Category Archives: Illuminations

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.










“Ascension”        Wax pastels and coloured pencils, 36.5 x 36.5 cm. February 2020

Yes, all the complaints are true; tourists, floods, cruise ships, corruption, commercialization – not to mention that Venice is actually sinking.  It is mortal, as is everything physical.

But look past all that, to the utter beauty, and the spirit.  Her soul soars – as does mine when I am there – embraced by her environment.

Close to Heaven.

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







Undercover White

Wafting” 36 x 28.5 cm. September 2019

During the previous fortnight while I worked on a commission of a Japanese lantern, I reminded myself of the principle of undercover white.  What do I mean by this?  The same colour (let’s say red) when mixed with white, results in a different pink/light-red depending on whether white is put down underneath the red, or over it.  The following diagram illustrates this…

The first swatch in the diagram is Caran d’Ache Permanent Red 061.  In the middle swatch I have put down a layer of Holbein Soft White 501 and THEN layered Permanent Red 061 over the top.  Notice how soft and glowing the result is – perfect for creating luminosity – as in lanterns.  The final swatch is the result of Permanent Red 061 underneath with Soft White on top.  This is the SAME red with white, but mixed in reverse order.  TOTALLY DIFFERENT!

In the above drawing “Wafting”  the entire area of the lantern has Soft White underneath.  White acts like a secret agent; Undercover White.  This method creates glow.

Four years ago I wrote a post about this use of white (which I taught myself) however after doing the current drawing, it seems like a good idea to repeat the lesson.  It is useful knowledge to have up your sleeve.

The delicate-red parasol in “Being There” also employed this technique.   –  the link to the first post on this subject in 2015.

“Good thinking, 99”.

In case it is still confusing here is another colour chart: –

The first column shows three primary colours; red, yellow and blue. In the second column I have put down a layer of white pencil directly onto the paper and then put colour on top. Compare this to the third column where red, yellow and blue went onto the paper FIRST with a layer of white over the top. Can you see in each case that the colour produced in column 2 is more luminous and bright than the colour in column 3?

Conclusion: The result of putting white underneath a colour is NOT the same as the result of putting white over the top of a colour.

Undercover white is not only a useful method for rendering neon, lanterns, and lamps. It can be used in a universe of subject matter – anything that requires a bit of zing.

Two small drawings in stages to illustrate my theory of undercover white.

“Art” a drawing shown in six stages. 6 x 9 inches.

I made two drawings, photographing them in stages, to show my undercover white process. The first work is on Arches Aquarelle hot-pressed (smooth) paper using Caran d’Ache Neocolor wax pastels and Luminance 6901 coloured pencils. The exercise was for the Colored Pencil Society of America publication “To the Point” magazine, November 2020. Click on the images to enlarge them for better viewing.

I took the source photo for the drawing “Art” in Paris. I had stood transfixed looking at a blue neon sign in an art gallery window which read, “The Liberation of Art”. At the time I had wondered to myself, “But what IS the liberation of art?”

Figure 1

Figure 1: What you see here is mostly paper without pigment on. The letters ‘art’ and any other patches of colour you can see already have white pencil underneath them. These are the areas that will be glowing in the finished piece. (At this stage all areas of colour you can see are made with Luminance pencil, not Neocolor.)

Figure 2

Figure 2: I lightly under-painted with Neocolor all the areas except for the lettering and the other small areas of colour already seen on Figure 1. Then I put the Neocolor away and only used pencils from this point onwards. After the underpainting I set the darkest tone with heavy-pressured Luminance.

Figure 3

Figure 3: With the darkest area in place, I began building up and intensifying other colours, not touching the letters ‘art’ for the time being.

Figure 4

Figure 4: There was a dance between blue and purple going on in this drawing. But what was blue and what was purple? Where did one begin and the other end? Blue and purple are so close to one another that whenever I adjusted one colour, I needed to adjust its neighbour. There was constant readjusting happening just as if I was putting ingredients into a recipe; a bit more of this, less of that, more, less, more – ad infinitum – trying to achieve exactly the flavour required.

Figure 5

Figure 5: At this point I built up the blues on the three letters. This was a matter of careful gradation; pale to deep blue on top of undercover white, trying to be even-handed at all times. I called the painting finished at this stage. But it wasn’t. It looked very much like the source photo I was working from, but it wasn’t glowing like it was supposed to. I wanted the painting to be a statement – “ART!” But it was more of a sigh – “ho hum…art”. So I put the source photo away in a drawer and rolled up my sleeves. It was time to leave the source behind – and see what I could do by myself.

Figure 6 – the finished piece

Figure 6 – the finished piece: I figured out the problem by turning the composition upside down. Sometimes I turn a work on its head or sideways in order to see it with a fresh eye or (another method) look at it reversed in a mirror. When I saw it upside down I realised that one half was working while the other half wasn’t. Why? The top half had the intensity I wanted – that strong contrast between pale blue neon letters and bottomless blue/blackness behind. The panel of colour on the lower half was wishy-washy, neither here nor there. It needed to be as intense as the saturated black of the upper half.

I made minimal adjustments to the word ‘art’ when I was fine-tuning the drawing, mostly adding more blue to the outer edges of the letters. The bulk of the changes were made outside of those letters. Once I altered the lower panel by deepening and enriching its colours, the neon lettering came into its own.

Problem solving can be like that, where the thing you thought was wrong actually isn’t wrong – but some other part is. Fix that other area and the initial thing which was worrying you suddenly and mysteriously works. That reminds me, another problem-solving technique is to cover a section of your work. Is the part you can still see problematic or is it not? Then move the cover around so that you are isolating different sections for critiquing.

