Instagram is full of beautiful photos. And for those of us who love drawing animals it is especially amazing. We are spoilt for choice! But did you know that you can’t just draw any photo that you happen to like?
I really wanted to talk about this, because photography is an art. It requires tremendous skill and dedication to take great photos. And when a photographer takes a photograph it belongs to them, even when they have shared it on Instagram. It is still their picture and they own the right to it.
So if you see a gorgeous photo that you would love to draw, you must ask the photographer for permission to use it. And this needs to be the original photographer, not just someone who has shared it.
It isn’t always easy to find the original photographer, especially as there are a lot of accounts that share other people’s photos without giving any credit.
Are you wondering why l am reminding people of this? Well, just recently l asked one photographer for permission to use their photo and they immediately blocked me! Rather an over reaction l think, a simple ,’no’ would have been just fine!
The point is there are some people who don’t want their photos drawn and just imagine how nasty this person might have been had l drawn one of their photos without permission.
Having said the above l have only ever had that one bad experience. The photographers on Instagram are incredibly generous, which brings me to the other thing l feel really strongly about.
lf someone is generous enough to allow us to use their photos, l think the least we can do is credit them prominently, say thank you. I always think a little ‘photo by ...’ tacked on at the very end of a post seems quite mean. These wonderful people could be uploading their photos to stock photo sites where we would have to pay (and sometimes a lot!) to use them. Be generous to them in return.
l hope these wonderful photographers will allow me to keep using their photos. I really want them to know just how much l appreciate them and their talent and generosity and kindness. So thank you to all the amazing photographers on Instagram l am so grateful to you all.
Today l wanted to talk about something l haven’t really discussed in a blog before. I often get asked by others what they can do to improve their work. Well, firstly l think of myself still as a beginner and secondly l am totally self taught so l can only really pass on what l have learned for myself. So my advice is always simple!
The first advice l give everyone is to take more time. Learn patience. I have written about it often enough and it is the biggest guaranteed way to improve.
But the second thing that would improve the work of nearly everyone who has asked me, is contrast. It is another thing l am still working on!
l wanted to share this close up photo of a tiny part of the Nicobar Pigeon l recently worked. The photo you are looking at (even if you are on a tiny mobile screen) is bigger than the actual size in real life.
Very often when people show me their work it is really good, there is nothing really wrong with it. The drawing is good. The colors are good. It is worked neatly. But the thing that stops the piece jumping off the page is that the colors are all mid tones. They are all too similar.
I chose this section to show you because you can see how the very lightest parts are near white and the darkest parts are black. And although l do use pure black (over other colors) it is always used very sparingly.
Without the very light and the very dark to contrast against the mid tones everything blends together. There are no points to grab your eyes.
Imagine looking at a blank piece of paper. Just plain white paper. There is nothing to focus on. It is not very interesting.
Now imagine a black spot in the corner of the paper. Now when you look at that paper all you can see is the black spot! It jumps out in contrast to the white paper.
When we use all midtones we are effectively creating a blank piece of paper. Our eyes find it uninteresting. When we start to add contrast our eyes are naturally pulled to those areas. We make our work interesting,
The problem with adding contrast as a beginner, is that it is scary! We think we will ruin our pretty colors by adding dark ones. So we are timid and add just a little. But it is not enough to create contrast.
One thing that l have learned is that it is almost impossible to add too much contrast. The darker your darks and the lighter your lights the more your work jumps off the page.
So if you have been looking at your art and wondering what you can do to improve, give it a go! You will be amazed what a little courage and a few dark colors can do!
If you want to see pictures showing the difference as you build up contrast click the link below on making your work look realistic. You can see step by step as l work darker and darker on some tail feathers.
l love to share when l find a great new product, so here is one l want to share with you. And before l say anything, l do want to say that l am not being paid to review this product. I only write reviews of products l use and recommend.
Erasing colored pencil is not easy. I have written a whole article on it (and will put the link at the bottom of this blog for anyone who wants to check it out). So l am always excited to try a new product.
