I was going to talk about something completely different, but so many people this week have written posts talking about their reach and engagement on Instagram dropping significantly and is it their photos, their art? They are generally feeling bad about themselves and what they are doing because they see likes or engagement dropping on their posts.
Then they spend long hours analyzing what they think might be wrong with their art/photos and trying to work out the algorithm. They try to work out what will be popular. They post something, it doesn’t do as well as they hoped, they feel worse about themselves and the vicious cycle continues it’s downward spiral.
It is hard when you see a post you love do badly.
The piece below is one of my personal favorite pieces.
It got half the likes the in progress shot of it got. One of my least favorite pieces is one of my most ‘popular’. It gets shared a lot and l hate the piece - all l can see is what is wrong with it! There is no working out which photos will do well and which won’t!
What l want to say is, stop feeling bad! And here is why.
1. You have absolutely no control over how much Instagram share a piece.
Trying to beat the algorithm is a fool’s game and will only make you miserable. My reach varies wildly and there is no rhyme or reason to it that l can tell. (And yes, just recently my reach seems to be down too). As there is nothing l can do about it, why worry?
2. Even Instagram does not have complete control over the reach of your photo.
No one knows how many people are actually on Instagram at any given time or on any particular day. If people are not online and looking at Instagram they can put your photo into thousands of feeds but if no one is looking at their feed your photo won’t be seen. That is not your fault. So it may not be that Instagram are not sharing, they could just be having a bad day too!
3. Likes/follows/engagement do not mean that your art is good or bad. They tell you nothing about your art, they tell you only how many likes or follows you got. Engagement tells you how much engagement you got. Just ten minutes browsing art on Instagram should show you that there are amazing artists getting only a handful of likes and poor ones whose accounts are growing like crazy. I cannot emphasize this enough - your art is not good or bad according to how many likes it got. Your art is good or bad because it IS good or bad.
4. You are setting yourself up for stress and misery.
Worrying about whether or not your post will do well on Instagram will take away all the joy of creating. Instead of drawing the things that you love and that will make you happy your focus will be on what you ‘think’ will be popular. You will start becoming more concerned about getting a piece finished quickly so you ‘have something to post’ instead of finishing a piece well so that you can be proud of what you have accomplished. And then if that piece does not do well, you will be miserable and put yourself under more pressure. Art should be fun. There IS life outside of Instagram. (I am having a few days off at the moment, the sun is shining, the garden is calling and l simply want a break, so the growth on my account will slow down. Does that matter? No! Health, family, life - these things matter.).
So if you are finding that posting is making you stressed or miserable or putting you under pressure, take a break. Draw only what you love, draw to the best of your ability, finish it well. Then when you post (whether it does well or not you can feel proud of what you have accomplished. But most of all you will enjoy your art again, which is what it is meant to be about.
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Today l am soooo excited l probably won’t stop writing for ages. I have been testing out my new Derwent Lightfast pencils, and l have been longing to tell you all about them. But l wanted to make sure l had tried them out properly first of all. l have now completed several pieces using pretty much only the Lightfast pencils.
They are an oil based pencil, tested to be ‘100% lightfast’ (please read last week’s blog for my thoughts on that). They are a premium quality, professional, artists pencil and they now come in 100 colors.
And before l tell you any more, l am going to start by saying that they are the pencils of my dreams. They are soooo gorgeously beautiful to work with that l haven’t wanted to put them down since l opened the box.
The most incredible thing about these pencils is the richness of the pigment. I have never had a pencil ooze so much color onto the paper with so little effort. With certain colors it is like pencilling with ink, the color just slides onto the paper. I have actually had a first for me with colored pencil, and that is that l have got too much color on the paper too soon! With some colors l have had to learn to go very lightly indeed. Many of the darker colors particularly are just so intense, so fast.
The lay down of the pigment is buttery smooth, such a beautiful sensation to work with. This is true for nearly all the colors, there are one or two that are not quite so good. They have a slightly scratchy feel or the pigment does not come out as strong as l would like. On the chart above l have started the colors that l found scratchy or lacking in pigment, one star for a little lacking and two stars for a colour l didn’t really like using. I think there are six that l found unpleasant to use. But l have not had any actually score the paper as l have with Luminance.