“Super Dry”

The second drawing was composed from a detail of a photo I took in downtown Osaka. The composition shows part of a neon advertisement for Asahi Beer with some traffic signage on the left.

Figure 1

Figure 1: The first image of “Super Dry” shows the underpainting completed. I did the underpainting with Neocolor wax pastels except for the letters which were layered in white coloured pencil only. There is white Neocolor underneath the yellow area. I put yellow over the white Neocolor before taking the photo so that the word ‘dry’ (while still only in white pencil) could be distinguished from its surrounds.

Figure 2

Figure 2: The only difference between Figure 1 and Figure 2 is that in this one a layer of red pencil was gently worked over the white area of the letters. After the underpainting was completed in Figure 1 I finished with the Neocolor and from here on all else was (and will be) worked in Luminance.

Figure 3

Figure 3: More layering has taken place, especially in the dark area above the word ‘super’. Because I wanted the neon red to ‘pop’ I worked red’s complement – green – into the coloured panels surrounding the letters. From the top to the bottom of the artwork everything around those red letters contains green except the left-hand street signs.

Figure 4

Figure 4: At this middle stage of the work I was continuing the colour intensification process by methodically adding more layers of colour. I mixed the complementary colours red and green to produce the dark tertiary colour which surrounds the word ‘super’. Mixing any two complementary colours together (red/green; orange/blue; yellow/purple) make richer tertiary colours than, say, using one tertiary (for example grey) coloured pencil.

Figure 5

Figure 5: I worked on the traffic signs on the composition’s left side. Not influenced by electricity, these plain street signs didn’t need to glow. Their muted tones don’t compete with the bright red and yellow of the neon but drive your eye towards it. In fact there is an arrow directing your eye away from the left edge.

Figure 6: “Super Dry”

Figure 6: “Super Dry” is complete. Undercover white pencil was used on the lettering. Undercover white Neocolor was used on the bright yellow area. Although it is not obvious, there was liberal use of green all through the work to bring out the luminous red letter as much as possible.

Deep in Castello

“Deep in Castello”
Coloured pencils, 31 x 26 cm. Drawn in August 2019.

As I walk through the narrow maze, I notice a lone figure up ahead.  She is momentarily framed by lamp light before she turns right and vanishes into an archway.

In the dim drizzle there is a feeling of being submerged here, as if the sea had already swallowed Venice whole.

Deep in wintry Castello how do I draw the mental line between inspiration and unease, intimate space and claustrophobia?







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)

Sunrise Reflected

“Sunrise Reflected”    Coloured pencils,   35 x 35 cm.   June 2019

As I walked home with Matthew late on Saturday night I said to him that I would definitely NOT get up at the crack of dawn on Sunday (as I had been doing every day so far in Venice) but I would sleep in.  I didn’t want to burn the candle at both ends; I mean, I’m no spring chicken!

“Silent Night” – a drawing from Saturday night when we stayed out late.

However, despite sensible intentions to rest, I flung myself out of bed and out of the apartment before sunrise.  I dashed across the ponte dell’ Accademia and straight onto a southbound vaporetto (water bus).  Just as the boat glided away from the stop and into the Grand Canal the sun was rising.  There before my eyes were the palazzos (and the vaporetto stop) madly reflecting back the sunlight.  It was a dawn chorus of light, a visual symphony on that Sunday morning.

After I took a whirlwind of photos an inspector came to check that I had a valid ticket.  I did.  We exchanged big smiles.  And all was brilliant with the world.


Silent Night

“Silent Night”
coloured pencils, 32.5 x 29 cm. May 2019

Late on Saturday night there are people partying in Venice.  We walk past a hot-spot where there is a silent disco on the campo.  (Silent? Yes, the dancers are all wearing headphones – a surreal sight.)

We continue on our journey, navigating ourselves deep into the peace of Dorsoduro.

No cars, not even the hum of far-away traffic.  It is a profound silence, broken only by the soft thuds of shoes on stone and perhaps a voice carried on the breeze.

And shortly after this, we find ourselves lost once again.  But we don’t mind.

“Silent Night” has won an “$800 Award for Outstanding Achievement” in the Colored Pencil Society of America 28th International Exhibition, July 2020.


A friend from America has told me exactly where I was.  The restaurant with outdoor tables is Osteria Enoteca ai Artisti located on Fondamenta della Toletta.  The bridge in the foreground is Ponte della Toletta, and this is looking north toward Rio del Malpaga and Ponte del Malpaga.  (Thank you Sara for your email telling me all this.)



The Remains of the Day

“The Remains of the Day”
Coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle smooth. 36.5 x 30.8 cm. February 2019.

Venice: November 2018.  It is nearly 4 pm and the sun is already inclining westwards.  I am going west as well, back towards my apartment, plodding along happily worn out.  But then…a light bulb moment…

‘I know – what if I point my lens into the sun?’  It is poised above Punta della Dogana and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, shining directly into my eyes.  (I raise the camera, quickly compose and then close my eyes as I click, click, click.)  Voilà!

The air is all haze and halo, evaporating some objects while solidifying others (including people) into dark abstractions.  Sea mirrors sky; blazing here, sparkling there.  A seagull has swooped into my view.  Perfect.

There are probably only 90 minutes of daylight left.  I will be back sitting on my bed by 5 pm scrolling through photographic images.  ‘Here’s a good one.’

The two drawings from this day are bookends – starting with “Early One Morning” (07:50)  and finishing with “The Remains of the Day” (15:50).  Matthew (husband) came up with the titles – the first being a Celtic folk song and the second, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Early One Morning

“The Remains of the Day”