Archive | November 2018

Aurora Cultural Centre Workshop — October 2018

This was my second visit to the Aurora Cultural Centre in October to teach a one day workshop titled, Brilliant Colours of Fall in Coloured Pencil. The air was crisp, the sky was blue and the fall colours vibrant… a glorious day for a workshop.

The Town of Aurora

The town of Aurora is located approximately 40 minutes north of Toronto and is consistently ranked as one of the top places to live in Canada. With its picturesque rolling hills and heavily treed woodlots, Aurora has managed to blend its small-town charm and historic downtown core with a thriving urban and suburban centre. Aurora is the childhood home of Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister of Canada from 1963 to 1968. In 1851 the population of Aurora, then known as Machell’s Corners (after a local merchant), was 100 residents. In 1854 the name of the settlement was changed by postmaster Charles Doan to Aurora – meaning goddess of the dawn in Roman mythology. The settlement was incorporated as a village in 1863 with a growing business community, several factories and mills, five churches and a school house. By 1869 the population had grown to 1200 and in 1888 Aurora became a town. On April 8, 2010, the town re-opened the historic and fully renovated Church Street School as the Aurora Cultural Centre.

Aurora Cultural Centre

It is the vision of the Aurora Cultural Centre to provide a facility that enhances cultural life in the area through the fostering of art practice and presentation, production and reception. Since 2010, the centre has welcomed the community to participate in diverse creative experiences for all ages. Located in a beautifully-restored 1886 schoolhouse, the Aurora Cultural Centre is a charming historical treasure featuring four gallery exhibition spaces, a range of instructional classes for children, teens and adults, an eclectic live music series, special family events, summer arts camps, and stunning rental spaces for community activities and partnership participation. The centre is a registered charity, funded in part by the town of Aurora. The professional staff is supported by a dedicated volunteer board of directors and enthusiastic team of volunteers. The building is wheelchair accessible, air-conditioned with parking surrounding the building.

The Aurora Cultural Centre is located at 22 Church Street, Aurora, Ontario.

Phone: (905) 713-1818
Check out the website to see what is happening!

The Workshop

Brilliant Colours of Fall

We had one day to complete a project from start to finish in coloured pencil and it was a toss up between a crisp fall apple and one of the ubiquitous Cucurbits — an ornamental gourd. We decided on the apple, as shown below. The apple was done using Prismacolor Premier Coloured Pencils.

Below: Ornamental gourd in coloured pencil, ideal for a fall botanical workshop. The gourd was done using Faber-Castell Polychromos Coloured Pencils

Prismacolor Premier Coloured Pencils

These are professional-quality, wax-based coloured pencils originated by Berol in 1938 and later manufactured by a company called Sandford in Illinois. They have been around for a long time and are still one of my preferences for botanical work. They come in a range of 132 colours and can be purchased individually or in boxed sets. There is a good general starter set available with twelve pencils. Wax-based pencils tend to be softer than oil-based ones which make them ideal for blending gradations to a smooth finish. Due to their softness, however, they often break easily and it is difficult to maintain a sharp point. Wax-based pencils can be used individually or in combination with oil-based brands such as Faber-Castell Polychromos, which do maintain a sharp point.

Faber-Castell Polychromos Coloured Pencils
The renowned German company, Faber-Castell, is the oldest pencil manufacturer in the world and its Polychromos line of oil-based coloured pencils has been around since 1908. Polychromos (meaning many colours) pencils come in a range of 120 colours and have excellent lightfast pigments that blend well and maintain a sharp point without breaking.

Above: First a light graphite base was established over the apple, followed by a light spray with workable fixative to prevent the graphite from smudging. A light base of Deco Yellow (Prismacolor 1011) was applied over the graphite and burnished with a white pencil.

Below: Orange, vermillion and red colours are added to develop the apple. (Note: A step-by-step project package of the apple is available for purchase on my website —

Step-by-step page handouts from start to finish help students to work through each stage of the project.

Burnishing with a white pencil helps to break down the colour layers and give a more “painterly” look to the project, rather than it being immediately identified as a colour pencil drawing.

Amazing reproduction!

From grey to full colour.

Project completed.

An apple a day…

My final workshop before the winter sets in is for The London Brush & Palette Club, in London, Ontario, and is titled Floral Portraits in Pen & Ink and Watercolour. I had put on a workshop for this very talented group of artists in November (same time) 2014. This is what the weather was like at that time! I am hoping it will be far less snow this November!

