Monthly Archives: December 2014

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

I really enjoy making gifts for the holidays and every year I try to do something different for my hubby. This year I painted a junco for him in celebration of all the juncos that have visited our yard this year. We both love to watch them poking around for seeds and hopping out of the way of the squirrels. A flock of them will often include sparrows which makes bird-watching even more fun.

Materials: Derwent watercolor pencils on Strathmore 400 series Mixed Media paper. Finished size: 7″ x 5″.

Happy Holidays!


Lotus on Black Paper

Lotus on Black PaperIt’s experimentation time! Today’s art adventure is Chinese Brush painting on black paper. Normally I would paint on mulberry paper which is either white or off-white but after seeing some art painted on black paper I knew I had to try it.

The only black paper I had available was my Fabriano drawing paper. This meant I had to use a drier brush since the 80# weight can’t handle a lot of water. Also dark colors do not show up unless you use a base of white.

To make this work I loaded my brush with thick white watercolor paint then I dipped the brush into permanent rose. Once the brush touched the paper the colors mixed and the pretty pink color appeared. I like this method because the colors don’t completely mix so there are nice streaks of white and darker pink which gives the lotus some interest. I used the same method of loading the brush using gamboge for the yellow stamen and sap green for the stem. The splatters were done with a watery mix of the yellow, pink, and ultramarine blue.

Working on dark paper is going to open up a whole new world for my brush paintings. I can’t wait to see what happens next.



Tutorial: Drawing an Artichoke in Colored Pencil

One of the things I get asked the most about is how to create realistic looking leaves in colored pencil. This is an excellent topic for a tutorial so this demonstration will focus on coloring the leaves of an artichoke. I have listed all the supplies I used below but please use whatever you have in your art box. Most importantly, remember to keep your pencils sharp; not only will you be able to create fine lines, you will not have to press as hard to get the color to lay down. A sharp pencil fills in the paper tooth much easier than a dull one (and it keeps your hand from hurting).

Supplies: Throughout this demonstration I will be using Prismacolor Premier pencils. If you are using another brand make sure to use a nice selection of greens (at a minimum chose a light gray (earth) green, a middle value green, and a dark green), a dark red, a warm dark gray, and a light brown.

Pencils Additional Supplies
Lime Peel Smooth drawing paper 80lb. or heavier
Olive Green HB graphite pencil
Dark Green Kneaded eraser
Celadon Green White plastic eraser
Greyed Lavender Eraser shield
Sienna Brown Pencil sharpener
Mahogany Red Artichoke or reference photo
50% Warm Gray

Before We Begin: It may be helpful to read over this tutorial from beginning to end a couple of times to familiarize yourself with the steps involved. As you work on your drawing remember to use light pressure on the pencil and work in the direction of the leaves. Colored pencil is a layering process so color is built up gradually. This allows you to make adjustments and it keeps the wax binder in the pencil from building up on your paper. Wax build up makes it very difficult if not impossible to add more color.

You may also find it helpful to test out your colors first on a scrap piece of paper. I always keep a piece nearby so that I can try out color combinations before using them on my finished work.

Step 1: Initial Drawing

Choose your artichoke and spend some time studying it. Notice how the leaves overlap each other. On my artichoke the outer leaves are starting to open but the inner ones lie on top of each other. Once you have taken your time to observe begin your line drawing. I like to start by putting in general shapes then adding details. Once you are satisfied with your drawing take your kneaded eraser and lighten your pencil lines. You want to be able to see your drawing but it should not be too dark otherwise the excess graphite will get trapped by your colored pencil and detract from your finished piece. For purposes of this tutorial I scanned my drawing before lightening the lines so that you could see the composition.

Step 2: Creating Form

Using your warm gray pencil add in the shadow areas using strokes that follow the curve of the leaves. Use heavier pressure in the darkest areas and lighter pressure for softer shadows. At the top of the artichoke I used greyed lavender for the shadowy areas. The greyed lavender is not as strong as the warm gray so it is a good shadow color in the brighter areas.

I also added some of the sienna brown and mahogany red to the leaf tips and any areas that had a brown undertone.