Most of them are even creamier and smoother than the good Luminance colors. They blend into each other like blending an oil pastel. And yet they are not horribly soft to work with. They sharpen to a really good point which they hold reasonably well.
They are a softer core than Pablo’s or Polychromos so will not hold a point for as long as those and the line you get is not quite as fine. But with regular sharpening you can get really good fine detail.
They blend beautifully with Luminance too. (Actually they are the perfect compliment to Luminance).And l was surprised to find that Pablo’s and Polychromos would layer nicely on top (which they won’t over Luminance).
The only con for me with these pencils is that they are missing some pretty core colors, there is no real pink
(there are three beautiful pastel pinks) no rose, fuchsia or hot pink. Very weirdly there is no turquoise blue?! And weirder still are the greens. Lots of dark greens but only two horrible, lurid mid greens (Grass Green and Grass Green 70%), these are the color a 5 year old would paint grass. There are no light greens at all and no yellow greens. There is a gorgeous pastel mint green. This is annoying as l can easily make a light green darker but l can’t make a dark green lighter. The only way l have managed to use Grass Green so far is with large amounts of yellow.
There are however, some magic colors. Nightshade is glorious and l never, ever want to be without it. It will be in every piece l work. Dark Indigo, Mars Violet, Arctic (pale pastel blue), lots of gorgeous pastels.
An average number of greys for the color range l think and some really pretty and unusual ones (although greys seemed to be consistently the more scratchy ones).
Champagne is a gorgeous pale yellow. Derwent Red is a beautiful red. The sort of red you expect to find in every set of pencils but is actually rarely there. There are some beautiful dark oranges that veer towards brown but are not brown. Wild lavender is an excellent pale lilac.
I find l still want my Polychromos black to sharpen things up, (you really can’t beat the crisp edge you get from those pencils).ln fact l still want my Pablo’s and Polychromos for the finest details and definitely for the missing colors. I am finding that l like to use the Lightfast along with Luminance to build vibrant color more quickly and then l add detail on top with Polychromos and Pablo’s.
The white is actually the best white pencil l have used so far. And l also discovered today that my Pablo’s white works really well on top of even lots of layers of Lightfast.
l have had no core breakage issues. No problems with sharpening them.
I have really, thoroughly tested these pencils out now, and l can honestly say that l love these pencils. I mean l really love them. For sheer vibrancy and pigment and the beautiful feel of the lay down these are just the nicest pencils l have ever used. They are up there on my top spot with Polychromos and Pablo’s.
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This week l wanted to talk about lightfastness and l probably won’t be very helpful as l have more questions than answers.
Often you will hear professional artists talk about using only lightfast pencils and acid free paper etc. This is something that l normally do unless l am trialing cheaper brands. It makes sense if you are spending 40-50 hours or more on a piece to use the best materials money can buy. And nobody wants their work to fade fast.
But this past couple of weeks l have been working with my new Derwent Lightfast pencils (review to come very shortly) and reading through the leaflet inside started me thinking again, traveling a path l have wandered many times before and never really found an answer.
The pencils are labeled ‘100% lightfast’. If you open the first page of the leaflet it reads, ‘ Derwent Lightfast pencils have been formulated to be 100% lightfast. The revolutionary core is resistant to prolonged colour change ensuring artwork will not fade for 100 years under museum conditions.’
My first question is this - who keeps their artwork under museum conditions? Unless we are Van Gogh or Damien Hirst our art will be stored on someone’s wall and they may put UV glass in the frame and hang it out of direct sunlight, but it won’t be under museum conditions. So how long will a lightfast pencil last under normal conditions? Does anybody know?
My questions mounted as l read further because they actually specifically refer to things l have questioned in the past.
I am going to quote directly from the leaflet again, ‘Many people equate lightfastness with permanence. This is not strictly accurate as many other factors can affect the permanence of your work such as humidity, temperature, atmospheric pollution, reactions between different pigments and chemicals, the paper you use, and even the way you use your art materials.’
and a little further on, ‘Remember that the lightfastness of Derwent Lightfast may be adversely affected if mixed with other products’.
