Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TIP: Colored pencil breaking? Time to start baking!

It is so frustrating to be "in the zone" working on a colored pencil painting and have the tip fall off the pencil. Then, you sharpen it only to have the tip fall off again - or worse - to remain in the sharpener clogging it. Sometimes that requires a screwdriver, a few expletives and an unwanted interruption in the work process. When colored pencils are dropped, the "lead" can break inside the pencil and no matter how many times you try sharpening them, the tip will continue to fall off. Well, I received a wonderful tip on resolving that problem from Audra Stevens, Product Information Specialist with Blick Art Materials. Here are her instructions:

What you will want to do is put your pencils on a cookie sheet - preferably lined with wax paper or a silicone pad - and put the pencils in the cold oven. Heat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and let them bake at that temperature for 2-5 minutes.Then let the oven completely cool down to room temperature before you take them out. They may still be warm so be careful when handling them. Do not put them in the microwave because they have metal lettering on them and they will spark or catch fire.

She said that she has successfully used this method with Prismacolor pencils. I tried this method with a Dick Blick colored pencil. After 3 minutes, the pencil was still breaking, so I baked it again for 5 minutes and, VOILA!, it worked. Thanks, Audra, I love having that solution!
Dick Blick is my favorite online source of art materials and I became a loyal customer of theirs when I first started using colored pencils because they offered open stock Prismacolor pencils before many other art supply stores did. I have tried a lot of different brands of colored pencils and Prismacolor has remained my go-to brand. I prefer the way they feel and their wide range of color choices. When I have a fist full of colored pencils in my hand and I am switching according to colors, I can always tell by the feel of the "lead" against the paper when I have switched to another brand. Other pencils feel "scratchier" to me and don't have the smooth lay down that I like with the Prismacolors. However, there is a new contender on the market: Dick Blick is selling their own brand of colored pencils and I've got to admit that I can't tell the difference in the feel of these pencils. I will do a separate comaparison of these to the Prismacolors in a later blog, but if you work with colored pencils, I do recommend you give them a try!
I'm moving along with my new (and, hopefully, improved) version of the green jays and the wisteria and hope to finish with it today or tomorrow.
I've also successfully gotten some photos of Easter bluebirds that I've been feeding live meal worms and an American kestrel (sparrow hawk). Expect to see them in the bird series.
All the best,

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Taking the Good from Failure

I thought that I was getting very close to finishing this picture. I was working to quickly fill in the background and wasn't sure which direction I was taking with it. I had originally considered a light blue background, but it was competing and clashing with the other blues in the picture. I switched to greens and was happier with that. Initially, I had thought the green jays would blend into a green background too much, but found that they didn't. I had added a tree trunk to the left side of the picture, made some changes to the bottom limb and started filling in the background. (You can refer to the photo from my previous post to see the differences.)
To get the background done with soft gradations and variations, I had switched from the colored pencils to Neocolors II . They are used by Ester Roi, who uses heat to melt the wax in the crayons and colored pencils and has developed a heated drawing surface especially for that purpose, and Ranjini who likes to work on sanded surfaces. They are actually watersoluble, but I wasn't using watercolor paper and like the idea of heating the wax to smooth it around. I used an electric warming tray under my artwork to heat the painting enough to get my crayons to a nice buttery texture so I could spread them around the background. I also used them, with their creamy opaqueness, to create the tree tunk and new direction of the bottom limb. For good measure, I hit a few of the blossoms with them, too. My intention was to come back with the colored pencil for a little more detail and refinement after the crayon layer had cooled.
To my dismay, when I tried to draw over the Neocolors with the colored pencils, the layer of wax simply scraped off the paper! YIKES!! That left me with paper showing and an obvious missing layer of color. It left a texture similar to that of chipped paint. Perhaps I applied the Neocolor too thick or something. I will contact Ms. Ester for some expert assistance. I'm a "burnisher" with colored pencil and put down thick, heavy coats of colored pencil. I tried rubbing a little more gently with the colored pencils, but still the wax peeled up. What to do, what to do!?!
After almost 2 weeks of daily work on this painting, I didn't want to admit defeat. I have a small supply of the Neocolors and didn't feel I had to colors needed to try to get more detail simply by using them. I got out some tubes of gouache and began painting on different areas of the painting and that seemed to help somewhat. I still wanted to come back in a few places with the colored pencils. When I tried that over the gouache, the gouache layer popped off in chunks! At that point, I decided I had reached disaster level and this painting was a bust. Perhaps I will figure a way to salvage part of it - maybe in a collage or something.
I couldn't get too excited about starting over on the same exact picture I had already put so much time into. The photos I had of the green jays I have taken from my backyard and, more recently, at a roadside park just south of Kingsville, TX. I got the photos of the wisteria at a friend's house when we were visiting last year. So, I opened several of the photos in Photoshop and started playing around. I chopped and pasted a piece of the vine here and a blossom there and finally came up with a totally new composition with one, slightly larger, green jay and the wisteria draped horizontally across the page. Here's the final reference photo I constructed:

In some ways, I like this composition better and have to hang on to that as a benefit from the failure of my previous attempt. I also learned that I will Not use colored pencil over the Neocolors (unless someone can tell me how to do so without the same effects) nor over gouache.
Back to the drawing board!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Art Interrupted by Spring

I have been busy working away at the green jays with the wisteria and have the two birds pretty much done. W may be harder is figuring out how much of the background to include. I want to keep the rest of it quite a bit lighter to avoid having it compete with the birds.
In the meantime, spring is knocking at the door. That brings some pleasant interruptions including an early morning visit to a friend's to take some photos of the birds that flock to their house. She keeps dry dog food available in big tubs outdoors and the birds love it. I got some photos of the cardinals, green jays, brown thrasher and Audubon's orioles.

My corn plant is blooming! I've had this happen with 2 other corn plants (Dracaena Massangeana), but believe it is rather rare. The flowers take a while to develop and open, but when they do, it is very fragrant. I was disappointed at first, because the flower stalks (there are 2 on this plant!) had gotten quite large with no fragrance at all. Last night,
when I walked into the room, I detected the fragrance and upon inspection saw that the tiny buds were opening and releasing the aroma. The scent is very reminiscent of the hyacinths I had blooming a couple of weeks ago.
We have had no measurable rainfall since August, so it amazes me that anything is blooming outdoors. The grass is parched dry, but the plants insist on budding out anyway. The lemon has buds on it and the pomegranates are putting out little leaves. It is encouraging to see that the seasons continue despite the hardships.
As much as I enjoy spring, there are a few things that I could do without. Last year the swallows built nests on the light fixtures on the back porch. I think the swallows are beautiful and enjoy seeing and hearing them, but the nest-building made a huge mess! The mud droppings were all over the floor and my hubby had to use a power washer to remove the mess. I decided to buy some rubber snakes to wrap around the light fixtures, thinking that would keep the birds away. Around 4:30 this morning, I let my dogs out before my walk and in the blink of an eye, Hannah had been sprayed by a skunk! I had to cancel my morning walk to give her a bath in the deskunk concoction that I learned about after 2 encounters last summer. To add insult to injury, while saturating Hannah with the deoderizer, I noticed a commotion near the ceiling of the porch. Wouldn't you know, the swallows were merrily perched on the green rubber snake wrapped around the light fixture!
And so starts my day. Hopefully, I will get back to my artwork soon enough!

All the best ~ Linda