Archive | June 2019

Aurora Cultural Centre — Botanical Art Workshop — May 2019

I was back at the Aurora Cultural Centre in May, 2019, to teach a one day workshop titled Magnificent Florals in Coloured Pencils.  It was a mild spring day, the trees were bursting with new growth although the sky was a little overcast.

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.

Below: Horse Chestnut bursting with new spring foliage.

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 facility 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

Magnificent Florals with Coloured Pencils.

Coloured pencils are easy to use and convenient to store and replace. They can be used alone or combined with graphite.

Below: My completed Alstromeria (Peruvian Lily) botanical drawing in coloured pencil on hot-pressed watercolour paper.

Alstromeria or Peruvian Lily
Alstromeria, also known as the Peruvian Lily or Lily of the Incas, produces beautiful blooms ranging in colour from white, pink and salmon to bright orange, red and purple. Although the plant is poisonous and also a skin irritant, it is commonly grown for the cut flower market. Alstromeria is a genus of flowering plants in the family Alstroemeriaceae. They are native to South America although some have become naturalized in the United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Madeira and the Canary Islands.

Below: Actual Alstromeria flower.

We spent the first day of the workshop developing the drawing and working from step-by-step instructional pages. Students produced a sketch of the plant followed by a grey monochromatic (one colour) tonal drawing. The base undertone was rendered with grey coloured pencils prior to adding colour layers. I used Faber Castell Polychromos coloured pencils throughout the project, although some of the students came with Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils which were cross-indexed to match the right colours.

Above: Line drawing.

Below: Grey monochromatic tonal drawing.

The workshop covered techniques such as burnishing, blending and layering, along with accurate colour matching, tonal rendering and composition. I used detailed step-by-step instructional handouts, demonstrations and one-on-one interaction with students to complete the Alstromeria project.

Below: Work in progress.

Below: Developing colour layers over the grey tonal base.

Faber Castell Polychromos coloured pencils were used throughout the project.

Above and below: Burnished colours are vibrant!

Coming along!

Below: Burnishing with coloured pencils produces deep colour tones, giving an almost painterly effect.

Below: Completed project.

A well as the Alstromeria, some of the students worked on my step-by-step ornamental gourd project (see below).

Below: Grey tone is established before developing the layers of colour.

Below: Andrea shows off her gourd project. The colours are developed in layers.

Below: Ann even found time to practice some equestrian drawing!

My next workshop, titled Fundamentals of Botanical Drawing will be on June 15 & 16, at the Toronto Botanical Garden (777 Lawrence Ave. E. North York, Toronto).

To register contact Michael Spillane at 905-891-8422


Or: contact the Toronto Botanical Garden at 416-397-1340

Hope to see you all soon!

Michael Spillane

Elora Centre for the Arts — Botanical Art Workshop May 2019


My next botanical art workshop was at The Elora Centre for the Arts in beautiful Elora, Ontario. It was early May and the town was beginning to green up with spring growth.

The Town of Elora

Elora is a quaint little town in Wellington County (Ontario) with many of its original limestone buildings dating from the 1800′s. The town was settled mainly by Scottish pioneers who left their mark on many of the finely crafted limestone buildings. Captain William Gilkison, a sailor and land speculator from Ayrshire, Scotland, founded the town in 1832. Originally named Irvine Settlement, the town was renamed Elora in 1839.  It has maintained its old world charm, suitably contrasting with the natural beauty of the surrounding area – in particular the spectacular Elora Gorge and its 80 foot limestone cliffs descending into the Grand and Irvine Rivers. The town is a dream destination for artisans and tourists alike, with an abundance of galleries, live music venues, arts and crafts boutiques and restaurants.

Drew House

During my visit to Elora I stayed at Drew House bed & breakfast (see below). If you ever get the chance to visit this quaint little town do not miss the opportunity to stay at this enchanting local treasure. It was a joy to catch up with an old friend from many years ago, noted resteurateur, chef and author Roger Dufau, who, with his wife Kathleen, operate Drew House – a popular facility known for hosting spiritual retreats, seminars, cooking classes and community events. Drew House is literally around the corner from the Elora Centre for the Arts so after one of Roger’s famous and never-to-be-forgotten breakfasts, I was able to walk the short distance to get prepared for the day ahead.

Above and below: Drew House

Elora Centre for the Arts

The Elora Centre for the Arts is a dedicated heritage building and charming, historical treasure. The building has been serving the community for more than 160 years and is located in a restored, three-story limestone school house consisting of 10 large classrooms converted to provide over 10,000 square feet of dedicated studio, gallery, and performance space. It is the vision of the ECFTA to “provide a facility that enhances cultural life in the region through the fostering of art practice and presentation, production and reception.”

Elora Centre for the Arts is located at 75 Melville St, Elora.

Phone: 519-846-9698
Check out their website to see what is happening!

The Workshop

Botanical Drawing – Apple in Coloured Pencil

We had one day to complete a project from start to finish in coloured pencil, so I chose a multi-toned Honeycrisp apple.

A few students also chose to work on my ornamental gourd project.

Below: My apple project completed with Prismacolor Premier Coloured Pencils. Malus domestica ‘Honeycrisp’.

Below: Ornamental gourd completed 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 is 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.

What is Burnishing?

Burnishing involves applying heavy pressure to the drawing once several layers of colour have been applied. This breaks down and blends the underlying colours to produce a smooth, painted-like finish. Once burnished, the drawing is then usually given a light application of workable fixative and, once dry, another series of layers can be built on top. Burnishing can be done with a white pencil, the lightest colour in the mix you are using, or a colourless blender. I prefer to burnish in light areas with a white pencil and use the colourless blender or blending stump for the darker tones and shadows.

Above: My demo step-by-step apple project for the day.

Above: 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 –

Below: Step-by-step page handouts from start to finish help students to work through each stage of the project. Here Marina is working on the ornamental gourd project using Faber-Castell Polychromos Coloured Pencils.

You could hear a pin drop in the class!

Work in progress.

An apple a day…

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

Amazing reproductions.

Above and below: The developing glorious gourd. The vibrant colours and patterns and bumpy surface on many of the gourd types make them pleasing choices for botanical drawings.

Below: Some of the finished projects.

My next workshop titled, Magnificent Florals with Coloured Pencils, is on May 25 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