Category Archives: coloured pencil impressionism

An Autumn Feast

“An Autumn Feast” A drawing in Neocolor II pastels and Luminance pencils. 25.5 x 28 cm. November 2020

In November 2018 I visited Florence. Because I had spent the last few days in Venice (which is rather claustrophobic) I now needed to find nature – wide grassy slopes and trees. I headed for Giardino di Boboli. There I found spectacular views of Florence and the surrounding hills. Hardly any other people were about so it was perfect. The light was constantly changing with the passage of clouds. Eventually those marching clouds brought steady rain, trapping a cold me for a time under my umbrella.

Later I wandered over to the adjacent Giardino Bardini. Wherever I was, Filippo Brunelleschi’s enormous dome dominated the view. There is no ignoring Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. It is the last word in vast architectural statements!

Later that same day a fatigued me lamented in my journal, “I simply can’t experience everything. It’s all too much – like an enormous banquet of food is laid out before me but I’m only one person so cannot possibly eat it all. I will try a little here and a little there but when I’m done, so much food will be left untouched. Such is life”.

Seeing this journal entry reminds me of my overwhelmed state of mind – anxious over so much abundance. (Note to self: one must be thankful for the spiritual food one tastes rather than fretting over what is yet to be sampled.)

The undercoat stage in Neocolor II.

Good Vibrations

“Good Vibrations” drawn with Neocolor and Luminance. 35 x 29 cm. October 2020

It is early evening on via Fiori Oscuri in the Brera district of Milan – lights, colours, action. I’m picking up good vibrations.

Neocolor 2 undercoat.

It had been a leaden grey November day and freezing cold (2 to 3 degrees). (European cities can be so unrelentingly monochrome when it is cloudy.) I shivered around the Brera district until the lights came on. Artificial light changed sad grey to a kaleidoscope of beautiful colours. I heard a sound of bells. In the distance I could see a man pushing a red trolley. He was covered in bells! I waited until he was JUST in the right position and then I got my source photo. Mission completed, I hot-footed it back to my warm apartment.

Another Time

“Another Time”    Neocolor II and Luminance coloured pencils    25 x 31 cm    September 2020

4 July 2018:  Towards midnight as we lie in our continental hotel bed, Matthew asks me, “What country are we in?”  I take a moment to make sure I give the correct answer, “France”.  It is not a silly question.  Two days before we had exited Italy.  This morning we woke in Geneva, Switzerland – the big day of visiting the Caran d’Ache factory.  Right now we are in the alpine village of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc and tomorrow we will drive to Grimsel Pass in the Swiss Bernese Alps. 

Even while I’ve been working on this drawing, I’ve been thinking most of the time that I’m drawing a Swiss alpine town.  No – Chamonix is in the French Alps – I remind myself – (well, since 1860 anyway).

What time was it?  It was dusk.  It was before Covid-19.  It was when we could still travel.  It was a day dream, a beautiful memory, another time.

Step 1  Neocolor II undercoat

step 2  working the coloured pencils into and over the Neocolor wax pastels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quiet Time

“Quiet Time” is a drawing in coloured pencils and Neocolor II wax pastels. 33.5 x 53.3 cm. April 2020.

In the Covid-19 time in which we are living, local cafés and restaurants are shut – except for takeaways.  In Fremantle (Western Australia) Matthew and I line up to buy coffees then take them to some isolated spot or other overlooking the port.

As we sit on canvas chairs facing sky and sea, we may speak our thoughts, or, just listen to water lapping, breezes and bird calls.  More often than not a seagull comes to check on whether we have some food to share.

I am describing a daily ritual during March/April 2020.  However my latest drawing is from when we visited Lido in March 2019.  What were we doing on Lido? … quietly regarding Venice from across the lagoon while being checked on by a seagull!

I’ve spent the last four weeks working on “Quiet Time“.  I could have responded to the ‘new normal’ by drawing something dark and ominous – suiting my pessimistic mood.  But I decided on an uplifting subject from which I could perhaps find comfort.  What could be more self-nurturing than sky, laguna, hazy Venice and seagull?

