“Grace” in Colour

Last week I had finished the graphite part of this drawing.  You can read about the process and see some work in progress photos here.  I could have left it at that but I have been doing so many graphite pieces of late I really felt like adding a bit of colour.  I decided to break out the gouache paints as I like the opaque, flat almost ‘poster paint’ nature of them. None of that pesky, uncontrollable watercolour behaviour! I don’t feel particularly confident with any kind of painting so putting paint to paper is always a bit scary for me   There is always a high risk that I am going to stuff it up royally.  Hence it was quite a few days before I dived in but I am so glad I did.  I am really happy with the end result.

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Back to basics


Everything I do is shit…. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G


Ahhhh these are the wailings of a tantrumy (I made that word up obviously) four-year old AND of a frustrated, perhaps every so slightly insecure, forty something year old artist.  My darling husband puts up with this shit about once every six weeks or so.  He’s such a champion and always responds patiently (and somewhat robotically?) with;

No you don’t

No it’s not.  

And.. yes you can 

I know I CAN draw pretty good but sometimes things just don’t turn out the way I have them planned in my head and it can get pretty damn annoying.  The more frustrated I get the more I tend to over think and jump from one idea to the next and from one piece of work to another in the hope that somehow I will have a “break through” and something will work!  Consequently I end up with a LOT of unfinished pieces of crap!  I recently had a clear out of all these pieces out and pretty much filled an entire wheelie bin!  Anyway, all this rushing around in my head, and on paper, has meant that I haven’t really taken my time with something for ages.  So time to stop, slow down, go back to basics.

I wanted to go back to the basic graphite pencil skills I had learnt over the last decade and that I had somehow forgotten in the rush of getting stuff done/trying to create a masterpiece. Step one was finding a reference picture that I liked.  I came across this amazing image by Kyle La Mere.  (If anyone actually reads my blog they might be going hang on a minute, wasn’t she banging on about NOT using reference images last week and something about a potato?!).  Yes I was. And, yes, I am not a huge fan of using reference images directly, but when your confidence is shot to shit and all your creativity has been sucked out of you, it’s time to go right back to basics.  Using a good reference image is a great way for me to practice my skills and to get my confidence back and simply rediscover my love for drawing.  (And before anyone gets their knickers in a knot about “copying”; I am practicing, not creating something for sale and I am giving credit to the amazing photographer who took this photo, twice now!  I’d give credit to the model too but I don’t know who she is.)


I think I’ve made it clear before that I struggle with hair and for that reason I purposely chose a model without much hair.  I honestly did not realise until I started that she didn’t have eyebrows though!  I often think my eyebrows (not my ACTUAL eyebrows but the eyebrows I draw) look at bit ‘stuck on’ and not part of the face.  I wasn’t purposely avoiding eyebrows in this instance it just worked out that way.

For this drawing I used the back side of some Daler Rowney Smooth Heavyweight (220gm) paper that I had.  I figure maybe I brought it overseas, or a million years ago, as it has a price tag of $29.80 which seems VERY reasonable!  It doesn’t say how many sheets of paper it is, but there are 16 left which make it even more reasonable!  I’ve run out of Arches and when I want to my local art store and couldn’t find any the owner informed me that a new company owns it and they have put the price up $15 and reduced the number of sheets in a pad!  CORPORATE BASTARDS!!!!!  Plus she only had 300gsm.  I brought one pad at $83 which my husband reliably pointed out is $6-$7 a sheet, so “I better not stuff it up”.  Thanks.  Perhaps I should go dumpster diving in to that wheelie bin full of drawing fails and see what paper I can salvage


I actually quite like this Daler Rowney paper.  It definitely has more of a distinctive texture than the Arches paper. It give a bit of texture to the skin that I like, particularly around the eyes and eyelids.  It naturally gives that crepe-y look that skin has (or at least older skin).  The down side is that the texture is fairly uniform and distinctly horizontal which can look a bit unnatural.  In some areas where the skin is quite firm and taut across the bone like the cheeks or the forehead, it is more difficult to achieve the necessary smooth look with this paper.

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I agonised over how to draw her hair (I told you I was an over-thinker).   My philosophy is always to draw what you SEE rather than what you THINK you see or what you think you know.  Our brains are pretty adept at translating what our eyes see so that we understand it better.  When we see an eyeball we know it to be a sphere so we draw a circle.  But if you really look at it, the top part of they eye is concealed by the eyelid, so really, what you are often seeing, is the bottom three-quarter of a circle.  My point being draw what you see in front of you (three-quarters of a circle) not what you know it to be (a complete circle).  Anyway once again I digress and once again .. am going to contradict myself.

With the hair I did the opposite.  My brain could just not compute what my eyes were seeing.  So I kind of ignored what I saw and thought it’s shaven hair and shaven hair is just short little strokes.  So that’s what I did… lots of short little strokes bit different grades of graphite.  Again the Daler Rowney paper was actually good for this as it added to that sense of texture and roughness.


