” drawing though I feel I need to do some more work on it:

Doge’s Palace from San Marco Basin

Venice is a fabulous and photogenic city that I had the privilege of visiting on numerous occasions. My mother used to live not far from the City of Canals, in a fishing village that became a popular holiday resort for Austrians as well as local people. Her father was from Veneto. Hence I enjoy painting and photographing Venetian scenes having had the opportunity to explore the countless alleys and waterways of the city.

The reason I like pencil work is that it is monochrome (as was my early photography) so tones and textures are an important feature.

I started the piece by lightly doing a rough outline sketch based on my chosen reference photo. Next I made adjustments to the composition before making a start on the drawing. It was at this stage that I realised the light roughness of the paper was not going to give the results that I wanted to achieve. The options were to continue or to re-think how I wanted to do the drawing eg by using the texture to make a looser design. I chose to continue as I had originally planned.

The texture of the paper is visible here, making the shadow area difficult to see

The problem was that my pencil work became uneven. Where I had envisaged smooth dark areas the pencil marks were unevenly spread over the texture. Not a major issue but when I get some smooth hot-pressed paper I will be able to get the results I wanted.

I have plenty of pencils in hand. The majority, that are used for outline sketches for watercolour paintings, are basic pencils that I have collected from hotels while on my travels. The majority of my “good” pencils are Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils. I have a few old, but hardly used Venus pencils (F, HB and 2B) and an old set of Lyrato Ceder 666 pencils that have interesting grades (1 = 3B, 1 1/2 = 2B, 2 = B, 2 1/2 = HB and 3 1/2 = H). These are my preferred pencils and I hope I have more of them. While searching I also found a set of Masters pencils (3H to 6B) that seem to have been hand-finished but, other than that, I have no idea who manufactured them or where. I need to test them!

One thing I do not like about my Venice drawing, which I do not consider finished yet, is that although facade of the Doge’s Palace is in fact decorated with a pattern of cream and beige tiles (or bricks) the treatment of the drawing would be improved if I had not shaded the facade and left it plain white. This would make it stand out a bit more. I could also darken some of the shadow areas to help accentuate focus in the scene by providing more contrast and stronger tonal value range.

I shall review the drawing next week and do what I think is needed. The advantage of pencil drawing is that an eraser and pencils can always be applied at a later date.

So, next week I hope to finish the drawing and compare the two versions ie the one shown above and the final one. I shall also look at the pencils that I have in my collection to compare them and decide which I really like.

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Weekend Fun

Ballerina Betta-fish

I thought I would try a Domestika course at the weekend as this pandemic has us in a continued lockdown of sorts (a relatively loose term here in Brazil where people and some members of government still do not believe the virus is a threat despite the high mortality level!).

While most of the courses on offer are conducted in Spanish this isn’t an issue for me as I spent some time in Mexico, but I found one that grabbed my attention that is in English: Surrealistic Fineliner Illustration by Redmer Hoekstra.

This was a fun course. As I have used fineliners in the past for line and wash drawings I have a few pens in stock. I’ve done detailed monochrome drawings in pencil, which gave me an advantage in approach, but I could see advantages in doing a course like this as it is a great way to draw as well as a way to think creatively.

I have done other Domestika courses to reinforce my skills or to develop a new skill. There are plenty of learning resources on You Tube (free) but sometimes it is better to pay a little to get support included in the learning process. It is easy to browse the courses, there are plenty available, and to check the languages in which they are conducted. All have subtitles but I have never been good at trying to read and follow a video at the same time – same applies with films – therefore I watch them in Spanish and re-watch if there is anything I missed.

Because most courses seem to be aimed at beginners I think anyone wanting to learn a skill will find the courses of value.

Another thing that can be done with these drawings, as they are in ink, is to do a watercolour wash to produce something different. I scanned and copied the original drawing then did the wash to produce this:

Wash over ink version

I prefer the monochrome drawing but I think the colour version is quite nice too.

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I have paper!

Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)

I certainly felt lost without watercolour paper even though I could have done some canvas painting. I bought a couple of blocks of A3 paper that will keep me busy till the end of the month.

The first thing I did when I got home was to cut a couple of sheets to give me four A4 sheets on which to do some commissioned work. I had painted the head of a Hoatzin (a bird of the Amazon Rainforest) that I sold in 2019 and the owner wanted two more headshots of birds to add to her collection. I had a portrait of a King Vulture in stock but needed another bird to make up the set. I decided on a penguin, the Macaroni Penguin to be exact, as it has an interesting beak and plumage.

The other A4 sheets were used to practice (as I hadn’t painted for about three weeks), to paint another commissioned piece (a house in Staffordshire that the buyer had lived in years ago), and Venetian landscape that I shall do later in the month.

Since then I have completed four birds portraits on the A3 paper: Goliath Heron, Purple-crested Turaco, African Fish Eagle and Yellow-billed Stork – all birds that I saw on trips to the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

I am working, part time, on a pencil drawing of a Venice landscape that features the Doge’s Palace. Quite detailed. Although I wanted to do a realistically detailed drawing I thought it prudent to just see how things go as I hadn’t done many pencil drawings for some time. It would also give me a chance to remember tips and tricks, how to avoid mistakes and how the pencils work with the paper I have. So far I have spent about 4 or five hours on it and am about half-way through – so I imagine a more realistic version will take much longer.

I shall post my drawing next week.

This weekend I shall plan my projects for the coming week.

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Quick journal sketches

Detail from my Hummingbird project journal.

No painting this week! OK, so I don’t have paper on which to paint but that is no excuse! In fact I have been involved in other admin stuff so didn’t even do any acrylic painting, but that also is not an excuse. It’s probably the pandemic getting me demotivated.

That said, I have started a couple of projects in my journals. One is to paint some marine life to put into a book, no rush but I now have a deadline set for August completion. The other is a personal project which involves documenting details (eg eye, feet, feathers etc) of Hummingbirds and Tanagers to create a reference for when I paint these beautiful birds. Whenever I can get hold of large sheets of watercolour paper I intend to do large-scale portraits of a couple of species and to see how these develop.

Something of interest that came out of my research of hummingbirds, in particular the Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, is that there are five sub-species of this particular bird. I have seen two sub-species but the one that occurs where I live, and which is a daily visitor to my garden feeder, is Eupetomena macroura simoni. It is a slightly bluer version of species.

There are two things I usually do before painting any bird: get as many reference photos as possible (the majority being ones I have taken), and get as much information as I can research about the bird so I can incorporate a bit of its character into the painting. At least that’s the idea, and probably easier to do in larger scale paintings.

I have spent a bit of “coffee break” time doing quick sketches in my journal that may be converted to projects in the future. I am still thinking about whether to have these done as watercolour landscapes or in acrylics. No rush.

Some of these were watercolour sketches while a couple were pencil only.

All of these were taken from photographs from my last visit to Venice, a city I know very well as my mother used to live close by. The first two are of San Giorgio di Maggiore (a favourite subject of mine), the third, fifth and last are of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, and the fourth is of the Rialto Bridge.

I find that doing these sketches helps me to think about the treatment of the subject and to identify the details that should or should not be included in a landscape.I have to admit that I always have difficulty with the facade of the basilica of San Giorgio as it is marble that is white in bright sunlight, or creamy at other times.

Not a great week for me but maybe later in the month things will improve.

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