At first, working on this piece I felt disconnected and unable to concentrate, just as I felt disconnected (in shock) to the dystopian daily news. I forced myself on.  (How does one get one’s head around a pandemic?)  In the end, the serenity of the subject reached out to me.  The drawing and I eventually connected.

Even though the composition was sourced from 12 months ago in Northern Italy, it feels entirely relevant to a part of bubble life now, especially to that hour each day when, sitting before local waters with coffees, Matthew and I share our isolation quiet time.

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“An Italian Dream”  (from nearly the same position) was drawn in October 2019.

 

 

 

Most Serene

“Most Serene”   Neocolor 2 wax pastels and Luminance pencils. 33.5 x 48.5 cm. January 2020.

On my final morning in Venice I plan to sleep in, having risen before daybreak for the previous six days in a row.

In our dark bedroom at 5 o clock, a mosquito is sent to wake me up.  Eventually this insistent messenger’s whine is enough to toss me out of the room into a cold foggy dawn.

I cross the Accademia bridge without a particular plan.  As I wonder which way to go, a vaporetto (little steamer) materializes through the mist.  As she glides nearer she brings the scene to life – aglow, awake and at work (as am I) in a still-slumbering city.

Venice – La Serenissima – Most Serene

Postscript:  What a funny thing that something as irritating as a mosquito could lead to a serene situation.  There must be a moral to this story.  Happy endings may come out of perceived misfortune.


Notes on colour-building with Neocolor 2 and Luminance are in my previous post Perfect Partners

Neocolor 2 undercoat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Partners: Neocolor and Luminance

Recently I have been sharing a method in Facebook coloured pencil groups which has piqued the interest of some of my peers; therefore, I have decided to write a post about it.

My method is to use Neocolor 2; a water soluble wax pastel by Caran d’Ache (I use it without water) as undercoat for coloured pencil drawings.

Putting Neocolor onto the paper before coloured pencils are applied speeds up the process of the drawing – which is especially good if I am working on a large picture.  (The drawing shown here is 33.5 x 48.5 cm.)  Anyone who uses coloured pencils alone to render big areas like sky or still water knows how tedious it is.  Neocolor makes the process faster and more pleasurable.

The texture of Neocolor 2 makes a welcoming cushion-like base for coloured pencil to relax into.  The pencil glides over Neocolor so much more readily than it glides over virgin paper.

I find that complicated areas (such as Venetian palace facades) cannot help but be simplified when the initial layer is put on with Neocolor.  You can’t be too fussy with this medium because it is never super-sharp.  (I use a knife to sharpen the pastel but even at its sharpest, it is kind of blunt.)  Therefore it attunes my brain to the main shapes as opposed to fiddly tiny details.

I use very light pressure when putting Neocolor on.  It is barely there – and yet it makes SUCH a difference to the surface texture.

Work in progress 1:  undercoat of Neocolor 2 before any coloured pencil is applied.

Because I don’t like holding a crayon-length instrument, I use a Fixpencil 0012 (also by Caran d’Ache) to hold it with.  I find this longer length much more comfortable for my hand and it gives me added control.

Applying Neocolor 2 (held inside a Fixpencil 0012).

If you’ve read other posts of mine, you’ll know that Luminance is my number one pencil.  However in the photo below you’ll see I’m blending using a Derwent Blender.  This blender is hard and dry.  There’s enough wax already in the Neocolor/Luminance mix.  It doesn’t need added wax in the form of a wax-based blender, so the raspy dry Derwent blender makes the perfect tool.  Once I’ve blended, that isn’t the end of it.  I can carry on adding more colour over the top; no problem.

Enter the Derwent Blender

The final image shows where I’m up to currently with the drawing.  In my opinion, the partnership of Neocolor with coloured pencil gives a soft painterly aesthetic which, to me, is delicious.