My first attempt with this Artnfly battery eraser was a disaster! I am clumsy and all l did was smear color around the paper and make a mess! I nearly put it back in the box and behind the cupboard of no return without a second try.
But that just didn’t feel fair to me. Give a product a fair try before dismissing it.
The first thing l realized was that l just wasn’t used to the speed this thing spins at! You need to use a light grip and barely touch the paper!
It sprays bits of eraser everywhere, so a little messy. But once l got the hang of controlling it, this actually did the best job of erasing of all my erasers. You need to be patient and let it work through the layers. (Don’t let the eraser wear down to the metal holder or it will scratch the paper leaving marks you can’t cover). I found that this will take a heavy layered color down to very pale and will completely remove a light layer.
It also erases the lines from my transfer paper exceptionally well. Better than anything else l have tried. And it is awesome at cleaning up colored pencil dust.
l wish there was a finer eraser option for those tiny little spaces and obviously you need a supply of batteries.
It comes with a number of replacement erasers, but l would buy extras as well. You can use about half of each one before they are too short to work with.
l actually find this is my ‘go to’ eraser now - and l nearly didn’t give it a second try! I love this product.
l know! It has been sooooo long! Alas, an awful lot of painting of the not so fun kind (the house!) has been in the way! And you know what l have discovered? It is really hard to complete a picture when you only get to work on it for a few hours here and there over several weeks. I don’t just mean the obvious, that it takes a long time. But it is really hard to get not only the motivation but also to carry on where you left off. I forget which colors l was using, in which order. I forget how l was drawing something!
I wished like anything it hadn’t been this bad boy iguana that l was drawing when all this extra decorating needed to be done urgently.
Are you wondering why l said that? I love drawing all types of lizards .... but, and it is a big but, for me they take huge amounts of concentration and time. I have to work myself up to it for months before drawing one. So many of the textures demand such a high degree of accuracy, start going the wrong way or the wrong size and suddenly the whole piece looks wrong! My eyes have to work really hard and they know they have worked hard at the end of the day!
So each time l had a few hours to work on this it felt like l was beginning afresh, familiarizing myself with my colors again.
I have promised myself as my reward for sticking with it and completing it that l will have the treat of drawing a hummingbird next.
lt reminded me yet again that patience is one of the most important things to learn when it comes to art. Whether that it the patience to complete a piece, the patience to add more layers, the patience not to rush. The more patient we can learn to be, the better the art we produce (whatever our skill level may be).
If you want to see how l draw lizard skin the link to my tutorial is below. And l will be back very soon with a new hummingbird!
lt is always fun to try new pencils, so l was very excited to try out these from Artnfly. They come in a box of 48 colors for a very affordable price. These are an oil based pencil.
You will need something to store them in if you buy these as the box simply doesn’t work as storage. You can’t see the colors, just the points as you look into the box. So l had to tip them all out to see the colors and they are so fiddly to put back into the box that l just didn’t bother! It is a minor niggle as you can buy a case or roll, but l do like to be able to see the colors.
Talking of the colors, for me this is the best thing about these pencils, they have some really unusual but useful ones in the set. Colors that may make it worth adding these to other sets you own. Colors are numbered not named (l personally don’t mind either way as long as l can identify a color) from 1-48. Oddly the numerical order does not follow any color pattern, so if you lay them out in numerical order the colors are totally random.
The set contains a beautiful aqua blue and a more teal blue, and also a gorgeous raisin color, colors that don’t usually appear in many ranges.
The colors seem to contain plenty of pigment and are quite vibrant. They are very soft and strangely, although they say oil based, they feel very waxy. For me this was a problem, l found them very difficult to layer and blend. Eventually l tried odorless mineral spirits (which l don’t really use anymore) and this did the trick. The colors blended and l finally got rid of the annoying white dots. They remind me very much of working with Prismacolors.
