Dog Practice—Four: Stonehenge Paper?

July 15, 2010

I make a decision on Paper and Media for Paws on Grand.

Above: Faber-Castel Albrecht Dürer
Watersoluble Colored Pencils used dry on a 7-1/2 x 7-1/4 inch piece of cream Stonehenge
paper. Click on
the image to view an enlargement.

After my third practice session for Paws

on Grand (August 1) I was sure I wanted to work small (in the 7 x 5 inch range) and use colored pencils. I also knew I wanted to work on lightly toned paper.

One of the things about this event is that Wet Paint provides the paper for the artists to sketch on. I'm participating because I love to help promote Wet Paint. We all have to be economical in our choice of materials.

With that in mind I did some quick sketches of a French Bull Dog on pages from The Great Canadian Sketchbook (which I actually used for a practice session with Stabilo Tones for last year's Paws on Grand!) While I love this paper, especially for life drawing I found that my preliminary sketches were too sloppy. I needed a bit more drag on the pencil. I was just going too fast for my own comfort—I didn't even save the sketches.

Note: I realize that there are still problems with my website as I type this, so when you go to the life drawing link you won't may not see everything you should see (links were broken when my host switched machines or something). Everything but the third, fourth, and final entries in this journal selection, however, are on this paper so you'll get an idea of how it works with colored pencil, if not with life drawings of people, then with life drawings of one of my favorite Australian Shepherds Rev (now deceased).

I had some pieces of Stonehenge in my scrap pile and grabbed a couple of them. I've written quite a lot about Stonehenge and if you use the search engine in the left column you can read about my various tests and my likes and dislikes about this paper. While I have friends who love this paper for sketching, it is typically not my first choice. My colored pencil techniques usually involve layers and layers of pencil and I've never been happy with a drawing like that of mine on Stonehenge.

In my mind, however, when I picked up those scraps, was the idea that it's an economical paper for this event, and if I work looser (because I won't have time to go tight) maybe it will work for me.

I actually was so happy with this little sketch that I know even after the event I'll do more loose sketches on this paper. Let's face it—my eyes aren't getting any younger and recent events have reminded me that in all sorts of ways my approach to sketching and art is changing.

Now that I know what kind of paper I want to sketch on for these quick dog portraits all I have to do is decide if I want to use the watersoluble colored pencils or the wax.

But First Some Comments on How I Draw
Normally, when I sketch from life I start with the eye. This isn't standard, most teachers and books will tell you to start with a quick rough-out of the whole shape and then fill in the details. For me, the only thing that really matters is the eye(s) so I'll start there and work my way out. (You can see this in my State Fair sketches like this sketch of a bantam.) Often this means that I get a bit of an eye and an eyebrow and maybe nothing more. (If you scroll through the posts on this blog in the category "Minnesota State Fair" you'll find abundant examples of sketches started with the eye, as I point out in "Draw What Interests You.")

When you do this you often get a distorted shape, body, or surrounding area, as your measurement mistakes start to add up. This also doesn't bother me too much, if I get those eyes.

For something like the Paws on Grand, however, I have to take a different approach. I can't linger over the eyes, and while the eyes are still important (some people don't like portraits of their pets even when you do nail the eyes exactly—because you see something different from what they see), the shape and aspect of the dog is also important. The different breeds of dog exist because people have different tastes when it comes to "what says 'dog'." For me prick ears, a tail, and a wolfish aspect are the thing. It doesn't mean I don't love many other dogs with droopy ears and stubs where tails "should" be. It simply means that if I see tails and prick ears at any time, dart around a corner, I'm going to look. It's the siren call for me.

In an effort to attend to that need in others I do my quick dog portraits with that in mind. And to do that I have to barely place the eyes (shape and size as a circle only) but then build the rest of the animal first, before returning to finish the eyes.

100705FrenchieDetail Left: Detail of the French Bull Dog's eyes. I used Indigo blue, Indanthrone Blue, a violet and a cool red (the pencils aren't near me as I type.)

I've found that this approach worked well last year, kept me focused, and allowed me to capture the squirming dogs' shapes before going in and making a commitment on the eyes. In other words it gave me some leeway.

In hindsight (over my whole life) I think it would have been better off if I had always approached things in this manner, but I haven't so I'm not going to worry about it now. Do whichever works depending on the situation I'm in, that'll work.

This approach of working on the large shape first and then details does force me to be looser over all, and that's not a bad thing in a "timed" situation either. As you can see in the close up detail I have pencil strokes going in several directions—something I would never consider in a finished colored pencil drawing. It's actually fun to break my own habits.

Something Else about Sketching with Colored Pencils
When I sketch with colored pencils I tend to pick 3 or 4 analogous colors and work with them. The colors tend not to be the actual color of what I'm sketching. I like to use Indanthrone Blue in the Faber-Castel Albrecht Dürer Watersoluble Colored Pencil line, because that is after all my beloved PB60.

That's what I've done in the above French Bull Dog drawing and it's what I did when I sketched Dottie in colored pencil. I find that using one of the pencils lightly to create the basic shape, whether or not you start from the eyes, and then blending and restating lines with different colors creates an effect that pleases me, and it's fun. I think it's so fun that I make my colored pencil students do exercises sketching this way.

(I actually think it pisses some of them off because they don't want to sketch this way and only want to start layering in color in hyper real renditions of fruit on a plate. But I think part of my role as a teacher is to piss people off—especially if it means pushing them to loosen up and examine the types of line they can create. They might find an approach they like even better than their current mode.)

I will probably try using my Prismacolors on Stonehenge in this fashion, but I'm thinking I'll prefer the drier (as in less waxy) feel of the Faber-Castels even though I have no intention of utilizing their watersolubility!

