What's on the drawing board


January 11, 2021

A Happy New Year to you!

This is Hugo. He's been keeping me company this week as I try a new technique and a new surface. 

Modern phones are are really good on the 'portrait' and 'selective focus' settings for creating this out-of-focus effect for things not in the foreground.  Hugo here is in full focus on his face, but his right leg and his back are not.  I've not attempted to recreate a fuzzy focus look before, but actually, it wasn't too difficult. 

The trick is, and you'll probably laugh at how obvious it is, is to not to have any sharp lines or crisp edges, and to blend any colour transitions into each other.  Simples!

I have also upgraded my surface to the Clairfontaine pastelmat board. It's a wonder I've not done it already to be honest.   I really enjoyed how stiff it was and that it wasn't curling as I added more layers. I think I will have to invest in some extra colours now...or just do everything on white for a few months !!

Hugo was a commission. You can see his completed portrait in the gallery.  Go have a look and double tap the picture to show me you like it.


December 11, 2020

Well, what a wonderful way to finish such a difficult year.  This is Dexter and he has to be my favourite portrait of the year. 

Although he is no longer with us, I felt his spirit lift me and carry me through his portrait. From those soulful eyes, to the tip of that lovely nose. I found solace in my work with him.  Thank you Dexter.

Using Polychromos again, on white pastelmat.   I have purchased some board to try next year, as well as drafting film. 

For now though, I wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Dexter's completed portrait is now in the gallery.


November 29, 2020

I have an epic drawing on my board this week. This is Missy, another Christmas commission that will, eventually, live in Texas, but for now I get the pleasure of those saucer-like eyes staring back at me.

Tabby's are hard. I think I've said that a few times now, but they're definitely getting easier.  Missy's portrait was one of those that almost draws itself. I found the whole thing super fun, and really enjoyable, and the final drawing looks like one of those 3D photos!

I changed pencils to the Faber Castell Polychromos once more, which made me fall in love with them all over again. They just work so well on the pastelmat. I think they're my new old favourite!

Missy's final portrait is in the gallery already.  Have a look at her collar and all the bling on it! hahaha


November 25, 2020

This pair of beautiful Boston Terriers have been on my desk this week.  I finished it before I had a chance to take many in-progress photots though. 

I forget how quick watercolour can be, especially when there's probably only 4 colours in the fur.  Lets count them...


Panes Grey

Yellow Ochre

Vandyk Brown

Pink (I forget which one)

Light cobalt blue.

Okay, that's 6 colours, and I did mix the blue and pink to get a nice purple, so I guess that's 7. And of course, the black wasn't straight 8, and white of course...9 then!

Buster and Betty's portrait is complete and available to view in the gallery. Why not pop in there and give them a double tap heart.


November 10, 2020

You know how I feel about soft curly fur, right? Well, Toffee here - she's a Labradoodle I believe - well, I think she may just have helped me get closer to where I want to be.

Recreating soft thick curly pale fur is, for me, one of the scariest things. But this forehead is the start of my conquering those nerves and trusting my instincts.  I did need to change pencils though.  My trusty Derwent Lightfast are just too 'sticky' and go on thick, which is normally what I prefer, but I have to say, the Faber Castell Polychomos, which are harder and more translucent, make it much easier. 

But the main trick is to soften it all with a pale grey. This 'smooshes' all the edges together, and really helps to diffuse the hard lines and help with the softening effect.

Toffee's portrait is now in the Gallery. Why not go and take a look at her in all her soft curly glory! And double click to like it!


October 20 , 2020

Since I still feel like a newbie to painting, I do like to dabble with different mediums.  This month I rewarded myself with some Winsor & Newton Designer's Gouache.  They're like watercolour, but opaque, and that intrigued me.

If, like me, you enjoy falling down YouTube holes, you'll no doubt have seen how popular jelly guache has become of late. I did some reading, and watched a lot of reviews before buying, and decided in the end to go for quality over quantity. 

And it seems that I may have stumbled upon a medium that really suits me. I've invested in a good watercolour sketchbook, and some lovely brushes, and over the past week, I have been creating these rather interesting (and almost landscapey) paintings. Go figure! 


