An Old Exercise from Starting Out with Watercolour and Coloured Pencil

My friend Rose reminded me of some old artwork I did which I’ve never posted about.

These drawings are from 2006. After I lost my job in 2005, I took some money I received from a pay equity settlement at work and bought subscriptions to several art magazines. That’s when I seriously started buying art and jewellery supplies too. As I put it: “Those b——s can pay for my supplies.” You have to turn it around when bad things happen.

One of the subscriptions I bought was for a publication called Artist’s Sketchbook by F &W Publications, the people who publish The Artist’s Magazine. It ceased publication about a year after I started receiving it and they rolled my remaining subscription into Watercolor Magic. Today it would probably be more successful with the burgeoning of artist’s sketchbooks and urban sketching and such.


The February 2006 issue had a great article called It’s in the Cards by Margaret Peot which described her creation of a personal deck of 52 cards, one for each week of the year. She did what sounded like a complicated gouache resist and washed the cards after. I just wanted to finally do something in Prismacolor coloured pencils and the Staedtler Karat Aquarelle watercolour pencils I had purchased.


I bought large sheets of her recommended paper of Rives BFK which is a printmaking paper but it has enough tooth to take a few layers of coloured pencil and watercolour. I cut mine 4 x 6 inches. The paper is moulded 100% cotton and acid free, but it probably was not the best choice given the layers I was using. I also ended up using some of the paper, glued back-to-back, for handmade Coptic-stitched books. It was great for that.

I decided to make up a special box with acid free tissue paper inside to store my stack of cards. I used a shoebox and covered the outside with the wallpaper I had left over from a dollhouse, and covered the inside with fabric scraps from a quilt I had made. The top was collaged with fruit, a fruit crate label, and a bird from three of my Dover clip art collections. I varnished the top after to protect the inkjet ink and keep it from fading. This is so yummy looking.


My first card was a depiction of homemade turkey soup and homemade soda bread that my husband had made. In celebration of reading the short story collection Dubliners by James Joyce on a reading group, I thought this would make a good picture, so I took a photograph of it before we ate it. Originally I had thought to do ivy in the background because of a story regarding Charles Stewart Parnell in the book but it wasn’t working out, so I lifted it all with masking tape and started again with shamrocks. That’s how I learned all about lifting coloured pencil if you make a mistake, with thanks to Bet Borgeson’s excellent books on coloured pencil.

The second picture was of an iguana sitting on an antique mother-of pearl button. Both were photographs I referenced from the Internet. I got one of the caudal spines of the iguana off-centre. In order to fix it I’d have to cover the ink with gesso and then try to match green colours. Not sure I could do that so many years later so I’ve left it. Live and learn. The background of that is done with stencilled leaves in reverse, the leaves have nothing to do with an iguana’s habitat and everything to do with my garden. Such is creativity.

The third one was the one I barely finished. My big idea was to draw a bullfrog with the skull of an African bullfrog behind it. Then I thought tadpoles were a good idea and some kind of green-leaved plant and a columbine flower or something—I can’t remember what they were or what they were supposed to symbolize with the bullfrog. Way, way too much, it all detracts from the frog—an important lesson for me. I got too hung up on this and got precious. What does it all mean? I don’t know I can’t tell in the jumble, but I keep it to remind me that editing pictures is just as important as editing writing. I also learned that I don’t have to outline everything in ink; definition can be done in other ways.


So that’s a look back at when I started actually using my art supplies seriously. You have to start somewhere. It’s a good memory. I want another year where I sit down and work and learn to use materials and try different paper. Everybody keep going, you have to start before you go anywhere.


Who knows, maybe it’s time to finish all those other blank cards. I was going to do up a picture with a Biedermeier sofa and a kniphofia (Red Hot Poker) plant and a mandala. Don’t ask, it was some big idea twirling around in my mind for months. I like a bit of furniture sometimes.



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7 Comments on “An Old Exercise from Starting Out with Watercolour and Coloured Pencil”

  1. Rachel Danielle Says:

    I love the idea of having deadlines, especially for creative projects because I add so many other people I know, have half finished projects laying around. Right now I am trying to do one quick sketch a day for a year.

    Good luck.

    • JJ ColourArt Says:

      I tired that once Rachel. I was supposed to do a 365-day journal but if I missed a day I’d feel guilty and start to procrastinate, so that didn’t last.

      I do okay with deadlines if I have to finish something in a week or a month, but otherwise they seem to trip me up with guilt.

  2. rodanix Says:

    Oh goodness – such memories.! Beautiful. There was one with the girl and the iguana too ??? Id forgotten the one you’ve shown here – LOVE the toad ! Am off into the mountains for Easter – catch you on the other side. En joy your beautiful colours and Ill see wondrous work when I get back.xxr

    • JJ ColourArt Says:

      No, I don’t think the girl and the iguana was me.

      Yes, do you remember you did the toad first and it took me about three years to finish mine? As I recall you did yours with house paint and your usual beautifully expressive and liquid eyes.

  3. PLN Says:

    Your illustrations are always so delicate and clean. I love that. Your style is recognisable always. I’ve probably said before, but you would make a great oracle illustrator.

    • JJ ColourArt Says:

      I once thought I would illustrate an oracle, probably with these cards, but once all this digital collage took over cards I lost heart.

      I know I could write an excellent book too!

      • PLN Says:

        I think that ‘because’ of all the digital collage, something like that would be wonderful. I made the Fragments digitally, just to prove to myself that I could finish making a deck (and I did kind of like the way it looked) but if I was ever to do it again, I know that the real work (and magic) would manifest in putting pen or pencil to paper. It seems to me that the best decks are painted or drawn.

        And I know, without a doubt, how excellent your book would be 🙂 I do love a book by the artist.

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