3-Part Sunflower Zoom Class

These workshops will cover 3-steps to creating beautiful, detailed botanical watercolor paintings

Sunflower-1-8/20Coming in late August will be the first painting Zoom Workshop that I have offered.  After a trial run in June, I have discovered that a Zoom workshop is very possible.  My fear was that I could not give the personal attention I love in a Zoom format.  The trial run made it abundantly clear that it would not be difficult to interact with individuals and their art in a Zoom workshop.  With that said, the first official Zoom workshop will be a 3 part series on sunflowers.  I love sunflowers!

In this 3 part series, I will cover all three aspects of completing a finished sunflower painting in a botanical style.  In my method of teaching, I prefer a watercolor over pencil approach to capture wonderful detail, rich variations of dark and light, and the velvety appearance of flowers.  Step one is getting the basic outline drawing with arrangement on the page by making a preliminary drawing on drawing paper to facilitate the ability to try out different positions of the flower in the picture plane.  Once the preferred outline drawing is complete, the technique of tracing the drawing will be described and assisted beginning with how to use tracing paper to transfer the drawing and the other necessary tools.

Sunflower drawing-2-07/20Stage two will cover the process of creating an underdrawing.  Attention will paid to proper pencil and various shading techniques.  Its the really fun stage, at least to me!  This stage always makes me think its the place where we get to fool the viewer.  At the same time, I hate to cover up a good drawing.  I love drawing.  Yet its the good drawing that makes the wonderful painting.

Who doesn’t love laying on the color? The paint stage takes the drawing and layers color on top.  The icing on the cake where the finishing touches are made.  Its easier to get daring with the icing.  Make all kinds of beautiful things with layers of color.  We might even do some tricks with a few color games.  Just our secret!


Enrollment in the first Zoom starts next week.  Costs will be per session for three sessions.  $25 for each of three sessions, lasting two hours each or $60 if signing up for all three sessions at one time.  I’ll be posting more next week about it.  Feel free to message me with questions


Pencil Games-Paint Stage-First group

CallaLily-Musgraves Pencil under Watercolor
Watercolor over pencil made with Musgrave pencils in 2H,4H and 7H

Testing a number of pencils by creating drawings of calla lilies with different brands, gave me a good feel for the lightness/darkness factor of each brand as well as, amount of pressure needed with each.  While all were nice drawing pencils, some had different strengths pertaining to the watercolor over pencil botanical painting technique, I prefer and teach in my workshops.  I have narrowed down my choices.  The next step is to play with my favorites until I fall in love with one. Or maybe two.  I could even fall in love with three.  Time will tell!


For each painting, I used tube watercolor paint and kept it simple with only three colors, Permanent Rose, Lemon Yellow and Sap Green. Windsor & Newton paint was my choice for all three colors.  This is not to make an argument for or against Winsor & Newton, though it is my choice frequently, but along with other quality paints from other manufacturers. My goal was to keep the variables to a minimum so that the focus remained on the pencils.

The Musgrave pencils in their Unigraph series have a nice smooth flow and are the darkest of the H pencils I tested. The Unigraphs had the characteristic harder H graphite making the pencil marks no problem for the paint.  No discoloration occurred when the paint was applied. No bits of graphite came up to muddy the paint. The Musgraves pencils created a deeper drama in the shadows requiring less paint.  Artist’s taste would be the deciding factor on whether or not the deeper shadows are preferred.

CallaLily-Steadlter pencil under watercolor
9H, 6H, 4H Steadlter pencils under watercolor


Steadtler pencils were the lightest in tone, making more distinct marks that were less visible.  The shadows were softer, less dramatic creating a gentle flow with the variances in light and dark.  These pencils are very nice in an underpainting requiring the artist to apply a few more glazes of color to the areas of depth.  Virtually no pick up of graphite by the paint suggesting these pencils will create a very clean underpainting. My suggestion for artist preference would be the artist who loves the paint layering process with water color.




Prismacolor Turquoise series 9H, 7H,

The Prismacolor Turquoise Series pencils in 5H, 7H, and 9H were the happy medium between the deeper darker shadows created by the Musgrave Unigraph and the Steadlter H series with lighter more distinct marks on the paper. The artist who prefers a mix of the dramatic underpainting and the softer, lighter version will love the Prismacolor Turquoise series.  There was no noticeable pick up of the graphite by the paint.  Colors were clear and bright, not cloudy and muddy. The Turquoise series is a wonderful combination of the soft and the hard in H series pencils.  These are for generalizations of underpainting mark making.  Make the mark but don’t make it obvious.



