Back to Collage

It’s September, and high time I was getting back into the swing of making pictures now the boy is back at school. I’m easing in gently today, playing with a bit of collage. I had an idea which I began with, but this is not quite how I expected it to turn out…


Perhaps it’s reflecting my state of mind at the moment!

Fighting Chance

A visit to Leeds Royal Armouries, intended to please my son, turned into a good sketching opportunity for our little group of friends. The museum is arranged over several floors and to my surprise is not just about war – it also covers topics such as hunting and jousting, and displays plenty of accoutrements too. This was good, as I’m rather a pacifist, and didn’t fancy drawing machine guns or swords.

We didn’t have a great deal of time available for sketching, so it was important to make decisions quickly. My eye was first taken by this lovely Indian powder flask, dating from the 17th Century. I could easily imagine that this antelope was someone’s treasured possession. Its sweeping curve must have felt wonderful in the hand.

Poweder horn chinagraph

Then, my friend and I set a 15 minute sketch-off challenge, and choosing this funny steel jousting helmet to draw. It was the mustache that did it, really. I have to wonder whether the wearer wore a similar fancy mustache and bulbous nose under his helmet…one can dream.

Knight's Helmet chinagraph

Both pictures were made using a black chinagraph and white CarbOthello pencil, on Ingres paper. I wish I’d remembered in time that you can’t put white on top of black chinagraph with impunity, but never mind.

Whites & Darks

I was lucky enough to have a few days in Venice last year, which was a real feast for the eyes. Since returning I’ve been occasionally turning over in my mind how to make a picture from one of our (many) photos. So many of the scenes are iconic and have been done to death by other artists. Finding something a little original is definitely a challenge.

However, today I dug out a photo of a little residential street, where the white and coloured washing was strung between the apartments to dry in the warm sunshine. The big draw was the contrast between the bright light on the painted surfaces and the cool shadows. I was initially tempted to use paint, but in the end coloured pencils won me over, in combination with an A4 black paper background.

Venice Washing Colour Pencil

It’s been a little while since I drew in coloured pencils, and I really enjoyed this very much.

Karma Camellia

OK, so this was an experiment which was only a partial success. I had in mind to use white tissue paper on a black background, to build up layers of increasing opacity and whiteness to suggest contouring. The original concept was to depict a marble statue. However, I was at home, didn’t have a good photo of a statue to work from, and didn’t want to use someone else’s picture. Instead, I dug out a photo of a white camellia, taken a few years ago on a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where there is an amazing conservatory full of camellias. I thought that would work.

Camellia collage & pencil

I cut out the first layer of tissue, then, without sticking it to the background, proceeded to layer on further pieces. I think this process is just visible, still. But I was disappointed by the lack of transparency in the first layer, as not enough of the black was showing through for my liking, to add the darkest parts. In something of a dudgeon I slathered a bit of Pritt stick on the back, and stuck what I had to the paper. Too later, I realised that the glue had increased the transparency sufficiently, but because I hadn’t spread it smoothly it wouldn’t be good enough. I couldn’t get the tissue off again without tearing it, so I resigned myself to having to take a different approach.

I found some black tissue, cut it to shape, and stuck it in a couple of places where I wanted the deepest darks to be. This was no good though, too dark, so I tried to peel it off, and damaged the white under layer in the process. Oh dear. I was getting a bad feeling about the whole thing.

Finally I resolved to put the darks in with coloured pencil. It sort of salvaged the picture, although you can still see where the previous failures took place. By this time I’d rather lost patience, but I accept that I learned a lot. The final picture isn’t great (it looks a lot better from a distance!), but that’s life. I know I could have done better if it had been either collage or coloured pencil from the outset, rather than a dubious combination of both as a band-aid fix. Next time…

Interestingly though, this piece got me thinking about famous artists and the huge catalogue of works, scribbles and sketches which they have undoubtedly created in their lifetimes. I’m sure many of the ‘greats’ had experiments, and days where they felt rather less than joyous about the results they’d achieved – but they kept them, nonetheless. Some of these less successful attempts must have ended up in art galleries across the globe, treasured as much (or maybe more) because they were created by the hand of the master than as pictures in their own right. Knowing that established artists also have ‘off’ days and odd experiments is a great leveller. We can still learn so much from their explorations, and equally from our own trials and tribulations. How strange ‘art’ is.

Costume Drama

My last little picture done at the V&A museum last weekend was made in the Fashion gallery, my last port of call before wending my way homeward. It’s one of the busiest galleries, and displays a selection of European fashion throughout the last centuries.

When I saw a free bench in front of one of the display cases, I nabbed it. It was lovely to have a proper seat; the downside was that the lighting throughout the gallery was extremely dim to preserve the delicate fabrics.

In front of me were some 18th Century co-ordinated accessories, definitely made for a rich and discerning customer. These had evidently been treasured throughout their owner’s lifetime, and many more lifetimes before being put on display for us. The same coral-coloured floral damask fabric was used for the shoes and hat, and the corset was also co-ordinated. I didn’t have time to sketch the dress, but you can probably imagine that it was equally patterned and frou-frou.

