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Muscovy moment

A couple of weeks ago I visited a new friend. Creuse can get lonely, its very rural, and much of the French cafe scene is non-existent here. But there are a lot of talented artists and caftspeople around and although we won’t change the world, alot of us are connecting, promoting and even setting up galleries and workshops.

My friend started a painting group. Early days, with this heat we have only managed to meet a few times, but I braved the 38°c and drove through the lanes to her beautiful home to have a sketching afternoon. Much to my delight, and as you know I am mad about poultry, she announced she had two muscovy ducks. Without a second to loose I was sitting on the grass, notebook in hand and sketching, while the two ducks head bobbed and nibbled the grass and did their lovely heavy breathing, hissing sound. Muscovy ducks do not quack, but it’s a cute little sound with no malice.

After adding some brights from my other pencils.

I also had a new set of pastel shaded pencils and wanted to test these on tinted paper. I like trying new techniques and was happy with the way it forced me to be imaginative with colour. Thee muscovy ducks were pure white but when you illustrate you can be experimental. I find pinks, lemons and jade’s good colours to work with representing white.

Original pastel shaded.

On returning home after a productive afternoon and good company, I reviewed my work and decided that actually I liked these guys enough to name them…Sandal and Slipper. Once named the scope of using them for my ideas meant they needed a little ‘pop’ of colour. The Holly Grail of pencils, Caran d’ache, had arrived in the post that week, but I didn’t open them straight away. Yes they were expensive and I bought a large tin too and wanted to savour the delight of that moment when the rainbow of colours emerge, lifting the trays out to reveal more and more shades and these are water-soluble also.

I had a tin in childhood, a gift from a friends father who worked in Geneva. I loved them, but in forty years, pencils have progressed technologically in leaps and bounds and now seen as an equal in medium to oils, watercolours etc. I have a lot of pencils now, a slight obsession creeping in, with different pigment mixes, some with more oil or wax, charcoal ones, soft, hard and in a range of shades too…pastel shades, metallics, heavy pigmentation brights and water-soluble.

The price range is wide too. The Swiss (CD) pencils come in at approx £234.00 for 120, which given their pigment level and ability to layer colour so well, is worth the investment. Castle Arts, an up and coming brand that’s really embraced pencils and development a huge colour range that is certainly better than CD, will set you back £85.00, plus for £45.00 you can buy sets in specific colour ranges, like pastels, which is good, if like me, your heavy on those. Having thirty dark shades isn’t much help for me and that’s where Castle Arts is winning the market. The only issue is the cheaper pencils are made in China under licence to European developers.


I also have German Pencils from Brutfuner, and recently they produced a pack of 520, a no brainer for me. These cost £85.00. These pencils are quite hard, do not break and are great for laying down colour, leaving the Swiss pencils for overlay and defining the illustration with stronger colour. This way my illustration cost is better and that will work into my future pricing. I am also not a purest when it comes to materials, but I would like to see more European made and a price that falls someway in the middle of the two extremes.

Worm friend.

If your ever struggling with paint, white sheet fear, try pencils. The colours are mixed already, no fear of getting muddy, and you can take your time building up your shades, details without worrying about drying times, splodges or runs. It was a light-bulb moment for me. The mix of chalky, oily, waxy, gives endless scope for techniques to build texture, create depth, distance, and for me the best part, colour experimentation. For years paint became muddy, overworked. Colour, clean colour was unobtainable, so much so I dropped painting altogether as a teenager. Two years ago I tried again. I pushed to keep my colours clean but wasn’t feeling it. Tentively I tried pencils….I was hooked.

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