October 08, 2020

The Winchester Christmas Market isn't happening this year, which is a real shame. I've been every year since it began, and one of the stalls smells so good and Christmassy it really helps to get me in the mood for the festiveivities.

That stall is the Oranges and Spice Christmas wreaths. It has a warm mulled spicy orangy cinamonny smell. It's utterly delicious!

My reference photo was taken last December on my annual  Christmas shopping day with my mum and sister.  And to help us get into the spirit of the season, I thought I would have a go at drawing the bonkers detailed picture.

Is this destined for my sister's wall again, or will I get to keep this one?

EDIT - Have decided to sell prints of this. Contact me if interested. 

To see the full finished version visit my gallery.


October 01, 2020

Having a lot of fun with this beautiful girl this week.   Major procrastination on those ears, as usual. They weren't as difficult as I usual too!

The depth of colour in Skye's coat is lovely, and I'm pleased with how contrasty it is. I think I used every version of brown and a few reds to get it right.  And thank the gods for Mars Black. That wonderful browny black is a godsend.

Skye's finished portrait is not in the Galler. Go give her a heart!


September 15, 2020

Lots of fun with this simple design.  The background is a watercolour wash and I applied the pencils on top.

Tested a Derwent combo with this, namely the Coloursoft pencils and their Hot Pressed Watercolour Paper.  Have to say, I was not a fan of the pencils on this paper, they seem to be more suited to a grainer texture. But the finished drawing looks great nonetheless.

My thanks to Georgina Strange for the image. I fell in love with her wildlife photography of the Falkland Islands, which is where these courting King Penguins was taken.


September 10, 2020

There's been quite a bit of excitement and interest in Derwent's new(ish) Lightfast paper in a couple of the Facebook groups I'm in, and I have used it twice before - the most notable being the Flying Saucers UKCPS Cover Photo Theme winner last month. Anyway,  I wanted to test the paper again, but this time actually using the pencils that it was designed specifically for.  Lightfast.

Firstly, I found that you have to work light, and for a heavy hander like me, that was hard enough already.  You got to do layers, starting with the lightest colours, and you got to work up the values (or down?) to the darks.  The Lightfast pencils worked wonderfully on this paper. The pigment layed beautifully and, though it was prone to smudging (heavy hands again) it cleaned up fine.  The cost of this paper makes my eyes water though.

I wanted a really fluffy soft look to this puppy, which, if you take a look at him in the gallery, you'll see that I achieved that.  It is very different to my usual style, and I needed a new approach, but overall the Lightfast on Lightfast is a match made in heaven.

Original is for sale. Prints on Archival textured paper are also available. Contact me for info.


September 6, 2020

Monty the smiling spaniel has been grinning up at me for the past week, and today he was finished and approved by my lovely client.

The reference photo was a photo of a photo, which made it more than a bit tricky to see any detail. But as this title suggests, instead I focused on tonal values and had to make up the details.

Overall, he came out really well. I am particularly happy with his mouth. The teeth in the reference were overexposed and just a white blur.  I was able to make a believable set of gnashers with just a few pencil strokes of different colours. Perfect!

Monty can be seen in the Gallery. Go give him a heart.


August 24, 2020

Holy moly, this one took forever!

I have had a blast though, and the end result is something I am really proud of.  Check it out in the gallery if you would be so kind.

My favourite now is the purple swirly one in the middle. This one, I feel, has the most light and luminosity. It really looks like a bright glass marble to me.

The most difficult one to draw was that green one. I think because it has no defined edges to the inside patterns, so they all merged and spread and layered over each other. And also that it was clear, so the behind colours had to show, but also stay in the background.  Yeah, very tricky that one.

The original has already sold, but I am making prints for anyone who likes it enough to order one.


August 7, 2020

Did you play marbles as a kid?  I did, and I had a massive drawstring bag full of one-ers and two-ers I had collected and won.  One of my favourites was a big black one, just like this one. I never played it because I didn't want to lose it.

I am going back to my comfort zone with this drawing. Back to the realism and the high contrast and the high colour. I've gone big too, as you can see, this one is massive for me!  

Going big is great for getting in the details, but it does mean drawings take a lot longer.  There is definitely a good few hours left to go on this one. But I don't mind. I am really enjoying being immersed back in the zone.

