A fun technique that creates a soothing and mysterious atmosphere: put down a rich watercolor wash in two or more shades of blue. Drip rubbing alcohol into the wet paint to create bubbles. Then use only white (or, in this case, white and pale green) to draw your subject. Don’t draw too much –leave parts of the scene to the imagination of the viewer. Fun!
There’s nothing fancy about the boat-tailed grackle, a lanky relative of the blackbird and the oriole. Grackles populate the coast from Texas to Long Island, and are the goats of the bird kingdom — they will eat just about anything they find, from small crustaceans to scavenged dumpster fare.
But if you have a hankering to try drawing an iridescent surface, the boat-tailed grackle is your ideal model. A sheen of shimmering blue, purple or copper play over these birds in sunlight. Microscopic structures on their feathers break light apart, like a prism, and create a reflected rainbow.
(This fellow was drawn with Prismacolor colored pencils on medium-weight Bristol vellum. He was the demonstration drawing for my online course, Birds in Colored Pencil.)
Meet Sarracenia leucophylla, the white pitcher plant. I drew this specimen following a day at Splinter Hill Bog, 628 acres of whispering longleaf pine forest and bog at the headwaters of the Perdido River in south Alabama. I felt fortunate to have a real, live pitcher plant to work from — when the first botanical illustration of a Sarracenia was made in 1576 by the court botanist to James I of England, all he had for reference was a dried-up remnant of a pitcher plant collected by Spanish explorers in Florida.
In those days, scientists could only guess about the plant’s strange cupped structure — and after a great deal of study, they concluded that pitcher plants were benevolently designed by God to provide safe refuge for small creatures. (Alas, that’s exactly what the plant’s unsuspecting victims probably think, as well.) Three hundred years later, Charles Darwin was the first to guess at the true purpose of the plant’s unique architecture: not a shelter, but a deadly trap. When experiments showed that pitcher plants digested and absorbed bits of venison dropped into its throat, the mystery was officially solved.
Among all the hundreds of families of flowering plants on the planet, only ten include species capable of trapping animals. There remains much we don’t know about these carnivorous beauties: their lifespan is uncertain, for example, because they sprout from a thick, fleshy rhizome that can spread out underground to give the appearance of multiple plants. In the wild, a large stand of plants may be just a few old — but widespread — individuals. And the intricate patterns on some Sarracenia may extend beyond the visible light spectrum; there is evidence to suggest that they actually have other patterns that can only be detected with ultraviolet vision.
So much to learn, but we may not have that chance — pitcher plant habitat is disappearing at an incredible rate. Wetlands throughout the world are being drained for development. Even preserved wetlands often become contaminated with agricultural and residential runoff. Most of the large Sarracenia stands of the past are already gone.
Fortunately for pitcher plants in my region (and for those of us who like to draw them) a number of bogs are being carefully protected. The largest is Splinter Hill Bog, where this beautiful specimen was growing. There’s also a bog at Weeks Bay Estuarine Reserve near Fairhope, and at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge just north of Gautier, MS.
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.
I’m delighted to offer a new workshop, “Draw and Paint Monarch Butterflies,” at beautiful 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center on Saturday, January 12. Working from actual specimens, with step-by-step guidance, learn to create a realistic monarch using gouache and colored pencil on handmade buff paper. No experience is necessary and all supplies are provided. Class size is limited to 10. The cost is $65, and illustrated gift certificates are available if you plan to use the workshop as a Christmas gift. Email me to reserve a spot.
Two more things about the workshop: We’ll meet from 10 to 4, so bring a sack lunch to enjoy on the deck during our midday break.
Also, it’s important to me that you know our butterfly specimens were not wild-caught and killed. They were raised from egg to caterpillar to cocoon to adult, allowed to live a natural life and then after they died were carefully collected for our use. Butterfly farming preserves habitat and discourages destructive land use; it can also be helpful in supporting threatened species. Just so you know.
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.
It’s not your typical botanical drawing course. My new online class series, “Draw & Paint Six Culinary Herbs,” will incorporate all the things that make the humble kitchen garden a place of a thousand small delights. In addition to learning to create softly shaded pencil studies, spirited ink-and-wash sketches and richly layered color renderings that combine watercolor and colored pencil, we’ll also explore the history and folklore associated with our six herbs. Each lesson will include art demo videos, printable illustrated instruction pages and photo tutorials posted on our private class website — as well as illustrated tips on growing, harvesting and using our culinary collection. I’m also sharing my own stock of organic herb seed (from my garden, while supplies last) with anyone who asks when they sign up. Email me for a list of available varieties.
The course is designed so that you can work at your own pace, without ever feeling rushed. Lessons will appear weekly beginning January 7 on a private, password-protected website. All 10 lessons will remain there until May 6. During those four months, you have access to the lessons anytime you wish to work on them. Feel free to take a week off (or even a month) for other activities. You’ll still have plenty of time to complete the course. Each lesson will include:
- My video demo with step-by-step guidance for each new technique
- Printable color instruction pages
- Examples for each lesson, created to guide and inspire you
- Personal help when needed, and feedback when each lesson is completed
- Access to our own private online group where you can share comments and images with others taking the course around the world. (Participation in the group is optional. No instruction will take place there.)
Art topics covered in the course include:
- How to develop the habit of looking deeply at your subject, so that you clearly see and understand its structure
- Three steps to creating a quick and accurate foundation sketch
- How to draw leaves in perspective
- My “gentle pencil” technique for softly shaded pencil studies
- How to combine ink and wash for fast and elegant herb drawings
- Traditional layering of watercolor and colored pencil to build a richly detailed rendering
- Color matching and color mixing – including highlights and shadows
- The structure of an herb plant, and some basic terminology
Absolutely no experience is necessary. The supply list is simple, and contains no exotic materials. (In fact, if you recently took my online watercolor lettering course, you already have the brushes you’ll need. You can check them off your list!)
What about technology? Well, you will need four basic tools to “attend” this online class:
- A computer, or access to one
- An email account to receive informative messages or send in your work for feedback
- A way to print out your illustrated instruction pages
- A way to send images of your completed projects to me for feedback. You can use either a scanner or a digital camera to create an image, then email it.
The cost of the entire course is $50, which is payable by personal check, money order or through PayPal. (To use PayPal, let me know you want to join the class and I will send you a secure PayPal invoice with an embedded “pay now” button.) Email me to sign up, or if you need additional information. See you soon!
I’m delighted to offer a new workshop at 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center:
Aquatic Plants in Watercolor Pencil Saturday, September 8 from 10am to 3pm 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center (on the Causeway) Spanish Fort, AL No experience necessary! The Mobile-Tensaw Delta, considered the best remaining delta ecosystem of its kind in the United States, is home to 500 species of plants. We'll focus on some favorites including lotus and pitcher plants, sketching from specimens and reference material and then creating color studies in watercolor pencil. Step-by-step guidance will be provided -- all levels of art experience (or none at all) welcome. Bring your lunch and a small set of watercolor pencils, and all other supplies will be provided. My botanical drawing workshops fill up fast -- your registration must be received to hold your place. The cost of the workshop is $50. Email to sign up: email@example.com