Category Archives: technique

A week of study – colour theory

Now that the new pencils are sorted and organised I have been able to follow up some suggestions that interested me in the book ‘Botanical Drawing in Color’ by Wendy Hollender.  She suggests a very limited palette of colours (just 20) from which you should be able to draw most plants.

Given that I am now the owner of over a 100 coloured pencils I was interested to try out her methods.  Her starting point is the primary colours red, blue and yellow and she chooses a warm red and a cool red, ditto with the blue and the yellow – so six primary colours.  She then adds the secondary colours purple, orange and green (two greens).  Then dark colours – sepia, indigo, red violet and another green, then four earth tones.  Lastly white and cream for tints, highlights and burnishing.

She comments ‘ With the exception of the three greens, I have chosen colors that will give me the brightest possible hue.  This is important because you can always dull a color, but you cannot make one brighter.  With the greens I have departed from this theory because really bright greens are rarely found in nature. If ever you need a really bright green, you can mix it with the appropriate yellow and blue…..’

I followed along from Wendy’s book and made myself a colour wheel with twelve hues from the six primary colours; a value bar using sepia depicting nine values from very pale to very dark; an intensity bar with five steps from bright to very dull; and colour bars blending complementary colours together to make dull/brownish tones and colours.

Experiments from 'Botanical Drawing in Color' Wendy Hollender

My swatches

Lastly I followed her guidance and created colour blends using primary colours.
To make orange:
1.  bright clear colour both primaries lean towards the colour being made  i.e. a warm (yellowish) red and a warm (reddish) yellow = bright orange
2. mid intensity colour where only one of the primaries leans towards the colour being made (i.e warm (yellowish) red and cool (blueish) yellow = mid intensity orange or cool (blueish) red and warm (reddish) yellow = mid intensity orange
3. dull muddy colours where both of the primaries lean away from the colour being made (i.e. cool (blueish) red and cool (blueish) yellow
(greens and purples are made in the same way – just using the appropriate primaries in each case)

I must say I sat and scratched my head over all this, and had to turn the radio off for a while so that I could concentrate!  However I think I have it now and below are the swatches I created.  I am amazed at the variety of colours and am happy that I now have a small roll of twenty pencils that I can take out with me and know that I should in theory be able to draw almost anything.

Orange colour swatches

Orange colour swatches

Green colour swatches

Green colour swatches

Purple colour swatches

Purple colour swatches

Earlier this week I posted my picture with the purple berries from last week to a Facebook group called Botanical Art for Beginners.  I have been lurking around this group for some months now, not having the courage to post any of my drawings, but finally I decided to take the plunge.  I received 124 likes and 24 people added supportive comments and suggestions, I was really touched and pleased; social media sometimes gets a bad press but it is wonderful to be able to connect with other artists in the same field as there are not many local to where I am (or at least I don’t know of any).

An ample sufficiency of tomatoes

Coming in from hanging out the washing I saw this wonderful display of tomatoes laid out to ripen.  They really caught my eye and I noticed with what care they had been arranged.  My next project I thought!



I have just recently worked on tomatoes with Ann Swan so I thought I would like to have another go, and this would allow me to practice tomatoes at all stages of ripening.

I already knew what colours to use so I was able to get started quickly, was not bothered too much about composition as I was happy just to work with the tomatoes in a grid formation.

Green Tomato

Green Tomato

I trialled a green and a red tomato using the underpainting technique I learned and using the transparent Pro Marker to dissolve the colour into the paper.  This meant that the base colour application is much quicker, I tried underpainting the green tomato in green Pro Marker but the colour was too dark.

Red Tomato

Red Tomato

Happy with both my trials I cobbled together a light box with a sheet of glass, a cardboard box and a desk lamp and traced onto good paper; then I had a happy afternoon putting on the base colour underpainting, now all I have to do is colour all those babies in!  I suspect I won’t be as fond of tomatoes when I am finished!