I wondered how they would sharpen, because as you see in my photo the wood case appears to be joined, but l had no trouble at all sharpening them in my Carl Angel 5. The core is very soft so the points did wear down quickly (very like Prismacolor). And l had to use my Polychromos to add all the fine detail as l simply couldn’t get it with such a soft pencil. This is not particularly unusual for me, l use Polychromos to get fine detail with Caran D’ache Luminance and Holbeins too.
The colors are not lightfast tested which may be an issue if you want to sell your work. Again l want to remind people that not light fast tested means just that, we simply don’t know, they may or may not be lightfast to varying degrees. This always comes up as an issue with more affordable brands and l think it is good to remember at this point that you are getting 48 pencils for around the same price that you would pay for 4 Luminance pencils. Lightfast testing would push up the cost of pencils and not everyone has the budget for top end pencils.
Coming in a cardboard box with numbers not names are also things that keep costs down.
For me l find it very hard when reviewing the more affordable brands because l am used to working with the best three brands in the world and it simply isn’t fair to expect brands that may be a tenth of the price to perform at the same level. What l can say is that you can get a good result with these pencils (if you have a few pencils with a harder lead for fine detail), it just takes a bit more work and some odorless mineral spirits!
l don’t know about you, but if l have spent a lot of money on an expensive pencil, l want to use every last bit of it!
But there comes a point in a pencil’s life when it gets awkward to work with, and worse still it is too small for my beloved Carl Angel 5 sharpener. So l wanted to share with you what l use to get every last precious millimeter l can from my much loved pencils.
lf you haven’t tried pencil extenders yet, you really should! They are inexpensive and save you so much money in the end because you get to use every last bit of pencil. (I still have some l can use on the longest one in that photo!).
Up until this week l have been using Derwent pencil extenders and they were ok. But l got some Artnfly extenders to try and l have to tell you l absolutely love these.
Firstly, you get 5 instead of a skimpy 2, but, and this is the most important thing, these grip the pencil so much better than my Derwent ones. Not once have l had to retighten them after putting them on, they held fast even when sharpening.
They fit all my brands of pencil EXCEPT my Caran D’ache Luminance (which the Derwent extender will take). So l have tried them on Faber Castell Polychromos and Caran D’ache Pablo’s and Supracolor and Holbeins and Prismacolors.
My Derwent ones have to be constantly retightened and have an annoying habit of working loose when you want to sharpen them. These grip the pencil fast and l can sharpen right down until the sharpener touches the grip of the extender.
I won’t be without these in future that is certain.
But of course once a pencil has to go into an extender it won’t fit my amazing Carl Angel 5 sharpener (if you want to read about that l will put the link at the bottom of this post).
I can’t tell you how many hand held sharpeners l have tried. Some are amazing, like the Faber Castell one. But, like the Faber Castell one, last me a month or two at most before the only thing that can be done with them is to throw them away. This is expensive and horribly wasteful.
l finally found the Alvin Brass Bullet.
Now the Alvin Brass Bullet feels like a quality sharpener. It is a heavy little thing, beautiful to hold. Made in Germany. It puts beautiful points on all the brands of pencil l use. And best of all you can replace the blades. A blade on one of these usually lasts me several months (and l do a lot of sharpening). You need to make sure you have a little jewelers screwdriver to hand when you want to replace a blade, but it is very easy to do.
Replacement blades are readily available on Amazon and very affordable. So not only do you save money, you save the environment too. No more plastic waste. Now that has to be a good thing.
Six days! Six days l spent drawing a piece l am not happy with! I have wanted to draw a toucan for such a long time, and now that l have, l don’t like it!
I suppose l wanted to share with you the simple truth that not every piece we draw works out even close to what we were hoping for. I know sometimes we look at other artists work (especially on social media) and assume every piece they do works out well. I am sure l am not alone in having pieces that don’t work though. I am happy with myself for finishing it, something l really try hard to do. And l made myself finish it properly, l didn’t rush.