Check out the London Brush & Palette Club website:

Hope to see you soon!

Michael Spillane


Toronto Botanical Gardens Workshop — October, 2018

I was back at the Toronto Botanical Gardens on October 13 & 14 for another two-day botanical drawing workshop titled, Floral Portraits with Pen & Ink and Watercolour.

Magnificent colours and textures fill the autumn landscape.

Below: Striking fall asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

About the Toronto Botanical Garden

The Toronto Botanical Garden is located in Toronto’s Edwards Gardens and is a gardening education and information centre. Termed “The little garden with big ideas,” the TBG opened in 1958 and features a superb collection of themed “city-sized gardens.”

Edwards Gardens is a public park, owned and administered by the City of Toronto, whereas the Toronto Botanical Garden is a volunteer-driven charity dedicated to disseminating horticultural and gardening information to the public. Alexander Milne, a Scottish miller, settled his family and built his business on the site that we now know as Edwards Gardens in 1817. The land stayed in the Milne family for over a hundred years. Subsequent owners made some improvements to the property, but the area eventually became over-grown and weed-ridden. In 1944, a Toronto businessman, Rupert Edwards, bought the property to fulfill his dream of creating a magnificent country garden with wide open spaces and plenty of room to move and breath.

Below: Statues provide striking accents and focal points as you wander around the gardens

Edwards transformed the property into a glorious garden, boasting one of the largest rockeries in Canada, a private 9-hole golf course and a safe haven for wildlife. Ten years later, when the city began to encroach upon the property, Edwards decided to sell. Wanting to preserve the estate as a public park, he sold it to the then Metro (Toronto) Council.

Below: Beautiful roses still bursting with colour and fragrance in mid october!

In 1956, Edwards Gardens was opened to the public and the Garden Club of Toronto shared Milne House facilities with The Federation of Ontario Naturalists. The Garden Club wanted to establish a facility which would provide horticultural information to the public and to that end, the Toronto Botanical Garden was established.

Below: Striking fall colours!

The Toronto Botanical Garden is located at 777 Lawrence Avenue East at Leslie Street, in Toronto, Ontario.

Phone: 416-397-1340

The gardens are open year-round from dawn until dusk and admission is free of charge. Check out their website to see what is happening!

The Workshop

Floral Portraits with Pen & Ink and Watercolour

Project 1 Bearded Iris: The first step was to sketch the iris using my list of observational techniques to help in the drawing process. Then the sketch was cleaned up and the line drawing transferred onto cold press Peterboro #79 illustration board and toned in graphite (as shown below). It is important to have an accurate representation of the form of the plant in graphite before applying ink.

Below: Once the graphite layer is completed, the work begins applying the first and second layers of ink. Detailed instructional pages are provided to ensure success in the process. The graphite tonal base provides a framework on where to apply the ink. See below:

Below: Completed in pen & ink.

More completed pen & ink examples.

Above: The graphite undertone base has been established and two pen & ink layers are added. Once the pen & ink rendering is completed, the graphite undertone is erased.

Pens used in the project were Micron 005, 01 and 03.

Below: The next step in the process is to create watercolour swatches to match the colours of the original iris. The watercolour washes are going to be applied in very subtle transparent layers, so as not to detract from the intricate pen & ink work. I provided colour swatch handouts based on my initial analysis of the true iris colours.

Below: Completed iris projects in pen and ink and watercolour.

Having completed the iris project it was time to start another pen & ink drawing of a cluster of Poppies.

Same process as for the Iris: Complete a line drawing, then transfer onto cold pressed #79 Peterboro illustration board (One board: 15 x 20 inches accommodated two projects). A tonal rendering in graphite is established before applying the ink.

Below: Iris and poppy on one 15 x 20 inches Peterboro Hi-Art #79 illustration board.

Below: Delicate hatch lines are used more in this project than stippling with dots.

Below: Step-by-step instructional pages guide students through each phase of the project.

My next workshop titled, Brilliant Botanicals of Fall, is on October 20 at the Aurora Cultural Centre in Aurora, Ontario

22 Church St, Aurora, ON

To register contact Michael Spillane at 905-891-8422


Or call the Aurora Cultural Centre at 905-713-1818

Hope to see you all soon!

Michael Spillane