C18th costume chinagraph

I whisked out my pastel pad, a graphite pencil, white and black chinagraphs, and a deep coral Conte pastel. It was rather frustrating working in the very dim light, as I couldn’t really tell what effects I was getting, particularly with the white, so a lot of it was guesswork. Also, I would have liked to have achieved finer lines, but the chinagraphs and pastel had other ideas. But, on the plus side, I quite like how the pastel colour on the textured paper seems to suggest damask, without adding any detailed patterning.

I’m sure the young lady who originally owned these items would have been astonished to find out how many people have appreciated them since she last wore her outfit!


Our boy is 13, that magical age when you’re so grown up – except when you want to feel tiny again. His face is in that flux between boyhood and manliness, the jaw strengthening, the brows becoming bolder. I snapped a photo of him at the weekend, building a beehive with his Dad (that’s another story) – he’s looking hard at one of the pieces they’re in the throes of assembling.

Ted chinagraph

Wanting to do a quick study today, I used my photo as a reference, and sketched in my brown paper book. I used graphite for the initial sketch, and then black and white chinagraphs for darks and highlights. Once again, I like the texture and mid-tones the brown paper has produced.  I think that this one is recognisably him – the advantage of working from a photo where the subject doesn’t wriggle!


No Brushwork

My son’s art assignment was to look at Jim Dine‘s work, and create a picture in a similar style. I can never resist poking my nose in, and when I Googled the artist I was fired up by his etchings of tools (although not so much by his other works). If you haven’t seen them, you can take a look here at one of his brushes pictures. I was intrigued by the subject matter, and also by the successfully ‘messy’ execution using drips, scribbles and blends next to very fine linework. I thought I’d like to try my own version with elements of this.

Brush charcoal

My model was an old decorator’s brush, and I started by drawing over my pencil outlines with fineliner in my brown paper sketchbook. Next I added a few details, such as the bristles, and used a charcoal stick to put in some depth, shadow and contours. I enjoyed the ribbing effect which the paper texture imparted – silly, but I hadn’t thought about that beforehand as I’ve mostly used this book for ink pictures. Finally I used a white chinagraph pencil to add highlights.

Well, it was at this point that I lost my bottle. I’d produced a perfectly nice picture of a brush – why risk it by putting in all those scribbles and blots? So I didn’t, and therefore this piece remains less of a Jim Dine, more of a Rebecca. And today I’m fine with that. Maybe tomorrow I’ll loosen up…?


Fig Reprise

I don’t know, I guess I’ve just got figs on my mind. I fancied having a go in coloured pencil today, so here it is. I prefer yesterday’s pic, but still enjoyed doing this one. The controllable nature of the coloured pencil is refreshing after the looseness of the watercolour pens.

I spent some time layering up the colours on the fig skin, which if I’m honest is where my interest mostly lay in this picture. Lots of greens, purples and blues and a bit of red too combined together. Such fun. I’d have liked to have got more glossiness into the fig skin, but when I started there was no shine to be seen. As often happens, the light had changed by the time I’d finished, and then I could easily see where the highlights should have been. Not to worry.

The weird shadows are a product of the windows in my kitchen.Figs coloured pencil I did use quite a lot of colour here too, trying to convert yesterday’s learning about shadows into a different medium.

Maybe that’s me done with figs for now…

Pot Luck

Yesterday I was thinking I really should get on and make a picture, and since I was lacking in inspiration, ended up taking what was in front of me – my old mustard pot of assorted brushes and pencils – plus a bonus feather. I didn’t manage to complete it in one sitting, so finished it off today.

I decided to use coloured pencils, for a change, and to try them out on some of the midnight blue board I have previously used for pastel portraits. The surface of the board was very nice for using the pencils, not too rough. However, I think next time I turn to these pencils, I might use white paper – the vibrancy of the colours was rather lost on this background. I must also be more disciplined about keeping my hands really clean when working on this board. There are several greasy marks,Pencil pot coloured pencil which I regret.

The hardest part of the picture was trying to show the plastic protective sleeve on the brush in the middle, and the paintbrush at the front – they could have been better done. I should have also been more careful with the way the brushes were arranged in the pot as there are too many intersecting similar lines, for instance in the three brushes on the right hand side. By the way, the bamboo things are Chinese brushes (I’ve yet to use these). The area I think went best was the large oil brush at the back – it just happened without any fuss, which was nice.

Keeping it Simple

Only time for a small coloured pencil drawing in the black sketchbook today. Sometimes it’s quite a relief to do a little study, no great strain involved, just enjoying going through familiar motions. I picked this Oxeye daisy and brought it inside to draw, safely out of the showers. I won’t do that again, as its fragrance wasn’t very pleasant…all the more reason to sketch quickly!

Oxeye daisy coloured pencilI enjoyed introducing the blues and purples into the petals to help with the depth, whilst trying not to be too fussy over the details.

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