Now that I've settled more or less on media and paper I have to field test. I will be dropping by at dog-friends, and have a puppy coming to visit. A trip to the zoo would be a good thing too—just in case someone brings an exotic pet! Besides, I've done what I can do at home—thank goodness the Dog Whisperer had an episode on French Bull Dogs!

And all of this makes me think: what will I be using at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair?

  1. Reply


    I so appreciate your blog, but must admit I’ve been lurking.

    I not only love your art, but your blog is so informative and fun.

    Thanks so much,


    • elizabeth
    • July 15, 2010


    As usual, this post is great! I am intrigued about drawing in analogous colors. I have the Albrecht Dürer watercolor pencils — could you please help me to know which are the analogous colors that you use, or ones that I could choose myself from, say, Derwent Coloursoft pencils? Thanks!

    One thought on the watercolour pencils: if the dogs should happen to get their little noses or tongues on the finished drawing (or a bead of sweat, etc), the owners may be a bit dismayed as they see the beautiful keepsakes dissolve before their eyes!


  2. Reply

    Elizabeth, Wow, that’s a whole post in itself—which analogous colors I use and why. I don’t have my pencils next to me and am rushing to finish email and get to a meeting so I’ll write a post about this in the next few days.

    Basically I start (in Albrecht Dürer pencils) with the Indanthrone blue as my dark and then select a lighter blue and a magenta or violet. Lately I’ve been throwing in a lighter blue a sort of turquoise cobalt blue with a bit more green. For no other reason than to mix things up and have a look see. (Didn’t use any in today’s image.)

    I don’t have a lot of Derwent Coloursofts, so I can’t be specific, but the ease of working with analogous colors is that you can’t really go too wrong (you go wrong when you end up on the other side of the color wheel and get into complementary colors—but hey I do that on purpose a lot too and it can be useful).

    Pick a dark blue in your Derwent line and the radiating out from there pick additional colors. Having one cool red is useful because with most colored pencils they don’t use single pigments and the darkest blue and red, when overlapped with give you a darker dark because there will be some complementary contamination in the pigments used in the pencils and you benefit from that.

    You need something that will give you a dark dark because you want some contrast in value, especially around the eyes.

    There is a risk with the watersoluble nature of the pencils, but I used Stabilo Tones last year, and they are also watersoluble, and people didn’t have any problems. All the owners tended to hold the drawings well away from their dogs’ inquisitive noses and tongues, even when I had them hold both the dog and the portrait so I could take a photo for my records. I’ll try to remember to warn them.

    The sketches that we do are really quick, of squirmy pets, so a little blurring might actually be a benefit!

    • Nita
    • July 15, 2010

    FYI, Carol Nelson has a painting blog you might appreciate. Lately she’s been posting paintings of dogs after she photographed them on the street (with owners’ permissions).

    • Diana
    • July 16, 2010

    What paper do you prefer for colored pencils? Many artists say stonehenge is the best for watercolors. I know they can take a light wash too.

  3. Reply

    Nita, thank you for sending that link. Those are fun paintings! What a great way to get reference photos too. A multi-tasking approach.
    Thanks, the paintings are lovely.

  4. Reply

    Diana, interesting that people are telling you Stonehenge is best for watercolors. That seems odd to me. I don’t know anyone who thinks that. I know people, like myself who use it with watercolor and gouache, but none of us describe it as best.

    I think it’s best as a printmaking paper.

    Most of my artist friends think it is best as a drawing paper (graphite).

    As you can see from my post I’m working with colored pencil on it. Since it will take a little bit of a wash I can use the watercolor pencils dry or wet (here dry).

    The question about my favorite paper for colored pencil is a complex one because I typically don’t just use colored pencils, but use watercolor and colored pencils. My paintings section on my website is still mixed up so I can’t send you some links there, so the short answer is that if I’m going to use colored pencil WITH Watercolor or gouache I like to use Fabriano artistico 300 lb. Hot press watercolor paper.

    If I am using only a little bit of wash and mostly pencil I will use Strathmore 500 Series Vellum Bristol. (Obviously, if I’m just going to use pencil I can still use this Bristol.)

    Strathmore has a new illustration board that you can read about here
    It’s also a good choice for colored pencil, with or without wet media.

    I like colored pencil on Gutenberg (or is it burg? I can’t spell today) when I don’t mind having a more textured paper.

    I’m enjoying doing rough, loose sketches, like the one in this post, with colored pencils on Stonehenge, but as I say here, I don’t like to do detailed colored pencil drawings on it. (Though many people will say it is their favorite paper for that.)

    It really comes down to which brand of pencils you use (because they all work up a little differently), how toothy a surface you like, how textured a surface you want, how heavy or light your hand is, and the style/coverage you are trying to achieve. But I hope these papers give you some fun choices.

    I recommend that you purchase some paper samplers. See my post

    Then use the samplers to test for yourself. Some papers may be just right for your Prismacolors (if you use them) others will be great with your Derwent Coloursofts (if you use those) and so it goes.

    Soon you’ll have a favorite that works for the way YOU work. (Let me know what it is!)

    • Diana
    • July 16, 2010

    Thanks for all the information and the time you took to share it. To correct myself, I meant to write, that many artists have said that they like stonehenge paper for colored pencils. They claim it takes many layers well and I’m not convinced I’ve found that so. I will take your advice and purchase some paper samplers.

    I do use stonehenge and like it for colored pencils but would like to find something that takes layers well. I also have used it for some watercolor although not extensively.

  5. Reply

    Diana, that makes more sense, as you can tell from my comments in this post, and in other reviews of Stonehenge (use the search engine to find the series at the beginning of this year)I don’t find it good for my layering technique, just my loose approach.

    If you like to layer, you should try the Strathmore 500 Series Bristol (but it has to be the 500 series and it has to be vellum).


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