Which make coloured pencils do I use?

Many people have asked which pencils I use and which ones I prefer.

In reality, I use the pencil from the range which has the colour nearest to what I want. None are good on their own in one flat colour as it then becomes as dead as black does by itself.

I find that Derwent pencils have a slightly chalky feel, but you just can’t do without some of the colours, particularly very pale and very dark ones. I use mostly Artist in this brand, but sometimes I will use Studio as they are a little harder and you can get a finer point than with Artist.

Faber Castell Polychromos are very good as is their range of colours. as they are neither soft nor very hard and the consistency of the colour core is even. There never seems to be any scratchy bits in them as you might find occasionally in other brands. They seem to have the best range of greens for botanical art, although you have to be a bit careful in mixing some of those which lean over to a bluey green, as they might become an unnatural green for flora. But this applies to any brand.

A slightly softer pencil than Polychromos is Caran d’Ache Pablo. They like Polychromos are oil based and not wax based like Derwent and Prismacolour. Their range of colours is very useful and the Luminance range seems to cross over with Pablo, although the range is limited. I find that Pablo pencils are creamy, you can get some detail, although I haven’t managed to get as much as with Polychromos. They too are a lovely pencil to use. One positive thing about Pablo pencils is that you can see at a glance how lightfast they are.

One make that is very useful is the Prismacolour Verithins. I had a few older ones and one of my students gave me a whole set of them. Lucky me! They are a hard thin lead, so you can do very fine detail with them. I often use them for cleaning up the edge of what I am painting (in coloured pencil). However, the greens are all bluey or too sharp in colour for botanical art. I would love to find a toned down green in that range.

The softest coloured pencils are Prismacolour and Caran d’Ache Luminance. Some of the colours in the last range are limited, but cross over with Pablo. Prismacolour have a bigger range of colours Including quite a few useful light and dark colours. I find that the very soft pencils are good as the final layer of colour, particularly if you are trying to get a nice sheen to something.

Unfortunately I only have a few Coloursoft, so it is difficult for me to compare those with the other soft Colour pencil makes, but I understand that they were produced by Derwent to try and replace Prismacolour ( Karisma as was), when they could no longer be sold in the UK. Hopefully at some point I will have more of this range so that I can make a reasonable comparison to the other makes – at least in relation to how I use colour pencils in botanical art.

We all paint differently and use our materials in different ways, but I hope this was useful. Please comment.


Tracing to art paper

I have done some art tutorials with ArtTutor.com and they are now live via my website. Look at the page on tutorials and follow the links to download the E-book showing you how to paint a Crab apple picture with coloured pencils. You can also link into one of the tutorials as a taster.

I have had some very positive feedback and essentially this blog is in response to one of these which asked how I transferred my image onto the final art paper.

An image can be transferred in so many ways depending upon how refined you need the transfer to be. The more you rub out on your art paper, the more you damage it’s surface no matter how careful you are. You can use tracing paper, a light-box, your window as a light box, or this way:

I compose a picture using various thumbnails. This leads to a general rough design which forms the basis of the final line drawing.

This is part of the line drawing of the picture I am in the process of doing now:


I trace the line drawing onto tracing paper, using a 0.3 clutch pencil.


I turn the tracing paper over and draw the line again on the reverse side, being very careful to trace accurately.


I then place the traced image right side up, on my art paper ( normally Fabriano HP) and, using a Decoupage tool, I rub across the lines. This transfers the graphite from the back side of the tracing paper to the art paper.



The image left on the paper can then easily be lightened with a putty rubber, without leaving any indentations on the paper.



I hope this helps those who wonder how best to transfer an image without damaging the art paper or leaving any indentations to get in the way.

Starting last picture again!

Well. I guess that any artist feels in a quandary when they feel a picture isn’t going as well as they want it to. But, starting a botanical art picture again, and at that, one in coloured pencil, needs some determination.

After starting the most recent Crab apple picture, nothing seemed straight forward with it. Each leaf was an effort and heavy going and I felt that its expression of lightness was compromised. Each one seemed to take forever and didn’t seem quite right. After I took breaks, going back with fresh eyes helped, but I still had the overall feeling that it wasn’t the best picture I had done to date.

