anne4bags My art work

Why are limpet shells so frustrating?

You know that I have been enjoying painting shells lately. You watched me draw oyster shells and I have raved on about other paintings I have done. So I found some limpet shells on the beach at Apollo Bay and was fascinated by their texture. Their tops are worn smooth and pearlescent while their sides are ridged and lined and multi-coloured.


I played around with watercolour pencils and created some smaller studies. They worked well, and went into my Etsy shop. If I am not happy with one of my works, I won’t put it up for sale.

I wanted to play with painting larger, A4 works, and I thought that I knew how to create one with watercolour pencils. I found out that I didn’t know after all!


There is always a time in a painting where I feel that it is just not working; that time when I feel like throwing a little tantie on the floor, kicking and screaming. In most cases I work through and find that things suddenly come together, and the painting is how I thought it would be. This was not one of those cases. So I left it and started to work on a watercolour version. Can you guess what the result of that one was?


Yep, another one that I wasn’t happy with. 😉

Now I am pondering why. I think there are three issues, but I would love to know what you think. (And in answer to my question in the title — in all fairness, the limpet shell is blameless. The frustration is all my own!)

  1. In both cases I lost the highlights. I loved the smaller ones because they were fresh and light. It is the white of the paper that gives watercolour life. Enlarging the shell encouraged me to add more pencil or paint to the ridges, covering the paper with colour. Can you see the second browny ridge from the left in the photo above? That’s the part of the painting that I like, because the white of the paper shows through. That’s how the rest should be.
  2. The follow on from that is if there are fewer highlights, there are fewer deep darks too. I was working in the mid-tone range too much. Nothing was jumping out, zinging.
  3. I went onto the detail too early. My artisitc default position is to go straight to the detail. I am always reminding myself to go from broad to fine, but I guess I just wasn’t listening. 😉 Then I tried to fix things by adding in details.

What do you think? I would love constructive feedback in the comments.

As for the next….well, I can do this, and I want to succeed. So my next painting is going to be a different limpet shell, one with less colour variation, probably in watercolour. I will let you know how I go!

[Remember, if you like something in my Etsy shop, you can buy it directly through me. Just let me know via this blog or]



anne4bags My art work Texture

How to draw with a water-soluble pencil

A little while ago someone gave me a water-soluble pencil which then lingered in my pencil case. Until recently my work was more precise than this pencil would allow. I needed pencils that would give fine lines and not shift with water.

Now, having finished my big painting, I am ready to create more fluid works, and the pencil is just perfect! [Yet another example of why you never throw anything out!] I have been playing with it, creating oyster shell drawings, and I want to share with you some of my thoughts. The best way for me is to show you “How to draw an oyster shell”.

Firstly, a little about the pencil and other tools.

It is a Derwent Graphitone 2B light. The B indicates that it is the range of pencils that  give a dense bold line. 2 is at one end of the scale, 8 is at the other creating the densest black lines and shadows. The other range of pencils is the H range. They are hard and excellent for fine lines and delicate tones.

The pencil is a stick of pure graphite held together with some sort of water-soluble binder. There is no wood around the graphite, although some brands to have wood. Instead the paper/plastic wrapper has sections that peel off as you need to sharpen further down the pencil. Neat! I am able to sharpen the Graphitone pencil to a reasonable point. I am saving the sharpenings because I want to play with them sometime, perhaps mixing them with water.

I have also discovered 2 of my watercolour paint brushes are excellent to use with it. The first is a rigger, a type of brush has long bristles that allow the paint to be dragged along in a smooth line. The other is a 6 mm square brush. I rarely use it for painting, but it was just perfect for this work. Its flat edge allowed me to either make a ragged line by using the flat top or drag the wash out from the line. Both brushes are sable and held the water for a good length of time.

So, to the drawing.

This was the shell I was using as my model.


Can you see why I am captivated by oyster shells? The shape, the lines, the colours, the laminations, the way the shadows disappear. And you don’t have to be really precise to draw them.

My first lines are made on dry watercolour paper. They outline the shell and give me visual markers for other things I need to take note of. At this stage it is only a line drawing, but I am already looking for where lines meet and reappear, where the darks and lights are. They are important because they build the 3D impression. even the smallest sliver of reflected light will add to the realism.


Then I begin to add in some of the darkest areas. I move around the painting, often leaving one part to work on another. I am only drawing in the broad, but my mind is taking in the detail as well, remembering places to come back to. All the time I am conscious about the marks I am making. They need to mean something, to add to the drawing and not just be meaningless scribbles. This photo also shows the pencil I am using.


Now is a time to assess, to sit back to see what has been going on.

It is ready for some water. Sometimes I moved the brush along the line, to work the graphite into the paper. Sometimes I have dragged the graphite out from the line because I want to get some shadow in there while keeping the white edge. Thats the edge of the layer above, where it is catching the light. Sometimes there is enough graphite still on the brush to make a wash away from the line, hinting at the curve of the shell. I am still moving around the drawing, not working too long in one area.


I also discovered that I can rub a wet brush onto the pencil and gather graphite that way. I use that as another form of wash. I keep going, making pencil lines then using either of the 2 brushes to move the graphite around. Making lines, breaking up the lines, adding graphite to deepen tone, adding water to move the graphite around. Playing!

You will notice that I hadn’t done anything to the end of the shell. It has a different texture, smoother with more tonal areas. That needed more water and less line work. The square brush was great for here too. I used it to dab more graphite into washes.


It seemed to be getting close to the finish. I added the shadows at the side. Here I noticed a few things. Firstly, the darkest part of the shadow was right under the shell, but it wasn’t a continuous line. The side of the shell, while in shadow, was not uniformly dark. The layers of the shell created layers of light and shadow. And there is reflected light in there too.

I wanted to keep that reflected light right at the bottom of the shell, but I wasn’t happy with that end. It was too square and just looked wrong. I couldn’t do anything much about the shape, as that was a fault of the original drawing. [Maybe if I had begun work on it earlier I could have changed it in some way….] However, I could break up the lines and add more complexity to the wash area.


So this is the finished work. I did add some finer lines with a 2H pencil. You can see them at the edge of some of the tonal work, hinting at a layer of shell.

What do I think? I am very happy with it. It was fun to do. While I love botanic drawing and painting I have enjoyed allowing myself to play. And of course it is through play that we learn. I know so much more about the water-soluble pencil. I know that I really liked using it, but I know that it has limitations.

As for oyster shells…..I know that I love them and will continue to be fascinated by them for a number of drawings to come! And then I will explore muscle shells 🙂

[The drawing is available for sale in my Etsy store. Click here to have a look. If you would like to buy it, or any of my other works, but don’t want to go through Etsy, contact me directly.]

anne4bags Botanic Art My art work

Oyster shells

Extra time and added impetus from my sketchbook have allowed me to be fascinated by oyster shells.

You can imagine how wonderful it was to follow those quirky lines of the shells. They were fluid, but didn’t need to be really precise. I have been thinking about how to use line to build up shape. I was also playing around with a water-soluble pencil. I could draw the lines and then use water to move the graphite around the paper.

I have also been playing with simple watercolour washes to create the shells. More of them later.

I was really happy with these little studies, and have put them up for sale as a set of three in my Etsy store. I am quite okay with selling them individually too. (If you are interested in buying, follow the link to check out the details. But remember that you can always contact me here if you don’t want to go through Etsy.)