Work in Progress – as it was on 13th January 2020.
Work in progress – as it was on 18th January 2020

Postscript:  The drawing is finished on 24th January, 2020.  It is called “Most Serene”.

Most Serene January 2020

See also Art Materials page

See also Brush and Pencil post

Here is a step-by-step exercise to show my impressionistic technique using Neocolor and Luminance. I originally created the piece “Daydream” for Ann Kullberg’s COLOR Magazine. It is featured in the November 2020 issue. You can click on the images to enlarge them.

Source photo for “Daydream” exercise
Line drawing for “Daydream” exercise.

Working from a cropped photo I took of a maiko (apprentice geisha) I trace minimal lines onto a piece of Arches Aquarelle smooth paper, 9 x 7 inches. The lines are arbitrary for when everything is blurry where exactly does one draw the line? With no sharp tonal boundaries and everything merging the graphite guide lines may only be approximate.

Once I have my graphite lines on the paper I begin the undercoat process. This can be done purely with coloured pencils but I like to begin with Caran d’Ache Neocolor wax pastels. Neocolor’s waxy texture makes a nice surface for coloured pencils to go over. Because a Neocolor stick is a fairly blunt instrument it encourages me to work in a loose manner. As I put Neocolor on I simultaneously erase the graphite lines. I work with such light pressure that if I put a colour in the wrong place I can lift most of it off with an eraser.

Once the page is filled with Neocolor I bring in the coloured pencils. At this early stage I am working them over the Neocolor gradually intensifying the values. I am using light to light-medium pressure only. I still see this as a continuation of undercoat even though I’m now using pencils. My pencil work is reasonably free and non-fussy as I begin to build tone over the page. I lay white pencil over the pale pink kimono (but nowhere else in the drawing) because I want the maiko eventually to stand out from the rest of the drawing. The application of white will give her kimono a glow. I use the pencils in a vigorous way letting all manner of expressive marks show.

From now on it is a matter of layer-building. I mostly work with small vertical strokes however I use other directional strokes too. For instance on the path you can see that my strokes are diagonal – in tune with the perspective. I also use an all-over-the-place scribble which helps the diffused look. My scribble marks are gossamer-light however; no heavy-handed scribbling. (What is scribble if not a type of mark-making?) Stroke direction can also add to a feeling of movement. I want the maiko to look like she is rushing away from me so my directional strokes help to create that effect.

To create blurriness there is a lot of colour overlapping taking place. For example I push the pink of the kimono into the grey path and push the grey of the path into the pink kimono. Throughout the drawing I am pushing and pulling colours which constantly merges the boundaries between areas and objects.

Because this kind of drawing comes together from a distance I only sit down to work on it in the early stages. I work in an expressive way with my whole self. That is, I work from one end of the room to the other. The drawing stands on an easel. I walk up to it and away from it, putting a mark here, going away to check how it looks, going back to adjust, stepping back again to see from afar. It is action work. And as I go I continually adjust and fine-tune until at some point I think I am done.

“Daydream” is complete. What were my aims? I was seeking a mood, an impression, an atmosphere, in this case perhaps a sense of walking speed as well. The source photo was my jumping off point – or you could say it was my way back to the memory of that Kyoto afternoon.

An Italian Dream – technical note

How the drawing looked as a work in progress.

In “An Italian Dream” I wanted the colours in the foreground to be the most deeply saturated parts of the picture, being closest to the viewer. So I put Neocolor II wax pastels down as undercoat for this water/boat area. The sky, hills and buildings have no Neocolor underneath. They are rendered with coloured pencils only. Having wax pastels for the pencils to work into and over makes for a finish of delicious intensity.

“An Italian Dream” December 2020

How do I manage to do fairly detailed work at the undercoat stage with Neocolor? The answer is that I sharpen my Neocolors using the Faber Castell dual pencil sharpener. The larger of the openings of the dual sharpener fits Neocolor perfectly.

