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!

Colorful Fridays–Redless Monkey Yellow

crystal bowl pansy mix


“Happiness is Gamboge, ennui is grey…” Jonathan Meades


The most beautiful warm glowing yellows in paintings are often the result of the liberal use of the orangey yellow Gamboge.  So warm and glowing is this color that it is said to be used to dye the robes of certain Buddist monks giving the robes a rich saffron color. Gamboge is the color of the ripe wheat fields in Flemish artist, Pieter Bruegel, The Elder”s 16thCentury painting of peasants at the harvest.  Gamboge is the sun on a bright afternoon in late September.


Gamboge was originally derived from the resin of the Garcinia tree growing in Cambodia, Thailand and other Asian countries of the region.  The resin is collected in bamboo shoots until dried when the bamboo is then cut away. The resin of the Garcinia tree is considered a controlled poison in some countries due to the cathartic (according to Britannica,”drastic catharic”) properties of the fruit. However it is frequently found in small amounts in some herbal products used for weight loss and other physical issues.  It is relatively harmless in small amounts.


Modern Gamboge paint is no longer made with the resin of the Garcinia tree.  Original Gamboge has a very poor lightfastness. Daniel Smith’s New Gamboge claims an excellent light fastness, “more staining than Yellow Ochre and equal in tinting ability to Raw Sienna.”  New Gamboge lacks the fugitive properties of the original. Beautiful, glowing warm yellows can be “poured” over any paintings with no worries of fading.


RadioLab has a podcast titled “The Perfect Yellow” that tells the story of the origins of Gamboge along with some other interesting tales of the use of this versatile yellow. RadioLabs website discusses the use of Gamboge and other colors in experiments for teaching monkeys to recognize red.  One wonders why on earth we would want to teach monkeys to see red? It’s bad enough when people see red.  Just image being overrun by rampaging monkeys seeing red!  And what if the monkeys start eating the Gamboge resin?  What a mess we will be in then!  Perhaps it is better to keep the Gamboge for paintings and leave the monkeys to their red-less vision.


Gamboge is the yellow of warmth and happiness in many paintings.  Its addition will add a beautiful golden glowing tint to many colors. Today’s Gamboge is free from the potentially harmful side effects of the past.  Though today’s mixes lack the poisonous resin of the Garcinia tree, you probably wouldn’t want to eat it and please keep it away from all monkeys. Otherwise you will be able to experience the “happiness of Gamboge” in any painting.


Some quotes from others about Gamboge:


Mcspiky says, “I would describe this colour as a form of mustard with little bit more zest and and vibrancy to it (trying not to be pretentious here).”


Ferrebeekeeper says, “Here is a gorgeous warm color for Thanksgiving week.”


For more on Pieter Bruegel, The Elder:


Gamboge can be hard to find in stores.

Link for Daniel Smith: New Gamboge

It is also carried by Dick Blick Art Supply company.  Find it here: Dick Blick







Pencil Games

Derwent Graphic drawing pencils

My pencil is like a fencer’s foil.

Andrew Wyeth

Delicate under drawings for watercolor botanical painting are vital to the success of the finished artwork in a specific technique. Using the best pencil is an essential part of that success.  In the my work, pencil drawings have become more and more a central part of the overall botanical painting.  The quest for the best pencil has become imperative.  Let the games begin!



In the first leg of the games, a number of pencils from leading manufacturers of drawing materials have been acquired. Using these pencils individually on the same subject will provide a decent comparison.  After all pencils have been used in drawings of the same flower, (in this case a calla lily), watercolor will be added to determine the effects each pencil has on the final outcome of the painting.


There may or may not be a winner!  Some pencils may prove to be better at some aspects of creating a botanical painting. Pencil boxes will likely still be needed but the size may be reduced.  Cash outlay for art materials could be reduced too!! We will see!! On your mark, get ready, GO!

Blackwing 602 drawing pencil

Colorful Fridays–Wallet Friendly, Fire Engine Red.



The very-expensive, highly-toxic Vermilion red was replaced by the lesser expensive and less toxic Cadmium reds in artist’s palettes in the nineteenth century.   Less toxic and less expensive was less than perfect so the search for the perfect red continued.   Eventually, chemists came up with a fairly good substitution for Vermilion and Cadmium.  Naphthol Red was born in a chemistry lab as a derivative of coal tar.

Just Paint on the Golden Paints website describes Naphthol Red as, “bright, opaque, fire engine red.”  Gamblin’s website says Naphthol Red is a, “modern organic, warm red that closely matches Cadmium Red Medium,” though Naphthol Red “makes more intense tints” and is “more transparent.”  Gamblin also reports Naphthol Red is “excellent for high key painting.”  AArbor Colorants recommends Naphthol Red for printing inks and gives it an excellent light fastness rating.  Some sources report Naphthol Red as fading in tints. Confirmation of this claim was not confirmable so tests may be in order.

Naphthol Red does not have the toxic properties of Vermilion and the Cadmiums and is considerably less expensive.  The Material Safety Data Sheets give Naphthol Red a very low toxicity rating.  The MSDS says Naphthol Red may cause some mild skin irritation, nausea if consumed, or some respiratory irritation if inhaled. Contact in large amounts could be more toxic.

If in need of a bright intense fire engine red, Naphthol Red may fit the bill, especially if you don’t want to shell out a lot of money.  Just don’t have the Naphthol Red for dinner or add it to body lotion. It’s probably not a good idea to set any dried pigment around a fan either.  Otherwise, Naphthol red can be a palette staple as a strong red without fear of damage to health or wallet.

My preferred red for botanical painting is Naphthol Red or its sister: Windsor Red. Thinning is required to achieve the transparency of botanical painting.  No other red comes close to the intensity of Naphthol Red or Windsor Red so use with extra water and enjoy the intensity!

Happy painting!

Flowers of the Zoom

Mary's Rose
Yellow Rose by Mary Phillip

Mary Phillip, (Notions Journey), Misty Swann, Sandy McNeal, and Emily Hudgins Gibson graciously agreed to assist with my learning curve on Zoom.  This is their beautiful work. Full disclosure: they have all taken either workshops from me or other assistance with their work. However, they are each accomplished artists and I love working with them.  An online format for teaching art is a whole different animal.  These artists adapted easily.  I was amazed!

Sandy's Lily
The start on Sandy’s watercolor Lily.

Sandy McNeal is the newest member of the group.  Her usual medium is oil.  Watercolor is a new venture for her and botanical watercolor, especially. The style was unfamiliar to Sandy so hers was not as finished as the others in the 2-hour time frame but a really beautiful and delicate start.  Sandy has a natural feel for what the paint can do.  The specific paint colors for botanical painting were new to her too.  The zoom format was a challenge for me in demonstrating color use.  Sandy had no trouble picking it up!

Misty's Yellow Rose
Misty’s Yellow Rose

White flowers are Misty’s specialty.  This yellow rose was not an issue for her at all.  She was able to almost completely finish this painting in our two hour zoom.  I particularly love the center with the stamens reaching out. Her depth in the flower with the subtle use of the yellow paint is amazing. A very delicate and sweet painting. Yellow is a color easily put on too thickly.  Misty was able to control the layers of yellow to keep the rose light and airy.  During the Zoom time, I was able to follow her progress easily by her use of her phone to capture the painting as it developed.

The last artist, Emily Gibson is still working on her Lily, progress held up by a personal issue but hopefully we will soon be able to post it too!

Thanks, to these four artists, I have been able to gain a feel for the use of Zoom as an art instruction format.  The plan is to soon set up more Zoom workshops.  Sign ups will come through this site.

See ya soon and happy painting!