But l learned some things here. I really hate working with black! Even though l layered other colors with it so that it wasn’t flat black, l still hated it! It makes me feel miserable. I mean, l knew before this piece that l don’t enjoy working with dark colors, but l thought there were enough other colors in this piece for it to be ok. Turns out that there weren’t!
l had all kinds of issues with this piece. I can’t stop it looking cartoonish. Is that just because toucans do look a bit cartoonish? It won’t pop off the paper and l am not sure why! And l had huge problems with black pencil dust muddying up the other colors! It didn’t matter how much l brushed and erased, or that l kept Glassene under my hand, that black got everywhere! Except where l wanted it! It kept disappearing from the birds body!
l think on reflection l should have made the green leaves much more green than they were in the photo. The only bit that worked quite well for me were the stringy bits on the branch, which turned out better than expected.
So l got myself quite low over this piece. I start to feel that l just don’t make any progress. That l will never be as good as l want to be. I am not trying to be the best in the world (which is just as well as that is an unattainable goal for anyone), just the best that l can be (which is also unattainable really as we can always be just a little better!), and l felt like l had gone a few steps backwards with this piece.
l just wanted to share that with you because not everyone thinks every piece they do is awesome. It is normal to feel not good enough sometimes. It is normal to have pieces that don’t work out so well. It is ok to say this wasn’t as good as it should have been. It is normal to lose your confidence at times.
The important thing is not to give up. Finish that piece however hard it is. Learn something from it. Even if all you learn is to pick your subjects more wisely or that you shouldn’t work with black!
Then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start on a brand new piece! That is what l am doing. Back to my favorite subjects for a little while to get my confidence back!
And l will be back very soon with some new pencils l am testing out, which is always exciting. So watch this space! And keep drawing, even if it isn’t always quite what you wish it to be.
Today l wanted to share this photo with you. This is a sleepy little chipmunk that l drew in 2016. I was looking through some older work the other week and l pulled out this piece and looked at it. What l realized was - it wasn’t bad but it could look much better.
I wanted to share it because l often get asked by people what they can do to improve their art. And often when l see their work this is pretty much what l see. Something like my 2016 piece. There is nothing really wrong with it. The drawing is accurate. The colors are accurate. The fur is the right length and direction. The composition is nice. It just doesn’t pop off the paper. The good news is that this is such an easy problem to correct.
So l looked at my piece from 2016. I decided not to redraw it, but to spend more time working on the 2016 piece. I realized that with a few more layers, a lot more contrast and the edges sharpened it would look so much better. And this is really fun to do. The hard part and the boring underlayers are already done. All l had to do was tweak! I added more (and stronger) color to the fur. I sharpened and refined all the edges and then l really ramped up the contrast. I hope you can see from these two pieces just how important contrast is to make a piece 3d and for it to pop off the page. It has taken me a long time to learn to be bold with contrast. But l am learning that it is almost impossible to overdo contrast. So if you aren’t loving a piece you are working on, don’t bin it! Take an hour or two to punch up the color, sharpen the edges and whack up the contrast, you will be amazed at the difference!
l promised to review these Arteza marker pens. I was really excited to try them and thought this peacock would be a really good way to see how they perform.
l have the box of 48 colors. I have to say l thought there was a really good selection of colors, but l never talk too much about color selection when reviewing products because the colors you want and use are unique to each individual. I find it irritating when reviews say there aren’t enough greens or greys or a perfect red. It depends what you draw! I would say with any set of art materials - pencils, paint, markers, look at the set and decide if it has the colors YOU want.
The packaging for these pens say that they have excellent lightfast properties, but l could find nothing to say they have been lightfast tested and no ratings on them. Personally l would really like to be sure of their lightfastness as l don’t feel l can sell art made with these pens unless l am. But to put that in perspective l recently discovered that my expensive Copic markers are not lightfast either. In fact l have spent a little time looking and can not find hardly any lightfast pens on the market. So this is certainly something to think about if you are concerned about the life of your artwork or want to sell.
