An Avian Miscellany in Colored Pencil

An Avian Miscellany in Colored Pencil

Queen Victoria, after the portrait by Winterhalter, 1842. 29cm x 42cm approx

These pieces are part of a large (and growing) collection of anthropomorphic historical portraits. The word anthropomorphic simply means attributing human qualities to non-human subjects; be it animals, forces of nature, plants or insects, and has a long history which continues to the present day in Spider-Man and Batman, stories like C.S Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. All of these stories use personification of animals, insects and in the case of Alice in Wonderland, inanimate objects, remember the talking door and the opinionated flowers?

These ideas have long fascinated me and after I made Sir Benjamin Cluck, I thought it was reminiscent of one of those portraits you see lining the stairs in country houses and I was off! I looked at historical portraits and substituting the human head with that of a chicken - I made Henry VIII. Because I had drawn Henry I obviously had to draw all his wives, then came Marie Antoinette who is still waiting for the portrait of her husband. I just can’t find quite the right chicken for Louis, but I will! Then came Henry V, Robert Dudley, Elizabeth 1 and the list will continue to grow.

The latest portrait I have completed is Queen Victoria as a young woman by Winterhalter. I love to draw detail and the costume and jewelery in this piece were a pure joy for me.

My intention is to put them all together and publish book, but at the moment I am still finding so many more historical figures I want to transform into chickens, Napoleon, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Catherine the great... it could take some time.

My process has been developed over the past few years and I have read every possible colored pencil book, article and blog I can find, and I have taken the methods and techniques that appeal to me.

Henry VIII after the portrait by workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger, 1497/8

I draw freehand mostly, but for details like the costume jewelry and embroidery in these pieces I have sometimes used a projector, it just speeds up the drawing process. I want to get on with the color! I only put in minimal guidelines using an HB pencil, most of the detail is put in with the colored pencil. I rub out the guidelines as a I go along to try to avoid that horrible "leaking" of graphite into the areas of color.

I work quickly at first, laying down lots of light layers of color and constantly referring to the reference image to accurately record value and tone. Then I slow down and work on the details adding up to 10-15 more layers to build up a richness and depth. " Henry" took about 40 hours to complete, this is about average for me.

When I begin a drawing, I don't worry too much about which color I am using, which I realize is probably bad practice as my chances of repeating a successful combination is close to zero - but I am just not systematic, not at all. I have favorite colors and combinations which work for me. I do use black but only for certain things, I generally prefer to mix indigo, dark sienna and a dark red to make a range of "natural" blacks. I never use OMS, neither do I burnish. I have seen both techniques used to stunning effect, but I prefer my drawings to be just that, drawings. I like them to "float" on the surface of the paper so that I can remove color easily using an electric eraser to add drapery or highlights or to correct errors. (I make LOTS of those!)

I use every kind of colored pencil on the market. If they are lightfast, I will use them. As I sell my work I don't use pencils that will fade quickly.

Sir Benjamin Cluck, the inspiration! A very aristocratic chicken.

Colored pencils are so wonderful for rendering subtleties of shade and hue. They have some of the translucent properties of watercolor, but are so much more controllable. Watercolor and I are not friends - I have never had a happy accident, but I have made many brown puddles. I wish I could make beautiful watercolor paintings, but for the foreseeable future I am sticking to my sharp, beautiful pencils.

I am passionate about drawing, it is completely joyful and even when it goes wrong there is something to learn, take forward and help me improve. It is the doing, not the finishing which is important to me. After all, when I am finished I just start another drawing. Speaking of which, Napoleon awaits!

About Annette:

Annette is an art teacher and artist living in Essex. After studying illustration at Hull college of Art, she worked in the advertising industry, and qualified as a secondary school art teacher in 2001. She discovered colored pencil drawing five years ago, and has focused on this medium ever since.

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