Colorful Fridays-Accidental, Grandmotherly, Dusty Purple


mauve orchid1

“Mauve is just pink trying to be purple.” James McNeil Whistler

In the nineteenth century, the color mauve became all the rage in more than one country, so much so that the 1890’s were called The Mauve Decade, in a book by Thomas Beer. The rage started with two royal ladies, Queen Victoria of England and Empress Eugenie of France. Queen Victoria wore a dress in Mauve to her daughter’s wedding setting off one rage. Empress Eugenie declared Mauve was the color of her eyes setting off another rage. But Mauve’s beginning came about in a scientific experiment gone wrong.

A young chemist named William Henry Perkin in 1856 was experimenting with chemicals working to produce artificial quinine. He was unsuccessful at the quinine but his experiments produced a residue with an unexpected tint. That tint later became known as Perkin’s Mauve and was the first synthetic dye. Perkins left his chemistry studies to initiate the development of the synthetic dye industry.   Perkins Mauve was derived from coal tar. Some sources give the origin of the name as from the French word for the mallow plant, malva. The mallow flowers are a color similar to what is now known as mauve.

Mauve rages come and go. Mauve goes into favor and out again. Sometimes mauve returns disguised as a “new” color. Pantone’s color of the year in 2014, Radiant Orchid, looks more than a bit like a dressed up version of Mauve. Another Mauve will eventually replace the current Radiant Orchid and Mauve will be recycled again. Mauve as an artist’s paint color lives mainly with botanical painters.

I can’t help thinking of Mauve as a popular color for dresses worn by my grandmother and her friends. Its difficult to get excited about a color that brings up pictures of old ladies in dusty pinkish purple dresses, white gloves and dainty hats, sipping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches. Unfair maybe, but shutting down that visual is just impossible.

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!

Colorful Fridays-Blow Out Blue


If you see a tree as blue, then make it blue.”  Paul Gauguin (from Sensational Color)

Phthalo Blue is anything but a soft, peaceful calming blue.  Phthalo Blue will knock the socks off of any mix it comes in contact with.  Phthalo Blue is not for the feeble hearted.  Generally blues are thought to be the color of quietness for soothing the soul.  Or blues can also refer to sadness or depression as in “a case of the blues.”  Whoever coined that phrase clearly had never met the Phthalos.  The Phthalos are anything but soothing or depressing.

Phthalo Blue comes either with red undertones for a bluer blue or green undertones for a strong green.  Winsor Newton first introduced a Phthalo Blue in 1938 known as Winsor Blue to replace “the capricious less reliable Prussian Blue.”  Winsor Newton says Winsor Blue has good tinting properties but cautions to take care when using.  Winsor Blue and Phthalo Blue can quickly “overpower.”  Artist David Rourke says the Phthalo’s are “beautiful, lightfast and high in chroma.”  But he doesn’t use them because “they are too bloody strong.”  Artist Stapleton Kearns finds Phthalo’s “strength a drawback,” but says it also can be used to make “great greens.”

 Sensational Color says, “not all blues are serene and sedate.  Electric or brilliant blues become dynamic and dramatic—an engaging color that expresses exhilaration.”  Phthalo Blue is the in -your -face blue.  If you must make a statement but just can’t go red, Phthalo Blue can do the trick.  Phthalo Blue will muscle its way in and take over, squeezing out all others.  Most blues drift in wafting around in a whisper sliding carefully over the furniture.  Phthalo Blue charges in knocking down everything in the path.  Sometimes you just want to make a blow-out production that won’t be soon forgotten.  That’s the time to call in the Phthalo Blue.  But look out.  He may take over.


(PS: I cannot paint a hummingbird without the Phthalos!)

Colorful Fridays–Two Carl, Keep Calm Purple


“But, luckily, he kept his wits and his purple crayon.” From Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955) (from If you want to know more about this deep rich clear purple, look to the artists. Only the artists have an appreciation for this purest purple. Dioxazine Purple is a mainstay for today’s flower and nature painting but is little known outside of artsy circles. Some users of printer’s ink may have a basic knowledge of Dioxazine Purple. But to find more about Dioxazine Purple, ask the artists who know. Liz Powley of Inspired Gumnut has most of the background scoop on Dioxazine Purple. According to Powley, Dioxazine Purple is a derivative of coal tar and was discovered by two Carls, Graebe and Glaser, in 1872. Carbazole is the extracted chemical’s name used to create this luscious, velvety purple. (Maybe they should have called it Carl-bazole??). Most makers of artist’s paint have this purple listed as Dioxazine Purple except Daniel Smith. Daniel Smith’s lists Carbazole Violet as a purple with, “intense,vibrant color,” and it “can invent an iris petal with each stroke.” Color Curriculum from the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA), features an article by Carolyn Payzant on the properties of Dioxazine Purple. Payzant describes Dioxazine Purple as, “one of the bluest shades of violet,”and says, “it mixes well with most any pigment.” Elizabeth Floyd, on her website, says Dioxazine Purple, “is a strong staining purple that can go a little crazy at times.” Floyd advises caution by starting with a small amount of paint on the brush as, “a little goes a long way.” Fans of intense purples can be grateful to the Two Carls whose experimentation led to artistic abilities of reaching the highest of purple peaks. If the intensity and vibration of rich Dioxizine Purple becomes overwhelming, offers a Dioxazine Purple mousepad with the admonishing words, “Keep Calm and Carry on.” If you find yourself overwhelmed by a wave of purple fury during an intense session of inventing iris petals, simply look down at your Dioxazine Purple mouse pad, take a deep breath, keep calm and carry on. Here’s a demonstration of Dioxazine Purple by Liquitex:

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!