Unfortunately I am a perfectionist and if what I am doing isn’t the best I can do, I’m not happy!

Anyway, I made the decision to start it again. This time the leaves seem to be developing much better and I am happy with the result so far. I just have to make sure I don’t mess it up over the rest of the picture. I have a long way to go, so anything can happen.

By the way, I have decided to say which crab apple I am doing at the moment. It is Malus Evereste. A beautiful stripy little apple. Some of them have double ‘bums’ underneath!

I decided on this one a couple of years ago as someone brought some branches to one of my workshops. I ended up doing sketches from the ones left behind after the workshop. Since then I have also found a source for a tree to paint in the village. But, as with the other five pictures in the series, I can only include the information I have already received.

Attached is the part of the painting completed before I ditched it!


Pictures for RHS 2014

Since I last updated about the RHS prep, I have gone as far as I can on the picture I was painting at the time. I won’t be saying which species of Crab apple I am painting as hopefully I will awaken your interest enough to come to the exhibition next year.

The last picture I started was painted using sketches, photographs and detailed paintings I had done during the season. It depicted the apples and leaves fairly late in the season. Some of the leaves fairly past their best – but interesting.

I managed to do some fairly detailed sketches of the flowers last year, but need to wait until we are in the new season to dissect the flowers. Once that is done I will be able to put the picture together fully.

The new picture I have started is also based on sketches, paintings and photos taken previously. However, this one took three days to work out the design, fine tune and get transferred onto the paper to paint. So far I have struggled with a few leaves and a couple of apples, but I don’t feel it is going at all smoothly. Should I have started again?

It’s funny to think that I took three days to compose and put together the outline for a composition, but with my workshops, I have to encourage people to use at least 1/2 day to do the same!

Painting green leaves

Today I have had the first of a two-day workshop on painting leaves.

I have to say that the challenge has been accepted and a page of very different leaves has been started in coloured pencil. Each of the leaves have different coloration and different textures from very smooth and shiny to hairy.

The morning was spent in designing and drawing the layout so that it could be transferred to the paper for the final work. The first leaf painted was hairy and I was incredibly proud of the result.

It is such fun seeing people develop their skills and ambitions in botanical art. Hopefully those taking part will be just as chuffed at the end of tomorrow.

Prep for RHS Botanical art exhibition 2014

Following on from my last exhibit in 2010 with the RHS, I am working up to another exhibit. The question is, will I get the required number of pictures done in time and will I be offered a place in the London exhibition?

Last time I painted a series of Magnolia x soulangeana pictures in watercolour. This time I am painting a series of Crab apple pictures in coloured pencil. Each of them will be a different crab apple.

I have done a certain amount of preparatory work. I have sketches of each of the apples and during the short flowering time last year I did sketches of each of this chosen plants in flower. I had my work cut out doing the sketches in time.

So far during the winter I have decided roughly what needs to be included in each picture and have started a couple of the series using the sketches I already have of the apples. I intend to keep people up to date with what I am doing.

I foresee the first significant problem arriving in April during the short blossom time as I have decided to do detailed drawings from dissections of each of the plant. Flowering lasts about two weeks!


Follow my blog to see how the process develops.

Exhibiting in USA

I need to keep more up to date on this blog, but now I need help.

I have been invited to have an exhibition in America in September this year. I am thinking of sending 12-20 pictures (depending on space available). I understand that I will have to declare their value for shipping, but have no idea what to do or how to do it. I also don’t know if I need to pay anything on import into the USa. Additionally, I am thinking of sending some limited edition prints and some cards. The Exhibition is likely to continue for several months.

Am I best taking the pictures out of their frames and, if so, what is the best way to exhibit them in America? Is it reasonable to get them re-framed over there, or might I just as well send them framed? I guess it’s quite expensive?

Where do I start?

Hopefully, someone will read this and give me some advice. But, I think the preparation for the exhibition is worth keeping an up to date blog for. I hope others are in agreement.