So here we go - if l use my Caran D’ache Luminance and my Faber Castell Polychromos along with my Lightfast are they all still lightfast or does one affect the other? If l use a low rated lightfast pencil under or over a high lightfast rated pencil what is the rating of the resulting color? If l use a blender what does that do? If my hands are oily what does that do? If l live in a humid climate what effect does that have? If l live in a dry climate what will that do? If l get extreme heat or cold what will that do? If my art is hung in a polluted city what will that do? If l use a base of marker or watercolor (even if lighfast) what effect does that have? In fact, even if l mix one lighfast pencil with another of the same brand (because the Derwent leaflet mentions mixing pigments)does that affect the overall rating?
My conclusion is that we don’t and can’t know the answers to all these questions because it isn’t possible for any company to test their pencils under every possible combination of factors that could come into play.
l do know this though, that my mum has art hanging on her wall made by little ones in primary school using the classroom poster colors, that my gran had hanging on her wall before that. No extra special care has been taken of them and they are still as bright and vivid as they were fifty or more years ago. I am not saying that these things are lightfast and won’t ever fade, but l think it unlikely that kept out of direct sunlight much will fade badly over the course of a lifetime. Certainly not pieces made with quality pigments. I think we worry too much and put too much emphasis on the supposed permanence of a pencil rated lightfast 1.
l am not Damien Hirst and l would be delighted if anyone still wanted to look at my art in 100 years time. And yes l will continue to buy the best pencils on the market, but if some of them only have a lightfast rating of 3 l will continue to use them if they are the colour l want because the lightfast rating of a pencil is just a small part of how lightfast the overall piece will be. I think the biggest message should be that if you want your art to stand the test of time look after it well. Keep it out of the sunlight. It will probably be ok - which is as much as can be said for a piece where someone has obsessed over lightfast ratings - it will probably be ok!
Today’s post will be a little longer than normal as l have spent the week trying out my new Chromaflow pencils. These are by Derwent who always produce exciting and innovative products.
These pencils though are from the more budget friendly end of the spectrum, so l thought it would be really interesting to see how they perform.
First, let me say that they are not light fast rated so if that is important to you, these are not the pencils for you.
But even those of us who prefer to work with lightfast pencils might like a few more budget friendly pencils on hand for our sketch books and ideas.
They come only in sets of either 12 or 24. I have the 24 set. Retailing currently at around $30 and only available in the USA at the moment.
I opened the tin with some trepidation as l wanted to work a complete piece using only these pencils. For once l was pleasantly surprised by the colors. Actually the biggest plus for me with such a small set is the colour choices. For once a company hasn’t put ten hideous and garish colours in a tin. It actually includes some of my most favorite colors. There is a color called Raisin (closest to Faber Castell Caput Mortem or Caput Mortem Violet), a beautiful Magenta, a pretty aqua, a decent purple, an olive green. So not the usual small tin colors. Of course the ubiquitous black and white are there.
I have a photo of all the colors here.
They sharpened to a nice fine point (although being soft this wears down very quickly, so detail takes a lot of sharpening).
Then l put pencil to paper. I decided to work on Stratmore Bristol Smooth for these. A more budget friendly paper in keeping with the pencils. For the first four hours l hated them. I found them really waxy and very nearly put my piece behind the cupboard of no return.
But l stuck with it, and at some point after the four hour mark l actually began to quite like them. I think if you like a soft core like Prismacolor you would love them. They certainly seem to have plenty of pigment and it is easy to get vibrant color. They blend into each other very smoothly, really, really easily in fact.
l couldn’t get anywhere near the number of layers l would normally use, but as the color choice is much more limited and the color saturated quite quickly, it didn’t seem to matter too much.
I don’t use blenders of any kind so the pencil must do it for me, and they did.
l did have the same problem l have with Prismacolor, l work standing up, and even though l have Glassene under my hand, lots of bits of pigment drop down and get under the Glassene and because they are waxy they stick to previous layers and some of them can’t be removed. I am not sure how l can stop this from happening. The pencil dust doesn’t seem to happen with oil based pencils.
