I live on a hill, and the street that runs past my front door ends abruptly at the edge of the bay, four blocks down. It’s an easy walk, early in the morning, to watch pelicans dive for their breakfast and hear gulls laughing as they sail past overhead. And in the shallows, when the water is calm, the great blue heron stands motionless. I suppose he is waiting for the gleam of careless minnows in the water at his feet, but he might as well be posing for my sketchbook. A beautiful bird, bold enough to ignore a small woman nearby with a fistful of colored pencils, he makes a great model.
I’m honored to be the featured artist in the upcoming June issue of Colored Pencil Artists magazine — an issue that will focus on birds in colored pencil. I drew this heron, and his fisherman friend, with that event in mind.
The heron is drawn in Prismacolor Premiere, the soft-core colored pencils I like to use. After making a foundation drawing in Dark Umber — including all the major shadows and textures — I used just five other colors, layered on over the Umber, to finish the bird. His beak is Yellow Ochre, shaded gently with Terra Cotta (the same combination is used for his fierce eye). I don’t like to use pre-formulated grays, which seem a little flat, but prefer to blend a warm and vital gray by mixing Light Peach and Cloud Blue. All the gray areas on this fellow are created with those two colors. Then I used black, of course, for his dark mask and (very sparingly) to deepen the richest shadows.
The fisherman’s wings are based on the lovely (and enormous) polyphemus moth, a silkworm moth that is common where I live. The richly pigmented, slightly dusty feel of colored pencil is perfect for drawing lepidopterans, from monarch to cabbage moth.
If you’ve been wondering whatever became of those pencil studies of citrus fruit, here’s a peek at the final result. This old-fashioned fruit crate label was commissioned by Mobile Botanical Gardens to promote a slate of upcoming events celebrating citrus. Like the labels of old, the image measures 10×11 inches. It’s all in colored pencil, using a “speed pencil” technique that I love — all the shading is done in an “underpainting” layer using just Dark Umber pencil, then the color is added at the last in a single layer. The wonderful shadows and highlights are simply the result of the umber drawing showing through the color. Below, the peeled orange is still in the umber stage but the shiny satsuma orange next to it has already received a layer of color… just a single layer of orange pencil! Thanks to the textures and shadows already shaded beneath, you get a lush and complex result. It’s a great alternative to the traditional slow layering of different colors to build depth.
I love drawing the texture of an orange peel. It requires a very light touch and some time spent looking deeply at surface light and shadow. These studies in pencil are a preliminary to a color illustration that will combine all four. Can you name them all? (The answers are at the end of this post.)
The first sketch is a satsuma. The second is a satsuma, partially peeled. The third is a Meyer lemon. The fourth is a pair of kumquats. Now I’m hungry.
My online class in Watercolor Lettering has kept me very busy for the past several weeks, but on Saturday I had the pleasure of teaching a small workshop in a beautiful riverfront hideaway near Moss Point, Mississippi. The trees overhanging the water were full of trumpet vine, and we put them to use as the subject of gouache resist paintings. I love gouache resist, which is the art equivalent of opening a mysterious present on Christmas morning. You don’t know what you have until the wrappings are torn away to reveal the surprise beneath. In my method, I begin with a quick pencil sketch on heavy watercolor paper. Next I create the painting with a very thick (we’re talking peanut-butter-thick here) layer of gouache. After allowing it the dry completely, the painting is covered in a layer of waterproof India ink — I use a two-inch housepainting brush for this step. That has to dry, as well, before the fun begins: I take the piece outside and put it under a stream of water from the garden hose, scrubbing the ink away with the aforementioned house painting brush. Under that layer of inky blackness is a jewel-toned image, and everywhere the paper remained blank are lines of India ink. Old clothes are highly recommended for this adventure!
I was late planting sunflowers this spring, so while the cut-flower fields at the edge of town are already resplendent with buttery yellow blooms, mine are still all stalks and leaves on the ascent. I always try to include my favorite, Evening Sun (Helianthus annuus) in the garden patch mix. Velvety red petals with a touch of yellow - and dense centers the color of bittersweet chocolate – make them wonderful to draw. This one is painted in gouache and India ink on heavy watercolor paper.
(I’m painting some samples for a June 30 workshop, “Draw and Paint Six Culinary Herbs,” to be offered in Birmingham, Alabama. Join me for a day of creative botanical fun… no previous experience required, and all supplies are provided. Best of all, you get to take home six organically grown potted herb plants at the end of the day!)