I didn’t want to have just a head floating in space so I added the neck using a combination of Tombow Mono 4B and 6B graphite and 6B Staedtler Mars Lumograph black pencils  I have probably mentioned these Lumograph blacks before but they are my charcoal “substitute”. I just can’t deal with charcoal!  It’s messy, impossible to sharpen, and ahhhgg sends a control freak like me in to a tail spin.   Lumographs contain a higher proportion of carbon in the lead than graphite pencils. The carbon creates a matt black finish.  I tend to only use the 6B and the 8B versions as the 2B and 4B aren’t particularly dark.  They are also smudge-able (again not a real word I know) as you can see around the collar of her top.  In truth they are probably not as matt black or as smudge-able as charcoal but for me they are a perfect alternative.

So I am pretty happy with the end result. I feel like I am back in the groove. Maybe I should just stick to what I know and stop mucking around with those colour pencils!!


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Mr Potato Head

Remember as a kid how you could draw anything you wanted completely from imagination?  I was particularly fond of drawing five eyed green martins and weird dragon like creatures.  I didn’t need reference images.  It all came from imagination and probably looked nothing like a “real” martian or a “real” dragon but at seven years old I couldn’t have cared less.  As I got older my attention turned to fashionable ladies in exotic gowns and horses… lots of horses.  Again I didn’t need ‘inspiration’ or reference images to work from.  I just let my imagination do all the work.

Somewhere along the way I lost that ability to ‘imagine’ things.  These days I am fairly dependent upon having some kind of reference image or scene in front of me.  Maybe it’s because I’m less creative as an adult or maybe I just want my portraits to look like real people not aliens.

Or maybe this need for reference material is just be an elaborate rouse for me to justify spending hours browsing the internet.  Pinterest is of course my main source of inspiration and reference photos.  I must have thousands of images stored in there!  A few other places I like to go are:

  • www.vogue.com – best place for runway images, especially detailed shots.
  • www.theimpression.com – features the best backstage runway photographs.  (I think now they are starting to charge a membership fee to access some stuff)
  • www.models.com – I kind of stalk the new faces section for pictures of beautiful boys and girls (I’m very creepy I know).
  • www.zara.com – the Zara app has recently become one of my favourite places to search for interesting faces and fashion poses.  Their photos are generally on a white background and they use different angles and cropping.  While all their models are of course ‘beautiful’ they do have a range of faces it’s not always a sour- faced-pouty-lipped-blonde-Caucasian-20-year-olds (yawn).


I am not entirely comfortable with directly “copying” an image.  Sometimes I do this if I want to practice a particular skill or technique and don’t want the bother of coming up with my own image.  More often I try to create my own compositions by pulling different elements from different images and my own photographs together.  For example, for a face, I might take a nose from one image, eyes from another and a mouth from another for example.  I might change things or add things like longer eyelashes, freckles, makeup, jewellery or clothing, or maybe add extra ’embellishments’ like flowers, bugs, etc.  I put them together roughly in Photoshop and voila I have a “new” face.  I liken it to playing an advanced game of Mr Potato Head.

But just like in Mr Potato head I’ve managed to create some weird, messed up, looking faces!


This odd-looking creature was a mash-up of one girl’s eyes, another’s nose, someone elses hair, someone’s ears and yet another’s mouth, all on a beautiful pearl collared jumper that I originally spied on Zara.

When I sketched it out I thought it looked fine. I thought I had everything nicely placed.  Foolishly I started with the collar as that was the part I was most excited to draw.  It took absolutely forever but turned out great!

Then I did the rest of her features. I can’t remember at what point I realised there was something weird about her face.  And yes I certainly believe the most beautiful faces are those that have something off kilter about them.  Like eyes to big or lips too large. This lady is, however, a bit too far off kilter.  There is something eerie about her that I like but then something a bit wrong too.

Her nose is too big and off centre.  Her ears are too big.  Her eyes maybe too big and her mouth too small?  Her forehead is too narrow and short.  Actually I think the right eye is smaller than the left?  Is the light source coming from the left or straight on?  Ahhhgg

Turban girl is also a “Mr Potato head” with different bits and pieces collected from different reference images.  This one worked a lot better and she looks much more natural.


The Side Hustle – Hustle

“The Side Hustle – Hustle” sounds like some kind of dance that Tina Turner would have been doing back in the seventies.  What I am actually referring to is how my side-hustle (aka being a “fashion illustrator”) has developed it’s own (more successful 😔) side-hustle; custom pet portraits.

I am not exactly sure how this came to be.  I think it started with a request to do a portrait commission for my friend, Kirsten, which then led me to make a listing for custom portraits on Etsy; which then led to a listing for custom pet portraits.

Seems that people much prefer portraits of their pets than they do of their family members or (human) friends!

Anyway here are the latest of my furry friends: Kimba and Lola.

(If you would like your very own custom pet portrait please check out my store on Etsy A3- $60 and A4 -$45)

Graphite pencil illustration Graphite pencil illustration