Reference from Pixabay.

Using Lightfast and Luminance on Strathmore Bristol Smooth 400. 


July 27, 2020

After the 'barely there' colours in my last drawing, I was up for something dramatic this week.

I have been learning about Derwent Inktense recently, and playing with the 'bleed effect' on pastelmat. This unusually coloured Tiger has been underpainted quite roughly with the Inktense blocks first, and done in layers to increase the intensity (INKtensity!). 

It was scary to feel so messy and have so little control over where the colour went, but I am now at the more familiar stage of adding the coloured pencils.

I am using Derwent Lightfast pencils over the top of the Inktense. They go down really well because they are so creamy and opaque.

Ref photo from I have been watching her draw the same tiger in realistic colours over on her Patreon Channel.


July 18, 29

Who remembers Flying Saucers? 

I am a massive sweets and candy fan, so it was inevitable that I would draw them sooner or later.   This is a fun one for a UKCPS challenge, but it is also giving me an opportunity to test out Derwent's new Lightfast paper.

So far, I love it. There's not too much texture, I can burnish, I can erase and these new Luminance pencils go down a treat!  Is it wrong to not use the Lightfast pencils?!

Subtly of colour in this is something that I'm not really used to. And that glass is a headache, but I'm not being overly rigid with sticking to the reference.  Also, the different focal lengths is pretty challenging. 

Think I love it though. 

Flying Saucers is now complete, and came out awesome! It's for sale too :-)


July 15, 2020

The last two took a little longer than expected thanks to the lovely Charlie's pet portrait being on my board for a while, but I am LOVING how this came out!

I spent the day today scanning them in and then hours cleaning the scan, and then more hours getting them ready for the printers. Greeting cards will be available soon.   I want a print of this 3x3 though. It makes me grin.

Bigger version to view in my Gallery. 


July 5, 2020

No, not the dog!

Anyone else struggle to make long hair look soft and subtle? I have had to work slow and very lightly to get Charlie looking right.  This is a do-over already.  The first attempt was like he had a rope mop on his head!

Nevertheless, I like where I have got to, and I have definitely learned a thing or two. 

More heavy breathing and slight panic as I work my way towards tackling the ear.  Wish me luck! 

UPDATE = Charlie is now complete and home in the USA. You can find him in my Gallery.


June 21, 2020

Happy Fathers Day, Dad!

This week I have been trying out some new supplies from Derwent. I recently purchased their Inktense pencils and was waiting for inspiration to give me a slap, when Father's day snuck up and kicked me into gear.  My dad loves anything sailboaty, so I went nautical. 

This is Inktense on pastelmat, which gives an amazing watercolour effect that, well I guess you could also get it from watercolour, but I have never managed to make my watercolour look anything like this.  Loosey-goosey is not my usual style.

I took two framed paintings  down for him, and he liked both and requested a third for balance. Ha!  Can I recreate this effect?

Who knows.


June 14, 2020

This month I decided to turn my Instagram white with all kinds of white kitties.  I'm a big cat fan, and I miss having a one to pet in times of stress, and my goodness June has been stressful.

Once I have 9 drawings, my Instagram feed will look really fun!   This is a just for fun project, but I intend to frame all 9 in an pseudo Insta-feed frame for the lols (and cos it will look great on the wall).

If you're intrigued, as to how the project is going, why not check out my feed I'm currently up to 7 of 9.


May 30, 2020

Another personal project with this purple beauty.  It's one of those photos I have been looking at for a while, but the tangle of stamens in the middle really put me off. 

I've got s time off commissions now, so I am taking the opportunity to draw for pleasure, as well as a bit of floral practice.

The final drawing is now complete, and I couldn't be happier with it. It's in the gallery and its for Sale!! 

Go take a look and drop me a message if you are interested in purchasing it. Or just give it a heart if you like it too.


May 24, 2020

I have been following the art prompts in this popular Facebook group for the past few weeks, and although I have fallen behind a bit, I am trying to complete them in order. 

This is Day 16 - Yellow.  This little ducky was the cutest yellowest thing I could think of.  Plus, I have already done a blue drawing on black, and a red drawing on black, so this had to be on black if I wanted to complete the primaries!