Tomatoes with underpainting completed

Tomatoes with underpainting completed



Draws Shoots and Leaves learns another lesson……..always use a big piece of paper

Today’s lesson I want to share with you is so basic that I am ashamed I made the mistake……..try and choose the right size paper for your subject matter.

My subject for the day was a branch of variegated ivy from the garden and although I am not a great fan of the plant, the leaves had wonderful twisty shapes and it was in full flower and I thought it looked a challenge. 

So here I am merrily drawing my quick sketches, (I start off an art day doing ten minute sketches to get me warmed up and to get me over my inhibitions and I use a kitchen timer to keep me on track), when I realised that the timer had not gone off and some considerable time had passed.  It is wonderful how engrossing and absorbing art can be when you get in the zone.  Well in the time that had passed, my drawing had grown; I had started with one of the flowers and now I almost had the whole branch, but I was running out of space on the paper.

‘It’s only a sketch, so no need to be precious’, I told myself so I stuck a strip of paper to the bottom and kept on drawing.

Draft pencil drawing of ivy by Sue Hagley

Extra paper stuck to bottom edge

By now I was getting quite attached to the ivy so I decided to work it up into a finished piece.  Using the tracing paper method, I transferred the image to good paper and completed it using coloured pencils.  This picture will always remind me of ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ which I was listening to on an audio book.

Coloured pencil drawing of Ivy by Sue Hagley

How I get what I see onto paper……………

There are several ways to get an outline of an image of an object onto good paper ready to make a finished drawing.  And these are the ones I have tried:

1) I took and printed a photo which I gridded it up and used the grid to copy the image accurately onto good paper.  This is a very process driven way of working and I ended up working from a photo rather than life which felt a bit sterile and mechanical.  However, what I liked about the finished picture was the abstract nature of the piece of leaf I chose, so although the method did not suit I was interested in the effect and the finished image and I think that I will follow this up in the future.

Coloured pencil drawing of a Teasel Leaf by Sue Hagley

Teasel Leaf

2)  I took a photo of a leaf, which I then ran through an app to get a black and white line drawing which was traced onto tracing paper and then transferred onto drawing paper.  I ended up with an accurate shape that I enjoyed colouring but actually it did not teach me much about looking and seeing.  So I learned that it is important to me to make the original image my own as well as the finished image.

Coloured pencil drawing of a Dead Leaf by Sue Hagley

Dead Leaf

3) I viewed the subject matter through a gridded transparent sheet and then drew the subject onto a matching grid on tracing paper.  This was long winded and hard on the eyes squinting through the grid and copying, and it felt mechanical and hard work.  I also ended up with an image that was rather bigger than life size, so my crab apples look like they have been dosed with steroids.

Coloured pencil drawing of Crab Apples by Sue Hagley

Crab Apples

4) I took a leaf rubbing and traced the rubbing onto paper, but the leaf dried out, so when I came to resume my work the next morning the leaf had shrivelled unrecognisably – so my time was wasted!

5) I just sat down and drew the d**m thing!  The easiest and the most satisfying; well I know that now as I have tried all the other methods!  More importantly, my skill is improving as I continue to practice – that’s a really obvious observation but it is true, true, true – if you practice you get better! Doh!

Pencil drawing of a Dead Leaf No 2 by Sue Hagley

Another dead leaf

Ever heard the expression ‘all the gear and no idea’? That was me………………

So now I had all the ‘stuff’ and I had done a few initial pencil sketches, I had coloured in lots of squares and read a few books.  Now what?  Well, dear reader, I copied a picture – shock, horror!  Actually, it is not so bad, lots of artists copy/copied other artists, it’s a great way to learn, at least you know what you are trying to make it look like, which is a help.  Back to my trusty ‘Colored Pencil Solution Book’ where I found helpful instructions on how to colour a day lily (Hemerocallis).

How to portray a Daylily Instruction Page

Instruction Page

In the back of the book there was a line drawing to photocopy and I then used tracing paper to transfer it to drawing paper.

