Kerrie Woodhouse

Whimsical Watercolour

Coloured pencil

The tiresomeness of goal setting

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

At the time of writing this we are about to see in the new year. I love the reflectiveness that seems to arise so naturally at this time. I’m less keen on the exuberant advice on goal setting that abounds. 

You know what I mean… Big Hairy Audacious Goals, (that are SMART - obvs) and shooting for the moon. 



No, this is not for me.

It's not that I don't have ambitions, I believe we all have those.

It's just that this year I am choosing to focus on how I want each day to be, rather than the big things I want to achieve. 

Those big achievements are great of course, but in a rather fleeting way.  It is the way we approach each ordinary day that ultimately determines the way we feel about our lives. So it is the process rather than the outcome that I am interested in. 


I have been filling my sketchbook with mandalas, as is my wont at this time of year. Each mandala is built by the persistent repetition of a small mark or shape all the way around the circle.

The next ring of the mandala then appears the same way. Stroke by stroke. Gentle meditative strokes gradually accumulate to create a lovely whole. 


The word that always comes to mind when I am creating these mandalas is repetition. I see the whole process as a series of micro steps.

Initial marks made in pencil, 
then repeated in pen. 
Choosing colour palettes, 
colouring each tiny space. 
Then returning to each space with a waterbrush to make my watercolour pencils of choice - Inktense - leap to vibrant life. 


Each mandala turns out quite different from its predecessors and yet they are all born of the same process. It is such a good  metaphor for any project, I think. There are multiple phases - pencil, pen, colour and water in the case of the mandala. 


Each phase comprises its own tiny steps. Having a protocol eliminates, or at the very least drastically reduces, big project stress. (Nice to practice this approach to big projects on stress free mandalas, don’t you think?). 

Once you have a protocol, all that is required of you is to show up and execute those little steps. Over and over again.


For me, making art is always about the process, not the final product. Usually though, the more enjoyable the drawing or painting process, the nicer the final piece turns out.

The joy of the process seems to express itself tangibly in the painting in a rather magical way.


Mandalas are one of the best ways to discover this for yourself. Any sort of meditative drawing (have you tried zentangle?) or even colouring offers this experience. 

That’s what I want both in and out of the studio this year. Days happily filled with small simple processes.


Of course, if one is persistent in following these carefully chosen processes, achieving the bigger goals becomes rather inevitable. 

What a pleasing irony.

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What have you achieved so far?

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

If you are feeling in need of a little calming, reflective time then drawing mandalas is just the thing. One of my new rituals is to spend a month with mandalas at the close of every year.  There is so much about the mandala that feels apt at this time of the year.


The circle is the perfect symbol for a time of reflection. Its gentle  even curve will hold whatever you choose to put inside - a safe container. 

It brings me no end of delight to be able to start with a little seed of a shape in the centre of the circle and then watch it grow into something bigger and more complex.


I love that just by surrendering to consistent repetition of a simple shape something significant appears. Just like all those tiny, seemingly meaningless repetitive tasks that we do everyday. Considered on their own they seem so banal, perhaps even tedious. Beds need to be made repeatedly. Counters wiped down. Again. Mothers repeat their endless refrains: 

Pick up your towel.

I love you to the moon and back.

Feet off the sofa. 

But each of these tiny things plays its role in making up the complex pattern of our lives. There is reliability in the repetition. They form the structure within which our children (as well as ourselves) find a sense of security. Certain things in an uncertain world. These things provide some stability - a backbone to support the fluid organic expansion of their little lives, the framework on which to pin all the colour and interest that life has to offer.


Once a soothing trip all the way around the circle with one shape has been completed there is a sense of closure. To close up one round of shapes brings fulfilment. There is a feeling of achievement in reaching the end. However one of the joys of a circle is that every end is also a beginning. The end of one day is the beginning of another.


My process for drawing mandalas is circular in so many ways. Aside from the obvious shape of their overall design and the repetition of the shapes within, there is a cyclical nature to the process itself. I begin in pencil and complete each concentric circle of shapes, usually beginning in the centre. Having repeated that process to fill the whole mandala I begin again going over the pencil lines in pen.


And then a final return to each concentric circle to add the colour. As is so often the case, the process of creating art mirrors life. The first time we try something new we may be a little shaky, uncertain - the pencil version. As we repeat this action we are more confident, we probably refine our previous work - the pen stage. And now that we are more confident with this new thing that we have learned we find even more joy and execute the task with flair - the colour stage. 



At each stage, we have the chance to improve or amend our previous decisions. The more we persist, the more our new project begins to collaborate with us in its creation. We can choose to take feedback from what we have done so far, to work with what is working and let go of what is not.


In mandalas, as in life there is comfort in the repetition, and the opportunity for growth. If we persist to completion there is the chance to experience each new thing in all its glory. Every so often we need to pause, stand back and see how our small repeated daily actions contribute to the glorious mandala of our lives. 


Take a moment to observe what you have achieved so far. Acknowledge your efforts and contributions. Be proud of how much you have learned and grown.

And then begin another round.










Plants in Pots

Series of the MonthKerrie Woodhouse

Drawing plants in pots has made for a  really enjoyable little series. I think 'little' is part of the reason it was so enjoyable. Scaling down your task into something manageable makes it far more approachable. Also, as we all know, it is one of the rules of the universe that small things are cute. Like this funky pot for instance...


Within the parameters I set for myself this month (small watercolour illustrations of plants in pots) I did have some room to experiment. Most of the time I started with a complete pencil sketch. Often I added an outline in pen - this gerbera for example.

Plants in pots no 7

The cartoonist in me likes the pen. But sometimes it doesn't feel right, in which case sticking to pencil seems better. These geraniums feel so loose and abundant - I couldn't possibly trap them in a harsh ink outline.