He's done with Derwent Procolour pencils on Canson Mi-Teints Touch paper. 

Just a quicky - or do I mean quacky?!

He is for Sale. Drop me a message if you are interested in purchasing him.


May 18, 2020

This is Simba, a handsome rescue boy who's portrait I enjoyed from start to finish.  It wasn't an easy reference to work from - I had to colour-match from other sources - but just look at that grin ;-)

As you can probably tell, I'm using my favourite dark grey pastlemat. and Derwent Lightfast combo.  The portriat is 8x8", but will be mounted and framed to 10x10.  A very popular size.

He's in the gallery. Why not go take a look and click on the heart if you like him.


May 08, 2020

I'm a fairly active member of the UK Coloured Pencil Society (UKCPS) and this month I set a challenge for the members to create a piece of artwork with 10 items or less (fewer for the grammar police). Those items included 1 drawing surface, 1 eraser, and 8 pencils.

The purpose of the challenge, apart from the pain that comes from only using a few pencils, was to understand and practice your own colour mixing with a limited pallette.  And obviously, if I'm going to set the challenge, I had to take part in it!

After months of not drawing any faces, I decided on a pretty unusual portrait I found on Unsplash.  The high contrast, and neon colours really caught my attention, and I thought it would be great fun to attempt. ​

The finished artwork is in the gallery. It is also for sale. Contact me if you are interested.


May 02, 2020

I think somewhere below, or at some point late last year, I may have said that I had 'cracked' how to draw tabbys,  or something like that. 

That might have been a bit optimistic!

Nitters here (that's short for Schnitzel by the way) was a massive challenge. As you can see, she's a full on tabby with all the multi-colored hairs and flecks and undertones. I had to really concentrate.

This picture is probably one layer away from the final version. I really pushed the contrast in that last layer to bring out the tabby texture.

She is in her finished state in the Gallery. Go take a look and giver her a heart!


April 13, 2020

This started as a practice piece with blending solution, as I've only tried it the once, and I was supposed to stop after I'd learned what I needed...but  as usual I just couldn't.

Despite how tricky it was to put everything in the right place, the water drops, the fronds(?) the light glares,  it turned out grea.   Not something I've ever tackled before, subject or complexity, but I love the differing focal depths, and of course the colours.

A4, Bristol Smooth 400 series, Polychromos.  (SOLD)

Have a look at the finished version in my Gallery.


April 4, 2020

Bokeh is the fuzzy out of fucus background that looks easy, but really takes practice!

I've done a couple, but this has to be the first one that doesn't look like an out of focus balloon party.

I think the trick - and I'm no expert - is maybe not to do circles everywhere, but have those hexagons occasionally to break up the patterns?  

The uncurling fern has teeny tiny water droplets on. Can you see them?

Original photography credit goes to Paul Fine.


April 3, 2020

There are a few doggos I get to meet who's face completely embodies their personality. Cesar was definitely one of them. Kind and gentle and always half asleep, that was him.

For this commission, I was challenged to create a colour portrait from a black and white reference. Cesar was a very pale Labrador, so he looks almost white in many colour photographs. I had to get the tonal values just right or else his sweet face would've barely been visible. 

I think I did it though!  The toned paper, which is the Clairfontaine multi-media 'Paint-on' line, was actually pretty good and stood up to a good number of layers.  I used Derwent Coloursoft pencils, which were soft, but not really buttery.

Take a look at his completed portrait in the Gallery!


March 16, 2020

Before the world retreated behind closed doors, I embarked on a fun little side-project to test the Canson Mi-Teints Touch sanded paper. 

I am a fan of the Clairefontain Pastelmat for my coloured pencil pieces, but the black has never been black enough for me. And so, this very black surface had been tempting me for some time.  Just prior to the lockdown, I began.

In terms of laying down the colours, I found it not dissimilar to pastelmat, if a little scratchier and drier feeling.  I didnt feel that the pencils HAD to be sharp, but it certainly helped on this A4 piece, but of course I then felt that I was sharpening more often.  The layering was excellent; I got plenty down and didnt fully fill the tooth.

Overall, I will definitely use this paper again. The black is probably the best I have used so far, and there are other toned colours to pick from too. 

