I’ve been having fun, creating examples for different watercolor techniques as I build up material for the Draw & Paint Fairies online course. This little naiad (water sprite) is balancing on a bubble that resulted from dripping alcohol into a layer of ultramarine blue gouache. Instant gratification — and a handy way to avoid trying to paint around all those round shapes! I photographed the process, step-by-step, and will weave it into a lesson on color wash backgrounds. I “borrowed” her spiny wing structure from an Asian flying fish.
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.)
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.
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 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.