Currently (January 2021) I am working on a drawing of sunrise on the Grand Canal.

Undercoat stage with Neocolor II completed. Ready to begin with Luminance.

When you see the Luminance colour go over the top of the Neocolor undercoat, you can appreciate by comparing the coloured pencil with the pastel areas how lightly I use the Neocolor. Neocolor maps in the shapes with the lightest pressure. The Luminance going over the top does 95% of the work. Despite the light pressure of the Neocolor, its presence makes a difference – enriching the work as a whole.

Luminance making its presence felt on the left of the work.

The drawing continues – Luminance over Neocolor gradually moving from left to right across the buildings. Also I adjust as I go, for instance, intensifying the glow in the sky.

In the next image I am working on the building on the right. These are not its final colours; rather, it is perhaps half-way completed.

A View from Lido

“A View from Lido” is drawn with Neocolor 1 and coloured pencils. 39.5 x 32 cm.  November 2019.

On a hazy Sunday morning in the northern spring of 2019 we sit on a park bench on Lido and look out over the lagoon.  A young seagull allows himself to be photographed and even gives me a minute  to studiously compose before flying away.  In perfect tune with the universe (compositionally-speaking) a vaporetto  appears.  In the watery distance San Giorgio Maggiore Benedictine church and campanile hover mirage-like.

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Winter Rain

“Winter Rain”
coloured pencils, 24 x 20 cm. October 2019

The word fine is synonymous with sun – as if only sunshine can feel fine.  And what words do we dream up to describe rain?  Miserable, bleak, dreary, and dull are a few that come to mind.  “What a shame, it’s raining.”

NO!  Rainy days can be even more wonderful than sun-filled days.  Notice reflections of sky and electric lights mirrored, glowing and abstracted in wet pavements.  Look at the full-blown shapes of umbrellas.  (I like umbrellas.)    Wet objects gleam.  Watery colours are luscious.

Replace gloomy with dramatic, moody, even romantic; the poetry of precipitation, the wonder of wet-look.

The “Summer Rain” duo; Verona during a July thunderstorm.

 

 

Summer Rain

“Summer Rain 1” coloured pencils, 25 x 19 cm. July 2019

Summer Rain 2, coloured pencils, 25 x 20 cm.  September 2019

All the colours run into a kaleidoscopic blur when a thunderstorm strikes Verona.  Those with umbrellas exercise their right to dawdle while those without hurry forth.  We are objects within a watercolour as forms melt and merge in a gush of summer rain.

The small pair side by side…

In November 2020 I have drawn another version of “Summer Rain 2”.  This latest version will be exhibited in my April 2021 exhibition “An Italian Dream”.  (The former two Summer Rain drawings have already found new homes.)

 

Summer Rain (Verona)

The Artist’s Way

“The Artist’s Way”    Coloured pencils    October 2018

The artist’s way is a journey where sometimes one feels certain about the path ahead only to become thoroughly lost at the next turn.

When I visited rue Quincampoix that night in October 2016 I was in familiar territory and was delighted to see it illuminated so vibrantly.  I took photos and walked in a happy daze.  Continuing home (so I thought) I turned up one street, thinking it was another, and led myself into an unfamiliar area.  Alone.  At night.  Lost in Paris.  After some hasty and intimate time spent with my map, I righted my wrong and got home.

Similarly I went into my most recent exhibition full of certainty.  But over the two weeks in the public gaze I lost my bearings.  Certainty dissolved into a state of trepidation as I experienced the full spectrum of reactions; from praise, through indifference to actual hostility.  (Only one person was truly hostile.)

To be lost, found, and lost again in an endless cycle throughout a life, questioning one’s art and one’s very existence, is the artist’s way.

In the end the thing that you feel is your undoing is also your way back to sanity – art.

Another drawing from the same photo-shoot is “Guiding Lights”, drawn in 2016.

The drawing below shows the way I drew this street back in 2012.

“Conversations at Dusk” 2012