Plants in pots no 14

By the middle of the month, obviously on a day when I was feeling bold, I painted rather than drew most of the plant. It can feel a bit scary sometimes to go straight onto the page with a charged paintbrush. But the golden cane palm has fronds which are far more easily achieved by a brush than a sketch. I put in light pencil lines to indicate where the central rib of the palm frond would be. Then I let my lovely springy Chinese brush do the rest of the work.

This brush took a bit of getting used to, but I must admit it is one I keep coming back to. Apparently it is made of weasel hair. Hmm. Not sure what I think of that. But it is a lovely brush. It's the smallest in this set, if you were wondering.

Plants in pots no 9

Drawing a cactus was great fun. I am pondering an entire cactus series. When it came to the spikes for that I decided to get out one of my coloured Sakura Micron Pens. They are available in quite a few colours - not just black. For the cactus I used the sepia cone.

Plants in pots no 10

There is a surprising array of foliage that you can draw in potted plants. It is a chance to practice adding textures on a tiny scale. Take this bonsai. They are very textured things, bonsais, so do them justice I used pen scumbling (that's scribbles to you and me) for the gnarly trunk and a stiff spiky brush to dab in leaves. Of course it sits in a porcelain dish, so that offers a chance to suggest the smooth shiny surface by paying attention to the light and shading.

Plants in pots no 6

I also abandoned my paint set entirely for a couple of the illustrations and drew directly onto the page with my beloved tombow markers. I love their bold colour.  I could have activated them with water to give the variation that we associate with regular watercolour. I didn't do that, probably because they were so small.


I was drawing fuschias which are quite complex blooms and that is what made me think of using markers in the first place. While trying to draw these complicated little beauties I was wondering how in the world I would manage to add the colour with a paintbrush. The brush tip tombows seemed the perfect solution since you can effectively do the drawing and the painting simultaneously. Hurrah!

Plants in pots no 13

I did miss the effect that the water brings so I only did two paintings like this and then returned to my lovely Schmincke watercolours. How wonderful to be spoilt for choice.

The final potted plant in my series was this little topiary. Spheres are fun to shade. So are square pots. And the long shadow cast by a setting sun seemed an apt conclusion to the full series.

Plants in pots no 16

Which one is your favourite?

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9 reasons to love coloured pencils

Beginner Resources, My art journey, art tipsKerrie Woodhouse

Oh coloured pencils... how do I love thee?... let me count the ways!

I may not be a poet, but a list maker? For sure. And I count 9 reasons to love coloured pencils.... thusly...

  1. They return you to childhood. Nothing feels more delightfully child-like than clutching a coloured pencil. Picasso told us that all children are artists. What easier way is there to channel your inner child?

  2. They are unassuming, low maintenance art supplies. Not messy like pastels, no brush clean up required, no waiting for paint to dry, not intimidating like oil paint, they are the friendliest tool in your kit.

  3. The way they feel. Is there anything better than the waxy glide of coloured pencil over paper leaving a rainbow in its wake?

  4. The range of colours. So many delightful colours to choose from, and infinite more nuanced variations appear when you blend them effortlessly together.

  5. Effortless blending. Oh, did I not mention the blending already? On their own, because they are good natured enough to work together to give depth, volume and life. And with a colourless blender pencil or some sort of solvent they dissolve into a seamless paint-like sheen.

  6. No smudging. Being a member of the anti-graphite pencil club I can't not talk about the fact that they won't smoosh all over the opposite page when the book is closed or move if you rub your finger over them. So both friendly and obedient, they are.

  7. Control. I love tiny details. Sadly, I am a teeny bit clumsy, I fear. Tiny pupils and eyelashes and other fine details are quite beyond me with something like a paintbrush. In fact, I should probably just throw away my rigger brush. Pencils enable me. Hurrah.

  8. Transportable. What could be easier than throwing a couple of coloured pencils in a cute pencil case? Add a sharpener and all you need is a bit of paper.

  9. They play so nicely with other art supplies. Now, this is why I bring this up particularly today. I took out my coloured pencils and used them to add the final finishing touches. Coloured pencils work so well on top of watercolour and matte acrylic paint and over gesso.

I adore my coloured pencils (you might have guessed). And Prismacolours are my favourite brand. But we had better not be biased. There are some downsides. I count two.

  1. Breakage. They do break quite easily when sharpening. You can try to improve this by baking them. No, really... I haven't completely taken leave of my senses. This melts the wax inside the pencil so that when it hardens again on cooling all the breaks inside the barrel fuse back together. I havent got around to testing this out yet for myself - will let you know when I do!

  2. Time consuming on a large scale. If you are doing a large picture it can take a quite a long time to build up the colour to the desired intensity. However this is easily rectified by point number 9 in the above list. Start with a wash of colour provided by watercolour or acrylic paint, then bring out the coloured pencils.

That's what I did today. I started with my ink drawing... and I liked it... yay! An improvement on yesterday....

Flower face No 4 WIP ink drawing

Flower face No 4 WIP ink drawing

Then I added watercolour...

Flower face no 4 WIP watercolour stage

Flower face no 4 WIP watercolour stage

And then I got out my coloured pencils to improve the shading and details. And yes. I do keep them in colour bundles with a coordinated colour hair elastic. Please don't judge me...

Flower face no 4 WIP coloured pencil

Flower face no 4 WIP coloured pencil

Final nerd tidbit... apparently both colour pencils and coloured pencils are acceptable names but coloured pencil came first. So I must be a purist. Or just old fashioned. (And since you read this all the way to the end (by the way, thank you) I can only assume that you would be interested in this sort of coloured pencil trivia...)

So tell me.... how much do you love your coloured pencils?

Explore more of the Flower Faces Series