They feel very, very nice to use on the smooth paper, the lay down is extremely smooth and the color glides on. There is something very relaxing about working with a pencil that is silky and creamy.
l would like to be able to get more layers. I think if l used oms or a fixative spray then this would be possible.
l couldn’t get the fine lines l get with Polychromos or Pablo’s. But l could get reasonably fine lines as long as l sharpened a lot.
l did have a few issues with the leads breaking and little bits coming loose from the core with a couple of the colors (brown, olive green and Magenta). I didn’t come across any where the whole core was lose like l have with other brands l have tried). Now it might be because the pencils are a little thin for my sharpener. But l don’t hold with the idea that you have to go out and buy a special sharpener or sharpen only in a certain way. Pencils should sharpen in standard sharpeners. A lot of them look like they will come loose, but they didn’t, and as long as they don’t, it doesn’t really matter what they look like.
The white pencil was about as good as most white pencils. So don’t hold your breath for brilliant white highlights! But it was decent and l could get it to show a little even over dark colours.
The black was a little disappointing, not black enough for me. But that may be just the way l work. I use very little black and when l do, l use it last over other colours and never just black on its own. So it may be that it just couldn’t do the really dark thing l wanted over all the other layers l had.
l was able to layer more than l thought l would be able to at first. But it does reach a point where trying to add more just creates tons of waxy dust. Again oms or a workable fixative would probably solve this.
l added a very tiny bumble bee to this piece, just to see how the pencils would cope with the tiny hairs and fine detail. They did pretty well. I was able to get finer detail than l thought l was going to get.
Below is a little snippet from the piece l am working on. A close up shot so that you can see the blending. Definitely smooth although l think l lose some definition with the softness of the core. Again this could be good or bad depending on the subject you are drawing and the effect you want to get.
Overall for a more budget friendly pencil they are pretty decent. If you like a wax based pencil you will probably like them a lot.
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Well, l could talk about pencils all day! And l could probably write at least a dozen blog posts. But today l want to talk about something that isn’t often discussed and most artists don’t even think about it when purchasing pencils.
Value for money.
There are just so many pencil brands on the market. You can spend anything up to around $5 per pencil. You can buy them for less than $1 per pencil.
Now l am always going to tell you that personally, l would rather have fewer colors of higher quality, than a 100 colors of a poor quality pencil. But the point l would really like to make is that whilst you might think you are getting a bargain with the cheap pencil sets (and occasionally you might be) they usually work out more expensive in the long run. This is the reason why.
Cost per use. The purchase price is one thing. The cost to use a pencil is another. To give you an example, in the USA Prismacolor are not far off half the price of Faber Castell Polychromos - a full set of 150 Prismacolor at Dickblick will cost you $124.99, a full set of 120 Faber Castell Polychromos will cost you $179.99. The Prismacolor cost 83c per pencil and the Polychromos $1.50 approximately.
So the Prismacolor seem to be a real bargain.
But .... l can use half a Prismacolor pencil easily in one piece because 1. The core is so soft it wears down fast and 2. They are terrible to sharpen, sometimes taking several goes with breaking cores until you get a useable point.
So my Prismacolor pencil costs around 40c per piece.
My Polychromos never break, the core is harder and the point does not wear down fast. Polychromos pencils will last me many, many pieces before they need replacing (so long that l have no idea how many pieces l get from one pencil) and in the long run work out much cheaper than the Prismacolor.
The cost may be even higher with the entry level pencils because they also tend to have less pigment as well as more breakage issues. Meaning a lot more layers and a lot more sharpening.
You could also add to this the cost of replacing pencils that only come in sets. If you use all of one color you must buy another full set to replace it (or buy a different brand open stock).
If you take all these factors into consideration what appears to be cheap on first impression may actually be more expensive. Personally I would buy fewer of the high quality pencils. Add to them as you can afford it. Not only will you save money in the long run but you will find it much easier to create beautiful work as you will be working with tools that make the job so much easier.