This picture will be available as a short written tutorial soon. And have a look in the gallery to see the finished piece. It's quite striking.


March 5, 2020

This is Molly - better known as the Mollster. She's a hyperactive two year old that never sits still.  As you can imagine, getting a 'glamour' shot was never going to happen!

But in a way, this snapshot taken at the beach captures her essence, her energy and that fantastic glint in her eyes.  I just love it!

I know I go on about getting a good reference,  and this is really what I mean.  It has great lighting, it was taken outdoors, and it really shows us who Molly is. 

I had the pleasure of meeting her today, and she is exactly like you'd imagine.  In a good way :-)

She's all finished and in the Gallery. Giver her a like!


Feb 29, 2020

I was driving on the motorway the other day, and there was a brilliant double rainbow. I could see exactly where the arch hit the ground.  Unfortunately I was stuck in roadworks and couldn't feign a problem with the vehicle and pull over, so I am none the wiser on the existence of that pot of gold.

Where am I  going with this?...  Well, having been subjected to storms and hailstoms and rain and rain and more rain, I dug out this cheerful umbrella photo and decided it was bright enough to cheer even the dampest corner of the UK.

One false start on Fabriano Artistico hot pressed later, and I had switched to ye olde Prismacolors and Bristol Smooth combo.  Worked like a charm!

Love the warmth of this piece. Now, excuse me while I put the heating on.



February 14, 2020

I really enjoyed this one! 

Can you feel the sunshine? Ozzy here was photographed with his head in bright sun and his neck in deep dapppled shade. Quite a challenge to even out the lighting so he can stand comfortably without the background.

His neck, which you can see finished in the gallery, took a little while to get right. The colour choices I thought were difficult,  but overall he looks sunlit and warm, which was the idea.

The bridle was a bit of a challenge too; not the colour or texture, which I think came out really super, but how all the bits fit together. What I know about horses and their equipment can be written on the back of one hand!


February 02, 2020

When you draw with a pencil on a white piece of paper, you ease off the pressure to lighten the tone, and press harder for a darker shadow.    But when drawing with white on black, that's not how to do it.

This is just a relaxation piece, but I was struck by how often I did try to shade the darker bits, instead of lighting the ligher bits.

Quite a challenge for a Sunday night!


January 31, 2020

A good picture can tell a story, but a good story can really enhance a picture.

This is Max and Macy, a pair of best buds that refused to be parted, even when the worst happened to Max, Macy followed shortly after.  I wanted to show that friendship, and when I saw this reference from their mom, I knew this was the one.  

Originally they're looking out of a window, and I did initially think they would need that window in the drawing, but I was wrong. This empty emotive and quiet pose is plenty to get across that they could still be looking down on their family, waiting for them to come home.

Their finished portrait can been seen in the Gallery.


January 19, 2020

Okay, okay, its the FIRST watercolour of the new year and the new decade, so technically it can also be the most successful!

It's a known fact that cheese addles the brain, and I had a LOT of cheese over Christmas.  I hoped that I still remembered how to paint, even if I couldn't recall what day of the week it was, or whether I was wearing pants...

Brodie's portrait is in the gallery. Go and show him some love. 

Editor's note: she made up the bit about the cheese.


January 10, 2020

Here's a work in progress of a close-up pair of tiger paws.

The original photo, by Ben Jenkins, caught my eye because it was just the feet. Most big cat pictures focus on their facial features, so to get close-up to their feet was a treat.  And who doesn't enjoy feline toe-beans, eh? 

It looks fantastic. You can find it in the Gallery. (SOLD)


January 08, 2020

This is Patch, a slightly grumpy but gorgeous old tuxedo that I drew for a friend I used to work with. 

All portraits go through similar stages. You can see I'm working sort of down the page so as to minimise my grubby handprints. You can also see how I changed the shape of one eye, cleaned up the mess I made on his forehead, made him less fluffy, and how I did the whiskers.

My favourite part of this one is those wide eyes :-)

You can see Patch's final portrait in the Gallery.

Find all the latest news and updates on Helen Carter Artist here.

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Winchester, Hampshire, UK

©2020 Helen Carter Artist.