This group provided dark, light and peanut butter and jelly.  Prismacolor is the peanut butter and jelly.   Its all a matter of preference.  Steadlter provide the light, Musgrave the dark.  Steadlter is all soft Italian bread while  Musgrave is a dark whole wheat bread.  Take your pick. Its all in the taste.  Its all in the drama.

What drama you want is your priority.  Own your choices. For me, I’m inclined toward the darker, more dramatic as the lighter ones require more effort to achieve the drama I crave.  Some days and some flowers may cry out for softness, low drama. Its great to know there are choices.  At least it seems so in my world.

Next up: more choices!




Colorful Friday–Photographic Shadowy Earth Brown

Van Dyck

“It is not the form that dictates the color, but the color that brings out the form.”  Hans Hoffman  (from Brainyquote)

The deep rich brown known as Van Dyck Brown is both a paint color and a photographic process.  The name is derived from the paintings of early seventeenth century painter Anthony Van Dyck.  Van Dyck was a prolific portrait painter whose talents were nurtured by mentors and fellow Flemish painters, Rubens and Frans Haals.  Van Dyck’s portraits are noted for the rich brown shadows present in all.  Van Dyck’s portraits were very popular and sought after by the royalty of England and France.  Van Dyck spent time in commissions for the Pope and the nobility of Italy.  Van Dyck achieved great financial success and enjoyed a lavish lifestyle but died at the age of 42.

According to Winsor-Newton, Van Dyck Brown is an earth pigment and can vary greatly between brands.  Testing of brands is advised.  Winsor Newton states Van Dyck Brown was, “Originally made from a lignite or bituminous earth containing iron oxide found in Kassel or Cologne, Germany, it was known as Cassel Earth and Cologne Earth,” and is permanent, lightfast and transparent.”  Stories differ as when the name officially changed but was sometime before the mid-nineteenth century.

A photographic process known as Van Dyck Brown Print Process was developed in 1842 by British astronomer, Sir John Herschel.  The process is named for the print color similarity to the paint color.  The ingredients for the process can be obtained for those adventurous enough to try this on their own.  A video is linked below on the process.  Van Dyck Brown prints are an ethereal haunting brown very different from the bluer prints of traditional printing.

With Van Dyck Brown beautiful, striking shadows are a breeze.  Or in photography, ghostly, mysterious effects can be created in the processing to achieve a sense of other-worldliness.  Van Dyck Brown does not appear to have the problems of Burnt Umber, so go ahead, pour it own.  However, caution is advised.  A little bit of shadowy mystery could easily become a large bit of depression.

Pencil Games-The Next Level

Calla Lilies-Musgrave“I love the quality of pencil. It helps me to get to the core of a thing.” Andrew Wyeth


Successful drawings can be taken to a whole new level with the right pencil.  Pencil preference will differ from artist to artist but certain pencils are known for their particular mark making characteristics.  Using a pencil drawing for an under-painting as I do, can be made or not on the strength of the chosen pencil.  Lately, I have been carrying on my game of finding the best pencil for style.  Here I continue with the H’s as they are, in my opinion, the best choice for not over-powering the overall painting and for creating a great partnership with the watercolor painting stage.


calla lily-derwent pencilDerwent is a long and established name in pencil making.  No question that these are fine pencils in every way.  As Derwent says, “a good drawing starts with a good graphite pencil. “ Derwent’s H pencils allowed me to produce a nice smooth drawing with marks that flowed.


Calla Lilies-Tombow2The second test pencil in the H group was TomBow Graphite Drawing Pencils.   These exceptionally fine pencils are made in Tokyo, Japan and Suwanee, Georgia., with coporate offices in Tokyo. Tombow’s H pencils required very little pressure to produce a drawing with beautiful variations in shading. The red cedar barrel facilitates smooth even sharpening.  I can see Tombow pencils taking a permanent place in my pencil box causing me to very quickly forget all other pencils!Calla Lilies-Prismacolor-Turquoise


Prismacolor is the maker of my favorite Ebony and colored pencils.  It was not surprising to find the H graphite pencils in Prismacolor’s Turquoise series to be equally exceptional.  If Prismacolor became the only maker of H series drawing pencils, I cannot see any loss of drawing pleasure or result. These are very nice high-quality pencils.