Photocopied line drawing of daylily

Photocopied line drawing

Interestingly, the dark values are applied first which was a surprise to me, and then gradually lighter and lighter colours are applied, until a final going over with the palest colour (leaving the highlights uncoloured).

Finished Daylily

Finished Daylily

It was interesting to follow instructions, and I learned loads.  It is really important to look at the values and to establish the darks and lights against each other.

The reason I like colouring in little squares of paper. Time to reveal a quilt………

In my last post I confessed to enjoying the process of colouring in little squares of paper and shuffling them about and arranging them in groups .  Well, time for a confession here, I am a recovering quilt maker so I spent many happy hours messing about with squares (fabric rather than paper).

On Point a quilt made by Sue Hagley

On Point (detail) by Sue Hagley

All the colours were hand dyed by me and the design was drawn up using a drawing programme on the computer.  Many hours were spent rearranging the colours into harmonising or contrasting heaps.  

On Point quilt (detail) by Sue Hagley

On Point (detail) by Sue Hagley

So you can see here, why I enjoyed playing with squares of colour.

On Point quilt by Sue Hagley

On Point quilt by Sue Hagley


During my searching for a new craft, I have been down a very longwinded, messy and smelly detour.  This started 1) by having a lifelong interest in knitting & 2) deciding that I would like to make my own yarn.

One consequence of this decision was that a spinning wheel came into my life and I taught myself to spin (extremely inexpertly)

Spinning wheel

My new baby

and the second consequence which was the smelly one was that raw sheep fleeces were given to me.  Beware the person that gives you a fleece from a sheep.

Unprocessed fleece

Fleece as it comes from a sheep

In my innocence I plunged the fleece into the bath full of hot water and it became wet and heavy as well as smelly and dirty  – a wonderful combination (and not popular with the other person I share a house with).

Dirty fleece in the bath

Fleece in the bath after first wash

Anyway, I won’t go on about this any longer, but it took hours and hours and hours and I have enough spun fleece to knit myself a jumper which I suspect will resemble porridge both in colour and texture, I’m just waiting for a suitably lumpy pattern to come my way and I will get started.

Washed and dried sheep fleece

Fleece now clean and dry

Another result was that I ended up with quantities of washed and carded fleece but absolutely no enthusiasm to do any more spinning.  At that precise point, I was invited to join a new felting group Never Ever Felt Better that had just started up in the next village.  Now there was the answer to my problem, and maybe it would be the craft of my dreams.

Felting in village hall

Working Hard

 All these crafts are so simple on the surface and so difficult in practice.   I claim the prize in our group as the person who makes the ugliest felt objects.  I have made a hat that is so thick and heavy the weather is never cold enough to wear it.

Sue Hagley in felt hat

A hat to hot to wear

I have made some slippers that don’t match each other and fit no one.

home made felt slippers

Non matching felt slippers

I have made some seat covers that are ugly but at least are warm on the bottom (if you excuse the expression).  These now adorn all the chairs in the house, and have solved the problem for me of what to do with all the fleece I had stockpiled.  The house is now amost a fleece free zone.

chair pads made of felt

Felt Chair Pads

I made a handbag that was several times wider than it was tall, so was completely useless and eventually was remade into a cafetiere  cosy, and then I broke the cafetiere!  However, I have learned, and although this is not the craft of my dreams, it does have certain qualities that I really like – especially that it is quick.  I made a book cover and needle felted the details

And once I had started drawing I realised that I could use the drawings as starting points for my felt making so I made some pre felts and using my sketches of snowdrops and aconites as reference I made my first felt picture.  The base was wet felted and the finer details were needle felted later.

spring flowers felt picture

Spring felt picture

I was happy with this and felt (ha ha) that there were possibilities for me linking the straight forward drawing with the craft element of felt making.  And this is where I am right now, I have just made a batch of pre felts which give me enough colours to get started with for my next felt picture.

a collection of pre felts

Pre Felts