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

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

Treasuring Fall Risks

autumn leaves (1)

Fall appears to be taking its sweet time this year.  The colors have been changing for about four weeks or so, as far as I can tell. I picked up the first red leaf I saw weeks ago and brought it home to press in my favorite leaf presser book, Art Through The Ages.As the weeks have progressed, more and more leaves have found their way into the pages of the book.  Fall leaves are like seashells.  You can’t pick up just one. There is always another beauty to be brought home.  I keep going until the book won’t close well anymore. Then I have to switch to pine cones, acorns and other fall treasures.  My intent with all of these treasures is to make paintings and drawings of them. Some of them, I actually get the time to make the painting!

The leaf painting above is one of my favorites but each leaf presented a different issue to be worked through.  The yellow maple leaves had green still bleeding through the veins and bits of brown in odd places.  The red maple leaves were slightly testy in achieving the right shade of red-orange.  But the Bradford pear leaves were undoubtedly the most challenging.  I prefer using a complimentary color for shading in most cases, but the pear leaves were just not getting there with green shadows on the deep, dark red. Finally, in desperation, I resorted to phthalo Blue.  Bingo!  It was the right color for shading the strong red of Bradford pear leaves. Usually, I stay away from any of the phthalos except in extreme circumstances because their strong staining color is so unforgiving.  Once it’s on, it’s on to stay!  If the phthalo ruined the pear leaves then the whole painting was gone because they were the last leaves. This felt like that extreme moment! I took a deep breath and dove in. Risks can be so fun when they work! When they don’t, not so much.  But then you can’t have the fun without the risk!

As fall fades into winter, the last of the leaves will be dropping.  I took the camera out for one last sweep of the fall colors since the art history book is now overstuffed and there’s no more shelf space for pinecones.  Soon it will be time for the winterberries and glossy holly leaves. I think I’ll take another risk or two with fall treasures before starting on winter.

Happy treasure hunting for “risky” fall paintings!

A Very Humbling Story

four chickadees

Watkins College of Art

This beautiful article was a humbling thing to read but I was also quite proud of the things it highlights.  The Art to Heart Project  was a three year project from start to finish and quite involved. It took another year to see it published.  Even though it was time consuming and arduous, I would do it again in a heartbeat, no pun intended.  Tears still spring up when I think about what a difference art made to patients and staff.  I think the effects on the staff were more meaningful to me than the results of the patient part, perhaps because I was one of them too.

Teaching is a total delight to me.  I love every minute of it and I love to see the progress people make with their art.  If it was up to me, I’d mandate all students be required to take art classes.  Something beautiful happens when art is created. Whether or not anybody thinks they have any talent, everybody can create something when given direction and the right tools.  Some will discover they had more talent than they thought and will continue on to develop that talent.  Others will go on as better creative thinkers and better creative problem solvers for having the experience of art in some form. Most people don’t know that many of our greatest inventors and scientists are frequently artists too.  Albert Einstein kept sketchbooks of his ideas. And he is by no means, the only one to do so.

Many artists take classes to stay fresh and to stimulate new directions.  These artists are so much fun to have in classes.  They stimulate me to try new things and new directions. And they keep me on my toes trying to keep up with them. Watkins College of Art has so much to offer

Chickadeepair6x6-6/18besides lots of fun classes.  I get to meet so many artists from different walks of life and different artistic styles and mediums.


As I head into new directions in my life, I turn to new directions in my art. Birds are becoming an obsession.  All summer long it was the beautiful and elegant waterbirds.  With the approach of Fall, my bird obsession has turned to feeder birds, chickadees, cardinals, titmice and lately, nuthatches.  Maybe a woodpecker or two, will turn into a painting.  Painting is the ultimate goal but following the birds around with my camera is gaining in obsessive territory. As with all artists, I’ll see where the new direction leads.

Happy art making out there!!