I was thinking about this the other day because l thought l was done! At least with the first part of the drawing. Until l took a photo! And what a disappointment that was! It certainly no longer looked finished!
This is my tip for today. Take a photo. Then really look at it. For some reason it seems that when you look at a photo you suddenly see what you could not see when the piece was in front of your eyes. Sometimes l will see that a shape is a little off, sometimes l will see that l need more contrast or darker colors or more highlights. Sometimes as in the photo below l will see that it needs more layers.
Even allowing for the different daylight (which as you can see has bleached out the paper slightly on the first shot) you can see a huge difference between the two pieces.
The first piece is nearly there, the second one has reached a point where l feel l can call it finished, or near enough.
As soon as l took that first photo l could see that my work was not popping off the page and therefore it was not finished.
The only difference between photo one and photo two here, is more layers. There is no extra detail, l just punched the colour home using a heavier pressure. And l kept on layering until that color popped off the page.
Of course in truth, there is always something more that we could do to a piece of work and we could work on one piece for the rest of our lives. But if it doesn’t look exciting and vibrant in a photo then it probably doesn’t in real life either.
I got asked this question recently and it is also one l have been thinking about for a while.
To a certain extent it depends what you are drawing, if you are drawing someone’s pet it may be more important to be exact. Too much ‘artistic license’ and they might not recognize their pet.
But what about when you are just using a beautiful photo as a reference?
l used to think that l must copy exactly every little detail. I will say that l learned a lot from trying to copy every little detail, even if l wasn’t always successful. Then l read an interview with a famous artist and the way that they spoke about photos changed my thinking.
It suddenly dawned on me that l am drawing, it is art. I can change a color, l can change a shape, l can take out shadows, l can add in a color. It was really very freeing to realize this. And it doesn’t have to make the finished piece unrealistic, it just makes it your own.
So for example with the Tree Swallow above, the eye is slightly larger (something l often do), the colors are clearly bluer and whiter. The shadows are pinkier. The eye l have kept a little lighter than the photo. The beak is more blue.
My Swallow is altogether cooler in tone. It was a choice l made when l started working it and realized that to get the greenish tint on the feathers l would lose a lot of the shine l had spent ages working to establish and that l rather liked the blue particularly against the color of paper l was using.
l have no idea why it has taken me so long to realize that if a fin makes a funny shape that l don’t like, l can just change it! If l don’t like the brown in a wing l can use a different color.
And the best thing of all is, it makes it your unique work. It is art, have fun!
I feel like there should be a prize for guessing correctly?
How many layers do you think to go from photo 1 to photo 2?
I am working on a tutorial and l decided to photograph every single layer. And actually the photo on the right had more layers added after l took that shot!
I was thinking about this because l often get asked by people what they can do to improve their work and you know most of the time their work is excellent. It just needs more time spent on it. More layers.
Which is interesting because the difference between something that looks average and something that looks good can really be as simple as time.
You don’t need to learn any new skills to add more layers. You don’t need any special technique. You just need patience to keep layering long after you think you are done! And yes, sometimes that is boring. But if you want vibrant colour that pops off the page dealing with the boredom is part of it!
So how many layers to get from photo one to photo two? Twenty!
Well, l think it has been over two years since l wrote a post! And l feel just like l did at the start, that weird feeling of talking to myself!
l wanted to spend a bit of time talking about white pencils. I get asked repeatedly about white pencils.
So first of all let me tell you right off that none of them will give you a brilliant white highlight over a darker colour. If you are seeing brilliant white highlights in a colored pencil drawing it is being achieved using a different method or a different medium and l will discuss ways of achieving a bright white in my next post.
Here l will talk about the brands of white pencil l have used and what l think of them and what l use them for.
Below is a photo showing different brands of white over dark.
As you can see from the above photo, they are all useless! With no.1. the Polychromos being the most useless of the lot as l had to go over it four or five times to get that much color! The brightest there is no.8. the Holbein Soft White. Second best and my go to for adding ‘white’ (or more accurately lighter) highlights on top of dark colors is no.6 Caran D’ache Luminance in the Buff Titanium which despite being just off white is much better than the true white.