This process is sometimes referred to as underpainting. By applying the neutral gray and brown colors first you form a base on which to add additional layers of paint (or in our case colored pencil).

Step 3: Establishing Initial Color

Begin layering olive, lime peel, and celadon over the gray. I like to work from the darkest to lightest color. First add a layer of the olive green over the gray, then layer lime peel over the olive and extend it very slightly into the white area. Finally layer the celadon over the entire leaf. Use heavier pressure in the darkest areas. Keep layering your greens so that you slowly work color into the white areas of the paper. Use less pressure on your pencil the closer you get to the lighter areas. Make your pencil strokes follow the curve of each leaf.

You will be adding many layers of color before your drawing is completed so there is no need to worry if it looks very light at this stage. Remember, it is always easier to add more color than it is to remove color.

Step 4: Progression of Color

I worked from the outer leaves to the inner leaves. I did this because I like to move around my drawing as I work. I work for a little while one side of the drawing then I moved to the other. I don’t completely finish one section before moving on. This keeps the drawing balanced and it gives me time to make corrections in value.

As I was layering the greens I noticed that there was not enough contrast to differentiate one leaf from another. To correct this problem I used the dark green pencil right along the edge of a few of the leaves. Don’t draw a continuous line like you would to outline something, instead make a thin broken line along the edge. This small addition really helps distinguish one leaf from another. The reason this works is that dark green had a lot of blue in it which works well as a shadow color to help create the illusion of depth.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

Once you are satisfied with the coloring of your artichoke take your eraser and remove any stray lines or marks from your paper. I use the eraser shield at this stage, it helps me get right up to the edge of my drawing. If I notice that any of my edges are not crisp I will take a very sharp pencil and go over them. If you do this make sure to add the line to the inner edge of the drawing and be sure to blend it into the surrounding color.

I like the look of botanical plates so I added the name of my plant in a cursive script using a very sharp olive green pencil. You could also add a border around your drawing or just leave it as is.

Sign your drawing then step back and admire your work!


You can apply the techniques of layering green over a base of gray to other leaves. If you are drawing tulips, irises, or orchids you can substitute chartreuse (yellow green) for the celadon. If the leaves are darker like those of a hydrangea you may want to add a layer of blue in the greens to more closely match the colors. Even if you have a pencil that exactly matches the color of your subject you will create a much more interesting and vibrant finished piece if you mix your own colors.

If you have any questions about this tutorial or if there are particular subjects you would like me to demonstrate please leave a comment below or contact me directly via my contact form.

Until next time…keep those pencils sharp!


Showy Lady’s-slipper Orchid

Showy Lady-slipper OrchidLast week marked the end of my Drawing on Black Paper class. For our final project we drew a Showy Lady’s-slipper orchid. Each of my students commented on how challenging they find leaves and while each interpreted the coloring in a slightly different way, they all did a wonderful job. I am so fortunate to have found such a great group to work with to share my love of colored pencil. I am looking forward to the fun we will have in our upcoming classes.

If you would like to purchase my interpretation of the orchid, please visit my shop.



Orange Rose

Orange RoseSometimes you just have to follow your instincts. I should have been working on an upcoming class project but instead I made a small detour to paint this lovely orange colored rose. The golds, oranges, and corals in the petals were the perfect subject for painting with watercolor pencil. I applied the color like regular watercolor paint using a wet brush to grab the pigment off the pencil and applying it to dampened paper.

The finished size is 7″ x 9″ so the rose is about 2 times larger than it would be if you grew it in your garden. I think it works at this size – the color really makes an impact and the way the outer petals droop complements the turning leaves. I am really pleased with this piece and I am so happy I trusted my instincts. Now I can return to my other projects with renewed energy.

If you would like to learn more about watercolor pencil or other drawing and painting techniques be sure to check out my classes page – all new classes begin in January. If you can’t join us be sure to bookmark my tutorials page where I share tips and techniques to inspire your artistic adventure.

If you are looking for a gift for the botanical enthusiast on your list, you can purchase “Orange Rose” and other flower paintings from my shop.