Calla Lilies-Steadlter


Up until this point, I found the three brands tried as all similar in mark making ability with some differences in features lending more to personal preference. The next brand, Staedlter, causes a bit of a veer off into a definite direction.  These were the perfect pencil for making very fine lines.  The sharp point and hardness of graphite in Staedlter pencils made it a very nice choice for putting in fine veins in leaves and petals.  It was less beneficial for shading for the same reason it is so good for veins and fine lines, its hardness in texture.  No question on keeping Staedtler in the pencil box. It is now the “go-to” for fine lines, so difficult to depict in almost any medium, for me.


Calla Lilies-MusgraveUnbeknown to me was a fabulous little pencil company only a short 2 hour distance from my home. Musgrave Pencil Company in Shelbyville, Tennessee, (capital of the Tennessee Walking Horse world), has been making pencils and pencil components since 1916.  Musgrave strives to truly American made pencils with naturally harvested American wood, shunning cheap imports.  Like many companies today, they have struggled to keep production in the USA while keeping costs reasonable.  The inspiring story was enough to make me a fan but I was delighted to find that Musgrave’s Unigraph drawing pencils were very nice tools with a wonderful texture on the paper.  The H series has slightly darker tonal value than others I tried, making for less needed hand pressure and deeper shading potential.  Even without the story, Musgrave’s Unigraph is here to stay in my pencil box. Please read the story, though, for a little uplift to your day!


In all, I couldn’t find any real negatives for any of these pencils.  I did find some unique positives in the Staedtler and Musgrave pencils.  My feeling is: try them all.  You’ll know which one is best for your style when you try it!

Pencil Games, Part 2

For these games, I am playing for the best pencil to use in a finished drawing for an under-painting of an intended botanical water color.


Calla lily-pencil-blackwing- 602

The testing of pencils is great fun!  I am learning new things by playing with the different pencils.  People occasionally tell me what pencils they prefer.  People frequently ask me what I prefer.  Up until this point, the only pencil that I have a particular preference for in a particular situation is Prismacolor’s Ebony pencil for making tracings. I happen to love the smooth, even marks and the stability of the graphite in Prismacolor’s Ebony pencil.  In my experience, other ebony pencils appear more like a charcoal pencil, but I have not put ebony pencils through the test games.  For these games, I am playing for the best pencil to use in a finished drawing for an under-painting of an intended botanical water color.


A participant in one of my workshops told me how she loved Blackwing pencils and particularly the Blackwing Palomino Pearl.  I tested both the Pearl and the 602.  The results can be seen in the photos of the single calla lily. In the 602, I found it to be a nice drawing pencil closer to some of the middle range B pencils, such as a 2B or a 4B, (see photo #1).  It was a nice pencil for drawing would make a great pencil for field sketching. As a general all-purpose drawing pencil, the 602 fits the bill.  It is soft and glides across the paper. For the purpose of an under drawing for botanical watecolor, it is too dark.  602’s as a drawing pencil are great.  I will be keeping some in my travel box of field drawing tools.


calla lily-pencil-blackwing pearl

The Blackwing Palomino Pearl is a wonderful drawing pencil in a midrange close to an HB. However the similarity stops there.  The Pearl is a joy to hold and work with.  Though its tonal value is similar to an HB, its mark making is much more smooth than most HB’s I’ve used.  The Pearl is very light to hold and requires very little pressure to create rich marks.  No hand cramps with this pencil!  I could probably fall in love with the Pearl in the same way that I have with Prismacolor’s Ebony pencil.  The Pearl will find a home in my drawing essentials box.  I do not think it will be the best for an under-painting in botanical watercolor.  I could be wrong and we will find out when the Pencil Games get to the watercolor stage. Being wrong in art, almost always leads to new breakthroughs!  Being wrong can be very right!

calla lily-derwent pencil


Derwent wraps up this group of pencil tests.  Derwent is always a crowd favorite as the quality of Derwent pencils is always topnotch.  It’s hard to go wrong with Derwent.  In this leg of the games, I did three drawings with Derwent 9H, 6H and 4H. All three pencils made a successful soft light under-painting drawing.  The only difference was in the degree of tonal value, as it should be with a high-quality drawing tool.  We will see if any flaws can be found when we get to painting tests. It appears that Derwent is the winner of this round.


Stay tuned for round two where more pencils in the H strengths will be put to the test! Will we have a final winner?  Hard to tell at this point as we only tested one brand in H’s.   Blackwing pencils make great drawing tools for other areas, but I could be wrong in their use in an under-painting. When we get to the painting stage, will we find a new break through in pencil shading?  Or will we find perfection in a pencil brand to beat all others?  We will see!