However, l do use most of these whites a lot and it different ways. So l thought l would explain how l use them because they are all better for different things.
1. Faber Castell Polychromos white, l use this a lot because it holds the sharpest point. I use this pencil to emboss white lines into the paper before adding other colors over the top. For example cats whiskers. I use heavy pressure to really texture the paper and the resulting indents won’t pick up as much of the darker colours over the top.
2&3. Caran D’ache Pablo’s and Supracolor they work equally the same and will often show up reasonably well over darker colors and oddly they show better if the darker color has been left for a few hours before adding them.
l tend to use these where l want to lighten something (say feathers of fur and l want lighter strands) but still want to go over the top with other colors.
4. Prismacolor. Truthfully l never really use it. It is no better or worse than any of the other whites. It is good for blending final layers if you want a soft look, but not easy to layer over again.
5. Caran D’ache Luminance White. I use these where l want to preserve a layer of white or make a pastel color. Because it is more waxy than Polychromos or Pablo’s it resists darker colors on top better.
6. Luminance Buff Titanium l find gives me the brightest highlights over dark colours of all the readily available pencils.
7. Holbein White. Nothing special and l wouldn’t bother with the effort of trying to get hold of it.
8. Holbein Soft White. Now this is significantly better than all the other whites. It is a weird texture,
feeling a little like an oil pastel to work with. But the huge downside is that unless you live in Japan it is really difficult to source individual pencils. In fact, l have not been able to. Which means to replace it you have to buy a set of pencils and the cheapest smaller set of pencils l found with it in was around £50 last time l looked! That makes it a very expensive pencil indeed and until l find a source for individual ones, l won’t be replacing it.
9. An odd ball thrown in because l saw it recommended , Conte a Paris, is actually a pastel pencil. As you see no better than anything else. Add to that the very thick core and it not fitting standard sharpeners, for me not worth bothering with.
There is one more white l tried from Derwent, the Coloursoft. I couldn’t find it for this photo. Which should tell you, l don’t use it. The results are pretty much the same as all of the above. But it has a thicker core meaning l can’t get such fine detail.
So there you have it. If you are looking for a white pencil that comes out white over dark colors you are on a fruitless quest. Although if you have found one please, please share.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have bright white in your work if you want it. My next blog post will cover that.
It’s good if your drawing looks bad! You think l am crazy l know, but actually this is true.
I was still thinking about my last blog post and how we all go through times when we don’t feel happy with anything we draw. At least, l think that most of us do. And we can get down and beat ourselves up and think we will never get any better etc. etc.
I am sure that there are lots of you, who like me look at their work and think that they wish it was more realistic, vibrant, cleaner, creative ..... or a million other things.
lt seems like very negative thinking (and if we just get stuck on that thought it is), but actually this is something that l think of as very positive. Because the truth is that we won’t make any progress if we don’t see what is wrong!
And the reason l was thinking about this is because someone said to me the other day that they couldn’t see any difference between these four pieces below.
Now l know my progress is not fast, the difference between 2016 and 2019 is not that great, especially when you consider how much time l spend drawing. But l do see a difference, in the vibrancy, the sharpness, the use of color. And as l told you in my last blog post this progress (however small or slow) is what motivates me.
That comment made me think about what we see when we look at our work.
You see, how can you put right what you don’t know is wrong? An alcoholic can never recover from their alcohol addiction until they acknowledge that they have a problem. The beginning of any change in life is the recognition of the need for change. Until that happens we go along making the same mistakes we always make. It is just the same with art.
Seeing the flaws in our work is the beginning of progress. If l don’t recognize that l need to use more contrast in my work l will never add it. If l can’t see that a composition doesn’t work l won’t make a better one.
Sometimes l think l see more and more things wrong with my work, l realize now that this is part of progress, the better you get the more flaws you see, the more areas you want to improve. The important thing is to use what you see is wrong as incentive for change. Never get down about it, it shows that you are getting better.
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