The pens have a brush tip and for once the brush tip really feels like a brush, with the flexibility of a brush. Annoyingly each one l used had an odd stray hair preventing a perfect stroke, although I am sure it could be trimmed or pulled out. So l don’t know if l was unlucky or if that is an issue.
Now what l really, really love about these markers is that they are water based. I used the Arteza water brush pen to blend (l absolutely love that pen - and it has no annoying stray hairs either!). It is really, really easy to blend out the color and control the strength. Just like watercolor paint. It is also really easy to blend one color into another. The water base gives you a much longer time to work the color than alcohol or ink based markers which l really loved because l am not used to using markers and don’t feel confident in my ability to blend fast enough and skillfully enough yet.
Once it was dry l worked over with colored pencil and here for me was another huge plus. You can work light color pencils over a dark base so well. I had no trouble getting my light blues and whites to show over the bright blue base l put down.
The pigments are really vibrant. My only issue with these pens (and this is my issue with nearly all pens on the market) is that l can’t see how much ink is left in the barrel. I always worry that l will run out midway through a piece. I wish they would at least make a clear window in the barrel so you can see how much is left.
The pens are not available open stock so you do need to replace a full set when you run out of one color, but they are also much, much more affordable than brands like Copic or Faber Castell Pitt pens so whilst it is something to consider l don’t think it should be a deal breaker.
If they were lightfast tested and rated l would use these a lot. But l think just about any artist would have fun with these pens.
For more pencil reviews click the link below.
When l decided to blog about my favorite colors l thought it would be one short blog post! As soon as l started to pick them out though l realized that no way could l fit them all into one blog. I did my lights and darks, well, here l have my favorite greens.
The colors l pick out here are colors that don’t really have duplicates in the other brands l use. There are certain colors that appear almost consistently across the brands - everyone has the color l call ‘yukky yellow’, they all have a similar orange, they all have umber and whichever brand you own you will have those colors. But there are some colors where only a Holbein or only a Pablo or only a Polychromo will do because they are the only ones that do that color. These are the colors that l want to share with you because you probably have a set of favorite pencils and you don’t want to buy another full set of another brand with many near duplicate colors. If you can pick any of these up open stock they will definitely enhance the collection you already have.
l was really interested to see that when l picked out my greens they are heavily weighted in favor of Caran D’ache Pablo’s. I have to say if you work with greens a lot this range has the best choice of greens of all the brands that l use - and that includes so many unusual ones.
l am going to try and go across in the order of the photo, left to right (as you view it).
The first colors are all Pablo’s:
Light Green - l can only describe this as a true mint green, think mint choc chip ice cream.
Lime Green - a yellowier version of mint. I can’t tell you how often l use these two colors.
Spring Green - a true lime green, bright and yellow and crisp.
The next six are all the Olives - yes, six versions of Olive and they get serious use. Light Olive, Olive Yellow, Olive, Olive Grey, Olive Brown and Olive Black. The last three are amazing for shadows and contrast on greens.
Then we are onto Faber Castell Polychromos:
Leaf Green - this is the color that my head sees when l think of green. You would expect to find this color in ever set, but you don’t. A true greens, green. The color of peas and lush grass. I often use it over other greens to make them more ‘green’.
Earth Green - because it is soooo unique. A grey green, sagey and soft.
Chromium Green Opaque - the perfect dark olivey green for contrast and shadows.
Chrome Oxide Green - about as dark as green gets before going black and without the yellow tones of the olives.
And finally the Holbeins:
Opal, Willow and Misty Green - the palest of pale greens with very subtle differences between them, but l love these colors.
And last of all Leaf Green - the color that is almost there in many ranges but actually is never quite right. This is is a perfect yellowy green without the muddy undertones so many of the nearly there colors have.
So that is it for greens, l hope that you have found one or two to tempt you or that will be that color you have been searching for.
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